Ratzinger Theology Prize goes to American, French scholars

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VATICAN CITY - Pope Benedict XVI bestowed the 2012 Ratzinger Prize for Theology on an American expert on the early church fathers and a French scholar of religious philosophy.

U.S. Jesuit Father Brian E. Daley and Remi Brague received the award from the pope at a ceremony in the Vatican's Apostolic Palace Oct. 20.

Pope Benedict noted that the two men have studied in fields "decisive for the church in our times": ecumenism and relations with other religions.

The scholars are "exemplary for the transmission of knowledge that unites science and wisdom, scientific rigor and passion for man, so that man might discover the 'art of living,'" the pope said.

Father Daley, a professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame, has written extensively about the development of Christian doctrine in late antiquity and the early Middle Ages. The pope commended his work for demonstrating the unity of Christianity, with favorable consequences for relations between the Catholic and Orthodox churches.

Brague, an authority on medieval Islamic and Jewish philosophy, is a professor of Arabic and religious philosophy at Ludwig-Maximilian University in Munich.

Father Daley told Catholic News Service in an Oct. 22 email that he was "totally surprised" that he received the Ratzinger Prize.

"I have always thought of myself as a pretty obscure academic and never expected this kind of publicity," he said. "But I'm delighted for the sake of the Society of Jesus, and also for Notre Dame. It's a great recognition for what all of us are really trying to do -- serve the Catholic Church by helping people become more aware of our tradition of reflective faith."

He said the church fathers of the first seven or eight centuries "really formed the way the church understands and lives the Gospel we have received" such as the understanding of the person of Christ, of God as Trinity, and of the Christian hope for eternal life with Christ.

"I suspect that I was selected for this prize because these are areas and authors that have always interested Pope Benedict, too, in his great work as a theologian," he said.

A past president of the North American Patristics Society, Father Daley is an editor of the scholarly journal Traditio and also serves on the editorial board of the Journal of Early Christian Studies. He also is executive secretary of the North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation.

He said the dialogue with the Orthodox churches "always remains focused, to some extent, on our common heritage in the (church) fathers.

"In this year, the 50th anniversary of the start of the Second Vatican Council, the Holy Father has said that he especially wants to emphasize the continuing importance of ecumenical and interreligious dialogue," Father Daley said.

The Ratzinger prize is sponsored by the Joseph Ratzinger-Benedict XVI Vatican Foundation, founded in 2010 to promote the writings of the former Joseph Ratzinger, Pope Benedict, and financed by sale of his works.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 1970