At the Vatican on November 18, 2017, Prof. Theodor Dieter received the Ratzinger Prize from Pope Francis in recognition of his contributions toward the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification. The previous day the three award recipients (the Catholic theologian Prof. Karl-Heinz Menke from Bonn and Eastern Orthodox composer Arvo Pärt from Estonia) had the opportunity to meet Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI for half an hour.
Prof. Dieter reports of his experience: “The pope emeritus, although he was visibly quite weak, received us with great friendliness, cordiality, attentiveness, and cheer. He remembered well the meeting of his former students that he convened at Castelgandolfo in 2012 where I gave a presentation on Lutheran-Catholic dialogue. I took the opportunity to thank him for the fact that when he was the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1998 and 1999 he played an essential role in bringing a happy conclusion to the Joint Declaration, whose future for awhile hung in the balance before it was finally signed on October 31, 1999, in Augsburg, Germany, by the Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation. His memory is still so acute that he immediately remembered that time and in particular his conversations with Bishop Hanselmann of the Lutheran church in Bavaria. We talked about many topics, among others Martin Luther’s Heidelberg Disputation; Paul Hacker’s interpretation of Luther, toward which he as Joseph Ratzinger inclined—I explained my objections to this interpretation; about the Reformation anniversary of 2017; about the Institute for Ecumenical Research in Strasbourg; and about seminars in Tübingen that he held some 50 years ago. The conversation was not only about theological topics, though; it also took a turn towards matters of great spiritual intensity and depth, which are best kept private. The pope emeritus let me go with a special greeting for the Institute for Ecumenical Research in Strasbourg. It was a wonderful, unforgettable encounter!”
The awards were formally granted on November 18 at a festive ceremony in the Sala Clementina, presided over by Pope Francis. Prof. Dieter’s family was in attendance, along with Bishop July from Stuttgart, the Chair of the Board of the Lutheran Foundation for Interconfessional Research (which supports the Institute in Strasbourg). The magnificent hall was filled with more than twenty cardinals, along with numerous bishops and very many dignitaries of the Catholic Church. At the beginning and ending of the ceremony the choir of the Sistine Chapel sang. Pater Lombardi, SJ, the representative of the Joseph Ratzinger-Benedict XVI Vatican Foundation, greeted Pope Francis. Cardinal Koch briefly introduced each of the award recipients. Then followed the ceremonial bestowal of the prizes in alphabetical order. A moving experience for Prof. Dieter was the handshake with Pope Francis and his expression full of warmth and good wishes, followed by the presentation of the award certificate to the applause of all present.
Pope Francis then offered a brief address to the assembly. He recalled that the motto of Joseph Ratzinger when he was Archbishop of Munich was Cooperatores veritatis, “Collaborators of truth.” He continued: “This motto is displayed on the diplomas of the Prizes I have awarded, meaning that the Prizewinners too have devoted their lives to the highest mission of serving the truth, the diaconia of truth. I rejoice that the illustrious individuals receiving the Prize today come from three Christian denominations, including the Lutherans, with whom we have experienced particularly important moments of encounter and common progress this year. The truth of Christ is not for soloists, but is symphonic: requires docile collaboration, harmonious sharing. Seeking it, studying it, contemplating it, and translating it into practice together, in charity, draws us strongly to full union between us: Truth thus becomes a living source of ever closer ties of love.”
Afterwards Arvo Pärt performed an Our Father he had composed on a grand piano that Pope Benedict was given and used to play on himself. He was accompanied by the wonderful voice of one of the boys in the Sistine Chapel Choir—a moment of ethereal beauty. Before Pope Francis left the Sala Clementina he once again congratulated the award recipients with great cordiality.
In the evening there was a gala dinner to honor the award recipients in the house of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre with a great number of guests present, among other the ambassador of the Bundesrepublik Deutschland to the Vatican, Annette Schavan. The dinner was not only delicious food but also many chances for conversation and discussion. The award recipients had the opportunity to express their thanks for the award. Arvo Pärt did so by playing his famous work “Für Alina” in his characteristic Tintinnabuli style.
As Theodor Dieter emphasized, the two days in Rome were a profound experience of heartfelt friendliness, goodwill, and appreciation on the side of the Catholic Church toward him and his family, for the Institute for Ecumenical Research in Strasbourg, and for Lutheran ecumenism— in this very 500th year of the Reformation. The special significance of the award lies in the fact that in 2017, eighteen years after the signing of the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, it has once again been confirmed and recognized by the highest authorities of the Catholic Church that the way of the Joint Declaration is still of the utmost importance for Lutheran-Catholic ecumenism, still fruitful and still pointing the way toward the future.
See also the article in LWI from October 27, 2017
Watch the video of the celebration on YouTube: video Ratzinger Price
Text of Theodor Dieter’s speech: Words of Thanks by Theodor Dieter
Pictures of the encounter with Pope em. Benedict XVI on November 17 and of the price awards ceremonies on November 18, 2017:
Pictures of former encouters between Pope em. Benedict and Theodor Dieter:
Private Audiences and the Meeting of former students of Pope em. Benedict XVI at the Castelgandolfo:
Photos: private, Luca Caruso, Fondazione Vaticana Joseph Ratzinger, Osservatore Romano