Resounding radiance : iconisation of creation in Joseph Ratzinger's theology of sacred music

  • Joel Isaacs Clarkson

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis (PhD)


This thesis analyses the historical and conceptual foundations of the “cosmic” in Joseph Ratzinger’s (1927-2022) theology of sacred music, and considers its implications for liturgical music as a Christological iconisation of creation. Ratzinger was a key voice in liturgical reform in the Roman Catholic Church after the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), especially during his pontificate as Pope Benedict XVI (2005-2013). Expressing frequent concern that many reformers implementing Vatican II had misinterpreted the Council’s intentions, Ratzinger outlined a “hermeneutic of reform” as an alternative way forward. Ratzinger also wrote extensively about sacred music as a locus in which questions of reform are brought to bear in a potent way. While Ratzinger’s musical theology has engendered enthusiasm amongst some of those interested in musical reform, that discourse is often centred on genres, instrumentation, and other practical aspects. The way Ratzinger’s larger theological system of thought relates to his musical theology has been left largely unexamined. This thesis addresses that gap in scholarship. In part I, I examine the historical foundations of that theology, first outlining liturgical and musical reform in twentieth-century Catholicism (Chapter 1); I then consider Ratzinger’s “hermeneutic of reform,” and how he turned to the “cosmic” as a way to express universality in regard to musical renewal (Chapter 2). Part II explicates the conceptual foundations of Ratzinger's musical theology. I show how Ratzinger’s understanding of the “cosmic” is derived from a “Eucharistic” cosmology influenced by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (Chapter 3). I then argue that Ratzinger adapts Hans Urs von Balthasar’s theological aesthetics to help make sense of the phenomenological implications of that cosmology in worship (Chapter 4). Finally, I explicate Ratzinger’s musical theology, showing how, in light of the historical and conceptual aspects explored earlier in the thesis, Ratzinger implies, I suggest, that sacred music Christologically iconises the cosmos in liturgy, and I examine a practical outworking of that musical theology in the congregational music of composer Sir James MacMillan (Chapter 5). This thesis offers thereby an examination of Ratzinger’s Eucharistic cosmology and musical theology, situating them within his larger theological project. It also presents an analysis of the cosmic theology that underpins Ratzinger’s practical provisions for music, and may hopefully contribute, in this way, to the ongoing debates about, and implementation of, Ratzingerian musical reform.
Date of Award16 Jun 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of St Andrews
SupervisorGeorge Corbett (Supervisor) & Michael Ferguson (Supervisor)


  • Joseph Ratzinger
  • Pope Benedict XVI
  • Sacred music
  • Catholic theology
  • Musical theology
  • Theological aesthetics
  • Theological cosmology
  • Christology
  • Hans Urs von Balthasar
  • Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
  • Vatican II
  • Liturgical reform
  • Liturgical movement
  • Ressourcement
  • Nouvelle théologie
  • Cosmic liturgy
  • Eucharistic theology
  • Eschatology

Access Status

  • Full text embargoed until
  • 5 May 2028

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