Some 40 years ago, Rev. Brian E. Daley, S.J., Catherine F. Huisking Professor of Theology, then a doctoral student at Oxford, met Rev. Joseph A. Ratzinger, then a professor of theology at the University of Regensburg, at an academic conference in Germany.
In addition to giving a lecture on Christology, Ratzinger joined the participants for several meals and presided at Mass. The young Jesuit theologian was impressed by this Bavarian colleague and greatly enjoyed the time they spent together. “It was a small gathering, and I don’t know if he remembers my presence there,” Father Daley says, “but I definitely remember his. I never dreamed he’d be Pope.”
Whether or not Pope Benedict XVI remembers their first meeting, Father Daley won’t soon forget their second. On Oct. 20, at a ceremony at the Vatican, Pope Benedict presented Father Daley with a 2012 Ratzinger Prize for Theology. Nicknamed the “Nobel of Theology,” the award is sponsored by The Joseph Ratzinger Vatican Foundation, which was founded in 2010 with the Pope’s approval to promote the publication, distribution and study of significant theological and philosophical scholarship, specifically, as Father Daley puts it, “the kind of theology and philosophy that the Holy Father himself is interested in.”
The activities of The Ratzinger Foundation are financed by the publication and sale of Pope Benedict’s works. Father Daley shared this year’s honor with French Catholic lay philosopher Remi Brague, who had visited the Notre Dame campus a week before the ceremony.
In remarks before the award presentation, Pope Benedict said that Father Daley and Brague were “exemplary for the transmission of knowledge that unites science and wisdom, scientific rigor and passion for humankind.”
A member of the Notre Dame faculty since 1996, Father Daley, a Jesuit priest, is an internationally renowned scholar of the writings, sayings and lives of the earliest Christians. His teaching and research concern such first- through eighth-century Christian thinkers as Gregory of Nyssa, Augustine of Hippo and Maximus the Confessor, and the eschatology of the early church.
In addition to his academic and scholarly work, he serves as executive secretary of the North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation and as a priest in Notre Dame residence halls and at St. Bavo Parish in Mishawaka, Ind.
Returning to Notre Dame from the ceremony in Rome, Father Daly seemed as pleased for what the honor expressed about Notre Dame as what it expressed about his own work. “I love the Church and I try to represent the wisdom of the Church in what I do,” he says. “I regard what I do as a theologian as very much part of the Church’s pastoral mission, and that sense of what theology is widely shared in our department.”
Pope Benedict XVI seems to agree.