This is interesting, and not exactly what I expected from Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI.
Wolfgang Bergmann reports in Der Standard (Vienna) on Ratzinger’s writings on the Virgin Birth. In 1977, as archbishop of Munich, he published the book Die Tochter Zion (“Daughter Zion”), which contains five lectures he had given five years earlier in Puchberg, Austria. Here, he retracts what he had written in his famous Introduction to Christianity in 1968. Tochter Zion has this passage:
[T]he Virgin Birth is the necessary origin of him who is the Son, and who therein it also gives to the messianic hope a lasting meaning pointing beyond Israel.
A footnote explains:
With this I wish to place clear limits around my often-quoted statement in Introduction to Christianity (Munich, 1968, p. 225), according to which Jesus’s divine sonship would not intrinsically exclude his coming from a normal marriage.
A perfectionistic university professor has the heart for a retraction only in fine print. And he does not take back the statement, but rather places limits around it.
Here is what Ratzinger had written in 1968:
According to the Church’s faith, the divine sonship does not rest upon Jesus having had no human father; the teaching on Jesus’ divinity would not be affected if Jesus had come forth from an entirely normal marriage. For the divine sonship of which faith speaks is not a biological datum, but an ontological datum.
In the Puchberg lecture, Ratzinger maintains the Virgin Birth as a real fact of history. He says that to deny this fact would be to take a dead-end.
But there is more.
In Tochter Zion, Archbishop Ratzinger defends the Virgin Birth. But at the same time, he offers a relativizing interpretation of the Assumption of Mary into Heaven. Page 73 says that this dogma does not concern a historical datum, but rather “an act of veneration.”
[W]hile Ratzinger cements in one dogma, he relativizes another one so much that he thereby sets an important precedent for future popes… With this, Benedict has the potential to be a trailblazer for a modern theology that he never cared for during his time as prefect of the doctrinal congregation in the previous pontificate – didn’t he?
All translations from German by AWR from the Austrian news report.