The first three winners of the inaugural Ratzinger Prize for Theology were announced June 14.
The prize was established last year to promote theological study on the writings of Pope Benedict XVI and has been referred to as “the Nobel Prize for Theology.”
“We chose to reward two scholars already well established, and one who is relatively young but very promising,” Cardinal Camillo Ruini remarked at a Vatican press conference.
The two scholars chosen for the prize are Professor Manlio Simonetti, an 85-year-old expert on the Church Fathers who used to teach at Rome’s La Sapienza University, and Professor Olegario González de Cardedal, a 77-year-old specialist in dogmatic theology at the Pontifical University of Salamanca, Spain.
The youngest of the three winners is Professor Maximilian Heim, a 50 year old Cistercian who teaches dogmatic and fundamental theology at the University of Heiligenkreuz in Austria. He has a particular focus on the theology of Joseph Ratzinger, who is the current Pope.
The Ratzinger Prize is the initiative of the Joseph Ratzinger-Benedict XVI Vatican Foundation. It’s funded by the royalties accrued from Pope Benedict’s writings.
“Modernity has brought with it a dramatic divorce between secular knowledge and religious knowledge,” explained the Italian academic Professor Giuseppe Dalla Torre, who is also one of the prize judges.
“This division has gone through society from the top of the social pyramid,” he said, pointing to universities as the starting point because they are the place where “people, environments and ... cultural paradigms and ways of life are forged.”
Dalla Torre said that since universities sit at the top of the social pyramid, it’s necessary to respond by directly and seriously engaging the intellectual elite.
The president of the foundation, Monsignor Giuseppe Scotti, said he wanted to thank the Pope for having “risked an adventure of this kind” in the hope it can “invest in the future of man.”
“A future where God is present and where the man can speak, even shout, “I seek ... for you my soul is thirsting, my flesh pines for you like dry, weary land without water.”
Cardinal Ruini noted that while this year’s awards covered the areas of dogmatic and fundamental theology as well as patristics, he hoped future awards would also recognize work in the study of Sacred Scripture.
The prizes will be given to the winners by Pope Benedict XVI in Rome on June 30.