The annual meeting of Benedict XVI's students from his time at the University of Regensburg will gather next week to discuss the theology of the cross, a member of the circle has said.

The Ratzinger "Schuelerkreis," or "students' circle," has met to discuss topics in theology and the life of the Church since 1978, when their professor was pulled from academia to become a bishop.

This year's encounter will be held at Castel Gandolfo Aug. 21-24.

"As usual, the members of the Schuelerkreis presented Benedict with three possible issues to be discussed, and Benedict chose one from among them," Fr. Stephan Horn told CNA Aug. 11.

Fr. Horn, a Salvatorian, was Ratzinger's academic assistant at the University of Regensburg from 1971 to 1977, and is now organizer of the annual Schuelerkreis meeting.

He related that after choosing the general topic of the theology of the cross, Benedict "gave total freedom to the general relator for the development of the topic."

This year's general relator is Karl-Heinz Menke, "a German theologian whom Benedict esteems greatly."

Menke teaches dogmatic theology at the University of Bonn. The author of several papers in christology, the theology of the cross, and dogmatics, Menke gained prominence when, in 2011, Ratzinger quoted from his "Jesus Gott der Sohn" (Jesus, God the Son) in the second volume of "Jesus of Nazareth."

The idea for the annual meeting arose in 1977, when Ratzinger was appointed Archbishop of Munich and Freising, and when he moved to Rome in 1981 to take up the post of prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, it continued.

When in the spring of 2005, Cardinal Ratzinger was elected Bishop of Rome, his former students thought their annual tradition would stop, but were proved wrong, when Benedict continued to meet with his former students.

"He always took part in our meetings, even when he had been elected Pope," Fr. Horn explained. "But after his resignation, Benedict has always chosen to remain at his enclosure."

While he no longer attends the Castel Gandolfo meeting, Benedict does say Mass at the Vatican for his schuelerkreis following their encounter.

"As he did the last year, Benedict will say the concluding Mass of the schuelerkreis," Fr. Horn said.

The topic of the meeting varies each year; last year was the question of God amid secularism, and the year prior to that, ecumenism was the subject chosen.

The Ratzinger schuelerkreis is formed by about 50 people who studied for their doctorates under Ratzinger, but usually between 25 and 30 are able to make it to any given year's meeting.

The circle has enlarged in recent years, establishing a "youth branch" composed of academics who had not studied with Ratzinger, yet who are studying and developing upon his theological work.