Pope Benedict XVI encouraged religions to form a united front for peace

Benedict XVI (Joseph Ratzinger) served as pope from 2005 to 2013. Quite conservative by reputation, Benedict’s attitude toward other religions was, however, more open than previously thought, as indicated by a doctoral dissertation by Emil Anton.

Emil Anton believes that the actions and theology of religions of Pope Benedict XVI should be, above all, assessed on the basis of his writings.

“At times, they turn out to be surprisingly open-minded. Benedict XVI has said that his predecessor, John Paul II, broadened his thinking on interreligious dialogue.”

Other religions can also guide towards salvation

"There are as many ways to God as there are people," was Benedict XVI’s answer to an astonished interviewer.

Some Christians are anxious about the fate of non-Christians, thinking that they are condemned according to the Church. Benedict XVI is a prime example of alternative ways of thinking.

According to Benedict XVI, the vast majority of humanity will eventually be saved through purgatory, which he interprets as a post-mortem  encounter  with Christ, both just and merciful.  He argues that Christ is, in the end, the saviour of all, but that other religions can also help people find their way towards salvation.

“Benedict XVI vacillated on the question of the purpose of interreligious dialogue. At times, he emphasised that the goal is truth, while at other times he stressed that the dialogue is not even aimed at unanimity or conversion, but rather focuses on mutual respect and peaceful coexistence. In any case, he thought there was also truth in other religions that we/one can learn from,” Anton says.

World peace and the future depend on peace between religions

“We are living in a world where people increasingly cross paths with those belonging to other religions, and examining interreligious dialogue provides tools for such encounters,” Anton notes.

“When disagreeing on something, you can find many other matters where there is a shared understanding, and work together to promote them. Once you have gained trust and established a friendship, you can also discuss differences in a positive atmosphere.

To a large extent, interreligious peace affects the peace and future of the entire world,” Anton points out.

“It makes a difference if religions  increasingly renounce religiously motivated violence, get to know each other and learn from each other. It helps clear up misunderstandings and dispel prejudices as well as prevent conflicts. According to Benedict XVI, authentic religion is entirely incompatible with violence. He did acknowledge the partly violent history of religions, but emphasised at the same time that this was a distortion of religion. Authentic faith is reasonable, while violence is irrational.”


Emil Anton, MTh and MA, will defend his doctoral dissertation entitled ‘Ratzinger and the Religions – Studies on Pope Benedict XVI and Interreligious Dialogue’ on 1 November 2019 at 14.00 at the Faculty of Theology, University of Helsinki. The public examination will take place in Metsätalo, room 1, Unioninkatu 40.

Professor James Corkery from the Pontifical Gregorian University will serve as the opponent and Professor Risto Saarinen as the custos.

The dissertation is also available in electronic form through the E-thesis service.

Contact details of the doctoral candidate:

Emil Anton

+358 45 631 3899