Category Archives: Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI

Jesus of Nazareth

Jesus of Nazareth: From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration

by Joseph Ratzinger, as Pope Benedict XVI (2007)

This book could be Pope Benedict’s version of “What I did on my summer vacation.” True. When it comes to theology this pope was a trekkie in every sense of the word. And I love him for it. I love that he didn’t let his job as the keeper of the papacy hold him down. He just had the good taste to make sure he did this stuff on his own time.¬† Not that he let that give him an excuse for shoddy workmanship. This book was world class all the way.

My favorite parts are the entire chapter on The Lord’s Prayer and the chapter on the parables, with particular mention to his treatment of The Good Samaritan. Another tip of the hat goes to the part called “The Dispute Concerning the Sabbath” in the chapter on the Sermon on the Mount.

From the last chapter, Chapter Ten, “Jesus Declares His Identity”, we have an excerpt from a section called “The Son of Man”:

Let us turn now to the scriptural passages themselves. We saw that the first group of sayings about the Son of Man refers to his future coming. Most of these occur in Jesus’ discourse about the end of the world (cf. Mk 13:24-27) and in his trial before the Sanhedrin (cf. Mk 14:62). Discussion of them therefore belongs in the second volume of this book. There is just one important point that I would like to make here: They are sayings about Jesus’ future glory, about his coming to judge and to gather the righteous, the “elect.” We must not overlook, however, that they are spoken by a man who stands before his judges, accused and mocked: In these very words glory and the Passion are inextricably intertwined.

Admittedly, they do not expressly mention the Passion, but that is the reality in which Jesus finds himself and in which he is speaking. We encounter this connection in a uniquely concentrated form in the parable about the Last Judgment recounted in Saint Matthew’s Gospel (25:31-46), in which the Son of Man, in the role of judge, identifies himself with those who hunger and thirst, with the strangers, the naked, the sick, the imprisoned–with all those who suffer in this world–and he describes behavior toward them as behavior toward himself. This is no mere fiction about the judge of the world, invented after the Resurrection. In becoming incarnate, he accomplished this identification with the utmost literalism. He is the man without property or home who has no place to lay his head (cf. Mt 8:19; Lk 9:58). He is the prisoner, the accused, and he dies naked on the Cross. The identification of the Son of Man who judges the world with those who suffer in every way presupposes the judge’s identity with the earthly Jesus and reveals the inner unity of Cross and glory, of earthly existence in lowliness and future authority to judge the world. The Son of Man is one person alone, and that person is Jesus. This identity shows us the way, shows us the criterion according to which our lives will one day be judged.

– pp. 327-328

Not everything in this volume is as readable as the passage above, but the entire thing is worth the challenge.




The Spirit of the Liturgy

The Spirit of the Liturgy

by Pope Benedict XVI, as Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (2000)

This book is where Cardinal Ratzinger suggests what you may have seen at some churches: the altar with a crucifix facing the priest. Some have dubbed it the “Benedict arrangement” or some such terminology. It’s an interesting proposal.

Beyond getting into some of the trickier theological questions about the liturgical changes since Vatican II, this book is written in a spiritual prayerful style compared to a lot of Ratzinger’s other theological output. It is definitely worth a read if you are interested in getting deeper into the liturgy as well as understanding some of the differing approaches that various people are in favor of or against.

While the sections on Sacred Space and Sacred Time are particularly strong, they are too long to quote. Instead, here is something from the first chapter, “The Question of Images”, of Part Three, “Art and Liturgy”:

The icon of Christ is the icon of the risen Lord. That truth, with all its implications, now dawned on the Christian mind. There is no portrait of the risen Lord. At first the disciples do not recognize him. They have to be led toward a new kind of seeing, in which their eyes are gradually opened from within to the point where ¬†they recognize him afresh and cry out: “It is the Lord!” Perhaps the most telling episode of all is that of the disciples on the road to Emmaus. Their hearts are transformed, so that, through the outward events of Scripture, they can discern its inward center, from which everything comes and to which everything tends: the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. They then detain their mysterious companion and give him their hospitality, and at the breaking of bread they experience in reverse fashion what happened to Adam and Eve when they ate the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil: their eyes are opened. Now they no longer see just the externals but the reality that is not apparent through their senses: it is the Lord, now alive in a new way. In the icon it is not the facial features that count (though icons essentially adhere to the appearance of the acheiropoietos). No, what matters is the new kind of seeing. The icon is supposed to originate from an opening up of the inner senses, from a facilitation of sight that gets beyond the surface of the empirical and perceives Christ, as the later theology of icons puts it, in the light of Tabor. It thus leads the man who contemplates it to the point where, through the interior vision that the icon embodies, he beholds in the sensible that which, though above the sensible, has entered into the sphere of the senses. As Evdokimov says so beautifully, the icon requires a “fast from the eyes”. Icon painters, he says, must learn how to fast with their eyes and prepare themselves by a long path of prayerful asceticism. This is what marks the transition from art to sacred art (p. 188). The icon comes from prayer and leads to prayer. It delivers a man from that closure of the senses which perceives only the externals, the material surface of things, and is blind to the transparency of the spirit, the transparency of the Logos. At the most fundamental level, what we are dealing with here is nothing other than the transcendence of faith. The whole problem of knowledge in the modern world is present. If an interior opening-up does not occur in man that enables him to see more than what can be measured and weighed, to perceive the reflection of divine glory in creation, then God remains excluded from our field of vision. The icon, rightly understood, leads us away from false questions about portraits, portraits incomprehensible at the level of the senses, and thus enables us to discern the face of Christ and, in him, of the Father.

– pp. 120-122

Journey to Easter

Journey to Easter: Spiritual Reflections for the Lenten Season

by Pope Benedict XVI (2005; originally as Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger in 1987 (English) & 1985 (Italian))

This book opens with the text of homily-like talks that Cardinal Ratzinger delivered to Pope John Paul II and members of the Curia in a retreat that took place during the first full week of Lent in 1983. That alone makes this book remarkable and unique. Ratzinger is extraordinarily consistent: whether it is a formal academic work or the saved text of a speech, the quality and depth is characteristically world class. He can be a bit challenging to read at times, but this book is not one of them.

An excerpt from Chapter 12, “The Paschal Mystery”, should help solidify the point:

The Pasch was celebrated at home. Jesus did so too. But after the meal he got up and went out, went beyond the limits of the Law by crossing the brook Kidron, the boundary of Jerusalem. He went out into the night. Not fearing chaos, nor hiding from it, rather he went into its depths, even into the jaws of death. “He descended into hell, ” as we say in the Creed. He went out. And this means to say accordingly, though the ramparts of the Church are the faith and love of Jesus Christ, the Church is not a fortified citadel but an open city. And hence to believe means also to go out with Jesus Christ, not fearing chaos, because he is stronger, because he has gone there, and we, as we go out into it, are following him. To believe means to pass beyond the wall and into the midst of the chaotic world, to create with the strength of Jesus Christ a space for faith and love.

The Lord went out. This is a sign of his strength. He went out into the night of Gethsemane, into the night of the Cross, the night of the tomb. He went out because his love bears within it the love of God, which has greater power than the forces of destruction. It is therefore precisely in this going forth, along the way of the Passion, that the victorious deed lies, and already in this mystery is to be found the mystery of paschal joy. He is the stronger; there is no power which could resist him and no place which he is not. He calls us to attempt the way with him because where there is faith and love, there he is, and there too is the strength of peace which overcomes death and emptiness.

– pg. 109

Saved in Hope: Spe Salvi

Saved in Hope: Spe Salvi

by Pope Benedict XVI (2008, in Latin 2007)

Pope Benedict’s second encyclical. Here is an excerpt:

[Paul] says to the Thessalonians: you must not “grieve as others do who have no hope” (Th 4:13). Here too we see as a distinguishing mark of Christians the fact that they have a future: it is not that they know the details of what awaits them, but they know in general terms that their life will not end in emptiness. Only when the future is certain as a positive reality does it become possible to live the present as well. So now we can say: Christianity was not only “good news”–the communication of a hitherto unknown content. In our language we would say: the Christian message was not only “informative” but “performative”. That means: the Gospel is not merely a communication of things that can be known–it is one that makes things happen and is life-changing. The dark door of time, of the future, has been thrown open. The one who has hope lives differently; the one who hopes has been granted the gift of a new life.

– pp. 9-10

This is only about 100 pages. The final one-third of the encyclical, which provides a great illumination on the topic of Purgatory, is particularly strong.