Friday, July 8, 2011

The Ratzinger Reader

By Lieven Boeve and Gerard Mannion, 286 pages, Continuu Books.

The current pontiff writes with unparalleled precision and elegance on theology and all of life. Rather than backing down from a theological fight, his polemics find the weak points in secularism's reasoning, as many selection in this Reader bear out.

Writing without the strong emotional-anecdotal style common in the media and universities today, he backs his positions with facts and argument from tradition. His polemics therefore do not sound like those of an angry reactionary.

Rather, readers get a sense of the deeper, timeless reasoning behind Catholic thinking. Regardless of where one sits on the political spectrum, Ratzinger is a must-read because he has become the reference point for Catholic dogma and the tradition.

His thinking, so deeply-rooted, helps readers understand why the Church is so at odds with secular thinking, and why it refuses to give in. Deeper, timeless truths are the reference point, rather than soon-to-be-refuted sociological or social science studies and findings. One gets a sense of the great yet silent confidence of someone who has spent his life searching the truth rather than seeking good feelings or simple political solutions.

His criticism of liberation theology is in turn the most opposed part of his own teachings. Yet his reasoning here remains more solid than the often sentimental-anecdotal theology of many liberation theologians.

Ratzinger has for long opposed the belief whereby the kingdom of God can be brought about on earth. Jesus brought God, not a political solution, to humanity. The current attempt to use politics to solve all our social problems is a cop out, he claims, because it relieves the individual of responsibility.

In this erroneous thinking, sin becomes social, located in structures and institutions rather than in the human heart. Every utopia, he warns, masks a rejection of ethics and thereby undermines the moral value of the thinking, acting person. All ethic comes to reside in the institution. The Christian idea of the infinite greatness of the individual soul no longer holds any meaning.

Such political views reduce all of life, especially politics, to power. Politics in a secular world no longer has the restraints of Christianity, and becomes capable of anything. The twentieth-century thus saw Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mao, and other atheists who hated the Church and were capable of unspeakable crimes. The century saw abortion move from crime to a "right".

Much of Ratzinger's writings thus focus on the need for a changed relationship between theology and politics, and between theology and philosophy. Both politics and philosophy have secularized, which has left both without a higher reference. They are each the poorer, and have no real inspiration.

Regarding philosophy, Ratzinger observes: "questioning founders when there is no hope of finding an answer. Faith hears the answer because it keeps the question alive."

The current pope has been at the forefront of resistance to the culture of death for over 4 decades, and as The Ratzinger Reader's editors note, he has been consistent in his theology during that time, despite how many people have represented him. This consistency revolves around his concern for the truth and support for a centralized Church where the Magisterium has the final say on doctrinal matters.

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