With his election as Pope Benedict XVI, Joseph Ratzinger's views, style, and thought have taken on a new relevance. Pilgrim Fellowship Of Faith: The Church As Communion
is as good a place as any to start to gain insight into the man.
A collection of speeches, papers, and letters collected by his students for his 75th birthday, it examines the relationship between theology, faith, ecclesiology, and sacrament. It reveals a man who strives to be ecumenical in the most serious way -- who seeks real dialogue, which requires all participants to be as honest and searching about their beliefs and to accord dignity and respect to other interlocutors. This collection includes gracious letter exchanges with Orthodox Metropolitan Damaskinos of Switzerland and with Lutheran Provincial Bishop Johannes Hanselmann of Bavaria.
In the course of the works cited, Ratzinger deals in depth with these and other questions: What is theology, what is its relation to faith, and how can her methods lay claim to providing knowledge? What is the role of the Holy Spirit in ecclesiology, in our understanding of the Church? What is the relation between Communion as Eucharist and communion as Christian fellowship, and how does christology shape ecclesiology? What role to lay movements serve in the Church? How does the Church go about remembering and atoning for sins?
If there is a common theme, it is the primacy communion -- a vision of God as triune communion, a vision of the Universal Church with many local churches in communion, a vision of the ecumenical movement as a striving to realize Christian communion as a gift from God, a vision of sacraments as visible signs of communion. Also interesting is what he declares communion not to be. Specifically, it is not to be taken as a cover for blanket centralization of ecclesiastical authority in Rome.
It's a good read. A comparison with Wojtyla's style is perhaps inevitable. Ratzinger's writing is perhaps more pragmatic and concise, less gradiose. There's a quiet precision and grace here. Ratzinger seems like a quiet, patient teacher, a somewhat self-effacing man with a penetrating mind. It's an excellent way for Catholics to begin to learn their new pope's mind. It's a great book for other Christians who want an insight into how ecumenism fits into Pope Benedict's theological views. It's also a good book for non-Christians who wonder how the Church sees itself.