For those who want a keen insight into the life and formation of the new pope, Benedict XVI, most recently known as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, this book is a must read. Most of the text is done as an interview with Peter Seewald, a German journalist, who does a question-and-answer format, but not in a choppy form. The answers are extended reflections, giving ample space to discussion of real, substantive issues of the church and the world.
The first section of the book concentrates on Ratzinger himself; the interview is nearly ten years old now, but the insights are still apropos to the man who is now the pope. Ratzinger did not look at the questions beforehand, and his responses, while not quite off-the-cuff, still have a spontaneity to them that is perhaps at odds with the more conservative image Ratzinger has come to bear. He is a conservative, to be sure, but in these pages along with other books, one may find a bit more compassion and humour than one might expect.
Ratzinger reflects upon his strict upbringing as a child, his time as a child of a 'simple commissioner', and his growth in a devout Catholic family who tended to go to Mass twice on Sundays.
Ratzinger became a theology professor, teaching at the universities at Tubingen and Regensburg. Heidegger is a big influence on Ratzinger's philosophical development, as are notions of Personalism (a philosophy of profound influence on Martin Luther King Jr. among others). Like his predecessor, Ratzinger has a great interest in Phenomenology and other modern philosophical schools. This led him to be a theological advisor to the Second Vatican Council, at which time Ratzinger was classified as a progressive, perhaps even a liberal.
Ratzinger discusses the role of his office, the Sacred Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith (once called The Inquisition), in the development of the 800+ page catechism for the Catholic church. This is a pope who knows the catechism backwards and forwards, for he has been part of the development at every stage.
Most intriguing are his ideas for the future of the church and the state of the world. He doesn't expect some sort of dramatic resurgence of the church, but does see a role and relevance for the church in the world. Perhaps this comes from the power of the church to provoke and be a prophetic witness. Given that his chosen name as pope is Benedict, his comparison in this text with St. Benedict (of monastic fame) is very intriguing. He likens the current and future situation to that of late antiquity, a time in which the majority of the non-ecclesial society wasn't really taking note of what the church was doing - Benedict was a bit of a dropout, who created 'an ark in which the West survived', largely going unnoticed.
For those who see Ratzinger as a knee-jerk traditionalist, perhaps no other statement is more enigmatic than his comment, "Perhaps the time has come to say farewell to the idea of traditionally Catholic cultures."
An intriguing and fascinating read.
on December 17, 2003
Cardinal Ratzinger is cut from a different cloth than those mediocre prelates who are always eager to accommodate the mistakes of modern Western societies. This book is well worth reading because Ratzinger obviously places proclaiming the truth above his personal popularity. In my opinion, his most striking words have to do with the proper role of the bishop: to keep challenging Christians and others, to, as Augustine said, keep them from falling asleep. Ratzinger finds repulsive the mentality of "don't rock the boat" that seems to permeate too many dioceses. When church historians look back to the latter part of the 20th century, they will rightly note the pivotal role of Ratzinger in preserving the deposit of faith when so many high-ranking clerics and prominent theologians were so eager to compromise that same deposit of faith.