All posts tagged: Benedict XVI

Joseph Ratzinger Is Not a Platonist

The sacramental theology of Joseph Ratzinger is categorized by the Belgian systematic theologian Lieven Boeve as a pre-modern “neo-Platonic Augustinian vision of the world.”[1] According to Boeve, Ratzinger remains dependent on a metaphysics characterized by a distinction between the visible and the invisible. In Boeve’s narrative, Ratzinger is uncritically attached to an eternal grounding that is outside of the rite itself, a transcendence that brackets materiality and the particularity of existence in the world. The way forward in sacramental theology for Boeve is a postmodern dialectic of interruption between transcendence and immanence: “The sacramentality of life, clarified and celebrated in the sacraments, is no longer considered as participation in a divine being . . . but as being involved in the tension arising from the irruption of the divine Other into our human narratives, to which the Christian narrative testifies from of old.”[2] The sacramental structure of Christian existence is not entrance into some eternal world outside of time but an interruption of divine Otherness into the present. For Boeve, as he argues elsewhere, this …

A Defense of Ultramontanism Contra Gallicanism

The term “ultramontanism” has seen a bit of a resurgence in recent Catholic conversations as a pejorative used by both traditional and progressive Catholics. In so doing, both sides align themselves with doctrinal heterodoxy. Brian Flanagan has recently published a brief study of the term in the National Catholic Reporter, noting the return of the term in “First Things, The New York Times, and the Catholic blogosphere and Twitter.”  Like those involved with the term in Catholic journalism and social media, Flanagan too misunderstands the Church’s teaching on ultramontanism. The extension of the term has shifted in recent years. During the pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI, it was used against traditionally-minded Catholics (those who lauded Pope Benedict’s words, actions, and even shoes) by those who would self-identify as progressive. Today, traditionally-minded Catholics use the term against the progressive or liberal members of the Church who treat interviews with Pope Francis as infallible. In short, a perceived shift between the academic-conservative papacy of Benedict and the pastoral-collegial papacy of Francis has effected a shift regarding who …

The Contemporary Question of Images and Early Christian Art

“Where do we go from here? Today we are experiencing not just a crisis of sacred art, but a crisis of art in general of unprecedented proportions,”[1] notes Cardinal Ratzinger, in the chapter “The Question of Images” of his three-volume work The Spirit of the Liturgy. There he examines the contemporary crisis of art through a detailed history of the image and the icon. He invites us to remember the purpose of Christian art, and of art in general, by looking back at the liturgical and mystical power of early Christian visual exegesis. Our earliest dated examples of Christian art are from the third century, and they are mostly found in funerary contexts, particularly in the frescoes in the Roman catacombs. These images: Simply take up and develop the canon of images already established by the synagogue, while giving it a new modality of presence. The individual events are now ordered toward the Christian sacraments and to Christ himself. Noah’s ark and the crossing of the Red Sea now point to Baptism. The sacrifice of Isaac and …

Introduction to Christianity: Bestseller Around the World

In the winter semester of 1900, the Lutheran, liberal-minded theologian Adolf von Harnack gave in sixteen lectures, at the University of Berlin, a course designed for students from all the faculties entitled ‘‘The Essence of Christianity,’’[1] which recalled the title of a work by Ludwig Feuerbach, published in 1841. The lectures were soon collected in a volume that became a classic of Lutheran theology, one of the cornerstones of liberal thought against which Karl Barth thundered. Where Feuerbach proved to be destructive, Harnack turned out to be reductive, subjecting God to the measure of man, who ended up taking the upper hand over God’s own holiness. Later, in the late 1920s, in Tübingen, a Catholic dogmatic theologian, Karl Adam, also gave a lecture course on the nature of Catholicism.[2] In opposition to modernism, Adam argued that the Catholic Church is a community capable of acting and suffering, of praying and loving, of growing and preserving unity. Moreover, it has grown enormously since A.D. 33, the year of Jesus’ death, but at the same time has …

A Theological Critique of Economic Modernity’s Myths

Pope Francis’s frequently speaks of our irresponsible use of goods, the violence in our hearts, unchecked human activity, and how our current models of growth, of production and consumption are unsustainable. He tells us early in Laudato Si’ that the deterioration of nature goes hand in hand with deterioration of the culture, and that both share a cause: “Both are ultimately due to the same evil: the notion that there are no indisputable truths to guide our lives, and hence human freedom is limitless” (§6). Echoing St. John Paul II, who writes in Centesimus Annus: “Indeed, what is the origin of all the evils to which Rerum Novarum wished to respond, if not a kind of freedom which, in the area of economic and social activity, cuts itself off from the truth about man?” (§4). Similarly, Pope Benedict XVI’s 2008 social encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, is structured around the belief that love must be firmly based on the truth about the human person (§1-10). Each Pontiff is concerned with a misunderstanding of what it means to use …

A Guide for Effectively Teaching Ratzinger’s Introduction to Christianity in Theology 101

Although when then-Fr. Joseph Ratzinger authored his 1968 Introduction to Christianity[1] he was still four years away from founding the international journal Communio together with Henri de Lubac, Hans Urs von Balthasar, and others, the work clearly manifests the thought of the Communio school. In at least one respect, Ratzinger even seems to go further, at least in emphasis, than de Lubac’s ressourcement of the view that the human person has a natural desire for the vision of God.[2] On the one hand, de Lubac insists that this desire coexists with the incommensurability of the orders of nature and grace, posits the existence of a distance between nature and the supernatural as radical as that between non-being and being,[3] and argues that this desire is an “unknown desire” until God’s offer of the beatific vision is revealed.[4] On the other hand, Ratzinger’s book seems to relate belief in the created logos more closely to faith in the creative Logos, and even writes that “in the last analysis one cannot make a neat distinction between ‘natural’ and ‘supernatural’: …

Observations on Ratzinger’s Introduction to Christianity on Its 50th Anniversary

Introduction to Christianity is modest in scope and intention, and conspicuously eschews the originality that has become the standard in appraising excellence in academic theology over the past decades. Yet despite these disadvantages, it has become a classic in David Tracy’s sense in that over a period of 50 years it has spoken in shifting intellectual environments to professors of theology, college students, mothers and fathers of college students, religious searchers, to Catholics in parishes who wish to better know their Christian faith and pass it on, and to Catholics who have lapsed either because of scandals in the Church or the perception that Christian faith is not relevant to their lives. The book has exercised enormous influence because of its deep rootedness in the Catholic tradition, the simplicity of its faith, the personal warmth that it exudes, and its marvelous clarity and economy of expression. Perhaps more than any other text Benedict wrote, this one best shows him as teacher. But teacher not only in the thoughtfulness and patience exhibited in the text that readers …

The Cross Must Be Deeply Ugly to Be Beautiful

I first venerated the cross when I was attending a high-school model UN conference that had been accidentally scheduled during Holy Week. The conference was held in New York City near Times Square, and the neighboring church was the Anglo-Catholic Church of St. Mary the Virgin—colloquially known as “Smoky Mary’s” for the odor of incense that fills your nostrils when you enter the immaculate gothic nave. Its vaults are painted blue with gold stars and lined with red and gold trim. Its interior is perfect. After the passion was sung, we took off our shoes, like Moses before the burning bush, and proceeded through two stations of veneration, each with a server instructing us to bow and proceed, before finally kneeling to kiss the cross itself. Usually we kiss icons or relics, but why should we kiss an empty cross, and any old cross, at that? In classical literature, metonymy is a figure of speech whereby a part serves to represent the whole. The cross performs a similar function in Christian theology, for it means …

Žižek Has a Lot to Say About Christ, but Should the Church Listen?

Slovenian philosopher and cultural theorist Slavoj Žižek has a lot to say about Jesus Christ, which might not appear terribly out of place in the present journal, especially during a month devoted to discussing the ecclesial imagination. It is his other qualifiers, however, that mark him an unlikely candidate. Žižek is perhaps one of the world’s most important leftist intellectuals, an ardent Marxist, resolute materialist, committed atheist, and, paradoxically, a “faithful Christian,” though Žižek himself will provide the terms for being the latter. My present intentions in writing about Žižek and his thinking about Jesus are pure, I hope, aiming only to pose the question whether or not Žižek deserves to blip the Catholic radar. Even the most casual of armchair theologians will be rightly wary enough of intellectual trends that announce themselves on the theological scene—“Finally, a new kind of Christianity!”—only to recede back into the ether, often leaving the less than faint impression that a good deal of time had been wasted and attention misdirected. The popularity of Slavoj Žižek in both academic …

The Saint for a Troubled Church

With so many issues troubling the Church and world at large, it can often be a difficult to get a grasp on these problems and identify practical solutions. But there is a Saint who faced similar challenges in his own time who can help us realize the grace and peace that God has given us. Saint Bonaventure joined the Franciscan order and was an academic by training, but he was also a great preacher and confessor. Recognized as a man of wisdom and talent, at the age of 36, he was elevated to the post of Minister General of the Order, a position he held for nearly 17 years, before being named Cardinal. One of the Doctors of the Church, Bonaventure is an remarkable spiritual master and theologian, but also a fantastic administrator and leader, who can help us chart a path that both clings to the Gospel ideals of Jesus, but also recognizes the importance of moving in the direction of the current times of the world. He is a great exemplar for us …