All posts tagged: Joseph Ratzinger

The Catholic Resistance to Corporatized College

In 1986, Stanley Hauerwas wrote an essay with the long title, “How Christian Universities Contribute to the Corruption of Youth: Church and University in a Confused Age,”[1] reminiscent of the accusation against Socrates, but ultimately siding with the Athens of our day. This came to mind as I was recently teaching Marx’s Manifesto and reflected upon our academic penchant for turning Marx outward rather than towards our own sacred cows, so to speak. What should we find were we to turn his critique against the realm of higher education as many of us experience it today? We need not be Marxists of the orthodox persuasion, of course, but at least use him as a jumping off point. Some thin description of the college experience is necessary first. Somewhere in the United States, let us say Idaho, a young person receives to great joy their college acceptance letter and, close on its heels, a letter regarding either discounts to tuition or loans which will sum to a rather large number by the end of their college …

Benedict XVI Beyond the Liturgy Wars

Long before he assumed the Petrine Office, Benedict XVI wrote frequently on the important role occupied by music in the life of the Church. His love of music began with a childhood he himself described as “Mozartian.” Joseph Ratzinger grew up in a musical family; his father sang tenor and played the zither, and his mother frequently sang Marian hymns, often while washing dishes. Joseph himself studied piano beginning around the age of ten and counted Beethoven, Bach, and especially Mozart among his favorite composers. Although he later left the formal study of music to his older brother Georg, Joseph never lost his enthusiasm for the beauty of music, nor his reverence for its power to open a person up to an encounter with the divine. His writings speak eloquently of the connection between music and theology and the implications of this connection for the liturgical life of the Church. For many in parish music ministry today, the “style” question remains a hot-button issue: Gregorian chant, Renaissance polyphony, hymnody, and praise and worship are not simply …

The Relationship of the Liturgy to Time and Space

Can there really be special holy places and holy times in the world of Christian faith? Christian worship is surely a cosmic liturgy, which embraces both heaven and earth. The epistle to the Hebrews stresses that Christ suffered ‘‘outside the gate’’ and adds this exhortation: ‘‘Therefore let us go forth to him outside the camp, bearing abuse for him’’ (13:12). Is the whole world not now his sanctuary? Is sanctity not to be practiced by living one’s daily life in the right way? Is our divine worship not a matter of being loving people in our daily life? Is that not how we become like God and so draw near to the true sacrifice? Can the sacral be anything other than imitating Christ in the simple patience of daily life? Can there be any other holy time than the time for practicing love of neighbor, whenever and wherever the circumstances of our life demand it? Whoever asks questions like these touches on a crucial dimension of the Christian understanding of worship but overlooks something essential …

Salvation: More Than a Cliché?

Redemption is a key word of the Christian faith; it is also one of the Christian words that has been most emptied of meaning: even for believers, it is difficult to discover another reality behind it. When they compare the drudgery of their daily lives, its battles, anxieties, and uncertainties, with the Christian Good News, often it seems to them almost impossible to acknowledge this redemption as something real. Furthermore, the words in which the faith tradition speaks here—atonement, vicarious substitution, sacrifice—have become obscure; all that verbiage produces no true connection with the experiences and insights of human existence today. It has been more than fifty years now since Josef Wittig, the Catholic theologian from Breslau, formulated this feeling in a way that, because of its artlessness and frankness, was felt by many to be a true liberation. At that time, he recounted how as schoolchildren they had received an explanation of the doctrine of redemption and had learned to sing the song, “Getröst, getröst, wir sind erlöst” (“Comforted, comforted, we are redeemed”)—but this pious …

Kneeling Theology: Believing in Order to See Scripture

At the very center of the thought of Joseph Ratzinger, both as pope and as a private theologian, is an awareness of the absolute necessity of the conversion of one’s whole self to Christ within the wider communal life of the Church. According to Lieven Boeve, conversion is for Ratzinger “the most fundamental structure of the Christian faith . . . In almost all of his writings from the 1960’s to the 1980’s this theme surfaces over and over again.”[1] It is an essential element of the Christian state of life, because at the heart of Christianity stands the person of Jesus Christ, the Christian’s recognition that he is not Christ, and the incessant clarion call that one must become more and more subsumed into Christ’s very life and person. And, if one hears and accepts the call to conversion and commits the whole of one’s self to God time and again, then by the grace of God one acquires a certain holiness of life. Faith, conversion, and holiness, then, all go hand-in-hand with one …

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 …

The Catechetical Political Theology of Joseph Ratzinger

Joseph Ratzinger’s Introduction to Christianity is a sort of catechism; it teaches, initiates, guides. Happily enough, this is clear in its title in both German and English: Einführung in das Christentum (“Ein,” meaning “into”[1] and “Führung,” “direction, steering, stewarding”),[2] Introduction to Christianity (“intro,” meaning “into,” “duco,” “to lead, to pull”).[3] According to Ignatius Press, this fondly-regarded text “is still very timely and crucial for the spiritual needs of modern man.”[4] In other words, Ratzinger’s book is a catechetical aid, it helps us bring our contemporaries into the thoughtful, rational, and wonderful world of Christian belief, and, thereby, into the serene discipline that is Catholic theology. I do not disagree with this, but, on a close reading of his sources and life, the book is far more: it betrays itself to be a kind of theological politics. Now Pope Emeritus Benedict has effectively admitted this in his most recent preface to the text. This is how it opens, how he introduces Introduction: Since this work was first published, more than thirty years have passed, in which …