All posts tagged: Joseph Ratzinger

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’: …

A Case for Change: Reform and Church Teaching

Among the most intriguing figures in the ancient Greek world are the two pre-Socratic philosophers, Heraclitus and Parmenides. Heraclitus’s famous saying about the impossibility of stepping into the same river twice encapsulates one of his central teachings: The world is always fluctuating and the only constant is change itself. Parmenides, on the other hand, envisioned a world which was equally extreme, though in the opposite respect. For Parmenides, change is impossible. As his disciple Zeno argued, we may imagine ourselves to observe many things—arrows, tortoises, and athletes—undergoing changes. However, reason is more reliable than observation, Parmenides held, and change, which requires things to “pop” spontaneously in and out of existence, is eminently unreasonable. If it is new, where was it before? If it was there before, how is it new? As bizarre as these outlooks sound, they left an immense impression on the Western world that would follow. The most illustrious ancient Greek philosophers, Plato and Aristotle, each grappled with Parmenides and the possibility of change in their own unique ways. Plato famously distinguished between …

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 …

Let’s Not Ignore Scientific Faith

The great project of modern scientific positivism has been to establish all that can be known with absolute certainty—to isolate that knowledge which is purely objective and provable by experiment, and to hold this alone as truth. Michael Polanyi explains this clearly in The Tacit Dimension: “The declared aim of modern science is to establish a strictly detached, objective knowledge. Any falling short of this ideal is accepted only as a temporary imperfection, which we must aim at eliminating” (20). Ideally, this knowledge is not in any way influenced by human personality—despite the fact that it might be discovered and articulated by humans, it stands entirely on its own. Such a project has been and generally continues to be held as unquestionably valid and worth pursuing. And, if academia has begun to reject this positivist project, it still lingers on in government, media, education, and the popular imagination. The seemingly obvious question that often goes unasked is whether such a project was ever even possible. On what basis can it be assumed that science might …

How to Reclaim the Literal Interpretation of the Bible

The science and religion debate can become so convoluted and esoteric, and at times, even heated, that it is easy to forget what a clear and definitive answer the Church has to such questions. This is especially true when it comes to conversations about the supposed conflict between the first two chapters of Genesis and generally accepted scientific theories. On the one hand, is the claim that the biblical creation story is incompatible with the scientific dating of the universe and biological evolution, and thus that the science must be wrong. On the other hand, is the claim that because the biblical creation story and scientific accounts of the universe and humanity are fundamentally at odds, the Bible and Christianity must be wrong. The Catholic response to this question is that this disagreement has no grounds to stand on. Purely from the standpoint of biblical interpretation, the first two chapters of Genesis were never meant to be “scientific” in the modern sense of the term. The biblical creation account states profoundly that God created the …

97 Aphorisms Adduced from the Thought of Benedict XVI

1.     Faith is a Contact Sport. 2.     Christianity cannot be a gift to the world if it comes with empty hands. 3.     God sometimes finds it necessary to rough the passer. 4.     Societies and their gods are naturally violent and our only hope is God—the biblical God, beyond all societies and gods, who is Peace itself. 5.     To be free is not only to have avoided the coercion of others, but also the compulsion of the idols of one’s world and society and above all the compulsion and idol that is yourself. 6.     The peace that passeth understanding is neither brought about by nor guaranteed by us. We are cooperative agents in a process and a goal that transcends us. 7.     Conscience is the inconvenience of listening to the clear voice of God rather than the noise of the rabble or the static of the self. 8.     Christianity does not exercise the option for justice because it is made up of good people. It exercises the option because God insists on nothing less. 9.     Love …

A God Passionately Interested in Human Beings

Deus Caritas Est is in my opinion one of the greatest encyclicals ever written. It is both foundational and regulative for all of Benedict XVI’s encyclicals. This is no less true of Caritas in Veritate than it is of Spe Salvi.* If one had to summarize Deus Caritas Est, one would have to say at least the following. The God of Christian faith is the God witnessed to by Scripture and definitively disclosed in the Incarnation, Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Christ. This is God as the God of Love. This is the God who creates, redeems, and sanctifies, and who mysteriously desires fellowship with us. In line with the Gospel of John, in terms of Love this is God of pure agape, that is, the God of purely disinterested love. God does not make a profit in and through his relations to the world and human being. Certainly, God does not become more God in and through relations that he establishes with the world and with us as the Idealists would imagine. At the …

Inexhaustible Stories

I repeat my question, but the class stares blankly toward the front of the room and then shuffles with nervous looks at the floor to avoid being called upon. The sun pokes through the little windows on this bright Sunday morning as I teach a Confirmation preparation class for seventh grade students at a small parish in town. At the beginning of the morning I had picked up over a dozen teenagers from a bustling basement cafeteria and embarrassingly stuttered through conversations with their parents as my students translated my English into Spanish. I prepared to begin our class in prayer and looked out to a scene of fourteen-year-olds in varying stages of rapid and unpredictable growth spurts sitting in the tiny chairs of the third grade classroom we had been assigned. The noise of cars whooshing on the streets outside our windows seemed distracting as I asked the class to consider the images used by Christ himself: vines and harvests, mustard seeds and sowers, fig trees and shepherds. As we sifted through our Bibles …

Advent Eschatology

Oh I’d be waiting with quiet fasting, Anticipating A joy more lasting. —Madeleine L’Engle, “The Birth of Wonder” Advent—like Lent—is a liturgical period when we mark time according to what is still hidden. The Easter Hope is shrouded in sin and suffering, it has not yet broken open the world in Resurrection; the Christmas Hope of Christ’s glory is shrouded in the womb of the Virgin, it has not yet breached into the waking world of man. But Advent—unlike Lent—is not a season of penitential sorrow. Rather, Advent is a period of deep anticipation of the lasting joy that is coming into the world. To keep Advent is not to pretend, in a facile suspension of belief, that Christ has not been incarnated, that his great Nativity never occurred. Rather, to keep Advent is to walk in liturgical solidarity with all humanity’s forebears who lived in the pre-Incarnation world and to commemorate their anticipation of a Savior. As we walk with them along their journey of anticipation, we sense that we ourselves are a people …