Catholic Transcript Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut

Friday, April 20, 2018

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Msgr. David Q. Liptak

Many of the news stories generated prior to Pope Benedict XVI’s first visit to the United States this April were based on the premiss that the Pope is very much a figure whose views, even on religion, are not especially well known. Peter Steinfels, writing in the 29 March New York Times, hazarded the guess that many segments of the media would begin their coverage of the Holy Father’s pilgrimage here with clichés evoking surprise over what should be obvious. “What is surprising about every papal visit,” wrote Steinfels, “is what so many people find surprising. Each time they are surprised, for example, that the Pope hasn’t abandoned the notion that all human lives, even in their earliest embryonic phases, deserve protection and that therefore abortion is wrong.” (Italics added.) Likewise, surprise might be voiced, added Steinfels, if and when the Holy Father chooses to renew the Church’s affirmation of other fundamental and perennial Catholic doctrines, such as belief in the one Triune God; the Divinity of Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God; and the status of the Catholic Church as God’s principal sacrament in the world.

Of course, the Holy Father is, and must be, Catholic. Surely, anyone can ascertain the essentials of Catholicism from an authoritative volume about it; for instance, the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The Pope – any Pope – leads, teaches, inspires, and confirms all the faithful by virtue of the truths set forth in the Catechism.


This particular Pope, however, is, like his celebrated predecessor, an especially learned and charismatic theologian, whose awesome penetrations into Biblical/Traditional Truth are capable of stunning contemporary persons of faith or reason with at least momentary spectacular vistas of truth and beauty, vistas of which they had never dreamt. Pope John Paul II’s theological contributions suddenly came to light everywhere when he came to Peter’s Chair. Up until then, only a few of his major writings were available in English. But Benedict’s theological genius has long been discernible to English readers (thanks especially to Ignatius Press).


The point is, of course, that anyone who genuinely desires to know this Pope’s thinking has long been able to do so.

For many years now, seminaries and colleges have had access to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger’s Introduction to Christianity, a magnificent gateway to understanding the ancient Apostles’ Creed today. The book is an acknowledged classic; I have used it in theology classes for years. Likewise, his incomparable The Spirit of the Liturgy, an absolutely key reading adventure, towering by far over most books on the liturgy today.


But Cardinal Ratzinger’s books available in English add up to at least 100 volumes (excluding compilations of sermons and conferences, per se). Some examples are Christianity and the Crisis of Cultures; The Dialectics of Secularization: On Reason and Religion; Church, Ecumenism and Politics: New Endeavors in Ecclesiology; Dogma and Preaching; Europe: Today and Tomorrow; God and the World; Gospel, Catechism and Catechesis; Handing on the Faith in an Age of Disbelief; Many Religions, One Covenant; On Conscience; Principles of Catholic Theology; What It Means To Be a Christian; Values in a Time of Upheaval; Without Roots: The West, Relativism, Christianity, Islam – and many more.


Among the published collections of Cardinal Ratzinger’s talks, some are especially significant, as well as popular. For instance, there is his Creation and Evolution, originally a series of sermons given in Munich; Journey Towards Easter, sermons preached before Pope John Paul II and the Curia for a Lenten Retreat in 1983; and The Ratzinger Report, the record of a celebrated interview which the Cardinal gave to an Italian reporter/writer, first published in 1985.


Just from a quick review of this Pope’s published works, therefore, his deep theological learning should have been evident to any reporter or commentator. What could truly be surprising about his works would be majestic new insights into the multifaceted wonder of Revelation and reason in service to God, our Father, through the Word Incarnate, Jesus of Nazareth.


Pope Benedict XVI is, indeed, the fulfillment of (as another has prophesied) a Joshua succeeding a Moses. We are living in an electrifying age and need to take every advantage of it. Popes like these appear as God’s extraordinary gifts to be received with profound appreciation.


Msgr. David Q. Liptak is Executive Editor of The Catholic Transcript, and censor librorum for the Archdiocese of Hartford.