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Recent reflections by the new pope
on April 22, 2005
Pope Benedict XVI, as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, gave an interview to Peter Seewald a few years before the turn of the millennium, in a book entitled 'Salt of the Earth'. A few years after the turn of the millennium, Seewald followed up this earlier publication with this book, 'God and the World'. In it, Seewald take a bit more of a systematic approach to discussing theological topics.
In the first section, the Prologue, Seewald continues in a vein similar to the earlier book, asking questions that are both academic and personal, discussing issues of faith, vocation, mystery and belief. Ratzinger speaks of his personal devotion and prayer practices, which include traditional forms of standard communal prayer (noontime Angelus, Vespers, Compline) as well as his own personal prayer practices, such as reciting a prayer before rising in the morning. He gives an account of how this kind of practice strengthens and reinforces itself, saying that 'the organ of sensitivity to God can atrophy to such an extent that the words of faith become quite meaningless.'
Seewald directs the questions in a format that might serve as a guide to following a systematic theology - while this is not Ratzinger's systematic theology by any means, one can see the philosophical and theological consistency even in the answers to the question-and-answer format. He speaks of God, creation, Christology, scripture, sacraments, ecclesiology, and more. These are done in creative but traditional ways - for example, the section of Christology (speaking of Jesus Christ), the conversation falls under broad headings of Revelation, The Way, The Truth, and The Light (as separate sections). He also explores issues of Mariology and the significance of the Cross.
The sections on the sacraments and the future are both firmly grounded in a sense that they need to be connected to the happenings in this world. Ratzinger looks forward to a resurgence of the spiritual in Christianity, and this perhaps taps into one of his namesakes, the St. Benedict who was an early pioneer in the development of monastic community and spirituality.
Interestingly, given Ratzinger's selection of papal name as Benedict XVI, this interview (the third in-depth interview with Seewald) was conducted at a Benedictine Abbey, the famous Abbey of Monte Cassino.
There are many books that can give good insight into the thinking of the new pope, but this book is a key text to show both his recent thinking, as well as his responses to crucial questions of concern in the current situation in the church and in the world.