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Church, Ecumenism, and Politics: New Endeavors in Ecclesiology Hardcover – June 25, 2008
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The first part, On the Nature and Structure of the Church, contains a useful chapter, "The Primacy of the Pope and the Unity of the People of God"; it offers insight into the Cardinal's understanding of the responsibility of the pope, which responsibility is now his. The pope's relation to the Church, as an individual, is not only biblically sound--we find Paul speaking, as Paul, for the members of his community, and addressing other communities through their leaders, such as Peter--it also provides a framework for responsibility. Ratzinger uses Reginald Cardinal Pole's observations to work his way towards a pope who leads and guides his Church even in, perhaps especially through, personal suffering. As Pole observes: "The office of the papacy is a cross, indeed, the greatest of all crosses. For what can be said to pertain more to the cross and anxiety of the soul than care and responsibility for all the Churches throughout the world?" Ratzinger was reflecting on this cross long before it became his as pope.
Part two deals with Ecumenical Problems. Given the recent actions by the author, as Pope Benedict XVI, in respects to the struggling Anglican Church, "Problems and Prospects of the Anglican-Catholic Dialogue" is most enlightening. Although it will be some time before the effects of the olive branch offered to Anglicans by Pope Benedict are known, this section makes clear that when the pope acted, he did so with immense awareness of the issues at stake. In the appendix to this section, Ratzinger draws on the great Catholic convert, the Venerable John Henry Cardinal Newman. He notes, "In Newman's day, every kind of interpretation of the Thirty-nine Articles was permitted except for an explicitly Catholic one. Conversion for Newman became imperative once the Anglican hierarchy had explicitly rejected as unacceptable his attempt at a Catholic interpretation." Although personal interpretation was supposed to be given significant freedom, it required limitation, without which a believer would be totally cut off from tradition. This conundrum, which is at least as old as Luther's discovery of alternative Protestant theologies, confronts Anglicans today.
The final part, which comprises almost half of the book, it titled Church and Politics. Ratzinger's meditates on "Europe: A Heritage with Obligations for Christians." He points out problems with three "counterimages" of Europe: a pre-Christian paganism; what is often dubbed post-Christian, but what he calls "post-European"; and Marxism. The first image resonated with practitioners of National Socialism, which was "a renunciation of Christianity as alienation from the "beautiful" German "savagery"." The second elevates tolerance by excluding religion from the secular realm; in the process rational law dissolves into anarchy. This leaves opens the door to tyranny, since anarchy wearies of lawlessness and readily consents to force as a substitute.
The third image, Marxism, comes up with some frequency. Time and again, Ratzinger tactfully and gently corrects its errors. Rather than discuss Marx's economic theories, Ratzinger points out the problems of Marx's eschatology. Since human beings as such are secondary to the goal of communism, their dignity is not sacred. "In practical terms, those who act according to party logic, and only those, act in keeping with freedom. When party logic demands arrests and terror, then it goes without saying that such action, too, is in keeping with freedom, because, after all, it is consistent with the logic that leads to freedom." Such thinking cannot protect the rights and dignity of every human being.
Church, Ecumenism and Politics is engaging and informative. It offers valuable insight into the thinking of Pope Benedict XVI on matters of particular and far-reaching significance, which indicates that the Church is in very able hands.