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Introduction to Christianity Paperback – December, 1990
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Typical of Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI, this is not a quick cover-to-cover read. It is best read and re-read slowly, giving plenty of time for it to soak in and not trying to take on too much at once-- a perfect read during Lent. It also helps to highlight extensively and take notes. The depth of thought present is, as always, breathtaking, and will have the reader "running to keep up" throughout. Joseph Ratzinger particularly excels at explaining Christianity in context of the intellectual climate of our era and expressing its timeless aliveness in the person of Jesus. I recommend Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI's Introduction to Christianity as a more-than-worthwhile read for any Christian-- or anyone curious about Christianity. While certainly written from a Catholic perspective, its organization around the Apostles' Creed makes it wholly ecumenical as well. A serious and well-reasoned presentation of Christianity that approaches its readers and contemporaries with respect while presenting its subject in unflinching fullness.
Now a quick word on the Kindle edition: navigation and searching function smoothly, however, be aware that you will likely have to adjust your font size upward, as the typeface used for this edition seems smaller than usual. The TOC appears to be complete, but is also a little glitchy, displaying artifacts, coding and incomplete chapter titles. To be fair, this could be an error on my particular device or with my particular download.
Ratzinger does a marvelous job of extracting from the Apostles' Creed six salient principles on which he shares with his readers profound insights into the Christian narrative of "the God who has turned his face to us". He demonstrates how these principles play a significant part in shaping our faith and in turn capture the "spirit of Christianity".
Ratzinger writes in a style and language that is appropriate for the "new millennium" impatient with irrationality and superficiality. His approach, appropriately, is eclectic. Adroitly he moves from the language and thought-processes of Jean Paul Sartre to Tielhard de Chardin to Rudolf Bultmann; from metaphysics to ontology (a la existentialism). Metaphysics and ontology to describe the parallel concepts of the Incarnation and the Cross; Sartrean language to describe our existence in terms of being and its dynamic Christian model of "being for"; Chardin provides the paradigm for his insights on the Resurrection; Bultmann's demythologizing proposition, as Ratzinger applies it to Heaven and Hell, resonates with the secularized world of the twenty-first century.
The legacy of philosophical inquiry of the Early Christians anticipates and facilitates Ratzinger's efforts to dialogue with the rational mind of the "new millennium". Ratzinger does acknowledge the contribution of philosophy to Christian theology. Christian theology he indicates got its stimulus very early from gentile converts who were philosophers. They brought to their new found faith the propensity to inquire, rationalize and conceptualize. While, as Ratzinger recognizes, this was the foundation of Christian theology, he cautions that there is a fundamental difference between philosophy and Christian theology that must be considered in order to avoid incorrect understanding and hence incorrect articulation of the Christian faith. Philosophy is essentially an individualistic enterprise that seeks to discover the truth through reflection. Whereas Christian theology seeks to understand and articulate what is given. The Word of God is given rather than discovered through reflection. Hence, philosophy should be used as a supplementary tool to help Christians express their faith in clear and precise manner. This is exactly what Ratzinger does in a masterful way.
There is one disturbing note. There is no evidence that gender equality has penetrated Ratzinger's consciousness. Today, no reflection on Christianity should fail to embrace women. And no writer should hide behind the veneer that the masculine term as used is generic. It is reprehensible that when Ratzinger speaks about "being for" he does not address the shabby treatment of women. Obviously women are not included in the "for". The model does not apply to them because they're not "God's partner in a dialogue...". They're are excluded because it is only man who "is the being that can think of God, the being opened onto transcendence." It is man whom God allows to become a part of his "entirely Other". And I suppose these are the reasons why women are excluded from the ordained priesthood. This might not be what Ratzinger intended but nevertheless his statements reflect a mindset that precludes women from the ordained priesthood.
However, despite this particular flaw, Ratzinger is still the great apologist of the Christian faith for our millennium. He shows remarkable awareness of cultural trends and challenges of millennia. And so his writing is on target to equip Christians with the intellectual tools to dialogue with the rest of the world.
I found his insights on the Apostles' Creed to be profound and refreshing. I felt inspired by his mediations which blended in well with theological propositions. It was a personal touch which engaged my mind and endeared me to the Christian faith. I am happy I read this book and I strongly recommend that all millennia do the same.