Truth and Beauty

IN THE VINEYARD OF THE LORD: THE LIFE, FAITH, AND TEACHINGS OF JOSEPH RATZINGER, POPE BENEDICT XVI. By Marco Bardazzi (Rizzoli, New York, N.Y., 2005), 138 pp. PB $16.95.

Marco Bardazzi is an Italian journalist and the American correspondent of ANSA, an Italian news agency. He lives in New York City.

This brief biography of Pope Benedict XVI is an easily readable story of his life told in chronological order which is helpful for the reader who knows nothing about his life and it discusses the influence of some of the major events of his life on his thinking. It also includes a very brief appendix of quotations from his writings on various topics, especially his comments on cultural and social issues. The volume also includes ten pages of photographs of Ratzinger at various stages of his life.

Bardazzi begins with Ratzinger’s early years in Bavaria and events leading up to his ordination. He shows how the roots of his Catholic faith would provide a defense against the evils and ideologies of the Nazi era. Ratzinger’s encounters with the world of Mozart and literature will lead him to the affirmation that music and beauty are paths to Christ. At the end of a major Bach concert in Munich, Ratzinger turned to the Lutheran bishop sitting next to him and exclaimed. “Anyone who has heard this, knows that faith is true” (30). Bardazzi sees similarities between the younger Ratzinger and the older Swiss theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar who was also a great lover of Mozart and other composers and devoted his life to producing a theology which reflected on the beauty and glory of God in creation, revelation, and redemption. The two became close friends. Bardazzi’s treatment of the friendship and collaboration of Ratzinger, Balthasar, and DeLubac who founded the new theological journal Communio is one of the best chapters of this book. Most biographers of Pope Benedict XVI barely mention this important event in the authentic renewal of Catholic theology in response to the Second Vatican Council. For Ratzinger truth is a great symphony of distinct and diverse voices and elements that create a harmonious melody of a great symphony rather than discordant noises. The name communio seems to have been chosen due to their contact with the new ecclesial movement Communion and Liberation. Communio eventually was published in numerous languages and among the theologians in this great network of Catholic thinkers was a Polish philosopher Karol Wojtyla. From this point on there would be a parting of the ways between some progressive theologians who wanted to question various Catholic doctrines and practices and those theologians of Vatican II who insisted that the Council be interpreted in light of tradition and were interested in going back to the sources of Scripture and Tradition in order to renew the Church so that it could present the Gospel with greater clarity and conviction to the modern world. Whereas Hans Kung and other progressives interpreted reality from a sociological and political perspective, Ratzinger preferred a genuinely theological perspective as indicated by the choice of the term communio. It is no accident that two of the most creative theologians in this new movement of Communio, Balthasar and Ratzinger, were not only theologians but accomplished musicians. One of Balthasar’s more profound slim books was entitled Truth is Symphonic.

The author includes a list of prominent Catholic theologians and intellectuals who became an informal international network for the authentic renewal of Catholic theology as envisioned by the Council. Some of the more profound cardinal­ theologians are associated with this group; we see Schönborn, Lustiger, and Scola. We hope that future historians will explore this process of renewal after the initial crisis following the Council which linked together various groups and bishops, theologians, and lay persons in Italy, Germany, France, Poland, and the United States. We also hope that theologians will explore in greater depth the relation between theology and philosophy and the appreciation of music and beauty. Does a sensibility to the beauty of a great symphony, piano sonata, concert Mass, or painting also lead to a greater appreciation of the divine Truth and Creator and the spiritual and moral dimensions of everyday human life?

Bardazzi also briefly examines Ratzinger’s role as a young theologian and peritus at the Second Vatican Council and his complex relations with other prominent theologians at the Council such as Hans Kung, Karl Rahner, and Edward Schillebeeckx from whom he eventually distanced himself. Many critics claim that the “progressive” Ratzinger became a “reactionary” after the Council and rejected many of its reforms. Bardazzi believes this to be a myth. He was also familiar with the pastoral needs of the faithful. As Archbishop of Munich, Ratzinger became deeply involved in the pastoral work of the Church and the spiritual needs of his people.

Bardazzi notes that Ratzinger’s years in Rome as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith produced many profound theological statements on diverse topics. The Ratzinger Report, a book published in his early years as Prefect, was very candid about problems within the Church and had a great influence in some of these various debates at that time. Bardazzi also describes some of Ratzinger’s more controversial interventions in disciplining theologians who dissented from Catholic teaching. The issues and controversies surrounding the document, Dominus Jesus, are also discussed and Bardazzi dispels the myth that Ratzinger had written the document himself without the knowledge and consent of the Pope; John Paul II insisted he had carefully discussed it with Ratzinger and it had his full approval. The author quickly moves through the last days of John Paul II, the Cardinal’s role in the funeral rites and conclave and his election as Pope.

There are about 25 pages of quotations from Ratzinger’s own works on a variety of topics at the end of the book. These topics include remarks on the dictatorship of relativism, Western self-hatred, the UN and the war in Iraq, war and peace, politics, Beethoven, and beauty. It is clear that although our new Holy Father is above all a theologian, he is also an intellectual who has not hesitated to reflect and speak on a wide range of moral, social, and cultural issues. He has a very perceptive and penetrating intellect and also a warm heart that can express much wisdom in only a few words.

Edmund. W. Majewski, S.J.
St. Peter’s College
Jersey City, NJ

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