Commentary on the End of Introduction to Christianity by Cardinal Ratzinger
Just this evening, I finished Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger’s book Introduction to Christianity. Now that I have read the work in its entirety, I can say with confidence that I highly recommend it, especially to people who have a mid-to-high level of competency in Christian theology and philosophical postmodernism.
In this post, I’d like to give a short commentary on a few lines from the text that capture Benedict XVI’s most profound insights:
- “The real basic law of Christian existence is expressed in the preposition ‘for'” (pg. 251).
The word for in the English language denotes purpose, meaning, and direction. For is the prepositional form of telos (the final cause). From the human perspective of the Christian, we are “for” neighbor and “for” God. From the messianic perspective, Christ is “for” us and “for” God the Father. Quickly, one realizes that Christians are caught up in a great web of “for”-ness. Christianity is a religion of relations among persons. The Trinity is an explanation of the relationship between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, who interpenetrate each other despite the fact that they share the same substance. Similarly, the Church is a body, and each believer is individually a member of that body. When one part weeps, the whole body is meant to weep together. When one part rejoices, the whole body is meant to rejoice together. It is impossible to ignore the distinctively social element of the Christian faith.
- “A Christian is someone who knows that in any case he lives first and foremost as the beneficiary of a bounty and that, consequently, all righteousness can only consist in being himself a donor, like the beggar who is grateful for what he receives and generously passes part of it on to others” (pg. 260).
Christians are grateful and compassionate beggars. They are thankful for the gifts that they have received from God, and they willingly share the overflow of God’s grace with others. Throughout Christian history, there has been significant debate about whether or not “good works” are essential for salvation. Bearing in mind Benedict XVI’s point, one quickly comes to see the futility of separating faith from good works (as the Reformers of the 16th century did). Faith and good works are not separate from each other, as both are due to the grace of God. One who completes a “good work” does not attribute merit to him or herself; rather, he or she attributes merit to the Redeemer, through whom all good things come. True Christians inevitably do good works because they are thankful for the salvation that God has won for them.
- “There is a freedom that is not cancelled out even by grace” (pg. 323).
Christianity is the religion of freedom. It is apparent throughout the Scriptures (particularly in the New Testament) that God will judge humanity at the end of time. For some, the idea of a final judgment is scary, but Cardinal Ratzinger offers a different perspective. He says that we must recognize who our Judge will be: Jesus. Our Judge is not unsympathetic with our human condition. Rather, he himself became one of us! He is our brother, our friend, our advocate. For those who are friends of He who desires friendship with all, the Judgment is not a horrific event. With this in mind, the Judgment becomes a banquet, a celebration of the love that God wishes to share with his friends forever.
I hope that these reflections have been helpful for you. For me, it has been a great pleasure to read Introduction to Christianity. Please check it out for yourself!
May God bless you abundantly.
David J.W. Inczauskis