It will of course appear that I’m merely following trends by writing about Introduction to Christianity by Joseph Ratzinger. In fact I read the book just before the New Year, but work has been busy so I have not had a chance to put my thoughts into writing. Meanwhile I have read one other book that deserves careful reflection, with the result that I’m not sure how much more I will write about this one.
It’s an excellent book. Written in 1969, it reads as if it were a retrospective synopsis of major ideas in 20th century theology and biblical studies. I would estimate that about two thirds of the allusions were familiar to me by name (though not by having read the books in question, unfortunately!).
One doesn’t generally look to theological works for humor, but I might have expected it from Ratzinger, who’s opening one-liner from World Youth Day 2005 stuck in my mind (evidently for seven and a half years) after I read it on the BBC:
Permit me to remain seated after such a strenuous day. This does not mean I wish to speak ex cathedra.
Two passages in this book, made me laugh. In pages 157-159, Ratzinger skewers the historical Jesus crowd pretty nicely. He gives a summary of their “reconstruction” of Christ’s ministry, and says:
Let us not pause to wonder how such an empty message, which is alleged to reflect a better understanding of Jesus than he had himself, could have ever meant anything to anybody.
And later on within the same passage:
To anyone accustomed to think historically the whole theory is absurd, even if today hordes of people believe it; for my part I must confess that, quite apart from the Christian faith and simply from my acquaintance with history, I find it preferable and easier to believe that God became man than that such conglomeration of hypotheses represents the truth.
And another gem from page 209:
But what is one to say when such a meritorious researcher as E. Schweizer expresses himself on our question in the following terms: ‘Since Luke is not interested in the biological question, he does not cross the frontier to a metaphysical understanding either.’ Pretty well everything about this statement is false. The most staggering thing about it is the quiet way in which biology and metaphysics are equated.
Stopping here does not mean that I wish to convey that the primary focus of the book was comedic. There is a great deal of theological and pastoral value, and I hope that further excerpts will be forthcoming.