This is a heavily academic book, which provides an overview of aspects of Christianity, using the Apostles’ Creed as a guide. It’s the most difficult book I can remember reading, in any language. And so far, the only criticism I can advance against this book is its title. One cannot begin to approach the book without some schematic knowledge of Christian history, Christian theology, modern philosophy, modern theology, Latin and Greek (helpfully untranslated for the uninitiated! let the cognates be your guide…), etc. etc. etc. Depending on the chapter, I am able to connect most of the allusions to some kind of background knowledge. It is extremely dense reading, and yet rewarding.
Here is one of the many gems of the book, from the section in which Ratzinger addresses the idea of faith in antiquity and in the modern age:
Just as the believer knows himself to be constantly threatened by unbelief, which he must experience as a continual temptation, so for the unbeliever faith remains a temptation and a threat to his apparently permanently closed world. In short , there is no escape from the dilemma of being a man. Anyone who makes up his mind to avoid the uncertainty of belief will have to experience the uncertainty of unbelief, which can never finally eliminate for certain the possibility that belief may after all be the truth. It is not until belief is rejected that it is unrejectability becomes evident. (pg.20)
He goes on to suggest that the doubt of the believer and unbeliever could be a point of contact for them, and a source of dialog. And that’s not a typo, that was just page twenty. Almost every paragraph, if not every sentence, can stand on its own as a self-contained essay.
This is written as I am about a fifth of the way through the book, so I can’t begin to offer an appraisal of the whole. I am simply impressed by what I’ve read so far.
A curiosity, which is perhaps of particular interest to Protestant readers, is that there’s almost nothing specifically Catholic in the book up to this point, though in light of Ratzinger’s subsequent career one assumes that his Catholic credentials were in order even back in 1968 (the date of publication). It also may come out more clearly in later chapters, which deal with the Holy Spirit and the Church.