Benedict XVI: The Disciple, The Teacher

While other bloggers are milling over the pope’s current expedition to the States, someone has to keep the stream of consciousness flowing. Incidentally, that someone would be me. Nevertheless, I’ll succumb to some of the pressure, but in a different vein than is likely being presented elsewhere.


Being in Rome, Pope Benedict XVI is a pretty staple figure. Although I can certainly never get enough of him—I know that becoming ‘accustomed’ to his presence would be a very bad thing—I do feel that being here has given me a wonderful chance to grow more and more familiar with his large body of work. Our current Holy Father’s writings span a more-than-substantial portion of the theological gamut, and I believe it won’t be for years until anyone really has a true grasp on his overall sensus theologicus. However, with sustained and continual study (not to mention the occasional audience or Angelus meditation), Ratzinger’s theology is becoming for me a clearer and more profound topic of thought.

I once heard an in-the-know priest say—probably here at the College—that Benedict has become so comfortable in his ability to defend the Catholic faith that he is truly unafraid to face opponents on the intellectual battlefield. First of all, I can’t even imagine being so sure of defending my ideas that I wouldn’t at least be a little fearful of making some sort of mistake. Then again, that is precisely what separates me and the Holy Father…that and about sixty years of academic rigor. The fact is that Pope Benedict is not only a man of superior mental clarity, but more importantly a man of intense prayerfulness and admirable personal holiness; in the end, holiness along suffices in warranting fearlessness in the presence of adversaries. Unless a man is absolutely sure of Christ and the Truth he presents us, how can he be sure of anything?

Really, that question may be better asked in reverse: unless we are sure of something, how can we ultimately be sure of Christ, and of the Truth he is and presents? While the former query is useful in demonstrating why Benedict is able to be a man of conviction, this latter question is helpful in understanding how he goes about transmitting that certainty. Although it is all too easy to think of the papal office as a legislative, authoritarian one, a true exercise of papal influence is inevitably pastoral; after all, the Supreme Pontiff is rightly called the ‘Bishop of Rome’ and ‘Pastor of the Universal Church.’ Indeed, Pope Benedict XVI has thus far done an exemplary job of living out this vocation to shepherd Christ’s entire flock, and it is precisely by providing a surety about God that he has done it. His catecheses as pope have been filled with references to the Early Church Fathers, drawing upon the foundations of the faith and elucidating the intricacies of that same faith, which we still profess. His writings as Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger are rooted in a deep tradition of philosophical and theological firmness, always seeking the integrity of a human person in relationship with the ever-transcendent yet infinitely-knowable Triune God. He presents to us a certainty about the Catholic faith, present in a vast corpus of writings and addresses that is arguably unsurpassed in modern times.

While my fellow countrymen are gearing up for a few days of papal bliss, I’ll be continuing my studies of the Holy Father’s contribution to the theological world here in Europe. Hopefully his American appearance will inspire many more in the US to do likewise. Really, Pope Benedict’s message is theological in the deepest sense—in the sense of coming to know and understand who God really is, and in learning to love him with our whole heart, mind and soul.

  1. gravatar

    # by Anonymous - April 17, 2008 at 6:22 AM

    Joseph Ratzinger, not Josef. He was never called Josef.

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    # by Andrew Haines - April 17, 2008 at 7:10 AM

    Thanks for the correction. I cross-referenced the Vatican archives for his name as prefect of the CDF and you are in fact right. Now I know...

    I hope you enjoy more about the site than picking on my spelling though!

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    # by Adrienne - April 18, 2008 at 1:44 PM

    A very good and insightful post. The Holy Father is brilliant because he can transmit the deepest theological issues in the simplest of terms. That is true genius.