Books: Inside the Vatican
The pope's chief doctrinal officer has always been in dialogue with the Reformation traditions. Now he reveals his vision for Christianity in the new millennium.
May 18, 1998
Salt of the Earth: The Church at the End of the Millenium, by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (Ignatius, 283 pp.; $12.95, paper). Reviewed by Richard John Neuhaus, president of Religion and Public Life and editor-in-chief of First Things.
In 1988, Religion and Public Life, a research and education institute in New York, invited Cardinal Ratzinger to give the annual Erasmus Lecture, followed by two days of conversation with theologians, including Protestants of the old-line and evangelical communities. The subject then was the authority and interpretation of Scripture, and everybody came away from those days profoundly impressed by the learning, candor, and gentle civility of this man who is the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Readers of the present book are in for a similarly scintillating engagement with one of the great Christian minds and spirits of our time.
Almost everything a reader might want to discuss with the cardinal is engaged in these pages: his theological formation, how doctrinal development happens in Catholic teaching, the great moral controversies over abortion and euthanasia, whether women can be ordained, the meaning of celibacy, the changing role of the papacy, where and why the church made mistakes, the prospects for Christian unity, and what the church and the world should expect in the next millennium.
Seewald's questions are aggressive and usually incisive; Ratzinger's answers are invariably patient, pastoral, and reflective of his immense learning. Many have observed that, had he not been chosen as prefect by John Paul II, Ratzinger would have made a theological mark comparable to that made by Karl Rahner or, in Protestant circles, Karl Barth. To which others respond that he ...