Br Barry Coldrey

IMAGES OF HOPE: Meditations on Major Feasts


CHURCH, ECUMENISM AND POLITICS: New Endeavours in Ecclesiology

by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger

(Ignatius Press, 2006, 2007, 2008, hardback, 109pp, 117pp, 258pp, $29.95, $29.90, $39.95. Available from Freedom Publishing)

On 19 April 2005, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was elected as the 265th Pope and took the name of Benedict XVI. During his long priestly and professional life, he was a prolific writer and since his election Ignatius Press (Sapientia Classics) has been reissuing his writings to a new and wider audience.

Joseph Ratzinger was born in Bavaria (Germany) in 1927. His father was a rural policeman and the family moved from town to town through the Catholic countryside with his postings. The family was anti-Nazi, but his father's humble community role protected him from the attentions of the Gestapo.

In 1939, Joseph entered the minor seminary in Traunstein in the months prior to the outbreak of World War II. In 1943, while still in the seminary, sixteen-year-old Joseph was conscripted into the German army but as the Nazi regime collapsed in 1945, Joseph escaped from the American advance and returned to the family home, only to find it occupied by the Americans!

He spent a few months in an Allied prisoner-of-war camp but by 1946 he and his brother George were back in the seminary, with both ordained in 1951. Joseph had proved an increasingly brilliant student and was awarded his Doctorate in Theology from the University of Munich in 1953.

After several years of pastoral work, in 1959 Fr Ratzinger took up the teaching of theology at the University of Bonn. Thereafter, his rise to prominence was rapid.

During the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), he was chief theological adviser to Cardinal Joseph Frings, Archbishop of Cologne, and thereafter continued teaching in several German universities until appointed the Cardinal Archbishop of Munich in 1977.

John Paul II, who was elected Pope in 1978, three years later appointed Cardinal Ratzinger Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, a position he would retain until his own election as Pope twenty-four years later. By this stage, he was exceptionally well qualified for his role as Supreme Pontiff.

Meanwhile, over this lengthy period, Joseph Ratzinger had authored a host of significant books, three of which are noted here. Additionally, he worked with some forty collaborators and representatives of the world's Bishops Conferences to produce the Catechism of the Catholic Church in 1992 (French language edition).


Overall, his writings tend to reflect the great influences on his life:

* He was a teenager and young adult during the horror of the Nazi regime in Germany and the nation's collapse following its World War II destruction and defeat.

* He was prominent in the Church in Germany during the heady days of the Second Vatican Council.

* But as the years passed he lost faith in a reform movement which questioned or rejected traditional doctrines and morality, and when permanent dissent became the politically-correct stance for progressive theologians.

* He was a strong supporter of Pope John Paul II and served as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith from 1981 to 2005.

* He was horrified at the increasingly secular mood in Western Europe which culminated in the decision of the European Parliament to delete any mention of Europe's Christian heritage from its new Constitution.

One of the above books, Europe, Today and Tomorrow, reflects this revulsion at the secularising mood in Europe which declares religious belief to be a private matter only. On the other hand, the genesis of Images of Hope is stated clearly in the Foreword:

'In the course of my long years in Rome, I was invited repeatedly by Bavarian radio to give meditations on the major feasts of the liturgical year ... At the approach of my seventieth birthday, my brother [Father George Ratzinger] suggested I collect these texts and produce a small volume which would preserve the interwoven images and thoughts beyond their radio or television life and thereby be of assistance in understanding the Christian feasts'.

Church, Ecumenism and Politics reflects the search of German Lutheran and Catholic theologians for a mutually satisfactory statement on the Doctrine of Justification. This a book is more one for the specialists.

Dr Barry Coldrey formerly taught in Christian Brothers secondary schools and today is active in youth ministry.

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