INTRODUCTION TO CHRISTIANITY, by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI

INTRODUCTION TO CHRISTIANITY, by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI

Helena Pasztetnik

A must-read for all Catholics seeking to deepen their faith

by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI
(Ignatius Press, 2004, 300pp, $39.95, ISBN: 978-1-58617-029-5)

Although Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has receded from the public eye, his immense legacy lives on. One of his earliest works of Christian Apologetics, Introduction to Christianity, still provides a valid and illuminating reflection on the Christian faith and its place in the world today.

Introduction to Christianity is a must-read for Catholics seeking to deepen their intellectual grasp of the principles of Christianity. First written in 1968 and re-issued in 2000, it derives from a series of summer lectures.

While written almost 50 years ago, the book's central message remains relevant. Cardinal Ratzinger himself wrote in the Preface to the New Edition:

"If I had this Introduction to Christianity to write over again today, all of the experiences of the last thirty years would have to go into the text ...

"But I believe that I was not mistaken as to the fundamental approach, in that I put the question of God and the question about Christ in the very centre, which then leads to a 'narrative Christology' and demonstrates that the place for faith is in the Church."

Philosophy background

It is by no means an easy book being a theological introduction to the tenets of Christianity aimed at those who already have some understanding of philosophy. In this way it is comparable to Aquinas' thirteenth-century theological masterpiece, the Summa Theologica, which was intended to be a summary introduction to theology for Dominican novices, but which nonetheless assumed a rigorous foundation in studies of Sacred Scripture, philosophy and logic.

The book progresses through the Apostle's Creed. It begins with the concept of faith, moves into a discussion of God the Father and of Jesus Christ, and finally ends with reflections on the Holy Spirit and the Church.

However, the book is worth reading even for its opening chapters, which present a wonderfully illuminating reflection on belief, doubt, rationality, and the connection between faith and the modern world.

"Belief", according to Ratzinger, "has always had something of an adventurous break or leap about it ... it has always been a decision that in every age demanded a turnabout by man that can only be achieved by an effort of will."

Introduction to Christianity is the ancestor of the Jesus of Nazareth series. Anyone who enjoyed this series, and wants to place these popular books within the deeper, richer, more complex context of Benedict's analytical thought should turn to this Introduction. Although Benedict's prose is dense, his ideas, as always, are lucid and simply stated. He does not spend countless pages on useless examples to support his point; rather, once the claim is sufficiently stated he moves on to his next argument.

This book is a must-read for all aspiring theologians and philosophers of religion. Anyone seeking a clearer understanding of the relationship between Christianity's ancient faith and society's secularist ideologies will be richly rewarded for their toil.

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