Thursday, December 29, 2005

Best Books of 2005 - Theology

On the Way to Jesus Christ by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger

According to my sources, Richard McBrien, speaking at the Call to Action conference recently assured his listeners that Pope Benedict XVI is alright, that reports of his hard-line conservatism are exaggerated perhaps.

I have often felt that Cardinal Ratzinger's friends, those who press t-shirts with his picture and the caption "Putting the smackdown on heresy", for example, are worse than his enemies for depicting him as the ruthless scourge of free thought. Everything I have read by the man has been deeply moving for two reasons. First of all, this is a man who knows a lot. If you thought Pope John Paul II was a genius, wait until you grapple with Benedict. That in itself doesn't recommend him, of course. Hegel knew a lot, too, but his work isn't what I would call moving. What separates Cardinal Ratzinger is that he is so clearly a man of love, patience, fairness and genuine pastoral concern.

His newest book is something of a companion piece to Truth and Tolerance, a response to the critics of the Vatican document Dominus Iesus, which reasserted the Church's teaching that salvation is uniquely available through Jesus Christ. This is less theological and more pastoral and more occasional, being a collection of essays on a variety of topics united by Jesus Christ. Reflections on beauty, the Eucharist, the communications media and the catechism are especially of interest.

I hope that his elevation to the papacy introduces more persons to his immense and profound work and not merely to his reputation.

Honorable mention: The Foundation of Mysticism by Bernard McGinn.
God willing, I will recommend each subsequent volume in this terrific series "The Presence of God" by the premier expert in Christian mysticism. This volume covers the Jewish and Greek backgrounds through the fifth century. I must disclose again here that the author is another friend of the monastery: I have read a number of Bernie's other books, but was somewhat hesitant to take up mysticism because of some uneasy feelings I have about mysticism. Little by little my monastic formation has worn away that reserve and made me eager for a systematic treatment of the early masters. This is exactly what I was seeking!

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If I, who seem to be your right hand and am called Presbyter and seem to
preach the Word of God, If I do something against the discipline of the Church
and the Rule of the Gospel so that I become a scandal to you, The Church, then
may the whole Church, in unanimous resolve, cut me, its right hand, off, and
throw me away.

Origen of Alexandria
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