Wednesday, April 19, 2006

On the first anniversary: reading Ratzinger

This past week, I was able to pick up my second book penned by then-Cardinal Ratzinger. My first was The Spirit of the Liturgy, a book that is by now famous as a possible blueprint for a reform of the reform of the Mass.

My second is Truth and Tolerance: Christian Belief and World Religions. I've only just started this book, but my impression of it is already clear.

Theological writing can be rather imcomprehensible, at least what I've read. For example, my parish library has a copy of Prayer by Hans Urs von Balthasar. I checked it out and started reading the first chapter. After some fits and starts, I gave it up and took it back. As a noted theologian, I will not dispute von Balthasar's reputation. But as a writer, he is either way too wordy or just untranslatable without causing lots of problems for his style. Or maybe it was just the one book. The first chapter did not go anywhere. It did not move forward, but merely recircled a point, addressing it in different ways. Ugh.

On the other hand, there is Joseph Ratzinger. Stylistically, he has to be one of the most delightful non-fiction writers I've had the privilege of reading. Just one example is how he refers to himself in his writings with an 'I' and we the readers as 'you' and collectively 'we' are going to discuss this or that. He writes like he is lecturing with a nice outline and he covers the points in an organized, efficient way. His prose is light. That's not to say that it is not full of meaningful content, quite the contrary. But it moves along from point to point and does not linger or end up in rhetorical cul-du-sacs.

Enough about that. If you haven't read him yet, I highly recommend the professor-pope.

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