Book Review: Pope Benedict wanted us to look on the face of Christ

Book Review: Pope Benedict wanted us to look on the face of Christ

Benedict up Close. The Inside Story of Eight Dramatic Years by Paul Badde, EWTN Publishing, 241pp, £12.40, reviewed by Ian Vane.
When Benedict up Close arrived, vacuumpacked and in a jiffy bag, I was in no rush to read it, the furrows of parochial life vying for my attention. Besides, this was a compendium of articles by a journalist on the Papacy of one Joseph Ratzinger - surely then, it would be the usual gripes about the intransigence of Holy Mother Church, and therefore the Papacy, in what we are told by the media is the 21st century, the inference being that the ‘shackles of God’ should long since have been thrown off. However, although Paul Badde, a German correspondent for Die Welt often sets the scene for a public Papal engagement by describing the weather, that, I discovered, would be the limit of the cynical anticipation which I usually have for the media.
Within the panorama of history
Badde gets it. He understands what the Papacy and what the Church is about, and this is clear in the sympathetic treatment of his subject: ‘For the Pope, the Church is not just an identical unity in the local and historical sense; he is also the primary guarantor of that unity for Her. The Universal Church is not only anchored in the centre of societies, but is also rooted
in the depths of history’ (p.132). The opening pages show a personal affection for Badde’s fellow-German, which is encouraging. However, rather than falling into the myopia of his title, time and again he presents his perspective within the panorama of history and ecclesiology, and therefore, dare one say, an authentic theology.
A soul who has put on the person of Christ
Badde could only be a practising Catholic who is loyal to the Church and the Pope, something which becomes crystal clear in the closing articles. It is this loyalty which becomes evident as he weaves together the office of the Pope laid upon Joseph Ratzinger. What begins to emerge is that Benedict XVI is a soul who has put on the person of Christ - ‘It is not I that live, but Christ who lives in me’ (Galatians 2:21) - whether that be identified in Benedict’s actions at Yad Vashem (p.145), his address
at Westminster Hall (p.167), his critique of Nazi ideology, his ecumenical encounter with the Patriarch of Constantinople (p.72ff), or his meeting with Prince Ghazi in Jordan (p.142), to cite just something of how he has ‘put on Christ’.
Benedict at Auschwitz
For a child like me of the 60s, whose understanding of the Second World War is through the lens of the post-war era, the theological perspective of Benedict, a German who lived in and through Nazism, gave an entirely different understanding of the freedom for which so many died and to whom we should always be thankful and prayerful. It shows again in our time the danger of ideology. On his visit to Auschwitz, Benedict said: ‘To speak in this place of horror ... where unprecedented mass crimes were committed against God and man, is almost impossible .... those vicious criminals, by wiping out this people [of Israel], wanted to kill the God who called Abraham, who spoke on Sinai and laid down principles to serve as a guide for mankind ... That God finally had to die and power had to belong to man alone’ (p.38).
The encounter with the living God
This, then, drives us back to the raison d’être of Benedict’s papacy, articulated in the encyclical Spes Salvi with ideas familiar to us in FAITH: ‘It is not the elemental spirits of the universe, the laws of matter, which ultimately govern the world and mankind, but a personal God governs the stars, that is, the universe; it is not the laws of matter and of evolution that have the final say, but reason, will, love - a Person.’ Here we might recall the question posed by Fr. Holloway: How much is matter, how much is Mind? ‘Matter is that which is controlled and directed, Mind is that which controls and directs, and that Mind, that Supreme Mind, we call God!’
‘Jesus took “the encounter with the living God” into the world ... But if the encounter with this person is merely “informative” and not “performative” the Pope assures us, then it has not taken place at all’ (p.100). We begin to discover that the life of this apparently ‘bookish’ theologian is completely centred on the person of Jesus Christ, not simply as a manifestation of God become Man, but the very face of Christ, which reminds us of the phrase oft used by the evangelist: ‘Jesus looked at him/her ...’. What does Benedict want for us? He wants us to look at the face of Christ, he want us to allow Christ to gaze upon our face.
The pontificate, not a biography
Inevitably, observing the Pontificate of Benedict XVI, the sins of the Church cannot be avoided, but Badde again gives the Holy Father’s spiritual context to such scandal in his Good Friday prayer and meditation on the Way of the Cross, in which is presented that call to constant conversion on our part and that of Christ, the Good Shepherd, who seeks after each and every one of us.
In his editorial note, Badde makes clear his concern is the Pontificate of Benedict XVI and not a biography of Joseph Ratzinger, and we must be grateful to Prof Stefan Heid for asking Badde to compile his articles as a book so that they are not lost as ‘documents on contemporary events’. Apart from the need for an index, we are presented with a positive encouragement, whether as priest or people, to seek the face of Christ, since, to cite Benedict quoting John Henry Newman, ‘God created everyone for a very particular task ... He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another.’ (p.169)



Fr. Ian Vane is the parish priest of Our Lady Immaculate and St. Philip Neri, Uckfield, and St. John the Evangelist, Heron’s Ghyll.

Faith Magazine

July/ August 2019