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  • Anthropology and Culture: Joseph Ratzinger in "Communio", vol. 2 by Pope Benedict
  • Jeffrey L. Morrow
Anthropology and Culture: Joseph Ratzinger in "Communio", vol. 2. By Pope Benedict XVI. Edited by David L. Schindler and Nicholas J. Healy, Jr. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2013. Pp. viii + 199. $30.00 (paper). ISBN: 978-0-8028-6417-8.

Joseph Ratzinger has proven one of the most insightful cultural critics of our time. One of the founders of the scholarly theological journal Communio, Ratzinger published a number of articles therein. The present volume is the second in the series dedicated to Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI's writings, Joseph Ratzinger in "Communio." This volume is devoted to Ratzinger's Communio essays regarding anthropology and culture. It contains fourteen essays originally published between 1972 and 2005. In what follows, I will cover some of the volume's highlights.

One of the early themes that arises in the volume is the importance of conscience. This is a topic that Ratzinger has come back to again and again, as his slender 2007 volume On Conscience indicates. Using the example of Bartolome de Las Casas (20-26), Ratzinger reflects on how "the kernel of the necessary control and limitation of power in this world consists in the courage to follow conscience" (20). Going back to the New Testament and the early Christians, he likewise underscores how "Christianity does not begin with a revolutionary, but with a martyr" (23). He forcefully communicates the radical nature of the Christian vision of conscience, so necessary in our own times and in all times:

It is part of the inherent greatness of the Christian faith that it can lend conscience its voice, that it can inexorably oppose the world which believers have built for themselves and which they justify on grounds of faith, that it has room for the prophetic No, and in general that it gives birth to prophets, men who are not the voice of some particular interest but the voice of conscience against chicanery.

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Another important theme which comes early in the volume is that of hope. There is a glimpse in the essay "On Hope" (28-41) of the seeds of Ratzinger's later papal encyclicals Deus Caritas Est (especially on 30-32) and Spe Salvi (throughout the essay, but especially on 28-29), as well as the apostolic letter Porta Fidei (especially on 32-35). As with so many of his other writings, he takes Nietzsche and Marx as dialogue partners. Here, Ratzinger finds insights and responses in 1 John, St. Bonaventure, and the Franciscan tradition. He emphasizes how hope is inextricably bound up with faith and love. In a passage drawing on St. Bonaventure, he writes, "We can remain people of hope only if our life is not contentedly grounded in the everyday but is solidly rooted in 'substance.' The more we recollect ourselves, the more hope becomes real and the more it illumines our daily work. Only then can we perceive the brightness of the world which otherwise withdraws farther and farther from view" (38).

A small but important theme which comes up again and again in a number of Ratzinger's publications—for example, his 1994 A Turning Point for Europe? and his 2007 Spe Salvi—pertains to the "dialectic of Enlightenment." He here relies in part on a very interesting positive use of the agnostic, Jewish, neo-Marxist philosophers Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno and in particular their Dialectic of Enlightenment, which they penned as the Second World War was drawing to a close. These philosophers from the Frankfurt School help Ratzinger think through challenges to the Enlightenment from within, as it were. Within this context Ratzinger argues for responsibility and the value of human labor. In the end, as he makes crystal clear, "to be set free from morality is not freedom, but rather the unlocking of the forces of destruction" (51).

Perhaps one of the most important essays in the volume is "Freedom and Liberation: The Anthropological Vision of the Instruction Libertatis conscientia" (52-69). It deals with the issue of liberation theology. Much of the essay pertains...


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