Sunday, April 13, 2008

Benedict Knows Christ Better as the "Bear" Than As the Scholar

As we have seen, “From an early age {Joseph Ratzinger] felt the vocation to be a theologian; even after ordination, he found teaching and writing, rather than pastoral ministry, to be most congenial to his talents and personality. Then came the unexpected appointment to the archbishopric of Munich-Freising in 1977 by Pope Paul VI. Archbishop Ratzinger explained the irony of his life by telling the legend of the first bishop of Munich-Freising, St. Corbinian. As the saint was riding to Rome, a bear ran out of the forest and devoured his horse. The saint ordered the bear to carry his pack to Rome for him. Ratzinger made the bear part of his coat of arms, likening himself to that bear: instead of indulging in the theological thinking, writing, and teaching, he had no choice but to carry the heavy pack of St. Corbinian, the burden of the pastoral office.”[1]

Kereszty goes on to explain that Ratzinger saw the metaphor of the bear not only in his own life, but prototypically for him (Ratzinger), in the life of Augustine. Kereszty comments: “We can better understand Benedict’s unique blend of theology, exegesis, and contemplation if we compare it with the theological style of the Church Fathers and with that of St. Augustine in particular. When visiting St. Augustine’s tomb in Pavia, Pope Benedict explained that the second stage in Augustine’s conversion took place at the time when Augustine accepted ordination to the priesthood and gave up his contemplative scholarly existence for the sake of the ministry. He devoted himself to learning how to teach the most sublime mysteries of faith to the simplest folks in the city of Hippo. Through all this, he did not cease being a theologian; he merely abandoned the esoteric language and lifestyle of the scholar. Eventually, he succeeded in expressing the deepest theology in the simplest language, comprehensible for his provincial audience and yet an enduring challenge for the learned.”[2]

The second reading from “The Office of Readings” for the fourth Sunday of Easter comes from Gregory the Great. He says: “Asks yourselves whether you belong to his flock, whether you know him, whether the light of his truth shines in your minds. I assure you that it is not by faith that you will come to know him, but by love; not by mere conviction, but by action. John the evangelist is my authority for this statement. He tells us that anyone who claims to know God without keeping his commandments is a liar."[3] The bear is the metaphor of a life given to the apostolate where one begins to understand Christ more profoundly than in any book or any concept!!

[1] Roch Kereszty, “The Challenge of Jesus of Nazareth for Theologians,” Communio 34 (Fall 2007) 457.
[2] Ibid. 456.
[3] Fourth Sunday of Easter, From a homily on the Gospels by Saint Gregory the Great, pope, Catholic Book, Publishing (1976) 753.

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