I was given an impossible task for the BBC News Website: to summarise the theology of Pope Benedict in 150 words; and to complete this impossible task in one hour! This is the way journalists work – brevity; deadlines; “I’d like this by yesterday please!”
Of course I failed. I took 90 minutes, and I couldn’t get it below 263 words. And all I’m aware of is how much I have failed to say…
So I’m not claiming it’s a success; but see if you can do better in the comments box.
The key to Pope Benedict’s theology is the idea of ‘connection’ or ‘continuity’.
How do you preserve the fundamental connections between faith and reason, between the past and the present, between the human and the divine? How do you avoid a rupture that would betray the Christian vision and impoverish everyday life?
His first encyclical letter surprised everyone by being a meditation on love. The joy of human love (‘eros’ or erotic love) leads us to a deeper, sacrificial love (‘agape’), that finds its true fulfilment in the love of Jesus Christ on the Cross. The human and the divine connect; they are not in opposition.
The worship of the Church, whatever new forms it takes, needs to connect with its two thousand year history. The moral values of the Church, even if they are expressed in new ways, need to be rooted in the wisdom of the Bible and the Christian tradition. And Catholic teaching, which is always developing, should never betray the sure faith that has been handed down through the centuries.
He believed in renewal and reform, but always in continuity with the past.
He called on Catholics to deepen their faith, through studying the Catechism. He encouraged the secularised West not to become trapped in a ‘dictatorship of relativism’ – where everything is allowed but nothing has any meaning.
For Pope Benedict, Christianity is a revealed religion, not something we create for ourselves. It surprises and startles us. No wonder that his last published work was about discovering the face of God in Jesus Christ, the child of Bethlehem.
You can read this in context here, which is a longer piece called “Viewpoints: Successes and failures of Benedict XVI”. (I probably don’t need to say that I don’t necessarily agree with all the other views expressed in this piece!)