"I haven't had illuminations in the classical sense, if by that you mean something half-mystical," then Cardinal Ratzinger told secular journalist Peter Seewald in the 1977 book-length interview Salt of the Earth. "I am a perfectly ordinary Christian. But in a broader sense faith certainly gives one might. As one reflects on that faith, one certainly seems, to say it with Heidegger, to get a glimpse of the clearing from the various paths through the woods. (Kendrive photo)
"Pope Benedict is a first-class, bona fide genius, and most people have no idea about how smart he is [Eat your heart out, Hillary!]," says historian Brennan Pursell -- the author of Benedict of Bavaria: An Intimate Portrait of the Pope and His Homeland, blogged here the other day -- in a spirited Spero News interview. Excerpts:
He is a world-class intellectual, and one who can talk to anybody and make himself understood. Too often we hear people saying that he seems cold or distant. He’s the opposite of that, actually.
He wants to strengthen [the faith's] backbone against a prevailing culture that denigrates it as backward, stupid, and fundamentally suspect [Yes, you, Christopher Hitchens].
As far as I know, [my book] is the only biography written in English that relies predominantly on German sources, from the people who know him the best . . . It is written for the general reader; there is little or no theological jargon.
The whole process of research and writing was both an education and an inspiration. It was like taking a private tutorial in Catholic theology, philosophy and world history with one of the greatest minds of the last half-century. At the same time, although Ratzinger once described himself as “a perfectly ordinary Christian,” he is still, in my mind, a great spiritual guide.
He speaks in finished paragraphs, thinks in chapters, and writes his books out by hand, usually in one, finished draft. That’s what many people have testified, and it is truly stunning.
The author -- a DeSales University history professor of Bavarian descent who has never met Papa Ratzi but appears to have read everything he's ever written, as well as everything written about him by those he "grew up with, studied and worked with," in the original German -- comes by his reverence for the earthly representative of Christ honestly, as his website explains:
Born in San Francisco, Brennan grew up in the Bay Area suburbs, exuberantly pagan, and went to college at Stanford University, obtaining his BA in history in 1990. After graduation, he devoted two years to work and travel in Africa, India, Europe the Middle East, and Southern Asia. In 1992 he began graduate studies in European history at Harvard University, and it was ironically through study of the Protestant Reformation that he first learned about Catholicism.
He began attending Mass at St. Paul's Church in Cambridge, MA, and, in the summer of 1994, while staying at the Benedictine monastery of Metten in Bavaria, he was received into the Church.
German is the language spoken of their home, and the family returns to Bavaria every summer.
Since 2001 Brennan has served as a professor of history at DeSales University, a Catholic liberal arts college in eastern Pennsylvania, where he teaches a wide range of courses in European history and leads summer tours of Bavaria for students and community members.
"His words somehow deepened my faith, enriched my prayer life and increased my understanding all at the same time," Pursell told Spero News:
I can’t really explain it. And writing the book was a real pleasure. Even if not a single copy is sold, it was still more than worth it. Don’t smirk, I really mean it.
Update: Peggy Noonan, rhetorically tearing up with nostalgia for Pope Benedict XVIs predecessor, regains her composure and bravely declares "Nothing is ended, something beautiful has begun, we just won't understand it for a while":
John Paul made you burst into tears. Benedict makes you think. It is more pleasurable to weep, but at the moment, perhaps it is more important to think.
A Vatican reporter last week said John Paul was the perfect pope for the television age, "a man of images" . . .
Benedict, the reporter noted, is the perfect pope for the Internet age. He is a man of the word. You download the text of what he said, print it, ponder it.
Perhaps if we download the text, print it and ponder it, we may get "a glimpse of the clearing from the various paths through the woods."
Update II: Miss Kelly links:
Papal correspondents. We like it!
Update III: The Anchoress links with a poetic appreciation -- and one caveat we agree with -- of the Peggy Noonan piece:
Yes, this is what I was writing about yesterday. You saw John Paul -- the “mighty organ” and you were stirred and inspired. Benedict -- the tinkling piano in the other room - makes you wonder “what is it,” and you seek him out in his writings, and then fall in love . . .
To me the only burr in today’s otherwise excellent article was her rather gratuitous-seeming snark at the expense of President Bush, which seemed both uncharitable and out of place, like a pothole (on an otherwise smooth road) that needn’t have been hit.
Noonan's inclusion of the gratuitous anti-Bush snark was probably meant as a species-recognition signal to her liberal friends.
Of course, the Catholic media is pulling out all the stops with EWTN carrying live full coverage of every moment. Peter Steinfels wrote in the New York Times to expect a cliched coverage by the mainstream media as they discover once again that the Pope is indeed Catholic [LOVE it!].
His call to develop a mature adult faith and his powerful intellect and ability to make the vast deposit of the magisterium clear and fresh has made me a fan and deepened my faith.
As Jill says in the comments, "Most of us will never get more than a glimpse in the clearing."