Pope John Paul was into images; Benedict is a man of words. He sympathizes with the nonbelievers. He does not say, as his predecessor did: Kneel down and say the rosary. He says: Enlightenment must be enlightened. He is an intellectual who does not replace reason with mysticism, but instead deploys it in the service of God...As the article points out, Benedict's academic style has allowed him to make some of the Church's controversial teachings intellectually respectable:
Ratzinger has mulled all his life over these unequal siblings, faith and reason, which explains the leniency and interest with which German cultural critics have received this pope. He is one of us. He refuses to be defined in terms of the laical trinity, i.e. the triple threat of condoms, women priests and abortion...
Man encounters the self at the level of thought. That is why believers can communicate with non-believers. That is why the Frankfurt philosopher Jürgen Habermas and Joseph Ratzinger harmonized so perfectly when they discussed the "Dialectics of Secularization" at the Catholic Academy in Munich. If the Word is a gift from God, then the theorist who champions communicative action can but nod agreement.
Benedict XVI knows how to maintain a level of abstraction so far removed from earthly toils that it has all the appearances of compassion. Deus caritas est, Benedict's first encyclical in January 2006, was a meditation on love - and not the widely anticipated reactionary harangue against homosexual unions, unmarried cohabitation, inchastity and other works of the Devil.The intellectuals also like style, his undramatic demeanor during public appearances. "He prays with a fixed stare and barely moves his lips, like an altar boy whose thoughts are somewhere else entirely." He's a nerd, and intellectuals love their fellow nerds:
Mum was the word on all of these issues. The encyclical was a eulogy, extolling love, eroticism in marriage, and social work. He simply switched the level of abstraction and made himself more unassailable. This pope doesn't talk about condoms; he talks about exploiting people (even if it's only for a one-night stand). This pope gets to the bottom of things. This pope is a radical - another trait that makes him sexy to the intellectuals.
The library is the Holiest of Holies. The professor pope pens page after page: letters, sermons, speeches, epistles, books. Several hundred theological works already make him the most published pontiff in church history. He seizes every opportunity to put systematic theology into practice and into print. Benedict XVI is even capable of working a reference to fundamental theology into a letter of accreditation to the Andorran ambassador.
(Final Note: While I found the article very well written, one sentence struck me as odd: "Something has happened: The country of Luther, Marx and Nietzsche has lost faith in godlessness." Why is Luther included here alongside Marx and Nietzsche? Is he "godless" simply because he disagreed with the Catholic Church of his day? Perhaps this sentence reflects the habit - common in Germany - of viewing Luther not as a religious figure but as a liberator and revolutionary. Regardless, Luther should not be blamed for the current state of godlessness in Germany).
In October 2006, a star-studded colloquium at the University of Münster discussed "The Return of the Religions" - and identified an "ego weariness" in Germany, a post-modernist upward valuation of the concept of truth: "Man cannot survive on doubt, irony and deconstruction alone." What is left for us to believe in, if everything is open to discussion? And who is going to take us seriously? This is the fundamental question addressed in Germany by numerous bestsellers and talk-show debates on "values," "the new Kulturkampf," "the parenting challenge" and so on.
In the post-modern age, everything was somehow OK; values were relative, and we believed that was a good thing. By September 2001 at the latest, this belief was called into question. There was no more room for irony.
How can truth exist in a pluralist society? Joseph Ratzinger has pondered this question all his life. And it has never been more relevant than today.
A today that is perhaps not the hour for prayer, not the age for ritual, but rather a time for introspection, for self-examination, for thought. And in that context, the man in the Papal Palace is right for his role. Benedict XVI is not a comfortable pontiff, because he can communicate eye-to-eye with the secular world. He already sees eye-to-eye with the spiritual one.