Entitled Che cos’e il Cristianesimo (What is Christianity?), this book collects 16 texts from the period following Benedict XVI’s resignation in 2013, most were written around 2018, with the last in 2022. It was published by Italian publisher Mondadori on January 18.
Opposition between Catholicism and Protestantism
In a previously unreleased text, Benedict XVI deplores that Vatican II “did not address the Reformation’s fundamental questioning of the Catholic priesthood in the 16th century.” It is a “wound that is felt today and which, in my opinion, must be addressed in an open and fundamental way.”
Benedict XVI sees Luther's original error as his vision of an irreconcilable opposition between the priestly concept of the Old Testament and the priesthood conferred by Jesus Christ. However, the early church had already connected the Old Testament priesthood with the New Testament ministries and did not view justification by faith and by works as opposed.
Protestant Worship and the Mass Are Fundamentally Different
Because of their opposing theological foundations, “it is quite clear that the [Protestant] Last Supper and the Mass are two fundamentally different, mutually exclusive forms of worship. Let those who preach intercommunion today remember this,” warns Joseph Ratzinger.
Benedict XVI points out that, in the liturgical reform, “Luther's theses played a certain tacit role, so that certain circles could claim that the decree of the Council of Trent on the sacrifice of the Mass had been tacitly abolished.”
He then expresses the suspicion that the harshness of the opposition to the Old Mass also stemmed in part from the fact that some saw in it an idea of sacrifice and expiation which was no longer acceptable.
The Modern World Accepts Luther
Finally, the late pope emeritus writes: “It is obvious that modern thought ... is more at ease with Luther’s approach than with the Catholic approach. For an explanation of Scripture that sees the Old Testament as a way to Jesus Christ is almost inaccessible to modern thought.”
Dialogue with Islam
Benedict XVI criticizes certain attempts at dialogue between Christians and Muslims, which emphasize that both the Bible and the Koran speak of the mercy of God. From this stems the imperative to love one's neighbor, but it is also claimed that both texts contain calls for violence.
The result is that, in a certain sense, we place ourselves above the two religions and we affirm that there is good and bad in both and that it is therefore necessary to read the Bible and the Koran with a hermeneutics of love and opposing violence taking both into account.
False Tolerance in the West
In another text, Joseph Ratzinger notes that the “great powers of tolerance do not grant to Christianity the tolerance they propagate,” he criticizes. With their “radical manipulation of man” and “distortion of the sexes through gender ideology,” they are clearly opposed to Christianity, he writes.
He adds: “The intolerance of this apparent modernity towards the Christian faith has not yet turned into open persecution, and yet it manifests itself in an increasingly authoritarian way with the aim of achieving, by a appropriate legislation, the eradication of what is essentially Christian.”
Finally, he refutes the criticism that the Christian faith is inherently intolerant because of its claim to truth and universality. This view is based on the suspicion that the truth is dangerous. But it is the societies that oppose the truth that are intolerant.
According to Elio Guerriero, co-editor, an imperative condition by Benedict XVI was to publish the book only after his death. “For my part, I do not want to publish anything in my lifetime. The rage of the circles against me in Germany is so strong that the appearance of the least of my words immediately provokes a murderous clamor on their part.”