Chronicling Benedict XVI

BOOK PICK: Benedict Up Close

(photo: Register Files)



By Paul Badde

Translated by Michael

J. Miller

EWTN Publishing Inc., 2017   

208 pages, $15.95, paperback ($9.95 e-book)

To order: or (800) 854-6316


A set of essays Paul Badde originally wrote for the German daily Die Welt during the eight years of Benedict XVI’s pontificate, Benedict Up Close discusses not so much what Benedict did as why he did it and why it mattered.

The book is not strict history, although its order is chronological. Badde’s essays touch all of the pontificate’s major moments: its beginnings, his pilgrimages (especially to Germany and the Holy Land), his encyclicals and other instructions, his ecumenical and interreligious gestures (including the Regensburg address), his attempt to reconcile the schismatic Lefebvrists, his efforts on sexual-abuse cases, his “reform of the reform” of the liturgy, and his resignation.

Looking back at these texts, Badde’s perspective was often spot on and uncanny. (I reserve judgment on all his enthusiasm about the Veil of Manoppello or some of his more positive waxings about the “German hour” in the Church under Benedict).

If one is searching for a meta-theme to Benedict’s pontificate, it is rediscovering the human face of God in Jesus Christ.

Catholicism is about a Person, not a proposition, a Person in whom the modern world’s faith is waning. Benedict understood his papacy not so much as one of administration or responding to the crises of the day, but about “Jesus Christ, yesterday, today and forever,” for whom the Petrine ministry exists to confirm the faith of his brothers.

That is why, says Badde, Benedict sought to reform the liturgy as the privileged place of sacred encounter with Christ. That is why he sought to surmount the false dichotomy that tries to split the “post-Vatican II” Church from the “pre-Vatican II” Church, forgetting that there is but one Church of Jesus Christ, bound together by a “hermeneutic of continuity.”

And that is why Benedict devoted much of his spare time to his book Jesus of Nazareth.

The author calls Benedict the first “postmodern” pope (though I would argue that John Paul II was hardly unaware of the intellectual shoals of modernity). As a modern German, he is aware not just of the divide between Catholics and Protestants in his homeland, but of the “totalitarian secular worldview” of today’s Europe, as well — “the old front in the religious wars have long since taken a new course. [In Germany] it is no longer the Catholics and the Protestants who stand in opposition to one another. In the East, after two dictatorships on German soil, only a very few of them have remained, making way for a complacent majority of nihilists and neopagans.”

Yet while Benedict’s critics — including many in the Church in Germany — brand him “too conservative” (as if such terms were appropriate to the faith), Benedict sought to reintroduce modern people to Christianity or, more precisely, to Christ. Badde’s essays offer a thought-provoking assessment of the great challenge of faith that Benedict presented.

John M. Grondelski writes from Falls Church, Virginia.