Introducing Christianity

Pope Benedict XVI wrote his 'Introduction to Christianity' in 1967 when he was Professor Joseph Ratzinger at Tubingen University. It started as a series of open lectures for any who wished to attend. There was great competition to get a seat! It is a presentation of the truth and freedom of the faith for anyone who is prepared to stop and really look at what Christianity is. Now, today!

For those inside the Church:

We cannot just stick, as our Father writes, to "the precious metal of the fixed formulas of days gone by, for then it remains just a lump of metal, a burden instead of something offering by virtue of its value the possibility of true freedom. This is where the present book comes in: its aim is to help understand faith afresh as something which makes possible true humanity in the world of today". These excerpts, gratefully reproduced here, do not constitute the whole argument. For that you must read the whole book. This is a series of key points, to take one at a time and think about. The foundations of the culture of love start here....

Humble note for those who are beginning from outside Christian faith:

If this interests you, take each point on this page and those linked to it. Read it and rate it: are the propositions rational? Are they true? Do you agree with them? If you find in yourself a growing degree of assent, ask yourself, if, in refusing to accept something you thought to be Christianity, you have rightly rejected a distortion of the truth. This is the truth and those who seek the truth will always find it and, as Christ said, it is the truth that will set you free.

Pope Benedict

Belief in the world of today

Both the believer and the unbeliever share, each in his own way, doubt and belief, if they do not hide away from themselves and the truth of their being. Neither can quite escape either doubt or belief; for the one, faith is present against doubt, for the other through doubt and in the form of doubt.

It is the basic pattern of man's destiny only to be allowed to find the finality of his existence in this rivalry between doubt and belief, temptation and certainty. Perhaps in this way doubt, which saves both sides from being shut up in their own worlds, could become the avenue of communication.

The Old Testament asserts that God is not just he who at present lies in fact outside the field of vision but could be seen if it were possible to go further; no, he is the being who stands essentially outside it, however far our field of vision may be extended.

The word "Credo" signifies the deliberate view that what cannot be seen, what can in no wise move into the field of vision, is not unreal; that on the contrary what cannot be seen in fact represents the true reality, the element that supports and makes possible all the rest of reality.

Belief signifies the decision that at the very core of human existence there is a point which cannot be nourished and supported on the visible and tangible, which encounters and comes into contact with what cannot be seen and finds that it is a necessity for its own existence.

Man's natural centre of gravity draws him to the visible, to what he can take in his hand and hold as his own. He has to turn round inwardly to recognise how blind he is if he trusts only what he sees with his eyes.

Belief is the con-version in which man discovers he is following an illusion if he devotes himself only to the tangible. This is at the same time the fundamental reason why belief is not demonstrable: it is an about-turn; only he who turns about is receptive to it. the

Belief has always meant a leap across an infinite gulf, a leap namely out of the tangible world that presses on man from every side.

Belief was never simply the attitude obviously corresponding to the whole slant of human life; it has always been a decision calling on the depths of existence, a decision that in every age demanded a turnabout by man that can only be achieved by an effort of will.

Today belief no longer appears as the bold but challenging leap out of the apparent all of our visible world and into the apparent void of the invisible and intangible; it looks much more like a demand to bind oneself to yesterday and to accept it as eternally valid. And who wants to do that in our age when the idea of "tradition" has been replaced by the idea of "progress"?

Christian belief is not merely concerned with the "eternal', which as the "quite other" would remain completely outside the human world and time; on the contrary, it is much more concerned with God in history, with God as man.

By thus seeming to bridge the gulf between eternal and temporal, between visible and invisible, by making us meet God as a man, the eternal as the temporal, as one os us, Christian belief knows itself as revelation. Its claim to be revelation is indeed based on the fact that it has, so to speak, introduced the eternal into our world. "No one has ever seen God; the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known" (John 1:18).

Jesus has really made God known, drawn him out of himself or, as the First Epistle of St John puts it even more drastically, made him manifest for us to look upon and touch, so that he whom no one has ever seen stands open to our historical touch.

The very thing which at first seems to bring God quite close to us, so that we can touch him as a fellow man, follow his footsteps and measure them precisely, also became in a very profound sense the precondition for the "death of God" which henceforth puts an ineradicable stamp on the course of history and the human relationship with God. God has come so near to us that we can kill him and that he thereby, so it seems, ceases to be God for us.

The Christian today is not at liberty to remain satisfied by finding out that by all kinds of twists and turns an interpretation of Christianity can still be found which no longer offends anybody. Is there not some serious dishonesty in seeking to maintain Christianity as a viable proposition by such artifices of interpretation?

To the creative original spirit, the Creator Spiritus, thinking and making are one and the same thing. His thinking is a creative process. Things are, because they are thought.

In the ancient and medieval view all being is therefore what has been thought, the thought of the absolute spirit. Conversely, this means that since all being is thought, all being is meaningful, "logos", truth.", truth

If you do not believe (if you do not hold firm to Yahweh), then you will have no hold. (Isaiah 7:9) The one root 'mn (Amen) embraces a variety of meanings - truth, firmness, firm ground, ground, and furthermore the meanings loyalty, to trust, entrust oneself, take one's stand on something, believe in something; thus faith in God appears as a holding on to God through which man gains a firm hold for his life. Faith is therefore defined as taking up a position, as taking a stand trustfully on the ground of the word of God. The Christian attitude of belief is expressed in the little word "Amen", in which the meanings trust, entrust, fidelity, firmness, firm ground, stand, truth all interpenetrate each other; this means that the thing on which man can finally take his stand and which can give him meaning can only be truth itself.

The tool with which man is equipped to deal with the truth of being is not knowledge but understanding: understanding of the meaning to which he has entrusted himself. I think that the significance of what we mean by understanding is that we learn to grasp the ground on which we have taken our stand as meaning and truth, that we learn to perceive that ground represents meaning.

Christian faith is more than the option in favour of a spiritual ground to the world; its central formula is not "I believe in something", but "I believe in Thee." It is the encounter with the human being Jesus, and in this encounter it experiences the meaning of the world as a person.

Jesus is God's witness, through whom the intangible has become tangible, the distant has drawn near. And further, he is not simply the witness whose evidence we trust, he is the presence of the eternal itself in this world.

In the life of Jesus, in the unconditional devotion of himself to men, the meaning of the world is present before us; it vouchsafes itself to us as a love which loves even me and makes life worth living by this incomprehensible gift of a love free from any threat of fading away or any tinge of egoism.

Faith is the finding of a "You" that bears me up and all the unfulfilled - and in the last resort unfulfillable - hope of human encounters gives me the promise of an indestructible love which not only longs for eternity but guarantees it.

In the last analysis believing, trusting and loving are one, and all the theses around which belief revolves are only concrete expressions of the all-embracing about-turn, of the assertion "I believe in You" - of the discovery of God in the countenance of the man Jesus of Nazareth.

"Are you really He?" The believer will repeatedly experience the darkness in which the negation of unbelief surrounds him like a gloomy prison from which there is no escape, and the indifference of the world, which goes its way unchanged as if nothing had happened, seems only to mock his hope.

We have to pose the question, "Are you really He?", not only through honesty of thought and because of reason's responsibility but also in accordance with the intrinsic law of love, which wants to know more and more to whom it has given its "Yes", so as to be able to love him more.

"Are you really He?" In the last resort all reflections on the Creed are subordinate to this question and thus revolves around the basic form of the confession of faith: "I believe in You, Jesus of Nazareth, as the meaning (logos) of the world and of my life."