Aleteia logoAleteia logoAleteia
Friday 29 September |
The Feast of Saints Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael
Aleteia logo
separateurCreated with Sketch.

Texts Benedict XVI wrote after his retirement published, some for first time

Joseph Ratzinger Benedykt XVI Maryja


I.Media - published on 01/18/23

The 192-page volume is composed of 16 texts written by the Pope Emeritus between 2014 and 2022, including four previously unpublished ones.

A collection of the texts of Benedict XVI written after his resignation in 2013, some never published before, is already available in bookstores in Italy. “What is Christianity – A Spiritual Quasi-Testament” (published in Italian, “Che cos’è il cristianesimo. Quasi un testamento spiritual,” 2023) testifies to the Pontiff Emeritus’ still lively interest in “disputatio” – academic debate – in his last years.

In 2019, Benedict XVI entrusted the publication of his last writings to one of his close friends, Italian theologian Elio Guerriero, director of the journal Communio and author of a biography of the 265th pope, “Servant of God and Humanity” (published in Italian, “Servitore di Dio e dell’umanità,” 2017).

Benedict XVI Swiss Guard

Archbishop Georg Gänswein, the Pontiff’s private secretary, also participated in the preparation of the volume but is not cited by the late Pontiff in his acknowledgements. In all, the 192-page volume is composed of 16 texts written by the Pope Emeritus between 2014 and 2022, including four previously unpublished ones.

Elio Guerriero explains in an introduction to the book that the reason these texts were published posthumously is the controversy that erupted after the publication of the Pontiff Emeritus’ contribution on the celibacy of priests in the book “From the Depths of Our Hearts: Priesthood, Celibacy and the Crisis of the Catholic Church” (2020) by Cardinal Robert Sarah. Confirming the Pope’s words reported by Archbishop Gänswein in his memoirs, the Italian theologian explains that Benedict XVI decided at that time that he would not publish any more texts during his lifetime.

The 265th pope explained the reasons for this in a letter dated January 13, quoted by Guerriero: “The fury of the circles that oppose me in Germany is so strong that the appearance of the slightest word of mine immediately provokes a murderous uproar on their part.”

If we put aside the texts that are already known – a few official speeches, two tributes including one to John Paul II, two prefaces, an interview with a Jesuit, and some correspondence with a rabbi – the unpublished texts testify to a strong desire to continue debate with the Catholic intellectual sphere, in particular with that of his own country.

A final disagreement with Karl Rahner

This is the case with the first unpublished text, “What is Religion,” a brief six-page text completed on March 19, 2022. In it, Benedict XVI offers a reflection on the historical “movement” of religious phenomena from a Christian perspective. He explains how polytheistic religions, and in particular paganism, were integrated into forms of monotheism after being combatted and “purified.” This movement, he explains, citing the work of Henri de Lubac, is at the heart of Christianity which, with Christ, comes to liberate men from the fear of the power they attributed to divinities. 

He notes that after paganism, two paths open up: that of the Abrahamic monotheisms, in which “the unique God, as a person, determines the whole world,” and on the other hand the mystical religions, notably Himalayan Buddhism. He points out that this mystical tendency, which he describes as a form of religion oriented toward “annihilation,” has found an echo in European culture and even in Christian theology.

Benedict XVI gives as an example a quote attributed to one of his most famous opponents on the theological scene, German theologian Karl Rahner: “The Christian of tomorrow will be mystical or will not exist at all.” Acknowledging that he has “given up trying to understand what Rahner meant by this phrase,” he rejects an interpretation that considers religions to be moving towards an “impersonal devotion” to the divine, a tendency that he says is “in total contradiction” with the intention and historical development of Christianity.

Intolerance against Christianity in the name of tolerance

The second text, which is dated December 2018 and is 17 pages long, is titled Monotheism and Tolerance. It is presented as a response to “Corpora. The Anarchist Power of Monotheism” (published in German, “Corpora. Die anarchische Kraft des Monotheismus”), an essay written in 2018 by Eckhard Nordhofen, a German theologian who points out the links between the affirmation of the one God and intolerance. Benedict XVI contests this argument and at the same time laments the fact that Christianity today is “the victim of precisely a growing intolerance in the name of tolerance.”

Recounting several episodes in the history of the Jewish people in the Old Testament, Benedict XVI emphasizes the diversity of conceptions of monotheism in the biblical narrative. He then rejects the accusation that Christianity is intolerant because it claims to hold the truth, assuring us that the crucified Christ is, on the contrary, “the authentic counterweight to every form of intolerance.”

Benedict XVI

Christianity is not a “religion of the Book”

Sparked by a publication this time of a book by the Protestant theologian Adolf von Harnack, the third unpublished text, “The Islamic-Christian Dialogue,” is a brief four-page reflection completed on March 1, 2018. In this text, the Pontiff Emeritus highlights the misunderstanding he sees in the expression “religion of the Book.”

While he considers it appropriate for Islam and its relationship to the Quran, which Muslims describe as revealed by God to the Prophet, he believes it is not at all appropriate for Christianity. He warns against an erroneous understanding of interreligious dialogue that would result from an idolatrous conception of the biblical text.

An essay against intercommunion

The latest unpublished text, “The Meaning of Communion,” completed on June 28, 2018, looks at the question of intercommunion, that is, the possibility for Christians of different denominations receiving Communion together. The Catholic Church does not allow intercommunion in most cases.

In the 22 pages of the essay, in a long reflection on the meaning of the Eucharist, Benedict XVI emphasizes the sacramental meaning of communion. This, he says, makes it impossible to conceive of intercommunion with the Protestant communities. Instead, he advocates a “true ecumenism” that would not deny the important differences that exist between Christian confessions on the question of communion.

Benedict XVI corrected his essay published in Cardinal Sarah’s book

The other 12 texts of the book are known and unaltered, except for the one published in 2020 in “From the Depths of Our Hearts,” which Benedict XVI describes as “the work of Cardinal Sarah” in his preface. He explains that he has taken the then-published version and “given it a new center of gravity.”

If the objective of the initial text – the defense of the theological foundations of the priesthood – hasn’t changed, the structure has been largely reorganized and enriched with several paragraphs.

Pope Benedict XVI
Support Aleteia!

Enjoying your time on Aleteia?

Articles like these are sponsored free for every Catholic through the support of generous readers just like you.

Thanks to their partnership in our mission, we reach more than 20 million unique users per month!

Help us continue to bring the Gospel to people everywhere through uplifting and transformative Catholic news, stories, spirituality, and more.

Support Aleteia with a gift today!

Daily prayer
And today we celebrate...

Entrust your prayer intentions to our network of monasteries

Top 10
See More
Get Aleteia delivered to your inbox. Subscribe here.