In October 2001 I had a long conversation with Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. It was but weeks after 9/11; a new century and millennium were opening before us; and I wanted to get Ratzinger’s view on the main issues for the Church and for theology in the twenty-first century.
The man who would become Pope Benedict XVI was deeply concerned about the moral relativism he thought was corroding the West, and located its roots in Western high culture’s refusal to say that anything was “the truth,” full stop. This was a serious problem. For when there is only “your truth” and “my truth,” there is no firm cultural foundation for society, for democracy, or for living nobly and happily.
Then Ratzinger turned to Christology, the Church’s reflection on the person and mission of Jesus Christ. Both the Church and the world were suffering from a “diminishing Christ,” he suggested. Some wanted a less assertive Christology to avoid conflict with other world religions. Some wanted to make Jesus “one of the illuminators of God,” but not the unique, saving Son of God. Both these interpretations were deeply problematic, the cardinal continued, because they pushed God farther and farther away from humanity.
“If Jesus is not the Son of God,” Cardinal Ratzinger said, “then God really is at a great distance from us.” So perhaps the chilling sense of the absence of God evident throughout much of the Western world was “a product of the absence of Jesus Christ,” who is not just moral exemplar but Savior, Lord, and God-with-us—“Emmanuel.” On the other hand, “if we see this Jesus” born for us and crucified for us, “then we have a much more precise idea of God, who God is, and what God does.”
Read more at First Things.