Editor’s note: The following excerpt is from Introduction to Christianity (2nd edition) by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (Ignatius Press, 1990, 2004; pp. 301-10).
To the Christian, faith in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is an expression of certainty that the saying that seems to be only a beautiful dream is in fact true: “Love is strong as death” (Song 8:6). In the Old Testament this sentence comes in the middle of praises of the power of eros. But this by no means signifies that we can simply push it aside as a lyrical exaggeration. The boundless demands of eros“, its apparent exaggerations and extravagance, do in reality give expression to a basic problem, indeed the” basic problem of human existence, insofar as they reflect the nature and intrinsic paradox of love: love demands infinity, indestructibility; indeed, it is, so to speak, a call for infinity. But it is also a fact that this cry of love’s cannot be satisfied, that it demands infinity but cannot grant it; that it claims eternity but in fact is included in the world of death, in its loneliness and its power of destruction. Only from this angle can one understand what “resurrection” means. It is” the greater strength of love in face of death.
At the same time it is proof of what only immortality can create: being in the other who still stands when I have fallen apart. Man is a being who himself does not live forever but is necessarily delivered up to death. For him, since he has no continuance in himself, survival, from a purely human point of view, can only become possible through his continuing to exist in another. The statements of Scripture about the connection between sin and death are to he understood from this angle. For it now becomes clear that man’s attempt “to be like God”, his striving for autonomy, through which he wishes to stand on his own feet alone, means his death, for he just cannot stand on his own. If man–and this is the real nature of sin–nevertheless refuses to recognize his own limits and tries to be completely self-sufficient, then precisely by adopting this attitude he delivers himself up to death.
Of course man does understand that his life alone does not endure and that he must therefore strive to exist in others, so as to remain through them and in them in the land of the living. Two ways in particular have been tried. First, living on in one’s own children: that is why in primitive peoples failure to marry and childlessness are regarded as the most terrible curse; they mean hopeless destruction, final death. Conversely, the largest possible number of children offers at the same time the greatest possible chance of survival, hope of immortality, and thus the most genuine blessing that man can expect. Another way discloses itself when man discovers that in his children he only continues to exist in a very unreal way; he wants more of himself to remain. So he takes refuge in the idea of fame, which should make him really immortal if be lives on through all ages in the memory of others. But this second attempt of man’s to obtain immortality for himself by existing in others fails just as badly as the first: what remains is not the self but only its echo, a mere shadow. So self-made immortality is really only a Hades, a sheol“: more nonbeing than being. The inadequacy of both ways lies partly in the fact that the other person who holds my being after my death cannot carry this being itself but only its echo; and even more in the fact that even time other person to whom I have, so to speak, entrusted my continuance will not last–he, too, will perish.
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