Of all the men to sit in the Chair of St. Peter, Benedict XVI surely ranks as one of the intellectual giants. Even before becoming pope in 2005, he had a formidable reputation as a thinker. Whether the subject was Europe’s future or the relationship between ethics and economics, Joseph Ratzinger certainly had written something insightful on the topic.
That erudition wasn’t confined to the academy. I long ago lost count of the number of people I have met from all walks of life who have told me that, through reading one or more of his 86 books and 471 articles, they had come to a better understanding of Christianity and a deeper knowledge of Jesus of Nazareth. In many cases, the end result was conversion to Catholicism.
For Benedict, Christianity wasn’t a collection of ideas. It was ultimately about the truth of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ and how this revealed God’s deep love for humanity. Nonetheless, ideas were deeply important to Ratzinger as it was through words that this truth was conveyed and explained.
Benedict also witnessed throughout his life the power of ideas—for better and for worse. Growing up under the National Socialist dictatorship in Germany, he saw first-hand how much evil can flow from seriously wrong ideas. After World War II, he witnessed how Marxist ideas legitimated Communist tyrannies across Central and Eastern Europe and eventually drove the madness which swept through Western universities and culture in 1968, the price for which we are still paying.