Light of the World – Peter Seewald, Pope Benedict

I am a Protestant. By no means am I unfavorable to the Roman Catholic Church. I have theological differences in a number of areas, but I would be uncomfortable saying (as some in my own tradition do) that the Roman Catholic Church is not a “true church.” Uncomfortable isn’t a strong enough word. Actually, to put it simply, I wouldn’t say such a thing about the Catholic Church. This book only encourages me more in my stance.

Light of the World is a dialogue between Peter Seewald and Pope Benedict XVI. This small, hardbound book published by Ignatius Press was a delight to read. At 180+ pp., the book was a rather quick read, especially since it read as an interview. Well, that’s probably because it was an interview. The interview covered a range of topics from ethics, theology, ecclesiology, ecology and eschatology. The intellectual aspect of this book wasn’t the most enjoyable, though it was nice. I found myself intrigued with the man, Pope Benedict XVI.

Pope Benedict XVI was not simply the head of the visible, Catholic Church. While he was the chief under-shepherd of the Roman Catholic Church, he was also during his life a pastor, bishop, scholar and professor. He earned a doctorate in theology, and then earned a post-doctoral degree in Germany called Habilitation. This simply means he’s a scholar. He has published a multi-volume, theological project on Jesus. Yet, all this is missing the point of the book.

This interview opened my eyes about some of my own misconceptions about the Roman Church. I thought I understood (albeit, somewhat simply) the Roman Catholic position on, for example, Protestantism. I was wrong. Yes, Protestant churches cannot be called churches in the formal sense. They are granted a title from Vatican II called where they are called an “ecclesial community.” (2010:95). This simply means my Protestant church is a community that embodies “a different mode of being a church.” This different mode emphasizes not the church as an institution, but how the “dynamism of the Word that gathers people into a congregation.” (2010:95) I found this to be rather fascinating.  While I don’t necessarily agree with this distinction, I was rather encouraged by the strong commitment and understanding the Roman Church has of the meaning of “Church.” There is a rather lax understanding of ecclesiology today amongst churches (and I mean this in the Protestant sense). Churches exist without formal structures for membership, no church government and no church discipline. Reading some of the criticisms of the Pope on Evangelicalism (many of which I agreed with), I found myself thankful for my own tradition which has its own strong, well-defined ecclesiology.

As I read I encountered a number of places where there was agreement with the Roman Church. We stand together in many theological and moral categories. For these, the worldwide visible church should be grateful. These areas of commonality should allow us to consider ways in which Catholics and Protestants might work together for the good of humanity. And, by good of humanity I chiefly mean proclaiming Christ and the reconciliation that comes through Him to God. While we may disagree on areas of theology, as I read this particular book (which admittedly is not the Catechism of the Catholic Church) I learned of many areas of shared ground. May it be so that from these areas of commonality we take Christ, the Light of the World and the Bread of Life to hurting, dark and hungry world.

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