Friday, July 17, 2015

The Unity of the Nations (CUA Press)

I'm a sucker for anything that Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) has written. I don't own all of his books, but I am slowly getting there. And while, I haven't read half of what I own and understand less than that, I find myself fascinated every time I read his words. The man was truly brilliant, and it's a shame more Catholics, more of the world didn't realize that while he was still pope. Recently, I read The Unity of the Nations, which is an early work of Ratzinger's. Though it was only three chapters and 120 pages, it read like it was much thicker. I'm not saying that's a bad thing, I'm just letting you know it is dense, and if you are not familiar with the topic, you will find yourself re-reading the pages like I did.

The first chapter serves as background material as it relates to the question of where Early Christianity fits into the political world. In order to answer that question, Ratzinger looked at three components - 1. Biblical faith, 2. heritage of Antiquity, and 3. "the debate with so-called gnosis and its reception of the Christian message. According to Antiquity all the people were connected to each other, because they were part of Zeus' body. Augustus put great stock in the pantheon of gods and this came into direct opposition when Jesus was born, because Jesus was The Prince of Peace, a title which Augustus also claimed. Christianity and Gnosticism also came into direct contact with each other and were diametrically opposed to each other. However, some people, like Celsus, tried to lump them together.

In the final two chapters, Ratzinger calls on two Church Fathers, Origen and Augustine, to show the place of the Early Church in the political world. I found Origen's chapter absolutely fascinating, but I have always had an appreciation for him, and that is in part because I believe he didn't get a fair shake in Church History. In his chapter we learn that Origen mainly did battle with Celsus and Celsus' misunderstandings of Christianity. Oddly enough, Celsus defended Judaism but couldn't recognize that Christianity was the fulfillment of Judaism. We also learn that Origen identified the angels that ruled over the kings and kingdoms of the earth as fallen angels or demons. That is why Satan was so easily able to offer Jesus control of the whole world if Jesus would simply kneel before Satan. Very interesting!

This book was not an easy read, but it was an eye-opening one. The main message I believe (and someone correct me if I am wrong) is one we should already know. Christians are to be in the world, but not of the world. We may be Americans, Europeans, whatever, but that does not firstly define us. What firstly defines us is that we are Christians. Our home is Heaven, and our political loyalty is to  God and not some secular ruler. That's not to say that we neglect our duties on earth, but we should not let them shape us or give them priority over our heavenly duties. Our heavenly duties are to love and serve the Lord and bring all people to Him. Lastly, it is the Church, not any poltical entity down here where we can only ever find true unity of all mankind. So if you are a Ratzinger fan, like me, and want to read a book that "showcases the development of Ratzinger's theology," then this is the book for you.

This book was provided to me for free by Catholic University of America Press in exchange for an honest review. If you found this review helpful, please click here and hit Yes!