One of the very finest books written by Joseph Ratzinger, who would later become Pope Benedict XVI, was titled: The Meaning of Christian Brotherhood (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1993). The original German edition was published in 1960 when Ratzinger was still a young man in his thirties. Thus this book is also pre-Vatican II. And it happens to be one of the most important things Ratzinger ever wrote, so far as I am concerned.

Ratzinger’s treatise argues that a true Christian brotherhood exists between all were believers in the one Christ. He gives us the biblical grounds for real cooperation and does it in a way that remains Roman Catholic at the same time. Many Catholics and Protestants would do well to read this precious little book.

Ratzinger establishes a Christian brotherhood from the perspective of salvation history by opening up both the Old and New Testaments on the subject. He shows that there is a distinctively Christian sense of brotherhood (vis-à-vis Judaism, Hellenism, Stoicism, the Enlightenment and Marxism) and shows how this fraternal charity can only be perfected through God’s fatherhood, Christ’s divine sonship and the Holy Spirit’s work in us. Simply put, he grounds our Christian unity in Trinity.

One reason I bring this up via this blog is that I am using this same argument in my new book on missional-ecumenism. I believe the Trinity is the place to begin if we would pursue our oneness in Christ alone. Ratzinger saw a synthesis of ecumenism at this very point and wanted us to unite around what can unite us rather than to begin with what divides us. He has a unique way of approaching Protestant and Catholic realities. He suggests that though we are “two communities” we “are to regard each other as sisters in the Lord . . . and individual Christians on both sides as brothers to each other.”

This remarkable insight allows us to admit that we are not in the same community but we can regard the other church as a “sister” communion and each, as individuals, as “brothers.” This explains one of the primary reasons for why I prayed that Ratzinger would become the pope. I believe Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI are major figures in church history. In fact, I think Benedict is building a solid ecumenical foundation on the work that John Paul II did and this work will likely impact the whole of Christianity in powerful ways for decades to come. This is why I love Pope Benedict XVI more than many Catholics I hear talk about him. And this is why some Protestants are angry with me because I admit my love for him and speak openly of deep admiration. My calling is “to love all” and Benedict is a wonderful living role model for me. 

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  1. Edward Holm August 1, 2008 at 8:46 am

    It might be interesting that, during a time of great brokenness in our world, there exists the possibility to follow the metaphor of a “blended family” to view ourselves as “brothers and sisters in Christ’ Few young people would be shocked or embarrassed by the fact that someone might live in a household with other siblings who share no biological material with one another. Most kids who live in families of divorce understand the reality of that. Given the divorce rate of professing Christians which is no different from the rest of the culture, this is as common for us as it is for others. The redemption here may be to understand the relationship between our divided churches as one of a family affected by divorce. It does not serve families well to continue to wrangle over the details of a divorce long after it is accomplished. Perhaps the perpetual hearkening back to Protestant Reformation and pre-Vatican II diatribes does not serve us well as we attempt to somehow form new blended values and families. Perhaps the emergent church will be one which wobbles somewhat unsurely toward a future already prepared by God but somewhat hazy in its details from our limited vision. Anyway…a thought.

  2. Nick Morgan August 2, 2008 at 12:58 pm

    Great post John, and I couldn’t agree with you more about the value of former Cardinal Ratzinger’s book for ongoing ecumenical dialogue and relationship building among Christians of all Traditions. I agree that every serious Catholic, Orthodox, and Evangelical-Protestant should read this book and take to heart what is said by it’s author.
    And Edward, you make some valuable and insightful points regarding the use of the “blended family” metaphor for describing relationships within our divided Christian communities. God bless!

  3. Richard Hermes,SJ July 11, 2009 at 3:17 pm

    One correction — he does not affirm that Catholic and Protestant “churches” are sisters but that though “two communities” we should regard our communities as sisters. In other words, his terminology, even as early as 1960, and in an already over-heated ecumenical environment, was most careful and in fact consistent with the church doctrine as enunciated later by Dominus Iesus. Not all ecclesial bodies are “churches” in the proper sense.

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