Friday, November 30, 2012

Romano Guardini’s The Lord: Conclusion

Dear friend,

Well, Charlie, we’ve done it. Back in Maine in August, we met and discussed old times. We hadn’t really seen each other for forty years. And the one thing we didn’t go into, the elephant in the room, was a subject we took up by e-mail afterward. The elephant was my becoming a Catholic. You found that imponderable.

So I had an inspiration: to read a Catholic book about Jesus Christ and mail you a copy and then write you daily letters about the book, one for each chapter, sometimes recallling our days together in boarding school and the one year we shared at college. I looked at the table of contents of Romano Guardini’s The Lord and counted: 86 chapters, plus preface and conclusion.

Yeah, I could do that.

So here it is, my 88th post about The Lord and my last. I’ve played every key on the piano, using one finger for each. This will probably be our last communication for a while. I hope to see you in Maine next summer, when maybe we can talk about all this again, maybe even bring the elephant front and center.

Rather than give you any conclusion of mine, the completely amateur Catholic, let me summarize Guardini’s conclusion with a few quotes and then conclude with the opinion of someone more knowledgeable than any of us, Joseph Ratzinger, alias Pope Benedict XVI. Then I’ll explain how the erstwhile Cardinal Ratzinger is a sort of bridge to my next project.

Quotes I love from Guardini’s conclusion:

“Can such a being as the Jesus Christ sketched in these pages exist? . . . If we accept only the human in Jesus Christ, then naturally, the greater part of the New Testament becomes a mere web of speculations and pious legends woven about the figure of the historic Nazarene. . . .

“[On the other hand] if he is really the incarnate revelation of the omnipotent God, then no human criticism is valid. . . . Then only one attitude towards him is justifiable: readiness to hear and to obey. . . .

“Christ came to redeem us. To do this he had to inform us who God is, and what man is in the sight of God; and this in such a way that the doors to our conversion are flung open, and we are given the strength to enter into the new. . . . The moment many assumes the right to decide how his redeemer is or is not to be, that redeemer is reducd to human limitations, and the given conditions of human existence, as well as the whole sense of redemption, is lost. . . .

“A savior with human limitations is hardly worth believing in. . . .

“Understanding of Christ requires a complete conversion, not only of the will and the deed, but also of the mind. . . . To the degree that the intellect honestly attempts this right-about-face, the reality known as Jesus Christ will surrender itself. From this central reality, the doors of all other reality will swing open, and it will be lifted into the hope of the new creation.”

Before anyone makes a judgment about Pope Benedict XVI, they owe it to themselves to read some of his writings. You can’t do better than pick up a copy of The Essential Pope Benedict XVI: His Central Writings and Speeches. It includes a short essay on The Lord, and in that essay Joseph Ratzinger puts Guardini’s achievement in context:

“As a student, Romano Guardini had experienced the drama of liberalism and its collapse, and with a few friends he set out to find a new path for theology. What came to impress him . . . was the experience of the liturgy as the place of encounter with Jesus. It is above all in the liturgy that Jesus is among us; here he speaks to us, here he lives. . .

“Guardini did not view his book as theology in the strict sense of the word, but more as a kind of proclamation or preaching. . . . Throughout The Lord, Guardini struggled to come to the correct understanding of Jesus: all attempts to “cleanse” the figure of Jesus of the supernatural result in contradictions and meaningless constructions. One simply cannot strip ‘the wholly other,’ the mysterious, the divine from this individual. Without this element, the very person of Jesus himself dissolves. . . .

“As we are taught by Guardini, the essence of Christianity is not an idea, not a system of thought, not a plan of action. The essence of Christianity is a person: Jesus Christ himself.”

My dear friend, through these wandering letter-posts I have tried to bring myself—and maybe you—closer to the person of Jesus Christ himself. I will continue to try for myself, though from now on, you’re off the hook.

Tomorrow, bright and early, I will begin my next attempt, and here’s the Ratzinger bridge, the Pope Benedict connection. Before he became Pope, Cardinal Ratzinger had many duties. One of these was to head up a Vatican committee charged with rewriting the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

In honor of the Year of Faith declared by the Pope, I’m going to start reading the Catechism this weekend, at the beginning of a new liturgical year, marked by the First Sunday in Advent. As a guide, I’m going to use the Compendium to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, a question-and-answer summary handbook. Every day that I am able, I will carry a question with me, as a focus of reflection. Sometime before the end of the day, if the Lord is willing and the creek don’t rise, I’ll write something about that passage from the Catechism.

Read my posts or not, it doesn’t matter. Just like these letters on RG, I’m doing it for me, and for my love of the Catholic Church. Like I say, maybe we’ll pick up that hot potato again next summer.

Until then, God bless you,


  1. Nicely done. Quite simply, thank you.

  2. Thank you Webster! Really enjoyed reading each of these.

  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.


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