Monday, June 18, 2012

Book Review: Great Teachers by Benedict XVI

Great Teachers is another volume that collects the Wednesday lectures by Pope Benedict XVI. These catecheses cover a small but highly fruitful period of history, the 12th and 13th centuries. Several factors contributed to the growth and development of spiritual thought in these years. One factor was the monastic reform that brought about a new emphasis on the study of the Bible as the center of theology. By meditation and reflection on the Sacred Scriptures, the monks were able to delve more deeply into the mysteries of the faith. Another factor was the creation of the universities, where learned men had the opportunity to discuss and debate various ideas. The discussions were further enhanced by the rediscovery of Aristotle's works, which present a more or less comprehensive understanding of the world through reason and observation (i.e. science) but apart from the Judeo-Christian heritage. A third factor was the rise of the mendicant orders, viz. the Franciscans and the Dominicans, whose charism included preaching the word of God to all and teaching at the universities, where they worked to integrate the Aristotelian world view with the Christian faith.

Benedict describes the various strands that come together and reviews the lives and works of fifteen men who have had a lasting impact on the church and Western civilization. His writing style is clear and concise as always. He often draws parallels to modern day problems and demonstrates the relevance of these thinkers and theologians to today's world. His work is also an excellent entrance for those interested in the medieval period and he mentions several of the best works of each writer.

Here's a quote I found fascinating from the chapter on Saint Bonaventure:
Christ's works do not go backwards, they do not fail but progress, the saint said in his letter De Tribus Quaestionibus. Thus St. Bonaventure explicitly formulates the idea of progress, and this is an innovation in comparison with the Fathers of the Church and the majority of his contemporaries. For St. Bonaventure Christ was no longer the end of history, as he was for the Fathers of the Church, but rather its center; history does not end with Christ but begins a new period. The following is another consequence: until that moment the idea that the Fathers of the Church were the absolute summit of theology predominated, all successive generations could only be their disciples. St. Bonaventure also recognized the Fathers as teachers forever, but the phenomenon of St. Frances assured him that the riches of Christ's word are inexhaustible and that new light could also appear to the new generations. The oneness of Christ also guarantees newness and renewal in all the periods of history.

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