The Meaning of Christian Brotherhood by Joseph Ratzinger
(Ignatius, 1993, 93 pages)
In The Meaning of Christian Brotherhood, originally published in 1960 by the current Pope Emeritus, Ratzinger traces the notion of “brotherhood” through the Old Testament, the Greco-Roman world, and into modernity. He then turns to examine the New Testament’s conception of brotherhood. After this historical analysis in part one, he articulates a fully fledged Christian understanding of brotherhood in dogmatic and moral terms. In the process, Ratzinger deals with the Church’s relationship to the broader world, and the relationship of Catholics to “separated brethren.”
This book is interesting for any number of reasons. Among them is the fact that it is an early work of an important theological figure. Historically, it also gives a sense of the theological climate leading up to Vatican II. As a participant in that council, Ratzinger’s engagement with modern biblical exegesis, positive interaction with Protestants like Karl Barth, and concern for ecumenical issues anticipate some of the council’s major themes. I found the comparison of early Christianity with Roman mystery religions particularly interesting. Through this comparison, Ratzinger draws out some of the ways that early Christianity promoted equality for women and facilitated reconciliation amongst the various racial and ethnic divisions of the ancient world.