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Salt of the Earth: The Church at the End of the Millenium, by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (Ignatius, 283 pp.; $12.95, paper). Reviewed by Richard John Neuhaus, president of Religion and Public Life and editor-in-chief of First Things.

In 1988, Religion and Public Life, a research and education institute in New York, invited Cardinal Ratzinger to give the annual Erasmus Lecture, followed by two days of conversation with theologians, including Protestants of the old-line and evangelical communities. The subject then was the authority and interpretation of Scripture, and everybody came away from those days profoundly impressed by the learning, candor, and gentle civility of this man who is the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Readers of the present book are in for a similarly scintillating engagement with one of the great Christian minds and spirits of our time.

Salt of the Earth is an interview extending over several days with the noted German journalist Peter Seewald, a self-described skeptic. Comparison is inevitably made with another book-length Ratzinger interview that was published in 1985 as The Ratzinger Report, which caused an enormous stir in Catholic circles. At that time the cardinal had not been long in the post of chief doctrinal officer, next to the pope, of the Catholic church, and his relentless critique of the "crisis of faith" at the root of the church's problems startled many readers. More than a decade later, the tone of Salt of the Earth is more tranquil, even autumnal at points, but the critique is no less incisive, and there is no doubt about Ratzinger's continuing belief that all crises are rooted in a crisis of faith, of whether we say yes or no to the love of God in Jesus Christ. ...

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May 18, 1998

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