Christ Our Joy: The Theological Vision of Pope Benedict XVI
by Joseph Murphy
Ignatius Press, April 2008
236 pp., $16.99

For the better part of his 82 years, Pope Benedict XVI has dedicated his life to serving Christ and his church — as priest and pastor, as theology professor and author, as archbishop of Munich-Freising and prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and now as the Roman Catholic Church's chief shepherd. What, if anything, has unified his thought throughout these years?

In Christ Our Joy: The Theological Vision of Pope Benedict XVI, Monsignor Joseph Murphy, an official in the Vatican Secretariat of State who studied theology at Rome's Pontifical Gregorian University, proposes that what ties Benedict's theology together is an emphasis on joy.

Consider Benedict's diagnosis of our existential plight. As he sees it, modern man is, above all else, unhappy. Modern anxieties, Murphy notes, produce "boredom, spiritual lethargy, and a sense of meaningless" that make life almost insufferable. The American phenomenon of the "man-child" — the 20-year-old professional who works by day and parties by night with no plans to settle down — and Europe's plummeting birthrates and low religious practice support Benedict's claim. Searching for joy yet blind to the point of living, we retreat from reality.

Murphy pays particular attention to Nietzsche, to whom Benedict returns repeatedly. In his first encyclical letter as pope, Benedict summarized the Nietzschean mindset: "Doesn't the church, with all her commandments and prohibitions, turn to bitterness the most precious thing in life? Doesn't she blow the whistle just when the joy which is the Creator's gift offers us a happiness which is itself ...

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