That is the subject of this recent National Catholic Register feature by Joan Frawley Desmond, who writes:
As the founder of Ignatius Press, a leading publisher of Catholic theological works, Jesuit Father Joseph Fessio has tackled his fair share of turgid academic prose.
Thus he is especially appreciative of Pope Benedict XVI’s clarity — not only in his writing, but also his public statements.
In both cases, said Father Fessio, the Pope uses simple images and words to present complex themes and teachings.
Father Fessio has known Pope Benedict XVI since 1972, when the American priest began doctoral studies at the University of Regensburg, where then-Father Joseph Ratzinger had a strong following among graduate students.
Father Ratzinger was just 45 years old when the young American Jesuit from San Francisco arrived at the university, but the German-born academic had already earned a reputation for explaining difficult theological concepts in clear, incisive language.
“He was different, and people came to listen to him. He offered a very personal, meditative reflection. As people now recognize, he was articulate, organized and coherent,” recalled Father Fessio, during an interview that shared recollections of Ratzinger’s role as a teacher and offered an appreciation of his gifts as an author.
But Father Ratzinger’s intellectual gifts were even more striking during the graduate seminars, “where there would be five or six of us. In each session, one person would make a presentation, and others would respond,” Father Fessio remembered. “Father Ratzinger would listen, and then, in the discussion, he would make sure that others also spoke. My German was not good, and I couldn’t say very much.”
During the seminars, Father Ratzinger “would sit back, and then, at the end of the seminar, in two or three sentence, he would summarize all that was said. He pulled the discussion together into an organic whole in a way that was always illuminating.”
This section stands out:
“I wouldn’t call him shy; I would call him reserved. He is not someone who would enjoy a cocktail party,” said Father Fessio.
“Yes, he is firm. He has tremendous confidence because he has confidence in Christ. Friendship in Christ: It is the bass note in all his work.”
The resulting spiritual serenity sustained him amid the tumultuous decades following the Second Vatican Council, when the German cardinal sparked animosity by insisting that the Council did not constitute a break with the continuity of Catholic Tradition.
Father Fessio recalled a remark the Pope made during a meeting some time after his election.
Another Catholic publisher asked the Holy Father why only Ignatius Press was publishing his works. Father Fessio recalled that the Pope calmly responded, “Because when no one else cared, they published my works.’”
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