The Wisdom of Benedict XVI

By David Mills Published on December 31, 2022

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on April 16, 2018, Benedict’s 91st birthday.

Over his sixty-some years of active academic and pastoral work, Joseph Ratzinger wrote and said a vast amount, give us rich reflections on what God has done in Christ. Some of Benedict’s writings before he became pope can be found here, and all his writings as pope can be found here. Here are quotes on evangelism. See also 97 Aphorisms Adduced from the Thought of Benedict XVI put together by a Notre Dame professor. He makes Benedict a little sharper and wittier than he is on his own.

He’s not, I’ll admit, the kind of thinker who makes up great short quotes. He’s not G. K. Chesterton or C. S. Lewis. Short quotes can’t really convey his thinking, because he would often work out a matter in great and subtle detail. But here are a few (just a tiny percentage) of his insights.

Knowing Jesus

♦ Conversion to Christ, believing in the Gospel, ultimately means this: to exit the illusion of self-sufficiency in order to discover and accept one’s own need — the need of others and God, the need of His forgiveness and His friendship.

♦ I would say it simply: No one can give that which he doesn’t personally possess, which means we cannot transmit the Holy Spirit in an effective way, render the Spirit perceptible, if we ourselves aren’t close to the Spirit.

♦ Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.

God Loves Us

♦ We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution. Each of us is the result of a thought of God.

♦ Each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed. Each of us is loved. Each of us is necessary.

♦ If you follow the will of God, you know that in spite of all the terrible things that happen to you, you will never lose a final refuge. You know that the foundation of the world is love, so that even when no human being can or will help you, you may go on, trusting in the One that loves you.

♦ God does not forget those who are forgotten by all. Those who are worthless in human eyes are precious in the Lord’s.

♦ In Jesus’ life from the Father, in the immediacy and closeness of his association with him in prayer and indeed face to face, He is God’s witness, through whom the intangible has become tangible, the distant has drawn near.  And further: He is not simply the witness whose evidence we trust when he tells us what he had seen …. He is the presence of the eternal itself in this world.

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The Christian Hope

♦ To have Christian hope means to know about evil and yet to go to meet the future with confidence. The core of faith rests upon accepting being loved by God, and therefore to believe is to say “Yes,” not only to him, but to creation, to creatures, above all, to men, to try to see the image of God in each person and thereby to become a lover.

♦ It is when we attempt to avoid suffering by withdrawing from anything that might involve hurt, when we try to spare ourselves the effort and pain of pursuing truth, love, and goodness, that we drift into a life of emptiness, in which there may be almost no pain, but the dark sensation of meaninglessness and abandonment is all the greater.

♦ If the love of God has planted deep roots in a person, then he is able to love even those who do not deserve it, as God does us. … We learn to look at each other not only with our eyes, but with the eyes of God, which is the gaze of Jesus Christ.

♦ Evil draws its power from indecision and concern for what other people think.

Loving Others, Sharing Jesus

♦ Love is free. It is not practiced as a way of achieving other ends … those who practice charity in the Church’s name will never seek to impose the Church’s faith upon others. They realize that a pure and generous love is the best witness to the God in whom we believe and by whom we are driven to love. A Christian knows when it is time to speak of God and when it is better to say nothing and to let love alone speak.

♦ To love someone is to desire that person’s good and to take effective steps to secure it. Besides the good of the individual, there is a good that is linked to living in society. … The more we strive to obtain a common good corresponding to the real needs of our neighbors, the more effectively we love them.

♦ To the extent that we nourish ourselves on Christ and are in love with him, we feel within us the incentive to bring others to him. Indeed, we cannot keep the joy of the faith to ourselves; we must pass it on.

♦ Help each other to live and to grow in the Christian faith so as to be valiant witnesses of the Lord. Be united, but not closed. Be humble, but not fearful. Be simple, but not naive. Be thoughtful, but not complicated. Enter into dialogue with others, but be yourselves.

♦ If in my life I fail completely to heed others, solely out of a desire to be “devout” and to perform my “religious duties,” then my relationship with God will also grow arid. It becomes merely “proper,” but loveless.

♦ The fundamental task of the evangelization of culture is the challenge to make God visible in the human face of Jesus.

♦ Faith grows when it is lived as an experience of love received and when it is communicated as an experience of grace and joy.

♦ To the extent that we nourish ourselves on Christ and are in love with him, we feel within us the incentive to bring others to him: Indeed, we cannot keep the joy of the faith to ourselves; we must pass it on.

Believers Together

♦ The consciousness that, in Christ, God has given himself for us, even unto death, must inspire us to live no longer for ourselves but for Him, and, with Him, for others. Whoever loves Christ loves the Church, and desires the Church to be increasingly the image and instrument of the love which flows from Christ.

♦ The Twelve Apostles are the most evident sign of Jesus’ will regarding the existence and mission of His Church, the guarantee that between Christ and the Church there is no opposition. Despite the sins of the people who make up the Church, they are inseparable. Therefore, a slogan that was popular some years back, “Jesus yes, Church no,” is totally inconceivable with the intention of Christ. This individualistically chosen Jesus is an imaginary Jesus.

♦ If we look to the saints, this great luminous wake with which God has passed through history, we truly see that here is a force for good that survives through millennia. Here is truly light from light.



For a good selection of quotes, see GoodreadsChristlifeBenedictEveryday and others you can find with a web search for “Benedict quotes.” For more short quotes from a hero of the faith, see The Wisdom of John Henry Newman. This was first published in 2015 for Benedict’s 88th birthday and revised a little for this publication.

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