by Benedikt XVI.

To be converted is not a work for self-fulfillment because the human being is not the architect of his own eternal destiny.

We did not make ourselves. Therefore, self-fulfillment is a contradiction and is also too little for us. We have a loftier destination. We might say that conversion consists precisely in not considering ourselves as our own "creators" and thereby discovering the truth, for we are not the authors of ourselves.


Benedikt XVI., General Audience, February 21, 2007; you can find the full text of his speech here.

The first addressee

by L. Baeck

If the Prophets spoke primarily, and often exclusively, of Israel, it was assuredly a wise limitation.

They knew and felt that true religion had first to be securely established in Israel, before it could be promulgated and presented to the world. It proves the power of the words of Jesus, and not the narrow- ness of his outlook, if he limits his teaching to Israel, and enjoins the same limitation upon his disciples. The Prophets speak of the world and its salvation, but they speak to Israel: it is only their later and colourless imitators who constantly summon all mankind to listen and admire.


From: Leo Baeck (1873-1956), The Essence of Judaism (1905)

Never despair

by E. Fackenheim

We are, first, commanded to survive as Jews, lest the Jewish people perish. 

We are commanded, secondly, to remember in our very guts and bones the martyrs of the Holocaust, lest their memory perish.

We are forbidden, thirdly, to deny or despair of God, however much we may have to contend with him or with belief in him, lest Judaism perish.

We are forbidden, finally, to despair of the world as the place which is to become the kingdom of God, lest we help make it a meaningless place in which God is dead or irrelevant and everything is permitted.


Emil Fackenheim (1916-2003, Jewish philosopher of religion and reform rabbi), From: To Mend the World. Foundation of Jewish Thought (1994)


by O. Marquard

For the people, these are their stories. But stories have to be told. That is what the liberal arts do:

they compensate for the damages of modernization by telling stories; the more the world is objectified, the more stories have to be told, to compensate: otherwise people will die of narrative atrophy. The more modern the modern world becomes, the more unavoidable the arts become, as storytelling sciences.


Translated from: Odo Marquard, Über die Unvermeidlichkeit der Geisteswissenschaften. Vortrag vor der Westdeutschen Rektorenkonferenz; in: Apologie des Zufälligen (1986)

Notes towards understanding the present age

by G. Steiner

Art, intellectual pursuits, the development of the natural sciences, many branches of scholarship flourished in close spatial, temporal proximity to massacre and the death camps. It is the structure and meaning of that proximity which must be looked at. Hitler's jibe that "conscience is a Jewish invention" provides a clue.

We hate most those who hold out to us a goal, an ideal, a visionary promise which, even though we have stretched our muscles to the utmost, we cannot reach, which slips, again and again, just out of range of our racked fingers - yet, and this is crucial, which remains profoundly desirable, which we cannot reject because we fully acknowledge its supreme value.

Using theological metaphors, and there is no need to apologize for them in an essay on culture, the holocaust may be said to mark a second Fall. We can interpret it as a voluntary exit from the Garden and a programmatic attempt to burn the Garden behind us. Lest its remembrance continue to infect the health of barbarism with debilitating dreams or with remorse.


From: George Steiner (1929-2020) In Bluebeard’s Castle, Some Notes towards the Redefinition of Culture, 1971

Progress in the Church – from the “Hymns to the Church”

by G. v. le Fort

From a distance they are clarion-calls, but drawing close they turn to an idle tinkle.

They advance with banners and pennants but when the wind rises their pageantry disintegrates.

Listen, you loud and foolhardy ones, you opportunistic escapees of the spirit and you children of your capriciousness:

We died of thirst at your springs; we starved by your food;

we went blind by your lamps!

You are like a street that never reaches its end; you are like many small steps circling yourselves!

You are like running water; constantly your own rushing is in your mouth!

Today you are your truth’s cradle; and tomorrow you will also be its grave!


Translated from: Gertrud von le Fort, Hymnen an die Kirche (1924)

For appearances’ sake

by J. Ratzinger

It lies in the nature of the medium that it prefers what is exciting and thrilling. And with that the ordinary things holding the world together can barely make an appearance. Thus, the weight between the significant and insignificant things is shifted.

People are not personally present at the event, but they see the report on the event, which is inevitably already an interpretation and selection of the event. Eventually the report becomes more important than the event itself. Meaning, we start to depend on shine and appearance more and more, and thus also produce for the appearance. There is also risk for politicians and church leaders, that they stop asking what the right thing is, but instead: How will this come across? How will it be reported on? How will it be accepted? This means that actions are no longer determined by reality and the standards that conscience would dictate, but by the appearance one wants to create. This subjugation that public figures, politicians, as well as men of the church can easily be caught up in, would be disastrous: When you no longer act according to what is actually recognizable as good, but according to the question of what comes across well, how do I appear, and thus you become a servant of your own appearance.


Joseph Ratzinger in a conversation with August Everding (1998), transcribed from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G7RH0ZyqCZQ

Unity of this world and the world beyond

by L. Baeck

Das Judentum hat seine Freiheit von dem Zwiespalt, den die verschiedenen Begriffe von Gott bringen. Dem Widerstreit zwischen Transzendenz und Immanenz fehlt hier der Boden. Die Frömmigkeit lebt hier in der Paradoxie, in der Polarität, mit all ihrer Spannung und Geschlossenheit.  

For piety, there is no such thing as this world without any beyond, nor a beyond without this world; no world to come without the present world, and no human world without that which transcends it. Everything from this world is rooted in the world beyond; everything from the world beyond demands something worldly from humans. The infinite emerges through the finite; and everything finite shall prove its infiniteness. Human life leads from God to man and from man to God.

Translated from: Leo Baeck, Geheimnis und Gebot, in: Der Leuchter – Weltanschauung und Lebensgestaltung (1921/1922)

Rest as Renaissance

by L. Baeck

All the love of the “law”, nourishing and cherishing, was directed towards one thing, the Sabbath. As the day of rest, it gives life its balance, its rhythm; it sustains the week. Rest is something entirely different than a recess, an interruption of work, entirely different from not working.

A mere recess is something essentially physical, worldly and ordinary. Rest is something essentially religious, part of the atmosphere of the divine. It leads towards the mystery, towards the reason from where every commandment comes. It recreates and reconciles; it is the rest through which the soul reclaims itself, the soul drawing breath – the sabbatical part of life. The Sabbath is the image of the messianic. It speaks of creation and of the future; it is the great symbol, as the bible says: “a sign between God and the Israelites”, or as in a quote from the Talmud: “the parable of eternity”. In the Sabbath lies life’s great opposition to the end, the continual renaissance.

Translated from: Aus: Leo Baeck, Geheimnis und Gebot, in: Der Leuchter – Weltanschauung und Lebensgestaltung (1921/1922)

Who truly understands Jesus?

by L. Baeck

Jesus and his gospel can only be fully understood through Jewish thought and feeling, for this reason maybe only by a Jew. Similarly, his words in their entire capacity and sound are only heard if they are reverted to the language he spoke.

A commandment that was completely fulfilled would be merely a human charter. God’s commandment is a commandment leading out towards the future that has its mission “for all generations”, as the bible says. There is its promise, its life that becomes life; there is something messianic in it. All of creation has its future, as an old Jewish parable says: “The idea of the Messiah was already present in the creation of the world.”


Translated from: Leo Baeck, Geheimnis und Gebot, in: Der Leuchter – Weltanschauung und Lebensgestaltung (1921/1922)