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)

Talent for freedom

by T. Schmid

“Modern society is an abstract society that constantly requires us to act rationally” – at the expense of our emotional primeval needs. But that is the price for humanity.

What Karl Marx denies categorically, Karl Popper defends passionately: Politics are possible. The process can only be the never-ending chain of trial and error and new trail. On account of his Jewish heritage, among other things, he had a wide-awake sense for the dangerous political tendencies of the time. Already in 1927, six years prior to Hitler’s successful grasp for power, he is convinced “that the democratic bastions of Central Europe will fall and a totalitarian Germany will start a new world war.” A realization as clear as glass. Three years before his death Karl Popper concluded his lecture on “Freedom and Intellectual Responsibility” with these words: “We have to search for the objective truth in all modesty, critically feeling our way like the beetles do. We can no longer try to act like the omniscient prophets. But that means: We have to change.”


Translated from: Thomas Schmid in Die Welt (German Newspaper) from September 17, 2019 on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the death of Karl Popper, Der Mensch hat die Begabung zur Freiheit

Change of direction

by J. Ratzinger

In other words, belief signifies the decision that at the very core of human existence there is a point that cannot be nourished and supported on the visible and tangible, that encounters and comes into contact with what cannot be seen and finds that it is a necessity for its own existence.

Such an attitude is certainly to be attained only by what the language of the Bible calls “turning back”, “con-version”. Man’s natural inclination draws him to the visible, to what he can take in his hand and hold as his own. He has to turn around inwardly in order to see how badly he is neglecting his own interest by letting himself be drawn along in this way by his natural inclination. He must turn around to recognize how blind he is if he trusts only what he sees with his eyes. Without this change of direction, without this resistance to the natural inclination, there can be no belief. Indeed belief is the conversion in which man discovers that he is following an illusion if he devotes himself only to the tangible. This is at the same time the fundamental reason why belief is not demonstrable: it is an about-turn; only he who turns about is receptive to it; and because our inclination does not cease to point us in another direction, it remains a turn that is new every day; only in a lifelong conversion can we become aware of what it means to say “I believe”.


From: Joseph Ratzinger, Introduction to Christianity (1968)

Image loss and description lust

by L. Weimer

Plato’s allegory of the cave criticized the confusion of the things our senses discern with reality: We are chained up in our cave and do not see real life, but only its shadow on the wall.

Peter Handke commented on the conundrum as follows: “For many only what is broken can be called reality” (translated from “The Weight of the World, Journal 1977). Unabatedly he described the universal image loss of modern times: forgetting and confusing standards, overloading instead of beholding. The things and traditions cannot speak through that anymore. To him it was about salvation, and in “Crossing the Sierra de Gredos” (in German titled “Image Loss”) he called it “the comet’s tail of the world’s survival, sweeping over the entire earth”. The language of world-images is more than a moral religion; it is creation’s answer to the question of what can save us. “Theology is physical, too”, Handke once said in an interview.


Translated from (German):

When man looks beyond the present day…

by L. Baeck

There are two experiences of the human soul in which the meaning of his life takes on for a man a vital significance: the experience of mystery and the experience of commandment; or, as we may also put it, the knowledge of what is real and the knowledge of what is to be realized.

When a man wants to be certain of his existence, when he therefore listens intently for the meaning of his life and life in general, and when he thus feels the presence of something lasting, of some reality beneath the surface, then he experiences the mystery: he becomes conscious that he was created, brought into being – conscious of an undetectable and, at the same time, protective power. He experiences that which embraces him and all else. He experiences, in the words of the ancient metaphor in the Blessing of Moses, “the arms of eternity”. And when man looks beyond the present day, when he wishes to give his life direction and lead it toward a goal, when he thus grasps that which defines his life and is clear about it, then he is always confronted with the commandment, the task, that which he is to realize. The foundation of life is the mystery; the ways of life is the revealed.


From: Leo Baeck, Commandment and Mystery, in: The Jewish Philosophy Reader (translation of the original text published in 1921/1922)

Fragment on Holy Scripture

by P. Handke

According to its form, its rhythm, its cadence: a book from the night of the times. That is true, and at the same time the reader of our times, today, can read his own story in the bible, book by book, unlike in any other book:

he can discover it there, then understand it, then face it. The reader is the tragicomical hero of all the biblical stories; not just of the stories, but also of the love poems, like in the Song of Songs, and of the cries for help, like in the Psalms, over and over again. You, reader, have lived the first moment of color in Eden, and you will witness those black and blacker last moments, your mouth full of vinegar (and worse), where you will cry out with the question, why your so to speak omnipotent Father has abandoned you. Hence for the reader the bible is a terrifying, dangerous book: He is forced to see what his true situation as a mortal is, deep down. Lost son, who feels safe because his Father has forgiven him for once – even prepared a feast for him. But after, on the cross, where is he, my Father and his promised feast? The bible can awaken sheer horror in its reader: ah, this lunatic, who thinks he is God, immortal; that sniveler, who in distress boasts of the omnipotence of his Father to his adversaries, and of how He will come to the rescue at any moment; this so-called Son of God, who dies like a stray dog – I am all of that, I, who am reading this. You, who read the bible today: Beware, danger of death! Or danger of life? Ensouling danger? Inspiring danger, since that night of the times? Healing danger? Danger of salvation?


Translated from: Peter Handke, Langsam im Schatten (1992)

The layman

von J. H. Newman

I want a laity, 

not arrogant, not rash in speech, not disputatious, but men who know their religion, who enter into it, who know just where they stand, who know what they hold, and what they do not, who know their creed so well, that they can give an account of it, who know so much of history that they can defend it.


From: John Henry Newman, Lectures on the Present Position of Catholics in England (1851)

Of words and Christians

by G. Krasnitzky

A pastoral letter might be full of truth, a homily bearable. Ultimately, that impresses no one. And even if the Christians possessed the wisdom of the dear Lord, it would be nothing to write home about, if what they are saying cannot also be seen.

That's why the worst thing that can happen to the Church is not just a heresy, but the lack of life lived according to the gospel. The worst heresy is to claim to know the truth, but then to not do it. What are people supposed to think of such a truth that only exists in books?


Günther Krasnitzky (1939–1987), cited in: Gerhard Lohfink, Rudolf Pesch, Ludwig Weimer (Ed.), Die Feier des Sonntags A

More than calories

For as long as we can remember people have resolved conflicts during meals. The shared meal is able to achieve what a conversation alone often cannot: Create trust, bring about peace.

Nowadays historians and sociologists, cultural scientists and psychologists are getting to the bottom of the power of a shared meal. They analyze the order of courses and investigate its effects on diplomacy; they test eaters psychologically and eavesdrop on families at the dinner table. The researchers’ results show how important this age-old cultural technology is – and how worthy of preservation. “If we do not eat together, we lose security and protection”, says the psychologist Marshall Duke. “The shared meal is the backbone of human relations.”


Translated from: DIE ZEIT, Nr. 23, August 1, 2019