Suzanne Fields

When my Jewish son-in-law was a teenager, he was tutored for 15 days by Joseph Ratzinger, the new Pope. He was at a religious retreat in Munster, Germany, sent there by his teachers who were Jesuit priests. The young boy's father was dead and he was being raised by his mother, who descended from a family of Sephardic Jews who had converted to Catholicism like so many other Jews who left Spain during the Inquisition and eventually set down roots in the New World. The Jesuits wanted the young boy to be Catholic with a complete understanding of the meaning of the religion. That required that he learn how to think.

At the retreat, the boy was sworn to a fortnight of silence except for talking with his tutor. He remembers Joseph Ratzinger vividly, the most brilliant mind he had ever encountered before and since that time. Joseph Ratzinger had been through World War II, had been in the Hitler Youth and knew firsthand the irrational evils of fascism. Marxism was alive and well in the Soviet Union and behind the Iron Curtain and Joseph Ratzinger understood the dangers that emanated from the ruthless materialism of Communism in the Cold War.

But he didn't talk to the boy about such things. Instead he had him read Aristotle and Plato, the novels of Thomas Mann, the philosophy of Heidegger, and the most critical think piece of all, "The Grand Inquisitor," that powerful legend embedded in a single chapter of "The Brothers Karamazov" by Dostoevski. For those who have never read the Russian novel or have forgotten most of what they once read, "The Grand Inquisitor" is about earthly power and spiritual power, about religious purity embodied in Christ and earthly corruption wherever it can be found, even when it's found in the church.

Dostoevski does not tell you what to think about his legend, but he requires that you think about it. The novelist was a deeply religious man and he always thought many readers missed that point about him. To this day, my son-in-law does not know Joseph Ratzinger's full interpretation of the legend, but he does know that the questions and answers he had with his tutor made him respond with great intellectual power, making him aware of how shallow his own reasoning could sometimes be about such things.

Suzanne Fields

Suzanne Fields is currently working on a book that will revisit John Milton's 'Paradise Lost.'

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