Tuesday, April 29, 2008

What do Joseph Ratzinger, Cardinal Walter Kasper, and controversial theologian Hans Küng have in common?

If you said, "They're all German," you'd be wrong: Küng is Swiss. All three, of course, are Catholic theologians and priests, although the exact nature of Küng's beliefs are only accessible to those bother to read his 800-page tomes (and his nearly 900-page memoirs). But, to the point: all three also had Dr. Thomas Loome as a student some forty years ago. Loome, you might know, runs the fabulous Loome Theological Booksellers, located in beautiful Stillwater, Minnesota. In an article posted by Press Publications, Dr. Loome—who holds a doctorate in Philosophical Theology from the University of Tübingen, Germany—talks about studying under Fr. Ratzinger:

"I had been accepted and Joseph Ratzinger took up an appointment at Tubingen at the same time I arrived," Loome said. "For the first couple years I had access to Professor Ratzinger and would attend his lectures. He wouldn't remember me but I have a lot of recollections of him."

Loome says at the time Ratzinger was already becoming an influence in Catholic and academic circles because of his intellect and calm demeanor.

"He was very shy, soft-spoken and diffident in his relations with people," he said. "And I think he's still that way. A certain kind of diplomacy comes naturally to him and being principled, but talking kindly and he's able to make a lot more influence just by following his own personality."

Loome said most classes he had with Ratzinger averaged 25 to 50 students who were taught in a small lecture hall. His interaction with him mostly happened immediately after class if he had questions about lessons being taught or how to further study material that was taught in class.

"I had no personal relationship with him and yet my head is filled with memories of Professor Ratzinger inside and outside of class," he said. "I remember I used to walk to class about two miles and towards the end of that walk I would always see Ratzinger in front of me and I guess he was going to the same place I was going. Those are the kind of recollections I had."

Ratzinger was a young full-time professor during the time Loome had courses with him, which is a very prestigious and difficult position in Germany for someone only 40 year old to achieve, Loome said.

I had the pleasure of visiting Loome Theological Booksellers and meeting Dr. Loome back in early April 2005 (all credit to my host, Barry Buss). It was during that much too brief visit that Dr. Loome told me a little bit of his studies and some of his former professors, including Ratzinger, Kasper, and Küng. Here is another article, published in July 2000 by City Pages, that provides a nice introduction to Dr. Loome and his work:

One of the ideas that Loome holds to be always true is the sanctity of human life-- "WITHOUT EXCEPTION," he says loudly, repeating the phrase a few times for good measure. And should you fail to infer what he is talking about, he states that he is "unapologetically pro-life and anti-death-penalty." At a medieval conference in Minneapolis a few years ago, Loome recalls, he saw Noam Chomsky speak. During the question-and-answer session, a student asked Chomsky what he thought of the abortion question. According to Loome, Chomsky replied, "'I am afraid that people in the future will look back on us and say that we lived in an age of barbarism.'"

Loome revels in this story, and I think it's because he sees himself--a pro-life, Catholic intellectual--as a marginalized figure. Surprised that anyone was interested in writing a story about him and his store, Loome insists that he's "more countercultural than anything the City Pages can come up with."

Loome's countercultural enterprise is to preserve books from the second millennium for the third one. And in an age when print material as utilitarian as the newspaper is said to be flirting with obsolescence, the very notion of theological books can seem downright medieval. Yet the volumes in the Loome, with the exception of the Bible, will probably never exist electronically. Nor will there ever be a full computer inventory of such collected knowledge. There are too many titles, and too few readers, and practically no money in it, and the transfer process would take too long to ever attempt. And so for a small, self-select group, the physical presence of the Loome remains a necessity.

Loome and Ignatius Press have jointly published "Classics of Catholic Tradition"; find out more here or here. Carl Olson of Ignatius Insight Scoop

Loome has his magnificent bookstore located in Stillwater, "Minnesota's Birthplace", in the old Bethany Covenant Church. I considered purchasing that building to convert as a home when the price was $10,000, but being a "chip off the ol' block", just like my old man, I was concerned about heating costs (and parking).

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