n English translation of the preface to Benedict XVI's forthcoming book about Jesus of Nazareth, with Sandro Magister's take on it's cultural/academic/political context included after it. I think he's wise to present a popular introduction to not just Jesus, per se
, but to the phenomenon of Jesus-publishing over the last several decades because of how it has impacted popular consciousness.
One thing I have been talking and reading about with my new students is exactly why
we have an ingrained cultural suspicion about things religious or theological in the West today, and where this philosophy came from. Beyond that, I am trying to get them to see that we ought to be suspicious of our curious thinking that we can both remain utterly ignorant of the science of theology and of learning how to assess the worth of various theological truth-claims (we usually call this ignorance "independent thinking"), and at the same time think that we are very penetrating in our assessment of these matters. So few seem to have ever really noticed – much less tried to defend – the idea that in this single field of study whatever
one's personal thoughts are are of equal validity as anyone else's thinking, regardless of evidence or argument, despite the fact that this isn't true of any other science on the planet. Whenever we make radical exceptions of this sort, we ought to be very suspicious of ourselves and our motives.
Since the intellectual culture excuses itself from learning how
to argue such material and how
to weigh evidence, you would think it would honestly admit itself to be at a loss when dealing with such matters. But instead it bizarrely and smugly assumes its thinking on these matters to be very advanced, despite an inability to articulate – much less defend – a reasonable methodology of investigation. You hear people who are highly-educated in other fields say the silliest things with utter confidence, and if you start to point problems in the argument, you are told that because you have actually studied
this material, you are no longer "neutral" and your own insights are thus disqualified and clearly bigoted, unlike their own. It's more than a little disheartening to realize you have otherwise-reasonable people in your life you think you're getting a doctorate in Ignorance and Bigotry. But by not having some popular, intermediate or high-school level grasp of theology or philosophy as a discipline – where like chemistry you come to recognize the basics of a field and understand that there are levels of depth above and beyond your own level of achievement – the real thing is just easily written-off as Opinion-Mongering. If Benedict can something of that
across – the ability to study Jesus as a discipline that allows for both accuracy and abuse like any other discipline, and thus get people to assess the worth of whatever they've allowed into their own heads – he'll have gone a long way toward restoring some popular sense of theology as science or knowledge."My interpretation of the figure of Jesus in the New Testament..."
by Joseph Ratzinger / Benedict XVI
I came to this book about Jesus - the first part of which I now present to the public – after a long interior journey.
In the time of my youth – during the 1930’s and ‘40’s – there was published a series of exhilarating books about Jesus. I recall the names of just a few authors: Karl Adam, Romano Guardini, Franz Michel Willam, Giovanni Papini, Jean-Daniel Rops. In all these books, the image of Jesus Christ was outlined beginning with the Gospels: how He lived upon the earth and how, although He was truly man, He at the same time brought God to men, being one with God as Son of God. Thus, through the man Jesus, God became visible, and beginning with God one could see the image of the just man.
Beginning in the 1950’s, the situation changed. The rift between the “historical Jesus” and the “Christ of faith” became wider and wider; the one pulled away from the other before one’s very eyes. But what meaning can there be in faith in Jesus Christ, in Jesus the Son the of living God, if the man Jesus is so different from how the evangelists present Him, and from how the Church proclaims Him on the basis of the Gospels?
Progress in historical-critical research led to increasingly subtle distinctions among the different levels of tradition. Behind these layers, the figure of Jesus, upon whom faith rests, became increasingly more uncertain, and took on increasingly less definite outlines.
At the same time, the reconstructions of this Jesus, who had to be sought behind the traditions of the Evangelists and their sources, became increasingly contradictory: from the revolutionary enemy of the Romans who opposed the established power and naturally failed, to the meek moralist who permitted everything and inexplicably ended up causing his own ruin.
Those who read a certain number of these reconstructions one after another will immediately notice that these are much more the snapshots of the authors and their ideals than they are the unveiling of an icon that has become confused. In the meantime, distrust has grown toward these images of Jesus, and in any case the figure of Jesus has withdrawn from us even more.
All of these attempts have, in any case, left behind themselves as their common denominator the impression that we know very little for sure about Jesus, and that it was only later that faith in His divinity shaped His image. This impression, in the meantime, has deeply penetrated the general consciousness of Christianity.
Such a situation is dramatic for the faith because it renders uncertain its authentic point of reference: intimate friendship with Jesus, on which everything depends, threatens to become a groping around in the void.
* * *
I felt the need to provide the readers with these indications of method because these determine the route of my interpretation of the figure of Jesus in the New Testament.
For my presentation of Jesus, this means above all that I trust the Gospels. Naturally, I take for granted what the Council and modern exegesis say about the literary genres, about the intention of various expressions, about the communitarian context of the Gospels and the fact that they speak within this living context. While accepting all this as much as possible, I wanted to make an effort to present the Jesus of the Gospels as the real Jesus, as the “historical Jesus” in the real sense of the expression.
I am convinced – and I hope that I can also make the reader aware of this – that this figure is much more logical, and from the historical point of view also more understandable, than the reconstructions we have had to confront in recent decades.
I maintain that this very Jesus – the Jesus of the Gospels – is an historically sensible and convincing figure. His crucifixion and the impact that he had can only be explained if something extraordinary happened, if the figure and the words of Jesus radically exceeded the hopes and expectations of his time.
Around twenty years after the death of Jesus, we find already in the great hymn to Christ in the Letter to the Philippians (2:6-8) the full expression of a Christology, in which it is said of Jesus that He was equal to God but stripped Himself, became man, and humbled Himself to the point of death on the cross, and that to Him is due the homage of creation, the adoration that in the prophet Isaiah (45:23) God proclaimed as due to Himself alone.
Critical research quite rightly poses this question: what happened in those twenty years after the crucifixion of Jesus? How did this Christology develop?
The action of anonymous communitarian formations, whose representatives are being sought out, in reality doesn’t explain anything. How could unknown groups be so creative, how could they be convincing and impose themselves? Isn’t it more logical, even from the historical point of view, to suppose that the great impulse came at the beginning, and that the figure of Jesus burst beyond all of the available categories, and could thus be understood only by beginning from the mystery of God?
Naturally, to believe that even as a man He was God, and made this known by concealing it within parables while nevertheless making it increasingly clear, goes beyond the possibilities of the historical method. On the contrary, if one begins from this conviction of faith and reads the texts with the historical method and with its openness to what is greater, the texts open up to reveal a way and a figure that are worthy of faith.
What then becomes clear is the multilevel struggle present in the writings of the New Testament over the figure of Jesus, and despite all the differences, the profound agreement of these writings.
It is clear that with this view of the figure of Jesus I go beyond what Schnackenburg, for example, says in representation of a good portion of contemporary exegesis.
I hope, however, that the reader understands that this book was not written against modern exegesis, but with great recognition of all this has given and continues to give to us. It has made us familiar with a great quantity of sources and conceptions through which the figure of Jesus can become present to us with a liveliness and depth that we couldn’t even imagine just a few decades ago.
I have sought only to go beyond mere historical-critical interpretation, applying the new methodological criteria that allow us to make a properly theological interpretation of the Bible that naturally requires faith, without thereby wanting or being able in any way to renounce historical seriousness.
Of course, it goes without saying that this book is absolutely not a magisterial act, but is only the expression of my personal search for the “face of the Lord” (Psalm 27:8). So everyone is free to disagree with me. I ask only that my readers begin with that attitude of good will without which there is no understanding.
As I said at the beginning of the preface, my interior journey toward this book was a long one.
I was able to begin working on it during summer vacation in 2003. In August of 2004, I gave definitive form to chapters 1 through 4. After my election to the episcopal see of Rome, I used all of my free moments to carry the project forward.
Because I do not know how much more time and strength will be granted to me, I have now decided to publish the first ten chapters as the first part of the book, going from the baptism in the Jordan to the confession of Peter and the Transfiguration.
Rome, the feast of Saint Jerome
September 30, 2006
English translation by Matthew Sherry, Saint Louis, Missouri, U.S.A.
_____________The Next Battle For and Against Jesus Will Be Fought by the Book
And the new book announced and released by Joseph Ratzinger will be the best-seller of the year. Here is the complete preface, in five languages
by Sandro Magister
ROMA, January 15, 2007 – His book about Jesus was announced at the end of November, and will be on sale next spring. But a week does not go by without Benedict XVI preaching about the book’s protagonist: Jesus “true God and true man.”
It is as if Pope Joseph Ratzinger himself were already focusing on the book’s publicity campaign. A year ago, he did the same thing with the encyclical “Deus Caritas Est”: before its publication, he repeatedly spoke out to illustrate its essential contents, increasing the anticipation each time.
The last time Benedict XVI referred to his upcoming book about Jesus was the general audience on Wednesday, January 3.
Speaking about Christmas, the pope called attention back to “the power of the darkness that seeks to obscure the splendor of the divine light.” And he said:
“This is the drama of the rejection of Christ, which, as in the past, is unfortunately manifested and expressed today in many different ways. It may be that today’s forms of the rejection of God are even more subtle and dangerous than in the past: from explicit rejection to indifference, from scientistic atheism to the presentation of a so-called ‘modernized’ or ‘postmodernized’ Jesus. This is Jesus as a man, reduced in various ways to a mere man of his time, deprived of his divinity, or a Jesus so idealized as to seem sometimes a character in a fairy tale.”
To this false Jesus, the pope has opposed the “true Jesus of history”: that Jesus who is “true God and true man, and does not weary of offering his Gospel to all.” Before him, “one cannot remain indifferent. We too, dear friends, must continually take a position.” Not to reject him, but to welcome him. Knowing that “to those who received him, he gave power to become sons of God” (John 1:12).
* * *
The either-or choice that Benedict XVI presents between the false and the true Jesus is, therefore, the same one that he sees being played out in the books that reduce Jesus to a mere man, and the ones that instead present him in his human-divine reality.
Among today’s books displaying the “power of darkness,” the pope has one especially in mind, a book that has sold half a million copies in Italy in just a few months, entitled: “Inchiesta su Gesù. Chi era l’uomo che ha cambiato il mondo [The Jesus Inquest: Revealing the Man Who Changed the World].”
The authors of the book are the agnostic Corrado Augias, a journalist, writer, and editorialist for the major liberal newspaper “la Repubblica,” and the Catholic Mauro Pesce, a professor of Church history at the University of Bologna who specializes in ancient Christian documents.
The thesis of this book is that “everything that the Christian faith professes about Jesus is false.” This is at least the judgment of Fr. Giuseppe De Rosa in his review of the book by Augias and Pesce for “La Civiltà Cattolica,” the journal of the Rome Jesuits that is printed with the supervision and authorization of the Vatican secretariat of state.
Another review of the book that was just as severe was published in the newspaper of the Italian bishops’ conference, “Avvenire.” It was written by Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, 72, a specialist in the history of early Christianity and since 1980 the preacher of the pontifical household, the man who preaches to the pope and the Vatican curia during Advent and Lent.
So although Benedict XVI hasn’t yet explicitly cited the book by Augias and Pesce, these two authoritative reviews are sufficient to conclude that in the Vatican this is held to be the latest and most representative text of that attack against the Christian faith which for more than two centuries has taken Jesus as its target.
The upcoming book by Joseph Ratzinger / Benedict XVI – this is the byline on the book because he wrote it both before and after his election as pope – intends precisely to pose the authentic Jesus against the false “modernized or postmodernized” Jesus.
It is easy to predict that the pope’s book will also meet with great commercial success in Italy and the world.
But more than a publishing war, this announces a new phase of the perennial clash between acceptance and rejection that has always had in Jesus its “sign of contradiction, that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed” (Luke 2:34-35, cited in the audience on Wednesday, January 3).
This is exactly what is foreshadowed by the preface Benedict XVI wrote for his book, which will be entitled “Jesus of Nazareth: From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration,” the first of two anticipated volumes, with the second one continuing to the Resurrection.
By publishing the preface in advance, the pope has taken another step in the book’s release - and in the battle for and against Jesus.