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As this post has moved to the top of the page, let me identify its precedents. The preceding post by Benefan is an article in The Tidings by George Weigel, who comments on JESUS OF NAZARETH in his usual wise and focused way.

Time and again, whether he's writing about the temptations, the parables, the Lord's Prayer, or the miracles of Jesus' public ministry, Pope Benedict's method of reading the Gospels puts the edge back on stories and messages often dulled by familiarity. Reading the New Testament through the eyes of Joseph Ratzinger in "Jesus of Nazareth" thus becomes a way to read the Gospels afresh - and to be reminded that, whether the New York Times thinks it's "news" or not, the proclamation of Jesus Christ is what the Church is for.

What a powerful way to drive home the point! And his previous sentence about 'a way to read the Gospels afresh' is one of the major impressions I had on first reading it, as I described it in my May 17 post:

"Third, the book is a stream of fresh insights into even the most familiar of Biblical passages, and an instant appreciation for less-familiar or even unfamiliar (to non-Bible readers like me) passages. It is almost like seeing the New Testament for the first time, with new eyes. The Pope cites the necessary Biblical texts so there is no need to consult the Bible, but it does prompt someone like me to later look up the citations one by one and read the entire chapter or episode referred to in full."

Since then, I have gone over the book a number of times in different ways, and it truly always reads 'fresh'...But I had a chance on the plane coming back to re-read what Joseph Ratzinger writes about Jesus in Introduction to Christianity - the consistencies and resonances are manifold, great and profound indeed!

Anyone reading JON will have the experience tremendously amplified if he/she also re-reads ITC, or at least the chapters "I believe in Jesus, his only Son, Our Lord' and "The development of faith in Christ.'

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Courtesy of Lella's blog, papa ratzinger, here is an article about the Pope's book JESUS OF NAZARETH, written for a May 2007 issue of Il Regno by Cardinal Karl Lehmann, Archbishop of Mainz, himself one of Germany's leading theologians and a longtime intellectual sparring partner for the Pope.

Il Regno [The Kingdom] is the Bologna-based biweekly journal of the Sacred Heart Fathers (also known as Dehonians), founded in 1956, which reports and comments on the activities of the Church, Italian society and politics, and other major world religions, particularly Islam and Judaism. Sandro Magister this week posted a very important interview from an April 2007 issue of Il Regno, in which a noted Islamologist describes his recent 'rhetorical analysis' of the Qur'an.[Go to the thread

Notes on the book
by Papa Ratzinger

By Cardinal Karl Lehmann

To a journalist's question as to whether the Pope's book on Christ is a book like any other, a famous theologian answered crisply: "It is an event! There has been nothing comparable to it - when a Pope writes a work on Jesus to confront the argumentative structures of critical reasoning."

What is truly surprising is that the Pope does not present his work in the organic form of catecheses and homilies on Jesus Christ that he usually gives, but writes and publishes a book on Jesus that is scientifically based and systematically argued.

This Pope's way of service is characterized and defined by his ability to enhance the value of words. His rhetoric is truly surprising. He has an innate tendency to chisel words, giving them a particular beauty, sometimes showing the touch of a poet or a literary writer. He is therefore able to arouse in the reader an attentive sensitivity towards the Gospel and the figure of Jesus Christ.

These are gifts he has had from birth but which have been refined through years of in-depth study, in the school of the great masters, and guided by a particular passion for theology. From the beginning, (Joseph Ratzinger) has wanted to dedicate himself completely to the task of preaching, and to furnishing others with a spiritual as well as theological orientation.

He has proven himself to be not only a much sought-after teacher of theology, but also a convincing preacher who was equally much sought-after. This is a service he has performed for over 50 years. Being a writer is an integral part of his life.

His last book carries the simple title JESUS OF NAZARETH, which situates itself within a specific tradition of theological works that the Pope explicitly refers to at the outset: "This book has had a long gestation...When I was growing up - in the 1030s and 1940s - there was a series of inspiring books about Jesus: Karl Adam, Romano Guardini, Franz Michel Willam, Giovanni Papini, Daniel-Rops were just some of the authors one could name."

All of these books - like those of the next generation [of Jesus authors], to which I belong - represent as few other books do, not just an introduction to Christianity in general, but a concrete approach to the figure of Jesus Christ. Their central nucleus is the man Jesus who was at the same time the Son of God, coming from the heart of God.

In a way, this book is realization of a dream that the theologian Joseph Ratzinger had been pursuing for some time. In collaboration with his future colleague [in Regensburg] Johannes Auer, he had meant to publish within the series Breve dogmatica cattolica [I do not know what the actual German name is] - which they edited together - a volume on 'The mystery of Christ', as we can see in a plan of the work that they made known at the time.

Subsequently, Auer had to deal with the fact that because he had been named Archbishop of Munich and Freising, Joseph Ratzinger would no longer have the time to finish "The mystery of Christ" (as Auer states in his introduction to Volume IV/1 of the 'Breve dogmatica', Regensburg 1986, p. 15).

The only volume Ratzinger published in the 'Breve dogmatica' series came out in 1977, before he was named Archbishop of Munich (and shortly thereafter, cardinal) - Eschatology: Death and eternal life (vol IX, Regensburg 1977; a sixth edition came out in 1990; and a new edition, with a preface by the Pope, came out this year).

Therefore, the plan to write a book on Jesus had a long genesis in the author's plans, even if its publication as part of the 'Breve dogmatica' would have made it appear more like a handbook.

As much as it is an 'event' that a Pope writes a theological book on this topic and of this distinction, the fact is that its publication fulfills a desire and a purpose that have been a long time maturing in the heart of Benedict XVI. That explains why the author says he has devoted all his free time since becoming Pope to work on this enterprise.

He himself says: "As I said at the beginning of this foreword, the present book has undergone a long gestation. I was able to begin work on it during the 2003 summer holidays. Then, in August 2004, I gave chapters 1-4 their final shape. Since my election to the episcopal see of Rome, I have used every free moment to make progress on the book."

The Pope informs that he wanted to come out now with the first volume of the work - just the first ten chapters from Jesus's Baptism on the Jordan to his Transfiguration. The second volume would cover the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus up to the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and the birth of the Church, as well as Jesus's infancy.

It is likely that in the context of describing the professions of faith in Jesus Christ, he will also discuss the Christological creed expressed in the various apostolic symbols of the early Church.

And so we can expect a volume which will have a density and texture similar to this one. Reflectively, the Pope tells us he wanted to publish the first part now because "I do not know how much more time or strength I am still to be given."

The book [in the Italian edition] has 448 pages [the English edition is 374 pp]. The text is clear, and after an introduction, it is divided into ten ample chapters. A bibliographic index - including brief comments on some entries, obviously written by the author himself - documents the scientific sources and the basic literature to which the Pope refers.

The publishing house has added an ample appendix with an index and glossary which helps the reader to be oriented in a book that is organically structured at several levels. [I think the fact that the English edition does not have an index - a serious unexplainable lack for any serious book - may account largely for why it has less pages than the Italian edition.]

The preface and the introduction prove the profound knowledge that this erudite Pope has of the most recent results of New Testament exegeses. He has absolutely no difficulty in placing himself within the school of some famous evangelical exegetes, even if he refuses to simply accept the solutions they propose.

But he states very clearly: "It is obvious that the way I look at the figure of Jesus goes beyond what much contemporary exegesis, as represented by someone such as Schnackenburg, has to say. I hope it is clear to the reader, though, that my intention in writing this book is not to counter modern exegesis; rather, I write with profound gratitude for all that it has given and continues to give us.

"It has opened up to us a wealth of material and an abundance of findings that enable the figure of Jesus to become present to us with a vitality and depth that we could not have imagined even just a few decades ago.

"I have merely tried to go beyond purely historical-critical exegesis so as to apply new methodological insights that allow us to offer a properly theological interpretation of the Bible. To be sure, this requires faith, but the aim unequivocally is not, nor should be, to give up serious engagement with history."

There is no doubt that the scientific discussion in the following months will judge to what degree Ratzinger has succeeded in his attempt, in what sense he has respected the historical-critical method, and how has he gone beyond it. It is an attempt which places his willingness [to be criticized] at great risk. In doing so, the Pope has shown a courage that should be openly acknowledged.

[Here Lehmann enumerates the chapter titles and their pages in the Italian edition...]

Finally, the book focuses on the most important affirmations made by Jesus about himself: on the titles Son of Man, Son and his "I am".

The Pope knows that these three declarations conceal Jesus's secret while revealing it at the same time: "All three of these terms demonstrate how deeply rooted he is in the Word of God, Israel's Bible, the Old Testament. And yet all these terms receive their full meaning only in him; it is as if they had been waiting for him."

"All three of them bring to light Jesus's originality - his newness, that specific quality unique to him that does not derive from any further source. All three are possible therefore only on his lips.."

The lively discussions up to now [before the release of the book] have been invalidated by the fact that the actual contents of the book were not known. Now that the book is out, it is time to leave aside all speculations about the politics of theologians or the politics of the Church.

I wish to cite here a line said to be taken from the life of St. Augustine, so beloved to the Pope: Take it and read it.

This is a book characterized by attention and reflection, balance and refinement, a tranquillity and a simplicity that fascinates; a book that wishes (and will certainly succeed) to win over many readers to follow the way of Jesus.

Whoever reads it will observe - as one does when reading other theology authors of the 20th century - that Christianity is not an ethical-dogmatic system of propositions of faith and of moral prescriptions, but a concrete person who invites us to share his way.

This is the reason that led the Pope to undertake with absolute sincerity - I think that is the most appropriate term - this attempt to point the way to the sources of what we know about Jesus Christ, and especially, to understand the uniqueness of his being without asking us to renounce the use of reason.

JESUS OF NAZARETH is a work that is scientifically based but at the same time is a book of faith: in the tranquillity of its missionary impulse, it is a text that we have profound need of today.

As a theologian and as a bishop, I thank Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI from the heart for having given us this book: for what it contains, but above all, for the courage which it documents.

On April 16, the Pope turned 80. This was his best gift to himself. Of course, he did not write the book for himself but as a gift to all those who are in search of truth - especially Christians who are constantly looking for the face of their Lord. What else can a Pope do but to take these persons by the hand and help them in their search?

The course that Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI invites the reader to undertake does not need to be 'authorized' in the usual manner. The author himself invites us to read the book in a complete spirit of freedom: "It goes without saying that this book is in no way an exercise of the magisterium, but is solely an expression of my personal search for "the face of the Lord." (cf. Ps 27,8). Everyone is free, then, to contradict me. I would only ask my readers for that initial goodwill without which there can be no understanding."

What a surprising liberty!

Il Regno, maggio 2007
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Some reviewers have chosen to do a chapter-by-chapter commentary on JON. This is what Scot McKnight does in his blog, Jesus Creed, having started to file his comments on the book while he was on a trip to Italy two weeks ago - during which, incidentally, he visits all those lovely and historic little towns and cities around Siena, stirring up much nostalgia for me.

The first blog was written on May 28, and the last one posted here, on June 26 - where he gets halfway through the book.

McKnight is a New Testament scholar and the author of 20 books on religion. I get the impression he is an evangelical Christian but I haven't checked out which denomination. More biographical info at the end of this post...

The Pope's Jesus 1

Books about Jesus attract me, but when the Pope (Benedict XVI) writes a book on Jesus, I'm doubly interested. So, I'll do a series - and it is really nice to kick it off while we are in Italy.

Big ideas first.

"It goes without saying that this book is in no way an exercise of the magisterium, but is solely an expression of my personal search for the face of the Lord (cf. Ps 27:8). Everyone is free, then, to contradict me. I would only ask my readers for that initial goodwill without which there can be no understanding' (xxiii-xxiv).

We've had many authors whose books we have reviewed enter into the conversation. So, if you know the Holy Father personally, send him our way!

The Pope sets his book into the conversation of historical Jesus scholars, and his foreword gives a sketch - a nice one - of that discussion. His interlocutors are dated (Schnackenburg, Bultmann, et al) but he is clearly aware of what is going on. His sparring partners, however, are clearly Roman Catholic and European; I'm not sure he's in touch with the explosion of scholarship of the Third Quest - and here one thinks of EP Sanders, G Vermes (who wrote a tough review of this book), Dom Crossan, M Borg, and NT Wright. (This harms the book, but not fatally.) [Compare this statement with what Cardinal Lehmann - himself no mean scholar - says in the preceding post. Of course, Benedict knows these sources: they represent precisely the tendency he sets out to oppose and refute with his book. If he does not agree with their piecemeal Jesus, what is the point of citing them individually? His arguments are directed against all of them equally. He does pay tribute to John Meier's work - and is there a more objective 'Third Quester' than Meier out there? .]

Benedict's method is lucid and much needed: it is canonical (he routinely sweeps through the Bible to illustrate the meaning of something in the Gospels) and it is theological. And there are four dimensions to how the Pope proceeds, and each is needed and each sheds light - even if most historical Jesus scholars would deem his points 'non-historical Jesus.'

1. The book is theological - it is not simply historical; it does not subject any evidence to any kind of critical test. Instead, he reflects and contemplates on the theological significance of a given event or teaching of Jesus.

2. The book is densely christological - instead of sticking to no more than can be known of a human figure who was Galilean, 1st Century, Jewish, and charismatic, this book explores the dense christology that a given event or teaching reveals. What began again afresh in the days of Ben Meyer's brilliant The Aims of Jesus is taken to a higher level in the Pope's book.

3. The book is (no surprise here) ecclesiological - this book unpacks everything in an ecclesial direction. Jesus established the Church, and the kingdom is unfolded in the direction of the Church. Along this line, Benedict regularly inserts an insight - theological, pastoral - from the Fathers of the Church.

4. The book is cruci-centric - baptism, temptations, Beatitudes - from beginning to end, Benedict's interpretation leads him directly to the Cross. In fact, the Cross casts its shadow back onto every event in the life of Jesus and every teaching because, as he puts it, you can't understand any of it until you understand it from the Cross.

The Pope's Jesus 2

In his Introduction, Pope Benedict XVI emphasizes Jesus's unmediated contact with the Father, and this will emerge throughout his Jesus of Nazareth. Our concern today is his treatment of the baptism of Jesus (chp 1).

The choice to be baptized is understood as "an expression of an unrestricted Yes to God's will, as an obedient acceptance of his yoke" (17). Taking on a recapitulation theory for Jesus's mission, he says this: "Jesus loaded the burden of all mankind's guilt upon his shoulders; he bore it down into the depths of the Jordan" (18). Thus, the Baptism - and many have said this, but very few historical Jesus scholars say it today - "is an anticipation of the Cross."

For our part: "To accept the invitation to be baptized now means to go to the place of Jesus's Baptism. It is to go where he identifies himself with us and to receive there our identification with him" (18).

He explores biblical texts and has a nice little survey of the Lamb of God theme.

The Pope's Jesus 3

Chp 3 in Pope Benedict XVI's book, Jesus of Nazareth, concerns the temptations of Jesus - and this chapter reveals his theological and canonical method.

"Jesus has to enter into the drama of human existence, for that belongs to the core of his mission; he has to penetrate it completely, down to its uttermost depths, in order to find the 'lost sheep,' to bear it on his shoulders, and to bring it home"(26). And it is an "anticipation that condenses into a single expression the struggle he endured at every step of his mission" (27).

Each temptation anticipates the cross. The primacy of God is central to the temptations of Jesus and what the devil offers Jesus diminishes that primacy of God - even the bread of social justice can diminish the primacy of God. "Only when power submits to the measure and the judgment of heaven - of God, in other words - can it become power for good. And only when power stands under God's blessing can it be trusted" (39).

He finds an apt analogy in Barabbas and Jesus on trial - "two messiah figures, two forms of messianic belief stand in opposition" (40). The Cross stands as an alternative power.

The temptations are about this: "God is God, that God is man's true Good" (45).

The Pope's Jesus 4

What did Jesus mean by the kingdom of God according to Pope Benedict XVI? In my judgment, the whole mission of Jesus is summed up when one clarifies what 'kingdom of God' means, and there are many who talk about kingdom but don't take the time to work through the Gospels to see what Jesus meant by it. Here's Benedict's statement:

"The question about the Church is not the primary question. The basic question is actually about the relationship between the Kingdom of God and Christ. It is on this that our understanding of the Church will depend" (49).

There are three basic views of kingdom today: the christological view (Jesus is the kingdom himself), the mystical view (the kingdom is in our hearts), and the ecclesiastical one (the kingdom is the society God wills).

He sketches the Liberal view of Harnack (individualism, moral behaviors), the eschatological view of Weiss (imminent and apocalyptic), and the 'regno-centric' or secularistic view (justice and peace).

The problem of the last view: God disappears. (And he's right on this; too often God does disappear.) Kingdom for Jesus is about God - not just peace and justice.

Again, he christologizes: kingdom is found in and through Jesus.

The Pope's Jesus 5

In the 4th chapter, Joseph Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI, discusses at length the Sermon on the Mount by focusing on two themes: the Beatitudes (today) and Jesus and the Law - the Torah of the Messiah. Once again, the Pope envelops the message of Jesus into the larger themes of the cross and christology.

What are the Beatitudes? (By the way, not enough think about this question: Are they a list of moral attributes? a list of those who were choosing to follow Jesus? a list of those whom Jesus said deserved the grace of God and who were being excluded?) Benedict XVI says they are 'eschatological promises', the transformation of values in light of the kingdom. What do you think the Beatitudes are?

Benedict XVI now becomes theological: "The Beatitudes are the transposition of the Cross and Resurrection into discipleship" (74). Would you accept this theological explanation of the Beatitudes?

The Poor: neither completely material nor completely spiritual.

The Meek: Christologically, we follow the one who showed us what meekness was by entering into Jerusalem to reveal the essence of the kingdom.

The Peacemakers: an invitation to become what the Son was.

The Mourners: one best understands this at the foot of the Cross. Mourning follows the shattering of hope and it also follows encountering truth that leads to conversion.

The Persecuted: this is eschatological for the joy may not come in this life. And persecuted for righteousness is being persecuted for being in communion with Jesus who is God's righteousness.

The Righteous: "those whose interior sensitivity enables them to see and hear the subtle signs that God sends into the world to break the dictatorship of convention"(91).

The Pure in Heart: this occurs only in following Christ and of becoming one with Christ.

The Pope's Jesus 6

A perennial issue about the teachings of Jesus is his relationship to the Law, and it comes up in ordinary church life today: What is our relationship to the Law? Some say, God's Word. We follow it. - But it's not that easy since no one practices the laws of Leviticus today completely. So, it's good to see what Benedict XVI has to say.

There is a brief discussion here - in essence, Jesus fulfills the Law by bringing an excess of righteousness. (He got close to moving into imputation issues, but didn't.) Jesus brings a New Torah. And here the Pope explores a topic that occupies his attention the rest of the chapter and throughout the book: Christology. The 'I' of the antitheses puts Jesus in the place of God.

The rest of the chapter explores how Jacob Neusner, in his A Rabbi Talks with Jesus, came to the conclusion that Jesus does things with the Torah that break the boundaries of Judaism. It could be said that Neusner witnesses an exalted christology shaping how Jesus treated the Torah, and this exalted christology is for him (Neusner is a Jew) unacceptable.

Torah now consists in following Jesus, which breaks down Torah and the community the Torah is designed to create. He examines Sabbath (Jesus says "I will give you rest"), 4th Commandment on parents and family (Jesus creates a new family), and compromise and prophetic radicalism (the redemptive trend of the OT - my words, but Benedict XVI is very similar; charts the path for Jesus's own radicalism). There is the pattern of a 'necessary historical evolution' of God's will as practiced in the world.

All in all, then, the Torah of the Messiah becomes a Torah of following the Messiah. Jesus is neither liberal nor rebel; he is the interpreter of the Torah as the Messiah.


Scot McKnight is a widely-recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. He is the Karl A. Olsson Professor in Religious Studies at North Park University (Chicago, Illinois). Dr. McKnight obtained his Ph.D. at the University of Nottingham (1986).

Scot McKnight is a member of the Society of Biblical Literature and the Society for New Testament Studies. He is the author of more than twenty books, including the award-winning The Jesus Creed: Loving God, Loving Others (Paraclete, 2004), which won the Christianity Today book of the year for Christian Living. Recent books include Embracing Grace: A Gospel for All of Us (Paraclete, 2005), The Story of the Christ (Baker, 2006), and Praying with the Church (Paraclete, 2006). His newest book is The Real Mary: Why Evangelical Christians Can Embrace the Mother of Jesus. Other books include Jesus and His Death (Baylor, 2005), A Light among the Gentiles (Fortress, 1992), A New Vision for Israel (Eerdmans, 1999), Turning to Jesus (Westminster John Knox, 2002), Galatians (Zondervan, 1993) and 1 Peter (Zondervan, 1996), Interpreting the Synoptic Gospels (Baker, 1988), and he is a co-editor with J.B. Green and I.H. Marshall of the award-winning The Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels (IVP, 1992) as well as the co-editor, with J.D.G. Dunn, of The Historical Jesus in Current Study (Eisenbraun's, 2005). He regularly contributes chapter length studies to books and articles for magazines and online webzines. McKnight's books have been translated into Chinese, Korean, and Russian

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Pope denounces kidnappings
DEAR MAKLARA - I HOPE YOU DON'T MIND: FOR SOME REASON THIS ITEM POSTED HERE, SO I HAVE TAKEN IT OUT. I was going to transfer it to 'NEWS ABOUT BENEDICT" but I find it's the same AFP item posted there earlier in the Angelus post. TERESA
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In the preceding page of this thread, I translated an Avvenire article about Rabbi Neusner's article for the Jerusalem Post which I could not access in full. Sandro Magister now shares that article with us, along with an introductory commentary.

A Rabbi Debates with the Pope.
And What Divides Them Is Still Jesus

The rabbi is Jacob Neusner, to whom Benedict XVI dedicates many pages of his latest book.
In the judgment of both, the disputes between Judaism and Christianity should not conceal,
but rather bring to light their respective claims to truth

by Sandro Magister

ROMA, June 11, 2007 - In the book Jesus of Nazareth, written by Joseph Ratzinger before and after his election as pope, one living author is cited and discussed much more than any other. In the fourth chapter, dedicated to the Sermon on the Mount, Ratzinger spends at least fifteen pages on him.

This author is an observant Jew and a rabbi, Jacob Neusner. He lives in the United States, and teaches history and theology at Bard College, in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York. In 1993, he published a book that had a great impact on the then-cardinal Ratzinger: A Rabbi Talks with Jesus.

In Jesus of Nazareth, the pope explains why this book made such a positive impression on him. In it, "the author takes his place among the crowds of Jesus'S disciples on the 'mount' in Galilee. He listens to Jesus ... and he speaks with Jesus himself. He is touched by the greatness and the purity of what is said, and yet at the same time he is troubled by the ultimate incompatibility that he finds at the heart of the Sermon on the Mount ... again and again he talks with him. But in the end, he decides not to follow Jesus. He remains - as he himself puts it - with the 'eternal Israel'."

The central issue that prevents the rabbi from believing in Jesus is his revealing himself as God: the same scandal that led Jesus to his death. In Ratzinger's judgment, it is precisely here that the value of Neusner's book lies.

The imaginary conversation between the Jewish rabbi and Jesus "highlights the differences in all their sharpness, but it also takes place in great love. The rabbi accepts the otherness of Jesus's message, and takes his leave free of any rancor; this parting, accomplished in the rigor of truth, is ever mindful of the reconciling power of love."

For Benedict XVI, this is the path of true dialogue between Jews and Christians. Not to conceal their respective claims to truth, but to bring these to light in reciprocal understanding and respect.

And this is also Neusner's attitude:

"For the past two centuries Judeo-Christian dialogue served as the medium of a politics of social conciliation, not religious inquiry into the convictions of the other. ... In his Jesus of Nazareth the Judeo-Christian disputation enters a new age. We are able to meet one another in a forthright exercise of reason and criticism."

Neusner commented on the pope's book in an article published on May 29 in the Israeli newspaper The Jerusalem Post.

His is the first important commentary on Jesus of Nazareth on the part of an authoritative non-Christian religious representative - the first, more importantly, on the part of a member of the Jewish faith:

My argument with the pope
by Jacob Neusner

In the Middle Ages rabbis were forced to engage with priests in disputations in the presence of kings and cardinals on which is the true religion, Judaism or Christianity. The outcome was predetermined. Christians won; they had the swords.

But in the post-WW II era, disputations gave way to the conviction that the two religions say the same thing and the differences between them are dismissed as trivial.

Now a new kind of disputation has begun, in which the truth of the two religions is subject to debate.

That marks a return to the old disputations, with their intense seriousness about religious truth and their willingness to ask tough questions and engage with the answers.

My book, A Rabbi Talks with Jesus, was one such contemporary exercise of disputation, and now, in 2007, the pope in his new book Jesus of Nazareth in detail has met the challenge point-by-point. Just imagine my amazement when I heard that A Rabbi Talks with Jesus in his Jesus of Nazareth chapter four, on the sermon on the Mount.

Popes involved in Judeo-Christian theological dialogue? In ancient and medieval times disputations concerning propositions of religious truth defined the purpose of dialogue between religions, particularly Judaism and Christianity. Judaism made its case vigorously, amassing rigorous arguments built upon the facts of Scripture common to both parties to the debate.

Imaginary narratives, such as Judah Halevi's Kuzari, constructed a dialogue among Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, a dialogue conducted by a king who sought the true religion for his kingdom. Judaism won the disputation before the king of the Khazars, at least in Judah Halevi's formulation. But Christianity no less aggressively sought debate-partners, confident of the outcome of the confrontation.

Such debates attested to the common faith of both parties in the integrity of reason and in the facticity of shared Scriptures.

Disputation went out of style when religions lost their confidence in the power of reason to establish theological truth. Then, as in Lessing's Nathan the Wise, religions were made to affirm a truth in common, and the differences between religions were dismissed as trivial and unimportant.

An American president was quoted as sayin", "It doesn't matter what you believe as long as you're a good man." Then disputations between religions lost their urgency. The heritage of the Enlightenment with its indifference to the truth-claims of religion fostered religious toleration and reciprocal respect in place of religious confrontation and claims to know God. Religions emerged as obstacles to the good order of society.

For the past two centuries Judeo-Christian dialogue served as the medium of a politics of social conciliation, not religious inquiry into the convictions of the other. Negotiation took the place of debate, and to lay claim upon truth in behalf of one's own religion violated the rules good conduct.

In A Rabbi Talks with Jesus I undertook to take seriously the claim of Jesus to fulfill the Torah and weigh that claim in the balance against the teachings of other rabbis - a colloquium of sages of the Torah. I explain in a very straightforward and unapologetic way why, if I had been in the Land of Israel in the first century and present at the Sermon on the Mount, I would not have joined the circle of Jesus's disciples. I would have dissented, I hope courteously, I am sure with solid reason and argument and fact.

If I heard what he said in the Sermon on the Mount, for good and substantive reasons I would not have become one of his disciples. That is difficult for people to imagine, since it is hard to think of words more deeply etched into our civilization and its deepest affirmations than the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount and other pronouncements of Jesus.

But, then, it also is hard to imagine hearing those words for the first time, as something surprising and demanding, not as mere cliches of culture. That is precisely what I propose to do in my conversation with Jesus: listen and argue. To hear religious teachings as if for the first time and to respond to them in surprise and wonder - that is the reward of religious disputation in our own day.

I wrote the book to shed some light on why, while Christians believe in Jesus Christ and the good news of his rule in the kingdom of Heaven, Jews believe in the Torah of Moses and form on earth and in their own flesh God's kingdom of priests and the holy people. And that belief requires faithful Jews to enter a dissent from the teachings of Jesus, on the grounds that those teachings at important points contradict the Torah.

Where Jesus diverges from the revelation by God to Moses at Mount Sinai that is the Torah, he is wrong, and Moses is right. In setting forth the grounds to this unapologetic dissent, I mean to foster religious dialogue among believers, Christian and Jewish alike.

For a long time, Jews have praised Jesus as a rabbi, a Jew like us really; but to Christian faith in Jesus Christ, that affirmation is monumentally irrelevant. And for their part, Christians have praised Judaism as the religion from which Jesus came, and to us, that is hardly a vivid compliment.

We have avoided meeting head-on the points of substantial difference between us, not only in response to the person and claims of Jesus, but especially, in addressing his teachings.

He claimed to reform and to improve: "You have heard it said... but I say..." We maintain, and I argued in my book, that the Torah was and is perfect and beyond improvement, and the Judaism built upon the Torah and the Prophets and Writings, the originally-oral parts of the Torah written down in the Mishna, Talmud, and Midrash  that Judaism was and remains God's will for humanity.

By that criterion I propose to set forth a Jewish dissent from some important teachings of Jesus. It is a gesture of respect for Christians and honor for their faith. For we can argue only if we take one another seriously. But we can enter into dialogue only if we honor both ourselves and the other. In my imaginary disputation I treat Jesus with respect, but I also mean to argue with him about things he says.

What's at stake here? If I succeed in creating a vivid portrait of the dispute, Christians see the choices Jesus made and will find renewal for their faith in Jesus Christ  but also respect Judaism.

I underscore the choices both Judaism and Christianity confront in the shared Scriptures. Christians will understand Christianity when they acknowledge the choices it has made, and so too Jews, Judaism.

I mean to explain to Christians why I believe in Judaism, and that ought to help Christians identify the critical convictions that bring them to church every Sunday.

Jews will strengthen their commitment to the Torah of Moses - but also respect Christianity. I want Jews to understand why Judaism demands assent - "the All-Merciful seeks the heart," "the Torah was given only to purify the human heart."

Both Jews and Christians should find in A Rabbi Talks with Jesus the reason to affirm, because each party will locate there the very points on which the difference between Judaism and Christianity rests.

What makes me so certain of that outcome? Because I believe, when each side understands in the same way the issues that divide the two, and both with solid reason affirm their respective truths, then all may love and worship God in peace - knowing that it really is the one and the same God whom together they serve - in difference. So it is a religious book about religious difference: an argument about God.

When my publisher asked for suggestions of colleagues to be asked to recommend the book, I suggested Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks and Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. Rabbi Sacks had long impressed me by his astute and well-crafted theological writings, the leading contemporary apologist for Judaism.

I had admired Cardinal Ratzinger's writings on the historical Jesus and had written to him to say so. He replied and we exchanged offprints and books. His willingness to confront the issues of truth, not just the politics of doctrine, struck me as courageous and constructive.

But now His Holiness has taken a step further and has answered my critique in a creative exercise of exegesis and theology. In his Jesus of Nazareth the Judeo-Christian disputation enters a new age. We are able to meet one another in a forthright exercise of reason and criticism. The challenges of Sinai bring us together for the renewal of a 2,000-year-old tradition of religious debate in the service of God's truth.

Someone once called me the most contentious person he had ever known. Now I have met my match. Pope Benedict XVI is another truth-seeker.

We are in for interesting times.
[Modificato da TERESA BENEDETTA 13/06/2007 04.11]
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Here is a translation of an article from Avvenire today, 6/12/07:


Biblicist agrees with the Pope:
Exegesis is not the last word on the Gospels

By Francesco Dal Mas

ILLEGIO, UDINE, Italy - "If we want to know who Jesus was, the investigations conducted by historico-critical methods do not give exhaustive answers," says Cardinal Albert Vanhoye, a French Jesuit who is one of the most illustrious and authoritative Biblical scholars in our day.

[Pope Benedict made him a cardinal in 2005, when he was 82, although he was not even a bishop, in recognition of his outstanding reputation as a Biblical scholar. He turns 84 next month.]

"It's a useful method, in times like ours, and historical science has made great progress and has invented new systems. Therefore, exegesis must adapt itself to such new levels."

"But," he adds, "as the Pope makes us understand quite well, this is merely a secondary approach to the Bible - which is and will remain a divine message: of faith, hope and love. There's some use in discussing details about historicity. But in this case, it is extremely difficult to arrive at any firm, precise conclusions."

Where does it lead us then? "Only to conjectures. But in the present state of historical science, that's become habitual."

Vanhoye, former rector of the Pontifical Biblical Institute and ex-secretary of the Pontifical Biblical Commission, once described by Benedict XVI as 'a great exegete", came to Illegio Sunday, in the Friuli mountains (northeastern Italy), to speak about "The holiness of the redeemed and the new canticle in the Apocalypse" in an international conference dedicated to the last book of the Bible.

The event has drawn thousands of visitors, including researchers who want to know what's new, if any, on interpretations of the Apocalypse.

Before addressing the conference, Cardinal Vanhoye was asked by the organizers about the latest findings in Biblical research, and in this connection, about Pope Benedict's book JESUS OF NAZARETH, and the criticism it has received, particularly from advocates of historico-critical exegesis.

Vanhoye did not hesitate to answer: "The conclusions of this kind of research cannot be absolute. By themselves, the facts they uncover cannot reconstruct all the truth that is found in Scriptures and which was the intention of the authors to transmit. They must be integrated with other approaches."

Vanhoye recalled that as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Ratzinger delivered a lecture on Biblical exegesis in the United States, during which he distanced himself from some of the leading practitioners of the historico-critical method, saying that their ideological premises compromised the validity of their work.

The cardinal also recalled the work of the Pontifical Commission on the interpretation of Sacred Scriptures in the life of the Church: "Ratzinger did not directly intervene in the evaluation of the historico-critical method, but in the preface to the final document, he reaffirmed clearly that the debate could not be considered closed on the issue. He had his reservations but he didn't set limits on the freedom of research."

Vanhoye concedes that historical investigations can give "good acceptable results" but that it is a tool that must be used with great acumen.

"The Pope's book shows, in fact," he said, "that Cardinal Ratzinger followed the work of the exegetes, and that he has profound knowledge of the issues in play. At the same time, he expresses exactly where he stands - against an exegesis that is narrowly scientific. ...Or rather, a method that is scientifically arid. That is why the Pope will not concede that the historico-critical method is the only exegesis that is exclusively valid. It is a method necessary in times like ours, but it should be complemented by a different modality in order to grasp the message of the Bible."

Does he think that the criticisms written about it so far are well-founded?
"No, this is a serious work - research done by a man of great faith who knows the methods of science but will not be a slave to them. Because he truly seeks contact with the Lord through his Word."

And what indications can ordinary folk get from Ratzinger's method?
"I say again - it is not an arid approach. The Pope gives us a correct example of how to read and interpret sacred texts. He tells us, in fact, that we should read the Gospels with faith, not only with concerns about its historicity. The Word of God does not need circumstantial detail! One should get to the heart of it, which is a religious message. The Bible is not a history book, nor volume on philosophy - it is a testimony of faith. Therefore, a guide for the faith."

Is the Pope's book for specialists?
"JESUS OF NAZARETH obviously assumes that the reader has a minimum of religious culture. To any of whom the benefits one derives from reading it will be evident. Even Cardinal Martini has said - It is a scientifically serious book which is, at the same time, a great testimony of faith."
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I had wanted to comment earlier on Cardinal Martini's presentation of JON, but other things got in between, and other than a few incidental comments in connection with the Messori/Melloni articles, I did not find the time to do it.

Now, the thoughts expressed above by Cardinal Vanhoye, another Jesuit Biblical scholar like Cardinal Martini, have prompted me to get down to it.

The tone of Martini's entire presentation bothered me - and I am not saying it is a fault; it's a question of style and approach - because the Cardinal chose to speak of 'the author' as though he were a subject of inquiry, like a beetle one was examining in order to make a dispassionate report on it.

But it was fair, on the whole, and I thought the 'objections' raised were more in the nature of quibbling rather than being substantial questions. However, I did find one particular paragraph almost offensive

Because the author is not an exegete, but a theologian, and although he moves agilely through the exegetic literature of his time, he has not, for instance, had firsthand study of the critical texts of the New Testament. In fact, he hardly ever cites the possible variations of the texts, nor does he enter the debate on the value of the manuscripts, accepting on this point the conclusions that most exegetes have considered valid.

Who am I, virtually a Biblical illiterate, to dispute the words of Cardinal Martini? I dispute it as a simple reader who uses common sense. What makes a Biblical exegete? One would reasonably say it is someone whose professional occupation is to interpret, possibly to explain, Biblical texts in the light of available supplementary and circumstantial data.

But a priest, any ordinary priest who must deliver a homily, also does that - interpret and explain a Biblical text, according to how he was taught to do it in the seminary and/or at university, albeit not with all the scholarly armamentarium of the professional exegete.

As teacher of dogmatic theology for a quarter-century - and as an excellent preacher with a reputation for outstanding homilies during his whole career - Joseph Ratzinger has surely done more than his share of Biblical exegesis.

How can one be a theologian - namely, a person who specializes in the science [in its literal meaning as 'knowledge'] of God - and not be a Biblical exegete first, given that man's knowledge of God comes through his Word, which is sacred scripture?

When I first read the Martini presentation, I immediately flashed back to a recent write-up I had read which introduced a Vatican Radio interview with Ratzinger's former Prefect of Studies as a seminarian, one of the Pope's oldest friends, Alfred Laepple. The write-up said, among other things

His theology studies in Munich gave Ratzinger the chance to enter even more into cogitatio fidei, the knowledge of the faith. Exegesis became the center of the young Joseph's theological work. He became the immediate favorite of the star of the theological faculty at the time, Friedrich Wilhelm Mayer, professor of exegesis of the New Testament.

So I decided to refer back to the Cardinal's autobiography, MILESTONES, to see exactly what he said about this. It bears extensive citation because it not only tells us Cardinal Ratzinger's equilibrated attitude to Biblical interpretation, but it directly answers the condescending remark by Cardinal Martini.


From MILESTONES, pp. 50-54
By Joseph Ratzinger

At that time, the star of our faculty was beyond a doubt Friedrich Wilhelm Mayer, professor for New Testament exegesis...As a brilliant young scholar, Maier had undertaken the interpretation of the synoptic Gospels for a biblical commentary then in the process of being written.

In this commentary, he proposed with vigor a theory that today is accepted by almost everyone, the so-called 'two-source theory', according to which Mark and a collection of Jesus sayings no longer extant (the 'Q' source, from Quelle)[German word for source] are the basis for the three synoptic Gospels. Mark, in other words, is accordingly the source for the later Gospels according to Matthew and Luke. This contradicts an ancient tradition traceable all the way to the second century, which sees in Matthew the oldest Gospel, said to have been written by the apostle in a 'Hebraic dialect.'

So it was that Maier walked right into the Modernist dispute, which at that time was being waged with great vehemence and whose focal point was precisely the question concerning the Gospels. The French scholar Loisy had practically rejected out of hand the credibility of the Gospels. The theories of liberal exegesis necessarily posed a threat to the very foundations of faith itself - a problem that is far from being resolved today. Maier's thesis was perceived to be a surrender to liberalism, and so he had to leave the world of academic teaching....In the changed climate of the 1920s he could finally return to the academic world. In 1924, he was called to Breslau to teach New Testament, and both there and afterward in Munich, he quickly won the hearts of his listeners...

[Ratzinger became a student of Maier in the 1947-1948 semester at the University of Munich]

In many respects, Maier belonged to a world that had already disappeared... He still cultivated the rhetoric of the turn of the century which, at the beginning, I found impressive, but, as time went on, a bit artificial and overdone. His exegetical approach, too, remained that of the liberal age. With admirable diligence, it is true, he had read everything that had appeared in the meantime and also worked it into his lectures; but in the end,, the new epoch that Bultmann and Barth had ushered in, each in his own way, was really lost on him.

In retrospect I would like to say that Maier offered a prime example of that orientation with Romano Guardini experienced in his teachers in Tuebingen and which he characterized as 'a liberalism restricted by dogma'...for Maier represents those who look upon dogma, not as a shaping force, but only as a shackle, a negation, and a limit to the construction of theology.

And yet from a distance of nearly 50 years, I can once again truly see what was positive there: the candid questions from the perspectives of the liberal-historical method created a new directness in the approach to Sacred Scripture and opened up dimensions of the text that were no longer perceived by the all-too-predetermined dogmatic reading. The Bible spoke to us with new immediacy and freshness. [There, Alberto Melloni! This was the answer I was looking for to your silly claim that by his office, Benedict intends to wipe out all the work of exegetes!]

But those things in the liberal method that were arbitrary and tended to flatten out the Bible (just think of Harnack and his school) could be compensated for by obedience to dogma. A characteristic fruitfulness came from the balance between liberalism and dogma. [The same concept articulated by Cardinal Vanhoye in the post above, although he used different words]

So it was that, for the six semesters of my theological studies, I listened to and assimilated all of Maier's lectures with the greatest attention. Exegesis has always remained for me the center of my theological work. Maier is to be thanked for the fact that, for us, Sacred Scripture was 'the soul of our theological studies', as the Second Vatican Council would later require.

Even if I gradually became more aware of the weaknesses in Maier's approach - it is not in a position to see the full depth of the figure of Christ - still, everything I heard from him and learned by way of method remains fundamental to me

Ratzinger devotes far less space to his professor in the Old Testament, but he tells us what those lessons meant for him:

Thus it was that the Old Testament was opened up and became precious for me. More and more I came to understand why the New Testament is not a different book of a different religion that, for some reason or other, had appropriated the Holy Scriptures of the Jews as a kind of preliminary structure.

The New Testament is nothing other than an interpretation of "the Law, the Prophets and the Writings" found from or contained in the story of Jesus. Now, this "Law, Prophets and Writing" had not yet, at the time of Jesus, grown together to form a definitive canon; rather, they were still open-ended and, as such, offered themselves spontaneously to Jesus's disciples as a testimony to him, as the Sacred Scriptures that revealed his mystery.

I have ever more come to the realization that Judaism (which, strictly speaking, begins with the end of the formation of the canon, that is, in the first century after Christ) and the Christian faith described in the New testament are two ways of appropriating Israel's Scriptures, two ways that, in the end, are both determined by the position one assumes with regard to the figure of Jesus of Nazareth.

The Scripture we today call Old Testament is in itself open to both ways. For the most part, only after the Second World War, did we begin to understand that the Jewish interpretation, too, in the time 'after Christ', of course possesses a theological mission of its own....

The last sentence above is the kind of sentence I did not give a second thought to, when I first read MILESTONES. Now, I find it very intriguing, and would love to know what Rabbi Neusner says about it!

But let me cite the statement from Cardinal Martini's presentation that ultimately express a proper appreciation [in both senses of the word] of what Ratzinger/Benedict has achieved with this book insofar as validating his portrait of

It is this reciprocal interweaving of historical knowledge and faith knowledge - in which each of these approaches maintains its own dignity and its own freedom, without mixing up and without confusion - that is the method particular to this author...

...In the thinking of the author, reason and faith are involved and 'reciprocally woven together', each with its own rights and status, without confusion nor ill will towards each other. He rejects the opposition between faith and history, convinced that the Jesus of the Gospels is a historical figure and that the faith of the Church cannot be without a certain historical basis.

This means, in practice, that the author, as he himself says in his Foreword, 'trusts the Gospels', even while he integrates what modern exegesis tells us. And from all this comes forth a real Jesus, a "historical Jesus' in the proper sense of the word. His figure "is much more logical and, historically speaking, much more intelligible than the reconstructions we have been presented with in the last decades."

Subsequently, Jacob Neusner wrote in the Jerusalem Post:

I had admired Cardinal Ratzinger's writings on the historical Jesus and had written to him to say so. He replied and we exchanged offprints and books. His willingness to confront the issues of truth, not just the politics of doctrine, struck me as courageous and constructive.

But now His Holiness has taken a step further and has answered my critique in a creative exercise of exegesis and theology.

That a Jewish scholar, who has actually written 900+ books of Biblical exegesis, albeit Judaic, admired Ratzinger from way back for his writings on the historical Jesus and calls JON a 'creative exercise of exegesis and theology' is in itself a tribute to Ratzinger's scholarship - to any out there who are quibbling about a number of supposed gross factual or philological errors made in the book.

But that's another story that requires translation, and some time - because it refers to pages in the Italian edition that are not easy to find in the English edition which has 70 pages less, and numbers the Foreword with Roman numerals, whereas the Italian starts counting page 1 from the Foreword, looks like, because what is cited from p. 51 of the Italian edition is actually on p. 29 of the English edition, etc.

Let me tell you now that the alleged 'errors' have all been convincingly explained to be false by an Italian theologian, all but one, which has to do with the gender of a Jewish noun which is used in a citation Ratzinger makes from another author....but you get the idea ...

P.S. NOT INCIDENTALLY...If you failed to check it out before, some time last February, I had a post called "THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT: TWO INTERPRETATIONS" in the thread IN HIS OWN WORDS -
(Scroll about halfway down the page)
in which Cardinal Martini delivers a homily about it on the 25th anniversary of his episcopal ordination in May 2005, and Corriere della Sera had contrasted it to the then new Pope's Corpus Domini homily in Bari that year, round about the same time. Corriere's point was that Martini's homily was supposed to be the liberal counter-manifesto to the Ratzingerian conservatism about to engulf the Church, although it doesn't read that way to me, personally.

But just to get a 'direct comparison' with what Joseph Ratzinger had written previously about the Sermon the Mount, an excerpt from a 1989 book of his came in very handy indeed....It is now something we can read as a supplement/complement to the Sermon on the Mount chapter in JON...
[Modificato da TERESA BENEDETTA 14/06/2007 21.04]
13/06/2007 19.31
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Thanks to Amy Welborn for finding this review by a Protestant
reader of JON - and who prefaces the 'snip' she used on her blog with these words

I actually found this rather moving, partly because of the writer's honesty and open-mindedness, and partly because his general reading of Ratzinger matches my own experience and so many from whom I've heard.

It comes from the blog of Joel Gillespie, pastor of Covenant Fellowship Church in Greensboro, North Carolina.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007
Jesus of Nazareth
by Pope Benedict XVI

Every so often a book comes along that deeply moves and inspires me as a person, and as a Christian. I can never know when this will happen. Many books disappoint, and many surprise.

I am right in the middle of one of those amazing books. It is Jesus of Nazareth: From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration by Joseph Ratzinger, otherwise known as Pope Benedict XVI.

OK, I am an evangelical Protestant pastor. How can I speak such of a book by the Roman Catholic Pope of all people?

I remember hearing Johnny Cash commenting on the Nine Inch Nails' song 'Hurt'. His words: "Well, a good song is a good song."

And a good book is a good book.

A few words about it...

First, this is not a book which carries in the mind of its distinguished writer, the head of the Roman church, what we might refer to as "papal authority." It is not, using Catholic language, and Benedict's own words, [part of the] 'Magisterium', which means that it does not carry the teaching authority of the Church or of the Pope as pope.

It is a very personal work. In it Pope Benedict is seeking the face of Jesus. The book reflects his own personal journey over time to understand the Jesus of the Gospels. He even invites critique of all things!

Second, whatever your image may be of Joseph Ratzinger, this book will change it. In it you see deeply into his own heart, and what is there is a humble and gentle spirit, and a deep godliness. He deals gently with those who object to the traditional view of Jesus, and his interaction with the arguments in Jewish scholar Jacob Neusner's A Rabbi Talks with Jesus is worth the price of the book.

It should be archetypal for how Christians should interact with their Jewish neighbors, and their Jewish critics. I can't wait to read Neusner's book, because, from what I can glean from the sections in Jesus of Nazareth that relate to Neusner, Neusner understands the message and person of Jesus better than many Christians; he just does not buy it.

Third, the Pope is a superb scholar, in the very best sense of that word. He is a man who has obviously devoted much of his long life to biblical and theological and historical studies. He is well read, current, respectful, and knows what he is talking about.

Fourth, this is not 'Jesus for Dummies'. Because Benedict does interact with prevailing trends, some knowledge of theological and biblical lingo would be helpful. But this is most true in the long and excellently written introduction, subtitled 'An Initial Reflection on the Mystery of Jesus'.

In that introduction Pope Benedict shows why even appropriate scientific historical critical approaches to the Bible cannot be the only approaches, given that the subject of the study is not only an historical figure written about in writing subject to historical and scientific analysis, but is also the object of our faith.

Even if you are not a Christian, if you know enough of the lingo to follow his argument in the opening chapter, you may well end up with a deeper respect for the manner in which Christian folks approach the Bible and its message. The rest of the book is more accessible to the average reader I would say.

Fifth, Pope Benedict is a very good writer. He is clear, and he is gentle. He also writes in a way that speaks to the heart. For me personally as a Christian, the manner in which he speaks and makes his points really speaks to me in a personal manner. He draws me into the kind of relationship with God that I desire to have.

I have always been struck by this observation - that where we as historically orthodox Catholics and Protestants agree (and that is in a very large number of the most essential matters), the Catholic writers just put it differently. I have found their way of putting things, drawn from their long history, culture, and spiritual temperament, to be refreshing.

I even love the Catholic Catechism. Where I disagree with it, say about Mary, or papal authority, or justification, or the Eucharist, or veneration of the saints, or purgatory, I can read respectfully, or just skip over. Where I agree with it, I find I am blessed by the way it puts things.

Sixth, I think because of the more serious nature of much Catholic spiritual writing, as compared to so much of the mass-market driven Protestant drivel out there, I think this book provides an opportunity for people to see Jesus, the historic and living Jesus, in a new and deeper way. Benedict really is gifted at cutting to the core of the matter.

I have so far only gotten through the chapters on Jesus's baptism, the Sermon on the Mount, and the Lord's Prayer. I plan to read the whole book, and then read it again. I cannot know for sure if at the end of the book that I am not going to be sucker punched by a Catholic apologetic, but nothing so far suggests that I will. Yes, there are references to Catholic teachings or practices, but mainly those are areas in which much of the historic Protestant Church agrees.

Seventh, Pope Benedict does a superb job connecting the old and the new testaments, or covenants. He shows how it is that Christians see Jesus as the fulfillment of what Christians call the Old Testament, and how the Old Covenant anticipated Jesus of Nazareth. Even if, say, a Jewish reader, did not in the end accept the Christian view, I think that this book would help him to respect it.

Eighth, every chapter so far has turned up for me fresh ways of seeing and understanding Jesus, his person and his mission. I by no means think that I am even close to understanding these matters in fullness, but it has been getting hard lately to find writers who open up new vistas. Benedict does that for me. Maybe down the road I will summarize some of those new vistas.

In conclusion, if you want to see into the heart of Jesus of Nazareth, and would like to understand better who he was (and is), or shall I say, who historic orthodox (as compared to liberal) Christians understand Him to be, I strongly recommend this book. But be careful! You may not find the same stereotypical historic orthodox Christianity and Jesus that you have loved to hate, well, if you do, I mean.

Check it out. You'll see what I mean.


[Modificato da TERESA BENEDETTA 13/06/2007 20.28]
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This one I found while going through some conservative blogs. It comes from the magazine American Spectator, which gave this review the unlikely title of "History's greatest liar", meaning Jesus. But it caught my eye because Fulton Sheen, whose LIFE OF CHRIST I have been re-reading after at least 40 years, uses an equivalent term in his introduction to the book, where he says:

"Good men do not lie. But if Christ was not all that he said he was, namely, the Son of the living God, the Word of God in the flesh, then he was not 'just a good man': then he was a knave, a liar, a charlatan, and the greatest deceiver who ever lived."

Jesus of Nazareth
by Pope Benedict XVI

Reviewed by Lisa Fabrizio
Published 6/13/07

We all think we know him, or at least we're forever trying. Every Christmas and Easter, documentary makers seek to redefine him, or simply to find him. But who is the real Jesus Christ?

In the Catholic Church's tradition of sharpening doctrine by answering its critics, Pope Benedict XVI has taken on the task of pushing back decades of reconstruction of the "historical" Jesus with Jesus of Nazareth, his first book since his election to the episcopal see of Rome.

At the age of 80, when most men are taking a well-deserved rest, Pope Benedict - who in 2005, after a half-century of service to the Church desired only to retire to a quiet life in his beloved Bavaria - has released these first ten chapters of a two-part work that has been four years in the making, because, as he states, "I do not know how much more time or strength I am still to be given."

His urgency stems from his fear that modern historical-critical attempts at finding Jesus have resulted in the common belief that "we have very little certain knowledge of Jesus." He laments that recent scholarship has detached Jesus from God so that he has been reduced to an "anti-Roman revolutionary working - though finally failing - to overthrow the ruling powers; at the other end, he was the meek moral teacher who approves everything and unaccountably comes to grief."

Students of the Baltimore Catechism know why we were created: to know, love and serve God. But who is he? Mankind has always feared the unknowable, how much more so the unknowable Creator? How can man possibly approach such power and majesty as he sees daily in the created nature of the world? How can we love a God of pure power unless we are convinced that he is also pure love?

This book, taken in conjunction with his first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est (God Is Love), is Pope Benedict's answer. This work, he stresses, is not one of official teaching but the culmination of his "personal search for the face of the Lord," and one that is intended for the illumination of all those who also seek him. As such, although there is a glossary included, it resounds not with complex theological jargon but sings in the language of love.

He begins by explaining that Jesus is new; the new Adam, and even the new Moses. He cites the Old Testament pledge that "The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your brethren - him you shall heed" (Deut 18:15). He then recounts that although Moses had friendship with God, he was not allowed to see his face (cf. Ex 33:18-23), implying that the promised "prophet like me" will be granted what Moses was denied: "No one has ever seen God; it is the only Son, who is nearest to the Father's heart, who has made him known" (Jn 1:18).

With this new Moses comes a new Torah; the essence of which is contained in the Beatitudes. And in delivering them in the Sermon on the Mount, he alarms the people because he was "teaching them as one having authority, and not as their Scribes and Pharisees" (Mt 7:29). In other words, he is not only proclaiming the law but claiming equality with the Lawgiver. At this point, Benedict begins a fascinating discourse; almost a dialogue with the Jewish scholar Jacob Neusner, author of A Rabbi Talks with Jesus.

Neusner's book is itself a dialogue where he is present at the Sermon on the Mount and then follows Jesus to Jerusalem where he speaks with him about what he feels are exhortations to ignore two or three of God's commandments concerning the Sabbath and familial relationships, both of which are at the heart of the Jewish social order. The pope's response - which fills 25 pages - is a must-read for Jews and Christians alike and makes one ardently wish to be a fly on the wall at a mythical sit-down between Benedict and Neusner.

There are many such exchanges and references to writers such as Rudolf Bultmann, Joachim Jeremias, Pierre Grelot, Romano Guardini and Hans-Peter Kolvenbach that fill this book with insights and inspirations from all sides of the exegetical spectrum. And all these Pope Benedict explores with the utmost humility and compassion in this 355-page volume.

Yet he returns over and over to the main thrust of the question of the identity and mission of Jesus of Nazareth:

What did Jesus actually bring, if not world peace, universal prosperity and a better world? What has he brought? The answer is very simple: God. He has brought God! Now we know his face, now we can call upon him. Now we know the path that we human beings have to take in this world. Jesus has brought God and with God the truth about our origin and destiny: faith, hope, and love.

Christian teaching suggests that Jesus Christ was either everything he said he was - most notably the son of God - or the world's most prolific and pathological liar.

Those for whom this question remains unanswered would do well to begin their search anew by sharing in this profound meditation of the "Servant of the Servants of God."


This lady also refers to the Baltimore Catechism. Did anyone else here use the Baltimore Catechism? When did it stop being used? Mention of it brings back my childhood as powerfully as the taste of a madeleine brought back Proust to his! [In my time, all textbooks used by Catholic schools in the Philippines were textbooks used in the United States - obviously, the Church in my country did not have the means to publish their own textbooks. The textbook series one followed over the years had names like the Faith and Freedom series (how American!) or the Cathedral Basic Series...Imagine how exotic it was for a 7-year-old Filipina child to read a story entitled 'A Paddle in a Pirogue' about little Madeleine who lived in Louisiana's bayou country!]
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Thanks for all the good work you are doing,Teresa! Very interesting reviews. I have only read a few chapters, but I can tell you this: JON is not "a book", it's an aria!
It's Papa's own personal search for Christ, a successful search if you ask me. On every page I'm learning something. I especially like the way he is explaining individual texts within the whole of Scripture, always pointing back to the Old Testament.
The scene of Jesus' baptism, where Jesus "blends into the grey mass of sinners waiting on the banks of Jordan", is almost like a screenplay, you actually "see" the scene. Beautiful!
The chapters I have read so far are all very approachable, even for a novice like myself, yet the messages are deep and powerful and are material for reflection and meditation.
I know I am going to "sing" this book over and over and over .....


What a beautiful way to put it, Liv - Not just singing its praises but 'singing the book' itself! It does make you want to sing out Hosannah, Alleluia, Gloria in excelsis Deo!, Credo, Domine! Kyrie! Christus!, My Lord and my God!.....All the familiar prayer 'formulas' take on new meaning and splendor.....

It says something that JESUS OF NAZARETH came in among the #1's on the French bestseller list the week it came out (the titles it shares the top spot with sound like pop fiction) - in 'anti-clerical, super-secular' France!


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In its issue of June 16, La Civilta Cattolica, the Jesuits' fortnightly magazine published in Rome, carries this review of JESUS OF NAZARETH by Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, a Jesuit.

It is a much less structured, less formal and 'friendlier' analysis than his presentation of the French edition of the book in Paris last month. He adds a few interesting personal facts at the start, and he also omits some not very felicitous comments made then (particularly his diminution of Joseph Ratzinger's qualifications as an exegete), as well as his closing words that he, too, had thought of writing a book on Jesus.

Here is a translation:

The way of love
for God and for one's fellowmen


I remember that Introduction to Christianity, a book by then Professor Joseph Ratzinger which came out in Italy in 1969, made a great impression on me. It dealt with many things (indeed, it was the first few pages of that book that inspired my "cathedral for non-believers' during my bishop's years in Milan), but in particular, it spoke with great objectivity and clarity about Jesus of Nazareth and how to 'know' him.

Since then, many other books on Jesus have come out, in various languages, and written from diverse cultural viewpoints. This underscores the extraordinary relevance of the figure of Jesus and the multiplicity of approaches to him.

But a book about Jesus written by a Pope has never happened before. John Paul II habituated us to various narrations about his life. But this is the first time we have a book in which a Pope directly confronts a topic that is as arduous and wide open as the entire life of Christ and the meaning of his work.

It is true that this book only deals with some moments in the life of Jesus, from the Baptism to the Transfiguration, but the author hopes to complete his work before not too long.

In any case, the question is obligatory: Are the words in this book those of a Pope, with the magisterial force implied, or are they the reflections of a scholar who is expressing his personal convictions, even if these do come from long familiarity with the subject and his own personal involvement in the life of the Church and as a disciple of Christ?

The Pope himself meant to resolve this possible ambiguity: "It goes without saying that this book is in no way an exercise of the magisterium, but is solely an expression of my personal search 'for the face of the Lord'. Everyone is free, then, to contradict me. I would only ask my readers for that initial goodwill without which there can be no understanding." Therefore, let us review this book with sympathy and a free spirit.

The author, during his studies and his teaching in different German universities {I remember having attended myself his lectures at the University of Muenster in Westphalia) was able to follow the different vicissitudes attendant to the historical research on Jesus.

The problem of knowing whether it is possible to say something historically certain about the Life of Jesus has only become more intense, a burning issue, and the tendency to separate the historical Jesus from the Jesus of the faith has been growing.

Reading these pages, one finds frequent references to this historical-exegetic background, starting with the distance that the author takes from a great contemporary Catholic exegete like Rudolf Schnackenburg, right from the Foreword. "It is obvious that the way I look at the figure of Jesus, goes beyond what much contemporary exegesis, as represented by someone like Schnackenburg, has to say...(although) it has opened up to us a wealth of material and an abundance of findings that enable the figure of Jesus to become present to us with a vitality and depth that we could not have imagined even just a few decades ago."

Still, the author intends to "apply new methodological insights that allow us to offer a properly theological interpretation of the Bible. To be sure, this requires faith, but the aim unequivocally is not, nor should be, to give up serious engagement with history." Thus the author starts to delineate his method.

But now let us consider the book itself, which deals, as I said earlier, with Jesus's life from the Baptism to the Transfiguration. It is entitled JESUS OF NAZARETH, but I think the true title should be JESUS OF NAZARETH YESTERDAY AND TODAY. Indeed, the author passes easily from considering facts about Jesus to the importance of those facts for the succeeding centuries and for our Church. Therefore, it is full of contemporary allusions and questions.

For example, speaking of the temptation in the desert when Satan offers Jesus the domination of the world, he says: "Its true content becomes apparent when we realize that throughout history, it is constantly taking on new forms. The Christian empire attempted at an early stage to use the faith in order to cement political unity. The kingdom of Christ was now expected to take the form of a political kingdom and its splendor. The powerlessness of faith, the earthly powerlessness of Jesus Christ, was to be given the helping hand of political and military might. This temptation to use power to secure the faith has arisen again and again in varied forms throughout the centuries, and again and again faith has risked being suffocated in the embrace of power."

This kind of considerations on the subsequent history of Jesus and on current events gives the book a breadth and a flavor that other books on Jesus, concerned only with the meticulous discussion of events in his life, do not possess.

The author shows that without the reality of Jesus, made of flesh and blood, Christianity becomes mere moralism and an intellectual affair.

But he is also concerned with anchoring the Christian faith to its Jewish roots, and he does it by referring to the prophecy of Moses in Deuteronomy 18,15-18 ("The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you...him you shall heed...I will put my words into his mouth and he will say whatever I order him to say"), a prophecy which the author sees realized in Jesus.

Jesus, in fact, has a vision of God that no other man has, as the prologue to the Gospel of John says: "No one has seen God; it is the only Son, who is nearest to the Father's heart, who has made him known"(Jn 1,18). This is the point of departure from which it is possible to understand the figure of Jesus.

The author often cites words from the Old Testament to provide the framework within which to understand the words and actions of Jesus. But above all, he dedicates ample space to a discussion with the American rabbi Jacob Neusner, from whose book (A Rabbi Talks with Jesus, 1993), he draws the similarities (the book is written with much respect for Jesus and a with a great sense of his belonging to the Jewish people and tradition) and the decisive differences in understanding the words of the Lord. He concludes from all this that "the proper interplay of Old and New Testaments was and is constitutive for the Church".

In all this the author's method appears clearly. He is very much against that which has been called - especially in American and Anglo-Saxon writing - 'the imperialism of the historical-critical method' (see, for instance, W. Bruegemann, Theology of the Old Testament, 2002). The author acknowledges that this method is important, but that it risks dismembering the text and making incomprehensible those facts to which the text refers.

Therefore, he suggests reading the different texts in the context of the Scriptures as a whole. It does becomes clear that there is "a single overall direction: you can see that the Old and New Testaments belong together. This Christological hermeneutic, which sees Jesus Christ as thee key to the whole and learns from him how to understand the Bible as a unity, presupposes a prior act of faith. It cannot be the conclusion of a purely historical method. But this act of faith is based upon reason - historical reason - and so makes it possible to see the internal unity of Scripture. By the same token, it enables us to understand anew the individual elements that have shaped it, without robbing them of their historical originality."

Thus, the author rejects the contradiction between faith and history, because he is convinced that the Jesus of the Gospels is a historically sensible and coherent figure, and that the faith of the Church cannot do without a certain historical basis.

All this means that the author, as he himself says, trusts the Gospels, even as he integrates everything that modern exegesis says about them. From all this comes a real Jesus, a historical Jesus in the true sense of the word, whose figure is "much more logical and historically intelligible than the reconstructions we have been presented with in the last decades."

Surely, it would have been possible to link even more closely some events of the life and preaching of Jesus with some biographical elements of his story that the historico-critical method has brought to light. But the author seemed more concerned with presenting the totality of the sayings and actions of Christ, rather than a biographical chronology which would obviously always be characterized by whether they are probable or not.

The author is rightly convinced that "unless there had been something extraordinary in what happened, unless the person and the words of Jesus radically surpassed the hopes and expectations of the time, there is no way to explain why he was crucified or why he made such an impact." The impact that led his disciples to attribute to him within twenty years of his death that name which the prophet Isaiah had reserved for God alone.

As a consequence, the author expresses his persuasion that "the deepest theme of Jesus's preaching was his own mystery, the mystery of the Son in whom God is among us and keeps his word." This is true in particular of the Sermon on the Mount, to which the author devotes two chapters, as for the message of the parables and the other great discourses of Jesus.

If this is the author's method, what should we think about the global success of this work? The author confesses that the book is the result of a long interior journey. He started to work on it during his summer vacation in 2003. But the book is the mature fruit of a meditation and study that has occupied an entire life, and which were already present in his 1969 book.

From it he has concluded that Jesus is not a myth, but a man of flesh and blood, a very real presence in history. We can follow the roads he travelled. We can hear the words he said, thanks to witnesses. He died and resurrected.

This book is the ardent testimony of a great scholar - who today is also the leader of the Catholic Church - on Jesus of Nazareth and his significance for the story of man and for the perception of the real figure of God.

It is always comforting to read testimonies like these. I find the book very beautiful. It can be read with a certain facility (I would advise the reader to start with the chapters on Jesus's discourses). It is not a heavy book, even if it is a book that makes you think.

Nor is it limited to the intellectual dimension. It shows us the way of love for God and for our neighbor, as the author says it very well about the parable of the Good Samaritan: "Now we realize that we are all in need of the gift of God's redeeming love ourselves, so that we too can become lovers in our turn. Now we realize that we always need God, who makes himself our neighbor so that we can become neighbors."

He also confronts the issue of the 'failure of the prophet', of every true prophet: "Their message goes too much against general opinion and the comfortable habits of life. It is only through failure that their words become efficacious. This failure of the prophets is an obscure question mark hanging over the whole history of Israel, and in a certain way, it constantly recurs in the history of humanity. Above all, it is also again and again the destiny of Jesus Christ. He ends up on the Cross. But that very Cross is the source of great fruitfulness."

It is a very important theme, which is worth exploring systematically in depth. At this point, we must await the second volume, which will deal at length with the mystery of the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus. Reading this book invites us to await the next one desirously .

La Civiltà Cattolica
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This is very maddening. It came out in the Economist online yesterday from the magazine's Books and Art section but does not carry a byline. Who reviews a book without signing it?...Not a particularly useful or competent review, but it does reflect a secular attitude to books of this genre that may be typical. Not quite dismissive but rather condescending.

An author and his subject
Jun 28th 2007
From The Economist print edition

Islam and Christianity may come together in music [no, they do not!]
but the pope, in his book on Jesus, draws one clear dividing line

THIS is an unusual moment in religious history. In late June, even as Muslims in Pakistan were expressing outrage over the knighthood that Queen Elizabeth is to confer on the 'blasphemous' author Salman Rushdie, respected representatives of the Christian Western world were acknowledging the power and beauty of Islamic spirituality.

Westminster Cathedral, Britain's chief place of Roman Catholic worship, offered the shimmering mosaics of its quasi-Byzantine interior as the setting for 'The Beautiful Names', a new composition by Sir John Tavener. The 99 names of God, taken from the Koran, were sung in Arabic and the inspiring, guttural sounds [Really!?!] of the language had been diligently mastered by English singers more used to Bach or Handel. The work had been commissioned by Prince Charles, who will one day succeed his mother as head of the Anglican church but cherishes a deep interest in Islam.

On the pavement outside the cathedral, a few Catholics staged a peaceful protest, arguing that because Islam rejected basic Christian doctrines - such as the Trinity and the divinity of Christ - it had no place in a church. But most of the British establishment seemed to be inside, enjoying the singing. [Did they? Not from what I've read!] The cathedral authorities insisted that what had taken place was an artistic performance, not an act of worship.

[The protesters didn't say it was an act of worship; they're not stupid. It's the principle of the thing. Would the Muslims allow Handel's Messiah to be performed in a mosque? I don't know what a church has to do to the tabernacle - take out all the ciboria within? - when it's being turned into a secular auditorium, but I think the protest had to do with that, too. Anyway, I think it's a cheap trick to use a book review as a pretext for writing up an encomium to something else: "A tribute to Tavener, by way of a book that doesn't quite make it" .]

The Catholics' ultimate boss, Pope Benedict, is less flexible. He may feel that because we live in an age when acts of religious accommodation are possible - and, for the sake of world peace, necessary [depends what you mean by 'accommodation']- it is more important than ever to draw doctrinal lines in the sand. In his recently published book Jesus of Nazareth, he seems to be saying that "much as we respect one another and accept one another's right to exist, there are important things on which we cannot agree." [Not seems to be saying! Saying. As would a Muslim, mutatis mutandis.]

The pope's elegantly, almost tenderly written essay on the founder of his faith is less obviously polemical in tone than his lecture in Germany last September. This outraged Muslim opinion by quoting a Byzantine emperor who had called Islam irrational and violent (the pope later apologised for the offence his remarks had caused but stopped short of withdrawing them).

Yet his book remains uncompromising in its insistence on the divinity of Jesus Christ, and hence in its rejection of arguments to the contrary put forward by liberal Christians, or indeed by Muslims and Jews.

Pope Benedict takes issue with a powerful body of conventional wisdom among revisionist scholars of the New Testament. This school starts by making an undeniable point: the contrast in tone between the'synoptic' gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke - which emphasise the story of Jesus's life as a teacher and healer [Emphasize? They were narrating his public activities, which were teaching and healing! It's not as if they made it appear that was all he was, or glossed over his divinity!] - and the mystical language of John's gospel (as well as many of the Pauline epistles) which meditate on the divinity of Christ rather than the particular things he did or said.

Some modern readings of the New Testament go on to argue that 'the historical Jesus' of the first three gospels is not really portrayed as divine at all; and that the divinity of Christ, which is so emphasised by John and Paul, represents a later doctrine that was artificially bolted on to the basic story of Jesus's life.

The pope will have none of this. He insists that the divinity of Christ is very much present in the first three gospels, and that the gospel of John, for all its mysticism, does contain a reliable first-hand historical account of the life of Jesus. In making the first half of this case, he finds himself going head to head - with perfect courtesy, it should be said - with some Jewish critiques of the New Testament.

Whatever Jesus was, the pope argues, he was not simply a free-thinking rabbi who told people to lighten up and ignore the finer points of the Mosaic law. On the contrary, he saw the law of Moses as God-given and supremely important - and it was only because of his own divinity that he had the right to reinterpret that law. In other words, the teachings of Jesus and his divinity are inseparable. That means there is no avoiding a hard argument with those who deny his divinity: either he was the Son of God, and entitled to remake God's law, or he was an impostor. [Thank God, you got it right this time!]

What emerges from the pope's style of argument is a He has no time for the suggestion that Jesus was merely a good human being who offered an interesting new interpretation of Jewish teaching that had become excessively rigid or chauvinist. [Hey, he's the Pope - for Christ's sake!, no pun intended. Would he be expected to yield an iota as to the divinity of Christ? This reviewer cannot be a Christian to make such an absurd remark, and has obviously never heard of Dominus Iesus.] He respects tough-minded Jews, who do not believe that Jesus was the Messiah, more than woolly conciliators from any side.

Oddly enough Sir John Tavener, the builder of religious bridges through music, says something similar. He has been influenced by a school of thought which maintains that all rigorously followed religious traditions somehow converge at the 'summit' of human experience, whatever disagreements may exist lower down. [It's called religious indifferentism! Moralities may converge - what's good and what's bad, according to natural law - but not some key convictions, otherwise there would only be one super-religion. Hasn't happened!]

So Sir John admires the traditionalism and rigour of Pope Benedict - just as he admires the traditionalism and rigour of the equivalent schools of Islam and Judaism.

Fine - but how far is it really possible for people who disagree about a matter to which they ascribe supreme importance to admire one another's integrity and rigour? That question may be easier to answer in music than it is in prose. [Didn't the reviewer just read JESUS OF NAZARETH. What was the whole dialog with Jacob Neusner about then?]

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Pontifical Household Preacher
Comments on Sunday's Readings

ROME, JUNE 28, 2007 ( Here is a translation of a commentary by the Pontifical Household preacher, Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, on the readings from this Sunday's liturgy.

* * *

"Let the Dead Bury the Dead"
13th Sunday in Ordinary Time
1 Kings 19:16b,19-21; Galatians 4:31-5:13-18; Luke 9:51-62

Benedict XVI's book Jesus of Nazareth appeared in April. I thought that I would take account of the Pope's reflections in my commentary on some of the next Sunday Gospels.

First of all, I'd like to remark on the content and purpose of the book. It treats of Jesus in the period from his baptism in the Jordan to the moment of his transfiguration, that is, from the beginning of his public ministry almost to its epilogue.

The Pope says that if God gives him sufficient strength and time to write it, a second volume will deal with the accounts of Jesus' death and resurrection along with the infancy narratives. These were not treated in the first volume.

The book presupposes historical-critical exegesis and uses its findings, but desires to go beyond this method, aiming at a properly theological interpretation, that is, one that is global, not narrow, and that takes seriously the witness of the Gospels and Scriptures as books inspired by God.

The purpose of the book is to show that the figure of Jesus that is arrived at in this way is "much more logical and, from the historical point of view, also more understandable than the reconstructions that we have seen in the last decades. I hold," the Pope adds, "that precisely this Jesus - that of the Gospels - is a historically sensible and convincing figure."

It is quite significant that the Pope's choice to attend to the Jesus of the Gospels finds a confirmation in the more recent and authoritative orientation of the same historical-critical approach, in, for example, the Scottish exegete James Dunn's monumental work Christianity in the Making.

According to Dunn, "the synoptic Gospels bear testimony to a pattern and technique of oral transmission which has ensured a greater stability and continuity in the Jesus tradition than has thus far been generally appreciated."

But let us come to the Gospel reading for the 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time. It recounts three different meetings Jesus had on the same journey. We will focus on one of these meetings.

"And to another Jesus said, 'Follow me.' But he replied, 'Lord, let me go first and bury my father.' But Jesus answered him, 'Let the dead bury their dead. But you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.'"

In his book, the Pope comments on the theme of family relations alluded to in the above Gospel passage in dialogue with the Jewish-American Rabbi Jacob Neusner. In his book A Rabbi Talks with Jesus, Rabbi Neusner imagines himself as present in the crowds when Jesus speaks.

Rabbi Neusner explains why, despite his great admiration for the 'Rabbi of Nazareth', he would not have been able to become his disciple. One of the reasons for this is Jesus's position on family relations. Rabbi Neusner says that on many occasions Jesus seems to invite transgression of the fourth commandment, which says that we must honor our father and mother. Jesus asks someone, as we just heard, to forget about burying his own father and elsewhere he says that whoever loves father and mother more than him is not worthy of him.

Often the response to these objections is to cite other words of Jesus that strongly affirm the permanent validity of family bonds: the indissolubility of marriage, the duty to help one's father and mother.

In his book, however, the Pope offers a more profound and illuminating answer to this objection, an objection that is not only Rabbi Neusner's, but also that of many Christian readers of the Gospel. He takes his point of departure from something else Jesus says. "Who is my mother? Who are my brothers? ... Whoever does the will of my Father who is in heaven is my brother, sister, and mother" (Matthew 12:48-50).

Jesus does not thereby abolish the natural family, but reveals a new family in which God is father, and men and women are all brothers and sisters thanks to a common faith in him, the Christ. Rabbi Neusner asks whether he has a right to do this. This spiritual family already existed: It was the people of Israel, united by observance of the Torah, that is, the Mosaic law.

A son was only permitted to leave his father's house to study the Torah. But Jesus does not say, "Whoever loves father or mother more than the Torah is not worthy of the Torah." He says, "Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me." He puts himself in the place of the Torah and this can only be done by someone who is greater than the Torah and greater than Moses, who promulgated it.

Benedict XVI thinks that the rabbi is right to conclude: "Only God can demand of me what Jesus asks." The Pope notes that the discussion about Jesus and family relations - like that about Jesus and observance of the Sabbath - thus brings us to the true heart of the matter, which is to know who Jesus is.

If a Christian does not believe that Jesus acts with the authority itself of God and is himself God, then Rabbi Neusner, who refuses to follow Jesus, has a more coherent position than that particular Christian does. One cannot accept Jesus's teaching if one does not accept his person.

Let us take some practical instruction from this discussion. The 'family of God', which is the Church, not only is not against the natural family, but is its guarantee and promoter. We see it today.

It is a shame that some divergences of opinion in our society on questions linked to marriage and the family impede many from recognizing the providential work of the Church on behalf of the family. She is often without support in this decisive battle for the future of humanity.

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Jeff Miller, aka Curt Jester, reviews a 1985 book by Jospeh Ratzinger.

The Nature And Mission Of Theology
By Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger

Just one of the benefits of the election of Pope Benedict XVI is that his books written while still a Cardinal are more easily found in bookstores. I recently came across The Nature And Mission Of Theology: Approaches To Understanding Its Role In The Light Of Present Controversy which was written in 1985.

It is a book of medium length and as always when reading his works I both wish I was much smarter and that I had become a Catholic much sooner. This book is densely packed, but quite worthwhile as an overview of theology and its end.

The first chapter discusses both philosophy and theology, their varying competencies, and how they interact together. The second chapter on the essence of academic freedom is really quite enjoyable as Cardinal Ratzinger fleshes out true academic freedom and its service to truth. He of course touches on dialogue and the importance of truly listening.

From sources I have read this is another of the admirable traits of Josef Ratzinger is that despite his hard-nose reputation that he does truly listen to what others have to say and not just to find entries where he can interrupt and disagree. He also notes: QUOTE]"... what does the word 'dialogue' really mean? After all, dialogue does not take place simply because people are talking. Mere talk is the deteriorization of dialogue that occurs when there has been a failure to reach it.

Dialogue first comes into being when there is not only speech but also listening. Moreover, such listening must be the medium of an encounter; this encounter is the condition of an inner contact which leads to mutual comprehension."

He then goes on to describe how St. Augustine concludes that his friends were capable of this mutual listening because they heeded the interior master, the truth. This book was certainly an answer to the current climate of theologians who mostly are merely talking and lack the same interior master.

Another chapter explains the eccclesial identity of theology and exactly how it is not truly possible to be a theologian outside of the Church. Cardinal Ratzinger while head of the CDF wrote the Instruction on the Eccclesial Vocation of the Theologian and this book in many ways expands on what he wrote in the instruction.

Towards the end of the book he addresses some of the complaints made throughout the world to this instruction and really shows how little merit these criticisms had. I hadn't read this instruction previously and took the opportunity to read it after finishing this book and I think it is quite unfortunate that this instruction was so thoroughly ignored among so many Catholic theologians.

What I really found interesting in this book is that it was not just a challenge to dissenting theologians, but also to orthodox ones.

"There are, of course, many petty minds and repeaters of the past even among orthodox theologians. They are to be found everywhere; hack theology has enjoyed a particularly rapid growth precisely where their was too much noisy chatter about creativity."

Surprisingly he admits to having once found the so-called heretic theologians to be much more interesting than theologians of the Church, especially in modern times and then list those orthodox theologians who are actually much richer and relevant.

I think creativity for creativity's sake that is divorced from the Church is the cause of so much dissent. An individualistic attitude of coming up with something new and different seems to drive this, though normally what they find so new is a old as gnosticism or some other heresy. The point he makes is that there is plenty of room for creativity and building upon the Church's theology. After all,mysteries are inexhaustible.

Reading the Pope's books one thing I have noticed is his wry sense of humor. It is not introduced much into his writings and when used is used to make a point. For example this is from the foreword to this book.

"...If I am right two things are expected of a theologian in the modern world.

One the one hand, he is supposed to subject the tradtions of Christianity to critical examination by the light of reason, to distill from them the essential core which can be appropriated for use today, and there

But at the same time he is also expected to respond to the need for religion and transcendence, a need which simply refuses to be ignored, by giving guiding orientation and meaningful content which can be responsibly accepted today.

In the emerging world society an additional task devolves upon him: he must promote interelgious dialogue and contribute to the development of a planetary ethos whose key concepts are justice, peace, and integrity of creation.

Finally, however, the theologian should also be a comforter of souls, who helps individuals to be reconciled with themselves and to overcome their alienations. In fact, the purely collective consolation of a better world of the future where universal peace reigns has proved to be thoroughly unsatisfying.

While the theologian is busily working to meet these expectations, the institutional Church often appears to be an annoying impediment. This is especially true of the Magisterium of the Catholic Church, which presupposes that Christianity especially in its Catholic variety, has determinate content and thus confronts our thinking with a prior given, which cannot be manipulated at will and which alone gives to the theologians words their distinctive significance and above and beyond all purely politician and philosophical discourse. ..."

It wasn't until the second paragraph that I realized he was giving a critique of the modern theologian, of which I should have realized sooner when he used the words "institutional church" of which modern theologians are so fond of using as in a dismissive way.

So if you are interested in theology and its sphere within the Church, then this book is highly recommended.

30/06/2007 09.37
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Instruction on the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian
Thanks Teresa, for posting this excellent review by Jeff Miller. I have just ordered the book. [SM=g27823]

For those who might be interested in reading Instruction on the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian. it can be found here.

There is, by the way, an unfortunate typo in the last sentence of the last paragraph of the introduction. They've inserted " .... that freedom which Christ lied and rose to win for us." instead of " .... that freedom which Christ died and rose to win for us." If it were a conventional typo I would ignore it but I think the web site administrator/s should be alerted to it. Does anyone know if there is any sort of contact email address for the web site? I certainly couldn't find one.

[Modificato da paxvobiscum 30/06/2007 09.55]
01/07/2007 01.10
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I'm so glad you posted this review, Teresa. I've read this Ratzinger- book in 2005 and the review made me realise it is time for a second reading. Pax, I think you'll enjoy it.
01/07/2007 07.24
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Utente Master
Beatrice shot this from a FNAC bookstore display in Ternes, France.
JON is #1 on their best-seller line-up.
The #2 book is about 'stupid' questions.(Title: Why don't penguins get cold feet?)

[IMG][/IMG] [IMG=]

In the New York Times bestseller list for this week, JON went up two notches from #17
where it was last week to #15 in the nonfiction list, on its 5th week in it.
Its best ranking was #7. It's the first time any Ratzinger book has been a bestseller
in the US to my knowledge. The Ratzinger Report in paperback might have been -
I'll have to check that out.

[Modificato da TERESA BENEDETTA 05/07/2007 00.33]
03/07/2007 14.39
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Utente Master
Franz Michel Willam, the Theologian
the Pope Has Rescued from Oblivion

Author in 1932 of a famous 'life of Christ', he had been forgotten by everyone.
Benedict XVI cites him in Jesus of Nazareth, and an Austrian scholar explains why.
Based on unpublished correspondence between the two.

by Sandro Magister

ROMA, July 3, 2007 - In the first lines of the preface to Jesus of Nazareth, Benedict XVI recalls that at the time of his youth, in the 1930s and '40s, "there was a series of inspiring books about Jesus."

And he mentions some of the authors: Romano Guardini, Karl Adam, Daniel Rops, Giovanni Papini, Franz Michel Willam.

The first four, and especially the first two, are still fairly well known and read. But not the last. Franz Michel Willam (1894-1981) is today a name among the most thoroughly forgotten. Fallen into oblivion.

So why does Joseph Ratzinger cite him?

In the 'long interior journey' that led Ratzinger to write Jesus of Nazareth, Willam would not seem to be an author of reference. Much more so are Guardini, Henri De Lubac, Rudolf Schnackenburg, and the Jewish rabbi Jacob Neusner.

Of the Italian-German philosopher and theologian Guardini, one finds in the current pope the idea of the centrality of the Church in truly drawing near to Jesus, at every time and in every place, through the Eucharist and the other sacraments.

From the French theologian De Lubac, Ratzinger has drawn the profound awareness of the thought of the Fathers and the intuition of the union between the Old and New Testament.

With the great German exegete Schnackenburg, the pope has in common the conviction that the historical-critical method alone is not enough to understand the full identity of Jesus.

The dialogue between the rabbi Neusner and Ratzinger is revived in the pages of Jesus of Nazareth, and also afterward, as recounted by www.chiesa in an article from last June 11.

But Willam, on the other hand, is cited only once, at the beginning. And it then seems that there is no longer any trace of him in the book. But is that really the case?

In the latest issue of Vita e Pensiero, the magazine of the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart of Milan, an article has been published that solves the enigma.

Its author is the young theologian Philipp Reisinger, an Austrian like Willam.

He cites correspondence between Ratzinger and Willam from the 1960s, and brings to light how the two shared the conviction that the secret of great Christian theology - which is able to speak to more than just the erudite - is 'simplicity', it is 'a clear view of the essential'.

Simplicity and essentiality that Ratzinger wanted to imprint upon every page of his Jesus of Nazareth.

Here is (a translation of) the article that appeared in Vita e Pensiero, no. 3, 2007:

Ratzinger and the 'chaplain' theologian:
An unpublished correspondence

by Philipp Reisinger

The Austrian Franz Michel Willam is today certainly the least-known among the authors cited by Benedict XVI in the preface to his book Jesus of Nazareth.

Who was he? And why does the pope recall him? Only a few know about the correspondence, kept in the convent of Thalbach in Bregenz, Austria, between the university professor Joseph Ratzinger and Franz Michel Willam, who was 33 years older than him.

The two were in particularly close contact in the years 1967 and 1968. One of the reasons was the book by Willam Vom jungen Roncalli zum Papst Johannes XXIII [From the young Roncalli to Pope John XXIII], published in 1967, and the article by Ratzinger "Was heißt Erneuerung der Kirche?" [What does Church renewal mean?] which appeared a year earlier in the magazine Diakonia.

The latter text contains the words: "True reform is that which concerns itself with what is authentically Christian, which lets itself be stimulated and formed by this."

True reform and true renewal require simplicity. "Renewal is simplification": this is how Ratzinger effectively synthesized his thesis.

Willam, who had discovered and brought forth simplicity as the dominant idea in Pope John XXIII, presented in this way - in a letter to Bishop Paulus Rusch - what was for him the central passage in Ratzinger's article:

"The theory of simplicity finds in Joseph Ratzinger the following formulation: there exists the simplicity of comfort, which is the simplicity of imprecision, a lack of richness, life, and completeness. There also exists the simplicity of the origin, which is true richness. Renewal is simplicity, not in the sense of a selection or reduction, but rather a simplification in the sense of a becoming-simple, of moving toward that true simplicity which is the mystery of being."

On May 22, Willam wrote to Ratzinger:

"I have studied the concordances in the five volumes containing the discourses and documents of the pontificate. The words 'simple' and 'simplicity' are absolutely the most commonly occurring keywords. John XXIII certainly means these the same way you do: to study something in a precise way and ask the question, How must I express this so that the people may understand the result?"

"I have received your book on Pope John XXIII. I have already read parts of it, and I find it truly thrilling," was the reply from professor Ratzinger after he received the volume.

Ratzinger, as the new dean of the Theological Faculty of Tuebingen, wrote a long and particularly favorable review of Willam's book for Theologische Quartalschrift, no. 6, 1968:

"Without a doubt, this book can be described as the most important by far thus published to illuminate the figure of John XXIII. At the same time, it is of fundamental importance for understanding Vatican Council II. The book distinguishes itself well beyond the multitude of what has been written in these contexts, and does so through the completeness of its information and its highlighting of connections. ... The author, therefore, deserves unreserved thanks for his patient work, and not least because he was able to say so much in a limited space."

Willam was truly happy with this review, and he cited it in almost all of the letters that he wrote in the weeks after its publication. He wrote to one friend: "One gets the impression that in his argument, Ratzinger has in mind various dialogues that took place during Vatican Council II, including with non-Catholics like Oscar Cullmann."

Willam cultivated great admiration for professor Ratzinger, and asked him for advice in many areas, permitting himself to be corrected and counseled by him with simplicity, in spite of the significant age difference. In the letter already cited, from May 22, 1967, among other things he asked the professor for help with a publication concerning John Henry Newman, and concluded the missive with an emotional compliment:

"Because I do not know any theologian as close as you are to the thought of John XXIII - the common keyword 'simplicity' attests to this objectively - I address this request precisely to you."

Simplicity, which was so deeply decisive for Willam, is also expressed in the fact that he did not ever feel that he was called to formulate his own particular theology. He desired instead to read the signs of the times and to be a witness to the eternal in the context of all the changes that were taking place over the course of his life.

Here as well, there is a visible commonality with Ratzinger, who once asserted:

"I have never sought to found a particular system, a special theology. I intend simply to think together with the Church's faith, and this means above all thinking together with the great thinkers of the faith. This is not a matter of an isolated theology originating from myself, but rather of a theology that opens itself in the broadest way possible to the common journey of thought in the faith."

Franz Michel Willlam was born on June 14, 1894, in Schoppernau in the state of Vorarlberg. He was the son of a shoemaker and boatman, and so grew up in a simple context. He shared a name with his maternal grandfather, the patriotic poet Franz Michel Felder, and also a love for his homeland and people, a flair for writing and research, as well as a nearsightedness tending almost to blindness.

In 1917, Willam was ordained a priest in Brixen, and in 1921 he received a theology degree. After some pastoral experience, he was given the role of chaplain in Andelsbuch, where he was active as a pastor and scholar until his death on January 18, 1981.

Sought out and admired by many, the writer, scholar, and anthropologist always wanted to be called a 'chaplain', because this name expressed what he always wanted to be: a priest and pastor.

Willam lived a modest life among the people, profoundly rooted in the Catholic tradition. In spite of the fact that he lived in the isolated woodland of Bregenz, he remained in continual contact with the world of scholarly theology, and in particular with many Newman scholars.

He was capable of discussing mountain agriculture with the persons he met on his many walks, and also, in his study full of mountains of books, to read without problem authors in English, French, Spanish, Italian, Latin, and Greek without the help of a dictionary. He was as familiar with modern students of nature like Heisenberg as with Greek philosophers like Plato and Aristotle.

Among other things, Willam succeeded in demonstrating that the derivation of Newman's epistemology was much more Aristotelian than Platonic. This theory - which was at first strongly resisted by the experts - was later universally accepted, and the simple chaplain thus became a recognized specialist on Newman.

Willam's work embraces 33 books and 372 writings - poems, stories, essays, reviews - published in 79 different magazines.

The 1932 volume Das Leben Jesu im Lande und Volke Israels [The Life of Jesus in the Land and among the People of Israel], published in ten editions and translated into twelve languages, is his masterpiece, a real and true bestseller in its day, which made Willam famous internationally.

For the writing of this book, Willam studied Jewish history deeply, and, as an anthropologist, observed for many months the practices and customs in Palestine.

His 'Life of Jesus', written before the assertion of historical-critical exegesis of the Bible, does not address the question of the historicity of the Gospels or the various linguistic and idiomatic sources of Sacred Scripture. Its aim is purely and simply that of presenting to the reader the life of Jesus, and thus also his person, beginning from the Gospels, which he brings to life through the knowledge obtained by his anthropological studies.

When Willam speaks of Jesus, he is at the same time giving us a lesson on 'seeing' in the true sense of the word: he makes us see, feel, and perceive how the Lord lived and worked.

Willam was not a mere theoretician elaborating his thought independently from concrete events, and thus withdrawing progressively from reality. He did not write solely for a circle of specialists. His urgency was the religious formation of the people. This urgency was derived from his unique love for and closeness to the common man; he succeeded in uniting a lucid spirit with a straightforward and understandable language.

A biographer of Pope Benedict XVI has written: "Simplicity is part of his nature. Haughty detachment has never been his way, no matter how complex the theological problems facing him."

The fruit of simplicity is a clear view of the essential. And this is exactly what Willam shared with Ratzinger, who in citing him in the preface to Jesus of Nazareth justly spares him from oblivion.

The magazine of the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Milan, in which Philipp Reisinger's article was published:
> Vita e Pensiero

[Modificato da TERESA BENEDETTA 03/07/2007 23.41]
03/07/2007 21.16
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Utente Junior
Teresa, many thanks for sharing this article with us. I've never heard of Willam before I've seen his name in the Pope's JON. And nothing came of my good intentions to do some internet research on him. This article is very insightful and it will be interesting to read his book on the life of Jesus, written 75 years ago, if it is still available!


Crotchet, maybe the reason Willam has been ignored in the tidal wave of historico-critical exegesis is that, as a good Catholic writing in 1932, he was 'officially' not allowed to use that approach. And I get the impression from the essay that he preferred to present his Jesus as the Jesus of the Gospels, anyway. Therefore, his book would have been considered of 'no use' to the tribe of professional exegetes. But seeing as he wrote the book in the context of his anthropological research on the Palestine and the Judaism of Jesus's time, I wonder if, for instance, John Meier ever referenced him?

[Modificato da TERESA BENEDETTA 03/07/2007 23.34]
05/07/2007 21.13
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New book

Hello everyone,

this is the latest arrival to the German bookstores. The book covers a number of the Holy Father's catechesis during Wednesday's General Audiences regarding the early figures of Christianity up from when he began the cycle on 14 March 2006 until the audience of 14 February 2007. In all it comprises 32 catechesis.


[Modificato da @Andrea M.@ 05/07/2007 21.16]
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