on April 7, 2008
Based upon my initial reading of the text I can confirm that Ratzinger is indeed a theologian worth reckoning with. I am in the habit of marking up and highlighting books as I read them for future reference purposes - I should have simply highlighted the whole book and saved myself some time. Every page is filled with a lifetime's worth of insight and study from a man who clearly has a deep faith.
Ratzinger prefaces his book by explaining the purpose and methodology of his approach. The point of the book in his words "is solely an expression of my personal search "for the face of the Lord" which is to say Ratzinger's primary goal is to counter and possibly strip away much of the obscuring darkness that has ironically covered Christ as a result of 40 years of historical Jesus scholarship. Ratzinger employs primarily Canonical criticism methods in his approach but also draws on (or tries to extend) the historical critical approach and in doing so he readily acknowledges the limitations of both (particularly historical criticism).
The obvious question for any reader of this book, particularly those who stand outside of Catholicism, is - how accessible is this to non-Catholic readers? The first hint that the book is a broadly readable work comes in the forward when Ratzinger states 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." The brilliance of this statement of course is that it removes and acknowledges papal authority all at once, not unlike the apostle Paul telling believers when it is his opinion apart from God's divine inspiration speaking and then leaving it to puzzled believers to try to understand what God meant by enshrining Paul's "opinions" in the canon of scripture. It may be that Ratzinger was smiling when he wrote the statement.
Apart from the initial qualifier there are very few allusions to the papacy and reading as an evangelical pastor I found nothing overtly contradictory to my own theology (such as it is).
The reader is led through the life of Christ as portrayed in the Gospels and with the assumption that the clearest most accurate portrayal of Jesus comes only when they are acknowledged. Ratzinger affirms that not only must the Gospels be a part of any search for the "real" Christ but the whole of scripture must be a part as well, only from the perspective of faith. With these rules of engagement in place the book itself is meant for the believer and may be seen as "foolishness to the Greeks" as it were. Ratzinger is comfortable with this.
As Ratzinger follows and presents Jesus' life in light of His major discourses (Baptism, Temptation, Sermon on the Mount, etc) he interprets them in light of the Old Testament. Further to this the reader notices that he also interprets the Old Testament in light of Jesus - Christologically. From this point Ratzinger then presents us with an interpretation of history Christologically - and not simply history post-Christ but all of history. In this way Ratzinger redeems and shows how Christ is not challenged by previous cultural mythologies that in certain ways resemble His story. Christ in fact redeems and completes these mythologies which are revealed to be incomplete and shadowy prefigurings of Himself. For Ratzinger then, the only proper way to interpret Christ is through a Christological reading of scripture and history, or more plainly put - that when we interpret scripture and history in light of Christ we interpret Christ correctly and see the Father in Him and He in the Father. From this point we can then see ourselves in Christ (or where we should be).
Ratzinger is not restricted to Catholic sources but draws upon a very broad list including the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (TDNT) and authors as diverse as C.S. Lewis and Rabbi Jacob Neusner (whose writings Ratzinger brilliantly turns on their head to support his own argument for Christ's divinity).
As the reader winds their way through the text Ratzinger continually shows the harmony of the synoptic Gospels with the Gospel of John and finally with all of scripture in terms of affirming the divinity of Christ - this is what he is most concerned with, that the reader come away with a clear, biblical picture of Christ as God (and in the process a reaffirmed image of the Trinity).
There are no end of great quotes to draw from the text that demonstrate Ratzinger's faith and understanding; here are a few that I appreciate:
"Where is post-Easter faith supposed to have come from if Jesus laid no foundation for it before Easter?"
"It is only in God and in light of God that we rightly know man (sic). Any self-knowledge that restricts man to the empirical and the tangible fails to engage with man's true depth. Man knows himself only when he learns to understand himself in light of God, and he knows others only when he sees the mystery of God in them."
"It is not the Scripture experts, those who are professionally concerned with God, who recognize Him; They are too caught up in the intricacies of their detailed knowledge. Their great learning distracts them from simply gazing upon the whole, upon the reality of God as He reveals Himself - for people who know so much about the complexity of the issues, it seems that it just cannot be so simple."
Once again there is a deep sense of irony in the above quote but by this point the reader is certain that Ratzinger is conscious of this and perhaps intentionally employs it.
As the reader approaches the end of the book they will realize that they have been presented with a redeemed image of Christ. Ratzinger fittingly weaves the text to a final interpretation of Christ's use of the phrase "I Am" and the profound implications in terms of His equality with God and ultimately His nature as God. The final sentence of the book reminds the reader of the Nicene Creed's agreement with this reading and with the statement of Peter from Matthew 16:16:
"You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."
Overall the book is inspired and brilliant. It serves as a new commentary on the nature of Christ and as such takes its place alongside other such works. A warning to readers - this is not an exceptionally accessible book as it presumes a fair foundation in theological terms and some basic Greek.
Credit needs to go to Adrian J. Walker who translated the text from the original German to English. Walker does a wonderful job in that the reader does not feel his presence at all.
A final note to the non-Catholic reader who is concerned about the author's Catholic perspective. It is wise to approach this book (and all books frankly) with a critical eye. This book is not written by just anyone but the spiritual leader of more than 1 billion people. This same leader who as pope has reaffirmed Latin Mass and Catholic doctrine which at the very least presents any person outside of Catholicism as incomplete in the faith and any church outside of papal authority as broken and out of communion with Christ (see the Catholic church document Dominus Iesus, authored by Ratzinger when he was Cardinal and head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith). This doctrine certainly comes through on occasion (as it must for obvious reasons) as we have seen in the forward comment regarding the magesterium as well as later in the text when Ratzinger interprets the "upon this rock" verse from Matthew as establishing initial church leadership and authority on Peter rather than as a reference to faith itself and its substance. These instances are exceptions however and barely make up a footnote in the primary message which is the reliability of scripture in providing us with a clear historically accurate picture of who Christ is.
I would recommend this book to anyone seeking to gain an accurate picture of Christ, to deepen their understanding of Jesus or simply desiring to develop their own interpretive skills. It is clearly a work of faith leaving the reader enriched and with the feeling that this work is merely the preface for the main act to come.
on January 24, 2008
OK, let me start by saying that I am going to rate this one an A+. But let me also state that it is NOT simply because I am a Catholic priest, and this book is written by the Pope. In his introduction, Pope Benedict wrote:
It goes without saying that this book is in no way an exercise of the magisterium, but solely an expression of my personal search "for the face of the Lord"...Everyone is free, then, to contradict me.
"Fair enough," I thought, and I decided then and there that I was going to review this book as critically as I would any other. As a quick survey of my reviews would show, I am tough to please. And so, from the start of my reading this book I took careful margin notes (as I always do), looking for the good, the bad, and the ugly. About a third of the way through, though, I knew this one was going to get a rating somewhere in the A-range, simply from the experience itself of reading the book. For as I read it, I would find myself drifting off from the text into prayer and contemplation. I found myself falling in love with Christ all over again, growing closer to him in a way that seemed almost tangible. Any book that can do that, I figure, deserves an "A".
Please don't misunderstand, this did not happen at every paragraph. There are parts of the book that can be very dry and technical, and to be sure your average reader needs to have a strong background in the Bible and in Christian theology to "get" everything the book has to offer. But in this book, one does not need to sift a lot of textual sand to find literary gems. At times, Pope Benedict amazes with the depth of theological insight, which just makes the story and person of Jesus come alive. At other times, he shares the depth of his faith and devotion to Christ, and the reader finds himself discovering a Person that Benedict clearly not only knows, but loves. To put it simply, this book is one of the clearest examples of *theology* that I have ever found, and "theology" understood in the proper sense as "faith seeking understanding". Pope Benedict is clearly intelligent -- that much we all already knew -- but in his book it becomes clear that his intelligence is clearly at the service of something -- or, more accurately, Someone -- far greater. He is tracing a path for all theologians and persons of faith -- for theologians, that they never forget the faith that drives their quest to understand, and for everyone else, that they might discover how the use of reason does not diminish faith, but can strengthen and deepen it.
I believe that Jesus of Nazareth is particularly significant for two reasons. First of all, it is going to spark a HUGE debate within the exegetical community about HOW to do Biblical study. Pope Benedict regularly compares modern Biblical scripture scholars with the -- ahem -- the scribes and Pharisees and Sadducees of Jesus' day. Not all, of course, simply those who undertake to study the Bible without considering that it is actually inspired by the Holy Spirit and so has only one true Author. He regularly points out what he considers major flaws and shortcomings in some elements of their method, and is essentially issuing a call for the Church to once again rediscover the field of Biblical theology as distinct from exegesis -- so as to rescue Biblical theology, you might say, from those who sometimes seem they can only see the trees and not the forest. Pope Benedict has thrown down the gauntlet to the exegetes of the world to show how their rational conclusions are genuinely "theological", springing from faith and leading back to it.
The second major impact that this book will have, in my opinion, is within the Protestant community, particularly the Evangelicals. Two things come out crystal clear within Jesus of Nazareth: the Pope knows and loves the Bible, and the Pope knows and loves Jesus. Protestants struggling with the the interpretations of classical liberal Protestant exegesis are going to find this book a safe harbour for their Biblical faith. Of course, a key issue they will face is that this is a Catholic harbour (you don't get much more Catholic than a book written by a Pope!) -- but it will be more than just "any port in a storm". I think the Evangelical Protestant community is going to discover that Pope Benedict is a true brother in Christ, and this will cause a lot of barriers and prejudices to be dropped. I expect great things to happen in Catholic-Protestant relations thanks to this book.
on June 25, 2008
Pope Benedict's Jesus of Nazareth may well be one of the most important papal documents of all time. That is partly because that it is not what we would normally classify as a papal document. The pope himself says Jesus of Nazareth is a personal reflection, not an exercise of papal authority. It is, however, a personal reflection written by perhaps the most profound thinker of our era, one who draws on an enormous range and depth of scholarship and synthesizes it in a manner accessible to an educated reader.
The current pope made a splash more than 20 years ago with The Ratzinger Report. While his views have remained fundamentally the same, The Ratzinger Report was a tour de force compared with the gentleness and erudition of Jesus of Nazareth. In this new book, the pope does what should be the main task of every spiritual shepherd - he draws us into a living relationship and deeper understanding of the mission and ministry of Jesus Christ.
In his reflection on the temptations Christ faced in the desert, for example, Pope Benedict contrasts two views of the messiah - first, the messiah as one who establishes an earthly paradise and the second as the messiah who is the suffering servant.
The pope finds it striking that immediately after Jesus is baptized in the Jordan - where he receives the mantle of messiah - the Spirit's first command is for him to go into the desert and be tempted. In the third temptation, which the pope sees as the fundamental one, the devil leads Jesus up a high mountain "and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in their glory. `All these,' he said, `I will give you, if you will only fall down and do me homage'" (Matthew 4:8-9). Jesus, of course, rejects the temptation and the splendour earthly kingdoms bring with them.
"This is not the sort of splendour that belongs to the kingdom of Christ," the pope writes. "His kingdom grows through the humility of the proclamation in those who agree to become his disciples . . .". The Church must avoid being tied to any political kingdom, he says. "For the fusion of faith and political power always comes at a price: faith becomes the servant of power and must bend to its criteria."
This is a sharp division the pope draws between faith and worldly power, one much sharper than that of the Second Vatican Council that urged the laity to permeate the world with the spirit of the Gospel. Nevertheless, the call to humility and avoidance of power-seeking that Pope Benedict sees as the core of the messiahship of Jesus is irrefutably central to the Gospel. He goes on to ask what we who want to follow Jesus should do. The answer is to live lives of faith, hope and love. "It is only because of our hardness of heart that we think this is too little."
Joseph Ratzinger has made these arguments previously. What is most unique about the book Jesus of Nazareth are the little insights into the Gospel that pop up page after page and that give colour and depth to his portrait of Jesus. The pope offers an opportunity to journey with him to a deeper understanding of our Lord and Saviour. A reflective reading of his book cannot help but lead us to a closer relationship with Jesus. It is not an opportunity to pass by.
on July 29, 2007
I am about a third of the way through this book, as two or three pages a day is plentiful spiritual food. This book shines a light on the Gospel Jesus. Pope Benedict's gifts of love, wisdom, knowledge, faith and hope gently illuminate the Saviour. At times reading it I am moved to holy tears, in gratitude and joy. It is a work of divine mercy and grace. Pope Benedict is a beautiful writer. Please read this book. It is a gift to the soul.
I have been an avid reader of many books by Cardinal Ratzinger, now pope Benedict. His approach to theological, social, and cultural issues of today is very closely aligned with my own, and in his works I find a very insightful foundation for the intellectual exploration of those issues. However, compared to most other books that he authored, this one comes across very differently. This is a much more personal and accessible account of the person and life of Jesus of Nazareth. Scholarly understanding is still there, but it is somewhat pushed to the background and given way to the more immediate access to the founder of Christian faith. In the light of that, it is perhaps best to understand this book as an extended homily. One of the main themes of this homily is a reaffirmation of orthodox understanding of Jesus Christ. There is a whole cottage industry of books that try to undermine this view of Jesus, and the pope would have none of it.
This book was started before Benedict became the pope, and he continued the work on it during the first two years of his pontificate. It is inspiring and admirable to see such a sharpness of mind in an octogenarian. The book, however, has been without the inclusion of the passion and infancy narratives. The pope has expressed a hope to be able to finish those parts as the time permits. We can all hope that God gives him strength and good health in the years to come, so we can be enriched for yet another spiritual gem.
on October 29, 2008
Other reviewers have written extensively about the contents of this book, and so I will just give you my response to it.
I found it to be clearly written, although at times certain passages needed to be re-read to gain a fuller understanding. It opened to me a deeper appreciation of Jesus of the Gospels, and many new insights. I found it inspiring and, although one cannot rush through it, a real page-turner. I hated to set it aside, though it is so rich that a small amount of reading each day gives one plenty to mull over.
I enjoyed it so much, I can hardly wait for the next volume. In the meantime, many chapters deserve re-reading. This book is bound to be a classic.
on March 5, 2008
The chapter on the Lords prayer alone had so many profound insights...talk about meat..this is filet mignon. You'll never just rattle off the "Our Father" again!
on February 8, 2011
This is an excellent book for those who love the Bible. Pope Benedict is quite at home in the Scriptures and reaches all through the Old asnd New Testaments to make his arguments. His train of thought is quite logical, and it is delightful to see various parts of the Bible throw light on the story of Jesus as recorded in the Gospels. Since I had read some negative reviews of this book before reading it, I was very delighted by its good quality. Naturally, Pope Benedict presents the orthodox view of the Scriptures, which is not palatable to modern, liberal minds. I still do not find Pope Benedict's argumentation heavy-handed, but quite well balanced, allowing for various possibilities. By his own words, he searches for his own perspective on Jesus of Nazareth, and arrives at quite a convincing picture. I was actually thrilled to read this book.
on September 4, 2007
I loved Pope John Paul II and his writings. At the time of his death I mourned with many others. The big question was "Who could replace him?" Then came Pope Benedict XVI. Wow! Now, I'm not saying he is any better than John Paul II. I do say, however, that he is the next, logical step in the History of Salvation and the Church. One of John Paul's themes towards the end was "finding the Face of the Lord". Pope Benedict XVI continues that theme in "Jesus of Nazereth". John Paul II posed the question; Pope Benedict takes it to the next level. The Face of the Lord shines brightly in this magnificent book. Here, we see the qualities that make him a great teacher, beyond reproach. His knowledge of Sacred Scripture silences those self-proclaimed Television Evangelists who think they know more about the Bible than the Pope does. They "forget" that the Bible is a Catholic Book. Sadly, they have mislead many others who think the Catholic Church is not a "Bible-Believing Church" How wrong they are. We own the copyright. A people in darkness have seen a great light.
on March 4, 2013
Better than expected the used copy was new-like ! I can't imagine that anyone had read it befor I bought it. Good Lenten reading.