Top positive review
15 people found this helpful
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.