Thursday, March 10, 2011

Review of "Jesus Of Nazareth - Volume II" by Pope Benedict XVI

I was given an advance copy of Pope Benedict's new book Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week
My review is below:

Pope Benedict XVI's second volume of Jesus of Nazareth has been released today. In it the Pope covers the time from Jesus' entrance into Jerusalem until the time of his Resurrection. His purpose for writing the book is stated in the introduction:
I have attempted to develop a way of observing and listening to the Jesus of the Gospels that can indeed lead to personal encounter and that, through collective listening with Jesus’ disciples across the ages, can indeed attain sure knowledge of the real historical figure of Jesus.
This encounter with Jesus is achieved through a unique analysis of the Biblical text. Benedict is trying to change the way in which Biblical scholars and theologians dive into the text and help shift Biblical studies toward a more intimate portrayal of Christ.

The current state of biblical studies in most of Christianity is still heavily dependent upon the historical-critical method of study. This method is really a compilation of various methods of trying to look into the past to examine the Biblical text in light of what we know about them during the time they were written. It tries to understand, as best as can be done, what the human authors of Scripture understood about the world, culture, themselves, God, etc. to draw out the meaning of the text.

Benedict XVI stated in volume I that the method is limited in what it can do for us, because it remains a method which leaves "the biblical word in the past". It also does not approach the text with the eyes of faith, but with a critical eye. This means that it is very limited in the scope of what it can do for us and it cannot bring us to a real encounter with a God who comes to us as a Living Word today.

Because of these limitations inherent to the historical-critical method, the Pope believes it has "yielded its essential fruit", even while it is indispensably helpful for a study of the Bible.

With this in mind, Benedict sets out to help us see the historical figure of Christ through the eyes of faith. This faith should be informed by the historicity of the Gospels, but never devoid of seeing Christ as He should properly be seen - not merely a figure of the past, but someone who is alive and present to us today. This takes faith.

While I believe the Pope achieved his goal, to a certain extent, in the first volume. I also believe he has done a better job of drawing us toward the face of Christ in the second volume. This is a great challenge, because so many things have already been written through the centuries about Jesus, as He is described in the Gospels. But, this unique approach of bringing together the wisdom of the Church's study of the Bible alongside a faithful and intimate portrait of Christ is a real achievement.

In addition to bringing about this new way of reading the Gospels, Benedict hasn't avoided the tough questions that arise when we read the Gospel accounts of Christ's life. He directly answers them and his answers are lucid and his style of writing will be readable for most people. One of the best sections is Chapter 4 - The High Priestly Prayer. In this chapter Benedict gives insights which opened up new horizons to me in understanding this difficult part of John's Gospel. One passage in particular stands out. In this passage he ties together the prayer for unity, the Jewish Feast of Atonement, the mission of the Church, and the Cross.
If we take one last look back over the whole of the prayer for unity, we can say that the founding of the Church takes place during this passage, even though the word Church does not appear. For what else is the Church, if not the community of disciples who receive their unity through faith in Jesus Christ as the one sent by the Father and are drawn into Jesus’ mission to lead the world toward the recognition of God—and in this way to redeem it?

The Church is born from Jesus’ prayer. But this prayer is more than words; it is the act by which he “sanctifies” himself, that is to say, he “sacrifices” himself for the life of the world. We can also put it the other way around: in this prayer, the cruel event of the Cross becomes “word”, it becomes the Feast of Atonement between God and the world. From here the Church emerges as the community of those who believe in Christ on the strength of the Apostles’ word (cf. 17:20). (101-102)
I have been blessed to a large number of Benedict's writings, but during his time as Pope and before. This is one of the best of the bunch.

I give the book a rating of 5 stars out of 5.

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