Christian Books

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Jesus of Nazareth - Part 2 by Pope Benedict XVI

Jesus of Nazareth: Part 2.
Holy Week: From the Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection
Joseph Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI
San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2011
362 pages

Who might this book interest? There are many different audiences that this work may interest. First, I believe that this book should be of interest to anyone who wants to know more about Jesus of Nazareth. Second, any Christian that desires to deepen their devotion to Jesus Christ. Lastly, this work will interest academics, specifically with a focus to Jesus scholarship and hermeneutical method. This work provides a seminal hermeneutic method that incorporates both scholarship and devotion. For all who read this work, Pope Benedict provides an account of Jesus Christ that goes far beyond his unquestionable scholarship to a personal encounter with Jesus Christ.

My Rating: 9 out of 10

Quick Summary: It seems to me that there is always a dilemma when a pope writes a book. In the circles from which I find myself, books written by popes simply cannot be considered scholarly, yet many popes were scholars before they ever became pope. I never would have known the scholarly and deeply Christian philosophy of Karol Wojtyla had he not become Pope John Paul II. In the same way, I do not know if I would have ever read Joseph Ratzinger had he not become Pope Benedict XVI. Both were academics and university professors long before they became pope.

Joseph Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI, served as a professor of theology for many years before coming to Rome to serve as the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and eventually, as the Roman Pontiff. He is theologically conservative and has written numerous academic articles and books over the course of his long academic career. This book, while not an academic work, shows both the depth of his scholarship as well as his deep devotion to Jesus Christ.

In nine chapters, Pope Benedict covers Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem to his Resurrection. From the foreword, he seeks to present the man and message of Jesus Christ with a view toward our personal relationship to Jesus. Also, he provides an example of a hermeneutical approach of faith and history. In his Scripture study of Jesus of Nazareth, he works out this scholarly, informed hermeneutic before us.

In mentioning the duration of Jesus’ life that this book covers, I want to make several observations about this work. First, there is no doubt that a lifetime of study and scholarship has been incorporated into this work. While it is not an academic work, and Ratzinger will sometimes back away from those academic-type discussions, he clearly has interacted with them and provides his solution to critical issues raised by various scholars. Second, with my context being limited to a North American, I found that I was often unfamiliar with some of the continental scholars that he refers too. Yet, I felt that this broadened my perspective and invites me to further reading and study.

Several further remarks should be made.  This work draws deeply from both Scripture and the early church fathers. Ratzinger is a world-class theologian, and this can be seen in his interpretation of Scripture as well as his theology of Jesus that develops throughout this work. He meticulously shows how in himself, Jesus, transformed the early church’s understanding of the Old Testament and ends the Temple worship. He develops before us a genuinely orthodox Christology.  YET, it is a devotional work. His insights are not just “heady” intellectual observations, but he applies them to the life of faith. Obviously, his intent is to draw the believer closer in their personal relationship to Jesus Christ.

Evangelical Assessment: There are several observations for evangelicals. For the most part, evangelicals will find this work interesting and supportive of much of their own perspective of Jesus Christ and Scripture.

Pope Benedict takes a positive, academic view toward the historical-critical method, but he does not endorse much of its trajectory nor does he accept many of its conclusions. I was impressed as to how he utilized insights from it as well as dealt with various textual issues that arose from it.  At times, these did move outside of the scope of this book, and he did not deal with them, but by and large, his incorporation and intelligent use of the historical-critical method from the standpoint of a believing scholar was impressive.

Some evangelicals may feel squeamish when he speaks of baptism and the Eucharist. In a work by a Catholic scholar on Jesus Christ, especially one that discusses the Last Supper and feetwashing, what else would you expect? Obviously, these are acutely and theologically connected to Jesus Christ, and as he considers the person and work of Jesus Christ, these will be brought into the discussion. While most evangelicals do not construct their theology of these in the manner of Catholic theology, many evangelicals do consider them sacraments (and many of evangelicals who do not consider them sacraments have named themselves after one of them and practice it like a sacrament!!!) and can gain insights from this work.  I believe that this is a work of great depth and devotion that all Christians may benefit from.

For some of the biographical information, I consulted Wikipedia’s article: Pope Benedict XVI:

Ratzinger, Joseph. Pope Benedict XVI. Jesus of Nazareth: Part 2. Holy Week: From the Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2011.

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