Friday, October 5, 2007


Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) and I did not get off on the right foot. He was in my doghouse immediately with his "Rock music is so completely antithetical to the Christian concept of redemption and freedom, indeed its exact opposite. Hence music of this type must be excluded from the Church on principle."

From there he started to work his way back a little with his iron-fisted unwillingness to pander to other religions and to the spiritually relativistic. I kind of liked the last pope (the friendly one), and I'm warming up to this pope (the mean one).

JESUS OF NAZARETH is, in his own words, Benedict's "personal search for the face of the Lord." This is part one, and covers Jesus' life from his Baptism to the Transfiguration; part two will cover the infancy narratives and post-Transfiguration. Benedict wanted to get this out in case he died in the meantime, and says as much in his foreword.

The book, seventy years in the making, is part commentary, part exegesis. While it is not ponderous or dry, it does assume a certain degree of scholarship and familiarity with the Gospels on the part of the reader. Something I particularly appreciate is how Benedict picks out certain nuances from different Evangelists, focusing on their unique themes. Benedict is, as one might expect, a fairly conservative theologian; there is not a whiff of liberal scholarship here. Nor is there more than token Catholic theology to which a Protestant such as I might take offense, and it does not detract at all.

The book covers Jesus' baptism, the temptations of Jesus, the gospel of the Kingdom of God, the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord's Prayer, the disciples, parables, the principal images of John's gospel, Peter's confession and the Transfiguration, and the identity of Jesus.

In the chapter on the Sermon on the Mount, Benedict discusses the Beatitudes, the Torah of the Messiah ("You have heard that it was said…but I say to you…, the dispute concerning the Sabbath, the Fourth Commandment, and compromise and prophetic radicalism). Interesting insight here on Jesus as the new Moses. The Lord's Prayer he breaks down line by line. In his discussion of parables, he discusses their nature and purpose, and covers the Good Samaritan, the Prodigal Son (which he re-terms "The parable of the two brothers (the prodigal son and the son who remained at home) and the good father"), and the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. In his chapter on John, he focuses on the imagery of water, vine/wine, bread, and the shepherd. In his chapter on Jesus' identity, Benedict covers "Son of Man", "Son", and "I Am".

I did not get far into this book before I started to get excited about it. There is interesting, insightful commentary on every page. It should go without saying, I suppose, since he's the pope, but the expertise here is refreshing, as are the solid hermeneutics and the utter lack of anything stupid. The reader gets the sense that this is personal for Benedict, not just for scholarship's sake, but because he is as deeply interested as we in what he finds.