Born in 1927 in Germany as Joseph Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI has been head of the Roman Catholic Church since April 2005. A prolific author, theologian and university professor, Ratzinger served as an "expert" at the Second Vatican Council, and was tapped in 1977 by Pope Paul VI to lead the German Archdiocese of Munich and Freising. In 1981, Pope John Paul II called him to Rome to head the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, where he served until his papal election.
The Pope, by his very position, tends to be a polarizing agent. From a young age, I caught whispers of Antichrist conspiracy theories in throwaway Christian tracts. Later, I read Morris West's unsurpassed "Shoes of the Fisherman," and discovered a wholly honorable and thought-provoking aspect of the Pope's position. With these warring extremes in mind, I simply had to read "Jesus of Nazareth" for myself, to discover if Benedict XVI was bringing anything new or worthwhile to the table of spiritual discussion.
To my pleasant surprise, I found this statement in the book's foreward: "it struck me as the most urgent priority to present the figure and the message of Jesus...and so to help foster the growth of a living relationship with him." Indeed, the rest of this tome does revolve around the divinity of Jesus and how that applies in our present times, both personally and publicly. While referring often to Church fathers and tradition, Benedict XVI addresses liberal theology's questions, as well as some of Nietzsche's dilemmas. He goes even further, addressing the real issues of the human heart in our modern age.
In a erudite manner, "Jesus of Nazareth" provides a text full of deep thinking and honest wrestling, while remaining accessible and immensely readable. It circles the central issues of Jesus' identity and message, puts out the fires with patient confidence, then hones in on biblical truth. He builds New Testament passages on Old Testament understanding, shows immense respect for Judaism, and offers a worldwide view of Christ's redemptive message. Although I still have issues with some of Catholicism's structural tenets (unwed priests, for example), I can find nothing but solid Christian doctrine in this book. If it's true that things trickle down from the top, then this is a good sign for a large portion of Christ's figurative Bride on earth.
A few months ago someone asked me what book I would recommend that they give to their adult children who no longer practiced the faith, without hesitation I named this book as the one. At the time I had only read some excerpts available online from Germany and Italy. It was an act of faith then, now that I have the book I know that my recommendation was justified. This is a great book, magisterial (even though the pope doesn't want it thought of in that way). It is not just another book about Jesus, it a revolutionary book about Jesus...in that it recaptures why people have had their lives changed by their belief in Jesus for over 2,000 years. What makes this book so special? It is like a modern Summa (those who know St. Thomas Aquinas will understand me here) in that it answers modern questions of doubt, skepticism and even inquiry on not only who Jesus is, but why Jesus is the most important person anyone has ever or can ever know. The pope's methodology is to take a scene from the Bible, like the Lord's baptism and then to draw on that scene from the entire Bible, to show what modern scholarship has done to help us to understand the historical context of the scene, tell us how the early Church fathers interpreted the scene, how would it have been viewed in Judaism (he uses the reflections of a Rabbi when discussing the Sermon on the Mount) and then to give the reader the meaning of this event for them. Along the way he answers questions to the many objections modern people bring to their encounter with Jesus. As someone who has studied theology for a number of years and been exposed to every screwball theology out there, I found this book to be a corrective lens to refocus and correct my vision of who Jesus is and what following him means.Read more ›
Exactly how do you go about reviewing a book by a scripture scholar and theologian of the magnitude of the Holy Father? Well the task is easier than I thought it would be. For one this isn't a book addressed to a limited audience of scripture scholars and exegetes, but one that everybody can benefit from. I have read several of his books and I found this one the easiest to read. I am tempted to say something as cliche as "If you only read one book this year ..." if I didn't find this phrase personally quite scary and I suspect the Holy Father would have the same view on this.
"Jesus of Nazareth" is not a life of Jesus in the style of Romano Guardini's "The Lord", Frank Sheed's "To know Christ Jesus", or Archbishop Sheen's "Life of Christ." The Pope does not set to piece together the Gospels and present the story of Christ in specific chronological order. After the foreword and introduction the first of ten chapters deals with the Baptism of the Lord and ends with the Transfiguration and discussion of Son of Man, Son of God and Jesus' I Am statements. After reading the introduction and getting to the last chapter I was surprised to find that it is obvious that the Holy Father will be continuing the subject in a subsequent book. He mentions a part two in the introduction and I had originally thought that this was a delineation in his current book.
The main part of the book runs 358 pages and over the four days I read it I stayed up late into the night because I did not want to stop reading it. The foreword and introduction covers information such as his approach in writing this book and how problematic many previous works attempting to get at the "real Jesus" have been in the past.Read more ›