132 of 140 people found the following review helpful
In his previous two volumes of his "Jesus of Nazareth," Pope Benedict XVI showed his academic background and writing abilities as he was able to craft books that would appeal to scholars and general readers alike. In his third volume, a look at the infancy narratives, Benedict continues to make books that are accessible to readers of various backgrounds and, more importantly, offer them new insights into the Gospels.
In tackling the infancy narratives of Matthew and Luke, Benedict is treading over familiar ground. But Benedict is able to offer a refreshing look at the subject while still defending traditional Christian teachings and holding his ground against the likes of the Jesus Seminar. Benedict is also able to call upon a wealth of material--other Gospels, theologians both ancient and modern, the Old Testament, Jewish and Roman chronicles and other sources. Flipping through the bibliography reminds readers that Benedict is a master of several languages. While the book will probably not convert readers who do not accept the divinity of Jesus Christ to Christianity, this book will reinforce Christians in their beliefs.
Benedict is solid on looking at the main story of course. But he also offers thoughtful portraits on Joseph and Mary; an interesting breakdown on the differences between the genealogies offered by Matthew and Luke; a contrast between Gabriel's messages to Zechariah and Mary; a look at the finding of Jesus in the Temple; a glance at the slaughter of the innocents and flight into Egypt; a fine sketch of King Herod; and a solid overview of the magi and the star they followed. It's these moments where Benedict truly shines some new light on the familiar accounts. Benedict shows some hints about the Passion that readers may have never picked up on.
It's an amazing book despite being much shorter than the other two volumes of the series. Benedict continues to astound with his abilities to teach and appeal to readers with various backgrounds. As Advent approaches, Benedict has offered the world a wonderful Christmas gift in his third volume of "Jesus of Nazareth." Highest recommendation.
71 of 78 people found the following review helpful
"Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives" is the concluding volume in Pope Benedict's trilogy on Jesus of Nazareth. It is the slimmest of the three books, but it's presented at the same level of accessible scholarship that characterizes the other two books in the trilogy. It is a work that is simultaneously scholarly and yet highly inspirational, and it's written with Benedict's characteristic thoughtfulness and sincerity.
Pope benedict addresses all the main points of the infancy narratives - the genealogies, the annunciation of the birth of John the Baptist, the annunciation to Mary, the conception and the birth of Jesus, virgin birth, the Wise Men form the east, and the epilogue of the twelve-year-old Jesus in the Temple. The book is written in Pope Benedict's characteristic manner of combining critical scholarship and biblical exegesis with the fidelity to the essential trustworthiness and truthfulness of the Scripture. People familiar with Pope Benedict's writing will know to expect a keen and refined intellect that is equally at ease at Biblical exegesis, theological reflection, and pastoral exhortations. Pope moves effortlessly between critical and insightful exegesis, highly developed theology, and effective and imminent preaching. He tries to discern the authors' motives and intentions when writing particular passages, and yet he never dismisses any piece of narrative as naïve an quaint as many of the more "enlightened" biblical scholars these days are all to eager to do.
Catholic Church is truly blessed to have in the person of Pope Benedict all the virtues and functions that it aspires to manifest and carry out corporally as an institution. Pope's writing is very lucid and accessible, but it demands a certain level of familiarity with the more nuanced details of the Gospel narratives. Even though there are numerous scriptural quotations throughout the book I find that having a copy of the Bible on the side to be very useful. Sometimes it is important to look up the entire passage or the chapter from which the quote is taken. The translation that is used in this book is RSV, but any other popular English translation will do.
Even though he is an eminent theologian and leader of the over billion strong Catholic Church, Pope Benedict at no point uses his own eminent status to impose his views on the reader. He engages in a scholarly dialogue with other theologians and exegetes, and many of his statements are laced with qualifications. He comes across as someone who relishes intellectual vibrancy that may lead reasonable well-informed people to conclusions that are different from his own. He aims to persuade his readers by the reasonableness of his views, and not by the authority of his office or the scholarly accomplishments.
This book was published a few weeks before the Advent 2012, and it gives a good opportunity for all Christians to reflect on the profound mysteries of incarnation of Son of God. Of all Christian holy days, Christmas has been the most distorted though in the eyes of the popular culture. Every year it falls to faithful Christians to resist the temptations of the consumerist culture and try to remove themselves to a quiet place from where they can contemplate the true essence of Jesus's birth and infancy. The Gospel writers' main aim when composing the infancy narratives was to answer one simple yet profound question: who is Jesus and where does he come from? The answer to this question is equally profound and momentous for our lives as Christians. In meditating on it we can hopefully get one step closer to understanding the mystery that is Jesus Christ and how it affects our lives. Pope Benedict's book may not be the definitive answer to that question, but it is certainly as good as the best such answers in the two millennia of Christianity.
As mentioned before, this is a very short book - 144 pages in the printed form (I have read the Kindle edition). It is a very quick read and can easily be read in one sitting, or in two hours at the most. However, the depth and intimacy of this book would be best appreciated if it's read slowly and with the appreciation for all the nuances of the arguments it offers.
There are some indications that this might be the last major book written by Pope Benedict XVI. I certainly hope that this is not the case. The World needs constant evangelization, and a person of his sensibility, intellect, and courage is an important and powerful voice.
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on December 5, 2012
(excerpted from my review published on Dec. 4, 2012, on Zenit.org) In completing his literary series on Jesus of Nazareth, Benedict XVI seals one of his finest and perhaps most enduring gifts to the Church.
Because of the timeless newness to these inimitable reflections, our coheirs to the kingdom will doubtless be reading these volumes long after we are in our tombs. With the second installment of the Jesus of Nazareth series, Pope Benedict gave Catholics plenty of food for thought for the Lenten season. His third installment similarly gives much for meditation for Advent. ...
Some in the media seemed flummoxed that the Pope would affirm Catholic belief in the virgin birth. Ironically, they prove a point he makes in that section of the book: "There are two moments in the story of Jesus when God intervenes directly in the material world: the virgin birth and the resurrection from the tomb ... These two moments are a scandal to the modern spirit" (p. 56). The virgin birth is a great mystery that not only reveals the identities of Jesus and Mary, but God himself. It gets to the heart of the question of Jesus' divine origin and of the power of God over the material world. Christ's origins are inextricably tied with his mother. And the miraculous virgin birth is an important testament to his divine origin. His reflections on this topic counteract the modernist reductionism that removes the miraculous from the narrative of salvation history.
The book starts off with a beautiful Christological reflection on the known and unknown origin of Jesus. Pope Benedict compares the genealogies of Matthew and Luke, bringing out their theological value, in Matthew's case, and eschatological value, in Luke's. Turning to the Gospel of John, the Pope points out that Jesus is the Eternal Word of the Father; "Jesus is, so to speak, the tent of meeting" (p. 11).
The name of Jesus, Paul tells us, is the name at which every knee must bend (cf. Phil 2:5-11). The Pope points out that his name means, "YHWH is salvation" and that the angel says Jesus "will save his people from their sins." About Christ's divinely given name, the Pope says, "On the one hand, then, a lofty theological task is assigned to the child, for only God can forgive sins. So this child is immediately associated with God, directly linked with God's holy and saving power. On the other hand, though, this definition of the Messiah's mission could also appear disappointing. ... The promise of forgiveness of sins seems both too little and too much: too much because it trespasses upon God's exclusive sphere; too little, because there seems to be no thought of Israel's concrete suffering or its true need for salvation" (pp. 42-43).
Many in Israel thought that the Messiah would lead a political uprising, thus restoring the kingship of Israel. But in Jesus himself, even programmed into his origin by his name, is revealed the true yoke of oppression that God's people bear: that of their sins. It is from sin, rather than from Romans, that the people need liberation.
As expected, there is a wealth of Mariology to be found in these pages; she was, after all, with Jesus from beginning to end. When he promulgated the Year of Faith, Pope Benedict gave us Mary as a model for imitation, to whom he has entrusted the year. "Infancy Narratives" will help believers understand the depth of her mystery.
Pope Benedict picks up with a theme of his earlier works -- that the angelic greeting designates Mary as "daughter of Zion." The word rejoice (χαῖρε) is the same as in Zeph. 3:14-17, in which the prophet writes that Lord "is in your womb." She is the tent in whom he dwelt, which is further brought out by the word "overshadowed," which calls to mind the shekinah glory cloud (p. 29). As "daughter of Zion," she is also an image of the Church, particularly in her interiority and because she "keeps God's word in her heart and passes it on to others" (p. 126).
Among his most beautiful meditations upon Our Lady, Pope Benedict invokes St. Bernard of Clairvaux, who speaks of all of creation waiting eagerly for her "yes." God has created man free, and to that extent he is "dependent upon man" to accomplish his will (p. 36).
Later, in the presentation in the temple, he reflects upon the sword of sorrow that will pierce Mary's soul. He says that like "the God who suffers with men" the Mater Dolorosa is "an iconic image" of the Christian attitude toward suffering: "From Mary we can learn what true com-passion is: quite unsentimentally assuming the sufferings of others as one's own" (p. 87).
Food for academics
Though "Infancy Narratives" is accessible to a wide range of readers, Pope Benedict clearly addresses exegetes, historians, scientists and the like in this text. Benedict gave window into his approach toward exegesis and his hermeneutic of history in a number of places. For example, in discussing the birth of Christ in a cave that was being used as a stable, he states, "Local traditions are frequently a more reliable source than written records" (p. 67). In this context, the presence of the Church of the Nativity bears witness to the historical credibility of Christ's birthplace in the Bethlehem cave. Elsewhere, concerning source criticism, contrary to "modern 'critical' exegesis," the Pope affirms the Marian source for Luke. He points out that the evangelist speaks of her "pondering" the angelic words, which he otherwise would not have known unless Mary were somehow a Gospel "source." He also defends the "late emergence" of Marian traditions, saying, "the sacred events of her early life could not be made public while she was still alive" (p. 16).
Those in other fields of study may wish to read intently the Pope's reflections on the identity of the magi. He points out that in the ancient world the identity of the magus could carry a wide range of meaning: from philosophical religious leaders to "possessors and users of supernatural knowledge and ability, magicians, and finally deceivers and seducers." He contrasts the magi who visited Jesus with the magus of the Acts of the Apostles, the former at the service of the divine, the latter in opposition to God. The Pope notes through these different men "the ambivalence of religion in general," which can either be a path to God or a machination of the demonic. The magi who found Jesus were led by a star, however they were not only astronomers, the Pope points out, but "wise" men. He notes that from their search for truth, they symbolize wisdom's task of purifying science's message: "the rationality of that message does not remain at the level of intellectual knowledge, but seeks understanding in its fullness, and so raises reason to its loftiest possibilities" (p. 95).
One of the important lessons in the story of the magi: The whole cosmos proclaims the good news. In the ancient world, people believed that the stars directed their fates. But when the magi came to adore, "astrology came to an end," the Pope says, referencing St. Gregory Naziazen. The heavenly bodies were not the gods after all, but luminaries arranged by the God, and they point the way to his Son. Cosmological evangelization -- beautiful! What's more, "it is not the star that determines the child's destiny, it is the child that directs the star" (p. 101).
In sum, the overarching theme of the reflections about the magi is that the scientific search for truth is meant to be at the service of God, if it is to be true to itself. This is one of the strongest calls that echoes forth from "Infancy Narratives."
... Whether he continues to write books, the Jesus of Nazareth volumes (plus this "antechamber") will stand out as the apogee of the immense corpus that is his life's work.