Catholic Transcript Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut

Monday, April 23, 2018


Q. When is Pope Benedict XVI’s second volume on Jesus of Nazareth being published? Will it be on time for this Easter? Will it include the theology of Easter?

A. Pope Benedict XVI’s second volume on Jesus of Nazareth has been available for some weeks now; my copy arrived early in March, and I have been devouring its pages day after day.

Volume II covers the mysteries of Holy Week, beginning with Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem. Much space has been given to the Last Supper, the Agony in the Garden, Jesus’ Trial, and Jesus’ Crucifixion and Burial. The last section (Chapter Nine) treats Jesus’ Resurection. The Mystery of the Ascension is discussed in an Epilogue.

Like Volume I, this second Volume is not intended to be a "Life of Christ." For excellent books in this category, the Holy Father especially recommends Jesus of Nazareth: Message and History, by Joachim Gnilka (Peabody, MA, 1977) and A Marginal Jew, by John P. Meier (New York, 1991and 2009; 4 vols.).

What Benedict intended in his new volume is closer to what Saint Thomas Aquinas attempted in the Summa Theologiae (III, qq. 27-59).

In Benedict’s own words, his desire was "to discover the real Jesus, on the basis of whom something like a ‘Christology from below’ would then be possible." (Foreword) He also argues that the so-called "quest for the ‘historical Jesus,’’’ largely pursued in critical exegesis (with its own hermeneutical presuppositions) "lacks sufficient content to exert any historical impact." Consequently, argues the Pope, this latter method is too focused on the past to facilitate a personal relationship with Christ.

Although I have every intention of doing more columns on Benedict’s new volume, I simply offer a few important observations here and now about the astonishing treasures which our theologian-Pope has opened up for us.

Leafing through Volume II for the first time was fascinating for many reasons. Not that it alters any doctrinal truths; of course not. But in accordance with the most recent scholarship (where does Benedict find the time to read so voluminously yet so critically?), it opens up new and amazing vistas to assist our understanding.

Doubtless the most brilliant part of Benedict’s new volume is Chapter Nine, that pertaining to Jesus’ Resurrection from the dead. All of the serious challenges to this central mystery of Christian faith are contained within it, and answered within clear, definitive terms. Thus the Holy Father boldly reaffirms that the Resurrection is "a historical event that nevertheless bursts open the dimensions of history and transcends it"; in a sense, a mystery "in which a new dimension of life emerges, a new dimension of human existence."

Incidentally, what Volume II omits regarding Jesus of Nazareth is the section known as the "Infancy Narratives," as related by Saint Luke and Saint Matthew. To help us out here, especially in the face of all kinds of shallow or erroneous theories, Benedict once again promises to publish a monograph, at least if he is "given the strength" by the Lord. We should all pray that this strength, which can only be given by the Lord, will be his. What advantages Benedict continues to give us!

Like John Paul II, Benedict constitutes a very special blessing on our world.