Catholic Transcript Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Q. Do we know the exact year in which Christ was born?

A. There are strong indicators within the Bible (e.g., the Gospel According to Luke) as to the date of Jesus’ birth. For example, Jesus’ Nativity is dated with respect to the reign of Caesar Augustus, whose chronology is studied in ancient history; as well as the reign of King Herod the Great, who died in 4 B.C. Theoretically, according to the calendar of Dionysius Exiguus (d. 550 A.D.), Jesus’ birthyear begins the "anno Domini" ("in the year of the Lord") reckoning. However, it is generally agreed that the monk, Dionysius, miscalculated in formulating his calendar, which he handed down to us. Consequently, the year of Jesus’ birth is often given as 4 or 6 B. C.

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Q. Are the Biblical descriptions of Jesus’ birth at Bethlehem historical accounts, or are they only myths, as some have suggested?

A. The accounts of Jesus’ Nativity found in the Gospels of  Luke and Matthew are definitely not myths. According to Pope Benedict XVI, in his recent The Infancy Narratives, Jesus of Nazareth (Image, 2012), these accounts "are not myths taken a stage further. They are firmly rooted, in terms of their basic conception, in the tradition of  God the Creator and Redeemer." Moreover, they are sourced in "a tradition handed down, recording the events that took place."

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Q. How seriously are we expected to view the Roman poet Virgil’s prophecy about Jesus’ birth?

A. I have always taken Virgil’s text seriously, especially when Virgil’s incomparable art and his influence among men and women of intellectual stature are considered. Pope Benedict XVI also takes Virgil’s  celebrated Messianic prophecy quite seriously in his new book on the Infancy Narratives. Virgil may have been a pagan, but, in a sense, he was a holy pagan, who inexplicably predicted the advent of a "boy-savior" 40 years prior to Jesus’ birth. The prediction appears in his famed Fourth Eclogue (Bucolic IV). Pope Benedict cites Virgil’s prophecy at least three times in his new book.

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Q. What, precisely, do the words of the Angels’ Gloria, cited in Luke’s Gospel, mean? Should they be translated, "Peace, good will to men," or rather, "Peace, to men of good will"?

A. I for one was especially pleased to find that Pope Benedict – himself a world-class theologian – decided to review this question in his recent book on the Infancy Narratives.

Basically, there are two clearly-stated views in this question. One refers to God’s  peace "to men of good will." The other focuses on God’s grace, translating the difficult phrase as "men upon whom God’s favor rests." Hence, the relationship between God’s grace and human freedom is at issue.

The literal translation "of good pleasure" is the preferred rendering proposed by the Holy Father in his recent book.