Catholic Transcript Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Cardinal Giacomo Biffi’s book, The Man Christ Jesus (Torino: Editrice Elledici, 2000), was recently translated from the Italian into English by Charlotte Fasi of South Glastonbury and published by Sophia Institute Press (Manchester, N.H., 2008).

Cardinal Biffi is the Archbishop Emeritus of Bologna, one of Italy’s most historic dioceses, especially rich in culture and scholarship. Bologna was established at the very beginning of the great European universities, such as Paris, Oxford and the Jagellonian.

Cardinal Biffi emerged from such an intellectual tradition. Born in Milan (perhaps the largest Archdiocese in the Church in our time), he taught theology at seminaries in Milan, served in parish work, and labored as an auxiliary bishop of Milan until he was named to Bologna.

The Man Christ Jesus is a concise volume of 120 pages, hardly more than a monograph. It is divided into six brief sections, each concentrating on specific aspects of the Word Incarnate; e.g., "Christ’s Personality," "Christ the Son of God." In a Preface, Don Divo Barsotti of Tuscany writes:


"He [Christ] speaks in the open air to thousands of people; they all listen. His words move them. To hear Christ speak, men leave their work and women their homes…" (p. xi.)

Passages like the foregoing all lead to what the Cardinal clearly sees as the absolute uniqueness of Christ our Lord. He sees him as essentially transcending human geniuses like Plato and Aristotle, so much so that no humanism can be authentic – indeed, makes any real sense – unless it reflects the Son of God Incarnate, Jesus of Nazareth.

The final two sections of the book are especially meaningful in the midst of the relativism and secularism permeating our society; specifically, "Christ the Savior of the World" and "Christ the Head of the Body."

"Christ the Savior of the World" is unfortunately an intensely controverted topic today; Voltaire’s aged question is being raised anew, as if salvation were possible without reference to Christ and the Church. Yet, our Christian Faith leaves no room whatsoever for compromise on this matter. "Eternal life," Scripture declares, "is this: to know you, the only true God, and him whom you have sent, Jesus Christ." (Jn 17:3)

As for Voltaire’s objection, renewed today, Vatican Council II in Lumen Gentium provided us with the best response for our times. In summary, it says that wherever salvation occurs – and the Spirit breathes where he will – there Christ and his Church are somehow mysteriously present. The ancient theological axiom, extra ecclesiam, nulla salus ("outside the Church, no salvation"), must always be read in this sense: wherever salvation occurs – grace is everywhere – Christ and his Church are operating there.

Regarding the Cardinal’s final chapter, "Christ the Head of the Body," we are reminded that the world is going in the wrong direction when it pretends that a solid humanism can be structured without reference to Jesus of Nazareth. True humanism, one that anchors human dignity surely and permanently, is founded on Christ and his word.

Pope John Paul II taught the world this truth from his very first encyclical, Redemptor Hominis, and never ceased to underscore it in his preaching or writing; Pope Benedict XVI continues to emphasize this truth. Cardinal Biffi writes: "True knowledge of man comes from Christ." And "each true and honest study of man is also a study of Christ." (p. 117) Any so-called "humanism" without reference to Christ is not really humanism. It is in and through Christ that man is recognized as unique, precious and unrepeatable; and that man essentially transcends his possessions or his labor and production.

In The Man Christ Jesus, Cardinal Biffi succeeds in conveying a concise portrait of the Word of God Incarnate, a picture detailed and defended at length by Pope Benedict XVI in his best-seller, Jesus of Nazareth. Both volumes, the Holy Father’s awesome tome and the Cardinal’s concise monograph, illuminate for the contemporary world the absolute uniqueness of Jesus Christ, Savior of the World, and the model of authentic humanism. Without Christ, all theories of humanism shatter like thin glass before the slightest tremor.

Msgr. David Q. Liptak is Executive Editor of The Catholic Transcript, and censor librorum for the Archdiocese of Hartford.