“Product of a long inner journey,” the Pope’s book is not a magisterial document. It does however focus on the “historical Jesus” based on the Gospels, one that transcends those readings of the Jesus Story that reduce him to the status of a revolutionary or a mystic. First in a two-volume inquiry, the book looks at the life of Christ on earth and is designed to “favour the development of an intense relationship between the reader and Him.”
Christianity is not a theory but an encounter with a person. This principle, which Benedict XVI restated so often, is at the origin of Jesus of Nazareth, the book in which he describes “my personal search for the ‘face of the Lord,” in order to “favour the development of an intense relationship between the reader and Him.”
Presented today in the Vatican and on sale starting next Monday, April 16 and the Pope’s 80th birthday, the 448-page book published by Rizzoli will cost € 19.50 and be available in 22 different languages around the world.
“Product of a long inner journey,” of which this is the first part, “the initial ten chapters go from His Baptism in the Jordan through Peter’s Confession to the Transfiguration.” The second part will cover instead Jesus’ childhood. But as the Holy Father writes the work “is not a magisterial act” so anyone “is free to contradict me.”
The subject of the inquiry by the theologian Pope is Jesus. But the question is which Jesus?
Since the 1950s “advances in critical research in history led to increasingly subtler distinctions between the various strata of the tradition,” blurring the image on which the faith stands. Various views of Jesus emerged ranging from the “anti-Roman revolutionary” to the “soft-hearted moralist.” But for Ratzinger the theologian, they reflect more the “views and ideals of their authors than any revelation about an icon, however faded it might have been.”
The “historical facts” about Jesus’ life and the unforeseeable growth of Christianity just a few years after his death show how extraordinary He was. And He cannot be understood without starting from “truly historical” facts, i.e. Jesus’ relationship to God and His union with Him.” “My book is based on this, i.e. on the fact that Jesus is in communion with the Father. This is the core of His personality. Without this communion one cannot understand anything and it is from that that He becomes real to us even today.”
The Gospel Jesus is the Jesus of ‘History’
Since we are talking about an actual living human being, we must rely on the historical method to know him. For Benedict XVII, “faith is based on history as it unfolded on the surface of this earth.” Otherwise, “the Christian faith is eliminated and becomes another religion.” For this reason, the Jesus of the book is necessarily the Jesus of the Gospels: “the ‘historical Jesus’ in its truest sense.”
“I am convinced,” writes Benedict XVI, “and I hope readers realise that this is more logical and more understandable from an historical point of view than any of the reconstructions” offered in the last few decades.
This Jesus is also the “last prophet” as announced in the Old Testament, the “New Moses” to be more precise, who leads His people to “true liberation.” More than Moses who “as a friend spoke face to face with God” but without the power to see Him, Jesus “lives in the presence of God, not only as friend but also as son. He lives in profound unity with the Father.” It is from this that come the answer to questions like “Where did Jesus get His doctrine? Where does the key that explains his behaviour lie.”
The Beatitudes are confirmation of this. From the “Sermon on the Mount,” Benedict draws many a detail like the “Mount” itself, whose location is not given in the Gospels, but which is simply the “m