VATICAN CITY — The second volume of Pope Benedict XVI’s work “Jesus of Nazareth” is a “fascinating and liberating” book that could usher in a new theological era, Cardinal Marc Ouellet said today at the Vatican’s book launch.
The prefect of the Congregation for Bishops said the 384-page book, which covers the period of Holy Week, transports the reader “along steep paths to the riveting encounter with Jesus, a familiar figure who is revealed to be even closer in his humanity as he is in his divinity.”
In the book entitled “Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week — From the Entrance Into Jerusalem to the Resurrection,” Benedict presents the Passion and Resurrection of Christ as history-changing events that answer humanity’s unceasing need to be reconciled with God.
The book analyzes the key events of Jesus’ final days, including the cleansing of the Temple, the Last Supper, his betrayal, his interrogations before the Sanhedrin and Pontius Pilate, his crucifixion and his appearances to the disciples after his resurrection.
The Pope examines the scriptural interpretation of early Church fathers and contemporary scholars, rejecting some arguments and affirming or elaborating on others. He refers not only to German theologians but also important authors from Francophone, Anglophone and Latin American language areas.
The Pope stresses the importance of understanding the events recounted in the Scriptures are historically grounded and actually occurred and are not simply stories or ideas. He stresses that Christ’s actual resurrection from the dead is foundational for the Church, for without it, the “Christian faith itself would be dead.”
As in the first volume, he takes issue with the “historical Jesus” movement in scriptural scholarship, and criticizes scholars who have interpreted Christ’s passion in political terms and sought to portray Jesus as a “political agitator.” Benedict says that “violent revolution, killing others in God’s name” was not Jesus’ way and he strongly condemns “the cruel consequences of religiously motivated violence” which he describes “as a favorite instrument of the Antichrist.”
In the book’s foreword, he underlines that the “the real Jesus” was not a political revolutionary and not a mere moralist, but the son of God who inaugurated a new path of salvation based on the power of love.
Cardinal Ouellet said he marveled at the extensive research that has gone into the book and couldn’t help but see in it “the aura of a new dawn of exegesis, a promising era of theological exegesis.”
“As a theologian and as a pastor, I have the feeling of living a historical moment of major theological and pastoral significance,” he said. “It is as if the waves that shake the boat of the Church, Peter has once again grabbed the hand of the Lord who comes to meet us on the water, to save us.” The Holy Father, he added, “holds the hand of Jesus on the stormy waves, and takes us along with the other hand.”
The cardinal said he saw the book as a “great call for dialogue on what is essential to Christianity, in a world looking for points of reference in which the different religious traditions are struggling to pass on to future generations the legacy of the religious wisdom of humanity.” For this reason, he said he viewed the book not only as furthering dialogue among Catholics but among other denominations and religions as well.
The Canadian cardinal predicted the book would have a “liberating effect” that would stimulate “a love for Sacred Scripture, encourage lectio divina and help priests to preach the Word of God.”
A select few who have already read a copy of the second volume have also been praising it, with some arguing that it may be a better read than the first.
Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver described it as “a splendid, penetrating study of the central figure of Christian faith; a learned and spiritual illumination not only of who Jesus was, but who he is for us today.”
Scott Hahn, a professor of theology and scripture at Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio, said he was wondering how the Pope would be able to condense such a theologically dense and difficult period as Holy Week into one book, but that he manages it, methodically taking the reader “step by step” into the divine mystery in such a way that you can “contemplate what he’s saying.”
But he said the book needs to be read slowly and patiently, thereby allowing the reader to realize “this is as deep as the mind can go and yet it’s written so lucidly.” The book is not a difficult read, he said, and that it was suited to “any highly motivated Catholic layperson.”
“You can tell this is a lifetime of contemplative study, not just meditation or academic study,” said Hahn. “Some people think there’s a tradeoff between prayer and study [but] he does both. You can tell the way he studies will lead you back to prayer and way he prays will lead you back to study.”
Hahn especially praised the book for the way it “seamlessly weaves” the events of Holy Week, showing how the “Roman execution is transformed into the supreme sacrifice, precisely in and through the Eucharistic mystery.”
“If there’s one thing that represents a potential breakthrough in this book,” he said, “it’s that he’s going to equip Catholics to be able to explain Jesus’ death on Good Friday, on Calvary, in light of the Eucharist on Holy Thursday.”
Mark Brumley, CEO of Ignatius Press, the book’s American publishers, said he felt this second volume was easier to read than the first, mainly because it addresses Jesus’ last week on earth, which enables more people to engage with its contents.
He stressed the book is especially helpful in the way it contradicts some modern scholars and others who have doubted key doctrines such as the resurrection. It is “not simply an excursion into interesting history, a figure of the past, but a way of encountering a living person,” Brumley said. “It’s very evangelical in many senses of the word.”
Cardinal Ouellet recommended reading it “as a meditation on the liturgical season of Lent and Easter.”
CNS contributed to this report.