VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI’s second volume of his book Jesus of Nazareth is expected to challenge modern biblical scholarship and provoke readers into thinking more profoundly about Jesus.
That’s according to the president of Ignatius Press, the book’s appointed English-language publisher.
Mark Brumley told the Register July 30 that he expects the second volume, which will reflect on the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, to provoke “a great conversation about modern biblical scholarship” not only within the Church, but also between Catholics and Protestants and Christians and Jews. “The Pope’s objective is to get people to think more deeply about Jesus,” he said.
Benedict XVI completed the work, which will take up where the first volume of Jesus of Nazareth left off, earlier this year. The text is currently being translated from the original German into various languages. If everything goes according to plan, the English translation will be released simultaneously with other language versions at the beginning of Lent 2011.
Ignatius Press and the Vatican’s publishing house, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, reached an agreement that the San Francisco-based publisher would publish the English-language edition of the book. The first volume was published by Doubleday in 2007.
Father Joseph Fessio, the founder and editor of Ignatius Press, said the company is “eagerly awaiting” the latest volume “because it will contain the Holy Father’s reflections on the central mysteries of the faith.”
In a July 29 press release, Ignatius Press said the second volume is expected to address such controversial questions as: “Who was responsible for Jesus’ death? Did Jesus establish the Church to carry on his work? How did he view his suffering and death? How should we? And, most importantly, did Jesus really rise from the dead?”
“Jesus remains controversial,” Brumley said in the press statement. “Christians believe he is the Son of God, the founder of the Church, and the Savior of the world. For non-Christians, Jesus is almost anything else — a myth, a revolutionary, or a prophet whose teaching was misunderstood or distorted by his followers.” The book will bring readers face-to-face with the challenge of Jesus, the statement added.
Ignatius Press said it is planning several activities leading up to the book’s release aimed at fomenting discussions over the themes it addresses. “We really want to have this broader discussion, so we’re going to be working with Protestants, exploring this issue of biblical scholarship and the questions that it raises with respect to Gospel presentations of Jesus,” Brumley told the Register. “We’re excited about launching the book simultaneously, and we’re excited about the impact it will have on wider culture.”
Ignatius will also be releasing a study guide to broaden these discussions, thereby offering parish groups, students and seminarians a springboard to talk about the issues raised in the book. Brumley said he expects to see “very sophisticated” discussions on a subject made “very accessible.”
Msgr. Giuseppe Costa, the director of Libreria Editrice Vaticana, is one of only a few to have read the book. He told Rome Reports July 29 that one of the most impressive things is “the rich spirituality that it conveys.”
He also noted the challenges of translating such a work. “The Pope is a great theologian, so to translate it, it’s necessary to have a knowledge of theology, spiritual theology,” he said. “Also German is a very rich language, very accurate and fully describes some very complex concepts.”
Msgr. Costa said he thought the book would prove to be “very fruitful reading.” The first volume of Jesus of Nazareth, which focused on Jesus’ public ministry, sold 2.5 million copies worldwide.
Final Volume in Progress
Meanwhile, the Holy Father is already working on the third and final volume of the book. He spent much of his vacation in July writing it. Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi told Vatican Television July 23 that the final part will be dedicated to the “Gospels of childhood” and concentrate on the accounts of Jesus’ early life from the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.
Father Lombardi said it was clear “how close it is to his heart to bring this great project, started years ago, to a close.”
In the foreword to the first volume, the Holy Father said the book has had a “long gestation” and is “solely an expression of my search for the face of the Lord.”
Edward Pentin writes from Rome.