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BY Jimmy Akin
The long-awaited second volume of Pope Benedict’s work Jesus of Nazareth is about to come out. (You can pre-order it here!).
This was the book he had started before his election to the papacy and which, in spite of the burdens of his office, he determined to press on with.
Because he’s now pope, the book is attracting vastly more attention than if he had become a private theologian at the end of John Paul II’s reign, and as with everything pope—the press is determined to make the most of it, even when they don’t have the facts quite right.
The book isn’t even out yet, but based on excerpts that have already been released, the press is already having a field day.
For once, however, they at least seem to be using their powers of exaggeration and sensationalism on the side of good.
The message they’re getting out is that in the book Pope Benedict says that the Jewish people cannot be blamed for the death of Christ.
In other words, they are not to be charged with the blood libel of being “Christ-killers”—as they have so often and unfairly labeled by anti-Semites.
So that’s good that the press is getting the word out about that! Like I said: Press using its powers for good (for once) in a religion story. Huzzah! Or, as they say in Hebrew, Mazal Tov!
But it being, y’know, the press, they’re not likely to dot all their i’s and cross all their t’s.
For example, you probably won’t get from many stories the fact that this book is not an act of the pope’s magisterium. It’s not an official Church document. In fact, in the introduction to volume 1 of the series, Pope Benedict expressly made this point and even went so far as to say explicitly that:
“This work is not an absolute act of magisterial teaching, but merely an expression of my personal research into the face of the Lord. Therefore, everyone is free to contradict me.”
This is why I love, love, love Pope Benedict. He is a man of enormous humility and, despite the fact that he is the one person on earth able to speak with divine infallibility on his own (as opposed to in concert with other bishops), he wants to make absolutely clear to the public what is his own opinion versus what is Church teaching, and to expressly give permission to people to contradict him on the former.
Gotta love this man! That is intellectual humility.
The fact that most press stories won’t cover this is a minor matter, though. Another relatively minor matter, though perhaps a somewhat weightier one, is that most press stories also won’t make it clear that this isn’t exactly news.
Certainly, it is news-worthy, and I’m glad they’re covering it. But there is a danger that some stories might leave people with the impression that this is a new development. It’s not. For example, back in 1965 the Second Vatican Council stated that:
True, the Jewish authorities and those who followed their lead pressed for the death of Christ; still, what happened in His passion cannot be charged against all the Jews, without distinction, then alive, nor against the Jews of today. Although the Church is the new people of God, the Jews should not be presented as rejected or accursed by God, as if this followed from the Holy Scriptures. All should see to it, then, that in catechetical work or in the preaching of the word of God they do not teach anything that does not conform to the truth of the Gospel and the spirit of Christ.
Furthermore, in her rejection of every persecution against any man, the Church, mindful of the patrimony she shares with the Jews and moved not by political reasons but by the Gospel’s spiritual love, decries hatred, persecutions, displays of anti-Semitism, directed against Jews at any time and by anyone [Nostra Aetate 4].
Unlike Pope Benedict’s statement in his book, this is a declaration by an ecumenical council, it is a statement on the part of the Church’s magisterium, and one with great weight.
In fact, in the excerpts released thus far Pope Benedict doesn’t quite say what the press is making him out as saying, though he certainly agrees with the idea. (He certainly agrees with the statement from Nostra Aetate, and the idea it expresses lurks behind what he does say, which I’ll get into in my next post.)
Still, given the real existence of anti-Semitism in the world and its historical linkage to Christianity—and given some of the tensions that have occurred with the Jewish community during Pope Benedict’s reign—it is always good to have an occasion in the press to remind people of the fact that the Jewish people cannot be slimed as Christ-killers the way they have been in the past—and that the Church fundamentally rejects this characterization.
So for now we can rejoice that a positive message is being sent for once, even if some i’s are dotless and t’s are crossless.
To borrow a line from Chesterton, anything worth doing is worth doing badly.
Sending the message that the Jewish people cannot be slimed as Christ-killers is a message worth sending!
What do you think?
Oh, and GET THE BOOK!