The Biblical Theology of Pope Benedict XVI
By Scott Hahn
Brazos Press, 2009
208 pages, $21.99
To order: servantbooks.org
Virtually unknown until the early 1990s, Scott Hahn has quickly become a prominent Catholic apologist. Hahn all but bilocates to chair his seminary and University professorships while managing a packed speaking schedule and an ambitious scholarly agenda that sees a new book or two annually. His conversion from Protestantism is well known, and his persuasive scriptural exegesis has garnered the approbation of doctrinally diverse Christians.
Add to that already impressive resume his latest volume, a book-length “essay” (as Hahn calls it) outlining Pope Benedict's emerging theology.
Much of the marketing for this book claims that Scott Hahn demonstrates Pope Benedict XVI’s unprecedented reliance on Scripture. That’s an accurate evaluation, but Hahn accomplishes far more. He cues everything from papal addresses to dogmatic constitutions into an aria of catholic unity, demonstrating Benedict’s awe-inspiring command of liturgy, prayer, philosophy, sacraments, salvation history and even cosmology.
After introducing us to Benedict’s hermeneutic of faith — his prayerful reading of Scripture in union with the living Tradition of the Church, with its superior explanatory power — Hahn widens the scope. Showing how the Pope identifies as flawed many scholars’ explicit fragmentation of the Church on one hand and the Gospel on the other, Hahn leads us to Benedict’s reflection on Christianity as “the wealth of the whole ... the inner plurality of the symphony of the faith.” With the Incarnation as the key, Scripture opens up and theology is the ever new, ecclesial, spiritual science opening human reason to true freedom — not something that attempts to justify relativistic distortions of the faith.
Successive chapters plunge deeper. In writing of the efficacy of the word, for instance, Hahn reminds us that historical-critical scholarship tends to deem the events of Scripture merely accidental or necessary, fracturing and reducing the Bible to a storm cloud of unknowing. On the contrary, fides et ratio — faith and reason — go hand in hand for the Pope, who sees Christ present on every page of Scripture, both in prophecy and fulfillment, revealing himself in salvation history and offering us participation in his very being. Thus, observes Hahn, Benedict’s theology places itself “always in the service of the Word. ... He wants his readers to know the implications of this biblical text for their lives.”
As the book nears its conclusion, Hahn’s epiphanies multiply. The final two chapters are almost mystical in their revelations about Christ’s sacramental being, the utter unexpectedness of the Incarnation, and the transfiguration of heaven and earth in every moment of Christian worship. The reader is often moved here to put down the book and raise his heart in thanksgiving for both Benedict and Hahn.
As wide-ranging as this book is, a question remains: How do modern saints figure in Benedict’s theology? In his encyclical on Christian hope, Spe Salvi (Saved by Hope), the Pope spends ample time telling the story of St. Josephine Bakhita to develop an understanding of redemptive hope based on her life in Christ. We can hope that Hahn will expand this study into a multivolume work, adding another movement to an already concordant repertoire.
Stephen Mirarchi writes
from Tampa, Florida.