VATICAN CITY — The final volume of Pope Benedict XVI’s book Jesus of Nazareth will go on sale Dec. 4 in the United States and Canada, its North American publisher has announced.
The Infancy Narratives is described as an "illuminating chronicle of Jesus’ infancy and boyhood based on the Gospels." It will be published by Image Books, the Catholic-interest wing of the Crown Publishing Group of Random House.
The publisher says the Pope will offer a "penetrating and theologically rich" exploration of the infancy narratives in which he will share "a compelling, flesh-and-blood portrait of Jesus, inciting readers to encounter, face-to-face, the central figure and the hope of the Christian faith."
But the new volume will be "much shorter" than the previous two. In the book’s foreword, released in October, the Holy Father said that he prefers not to see it as a volume, but as "a sort of small ‘antechamber’ to the two preceding volumes on the future and message of Jesus of Nazareth."
The first volume in the Pope’s trilogy, also published by Image Books, covered the period from Jesus’ baptism to his transfiguration; the second, published by Ignatius Press, chronicled the passion and death of Jesus. Both became bestsellers worldwide.
Interpreting the Gospels
Now, the Pope has said he has sought "to interpret, in dialogue, with exegetes of the past and of the present, what Matthew and Luke recount at the beginning of their Gospels about the infancy of Jesus."
He writes in the foreword that he believes a correct interpretation requires "two steps." The first is "to ask oneself what the respective authors were intending to say with their texts at their time in history — this is the historical component of exegesis." But, he adds, the text cannot be left in the past, "archiving it among events that happened long ago."
The second step is to ask: Is what has been said true? "Does it concern me? And if it does concern me, how does it do so?" the Pope writes. "With a text such as the Bible, whose ultimate and most profound author, according to what we believe, is God himself, the question on the relationship of the past with the present is inevitably part of our interpretation. Rather than diminishing the seriousness of historical research, this increases it."
The Holy Father explains that he has "taken pains to enter into dialogue with the texts in this sense" and that by doing so he is "well aware" that this conversation in the interweaving of past, present and future "can never be complete and that every interpretation lags behind the greatness of the biblical text."
Even so, Benedict hopes his "little book, despite its limitations, will be able to help many people on their way towards and with Jesus."
In comments to the Register Oct. 16, Gary Jansen, senior editor of Image Books, noted that the new work is "a much shorter book than its predecessors," but that "in terms of style, accessibility and readability, this third volume is a perfect complement to the previous two books." As it deals exclusively with Jesus’ infancy and childhood, Jansen said it is a "perfect opportunity for readers to be introduced to the Pope’s monumental work on Jesus of Nazareth."
‘Message of Hope’
Jansen, who is currently overseeing the book’s translation into English, said he thought it was "fitting that the Pope is completing his investigation into the life of Jesus by starting at the beginning, at a time when hope came into the world. Essentially, that’s what this book is about. It’s a message of hope — a message that never goes out of style, a message we need to be reminded of over and over and over again, especially in this particular time in history when so many of us — us as individuals, our business leaders, our political leaders, the countries of the world — seem to be at a precarious crossroads."
Some of the hope contained in the new volume has already been revealed in two excerpts, released by the publishers in October alongside the foreword. Recounting Jesus’ birth, the Pope writes that the manger was usually the place in which animals found their food.
"Now, however, lying in the manger is the One who indicated himself as the true Bread come down from heaven — the true nourishment man needs in order to be a human person," he explains. "He is the nourishment that gives man true life, life that is eternal. In this way, the manger becomes a reference to the banquet of God to which man is invited in order to receive the Bread of God. The great reality, in which the redemption of mankind is brought about, is delineated in the poverty of Jesus’ birth."
In another excerpted passage, Benedict stresses that Jesus "was not born and appearing in public at some indefinite ‘once upon a time’ like legends."
"He belongs to a historically precise time and an exact geographical location; here, the universal and the concrete come together," the Pope comments. In him, he adds, "the Logos, the creative Reason for everything, came into the world. The eternal Logos became a man, and this means he took on the context of time and space. Faith is tied to this concrete reality."
Image Books says it acquired the English-language rights from Italian publisher Rizzoli, which is handling international rights on behalf of the Vatican.
"We’re thankful and honored to be the Pope’s publisher again here in the U.S.," said Jansen. "We published the first installment of Jesus of Nazareth in 2007. Ignatius published the second in 2011. In many ways, the journey has come full circle. The series ends where it began."