Jesus of Nazareth by Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI)/Doubleday/NY/2007/374pp/finished 3/8/8; rating: 8
Benedict 16 has written a stunning book on the life of Jesus, up to the Transfiguration. I hope he lives long enough to write the rest. I loved John Paul II, and thought him a saintly man, but B-16 (“the bomber”) is my kind of Pope. He’s no nonsense, clear thinking and clear speaking. He’s a theologian in the classical (German) sense of the word, and reading him is a meaty experience. For some reason, his writing just “clicks” with me. My favorite modern theologian is Hans Urs Von Balthasar, and reading Ratzinger is a similar experience to reading Von Balthasar (though not as difficult).
About the book: Benedict XVI writes as Joseph Ratzinger instead of as the Pope, in order to encourage dialogue (and even disagreement) with his writing. The books is very theological, but also very inspirational, and the goal, as stated in the introduction, is to “help foster the growth of a living relationship with [Christ]”. In the early part of the book, the Pope says some things that might strike folk as very unpopish, especially when focusing on the universality of Christ’s redemptive plan. He writes of Christ’s taking away the sins of the world, “so thoroughly vanquishing them as to rob them of any substance or reality” (p. 21). He continues, “by the expiatory power of his innocent death he blotted out…the guilt of all mankind” (22).
Through the whole of the book, Ratzinger continues to startle the theological imagination, nearly every page bringing chewy, thought-provoking material to the mind. Toward the end of the book he writes about the miracle of feeding the 5000, and St. John’s “bread discourse”, presenting the material in a perfectly cooked dish that balances the tasty meat of theology with the sublime sauce of spiritual reflection. And he writes something I wish all his Roman Catholic followers would lay hold of – especially some with whom I converse. I have had discussions with dear Roman Catholic brothers who insist that unless one is receiving the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist (and receiving it, I might add, from an “approved” priest), then that person very likely might not be saved at all. These friends, I think, miss the point. Referencing Jesus’ words in John 6.53, “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you”, the Pope writes, “These words are not only a manifest allusion to the Eucharist. Above all they point to what underlies the Eucharist: the sacrifice of Jesus, who sheds his blood for us, and in so doing steps out of himself, so to speak, pours himself out, and gives himself to us” (p. 269).
Not an easy read, and sometimes it bogs down a little in theological minutiae, but I highly recommend this book as both a solid theological and lofty spiritual read.