A few months ago, upon the eve of the publication of Pope Benedict's Jesus of Nazareth, I asked some Ignatius Press authors if they would consider, if possible, writing a few comments about their reaction to the book. Turns out that for most the timing was bad. But I did receive some responses, including these remarks from Roy Schoeman, author of Salvation Is From the Jews and editor of Honey From The Rock:
On the back cover of his new book Jesus of Nazareth, Benedict XVI states that the book is “my personal search ‘for the face of the Lord.’” As a Jewish entrant into the Catholic Church, it gave me great delight to find that the face of the Lord that the Holy Father found was a very Jewish one! This is, of course, not surprising when one thinks about it, but I know of no other Catholic work that places Jesus so squarely within his Jewish context – as a Jewish teacher among Jews, and as the Jewish Messiah foretold and foreshadowed in the Jewish Old Testament. From the Introduction, which contrasts Jesus with Jewish prophets who preceded him, to the last chapter, which examines Jesus’ self-identification as Son of God and Son of Man in the light of the names used by the Jews for God, topic after topic is illumined by the Holy Father’s deep knowledge of Jewish scriptures, history, culture, and even of Rabbinic scriptural commentary. This is not to say that they book is one-sided – it is of course perfectly well-rounded, and grounded completely in the Catholic tradition. But I was continuously surprised and delighted by how often the illumination that the Holy Father casts on the person, the words, or the actions of Jesus draws its light from Judaism, and continually impressed by the Holy Father’s recurrent recourse to Jewish sources. The book breathes with an effortless fluidity -- the fruit of a lifetime of thought and prayer, of study and research, and of dwelling on the person of Jesus. It is sure to deepen the reader’s sense of Jesus and his understanding of his words and actions, as well as of his role as the culmination and fulfillment of Judaism.
Dr. Regis Martin, professor of Systematic Theology at Franciscan University of Steubenville and author of several books, including the recently published Suffering of Love (read an excerpt), sent the following comments:
What a marvelous read Ratzinger is! And this book, well, it is absolutely, positively breath-catchingly beautiful. Concerning whose myriad pleasures, by the way, a mere 600-word encomium seems hardly adequate recompense. But here goes…
With the happy addition of Jesus of Nazareth, the shelf on which all my Ratzinger books repose is very nearly complete. One more tome, I fear, and the accumulated weight of all that learning and piety will send everything flying to the floor. Meanwhile, only one other volume of his has held me in greater thrall, and that was Introduction to Christianity, written in the late 1960s during the height of the Silly Season. It was the text on which I first cut my theological teeth. Subsequent encounters with Ratzinger have only served to sharpen the choppers.
Did you know that Introduction to Christianity so completely captivated Pope Paul VI that on the strength of its masterful exposition of the Creed, an otherwise obscure German theologian became a bishop? An elevation setting in motion what eventually would lead to the Petrine Office. Who says literature is powerless to shape history?
If that book, with the depth and lucidity of its penetration into the mysteries of faith, including an acute analysis of modern unbelief, sought to provide an outline of the Apostles Creed, the plain design of this, his latest effort, is to illumine the central mystery itself, namely the figure of Christ, without whom all the other articles reduce to incoherence.
So how does he go about doing this? Not by flexing heaps of magisterial muscle. The book, he tells us, “is solely an expression of my personal search ‘for the face of the Lord’ (cf. Ps 27:8).” No one is obliged to believe a word of it. “I would only ask my readers for that initial goodwill without which there can be no understanding.” Fair enough. Any attorney would do the same when asked to take on a client, for whom a titch of tentative sympathy is required in order to do justice to the case. In the case of this book, a little sympathy will go a long way in moving the reader to that confrontation with Christ on which all our Future happiness depends.
Incidentally, I can think of only one other book for which an identical disclaimer might be issued, and that would be Crossing the Threshold of Hope, an exercise in papal prose every bit as engaging as this. And while their styles are strikingly different, both are equally determined on seeing the human face of God. Like Dante in the final canto of The Divine Comedy, transfixed by the sight of God---“painted with our effigy,” is how he puts it---nothing less will satisfy the human heart.
“The great question,” Benedict reminds us, is nothing less than to ask, “What did Jesus actually bring, if not world peace, universal prosperity, and a better world? What has he brought? The answer is very simple: God.” And if, as he warned the world in his homily before the conclave that would elect him Pope, events are moving us “toward a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as certain and has as its highest goal one’s own ego and one’s own desires,” it will be our task to tell the world differently. To tell a different tale. Namely the story of the event of Christ’s eruption into our human story in order to make it all turn out well. A superb example pointing us along the way to the God who in Jesus Christ confers not only heaven but true humanity, Read it.
I'll soon be posting a third essay by Fr. James V. Schall, S.J., about Jesus of Nazareth, to go along with his previous two essays about the book:"God Is The Issue: The Temptation in the Desert and the Kingdoms of This World", and "God Made Visible: On the Foreword to Benedict XVI's Jesus of Nazareth". Meanwhile, the monthly men's group that I am a part of is slowly making our way through the book, taking on one chapter a month, savoring every bit of what we all agree is a rich and nutritious theological and spiritual meal.