“Pope Benedict wants to help modern Gospel studies reset their focus not just on Christology but on the sonship of Jesus as the ultimate reality on which the validity of every statement in the Gospels—in fact, in all the New Testament—depends.”
As he mentions, Pope Benedict XVI began the project of his book Jesus of Nazareth the two summers (2003 and 2004) preceding his election in April of 2005. Only a superficial reader would think that this is another “Jesus Book” in the vein of those remarkable publications that shaped many young intellectuals in the middle of the twentieth century, such as Giovanni Papini’s Story of Jesus1 or Karl Adam’s Jesus Christus,2 or, somewhat later, Romano Guardini’s The Lord3 and Daniel-Rops’s Jesus and His Time.4 Although the Pope even names these books as works which significantly influenced his formation, his work is no mere reiteration of them. Nor can his book be compared to those other “Jesus Books,” which have tried to harmonize the canonical Gospels while explicitly and consciously confronting the issues raised by the historical-critical method.5 What Pope Benedict has authored is truly a first, calling for a fresh look and a careful examination. It represents a very serious assessment, partly positive and partly quite critical, of the impact critical exegesis of the Gospels had on the forty years of Catholic theology following the Second Vatican Council. Without exaggeration one can say that in these pages an extraordinary theologian confronts the enormous problems Catholic theology faces today as an aftermath of its almost unlimited and often uncritical consumption of modern biblical scholarship. These problems may be summarized in the following points: (1) a gap—sometimes an abyss—separating exegesis and theology; (2) a growing alienation between modern research on Jesus and Christology; and (3) the collapse of pre-conciliar apologetics followed by the mostly unsuccessful efforts to construct the new discipline of fundamental theology.
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1. First published in Italian in 1921.
2. The German original was published in 1933.
3. Der Herr, first published in 1937.
4. In French, Jésus en son temps, first published in 1944. All these books were translated and published several times.
5. One of the best known works of this type is Giuseppe Riciotti’s Life of Jesus Christ, first published in Italian in 1941.