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A book and its cover

· The editorial elegance of the second part of Jesus of Nazareth by Benedict XVI ·

We publish below extracts from a talk given by the Director of Archivio, Julien Ries, of the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart on the occasion of the presentation of the book by Joseph Ratzinger –“Jesus of Nazareth. Holy Week: From the Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection.”

“It goes without saying that this book is in no way an exercise of the magisterium, but is solely an expression of my personal search ‘for the face of the Lord’ (cf. Ps 27:8) Everyone is free, then, to contradict me.” As he wrote in 2007, so too in the Foreward to this second volume, Pope Benedict XVI wanted to re-iterate, using different words but with equal clarity, this concept. For this reason, the name Joseph Ratzinger on the cover is to be understood not only in relation to the text (every text is written by an author, or several authors, who use their own names), but also in relation to the fact that this text is an expression of a “personal search.” On the top of the cover we read the name of the author: Joseph Ratzinger and below that, Benedict XVI. The signature of “Joseph Ratzinger” acts as a sort of catalyst or call to that personal conversation with the reader that perhaps the name “Benedict XVI” alone would have inhibited.

Then there is the title: Jesus of Nazareth , with the subtitle From The Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection . Obviously other titles could have been chosen, for example: The Messiah or The Son of God. Instead, Ratzinger preferred the less high-sounding Jesus of Nazareth. These two para-textual examples, the name of the author and the title are clear reflections of the profound intention behind these pages.

What did the author wish to write? In the Foreward to the second volume he explains, “I need hardly say that I did not set out to write a ‘Life of Jesus.’” (p.XV) And, “The truth is I have not attempted to write a Christology.” (p.XVI) What, then?

“In the Foreward to Part One,” writes Ratzinger, referring to the book published in 2007, “I stated that my concern was to present "the figure and message of Jesus". Perhaps it would have been good to assign these two words - figure and message- as a subtitle to the book, in order to clarify its underlying intention. Exaggerating a little, one could say that I set out to discover the real Jesus, on the basis of whom something like a "Christology from below" would then become possible.”(p.XVI)

In truth, such an “exaggeration” is the motivation and the true high stakes of the two published volumes. In the 2007 text, it was written with extreme clarity, “I wanted to try to portray the Jesus of the Gospels as the real, ‘historical’ Jesus in the strict sense of the word. I am convinced, and I hope the reader will be, too, that this figure is much more logical and, historically speaking, much more intelligible than the reconstructions we have been presented with in the last decades. I believe that this Jesus- the Jesus of the Gospels- is a historically plausible and convincing figure.”

The “exaggeration” regards, if I can say it this way, the passage from “historical” to “real.” In reality it is not at all difficult to understand how the qualification of “historical” does not necessarily mean, “alive, vital”: a large part of historical events belong in fact to the past, even a glorious and magnificent one, which has inexorably passed. They are historical events which have concluded; they are dead. With respect to this “historical,” the author advances the need for “real”; beyond the “historical,” he attempts to proceed towards the “real.”

And in fact what does it mean to speak of Jesus as “a historically plausible and convincing figure”? For the “historical” to be “plausible and convincing” means that it is still, here and now, able to involve and transform individual lives. It means that it is existentially convincing: “The quest for the ‘historical Jesus’, as conducted in mainstream critical exegesis in accordance with its hermeneutical presuppositions, lacks sufficient content to exert any significant historical impact. It is focused too much on the past for it to make possible a personal relationship with Jesus.” In this regard, the language used by the author is significantly that of a “personal encounter.” “Real” means “able to be encountered,” and encountered in the concrete conditions of today.

This theme is repeated more than once, "I have attempted to develop a way of observing and listening to the Jesus of the Gospels that can indeed lead to personal encounter ... I still hope that I have been granted an insight into the figure of our Lord that can be helpful to all readers who seek to encounter Jesus and to believe in him" (p. XVII)

What is involved, then, is the attempt at an encounter, overcoming all those obstacles, real or imagined, that would impede an authentic and therefore free personal encounter. One should discuss Jesus of Nazareth; one should not stop discussing and debating not only his historical figure but also, and most importantly, his “real” figure: this is why the author, Benedict XVI himself, says, “everyone is free to contradict me.”




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