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A book of the heart

Benedict XVI’s most recent publication is truly a book of the heart. Perhaps for this reason too he wanted to put his family name before his papal title also in the second volume of his work on Jesus of Nazareth, written during his Pontificate. That is to say, it is another way of indicating that the book is the result of a long interior journey, as moreover the Pope explicitly stated in the introduction to Part One.

The maturing of his heart, then, led Joseph Ratzinger to conceive of the idea and subsequently to develop it over many years. But in no way does it fail to live up to the reason behind this inexhaustible search that has fascinated and disturbed for almost two millenniums. It is a search that in recent centuries has had to meet new needs. These are certainly not rejected by the Pope but their essential results are assimilated and incorporated into a broader and more comprehensive perspective.

In sum, “scientific biblical exegesis”, Benedict XVI writes, must “be recognized anew as a theological discipline, without relinquishing its historical character”. And Part Two of the work, to which the author intends to add “a small monograph”, on the Gospel infancy narratives, is, like Part One, a successful example. And this has been a felicitous choice, already recognized by leading exegetes (Martin Hengel, Peter Stuhlmacher, Franz Mussner, supported by methodologically similar books (for example by Rudolf Schnackenburg, Klaus Berger, Marius Reiser) and now flanked by an “ecumenical comparison”, the work of the Protestant theologian Joachim Ringleben.

Emblematic in this decision are once again the attention to the Judaic context of the time, to the future of relations with the Jews, to the work of the Evangelist John and to patristic exegesis, to which in the 20th century the attention of exegetes has returned. These approaches have aroused interest and appreciation in various milieus, not only those of specialists, in which above all the authoritative voices of the Jewish world are important.

“We wish to see Jesus”, some Greeks said to Philip in a passage from John’s Gospel, on which the Pope has commented frequently and to which he now returns, comparing it to St Paul’s vision of the Macedonian who begs him to go to Europe. Benedict XVI has this same wish, certain that his look of faith, on the basis of reason, is precisely what permits him also to “attain sure knowledge of the real historical figure of Jesus”; who blesses, as on the day of his Ascension, those who want to see him. To open the world to God.

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