The Gospel According to Benedict: “In the beginning..”
Reviews of Benedict XVI’s book Jesus of Nazareth–his first personal work as pope–are starting to hit the street. I am sure many there will be many more posts here as the book makes the rounds, and I have a few thoughts myself, having given it the once over. Those future posts may be more extensive than the review I just filed for PEOPLE magazine. Yes, that’s right, PEOPLE. Eat your heart out, Luke Timothy Johnson. I got to make three points, 20 words each. And none of those words was “Britney” or “Spears.” I don’t want any guff when your copies arrive next week…
Among the more expansive commentaries, Michael Dubruiel, a.k.a. husband to Amy Welborn, declared that Benedict “is positioning himself to be the St. Thomas Aquinas of our age.” (As you can read here: http://michaeldubruiel.blogspot.com/2007/05/this-is-great-book.html). Lisa Miller of Newsweek (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/18629187/site/newsweek/page/2/) is taking some criticism for being insufficiently expert in her exegesis.
The review that left me a bit gobsmacked, however, was from A.N. Wilson. In The Times of London last Sunday (http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/books/article1798127.ece) Wilson declares Benedict’s acceptance of the validity of historical criticism “a startling break with Catholic tradition” and said his approving citation of some Protestant scholars would have been “unthinkable” even 30 years ago. “Most Roman Catholic priests, until the last 20 years, would not have read the books quoted in this work for a simple reason: the pope of the day had forbidden them to do so,” Wilson writes.
That strikes me as off base on many factual points, as well as supremely condescending toward Catholic scholarship (and priests) and an exaggeration of Benedict’s role and intent. It strikes me that the Pope is trying to steer the debate back to a via media between the poles of complete deconstructionism on the one hand and blind-eyed literalism on the other–arguably Protestant tendencies, if Wilson wants to get sectarian. In fact, Wilson notwithstanding, Benedict could be seen as tilting toward a more “traditional” and devotional style of biblical criticism than that practised by Catholic scholars (in my layman’s view) for much of the last half century, at least.