Reading Benedict on Jesus

I have just finished reading and it is with some trepidation that I post this message since the blogosphere is cluttered with reactions. It is not my intention to review the work but let me say that I did think it is a powerful book. Those who think it only a work of devotion are mistaken as are those who think his approach to the scriptures is retrograde or those who hail it as the greatest thing since the Summa. One should read this work from the perspective of Josef Ratzinger the theologian. The following points might prove helpful:(1) Ratzinger writes as a theologian in the honorable tradition of the Anselmian 'faith seeking understanding' which is to say, he writes as a believer seeking understanding; as a consequence, he writes from the angle of the hermeneutics of trust and not of suspicion.(2) He understands the competence of the exegete but he refuses to allow the exegete to have the final say and, further, he appreciates that biblical exegesis did not begin for Catholics in the twentieth century. What he has learned from the "Third Quest" (as my esteemed colleague John Meier has said) is that if we do not see Jesus against the backkground of Judaism we see him wrongly.(3) His work takes into account the of the text and, thus, does not find it out of court to call on Cyprian when discussing the Lord's Prayer or Origen on the same subject. (4) His real antagonists are those who would reduce Jesus down to a genteel liberal Protestant or a political revolutionary or a philosopher (pick your reductionist category).(5) In the background of this work is his own penchant for seeing things via the lens of the witness and proclamation of the church in its life; hence, his work is both catechesis (in the sense of "echoing" the faith) and theology (in the sense of trying to understand what he believes).(6) While it is true that he cites a number of contemporary exegetes this is not a pastiche of scholarly opinions cobbled together but a rather singular christological portrait arising from years of study. It is a work that cries out for expansion and, in that sense, is not a profound book; it is rather a prologomenon for such a work. May God give him strength and health to finish the promised second volume. (7) Finally, the book should be read not for its scholarship (although there is a fair amount of that in the book) but in the spirit of what Saint Bonaventure says at the end of his prologue to the : "Weigh the writer's intention rather than his work...you should not run rapidly over the development of these considerations but should mull them over slowly/ with the greatest care." That is exactly what I intend to do as I reread this fecund book with a pencil in hand.

Lawrence Cunningham is John O'Brien professor of Theology (Emeritus) at the University of Notre Dame.

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