Some have claimed the Holy Father’s new book is meant to be a refutation of the Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code. Not only is this false, I believe that it is a too great of a compliment to Dan Brown.
Instead, Jesus of Nazareth is the first part of Ratzinger's magnum opus on Christology – a “biblical Christology” that seeks to base itself on the accounts of the Four Gospels. Pope Benedict’s employs phrases like, "implicit Christology," or "hidden Christology," in order to emphasize the high view of Christ contained in the Gospel accounts of Christ. Perhaps it could be said that Ratzinger’s career as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was in fact a career dedicated to the defense of Catholic Christology. Ratzinger, now Benedict, believes that a proper understand of Christ leads to a proper understanding of everything. He is Augustinian, which is to say that he is rooted in a tradition that emphasizes the unique revelation of Christ to mankind. Good Christology leads to good liturgy, good ecclesiology, etc.
The Pope’s book is a personal conversation between "Ratzinger" and the “historical Jesus” movement of scholarship characteristic of the 20th century. Benedict drives in the last nail of the coffin containing the theory that the “historical Jesus” was a simple Jewish teacher who was only later deified by the Church into a cosmic redeemer. The Holy Father demonstrates that the Gospels do indeed present the historical Jesus as the cosmic redeemer of mankind.
The Holy Father not only dispels the notion of “the true historical Jesus apart from the Church,” he also cuts down any attempt to recast Jesus as a liberalizer of Judaism or a prophet of social progress. These two aberrations can lead to anti-Semitism (something ingrained in his German conscience) and to totalitarian regimes of materialism (something ingrained in his Catholic conscience).
Perhaps the most interesting section of the book is the Holy Father’s interaction with Rabbi Jacob Neusner’s book A Rabbi Talks with Jesus. The Holy Father praises Rabbi Neusner for his willingness to engage the words of Christ from a rabbinical point-of-view. Obviously Rabbi Neusner does not accept the claims of “Rabbi Jesus” but Neusner does bring out the depth of Christ’s message, which is edifying for the Christian reader. Neusner confirms for the Holy Father that Christ was not a liberalizer of Judaism or a social progressive. Jesus was a rabbi making bold claims. Neusner recognizes that Jesus elevates himself not only above the person of Moses but also above the revealed Torah. A Pope and a Rabbi walk into a bar, and the Pope says to the Rabbi, "Way to go! You have done my work for me. You have revealed the radical Christology of the Gospels from a Jewish perspective."
It should be remembered that Jesus of Nazareth is only the Holy Father’s first volume, beginning with the baptism of Christ in the Jordan and ending with His transfiguration, thus reviewing the first half of Christ’s public ministry. The Holy Father is likely working on its sequel at this very moment. We should pray that the Holy Father has the length of days and length of wit to finish this daunting task. The publication of Jesus of Nazareth is momentous. Here we have an insightful theologian proposing a “biblical Christology” against the errors of the 20th century. And it just so happens that this insightful theologian is the Supreme Pontiff of the Catholic Church. Deo gratias.
by Taylor Marshall