Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives Hardcover – 21 Nov 2012
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Highly recommended. Without ignoring the findings of New Testament scholarship, the author is more interested in the spiritual meaning of the infancy narratives. This is the fruit of a lifetime's scholarship, prayer and reflection. Church of England Newspaper --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
About the Author
JOSEPH RATZINGER, Pope Benedict XVI, born in 1927 in Germany, was head of the Roman Catholic Church from 2005 to 2013. A prolific author, theologian and university professor, Ratzinger served as an "expert" at the Second Vatican Council, and was tapped in 1977 by Pope Paul VI to lead the German Archdiocese of Munich and Freising. In 1981, Pope John Paul II called him to Rome to head the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, where he served until his papal election.
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It provides the background to Jesus' birth and early life. The subject is treated with exegetical rigour, but the style is simple, direct, and leads to "lectio divina" for those who want to experience a deeper commitment to the Scriptural text.
The story of Christmas is moving in its simplicity. The book will appeal to the student of Scriptures and to those who wish to deepen their spiritual life.
Pope benedict addresses all the main points of the infancy narratives - the genealogies, the annunciation of the birth of John the Baptist, the annunciation to Mary, the conception and the birth of Jesus, virgin birth, the Wise Men form the east, and the epilogue of the twelve-year-old Jesus in the Temple. The book is written in Pope Benedict's characteristic manner of combining critical scholarship and biblical exegesis with the fidelity to the essential trustworthiness and truthfulness of the Scripture. People familiar with Pope Benedict's writing will know to expect a keen and refined intellect that is equally at ease at Biblical exegesis, theological reflection, and pastoral exhortations. Pope moves effortlessly between critical and insightful exegesis, highly developed theology, and effective and imminent preaching. He tries to discern the authors' motives and intentions when writing particular passages, and yet he never dismisses any piece of narrative as naïve an quaint as many of the more "enlightened" biblical scholars these days are all to eager to do.
Catholic Church is truly blessed to have in the person of Pope Benedict all the virtues and functions that it aspires to manifest and carry out corporally as an institution. Pope's writing is very lucid and accessible, but it demands a certain level of familiarity with the more nuanced details of the Gospel narratives. Even though there are numerous scriptural quotations throughout the book I find that having a copy of the Bible on the side to be very useful. Sometimes it is important to look up the entire passage or the chapter from which the quote is taken. The translation that is used in this book is RSV, but any other popular English translation will do.
Even though he is an eminent theologian and leader of the over billion strong Catholic Church, Pope Benedict at no point uses his own eminent status to impose his views on the reader. He engages in a scholarly dialogue with other theologians and exegetes, and many of his statements are laced with qualifications. He comes across as someone who relishes intellectual vibrancy that may lead reasonable well-informed people to conclusions that are different from his own. He aims to persuade his readers by the reasonableness of his views, and not by the authority of his office or the scholarly accomplishments.
This book was published a few weeks before the Advent 2012, and it gives a good opportunity for all Christians to reflect on the profound mysteries of incarnation of Son of God. Of all Christian holy days, Christmas has been the most distorted though in the eyes of the popular culture. Every year it falls to faithful Christians to resist the temptations of the consumerist culture and try to remove themselves to a quiet place from where they can contemplate the true essence of Jesus's birth and infancy. The Gospel writers' main aim when composing the infancy narratives was to answer one simple yet profound question: who is Jesus and where does he come from? The answer to this question is equally profound and momentous for our lives as Christians. In meditating on it we can hopefully get one step closer to understanding the mystery that is Jesus Christ and how it affects our lives. Pope Benedict's book may not be the definitive answer to that question, but it is certainly as good as the best such answers in the two millennia of Christianity.
As mentioned before, this is a very short book -144 pages in the printed form (I have read the Kindle edition). It is a very quick read and can easily be read in one sitting, or in two hours at the most. However, the depth and intimacy of this book would be best appreciated if it's read slowly and with the appreciation for all the nuances of the arguments it offers.
There are some indications that this might be the last major book written by Pope Benedict XVI. I certainly hope that this is not the case. The World needs constant evangelization, and a person of his sensibility, intellect, and courage is an important and powerful voice.
His third volume appears to be a straightforward progression through the infancy narratives, but I soon discovered his thoughts to be more of a glorious lectio divina than of a commentary, made with the freedom of one who has such erudition within the summit of his mind, making it all the more theological in consequence. He sees and interprets every event in the infancy marratives that Scripture presents, observing all the prophecies that precede and viewing in all the circumstances volumes of significance for Christ's mission and ministry. Perhaps the most memorable feature of the book are such investigations that conclude with, "I tend to regard as the one true explanation..." or "It seems natural to me...", and I sat and savoured his closing comments regarding the 'finding in the temple': "It becomes quite apparent that [Jesus] is true man and true God, as the Church's faith expresses it. The interplay between the two is something that we cannot ultimately define. It remains a mystery, and yet emerges quite concretely in the short narrative about the twelve-year-old Jesus. At the same time, this story opens a door to the figure of Jesus as a whole, which is what the Gospels go on to recount."
There are some truly magical moments, quite often as asides (or deviations to follow a thread of thought, eg end of page 42 where he considers "the lofty theological task assigned to the child") and parts that are cosmic in their scope (eg mid page 100 where he considers "the language of creation").
I think this is a book that will reside in the memory of those who savour it as the scent of incense lingers long after the sound of the chant has died away, echoes that resonate in the heart.
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