I have heard repeatedly and from a wide variety of people how good the Pope’s trilogy on Jesus is. I figured that since he was stepping down I should try reading one of his books. I did not finish it before he stepped down, but I did finish it before the next Pope had been chosen (barely).
This is clearly a book worth reading for people looking for theological content about Jesus. Benedict is focused on teaching about Jesus as God and Savior. While he acknowledges the importance of research into historical Jesus and the culture of 1st Century and other methods of exploring Jesus, primarily this is a exploration of Jesus as a theological teaching tool. Primarily he is using the Gospels as his starting point.
Part of what is impressive to me is that it is clear that he has academic chops, but this is a very readable book. A lot of academics have important things to say. But we need others to interpret and popularize their content so that the average person can understand.
Most people would be able to read and understand Benedict without any problem. Protestants might have occasional problems understanding what he really means when he uses some Catholic concepts and you will not finish if you are not actually interested in a theological exploration of Jesus, but regardless it is readable.
There was not a lot of new ground broken for me here. I have heard most of what he is saying from others in different format. But Benedict does have a way with words and captures a few ideas in unique ways. I listened to this and there were several places where I ran to my computer and typed out the quote after listening to it a couple of times.
One of those was an exploration of Francis of Assisi. This was not a long section, but Benedict suggested that one of the ways that we learn about Jesus is by looking at those that are known for radically attempting to follow Christ’s teaching.
“The saints are the true interpreters of Holy Scripture. The meaning of a given passage of the bible becomes most intelligible in those human beings who have been totally transfixed by it and have lived it out. Interpretation of scripture can never be a purely academic affair and it cannot be relegated to the purely historical. Scripture is full of potential for the future. A potential that can only be opened up when someone lives through and suffers through the sacred text.”
Another line that I really liked was: “Man’s true peril consists in the temptation to ostentatious self-sufficiency.” He went on to discuss Jesus’ temptation and how Jesus depended on God and the work of the Holy Spirit to survive the temptation in the desert.
The point of this trilogy seems to be that regardless of what you know about Jesus, Jesus’ importance is in his role as Savior and work as the incarnation of God in human form. So Pope Benedict XVI basically shunts aside the academic historical Jesus discussion and the says, what is important is that we know Jesus as our Savior and Lord.
I did get a little distracted toward the end and put it aside for a couple of weeks before coming back to it. But if you want to get an introduction to Jesus through a Catholic perspective, or you are just interested in a non-academic focused book on the importance of Jesus, this is a good place to start.