Busted Halo
feature: religion & spirituality
April 21st, 2011

A Conversation About Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week

Busted Halo talks with Fr. Joseph Fessio about the pope's new book

 
facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmailfacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

fasio-jesus-inside

When we sat down recently with Fr. Joseph Fessio, S. J., founder and editor of Ignatius Press, to discuss the YouCat, the new youth catechism, we took a little time to talk about the pope’s remarkable new book, Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week, which is also published by Ignatius Press. Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week is the second volume, following 2007′s Jesus of Nazareth: From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration. Here is that discussion.

Phil Fox Rose: Let’s talk a little bit about the new book from Pope Benedict. It’s so — as was the previous volume — so engagingly written. Without theological jargon.

Fr. Joseph Fessio: And, I think even less so in volume two. I think, in volume one, he was more directly confronting some of the scholarly controversies, and trying to show how you could be a person of faith, and read the Gospels and feel confident in them, and still be aware of historical scholarship and criticism. In volume two, he doesn’t do that as often or as explicitly. He’s more simply taking the passages from the Bible and showing who Christ is. What he says in the preface is that he wants to present the figure and the message of Jesus in a way that will elicit personal commitment and will help those who believe to know their faith has certitude.

So, that kind of summarizes what he’s done. And what he means by ‘figure of Jesus’ is this: In the last century, there was a very famous attempt by scholars to find the historical Jesus. The idea being, as historians, if we take away faith for a second, what do we know about the records we have of this man Jesus? What can we be sure that he said and he did? What happened, of course, is he probably didn’t say this, and we’re not sure he said that or he did this and you end up with a pretty thin Jesus. What he’s saying is we can accept certain of the conclusions of scholarship, and yet there’s still a real Jesus there that we can know and love, and he wants to show who that Jesus is — flesh and blood. Likewise with the message. You know, many scholars will say, “Jesus didn’t say that” — “they put that in later” — “that was St. Luke putting that in there.” He’s saying, look, we can’t really know what Jesus said. There are some differences in there but there are some common elements we can be sure came from him. So, that’s his purpose in this book, to make that clear: even after we’ve taken into account what modern scholarship has tried to do, we can still be certain that there’s a figure of Jesus we can draw from the gospels and base our faith on.

PFR: [Cardinal Ratzinger's Introduction to Christianity] was my first exposure to something that really holds together, that’s intellectually rigorous but also inspiring.

JF: Well, I think that’s the combination right there of him as a person and the books he writes, and Jesus of Nazareth is the same way: Intellectually rigorous — it takes into account scholarship — but it’s inspiring.

PFR: So, is there a shift in direction with this or would you say it’s consistent with the first volume?

JF: It’s consistent. I just think the meditative-reflective element predominates here a little more than it did in the first part. But, I’ve re-read them both, and I’m also re-reading his earlier work, Introduction to Christianity, and I’m noticing a lot of common elements — a lot of common stylistic elements, and a lot of common content elements. He’s someone who’s grown a lot during the years, but it’s been a continuous and organic growth, so he hasn’t changed his opinions or his views on things; it’s of a piece.

PFR: That book — as an aside, I’m a convert myself, and Introduction to Christianity played a major role.

JF: Really? That’s a pretty heavy book.

PFR: It is dense, but — others might have encountered this other places in Catholicism, but that was my first exposure to something that really holds together, that’s intellectually rigorous but also inspiring.

JF: Well, I think that’s the combination right there of him as a person and the books he writes, and Jesus of Nazareth is the same way: Intellectually rigorous — it takes into account scholarship — but it’s inspiring.

PFR: So, the two books about Jesus — what role do they play in the bigger picture? I had the sense reading his intro that he sees this as a contribution that will stick around.

JF: He does. The preface is good to reread because he’s really clear there. He says, this is not a life of Jesus. There are many good lives of Jesus out there — that is in the sense that something follows and tries to reestablish a chronology of Christ’s life and exactly where he was at what time. It’s not that. It’s not a Christology. He’s not trying to reflect theologically on the relation of divinity, humanity and the person of Christ, and so on. What is it then? As I say, he’s trying to, by taking certain important selections from the Gospels, interpreting them with a lot of the Old Testament, a lot of Saint Paul and tradition — he’s trying to give us a figure of Jesus we can believe in. And so I think it actually has a very important place in the books on Jesus because this is the first time — that I’m aware of anyway — that this combination of full awareness of historical-critical scholarship and the presentation of hermeneutics of faith, in which faith itself is seen more deeply, are brought together.

This is not a life of Jesus. There are many good lives of Jesus out there… It’s not a Christology. He’s not trying to reflect theologically on the relation of divinity, humanity and the person of Christ… he’s trying to, by taking certain important selections from the Gospels, interpreting them with a lot of the Old Testament, a lot of Saint Paul and tradition — he’s trying to give us a figure of Jesus we can believe in. And so I think it actually has a very important place in the books on Jesus.

And he’ll say things which may not seem to be controversial but if you pay attention are pretty shocking. He says — I might as well quote it for you — at the beginning, “One thing is clear to me: in 200 years of exegetical work, historical-critical exegesis has already yielded its essential fruit.” By which he’s saying: It’s all over folks. There’s no more to learn. He says, “If scholarly exegesis is not to exhaust itself in constantly new hypotheses,” — because that’s what it is, when we think this happened or there was a source here, or these are the redactors, you know, — “is not to exhaust itself in constantly new hypotheses, becoming theologically irrelevant, it must take a methodological step forward and see itself once again as a theological discipline, without abandoning its historical character.”

So, he really takes a shot here at historical criticism saying, your day is finished now. We need to integrate that into the faith. And, that’s why he goes on to say, “It must recognize that a properly developed faith hermeneutic is appropriate to the text” — that is, the scripture — “and can be combined with a historical hermeneutic, aware of its limits, so as to form a methodological whole.”

That, I think, is the thing that makes this book, in the history of theological writing and exegesis, a landmark.

PFR: Not dismissing the historical approach, but saying, we’ve got enough information from that, but that’s not the central issue?

JF: Exactly. We’ve got to integrate that. He says later on, this book will be “guided by the hermeneutic of faith, but at the same time adopting a responsible attitude toward historical reason, which is a necessary component of that faith.” Because he’s saying, Hey, look, our faith is historical. We believe that God actually spoke to man in time, became man in time. He died and rose. So, we can’t just forget history. But, also, we can’t just take history and what you can be certain of merely from the historical point of view. Are we sure Caesar wrote the Gallic Wars? Well, we’re pretty sure, but absolutely sure? History as history can only get to the past. And he’s saying faith gets to the past as present. We believe that Christ is with us still now. That’s another thing in this book which I love, is that he’s always, after he does his explanation of the gospel passage or an event in Christ’s life, he will apply it: This is what it means for us in life today.

 

Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week and the first volume, Jesus of Nazareth: From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration, are both widely available. The first volume is also now in paperback, and study guides are available for both volumes through Ignatius Press.

 
facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmailfacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail
The Author : Phil Fox Rose
Phil Fox Rose is content manager of Busted Halo. He's a writer, editor and content lead based in New York and writes the On the Way blog at patheos.com. He is coordinator for the New York City chapter of Contemplative Outreach, helping promote centering prayer, which has been his contemplative practice for nearly 20 years. Phil has also been a political party leader, videographer, tech journalist, punk roadie, software designer, sheepherder, stockbroker and downtempo radio DJ. A common thread is the process of learning about stuff, figuring it out and then sharing that understanding with others. Follow Phil on Facebook here. Or on Twitter here. philfoxrose.com.
See more articles by (92).
Please note that the editorial staff reserves the right to not post comments it deems to be inappropriate and/or malicious in nature, as well as edit comments for length, clarity and fairness.
  • Julie Hagan Bloch

    “But, also, we can’t just take history and what you can be certain of merely from the historical point of view.”
    So what you’re saying, in effect, is that you get to make things up.

powered by the Paulists