Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Jesus of Nazereth and First Things

While I was here I was discussing First Things with Fr. Williams, LC, and he brought to my attention a review of Benedict's book "Jesus of Nazereth". He warned me that it was not a good review, but decided to give it a read anyways.

For those of you who have a subscription to First Things, you can find the review here:


If you do not have a subscription, then usually you can access the journal through your local public library.

Anyways, I found this review to be particularly dissapointing because he missed the entire point of the book. I am still not finished it, but have read enough of it to get a good understanding of what Benedict is hoping to do with it, affirm the position that Christ is the focal point of history and that we look through the lense of Chrsit to have an understanding of what the Gospels and History have to say.

Anyways, below you will find the letter I wrote to the Editor of First Things.


In Benedict and the Biblical Jesus, Richard B. Hays attempts to give a critical review of the Pope's book. Besides, did not the Pope say that he wanted the book to be published outside of his magisterial authority to engage in discussion?

While I am in agreement that this is a good and worthy thing to do, I believe that Richard B. Hays misses the point of the book in a grave manner.

At one point, Mr. Hays states by quoting Benedict in his desire to take his convictions of faith as the starting point for reading the texts with the aid of historical methodology. The problem, however, is what follows. Mr. Hays states that the problem with this is that this is contrary to the historical-critical method, that taking the position of faith seeking understanding is fundamentally opposed to the historical-critical method.

And it is here that Mr. Hays misses the point entirely. It appears that Mr. Hays was wanting to book to be something it was never intended to be, an engagement by a prominent Catholic theologian with modern issues in the historical-critical school, using the same principles and methods that this school uses.

Over and over he expresses his displeasure with the fact that Benedict does not address this modern issue and that modern issue in the historical-critical school. Instead, he says that Benedict is too old fashioned, dealing with problems that are out dated and have nothing to do with the modern debate.

I would like to challenge that position of Mr. Hays. I believe that Benedict does indeed address the issue of the historical-critical method, but not at the modern position. It seems, instead, that Benedict takes the same position of the neo-patristic exegete, Msgr. John McCarthy. This position is that the problem with the historical critical method is based in its roots, for it builds on presumptions and false axioms that are contrary to a proper theological approach to the Bible. This does not negate understanding the historical situation, but that is not what the historical-critical method is all about.

Instead, Benedict deals with the problem head on, but in a subtle manner, as per his style. When one reads any of his writings, it is important to see what he does not say, for it is there that his view is expressed at its fullest. He never expresses it full out, but he actually confronts the historical-critical method at its very root. The historical-critical method, in the end, states that the reason such saying or event is in the Bible is because that event or saying or action is historically determined by the circumstances said person, event, or action was in. Secondly, it denies completely that God has any role in history, as expressed even by Mr. Hays. The idea of taking the position of faith first is fundamentally contradictory to the historical-critical method. What Benedict is addressing here is the backward position of the historical critical method. This is why (to Mr. Hays' dismay), Benedict adopts a high-Johanine Christology; because Christ is the author, source, and summit of all history, and it is through the lense of faith in Christ that we are to view history, we are not to view Christ through the lense of history.

Fundamentally, the Pope does deny the validity of the historical-critical method based on the understanding that Christ is the historical event through which we view all of time and reality. This is the point that Mr. Hays missed, and this is why the book was not what he expected it to be.

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