Pope Addresses 5 Disputed Questions in New Book

Cardinal Ouellet Presents Pontiff's "Jesus of Nazareth"

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VATICAN CITY, MARCH 11, 2011 (Zenit.org).- In his new book, Benedict XVI clarifies five disputed questions on the life of Christ that still spark heated debates among theologians and others, noted Cardinal Marc Ouellet.

The prefect of the Congregation for Bishops and relator of the 2008 Synod of Bishops on the Word of God made this observation Thursday in the Vatican press office when he presented the Pope's book, "Jesus of Nazareth Part II: Holy Week -- From the Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection." The book has been published in English by Ignatius Press.

The cardinal said that by clarifying these disputed questions, the work, which is signed by Joseph Ratzinger, Benedict XVI, "will have a liberating effect to stimulate love of sacred Scripture."

According to Cardinal Ouellet, the first question the book clarifies is "the historical foundation of Christianity."

He affirmed, "Given that Christianity is the religion of the Word incarnated in history, it is indispensable for the Church to hold to the real facts and events, precisely because they contain 'mysteries' that theology must reflect on using keys of interpretation that belong to the realm of faith."

The prelate added, "Understood from this perspective is the Pope's interest in historical-critical exegesis, which he knows well, and of which he draws the best to deepen understanding of the events of the Last Supper, the meaning of the prayer of Gethsemane, the chronology of the Passion and, in particular, the historical traces of the Resurrection."

The Pontiff sheds light on events in the New Testament with the aid of the Old Testament and vice versa, said the cardinal. "The bond of Christianity with Judaism is reinforced by this exegesis, which is rooted in the history of Israel," he noted.

As a concrete example, he mentioned the Holy Father's presentation of Jesus' priestly prayer "which in him reaches a totally new dimension thanks to his illumined interpretation of the Jewish tradition of Yom Kippur."

Is Jesus a revolutionary?

The second disputed question the Pope clarifies, according to Cardinal Ouellet, addresses Jesus' messianism. He noted that "some modern exegetes have described Jesus as a revolutionary, a teacher of morality, an eschatological prophet, an idealistic rabbi, a madman of God -- a messiah, in a certain sense, in the image of his interpreter, influenced by the prevailing ideologies."

"Benedict XVI's expose on this point is disseminated and well-rooted in the Jewish tradition," the prelate observed.

He continued: "Jesus said before the Sanhedrin that he was the Messiah, clarifying the exclusively religious nature of his messianism. For this reason, he was condemned as a blasphemer, as he identified himself with 'the Son of Man who comes on the clouds of heaven."

The Pope stressed that the objective of Jesus' messianism is "to establish the new worship, adoration in spirit and in truth, which entails the whole of personal and community existence, as a surrender in love for the glorification of God in the flesh," The cardinal explained.

Expiation of sins

The third debate clarified by the Pontiff addresses "redemption and the place that the expiation of sins occupies in it," Cardinal Ouellet noted.

He explained: "The Pope addresses the modern objections to this traditional doctrine. Is not a cruel God who exacts an infinite expiation an image that is incompatible with our concept of a merciful God?"

To answer this question, the prelate said, Benedict XVI "shows how mercy and justice hold hands in the framework of the covenant willed by God."

He reflected, "With a God who forgives everything without being concerned about the answer that his creature must give, is the covenant and above all the terrible evil that poisons the history of the world to be taken seriously?"

These questions invite us "to reflection and in the first place to conversion," the cardinal said.

He stated: "It's not possible to have a clear vision of these ultimate questions by remaining neutral or keeping one's distance.

"It is necessary to involve one's liberty to discover the profound meaning of the covenant, which in fact commits the liberty of every person."

Cardinal Ouellet affirmed that Benedict XVI's conclusion is urgent: "The mystery of the expiation must not be sacrificed by any arrogant rationalism."

Christ's priesthood

Another disputed question addressed by the Pope is Christ's priesthood. "According to today's ecclesiastical categories, Jesus was a layman invested with a prophetic vocation," the cardinal noted.

He continued: "He did not belong to the aristocracy of the Temple and he lived on the margin of this essential institution for the people of Israel.

"This fact has led many to consider the figure of Christ as totally foreign and with no relation to the priesthood.

"Benedict XVI corrects this interpretation, firmly supported by the Letter to the Hebrews, which speaks extensively of the priesthood of Christ."

The prelate affirmed: "The Pope responds to the historical objections and criticisms by showing the coherence of the new priesthood of Jesus with the new worship he came to establish on earth, obeying the will of the Father.

"The commentary on Jesus' priestly prayer is of great profundity and leads the reader to pastures that he could never have imagined.

"In this context, the institution of the Eucharist appears as a luminous beauty that is reflected in the life of the Church as its foundation and everlasting source of peace and joy."

The Resurrection

The last disputed issue mentioned by Cardinal Ouellet is the central question of Christianity: the Resurrection.

He noted that Benedict XVI recognizes it without mincing words: "The Christian faith makes sense or fails in virtue of the truth of the testimony, according to which Christ rose from the dead."

The cardinal explained: "The Pope rises against the exegetical lucubrations that declare as compatible the proclamation of the resurrection of Christ and his corpse's remaining in the sepulcher.

"He excludes these absurd theories observing that the empty sepulcher, though it isn't a proof of the Resurrection, of which not one was a witness, remains as a sign, an assumption, a trace left in history by a transcendent event."

The prelate noted that the historical importance of the Resurrection is manifested in the testimony of the early communities that gave life to the tradition of Sunday as a sign of identification and belonging to the Lord.

He recalled the Pontiff's writing that "if one considers the importance that Saturday has in the Old Testament tradition, based on the account of the creation and on the Decalogue, it is evident that only an event of overwhelming force could cause giving up Saturday and replacing it by the first day of the week."

For this reason, the cardinal affirmed, the Holy Father makes this confession: "For me, the celebration of the Lord's Day, which has distinguished the Christian community from the beginning, is one of the strongest proofs that something extraordinary happened on that day: the discovery of the empty sepulcher and the encounter with the risen Lord."

Cardinal Ouellet concluded his presentation by launching the proposal that Benedict XVI makes to the dialogue of exegetes and experts of Sacred Scripture, that their reading would become an encounter with Jesus.

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On the Net:

"Jesus of Nazareth": www.ignatius.com/Products/JN2-H/jesus-of-nazareth.aspx