by Carol Glatz and Francis X. Rocca
VATICAN CITY (CNS) – The Nativity story, like the whole story of Christ, is not merely an event in the past but has unfolding significance for people today, with implications for such issues as the limits of political power and the purpose of human freedom, Pope Benedict writes in his third and final volume on the life and teachings of Jesus.
“Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives” is only 132 pages long, yet it includes wide-ranging reflections on such matters as the significance of the Virgin Birth and the distinctive views of nature in ancient pagan and Judeo-Christian cultures.
In the book, Pope Benedict examines Jesus’ birth and childhood as recounted in the Gospels of SS. Matthew and Luke. His interpretation of the biblical texts refers frequently to the work of other scholars and draws on a variety of academic fields, including linguistics, political science, art history and the history of science.
The book’s publication completes the three-volume “Jesus of Nazareth” series, which also includes “From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration” (2007) and “Holy Week: From the Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection” (2011).
Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, said at the book launch that the three books are the “fruit of a long inner journey” by Joseph Ratzinger, whose personal views they represent. While much of what the pope says is accepted Catholic dogma, the texts themselves are not part of the Church’s Magisterium and their arguments are free to be disputed, Father Lombardi said.
In his new book, the pope argues that Matthew and Luke, in their Gospel accounts, set out to “write history, real history that had actually happened, admittedly interpreted and understood in the context of the word of God.”
The pope calls the virgin birth and the resurrection “cornerstones” of Christian faith, since they show God acting directly and decisively in the material world.
“These two moments are a scandal to the modern spirit,” which expects and allows God to act only in ideas, thoughts and the spiritual world, not the material, he writes. Yet it is not illogical or irrational to suppose that God possesses creative powers and power over matter, otherwise “then he is simply not God.”
The pope enriches the Gospel accounts with personal reflections as well as questions and challenges for his readers.
For example, considering the angel’s appearance to the shepherds, who then “went with haste” to meet the child Savior, the pope asked “How many Christians make haste today, where the things of God are concerned?”