Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of April 23, 2007
Benedict's book emphasizes Christ's divine nature
By JOHN THAVIS
Jesus is not a myth, he is a man of flesh and blood, a real presence in history.
- Pope Benedict
Especially in the modern era, there is resistance to accepting God as anything more than a subjective reality, the pope said. The idea of "removing God" is the nucleus of every temptation, he said, and is seen in the modern approach to problems like global poverty and hunger.
Foreign aid to Third World countries, for example, has imposed a materialistic and technical solution on populations, ignoring their religious beliefs, he said.
Africa in particular has been "robbed and looted," he said, and like the man on the roadside in Christ's parable, is in need of good Samaritans.
Instead of giving these populations God, he said, "we have brought them the cynicism of a world without God, in which the only things that count are power and profit."
The pope warned that some of the "reconstructions" of Jesus offered by biblical scholars have also diminished his divinity and end up depicting Christ as simply one among many founders of religions.
In this sense, he said, "the interpretation of the Bible can effectively become an instrument of the Antichrist," by denying that God acts in human history.
The Christian faithful need to know that the New Testament is more than a collection of symbolic or allegorical stories, and that this is not just another myth of death and rebirth, he said.
"Yes, it really happened. Jesus is not a myth, he is a man of flesh and blood, a real presence in history. . . . He died and rose again," he said.
In one chapter, the pope focused on the importance of prayer as taught by Jesus in the Our Father. He posed the question: "Isn't God also mother?"
While there are expressions of God's maternal love in the Bible, and while God cannot be said to be either male or female, the pope concluded the image of the father was appropriate at that time to express the transcendent "otherness" of the Creator.
For Christians today, that language remains the norm, he said.
"Mother is not a title of God nor a name with which one prays to God," he said. "We pray as Jesus did . . . not as it occurs to us or how it pleases us."
The pope said that when Christ's followers prayed "deliver us from evil," they sometimes had a concrete danger in mind: the Roman political power that threatened to swallow them.
But the phrase has lost none of its relevance today, he said.
"Today, too, there are on one hand the powers of the market, of arms trafficking, of drugs and men - powers that oppress the world and drag humanity in chains that are impossible to escape," he said.
"On the other hand, there is also today the ideology of success, of well-being, that tells us: God is only a fiction, he's only a waste of time and he robs us of the desire to live," he said.
The pope explained in his preface that the book was the product of a "long inner journey," and that he had begun writing it in 2003. He said he was concerned that the figure of Jesus was becoming increasingly unclear, even for believers.
He decided that he could offer a portrait of the "historical Jesus" that was "more logical and understandable than reconstructions we have seen in recent decades."
Naturally, he said, to believe that Christ was God and that he revealed this in his public life goes beyond the possibilities of the historical method. In this sense, he said, the Scriptures should be read in the light of faith.
At the Vatican presentation, Austrian Cardinal Christoph Schonborn of Vienna said the pope's book should act as a corrective to the "innumerable fanciful images of Jesus as a revolutionary, as a meek social reformer, as the secret lover of Mary Magdalene," which have appeared recently in the mass media.
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