Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week: From the Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection. By Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict (San Francisco: Ignatius Press. 2011. Pp. xvii, 362. $24.95.)
In 2007, Our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI published Jesus of Nazareth: From the Baptism of the Jordan to the Transfiguration as the first book to belong to a series exploring the figure and message of Jesus Christ. As Pope Benedict mentions in the first book, the purpose of the series is to present a figure of Jesus that both accurately describes the man from the Gospels and the Son of God who enjoys a unique relationship with the Father. Pope Benedict successfully continues to create an image of Christ which gets to the historical roots of Jesus without underplaying His divinity, bringing the reader to encounter the person of Christ personally.
With a rich array of Old Testament allusions, insights by the Church Fathers, and references to and citations of philosophers and theologians from a wide range of perspectives and areas of study, Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week is an excellent read for any literate person. Pope Benedict’s new book beautifully explores the person of Christ in a deep and insightful manner, all the while making the book widely accessible to the Christian or non-Christian, believer or non-believer, student or professor.
The book is divided into 9 chapters beginning with Christ’s entrance into Jerusalem and ending with his Resurrection. An epilogue leaves the reader with some brief insights into the Ascension of Jesus. It also contains a glossary of terms compiled by the publisher, enlightening the unaccustomed reader and inviting him to a greater familiarity with Christology. Each chapter is effectively and nicely organized beginning with an initial description of the Gospel passage or scene being examined, the presentation of a variety of interpretations from several theologians and biblical scholars, and then a culmination of an overall synthesis of interpretation, drawing from the tradition of the Church Fathers, other parts of Scripture, liturgy, and Benedict’s personal insight.
The book starts with Palm Sunday and Christ’s entrance into Jerusalem. After focusing on particular details of the Entrance into Jerusalem as fulfillments of Old Testament allusions, Pope Benedict further comments on a parallelism between the entrance and Church liturgy, citing the Church Fathers: As Christ humbly enters into Jerusalem on a donkey, he enters into a relationship with the Church through bread and wine. He then examines three exegetical interpretations of the Cleansing of the Temple: Jesus as a destroyer, attacking the Jewish authorities’ misuse of the Temple; Jesus as a political revolutionary; and Jesus as the new Temple, revealing God’s healing love.
The second chapter is devoted to examining the destruction of the Temple, the “times of the Gentiles,” and the prophecy and apocalyptic teaching of Christ through His eschatological discourse. For Benedict, Christ connects the destruction of the Temple as an event occurring in salvation history with the evangelization of the Gentiles: With the use of Old Testament allusions, Christ encourages the faithful to prepare for the end times through a stronger relationship with the Word of God.
Chapter 3 examines the washing of the disciples’ feet. Benedict beautifully examines the role purification has in faith through Christ’s conversations with Peter. He also notes the institution of the sacrament of confession, and highlights the importance of service and humility as virtues that result in purification of the heart.
Benedict reflects on the priestly figure of Jesus in the fourth chapter by providing the biblical and historical background of the Jewish Feast of the Atonement and by closely examining major themes in Christ’s prayer (John 17). By focusing on the eternal life, sanctification in truth, understanding of God’s name, and unity, Benedict demonstrate the way in which Christ is sent from the Father and establishes the Church through the unity of the disciples, going beyond what a historical-critical methodology can claim about the person of Jesus.
The middle of the book reaches a high point with Benedict’s careful examination of the Last Supper. This fifth chapter best illustrates Benedict’s goal to engage the reader into a personal relationship with Christ. He expertly weaves elements from a historical exegesis of the event with the tradition of the faith, explaining the theology of the Words of Institution with a clarity that a reader at any level of theological background will appreciate. Providing a treasury of interpretations of this scene – including that of Notre Dame’s Professor John P. Meier – Benedict successfully builds the book with a foundation in the Last Supper to the culminating event of the Resurrection.
The sixth and seventh chapters look at Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane and Trial of Jesus before the Sanhedrin and Pilate. These chapters feature fascinating discussion of the distinction between Christ’s will and the Father’s will, of Christ’s human and divine natures, and of the question of truth. Here, Benedict skillfully calls to mind the full mystery of the person of Christ: Because the crowds and the Pilate could not and would not see Christ as Truth, the condemnation of Christ to crucifixion was the result.
The last third of the book consists of Chapter 8, an analysis of the crucifixion and burial of Jesus and Chapter 9, the Resurrection of Jesus from the Dead. Walking with Christ on the Way to the Cross, Benedict indeed brings the reader to a personal encounter with Christ as Benedict explains how humanity was brought to redemption with Christ on the Cross.
The eighth chapter is also heavily ecclesiological, explaining Christ’s cry of thirst as thirst for His Church, detailing the birth of the Church at the foot of the Cross with the Mother of Jesus, and pointing out the beginning of the sacramental life of the Church with the blood and water that flowed from His pierced side. The eighth chapter ends with a strong criticism of the rationalization of the Passion: With the guidance of the Church and its apostolic tradition, the faithful has received a continually enriching understanding of the mystery of atonement that defies rationalism.
In Chapter 9 and the epilogue, Benedict examines both the confessional tradition and narrative tradition of the events surrounding the Resurrection of Christ. The Resurrection of Christ, for Benedict, has an undeniable historical significance with the tradition of faith as the most important methodology in understanding the mystery.
Jesus of Nazareth is very helpful in how it provides the historical context of each scene examined, offering to the reader greater insight and appreciation to the event as a result of a better understanding to the significance of certain details. As Pope Benedict reassures his audience that he is not trying to present an exhaustive study of the person of Christ, he succeeds in his true aim of educating the reader about the person of Christ with the help of several methodologies, not to solve the mystery of Christ but to underscore the beauty of the mystery and to develop a closer relationship with the mystery.
An erudite piece of scholarship, Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week demonstrates that the Holy Father remains ever so faithful to his office as bishop, with the primary intent to engage, preach, and teach the reader to search for truth and for a genuine understanding of the person of Christ.
Sandra Laguerta is a sophomore theology major. She sang “Full in the Panting Heart of Rome” both at the completion of reading this book and of writing this humble review. Contact her at email@example.com.