Friday, March 11, 2011

An extraordinary walk through the passages of the Gospel

By Most Rev. Gerald M. Barbarito
Bishop, Diocese of Palm Beach, Fla.

Pope Benedict XVI’s second volume of Jesus of Nazareth truly is a concrete reflection on the word of God as revealed in the Gospels - particularly as it narrates the Passion of Christ through His Resurrection. The Pope gives us an extraordinary walk through the passages of the Gospel which concentrates on this part of the Lord's mission in a manner that is both historically attuned and attuned to our faith.  This is extremely significant for, as the Pope states in the preface of his work, it is during what we call Holy Week, that "we encounter the decisive sayings and events of Jesus' life.”

The manner of encountering the Gospels which the Pope uses in his work is to combine historical – critical exegesis with a hermeneutic of faith.  To seek the historical Jesus, without reference to faith, makes it theologically irrelevant.  For the Pope, exegesis must be a historical and theological discipline.  That is why he uses an exegesis that is very consistent with that of the Fathers of the Church.  Exegetical work, in the words of the Pope "must recognize that a properly developed faith - hermeneutic is appropriate to the text and can be combined with a historical hermeneutic, aware of its limits, so as to form a methodological whole.”  As he observes regarding the combination of these two hermeneutics, “Fundamentally this is a matter of finally putting into practice the methodological principles formulated for exegesis by the second Vatican Council (in Dei Verbum 12), a task that unfortunately has scarcely been attempted thus far."  Simply put, we must read the words and the events of the life of Jesus in the context of faith!  

It is inspiring to know that Pope Benedict XVI, despite his myriad responsibilities and obligations, found the writing of his personal work to be not only important for scholarly reflection but also personally renewing for him.  During whatever limited personal time he had, the Pope was committed to writing and finishing this personal work so that he might hand on in his personal and scholarly life the Person of Jesus Christ.  This is truly an example which speaks not one but many volumes of what the Pope means by fusing a hermeneutic of faith and historical criticism.  When we look to this book of the Holy Father we can also see the book of his life and that speaks of an encounter with Jesus Christ which continually unfolds for him for the service of the Church.

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