State of Affairs
Ratzinger: “In the midst of the crisis that has befallen Christianity in many parts of the world, the figure of Jesus of Nazareth remains astonishingly current. Even outside of Christianity he appeals to people: Islam recognizes him as a prophet; in India many people have set up an image of Jesus in their house. The Christ of the Sermon on the Mount, who moved Gandhi so deeply, has become for many non-Christians there a messenger of God’s goodness, in whom the light of eternity shines into the world. The story related by the Synoptic Gospels about the suffering woman who touched Jesus’ garments from behind and was thus healed surely takes place every today again and again in many different ways.
“Yet concurrent with this manifold presence of the figure of Jesus, it is disturbing to note that, within Christianity itself, Christology has been losing its meaning. It started with the effort to rediscover the man Jesus behind the gilded background of dogma, to return to the simplicity of the Gospels. Of course, it quickly became evident that the figure of Jesus in the Gospels cannot be reduced to that of a bland philanthropist – that precisely the Jesus of the Gospels, too, bursts open the framework of what is merely human, posing questions and demanding decisions that challenge man to the very depths of his soul. And so it became necessary then to pick and choose even in the Gospels themselves, in order to find a little consolation and not be exposed to any disturbance of one’s own world view. Today in broad circles, even among believers, an image has prevailed of a Jesus who demands nothing, never scolds, who accepts everyone and everything, who no longer does anything but affirm us…
“The presence of the figure of Jesus itself is becoming diminished – also with regard to the non-Christian contemporaries who surround us; the figure is transformed from the ‘Lord’ (a word that is avoided) into a man who is nothing more than the advocate of all men. The Jesus of the Gospels is quite different, demanding, bold. The Jesus who makes everything okay for everyone is a phantom, a dream, not a real figure. The Jesus of the Gospels is certainly not convenient for us. But it is precisely in this way that the answers to the deepest questions of our existence, which – whether we want to or not – keeps us on the lookout for God, for a gratification that is limitless, for the infinite. We must again set out on the way to this real Jesus.”
Ratzinger now confronts the great crisis of the present moment: How to get beyond that which is sensible-empirical to reach the invisible-empirical (“empirical” meaning the reality achieved experientially), i.e., “thing-in-itself,” or the person. He confronts this in his “The Face of Christ in Sacred Scripture” in the book On the Way to Jesus Christ of which the above text is the “Foreword.”
The semantic key is the Old Testament word panim, the Hebrew word for face. The trick is to reconcile the Jewish forbidding of images with the insistence on seeing the “Face of God,” which would seem to be very much an image. However, what Ratzinger finds is that “panim designates the subject, inasmuch as he turns toward others… that is, inasmuch as he is the subject of relationships. Panim is a term that describes relationships. We can say that precisely with the word panim, as the worship of images is eliminated, the concept of the person is established, specifically as a term of relationship.”
In the Case of the Face of Jesus Christ: Only in the pain of self-transcendence can one experience the Person of Christ “from within” and therefore “understand” (intellegere: ab intus legere)- “from within.” Hence, Ratzinger:
“`Already and not yet’ has been called the fundamental attitude of Christian living; what this means becomes evident precisely in this passage. For the next question is now (for all of post-apostolic Christianity, at least): How can you see Christ and see him in such a way that you see the Father at the same time? This abiding question is placed in the Gospel of John, not in the discourses in the Cenacle, but rather in the Palm Sunday account. There it is related that some Greeks, who had made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem to worship, came to Philip – that is, to the disciple who in the Cenacle would voice the request to see the Father. These Greeks present their request to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, an extensively Hellenized part of the Holy Land: ‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus’ (Jn. 12, 20-21). It is the request of the pagan world, but it is also the request of the Christian faithful of all times, our request: We want to see Jesus. How can that happen? Jesus response to this request… is mysterious… It is not recorded whether there was an actual encounter between Jesus and those Greeks. Jesus’ answer, instead, opens up a horizon that is completely unexpected at this point. For Jesus sees in this request an indication that the moment of his glorification has come. He suggests in greater detail in the following words how this glorification will come about: Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit’ (Jn. 12, 24). The glorification occurs in the Passion. This is what will produce ‘much fruit’ – which is, we might add, the Church of the Gentiles, the encounter between Christ and the Greeks, who stand for the peoples of the world in general. Jesus’ answer transcends the moment and reaches far into the future: Indeed, the Greeks shall see me, and not only these men who have come now to Philip, but the entire world of the Greeks. They shall see me, yes, but not in my earthly, historical life, ‘according to the flesh’ (cf. 2 Cor. 5, 167) [Douay Rheims]; they will see me by and through the Passion. By and through it I am coming, and I will no longer come merely in one single geographic locality, but I will come over all geographical boundaries into the farthest reaches of the world, which wants to see the Father.”
To Cross the Epistemological Threshold, One Needs “The Passion of the Christ”
(Ken Woodward on the Gibson’s Movie)
“Is this the Jesus you had imagined?
“Watching ‘The Passion of the Christ,’ Mel Gibson’s new movie, I kept thinking the following: It is Christians, not Jews, who should be shocked by this film.
Gibson’s raw images invade Americans’ religious comfort zone, which has long since been cleansed of the Gospel’s harsher edges. Most Americans worship in churches where the bloodied body of Jesus is absent from sanctuary crosses or else styled in ways so abstract that there is no hint of suffering.
In American sermons, too, the emphasis all too often is on the smoothly therapeutic: what Jesus can do for me. More than 60 years ago, H. Richard Neibuhr summarized the creed of an easygoing American Christianity that has in our time triumphantly come to pass: ‘A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom withouot ojudgment through the inistrations of a Christ without a cross.’ Despite its muscular excess, Gibson’s symbol-laden film is a welcome repudiation of all that.
‘The Passion of the Christ’ is violent – no question. Although Mel Gibson the believer identifies with a traditionalist movement that rejects Vatican Council II, Mel Gibson the artist here displays a thoroughly Catholic sensibility, one that since the Middle Ages has emphasized Jesus as the suffering savior crowned with thorns. Martin Luther, too, would have recognized in this film his own theology of the cross.
But there is a little twist here. In his pre-released U.S. screenings, Gibson invited mostly conservative evangelical clergy. They in turn responded by reserving huge blocks of movie tickets for their congregations.
And what’s so strange about this? Unlike Gibson’s film evangelical Protestantism is inherently non-visual. As spiritual descendants of the left wing of the Reformation, American evangelicals are heirs to an iconoclastic tradition that produced the ‘stripping of the altars,’ as the historian Eamon Duffy nicely put it. That began in the late 16th century when radical Protestants removed Christ’s body from the cross.
To the Puritans, displays of the body of Jesus represented what they considered the idol worship of the Papists. To this day, evangelical sanctuaries can be identified by their lack of visual stimulation; it is rare to see statues or stained-glass windows with human figures. For evangelicals, the symbols are all in sermon and song: verbal icons. It’s a different sensibility.
For this reason, I think evangelical audiences will be shocked by what they see. And, as Gibson has said repeatedly, he means to shock. Catholics will find themselves on familiar ground: they, at least have retained the ritual of praying ‘the stations of the cross’ – a Lenten practice that, like Gibson’s movie, focuses on the last 12 hours in the life of Jesus.
By contrast, Southern Baptists and other mostly fundamentalist churches do not observe Lent, and even Catholics have muted the ancient tradition of fast and abstinence that commemorated the Passion of Jesus.
Indeed, Gibson’s fil leaves out most of the elements of the Jesus story that contemporary American Christianity now emphasizes. His Jesus does not demand a ‘born again’ experience, as most evangelists do, in order to gain salvation. He does not heal the sick or exorcise demons, as Pentecostals emphasize. He doesn’t promote social causes, as liberal denominations do. He certainly doesn’t crusade against gender discrimination, as some feminists believe he did, nor does he teach that we all possess an inner divinity, as today’s nouveau Gnostics believe. One cannot imagine this Jesus joining a New Age sunrise Easter service overlooking the Pacific.
Like Jeremiah, Jesus is a Jewish prophet rejected by the leaders of his own people, and abandoned by his hand-picked socials. Besides taking an awful beating, he is cruelly tempted to despair by a Satan whom millions of church-going Christians no longer believe in, and dies in obedience to a heavenly Father who, by today’s standards, would stand convicted of child abuse. IN short, this Jesus carries a cross that not many Christians are ready to share.
It is easy, of course, to contrast third-millennium Christian mores with the story of Christ’s Passion. Like other Americans, Christians want desperately to know that they are loved, in the words of the old Protestant hymn, ‘just as I am.’
But the love of God, as Dorothy Day liked to put it, ‘is a harsh and dangerous love’ that requires real transformation. It is not the sort imagined by today’s spiritual seekers who are ‘into’ Asian religions.
Significantly, the Passion and death of Jesus is the chief element in the Gospel story that other religions cannot accept. In Islam, Jesus does not die on the cross because such a fate is considered unfitting for a prophet of Allah.
By Hindus and Buddhists, Jesus is often regarded as a spiritual master, but the story of his suffering and death are considered unbecoming of an enlightened sage. Like the Buddha, the truly liberated transcend suffering and death. But Jesus submits to it – willingly, Christians believe – for the sins of all.
If the United States were a nation of Bible-readers, not just Bible-owners, I don’t think a film like Gibson’s would cause much fuss. While I do not think that ‘The Passion of the Christ’ is anti-Semitic, I do think it presents Christians with a ‘teaching moment.’
But the lessons have more to do with forgotten Christian basics than with who killed Jesus.”
1) Two (2) Epistemological Experiences: Surface and Depth
The key to the mind of Benedict XVI is the solution to the presence of the Absolute in the relativity that is the contingency of history. That solution is the Person of this individual man Jesus of Nazareth, Who is Jesus, the Christ, the Son of the living God: the Absolute. Hence, the solution to the “dictatorship of relativism” of which Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger warned on the morning of his election as Benedict XVI is the experience, and therefore, the consciousness of the divine Person in the contingent “Face” of the man Jesus of Nazareth.
Hence, there are two epistemological levels at work here: a) the experience of this individual man through the external senses; and b) the experience of the “I” as ontological reality going out of self to become the very “I am” of the revealing Christ. This means not just “following” Christ, but dynamized by the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist “to be Christ” by undertaking a giftedness that is one with the divine giftedness.
2) Parousia: “Now” and “Not Yet”
We are in the time of the parousia now leading to Advent. This is normally understood to mean the end time of the Second Coming. Joseph Ratzinger offers quite another hermeneutic. He says:
“We may start with the word ‘Advent’ itself. ‘Advent’ does not, for example, mean ‘expectation,’ i.e., the beginning of a presence. In antiquity the word was a technical term for the presence of a king or ruler and also of the god being worshipped, wh0o bestows his parousia on his devotees for a time. ‘Advent,’ then, means a presence begun, the presence being that of God.
“Advent reminds us, therefore, of two things: first, that God’s presence in the world has already begun, that he is present though in a hidden manner; second, that his presence has only begun and is not yet full and complete, that it is in a state of development, of becoming and progressing toward its full form. His presence has already begun, and we, the faithful, are the ones through whom he wishes to be present in the world….
“When… we hear it repeatedly said during the holy night of Christmas that ‘Today Christ is born,’ it should remind us that what was begun at Bethlehem is meant to increase through our constant new beginnings and that the holy night truly can be, and is, ‘today,’ whenever a human being allows the light of goodness within him to shine through his self-centeredness and egoism. That night is
Today’ whenever the Word’ again becomes ‘flesh’ or genuine human reality. ‘The Christ child comes’ in a real sense whenever human beings act out of authentic love for the Lord and do not settle for mere exchange of ‘gifts.’
“Advent tells us that he presence of the Lord has already begun but also that it has only begun.”
Kingdom of God
John Paul II: “The kingdom of God is not a concept, a doctrine, or a program subject to free interpretation, but it is before all else a person with the face and name of Jesus of Nazareth, the image of the invisible God. If the kingdom is separated from Jesus, it is no longer the kingdom of God which he revealed. The result is a distortion of the meaning of the kingdom, which runs the risk of being transformed into a purely human or ideological goal, and a distortion of the identity of Christ, who no longer appears as the Lord to whom everything must one day be subjected (cf. 1 Cor. 15, 27).”
Benedict XVI in “Jesus of Nazareth:” “The core content of the Gospel is this: The Kingdom of God is at hand. A milestone is set up in the flow of time; something new takes place. And an answer to this gift is demanded of man: conversion and faith.”
“Something new takes place:” The novelty is the entrance of the second divine Person of the Trinity into time and space by the assumption of the full and complete humanity of Jesus of Nazareth. The humanity of Jesus of Nazareth is an historical individual particularized at that time and in that place. It is an historical contingent that has been assumed by the absolute divine Person Who exercises it as His very Self.
John Paul II, in his “Fides et Ratio” #12 wrote: “In the Incarnation of the Son of God, we see forged the enduring and definitive synthesis which the human mind of itself could not even have imagined: the Eternal enters time, the Whole lies hidden in the part, God takes on a human face. The truth communicated in Christ’s revelation is therefore no longer confined to a particular place or culture but is offered to every man and woman who would welcome it as the word which is the absolute valid source of meaning for human life. Now, in Christ, all have access to the Father…” This means that we must deploy two modes of access to the Christ Who stands before us: the empirical verification of this historical man, and the conversion of the inner self such that we are able to experience Him ab intus – from within ourselves, and in the experience of ourselves as open and turned toward Him, to receive Him as Word in obedience. That is, there must be sensible percipere and intellectual intellegere: to read from within ourselves. This opening toward Christ to experience Him as gift to the Father consists in our being gift of self to Him. Like is known by like.
Explicitly Denies the Two Empirical Experiences
These two epistemological experiences must be undergone in order to adequately grasp the integral reality of the God-Man Jesus of Nazareth as Jesus the Christ. The deployment of both levels of experience was methodically denied by Kant’s so-called “transcendental” knowing.
Consider then-Cardinal Ratzinger’s 1988 critique of Kant’s philosophy as the core and cause of the hermeneutical problem of knowing the full Christ as God and man:
“But I think we must go yet a step further in order to appreciate the fundamental decision of the system which generated these particular categories for judgment. The real philosophic presupposition of the whole system seems to me to lie in the philosophic turning point proposed by Immanuel Kant. According to him, the voice of being-in-itself cannot be heard by human beings. Man can hear it only indirectly in the postulates of practical reason which have remained as it were the small opening through which he can make contact with the real, that is, his eternal destiny. For the rest, as far as the content of his intellectual life is concerned, he must limit himself to the realm of the categories. Thence comes the restriction to the positive, to the empirical, to the "exact" science, which by definition excludes the appearance of what is "wholly other," or the one who is wholly other, or a new initiative from another plane.
“In theological terms, this means that revelation must recede into the pure formality of the eschatological stance, which corresponds to the Kantian split. As far as everything else is concerned, it all needs to be "explained." What might otherwise seem like a direct proclamation of the divine, can only be myth, whose laws of development can he discovered. It is with this basic conviction that Bultmann, with the majority of modern exegetes, read the Bible.”
3) Response of “Jesus of Nazareth:” Prayer as self-transcending Cross to become “Ipse Christus.”
The response of “Jesus of Nazareth” to this Kantian restriction to external “factualism” (“positivism”) about the historical Jesus is the following:
“We see, then, that the divine lordship, God’s dominion over the world and over history, transcends the moment, indeed transcends and reaches beyond the whole of history. Its inner dynamism carries history beyond itself. And yet it is at the same time something belonging absolutely to the present. It is present in the liturgy, in Temple and synagogue, as an anticipation of the next world; it is present as a life-shaping power through the believer’s prayer and being; by bearing God’s yoke, the believer already receives a share in the world to come.” He goes on to make the point that “Jesus was a ‘true Israelite’ (cf. Jn. 1, 47) and also that… he transcended Judaism. Nothing of what we have just discovered is lost. And yet something new is here, something that finds expression above all in such statements as ‘the Kingdom of God is at hand’ (Mk 1, 15), it ‘has already come upon you’ (Mt. 12, 28), it is ‘in the midst of you’ (Lk. 17, 21). What these words express is a process of coming that has already begun and extends over the whole of history.”
And the question that one must ask is: how does one transcend “the moment” and “the whole of history.” By what mental operation does one reach “the thing-in-itself” that Kant had declared forbidden territory. Ratzinger answers for the case of Christ: prayer. The “I” that is oneself must match the “I” that is the Other Who is Christ. Since God is three Persons each of Whom is Self-Gift, when the Son takes flesh, the relationality of self-giving to the Father “appears” as prayer. Ratzinger goes particularly to Luke to show that, in fact, “we see who Jesus is if we see him at prayer. The Christian confession of faith comes from participating in the prayer of Jesus, from being drawn into his prayer and being privileged to behold it; it interprets the experience of Jesus’ prayer, and its interpretation of Jesus is correct because it springs from a sharing in what is most personal and intimate to him.”
Prayer as Passion and Cross: The Supreme Act of Transcendence
The only way to understand the book “Jesus of Nazareth” is to pray. It proves out if one goes to the end of the book where one finds “Peter’s Confession” (pp. 287-305) to say “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Mt. 16, 16). To pray is to rearrange the ontological structure of the person, or better, to activate that structure into gift, even to death. Since that is the structure of the Person of Christ, it must become the structure of the believer whose first and supreme act is to pray.
The radical nature of prayer is stated by Ratzinger in the following: “The basic reason why man can speak with God arises from the fact that God himself is speech, word. His nature is to speak, to hear, to reply, as we see particularly in Johannine theology, where Son and Spirit are described in terms of pure ‘hearing;’ they speak in response to what they have first heard. Only because there is already speech, ‘Logos,’ in God can there be speech, ‘Logos,’ to God. Philosophically, we could pout it like this: the Logos in God is the onto-logical foundation for prayer. The Prologue of John’s Gospel speaks of this connection in its very first sentence: ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was in communication with God’ (1,1) – as a more precise translation of the Greek προς [to] suggests, rather than the usual ‘with God.’ It expresses the act of turning to God, of relationship. Since there is relationship within God himself, there can also be a participation in this relationship. Thus we can relate to God in a way which does not contradict his nature.”
“Abba” Means Totality of Self-Gift:
Ratzinger shows that the word “Abba” in the mouth of Jesus Christ is absolutely unique; that no Jew would have dared to use the word “Abba” with respect to God. As Joachim Jeremias said: “With the help of my assistants I have examined the prayer literature of ancient Judaism – a large, rich literature, all too little explored. The result of this examination was that in no place in this immense literature is this invocation of God as abba to be found. How is this to be explained? ... Abba and imma are… originally the first sounds which the child stammers. In Jesus’ days they were no longer restricted to children’s talk; they were also used by grown-up sons and daughters to address their parents. Yet their humble origin was not forgotten. Abba was an everyday word, a homely family-word. Now Jew would have dared to address God in this manner. Jesus did it always…” Ratzinger says that as a child’s word and as the unique word in the mouth of Jesus Christ, it expresses the radical giftedness of Himself to the Father as the Son. “It [“Abba”] expresses his whole being, and all that he says to God in prayer is ultimately only an explication of his being (and hence an explication of this one word); the Our Father is this same ‘Abba’ transposed into the plural for the benefit of those who are his.”
Again, the point of the book is to understand what must be done today to bring about an understanding of Jesus of Nazareth to be Jesus the Christ so that we can escape from the procrustean positivism of the Enlightenment and, finding Jesus as the Christ, find the true ontological dimensions and weight of ourselves such that we can really begin to build a new culture and civilization of love. If we do not achieve this, we will not be able to understand the Second Vatican Council nor the Magisterium of John Paul II or Benedict. Further, if we do not cross this epistemological threshold, we will not only not be able to create a true and integral humanism. We will not be able to defend ourselves as persons from the onslaught of the diminishment of the person to “thing.”
Therefore, the scene of Mt 16, 13-19 and Luke 9, 18 must be repeated. And that is the burden of the book. The epistemological structure of the scene is presented in a more pithy and formalized way in “Behold the Pierced One” pp. 25-27. But “Jesus of Nazareth” offers the following:
“In Luke… Peter’s confession is connected with a prayer event. Luke begins his account of the story with a deliberate paradox: ‘As he was pray8ing alone, the disciples were with him’ (Lk. 9, 18). The disciples are drawn into his solitude, his communion with the Father that is reserved to him alone. They are privileged to see him as the one who – as we reflected at the beginning of this book – speaks face-to-face with the Father, person to person. They are privileged to see him in his utterly unique filial being – at the point from which all his words, his deeds, and his powers issue. They are privileged to see what the ‘people’ do not see, and this seeing gives rise to a recognition that goes beyond the ‘opinion’ of the people. This seeing is the wellspring of their faith, their confession; it provides the foundation for the Church.”
 J. Ratzinger, “On the Way to Jesus Christ,” Ignatius (2004) 7-8.
 Ignatius (2004) 13-31.
 Ibid 18-19.
 J. Ratzinger, “On the Way to Jesus Christ,” op. cit. 14-15.
 Kenneth L. Woodward, “Is this the Jesus you had imagined,” International Herald Tribune, Thursday, February 26, 2004, 6.
 The document “Dominus Iesus” of June 16, 2000, #5 said: “As a remedy for this relativistic mentality, which is becoming ever more common, it is necessary above all to reassert the definitive and complete character of the revelation of Jesus Christ. In fact, it must be firmly believed that, in the mystery of Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Son of God, who is ‘the way, the truth, and the life’ (Jn. 14, 6), the full revelation of divine truth is given: ‘No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him’ (Mt. 11, 27) ‘No one has ever seen God; God the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, has revealed him’ (Jn. 1, 18); ‘For in Christ the whole fullness of divinity dwells in bodily form’ (Col. 2, 9-10).
 J. Ratzinger, “The Meaning of Advent,” Dogma and Preaching, Franciscan Herald Press (1985) 71-72.
 John Paul II, Redemptoris Missio #18.
 Benedict XVI, “Jesus of Nazareth,” Doubleday (2007) 47.
 J. Ratzinger, “Biblical Interpretation in Crisis: On the Question of the Foundations and Approaches of Exegesis Today,” St. Peter’s Church, New York, N.Y., January 27, 1988.
 Benedict XVI, “Jesus of Nazareth” op. cit. 57-58.
 J. Ratzinger, “Behold the Pierced One,” Ignatius (1986) 19.
 J. Ratzinger, “Feast of Faith,” Ignatius (1986) 25.
 Joachim Jeremias, “The Prayers of Jesus,” Fortress Press (1989) 96-97.
 J. Ratzinger, “Feast of Faith,” op. cit 26-27.
 Benedict XVI “Jesus of Nazareth,” op. cit. 291