The trilogy to be completed by Christmas

2012-10-10 L’Osservatore Romano

It will be at the Frankfurt Book Fair from 10-14 October that  Rizzoli Publications will present for the first time the new book by  Joseph Ratzinger – Benedict XVI, dedicated to the Gospel stories on the childhood of Jesus.

In Italy the book “The Infancy of Jesus” will come out before Christmas, co-published by the Vatican Publishing House (LEV). As the book fair opens, negotiations are already under way with publishing houses from 32 countries for the translation from the German original  into 20 languages including French, English, Spanish, Polish and Portuguese. 

 As Benedict XVI himself explains in the book's foreword (which is previewed in full below),  the third part of the trilogy dedicated to Jesus of Nazareth also begins with the Gospel and concludes with the contemporary man. As he also wrote in the introduction to the second book “From the Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection”, the author attempts to “develop a way of observing and listening to the Jesus of the Gospels that can indeed lead to the personal encounter and that, through collective listening with Jesus' disciples across the ages, can indeed attain sure knowledge of the real historical figure of Jesus”.  And he further explains his intent: “I still hope that I have been granted an insight into the figure of our Lord that can be helpful to all readers who seek to encounter Jesus and to believe in him”.

Precisely for this reason Benedict XVI promised himself to also address the infancy of Jesus in order to complete this work. Today he has maintained that promise.

Benedict XVI's Foreword

 I hope it will help many people

I can at last consign to the reader the long promised little book on the narratives of Jesus' childhood. It is not a third volume but a sort of small “antechamber” to the two preceding volumes on the future and message of Jesus of Nazareth. Here I have sought to interpret, in dialogue with exegetes of the past and of the present, what Matthew and Luke recount at the beginning of their Gospels about the infancy of Jesus.

I believe that a correct interpretation calls for two steps. It is first necessary to ask oneself what the respective authors were intending to say with their texts at their time in history – this is the historical component of exegesis. However it does not suffice to leave the text in the past, archiving it among events that happened long ago. The second question of the correct exegete must be: is what has been said true? Does it concern me? And if it does concern me, how does it do so? With a text such as the Bible, whose ultimate and most profound author, according to what we believe, is God himself, the question on the relationship of the past with the present is inevitably part of our interpretation. Rather than diminishing the seriousness of historical research this increases it.

I  have taken pains to enter into dialogue with the texts in this sense. By so doing I am well aware that this conversation in the interweaving of past, present and future can never be complete and that every interpretation lags behind the greatness of the biblical text. I hope that my little book, despite its limitations, will be able to help many people on their way towards and with Jesus.

Castel Gandolfo on the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

15 August 2012

Benedict XVI

 When Jesus was born

A detail of the “Nativity” by Giotto (1303-1305, Padua, Scrovegni Chapel)(...) Jesus was born at a time that can be accurately determined. At the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, Luke once again gives an accurate and precise date to that historical moment: it is the 15th year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar;  the Roman governor of that year and the tetrarchs of Galilee, Iturea and Trachonitis,  are also mentioned, as well as Abilene and the chief priests  (cf. Lk 3:1ff.)

Jesus was not born and appearing in public at some indefinite “once upon a time” like legends. He belongs to an historically precise time and an exact geographical location: here the universal and the concrete come together. In him, the Logos, the creative Reason for everything, came into the world. The eternal Logos became a man, and this means he took on the context of time and space. Faith is tied to this concrete reality, even if, by virtue of the Resurrection, space and time are overcome and  the Lord’s going “before you to Galilee” (Mt 28:7) leads the whole of humanity into the great expanse (cf. Mt 28: 16ss).

Translated from page 36 of the manuscript

That Child wrapped in swaddling clothes

A detail of the “Nativity” by Giotto (1303-1305, Padua, Scrovegni Chapel) Mary wrapped the Child in swaddling clothes. With no sentimentalism, we can imagine how lovingly Mary would have awaited her time and  prepared for her Son's birth. The iconographical tradition, on the basis of the theology of the Fathers, has also provided a theological interpretation of the manger and the swaddling clothes. The Infant, tightly bound in swaddling clothes, appears as a prefiguration of his death: he is the Sacrificed One from the outset, as we shall see in even greater detail, reflecting on the words about the first-born. Thus the manger was depicted as a sort of altar. Augustine interpreted the significance of the manger with a thought that at first sight seems almost incongruous, but, instead, on closer examination contains a profound truth. The manger is the place in which animals find their food. Now, however, lying in the manger is the One who indicated himself as the true Bread come down from heaven – the true nourishment man needs in order to be a human person. He is the nourishment that gives man true life, life that is eternal. In this way the manger becomes a reference to the banquet of God to which man is invited in order to receive the Bread of God. The great reality, in which the redemption of mankind is brought about, is delineated in the poverty of Jesus' birth.

Translated from page 38 of the manuscript