Monday, April 16, 2007

Jesus at Prayer: A brief extract from the 'Introduction' of Jesus of Nazareth

Apologies for the slight 'clunkiness' of the translation - Italian sentence structure and idiom does not always transfer smoothly into English. I shudder to think how this extract will compare with the professional English translation from the German. Ambiguities and infelicities of expression are, in all probability my fault, rather than that of the Holy Father:

To understand Jesus the recurring instances when He withdraws "to a mountain" and prays for entire nights "alone" with the Father are essential. These brief references disperse a little the veil of the mystery and allow us to cast a glance into the filial existence of Jesus, to discern the wellspring of his actions, his teaching and his suffering. This "praying" of Jesus is the conversation of the Son with the Father in which are involved the human knowledge and will i.e. the human soul of Jesus, so that the "prayer" of the man can become participation in the communion of the Son with the Father.

The famous affirmation of Adolf von Harnack that the message of Jesus was a message about the Father, of which the proclamation of the Son didn't have a part - is therefore a Christology which does not belong to the message of Jesus - it is a thesis which refutes itself. Jesus can speak about the Father as he does, only because he is the Son and lives in filial communion with the Father. The Christological dimension, that is the mystery of the Son as the revealer of the Father, namely “Christology” is present in all the discourses and all the actions of Jesus. This makes clear another important point. We have already said that in the act of prayer the human soul of Jesus is involved in the filial communion of Jesus with the Father. (See John 14:9) The disciple who walks with Jesus, in this way, is involved together with Him in communion with God. And it is this which truly saves; namely transcending the limits of being human; a step which man by means of his likeness to God is already predisposed, as something desired and as a possibility right from the moment of his creation. (pp 27-28)
Points of interest:
1. Note that the Holy Father is pretty explicit about this book being based around the idea of a Christology 'from above'. The starting point is the acceptance of Jesus Christ as the Son of God, and this allows the details of his earthly existence to fall into place and make sense. It's very much a case of 'credo ut intelligam' - I believe so that I might understand.
2. That doesn't mean that the full humanity of Christ is neglected. The Pope makes a very clear reference to the human soul of Christ and tries to help us understand what His Divine Sonship might mean in terms of the human operations of His soul... without engaging in any imprudent and ultimately fruitless speculations that say too much about the human conciousness of Christ.
3. This leads us to, what seems to me, a very Augustinian understanding of Christ - namely the One who is both God and Man, and therefore is the one and only Mediator between God and Man. Thus, closeness to Jesus allows the prayer of the disciple to also share in the communion which Christ has with the Father by virtue of His Divine Sonship.
4. Finally, we have a reference to man's openness to communion with God. Without suggesting anything as explicit or as technical as De Lubac's fashionable (but flawed) theory of a natural desire for the supernatural, or proposing some form of the Thomistic 'capax Dei', Pope Benedict again expresses himself in a simpler, and what I would regard as a fundamentally Augustinian way. Man is said to have some kind of predisposition towards this incredible step towards communion with God (which happens through Christ the mediator) right from His creation - a decided echo of St Augustine's You have made us for Yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.
5. All in all, the Holy Father is presenting some fairly profound ideas, but with the simplicity and lightness of touch of one who has a keen existential and intellectual grasp of what he's talking about.
6. This section of the introduction is preceded by a fascinating reflection on Christ as the new Moses, something I may blog about tomorrow. That's an interesting theme, and a fascinating way to begin a book which is primarily about the Christ of the Gospels. Ratzinger is remaining very true to one of the fundamental truths which the Church teaches about Scripture, and which modern exegesis frequently overlooks. The Old Testament is a genuine preparation for the New Testament; the New Testament is the complete fulfilment of the Old. Thus, the Old Testament doesn't merely provide a historical background for the events of the New Testament, but in the figure of Moses and the promise of a successor who would be greater than Him, we see a genuine preparation for and pre-announcement of Jesus Christ. I suspect that some of my readers know more about this than I do, but the figure of Moses himself as a pre-figurement of Christ does not strike me as being one of the more common themes of patristic exegesis. Certainly, we have St Gregory of Nyssa's Life of Moses, but in general, the Fathers seemed to focus on particular events in Moses's life as foreshadowing details in the life of Christ rather than as presenting Christ as the New Moses. If I'm correct on this point, then the use of Moses as the point of departure for the Holy Father's analysis is a wonderful example of authentic theological creativity which is thoroughly sympathetic to the tradition, yet presents things in a new and striking manner.

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