Saturday, May 12, 2007

Reviews of Pope's new book Jesus of Nazareth

I have been pretty busy with work lately, and thus, very few posts. However, my work load has lessened quite a bit now so I am able to catch up on some blogging.

Friends have pointed out to me some reviews on Pope Benedict XVI's new book (to be released in English on May 15) entitled Jesus of Nazareth:

First, Zenit News has a synopsis of the book:

Code: ZE07041510
Date: 2007-04-15
Synopsis of Pope's Book
"Jesus of Nazareth"

ROME, APRIL 15, 2007 ( Here is the synopsis of Benedict XVI's book "Jesus of Nazareth," released by the Italian publisher Rizzoli, which has handled worldwide sale of the rights to the work. The Italian edition will be in bookstores Monday, and the English-language edition will be made available May 15 by Doubleday in North America, and by Bloomsbury in the United Kingdom.

* * * The Pope's Path to Jesus A personal meditation, not an exercise of the magisterium. This book is the first part of a work, the writing of which, as its author states, was preceded by a "long gestation" (Page xi). It reflects Joseph Ratzinger's personal search for the "face of the Lord" and is not intended to be a document forming part of the magisterium (Page xxiii).

"Everyone is free, then, to contradict me," the Pontiff stresses in the foreword (Page xxiv). The main purpose of the work is "to help foster [in the reader] the growth of a living relationship" with Jesus Christ (Page xxiv). In an expected second volume the Pope hopes "also to be able to include the chapter on the [infancy] narratives" concerning the birth of Jesus and to consider the mystery of his passion, death and resurrection.

It is primarily, therefore, a pastoral book. But it is also the work of a rigorous theologian, who justifies his assertions based on exhaustive knowledge of sacred texts and critical literature. He underlines the indispen¬sability of a historical-critical method for serious exegesis, but also highlights its limits: "Admittedly, to believe that, as man, he [Jesus] truly was God exceeds the scope of the historical method" (Page xxiii).

And yet, "Without anchoring in God, the person of Jesus remains shadowy, unreal, and unexplainable" (Schnackenburg, "Freundschaft mit Jesus," Page 322). In confirming this conclusion of a notable Roman Catholic representative of historical-critical exegesis, the Pope states that his book "sees Jesus in light of his communion with the Father" (Page xiv).

In addition, based on "reading the individual texts of the Bible in the context of the whole" -- a reading that "does not contradict historical-critical interpretation, but carries it forward in an organic way toward becoming theology in the proper sense" (Page xix) -- the author presents "the Jesus of the Gospels as the real, 'historical' Jesus," underlining "that this figure is much more logical and, historically speaking, much more intelligible than the reconstructions we have been presented with in the last decades" (Page xxii).

For Benedict XVI, one finds in the Scriptures the compelling elements to be able to assert that the historical personage, Jesus Christ, is also the Son of God who came to Earth to save humanity. In page after page, he examines these one by one, guiding and challenging the reader -- the believer but also the nonbeliever -- by way of an enthralling intellectual adventure.

Grounding his core premise on the fact of the intimate unity between the Old and the New Testament, and drawing on the Christological hermeneutics that see in Jesus Christ the key to the entire Bible, Benedict XVI presents the Jesus of the Gospels as the "new Moses" who fulfills Israel's ancient expectations (Page 1). This new Moses must lead the people of God to true and definitive freedom. He does so in a sequence of actions that, however, always allow God's plan to be anticipated in its entirety.

The Baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan is "an acceptance of death for the sins of humanity, and the voice that calls out, 'This is my beloved Son,' over the baptismal waters is an anticipatory reference to the Resurrection" (Page 18). Jesus' immersion in the waters of the River Jordan is a symbol of his death and of his descent into hell -- a reality present, however, throughout his life.

To save humanity "He must recapitulate the whole of history from its beginnings" (Page 26), he must conquer the principal temptations that, in various forms, threaten men in all ages and, transforming them into obedience, reopen the road toward God (Chapter 2), toward the true Promised Land, which is the "Kingdom of God" (Page 44). This term, which can be interpreted in its Christological, mystical or even ecclesiastical dimension, ultimately means "the divine lordship, God's dominion over the world and over history, [which] transcends the moment, indeed transcends and reaches beyond the whole of history. And yet it is at the same time something belonging absolutely to the present" (Page 57). Indeed, through Jesus' presence and activity "God has here and now entered actively into history in a wholly new way." In Jesus "God ... draws near to us ... rules in a divine way, without worldly power, rules through the love that reaches 'to the end'" (Pages 60-61; John 13:1).

The theme of the "Kingdom of God" (Chapter 3), which pervades the whole of Jesus' preaching, is developed in further depth in the reflection on the "Sermon on the Mount" (Chapter 4). In the Sermon Jesus clearly appears as the "new Moses" who brings the new Torah or, rather, returns to Moses' Torah and, activating the intrinsic rhythms of its structure, fulfills it (Page 65).

The Sermon on the Mount, in which the beatitudes are the cardinal points of the law and, at one and the same time, a self-portrait of Jesus, demonstrates that this law is not just the result of a "face-to-face" talk with God but embodies the plenitude that comes from the intimate union of Jesus with the Father (Page 66). Jesus is the Son of God, the Word of God in person. "Jesus understands himself as the Torah" (Page 110). "This is the point that demands a decision [...] and consequently this is the point that leads to the Cross and the Resurrection" (Page 63).

The exodus toward the true "Promised Land," toward true freedom, requires the sequel of Christ. The believer has to enter the same communion of the Son with the Father. Only in this way can Man "fulfill" himself, because his innermost nature is oriented toward the relationship with God. This means that a fundamental element of his life is talking to God and listening to God. Because of this, Benedict XVI dedicates an entire chapter to prayer, explaining the Lord's Prayer, which Jesus himself taught us (Chapter 5).

Man's profound contact with God the Father through Jesus in the Holy Spirit gathers them together in the "we and us" of a new family that, via the choice of the Twelve Disciples, recalls the origins of Israel (the twelve Patriarchs) and, at the same time, opens the vision toward the new Jerusalem (Revelation 21:9-14) -- the ultimate destination of the whole story -- of the new Exodus under the guidance of the "new Moses."

With Jesus, the Twelve Disciples "have to pass from outward to inward communion with Jesus," so as then to be able to testify to his oneness with the Father and "become Jesus' envoys -- 'apostles,' no less -- who bring his message to the world" (Page 172). Albeit in its extremely variegated composition, the new family of Jesus, the Church of all ages, finds in him its unifying core and the will to live the universal character of his teaching (Chapter 6).

To make his message easier to understand and indeed to incorporate that message into daily living, Jesus uses the form of the parable. He comports the substance of what he intends to communicate -- ultimately he is always talking about his mystery -- attuned to the listener's comprehension using the bridge of imagery grounded in realities very familiar and accessible to that listener. Alongside this human aspect, however, there is an exquisitely theological explanation of the parables' sense, which Joseph Ratzinger highlights in an analysis of rare depth. He then comments more specifically on three parables, via which he illustrates the endless resources of Jesus' message and its perennial actuality (Chapter 7).

The next chapter also centers round the images used by Jesus to explain his mystery: They are the great images of John's Gospel. Before analyzing them, the Pope presents a very interesting summary of the various results of scientific research into who the apostle John was. With this, as also in his explanation of the images, he opens up new horizons for the reader that reveal Jesus with ever-increasing clarity as the "Word of God" (Page 317), who became man for our salvation as the "Son of God" (Page 304), coming to redirect humanity toward unity with the Father -- the reality personified by Moses (Chapter 8).

This vision is further expanded in the last two chapters. "The account of the Transfiguration of Jesus [...] interprets Peter's confession and takes it deeper, while at the same time connecting it with the mystery of Jesus' death and resurrection" (Pages 287-288). Both events -- the transfiguration and the confession -- are decisive moments for the earthly Jesus as they are for his disciples.

The true mission of the Messiah of God and the destiny of those who want to follow him are now definitively established. Both events become comprehensible to their full extent only if based on an organic view of the Old and New Testament. Jesus, the living Son of God, is the Messiah awaited by Israel who, through the scandal of the Cross, leads humanity into the "Kingdom of God" (Page 317) and to ultimate freedom (Chapter 9).

The Pope's book ends with an in-depth analysis of the titles that, according to the Gospels, Jesus used for himself (Chapter 10). Once again it becomes evident that only through reading the Scriptures as a united whole is one able to reveal the meaning of the three terms "Son of Man," "Son," and "I Am." This latter term is the mysterious name with which God revealed himself to Moses in the burning bush. This name now allows it to be seen that Jesus is that same God. In all three titles "Jesus at once conceals and reveals the mystery of his person. [...] All three of these terms demonstrate how deeply rooted he is in the Word of God, Israel's Bible, the Old Testament. And yet all these terms receive their full meaning only in him -- it is as if they had been waiting for him" (Page 354).

Together with the man of faith, who seeks to explain the divine mystery above all to himself; together with the extremely refined theologian, who ranges effortlessly from the results of modern doctrinal analyses to those of their ancient precursors, the book also reveals the pastor, who truly succeeds in his attempt "to help foster [in the reader] the growth of a living relationship" with Jesus Christ (Page xxiv), almost irresistibly drawing him into his own personal friendship with the Lord.

In this perspective the Pontiff is not afraid to denounce a world that, by excluding God and clinging only to visible and tangible realities, risks destroying itself in a self-centered quest for purely material well-being -- becoming deaf to the real call to the human being to become, through the Son, a son of God, and thereby to reach true freedom in the "Promised Land" of the "Kingdom of God."

* * * The page numbers refer to the U.S. edition of the book, which will be published by Doubleday.

And here is a review (I will post others as I come across them):

All Things Catholic by John L. Allen, Jr.
National Catholic Reporter, Friday, Apr. 27, 2007 - Vol. 6, No. 34

When people pick up a newspaper or turn on the TV news, they generally aren't looking for a Sunday school lesson. This creates a challenge for journalists covering religious leaders, since most of their public utterances are devoted either to expounding their faith, or urging people to behave. The way reporters solve the problem is by combing through those utterances to find statements presumed to have broad, non-sectarian significance, normally because they apply to matters of politics or culture.

The result is that the real concerns of religious leaders, and the priority they assign to those concerns, often don't come across terribly clearly -- not because reporters aren't doing their jobs, but because of how the news business works in a secular world. Recent coverage of Benedict XVI's new book, Jesus of Nazareth, offers a good example.

The first wave of stories focused on comments in the book about Africa and capitalism, even though they amount to asides in a 448-page treatise on the Gospels. Other stories styled the book as a rebuke to The Da Vinci Code. (That red herring was encouraged by an indirect allusion to Dan Brown's potboiler from Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna in a Vatican news conference.) Still others seemed charmed by the fact that the pope wrote that because his book is not a magisterial act, "everyone is free to contradict me." Beyond those angles, there was little interest in follow-up, in large part because a pope discussing Jesus strikes most people as the ultimate in "dog bites man" developments -- that is, the most normal thing in the world.
By the time anyone had actually read all 448 pages of Jesus of Nazareth, the moment for further analysis had already passed. Passed, that is, everywhere but here, where papal analysis never goes out of fashion.

I'm in Rome this week, and, among other things, I set myself the task of studying Jesus of Nazareth. The key question is, "Why this subject, and why now?" Yes, a pope talking about Jesus is hardly a thunderclap -- but a pope talking about prayer or morality would be equally par for the course. Given Benedict's fascination with liturgy, one might have expected him to turn his pen to that theme if it were purely a matter of indulging his own interests, or settling old academic scores. Yet the pope himself hinted that something more urgent is involved in Jesus of Nazareth, writing that he devoted "all his free moments" after his election to finishing the book. To be honest, that's a bit of misdirection; popes don't really have "free time," and in any event, how they fill the moments in their day which are not formally scheduled usually is a good indicator of their real priorities. Thus the choice to write on Jesus, striving to put the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith back together again, is hardly casual.

What seems clear is that the motive for the book is also emerging as the core doctrinal concern of this pontificate: Christology. Put in a nutshell, Benedict's thesis in Jesus of Nazareth is that there can be no humane social order or true moral progress apart from a right relationship with God; try as it might, a world organized etsi Deus non daretur, "as if God does not exist," will be dysfunctional and ultimately inhumane. Jesus Christ, Benedict insists, is "the sign of God for human beings." Presenting humanity with the proper teaching about Jesus is, therefore, according to Benedict, the highest form of public service the church has to offer.

The English edition of Jesus of Nazareth goes on sale from Doubleday May 15, and an excerpt will be carried in the May 11 edition of Newsweek. (That should make the pope, for at least a week, no longer "invisible," as Newsweek described him April 16.) Jesus of Nazareth is the first installment of what Benedict has projected as a longer work; he decided to publish the first 10 chapters now, he wrote, "because I don't know how much time and how much strength will still be given to me."
* * *
Intellectually, the aim of Jesus of Nazareth is, in the first place, to defend the reliability of the gospel accounts; and secondly, to argue that that gospels present Christ as God Himself, not as a prophet or moral reformer. Over and over, the pope uses phrases such as "implicit Christology," "hidden Christology," and "indirect Christology," to argue that even where the gospel accounts don't draw out the theological consequences of stories and sayings of Jesus, their message is nonetheless discernible.

On one level, Jesus of Nazareth reads like a running conversation with exegetes such as Adolf von Harnack, who argued that the Jesus of the gospels was not yet "the Christ," and that turning him into a deity was a work of later Christian theologizing. (Clearly, Benedict isn't buying it.) The book is sprinkled with references to writers such as Rudolf Bultmann, Joachim Jeremias, Pierre Grelot, Romano Guardini and Hans-Peter Kolvenbach (the Superior General of the Jesuits, whom Benedict obviously admires.)

The book also contains some characteristic literary flashes of Joseph Ratzinger, such as his suggestion that we can see a model of redeemed creation in the beauty of Benedictine monasteries, while the horrors of a world enveloped by the "obscurity of God" can be glimpsed in Chernobyl.

On another level, the book offers detailed commentaries on the Scriptures. Benedict, for example, complains that modern translations of Matthew 7:28, which in Greek says that the crowds were "frightened" by Jesus' teaching, often uses "astonished" instead, which he believes obscures the awesome character of an encounter with divinity. Likewise, Benedict doesn't like the way modern translations treat "Yahweh" as a proper name for God, when in fact the Hebrew means "I Am," which is almost a way of underlining the impossibility of naming God. Benedict also says that he would prefer calling the "Parable of the Prodigal Son" the "Parable of the Two Brothers" instead, because the older brother who resents his father's graciousness offers an equally important lesson, especially for pious religious people.
Yet Jesus of Nazareth is not just an intellectual exercise, or an attempt to offer grist for homilies, though there's material for that aplenty. Ultimately, the motive for the book seems to be deep concern for what the pope sees as the toxic consequences of flawed Christology.

Over the course of the book, Benedict critiques a number of popular modern interpretations of Jesus: Jesus as a preacher of liberal morality, Jesus as a social revolutionary, Jesus as an inspired prophet or sage on the level of other founders of religious movements. The pope is well aware that these interpretations usually arise from noble motives, which he also shares -- to affirm the primacy of human beings over the law, to combat poverty and injustice, to express tolerance for other religions. In the end, Benedict believes that all such exegesis puts the cart before the horse. Out of impatience to get to desired social outcomes, Benedict argues, revisionist Christologies subvert the only basis for real humanism, which is belief in God, and in an objective truth that comes from God and stands above the human will to power.
On page 56, reflecting on Christ's temptations in the desert, Benedict makes this argument. (The following is my translation from the Italian edition.)

"Whenever God is considered a secondary concern, which can temporarily or stably be set aside in the name of more important things, then it is precisely those things presumed to be more important which fail. It's not just the negative result of Marxism which makes the point. The aid given by the West to developing countries, based purely on technical-material principles, which has not only left God to the side but has also distanced people from God with the pride of its presumed superior wisdom, has made the Third World into the 'Third World' in the modern sense. That aid put aside existing religious, moral and social structures and introduced its technical mentality into the vacuum. Believing it could transform stones into bread, it has instead given stones in place of bread. What's at stake is the primacy of God. It's a matter of recognizing God as a reality, a reality without which nothing else can be good. History cannot be governed with merely material structures, prescinding from God. If the heart of the human person isn't good, then nothing else can be good. And goodness of heart can come only from He who is Himself goodness, who is the Good."

Benedict makes the same argument with regard to peace.
"Discord with God is the point of departure for all the poisonings of the human person; and overcoming that discord is the fundamental presupposition of peace in the world. . . . Standing in peace with God is an indispensable part of any commitment to 'peace in the world.' It's from the former that the criteria and the strength derive for this commitment. Where humanity loses sight of God, peace also falls away, and violence takes the upper hand with previously unimaginable forms of cruelty. We see this today all too clearly."

In that sense, Jesus of Nazareth expresses in an exegetical key the same concern with Christology that drove the interventions of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith under then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger with regard to theologians such as Jesuit Frs. Jacques Dupuis and Roger Haight, as well as the most recent notification on Jesuit Fr. Jon Sobrino. In each case, the concern was with what Joseph Ratzinger saw as a faulty Christology in the name of some presumed good -- inter-religious tolerance in the case of Dupuis and Haight, social liberation for Sobrino.

Thus we come to what the pope wrote about Africa, in the context of the Parable of the Good Samaritan.
"The actuality of the parable is obvious. If we apply it to the dimensions of globalized society, we see how the population of Africa, which finds itself robbed and pillaged, concerns us closely. We see how much they are our 'neighbor;' we see also that our style of life, the history in which we too are involved, have despoiled them and continues to despoil them. In this regard, what's understood above all is the fact that we have wounded them spiritually. Instead of giving them God, the God who is close to us in Christ, and thereby gathering from their traditions all that is precious and grand and carrying it to fulfillment, we have instead brought them the cynicism of a world without God, in which only profit and power count; we've destroyed moral criteria so much that corruption and the will to power deprived of scruples become something obvious. This doesn't apply just to Africa. Yes, we must give material aid, and we must examine our kind of life. But we give too little if we give only material things."

To be clear, Benedict XVI is not minimizing the importance of both direct aid and structural justice with regard to the poor, above all in Africa. On April 23, Benedict wrote to Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, current president of the G-8, demanding the "the rapid, total and unconditional cancellation" of the external debt of poor countries, describing it as a "grave and unconditional moral responsibility, founded on the unity of the human race, and on the common dignity and shared destiny of rich and poor alike."

His argument is rather that any such act of justice, shorn of reference to God, is destined to be a partial remedy to the wounds afflicting the human family. Only a renewed focus on Christ, and on the plan for human life marked out in the example of Christ, he believes, offers hope of a lasting cure. According to Benedict, efforts to cut corners, to recast Christ in ways that seemingly promote progress more directly, always end in ruin.
I had an unexpected confirmation of this analysis last week.

Last Thursday, I attended the annual Rector's Dinner at the North American College, the residence for American seminarians in Rome. While there, I was pulled aside by a Vatican official who wanted to comment on what I had written some time ago about the Sobrino notification, where I made the point that it wasn't really about liberation theology but about Christology.
"That piece was widely noticed here," the official said. "Christology is the key for this pope." The official then added: "And it's not over."

That comment suggests there may be additional investigations, additional notifications, additional teaching documents and papal messages, circling around the themes laid out in Jesus of Nazareth.
* * *
I'll add four vignettes from the book which don't necessarily illustrate larger themes, but which are nevertheless of interest.

First, Benedict tackles the question of calling God "mother." In a nutshell, he affirms that God is beyond gender, and that Scripture often uses the image of a mother's womb to express the intimacy of God's love for humanity. Yet, he says, "mother" is not a title of God in the Bible, and hence the church is disqualified from using it.

Benedict notes that there were a number of mother-gods in the religious traditions of the cultures surrounding the Israelites, and speculates that perhaps it was only by excluding that sort of language in the Bible that the sovereignty and the "otherness" of God could become clear. While the pope acknowledges that theory may not be completely satisfactory, he says we're nevertheless obliged to follow the Bible's lead.

"Even if we can't give absolutely cogent reasons, the language of the prayer of the entire Bible remains normative for us, in which, the great metaphors of maternal love notwithstanding, 'mother' is not a title of God, and is not an appellation with which one may address God. We must pray as Jesus, on the basis of the Holy Scripture, has taught us to pray, not as it might strike us or please us. Only thus do we pray in the right way."
* * *
Second, in light of recent controversies in Catholic-Jewish relations, including a dispute in Israel over the presentation of Pope Pius XII at Yad Vashem and concerns related to the renewed use of the older Tridentine Mass, it's interesting to note the way in which Benedict refers to Judaism in Jesus of Nazareth.

In keeping with classical Christian exegesis and theology, Benedict is unabashed in asserting that Christ was the fulfillment of the promises and longings expressed in the Hebrew Scriptures. Yet he is deeply impatient with suggestions that Christ rebelled against, or transposed to a merely metaphorical plane, the demands of the Jewish law. Yes, Benedict says, Christ "universalized" the law, making it applicable not just to Israel but to all peoples, but he also insisted repeatedly that it was not his intention to cancel anything from the Law and the Prophets. Benedict rejects any attempt to minimize the importance of the Old Testament for Christianity.

It's interesting in this regard that the exegete whom Benedict quotes at greatest length, and with most evident fondness, is Jewish. The pope devotes pages 129-140 to reflections on the book A Rabbi Talks with Jesus by Jacob Neusner, whom Benedict calls a "great intellectual." Benedict writes at one stage that he wants to insert himself into their conversation. He praises the "great love" with which Neusner writes of Jesus, and applauds him for seeing clearly what Benedict believes too many Christian exegetes, in their passion for dissection, fail to grasp: that the Jesus of the New Testament is precisely the Christ of Faith, one who claims for himself the authority that belongs only to God.

"Jesus was not simply another reforming rabbi," Neusner writes, in a passage Benedict cites with approval. "What's in discussion are the claims of authority on the part of Jesus." In that sense, Benedict claims, Neusner "liquidates" the image of Jesus as a preacher of liberal morality promoted by Harnack and others.

Benedict adds that he also wants to walk along the same path with Neusner in order to better understand "our Jewish brothers."

Another insight into Benedict's attitude towards Judaism comes in his discussion of the Parable of the Prodigal Son (or, as noted above, as the pope prefers, the "Parable of the Two Brothers."). Benedict notes that ancient Christians tended to see in the two brothers representations of the Pagans (the profligate brother who saw the light) and the Jews (the earnest older brother who stayed home and followed all the rules).

"This application to the Jews is not unjustified," the pope writes, "if we leave it as we've found it in the text; as a delicate effort of God to persuade Israel, an effort which is completely in the hands of God. We should certainly note, in fact, that the father of the parable not only does not contest the fidelity of the older brother, but expressly confirms his identity as a beloved son: 'My son, you are with me always, and everything I have is yours.' Such an interpretation would be wrong, however, if it were transformed into a condemnation of the Jews, which is not what the text is talking about."
* * *
Though Benedict is a gracious figure, sometimes in the thrust-and-parry of academic argument, one can feel the iron fist beneath his velvet gloves. There are passages in Jesus of Nazareth where his frustration with exegetes who cast doubt on the reliability of the gospels becomes especially clear.

Perhaps the best example is Benedict's discussion of the temptations of Christ. In the gospel accounts, Satan supports his offers by quoting the Psalms, and Jesus responds by quoting Deuteronomy. Benedict says the conversation reads like a debate between two experts on the Scriptures, and notes approvingly a passage from Vladimir Solov'ëv, a 19th century Russian philosopher, in his book on the Anti-Christ. Solov'ëv wrote that the Anti-Christ "received a doctorate honoris causa in theology from the University of Tübingen; he's a great expert in the Bible."

"With this account," Benedict writes, "Solov'ëv wanted to express in drastic fashion his skepticism with regard to a certain kind of erudite exegesis of his time. It's not a matter of rejecting scientific study of the Bible as such, but rather a very healthy and necessary warning regarding erroneous paths that such study might take. Interpretation of the Bible can, in fact, become an instrument of the Anti-Christ. It's not only Solov'ëv who says so, it's implicitly affirmed in the account of the temptation itself. The most destructive books on the figure of Jesus, which dismantle the faith, are interwoven with the presumed results of exegesis."
* * *
Finally, anyone who knows the thought of Benedict realizes how strongly he recoils from charges that Catholicism went wrong by "Hellenizing" the faith of the Bible.

In fact, Benedict has argued that the encounter between Christianity and the thought world of Greco-Roman antiquity was providential, and that Christianity cannot simply shuck aside its Hellenistic inheritance, like a snake casting off an old layer of skin, without losing something essential. (That formed part of the argument in his now-famous address at the University of Regensburg, which few noticed because of controversies over his comments about Islam.)
In that light, it's interesting that the very last paragraph of Jesus of Nazareth aims to exonerate the church from the charge that by adopting Hellenistic philosophical concepts, it betrayed the message of Scripture. Instead, he argues, Greek concepts allowed the early church to explicate more clearly the claims implicit in the Bible about what it means for Jesus to be the "Son of God," and to save those claims from misinterpretation.

"It was necessary," he writes, "to clarify successfully this new significance through complex and difficult processes of differentiation and through pain-staking research, in order to protect it from mythico-polytheistic and political interpretations. This was the motive for which the First Council of Nicea (325) employed the adjective homoousios ('of the same substance'). This term did not Hellenize the faith, it did not burden the faith with an extraneous philosophy, but rather it fixed precisely the incomparably new and different element which appeared in [the Bible's] speech about Jesus with the Father. In the Credo of Nicea, the church once again says together with Peter, 'You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.' "

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