Friday, April 8, 2011

Jesus of Nazareth II Discussion: Chapter 2

Pope Benedict focuses chapter 2 of his book on the great "Eschatological Discourse" of Jesus found in the synoptic Gospels (Matthew 24, Mark 13, Luke 21). In reference to the account in Matthew, Pope Benedict acknowledges that it may be the "most difficult text in the whole of the Gospels (26-27)." Benedict divides this chapter into three areas, The End of the Temple, Times of the Gentiles, and Prophecy and Apocalyptic in the Eschatological Discourse.

End of the Temple

Here we read the very stark words by Jesus that God is withdrawing. The events of 70AD are on the horizon. As Pope Benedict says, "God himself is announcing that he is to depart from the Temple, to leave it "empty" (26). While reading through this section all I could think of was the account of the Glory of the Lord leaving the Temple and Jerusalem before the fall of the First Temple, found in the early part of Ezekiel.

"A historical change of incalculable significance was in the air." -p. 26

"Jesus' words here are intended as continuations of tradition rather than literal descriptions of things to come." -p. 27

I love the quote from St. Gregory Nazianzen, on page 34, which proposes that our patient God only imposes on man things that he is ready for. (He is speaking in particular about the role of the Temple sacrifices and worship in general.)

"That he foretold the demise of the Temple--its theological demise, that is, from the standpoint of salvation history--is beyond doubt." -p. 34-35

"When Paul applies the word hilasterion to Jesus, designating him as the seal of the Ark of the Covenant and thus as the locus of the presence of the living God, the entire Old Testament theology of worship (and with it all the theologies of worship in the history of religions) is "preserved and unsurpassed" and raised to a completely new level. Jesus himself is the presence of the living God. God and man, God and the world, touch one another in him." -p. 39-40

The Time of the Gentiles

"From the content, it is clear that all three Synoptic Gospels recognize a time of the Gentiles: the end of time can come only when the Gospel has been brought to all peoples." -p. 42

Then comes some interesting comments about the relation of the Jews to God's plan and the Church's mission.

"The essential point is that these times were both asserted and foretold and that, above all else and prior to any calculation of their duration, they had to be understood and were understood by the disciples in terms of a mission: to accomplish now what had been proclaimed and demanded--by bringing the Gospel to all peoples." -p. 43

"Here I should like to recall the advice given by Bernard of Clairvaux to his pupil Pope Eugene II on this matter. He reminds the Pope that his duty of care extends not only to Christians, but: 'You also have obligations toward unbelievers, whether Jew, Greek, or Gentile' (De Consideratione III/I,2). Then he immediately corrects himself and observes more accurately: 'Granted, with regard the Jews, time excuses you; for them a determined point in time has been fixed, which cannot be anticipated. The full number of the Gentiles must come in first. But what do you say about these Gentiles?...Why did it seem good to the suspend the word of faith while unbelief was obdurate? Why do we suppose the word that runs swiftly stopped short? (De Consideratione III/I, 3).'" -p. 44-45

Is the Pope saying we should not evangelize the Jews? I don't think he is saying that, certainly not in the individual, person to person sense. I think this has more to do with corporate vs. individual evangelization. The Church is called to take the Gospel to the Gentiles during this Age. In this way, Benedict is emphasizing the Church's first mission which is to "go to the nations" as Christ commissions in Matthew 28:19. The conversion of the Jews, corporately, is in God's hands, as suggested by Benedict's quote from Brem on page 45 as well as the one below. What do you think?

Prophecy and Apocalyptic in the Eschatological Discourse

"Israel is in the hands of God, who will save it "as a whole" at the proper time, when the number of the Gentiles is complete." -p. 46

"What is striking here is that this text is largely composed of Old Testament passages, especially from the book of Daniel, but also from Ezekiel, Isaiah, and other scriptural texts." -p. 49

"The old apocalypic text is given a personalist dimension: at its heart we now find the person of Jesus himself, who combines into one the lived present and the mysterious future." -p. 50

"The personalistic focus, this transformation of the apocalyptic visions--which still corresponds to the inner meaning of the Old Testament images--is the original element in Jesus' teaching about the end of the world: this is what it is all about." -p. 51

"Jesus' apocalyptic words have nothing to do with clairvoyance. Indeed, they are intended to deter us from mere superficial curiosity about observable phenomenona (LK 17:20) and to lead us toward the essential: toward life built upon the word of God that Jesus gives us; toward an encounter with him, the living Word; toward responsibility before the Judge of the living and the dead." -p. 52

With that last quote, all I can say is a hearty Amen!


Anonymous said...

I have to say that I read this section of the new book first, because it is of particular interest to me, but I found Pope Benedict's exegesis to be quite unconvincing. As he stated is his treatise "Eschatology," he believes addressing how "imminent expectation" can be meanignfully understood to be the key issue. Using Luke's phrase "the time of the Gentiles" to read in a delay of the parousia strikes me as an unwarranted stretch from limited evidence. He has not actually achieved the goal he has set for himself. No scholar wrestling with "naherwartung" looks to his exegesis of these texts.

Theophrastus said...

What I found most interesting about this chapter was Pope Benedict/Dr. Ratzinger's thesis that Jesus used apocalyptic prophecies from the Prophets to deliberately remove the temporal element. It was a jolt to read that, because I had long read the New Testament with the idea that the authors (Paul and Luke, for example) were expecting them soon. This is a point I will need to think about at length.

* * * * *

Of course, the other item which deserves mention is the point you highlight: namely Ratzinger's quite strong affirmation of non-proselytizing of Jews. This issue of course has reached crisis level with the Summorum Pontificum and the Tridentine Good Friday prayer pro perfidis judaeis, as well as the lifting of excommunication and the prospect of the full rehabilitation of notorious SSPX anti-Semite and Holocaust denier, Bishop Richard Williamson.

In response, a number of Vatican officials, notably Walter Cardinal Kasper, reaffirmed the Vatican's commitment to Nostra Aetate, and Pope Benedict ordered the revision of the prayer, removing references to "blindness" and "immersion in darkness."

However, there is still concern as to whether Benedict's changes have actually been implemented -- this 2010 news article points out that the 2010 Vatican missal publication still includes Pro Conversione Iudaeorum rather than Oremus et pro Iudaeis.

ne of the most detailed discussion of the incident is to be found in the 16 April 2008 essay by Walter Cardinal Kasper's in L'Osservatore Romano, entitled "Striving for Mutual Respect in Modes of Prayer." The entire essay is worth reading, but his conclusion is completely consistent with Benedict/Ratzinger's:

So one can say: God will bring about the salvation of Israel in the end, not on the basis of a mission to the Jews but on the basis of the mission to the Gentiles, when the fullness of the Gentiles has entered. He alone who has caused the hardening of the majority of the Jews can dissolve that hardening again. He will do so when "the Deliverer" comes from Zion (Rom 11:26). On the basis of Paul's use of language (cf. I Thes 1:10), that can be none other than Christ at his return. In fact, Jews and Gentiles have the same Lord (Rom. 10:12).

Within American Catholic circles, option varies considerably -- from the USCCB's landmark Reflections on Covenant and Mission (but see also the 2009 "clarification") to Avery Cardinal Dulles's steadfast belief in supercessionism based on Hebrews 10:9.

In this chapter, Benedict/Ratzinger seems to have written a political document, closely following the path made by Kasper, trying to avoid further damage caused by the painful events of Pro Conversione Iudaeorum and Williamson affairs.

EegahInc said...

I'm kind of with Tim on this one. I don't see anything that would prohibit the evangelization of individual Jews if they're interested. Seems like we'd miss out on people like Edith Stein if we stopped that. This seems more like a recognition that the Church isn't to single out the Jews for conversion, which seems reasonable considering what the Bible has to say about the Jews and the last days.

Speaking of the "imminent expectation" of the Church following Jesus' crucifixion, I actually appreciated the alternate way of looking at that which the Pope suggested (Pg44). It never dawned on me to see their fervor as a desire to hasten the second coming by hurrying up and getting everybody converted. That's a whole different mindset from the apocalyptic one. I'm no scholar, so I can't attest to how eschatologically sound this view is, but it's definitely something I'd like to noodle on for awhile.

Theophrastus said...

I hope you will continue on with this series, Tim.

I am so pleased with these volumes, where we have the Pope speaking as Professor Ratzinger (rather than speaking for the magisterium) -- to a broad (albeit highly educated) audience.

In this volume (and also volume 1) one can see the sparkling genius we remember from Einf├╝hrung in das Christentum. In these three books (Introduction to Christianity and the two volumes of Jesus of Nazareth) we not only see a master teacher, but we also see part of Joseph Ratzinger himself.

When I read these books, I feel as if I am in the audience at T├╝bingen, listening to carefully crafted lectures.

Timothy said...


It really is a privilege that he is the Pope in our days. He is truly a pastor and academic.

And yes, the series will continue. Wife and child are finally getting over a viral disease, so my most recent posts have been necessarily short.

Edward said...

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