REVIEW: Some thoughts about the Pope’s new book – part I

I have been reading the new, second volume of Benedict XVI’s book, Jesus of Nazareth.  A preview copy was sent to me by the publisher.

I have been circling back over various passages which impedes my forward progress.  I am circling back not because it is difficult to read, but because I want to remember it well.  Also, I have been taking it to my evening visits to the Blessed Sacrament. The book is about Jesus, after all.  Why not read it with Him?  That has been helpful, though it slows my progress.  So… I hold myself in check even as I strain forward.

The new book will be released worldwide for Lent 2011, with a date of 10 March.  Just buy it.

KindleYou can click HERE or the image above to go to amazon (USA) and buy the book at a significant discount before its official release.  The USA KINDLE edition is available HERE for even less than the hardback.  If you don’t have a Kindle – I am really starting to like using this great tool – you can get a USA version HERE.  It will work anywhere, globally.  If you are in the UK or Europe, use THIS LINK for the Pope’s hardback and THIS for a Kindle, which will work everywhere.  I haven’t found a link for the UK Kindle version of the Pope’s new book.  BTW… you can also read the stuff you get for Kindle on your iPhone, iPad, laptop, etc., and they all synchronize.

This second volume looks at the period the Lord’s life from the entrance into Jerusalem to His resurrection. In other words – Holy Week.

There has been an embargo on using the text.  Today, however, the publishers said we could use content from three sections.

Chapter 3, Section 4: “The Mystery of the Betrayer”
Chapter 5, Section 1: “The Dating of the Last Supper”
Chapter 7, Section 3: “Jesus Before Pilate”

I’ll share some observations about the book in the next few days, beginning with this general statement and then looking at somethings in “The Mystery of the Betrayer”.

As Pope, it is hard for Joseph Ratzinger to react publicly to things.  He can’t just be an old man with experience of life, or a theologian or priest.  As Pope, he is under many constraints.  He cannot simply say what he thinks or – and this is the dangerous part for him – what he is thinking about.  If you are smart, you mull over hard question, chew slowly, digest, chew more, consider, weigh.  You think things through.  In a conversation you may say what you think about something and you are expressing something about where you are with the question right now, not necessary meaning that you aren’t going to keep working on the problem.  We saw what happened when the Pope in that interview book – O Lord, let there never be another – said something about condoms.

Papa Ratzinger has been thinking about Jesus for his whole life.  He doesn’t consider Jesus to be static, or a subject, or a thing to be pondered.  Jesus is a who, in whose image we are made.  Years ago I heard Card. Ratzinger answer a question about some of Fr. Karl Rahner’s notions about God.  After a brilliant exposition, Ratzinger concluded, “”What Fr. Rahner forgets is that you cannot pray to an Existenz-Modus!”

Throughout the book, the Holy Father continues in the vein he exposed in his first volume where, in the indispensable preface, he explains where the “technicians” (my word, not his) of Scripture go wrong in reading Scripture.  You cannot simply apply tools of modern scholarship, such as the historical-critical method, form criticism, etc., without also concerning yourself with the who behind each word.  What Papa Ratzinger is doing is showing us how to reconnect with Scripture in a way closer to that the of early Fathers of the Church.

I have been convinced that the Fathers are of growing importance precisely because they reconnect us with a way of reading Scripture.  That’s one degree why I have a degree in Patristic Theology.  At the same time as we can make great use of the tools of scholarship we have, and the Holy Father does use them extensively, we never lose sight of that other way of reading and listening.  This is the Pope’s working method throughout.

Back to my contention that Pope’s are constrained.  I have the sense in reading this book that the Pope is not simply writing about Jesus, but is also making subtle – sometimes not too subtle – allusions to questions or controversies in our day or even giving us us explanations about things he is doing as Pope.  For example, his thoughts in the book about the Jews will both create controversies and also answer some questions about why he has done certain things.  Have you ever wondered why the Holy Father made a change in the 1962 Missale Romanum to the Good Friday petition prayer about the Jews?  What was he thinking when he inserted that new prayer?  Pages 41 ff. provide some food for our chewing.

But I digress…

In one of the sections we who have the book are allowed – as of today – to write about, Chapter 3, Section 4: “The Mystery of the Betrayer”, the Holy Father writes about Judas.   In his description, based on solid modern scholarship, of how people reclined to eat, so as to get at the Lord’s explanation of who would betray Him, the Holy Father pretty much guts the idiocy in the DaVinci Code, as well as some saccharine art wherein the the “beloved disciple” is depicted as resting against Jesus bosom.  But that is lana caprina.

Fairly often while reading, I circle back over a text and wonder if the Pope isn’t giving his opinion on some issue without directly saying that that is what he is doing.  Given my constant writing about the liturgical translations, I was struck by his section on the Last Supper about the Lord’s institution of the Eucharist and the words – and meaning of the words – when speaking about His own Precious Blood.  WDTPRS readers will read some familiar things in those pages.  But I digress.

In the section on Christ’s betrayer, the Pope also gives us a couple striking paragraphs useful for anyone who may consider receiving Holy Communion in the state of sin.  That is not what he says he is doing.  I am making that application.  But I can’t help but think as I read that the Holy Father may have had something like that in mind.

I quote now in part, to give you a taste.  The verse of the psalm Jesus uttered, to which the Pope is referring is “He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me” (cf. Ps 41:9; Ps 55:13):

John gives a new depth to the psalm verse with which Jesus spoke prophetically of what lay ahead, since instead of the expression given in the Greek Bible for “eating”, he chooses the verb trôgein, the word used by Jesus in the great “bread of life” discourse for “eating” his flesh and blood, that is, receiving the sacrament of the Eucharist ( Jn 6:54–58). So the psalm verse casts a prophetic shadow over the Church of the evangelist’s own day, in which the Eucharist was celebrated, and indeed over the Church of all times: Judas’ betrayal was not the last breach of fidelity that Jesus would suffer. “Even my bosom friend, in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me” (Ps 41:9). The breach of friendship extends into the sacramental community of the Church, where people continue to take “his bread” and to betray him.
Jesus’ agony, his struggle against death, continues until the end of the world, as Blaise Pascal said on the basis of similar considerations (cf. Pensées VII, 553). We could also put it the other way around: at this hour, Jesus took upon himself the betrayal of all ages, the pain caused by betrayal in every era, and he endured the anguish of history to the bitter end.  (pp. 68-9)

In speaking about Judas, the Holy Father delves into something about which I wrote yesterday, blasphemy and final impenitence.

I must say I found the section on Judas disturbing.  In many ways we can see ourselves in the figure of Judas.  Throughout, the Holy Father is showing us what Jesus does for us in the incessant struggle between light and darkness.  We are not exempted from the struggle for HE was in the struggle definitively.  If we are HIS, we are in the battle.

And for anyone thinking about leaving Mass early after Communion for no better reason than personal convenience, here is how this now unembargoed section concludes:

John concludes the passage about Judas with these dramatic words: “After receiving the morsel, he immediately went out; and it was night” (13:30). Judas goes out—in a deeper sense. He goes into the night; he moves out of light into darkness: the “power of darkness” has taken hold of him (cf. Jn 3:19; Lk 22:53).

I will write more about other sections in the days to come.

The second volume may be “pre-ordered” at a reduced price through Click HEREIf you are in the UK or Europe, use THIS LINK.

Directly from Ignatius Press (without amazon) for US buyers HERE.
I believe Catholic Truth Society is the publisher for England and Wales.

The first volume is HERE.

Finally, do you want better sermons from your priests?  These books would be good gifts to priests, useful for their preaching.  Both volumes would be useful for your Lenten reflections.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. For those of us who had to look that up: “lana caprina” = goat’s wool. Arguing over goat’s wool = arguing over nothing or over trifles.

    I knew I wanted to read this book and that it would probably be good Lent reading, but now my appetite is whetted! It makes me think of how much I have to feel penitent about.

  2. Joseph-Mary says:

    I have it pre-ordered and I can’t wait to read it!

  3. TNCath says:

    Fr Z. wrote, “And for anyone thinking about leaving Mass early after Communion for no better reason than personal convenience…”

    Indeed! A very well respected monsignor I knew growing up had this sign put in the vestibule of his parish: “Judas was the first to leave Mass early.”

  4. PghCath says:

    I’m working my way through volume 1 so I can be ready for volume 2 when it is released. The writings of German philosophers & historians are often dense and painful to read (in English). Not so with our German Pope; the book is amazingly clear and a joy to read.

  5. pablo says:

    “…“Even my bosom friend, in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me” (Ps 41:9). ..”

    He is speaking of the Cardinals, Bishops and Priest that are members of the Priesthood of Judas; Jewish Freemasonry.

    “…He goes into the night; he moves out of light into darkness: the “power of darkness” has taken hold of him (cf. Jn 3:19; Lk 22:53)…”

    Freemason meetings are held at night.


  6. “Jewish Freemasonry”. Wow, there’s a near-oxymoron. Sort of like “Nazis for Israel”.

    And if every meeting held at night is in the power of darkness, that’s a pretty harsh blasphemy against the Last Supper, not to mention the shepherds coming to see Baby Jesus.

  7. Or your namesake St. Paul’s preaching, for that matter, since he preached all night.

  8. Jenny bag of donuts says:

    Our pastor has that sign in our church too tee hee.

  9. skull kid says:

    Great stuff – thanks Fr. Z! I must finish off the first volume over the next few days!

  10. robtbrown says:

    TNCath says:

    Fr Z. wrote, “And for anyone thinking about leaving Mass early after Communion for no better reason than personal convenience…”

    Indeed! A very well respected monsignor I knew growing up had this sign put in the vestibule of his parish: “Judas was the first to leave Mass early.”

    Not to defend those leaving early after Communion, but over the years I have spent many months at Fontgombault, having attending the community mass there hundreds of times. I don’t think I ever saw anyone leave mass early.

    And I wonder how many who attended Msgr Schuler’s masses left early.

  11. Beau says:

    Fr – do you think it’s critical to read the first volume first? Or does the book stand alone?

  12. Beau: I think you could read the second book on its own, yes. However, a more complete reading will come on the basis of the first book, especially the Holy Father’s preface, wherein he talks about what he is doing.

  13. Fontgombault probably doesn’t have a lot of kids suddenly realize they’re about to throw up. :)

    Often people do have good reason to leave early, so it’s best not to assume. But having to leave early for an emergency or good reason is a misfortune, whereas leaving early for no good reason is clear proof that you don’t know how lucky you are.

  14. Re: 1st book — Most public libraries probably have a copy of volume 1 of Jesus of Nazareth. If you check it out now, you’ll be ahead of the crowd.

  15. Torkay says:

    In many ways we can see ourselves in the figure of Judas.

    At our Carmelite meeting a couple of months ago, our Director of Spiritual Formation pointed out something even more horrifyingly vivid: in reference to Our Lord’s scourging at the pillar, he said that it is we ourselves holding the whips and striking Him.

  16. Mark01 says:

    Two weeks ago some cars were broken into during the Saturday evening mass. This past Sunday before his homily our pastor joked that oddly their surveillance video showed a stream of people leaving mass early, and that the tape would be turned over to the police. Anyone who had a problem with that, he said, could see him after mass.

  17. Mariana says:

    Thank you Father, on the strength of this I just went and ordered Jesus von Nazareth I at (used copies cheaply), and can’t now wait for the second book!

  18. marthawrites says:

    Fr. Z. like you I am reading Vol. I [Actually, I am reading the new volume.] during my Eucharistic adoration time and for the same reason–reading about Jesus WITH Jesus looking right at me. A couple of weeks ago I had the book in my lap as I went to confession and the priest’s expression brightened as he said he had just been rereading the chapter on the Beatitudes in preparation for the next day’s homily. No wonder he is a good preacher!

  19. Mike says:

    I like reading this kind of stuff before the Tabernacle too. I usually try to say, “with your leave, my Lord”, before I plunge into the text.

    I am thinking of giving this new volume to my Episcopalian mother-in-law, for whom Jesus is a “philosopher”.

    One more thing: I love this Pope!

  20. anna 6 says:

    Thank you for your fascinating observations …I can’t wait to read the second volume.

    Unlike you Fr. Z., I would also relish a second interview book! (But of course, no one is going to ask me for an explanation about the content).

  21. Jack Hughes says:


    In the city where I live there is a very well attended weekday Mass that begins at 12:15 so that people who work in and around the city centre can get to daily Mass.

    Bare in mind that most Masses in this particular city usually begin around 9-10 AM and whilst the 7:30 at the Cathedral is usually well attended most people at 7:30 are just starting breakfast.

    I’m sure that Jesus is just glad that so many people give up their lunch hour to come to Mass even if they do have do a ‘judas scoot’ in order to be back at their desks in time.

  22. ray from mn says:

    I am looking forward to the new volume, particularly for the passages on the timing of the Last Supper.

    I’ve always wondered how so much activity could have happened in such a short time between Thursday night and Friday morning. Were Pilate and Herod amenable to being woken to judge what to them was just a “petty Jewish criminal?”

    I read someplace on the Internet that there were “two sabbaths” that week, one celebrated by the Essenes, and the regular one, and that the Last Supper may have occurred on a Wednesday night.

    I’m quite interested to see what the Pope has to say on the subject. His first book on the subject of Jesus was enthralling.

  23. Jenny bag of donuts says:

    Yes anna I relate. I prefer Our Father when he “talks” as opposed to his writing.

  24. Rouxfus says:

    Fr. Z, your observation about the Holy Father’s making a point about receiving communion in a state of sin reminds me of the Prayer for Grace in the Extraordinary form:

    LET not the partaking of Thy Body, Lord Jesus Christ, which I, though unworthy, presume to receive, turn to my judgment and condemnation; but through Thy Goodness, let it become a safeguard and an effective remedy, both for soul and body; Who with God the Father, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, live and reign God, world without end. Amen.

    This concern is echoed by St. Thomas Aquinas in his prayer for after receiving communion:

    Thou hast fed me with the precious Body and Blood of Thy Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. I pray that this holy communion may not bring me condemnation and punishment but forgiveness and salvation.

    In other words, for a graphic and not far off the mark analogy, the host is like the Ark of the Covenant in “Raiders of the Lost Ark”… in unworthy hands it is dangerous to handle.

    The Prayer for Grace is included in the Ordinary Form of the Rite, pared a bit, under the title “Private preparation of the priest” (GIRM 56f), along with a pared version of the E.F.’s prayer for Sanctification, as either/or option. By the speed with which many O.F. priests go from the Agnus Dei to the final elevation of the host, I reckon the observed norm seems to be “neither/nor”… the prayers seem to be skipped entirely, but I hope this is not the case.

    I recall vaguely reading a comment by the Holy Father that these two prayers (for sanctification and grace) were hidden and largely overlooked gems in the Liturgy, and that priests and faithful would be edified and perhaps protected by more frequent use of them. I cannot, unfortunately, locate where he made that observation. I learned these prayers a few years ago following along in Mass using the Magnificat magazine as an aid to navigation, and often use both prayers to prepare my soul to receive the Most Blessed Sacrament.

  25. Teresa-1962 says:

    Thanks for the excellent review. I wanted to thank you also for the link in your review directly to amazon to purchase the book. I really like links as I am not so computer savy. I pre-ordered one for me and one for my pastor for lent.

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