Thursday, July 12, 2007

Ratzinger's Jesus of Nazareth: A Question on Reason and Violence

Ecce Homo (Behold the Man!)
Antonio Ciseri, 19th Century
Violence: Submitting, not Committing?
(Image from Wikipedia)

I should first clarify that I haven't read this book Jesus of Nazareth (Doubleday, 2007), which the Pope has authored under his personal name, "Joseph Ratzinger," to emphasize that the work is a personal rather than ecclesial view.

I am reporting only on a review written by Jack Miles for the Catholic magazine Commonweal: A Review of Religion, Politics and Culture. Miles, as some may know already, is the author of God: A Biography and Christ: A Crisis in the Life of God, neither of which I have read.

To be succinct, I haven't done my homework. Still, one can ask a question, perhaps receive an answer.

Commonweal has been sending me emailed copies of its magazine ever since I firmly defended Pope Benedict XVI during the Regensburg Controversy concerning the Pope's statement about rationality, violence, and Islam. Here is the official, Vatican translation of the offending passage:
In the seventh conversation (διάλεξις - controversy) edited by Professor Khoury, the emperor touches on the theme of the holy war. The emperor must have known that surah 2, 256 reads: "There is no compulsion in religion". According to some of the experts, this is probably one of the suras of the early period, when Mohammed was still powerless and under threat. But naturally the emperor also knew the instructions, developed later and recorded in the Qur'an, concerning holy war. Without descending to details, such as the difference in treatment accorded to those who have the "Book" and the "infidels", he addresses his interlocutor with a startling brusqueness, a brusqueness that we find unacceptable, on the central question about the relationship between religion and violence in general, saying: "Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached." The emperor, after having expressed himself so forcefully, goes on to explain in detail the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable. Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul. "God", he says, "is not pleased by blood -- and not acting reasonably (συν λόγω) is contrary to God's nature. Faith is born of the soul, not the body. Whoever would lead someone to faith needs the ability to speak well and to reason properly, without violence and threats... To convince a reasonable soul, one does not need a strong arm, or weapons of any kind, or any other means of threatening a person with death...". (Pope Benedict XVI, Faith, Reason and the University: Memories and Reflections, paragraph 3)
Interesting, by the way, is the fact that the official Vatican translation still quotes Emperor Manuel II Palaiologos as saying:
"Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached" (italics mine).
The Pope's German text reads:
"Zeig mir doch, was Mohammed Neues gebracht hat, und da wirst du nur Schlechtes und Inhumanes finden wie dies, daß er vorgeschrieben hat, den Glauben, den er predigte, durch das Schwert zu verbreiten." (Pope Benedict XVI, Glaube, Vernunft und Universität: Erinnerungen und Reflexionen, paragraph 3) (italics mine)
As I had noted during the controversy, the words "Schlechtes und Inhumanes" could better have been translated as "bad and inhumane" instead of "evil and inhuman," and since the latter sounds worse (to my ear), I don't know why the Vatican stayed with that translation -- unless it better reflects the literal Greek words of Emperor Manuel II Palaiologos himself (though the Pope didn't quote the Greek).

Anyway, a dispute over translation is not my issue today.

Rather, I wish to remind us of the Pope's Regensburg words on reason and Christianity:
Is the conviction that acting unreasonably contradicts God's nature merely a Greek idea, or is it always and intrinsically true? I believe that here we can see the profound harmony between what is Greek in the best sense of the word and the biblical understanding of faith in God. Modifying the first verse of the Book of Genesis, the first verse of the whole Bible, John began the prologue of his Gospel with the words: "In the beginning was the λόγος". This is the very word used by the emperor: God acts, συν λόγω, with logos. Logos means both reason and word -- a reason which is creative and capable of self-communication, precisely as reason. John thus spoke the final word on the biblical concept of God, and in this word all the often toilsome and tortuous threads of biblical faith find their culmination and synthesis. (Pope Benedict XVI, Faith, Reason and the University: Memories and Reflections, paragraph 5)
In the same Regensburg address, the Pope goes on to defend the Hellenization of Christianity, the Church's intellectual synthesis of Greek philosophical reason and Jewish divine revelation that makes Christianity a reasonable religion and its theology a rational undertaking because it insists that God is intrinsically rational.

Note that this view depends upon philosophical assumption about God's nature being rational.

I therefore wonder what Ratzinger means about a new synthesis between historical and theological exegesis, as Miles explains it, anyway:
Key to this synthesis is his [i.e., Ratzinger's] assertion that events can be meaningful prior to, and even without, human interpretation. When God enters human history, the resulting events are meaningful in and of themselves and therefore deserve to be heard as history, and humbly. They require no completion by anybody's overweening literary creativity, even an evangelist's. To the properly prepared hearer, in short, the events are capable of speaking for themselves, just as they did for the evangelist, but exegetical preparation is indeed the key. The exegete "should not approach the text with a ready-made philosophy, nor in accordance with the dictates of a so-called modern or scientific worldview, which determines in advance what may or may not be." (Jack Miles, "Between Theology & Exegesis," paragraph 8)
Yet, approaching the biblical text with a "ready-made philosophy" is precisely what the Pope seems to have been advocating in his Regensburg lecture, for he interprets the Johannine logos as including -- or perhaps even primarily meaning -- "reason," "rationality" (and not merely "word"). In his Jesus of Nazareth, however, Ratzinger would appear to be exalting the text, revelation, over reason.

If so, then this can present problems, if I may use another quote from Miles:
Jesus of Nazareth generally is content to repeat, again and again, that the Incarnation is an act of ongoing divine revelation. As for what the Incarnation reveals about God's character that the Old Testament did not know, this we are never quite told, nor does this book ever confront the unsettling ways in which God as we encounter him in the Old Testament seems decidedly unlike God incarnate as we encounter him in the New. In the scriptural index to the book that I prepared for my own use, I note not a single quotation from the Book of Joshua, though Jesus was named for the warrior hero of that book. At issue, I submit, is the relative importance, within Christian revelation, of God's incarnation and his renunciation of violence. God might have become a man without renouncing (or suffering) violence. He might have renounced violence without becoming a man. What matters more: the metaphysical wonder or the categorical reversal? (Jack Miles, "Between Theology & Exegesis," paragraph 11)
Without getting into the personal theology of Jack Miles as expounded in his books (for I'd then have to read them), I think that I can nevertheless borrow this thought:
[Why does Ratzinger] note not a single quotation from the Book of Joshua, though Jesus was named for the warrior hero of that book[?]
Is Ratzinger avoiding a difficult issue that he had earlier raised with respect to Islam, the use of violence against unbelievers? The question is a pressing one even for Christians since, as Miles notes, Jesus (Yeshua) was named for Joshua (Yehoshua), the Prince of Peace for the warrior hero.

I think that whether we place primacy upon the text (revelation) or upon theology (reason) makes a great difference in how we understand this problem of violence even within Christianity, and I'd like to know how Joseph Ratzinger -- or Pope Benedict XVI -- treats this issue.

Perhaps the Pope already has, somewhere in his voluminous writings, and I'm depending upon secondhand information from Jack Miles and my own speculative propensities.

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At 12:07 AM, Blogger marcel said...

vous pouvez mettre vos infos sur

At 4:39 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Prof, thanks ... I guess.

I'm familiar with the linked site, but it hadn't occurred to me to look there for the answer to my question about Ratzinger's views on violence within the book of Joshua.

Also, I'm not sure where on that site to find what I'm looking for. Could you give a more specific link?

Shalom to you as well.

Jeffery Hodges

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