Sale figures were spectacular and the German reception of the book was warm, sometimes rapturous, in line with Benedict’s immense popularity in his homeland. Vanity Fair (German edition) adulates Benedict as the ‘Super-Pope.’ Cardinal Joachim Meisner calls Benedict ‘the Mozart of theology,’ and says that he looks as Jesus would have looked had he lived to be eighty! Cardinal Karl Lehmann welcomed ‘a very prudent and reflective, balanced and sensitive, remarkably calm and inspiring book.’ In an article in Il regno, he praised the Pope’s courage in exposing himself to the critical fire of exegetes.
The most salient initial theological riposte to the book came from the controversial exegete Gerd Lüdemann, Göttingen, who denounced the book as an ‘embarrassing deviation’ and an intellectual scandal (www.spiegel.de/wissenschaft/mensch/0,1518,479636,00.html). Lüdemann has written very provocative pieces denouncing the Gospel accounts of Jesus as pious frauds, or lies. He will easily be dismissed as one of the ‘usual suspects.’ See for example this neocath site which declares, contra Benedict, that the historico-critical method belongs to the 19th century and has no place in the 21st: http://www.kreuz.net/article.5123.html. (The same site calls theological critics of the Sobrino Notification ‘rats’: http://www.kreuz.net/article.4948.html; German neocath sites seem to be even more fanatical than American ones.) In fact, however, the central points Lüdemann makes in his review are ones that most exegetes would agree on, notably his stress on the impossibility of reading the Gospels, especially the Fourth Gospel, as straight history. The Gospels are serious and responsible theological constructions with a grounding in history, including a nucleus of tradition claimed to come from eye-witnesses. To exaggerate their literal historicity is to damage their true historical value. Lüdemann complained that the status of the author would give Benedict’s book an influence and a theological authority that is not merited by the quality of its biblical hermeneutics. He was seconded by journalist Alan Posener in Welt am Sonntag, who saw Benedict as opposing modernity, reason, and freedom and as championing a faith that most Germans have left behind (http://www.welt.de/wams_print/article826176/Teuflische_Theologen.html). In a subsequent interview, Lüdemann asked: ‘What professor of theology will dare take up the Pope’s invitation to criticize him, in a time of anxiety? One need only look at the factual conditions in Catholic faculties and how they deal with critical voices.’ ‘The sad thing is that there are so many Roman Catholic exegetes who have done Trojan work for historical exegesis. For them, this papal book is a catastrophe.’
New Testament exegete Thomas Söding, who is listed in Benedict’s bibliography (p. 409), on kathweb Nachrichten (Austria) greeted the Pope’s revolutionary act of submitting his thoughts to critical discussion: ‘What he needs now are many intelligent and critical readers, who won’t fall on their knees in reverence, but will take seriously the offer of discussion.’ Elsewhere Söding warned of the danger of a dogmatization of the Pope’s personal view of Jesus, which would make life difficult for exegetes. This was reported by Matthias Hönig in Der Tagesspiegel, May 1, who like Christian Geyer in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, April 13, noted that the ingenious presentation of the book as the reflections of an individual theologian only thinly veils the weight of papal authorship.
Emeritus Catholic theologian Hermann Häring said: ‘One thing is clear. In his lifetime he was not venerated as God. But the Pope does not want to know anything about this in his book. He projects representations that were invented later on back onto the Gospels... The Pope uses historical research when it fits his dogma. He ignores it when it contradicts him. What is all-important for him is to vindicate the Roman Church and the papal office. Even though his book is distinguished by great clarity and deep religiosity, his image of Jesus is a unified one: smoothed out, harmonious and very inward. It shows neither breaks nor rejections. In the eyes of the Pope Jesus is very far from being a rebel, who protests against a maddeningly unjust world’ (Aspekte).
Another highly respected emeritus Catholic theologian, Peter Hünermann, lauded the style and meditative power of the book, but questioned its treatment of exegesis: ‘Is faith really shaken when research today no longer sees certain quotations as words of the historical Jesus but as expressions of the theological effort of the biblical authors?... It is in the post-paschal process of understanding that they first find the right words.’ Exegetes, he points out, ‘understand their work as theological work, not just as “neutral” observation. Thus theology does not begin after exegesis, but exegetical results belong within the totality of theological work. It is just this mutual inherence that the Pope abolishes in his criticism of modern exegesis’ (http://www.ksta.de/html/artikel/1176113303878.shtml).
In Die Tagespost, conservative exegete Klaus Berger (formerly Catholic, now Lutheran; see http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Klaus_Berger) wrote: ‘How does the Pope proceed here exegetically? Why is the book so stimulating? Often the Pope pushes us into new exegetical territory. That is, he expresses himself boldly, the exegete spontaneously contradicts him, yet notes in the course of reflection that the Pope is “somehow” in the right... The Pope says about the attitude of Jesus to the Old Testament: “Jesus is [sc. now] the Torah.” The exegete: “No, Jesus is the fully authoritative interpreter of the Torah.” Then occurs the thought: But he is this through his whole person; that is why the voice from heaven says, “Hear ye him.”’ Taking up the Pope’s invitation of criticism, and stressing that incense is for the church and not for book reviews, Berger does not agree that the title ‘Son of God’ is post-paschal just because it is not found in Jesus’s mouth [but Benedict in fact accepts the historicity of Jesus’s self-designation as ‘Son of God’ in John 3.18; 5.25; 10.36; 11.4 (p. 369)]. It is a title used by the evil spirits in the Gospel. The Pope has little feeling for this battle-of-spirits aspect and so reduces exorcism to banishing the fear of devils rather than devils themselves, connecting it infelicitously with his favorite theme of Reason. After a few other minor disagreements, Berger concludes: ‘Let us turn back from professorial grumblings to what really stirs me in this book: The Pope has clearly not made things easy for himself in regard to exegesis. When has it happened before that a systematic theologian has exposed himself to the trench warfare of the exegetes?’ (But there are many theologians who have done so – Schillebeeckx, Kuschel, Pannenberg, Kasper, John P. Keenan in his The Gospel of Mark – and they have taken the blows from exegetes; perhaps Berger is referring to a trench warfare that tackles the basic presuppositions of modern exegesis as he himself apparently does.)
Robert Misik in Die Tageszeitung saw the book as an ‘extraordinarily weak’ defense of the traditional image of Jesus and a symptom of the crisis of Christianity. Thomas Götz in Berliner Zeitung noted that the Pope’s ‘interesting experiment’ aims at a second naivety, in which, having mastered all that critical exegesis can adduce against traditional conceptions, one nonetheless affirms the latter, bridging or filling in the gap between historical Jesus and Christ of faith. (For a round-up of the early German language reviews see: http://www.muenster.de/~angergun/jesusbuch.html. See also http://www.diepresse.com/home/spectrum/literatur/297502/index.do.)
W. Löser, in a generous review in Theologie und Philosophie, queries the Pope’s ‘Augustinian’ pessimism about society and his skeptical attitude toward Christians involved in the task of building up God’s Kingdom on earth. A brilliant and convincing review came from Michael Theobald in Theologische Quartalschrift, the venerable organ of Benedict’s old haunt, the Catholic Faculty of Theology at Tübingen (vol. 187, 2007, pp. 157-182). Theobald notes the threatening implications of the way the book was presented in April: ‘Now linked with the book are assessments of biblical exegesis that make one prick up one’s ears. Thus the official presentation of the book by Cardinal Schoenborn stood under the motto: “For over 200 years critical historical study of the Bible has put everything in question that one finds in the Bible about Jesus.” Doubt about the historical reliability of the Gospel image of Jesus’ surfaces even “in the very ranks” thinks the Cardinal. Must these “ranks” be closed up again in the future?’
Theobald shows how Benedict’s dogmatic hermeneutics renders his approach to Scripture flawed and inconsistent, and how the book fails to respect adequately the realities of history, the pluralism of New Testament theologies, the integrity of scholarly scriptural research, or the reality and value of Jewish identity and tradition: ‘The conversation with the Jewish rabbi [Neusner] in the chapter on the Sermon on the Mount serves him exclusively for Christological purposes; it contains no sensitivity to Jesus’s Jewish horizons of life and thought.’ Just as, in an ‘antiquated’ debate with Dibelius and Bultmann, the Pope urges the historical critical method to transcend itself to a hermeneutics of faith – the failed agenda of ‘canonical criticism’ here illegitimately associated with the prescriptions of Vatican II for an integral reading of Scripture – so Judaism is surpassed by ‘the Israel that spans the world in Christ’ (Benedict, p. 112). Benedict’s deep respect for the Torah in its ordering of life and society does not lead him to appreciate ‘postbiblical or contemporary Judaism in its own theological dignity over against the Church’ (Theobald, p. 172).
The Münchener Theologische Zeitschrift 59.1 (2008) has an issue on the Pope’s book; the most critical essay is by Catholic exegete Ingo Broer who complains that Benedict’s reading of the Gospel flattens out all differences. He points out that the baptism of John, in Mark and Luke (not in Matthew and John) is a baptism for the forgiveness of sins – historical fact of the sort that the Pope’s generalizing canonical-criticism approach to the Baptist cannot deal with. Broer rejects Benedict’s criticism of himself found on pp. 270-1, according to which he dissolves history by treating John as a literary text and thus tumbles into Gnosticism. The speeches and debates in John’s Gospel cannot be regarded as historical report in any sense. In the same issue Lutheran exegete Michael Becker is critical of the Pope’s use of Jacob Neusner. The less critical essays in the issue are by non-exegetes.
Lüdemann has now published a book-length exposition of his critique: Das Jesusbild des Papstes. Über Joseph Ratzingers kühnen Umgang mit den Quellen (Springe: zu Klampen Verlag). See http://web.infoave.net/~jwest/ratz.pdf. Lüdemann says: ‘As a lifelong and pious Jew, Jesus of Nazareth certainly did not consider himself divine or one with the Deity.’ Larry Hurtado traces adoration of Jesus as divine to the earliest days of Christianity, and Riemer Roukema, in a recent essay, finds the divinity of Christ intimated in a string of synoptic texts, beginning with the Baptist’s ‘Prepare the way of the Lord!’ Yet it remains dubious if the divinity of Christ is explicitly articulated before John, and even in John the divine Logos is not equal in divinity to the Father. As to Jesus’s own self-understanding, even if, contrary to Lüdemann, one accepts ninety percent of the sayings of Jesus as historically authentic, as Geza Vermes does, this will only confirm that he does not identify himself as divine. Ben Myers has a review that accepts Lüdemann’s historical critique, but defends the rights of faith and theology against his positivism, see http://faith-theology.blogspot.com/2007/08/popes-jesus-gerd-ldemann-and-benedict.html.
Myers writes: “Lüdemann is right to observe that Benedict’s work suffers from many historical flaws. Methodologically, Benedict tends to treat the gospel records like independent and reliable historical witnesses, so that his approach amounts to an implicit repudiation of the two document hypothesis (i.e. that Matthew and Luke used Mark and Q as sources) on which historical analysis rests. Lüdemann also observes that Benedict frequently cites Old Testament texts “as predictions of Christ,” even though this is historically illegitimate and “scientifically impossible” (p. 151).
“Lüdemann’s longest chapter (pp. 95-120) is devoted to Benedict’s use of the Fourth Gospel, and it is here that some of the central problems in Benedict’s methodology are brought into view. Benedict privileges the Fourth Gospel and freely uses it as a source of historical information about Jesus, but he offers “no convincing arguments against the scholarly consensus that the Johannine discourses have nothing to do with what Jesus himself actually said” (p. 120). Of course, some scholars are more optimistic about identifying historically authentic layers in the Fourth Gospel; but it is nevertheless rather baffling to hear Benedict assert that “[t]he Jesus of the Fourth Gospel and the Jesus of the Synoptics is one and the same: the true ‘historical’ Jesus” (Jesus of Nazareth, p. 111).”
Söding has edited a book by friendly Catholic and Lutheran exegetes, who though at the antipodes to Lüdemann theologically (with even a tendency to scapegoat him) nonetheless show that the Pope’s approach to the texts and to history is untenable, and an ominous sign for the future of Catholic exegesis: Das Jesusbuch des Papstes: Die Antwort der Neutestamentler (Herder, 2007). See http://www.christoph-fleischmann.de/texte/papstbuch-dis.html. It has become a talking point among devotees of Benedict that this book takes a ‘syndicalist’ approach: “If Benedict is right, it puts us exegetes out of business!” But it is clear that the authors’ criticisms of Benedict’s mistreatment of historical and exegetical methodology are concerned with the matter itself – not only in its scholarly but also in its theological aspect. It is reassuring to see German theologians so articulate in pointing out the limitations and blind spots in the theological vision of Joseph Ratzinger, which have had such a huge impact on the Church. Söding and his colleagues write with great courtesy, patience and respect, but they put forward with professional competence the basic exegetical objections to the Pope’s project.
In the Söding volume Lutheran exegete and theologian Jörg Frey takes issue with Benedict’s presentation of ‘the biblical Christ as the historical Jesus.’ Martin Kähler contrasted ‘the so-called historical (historische) Jesus’ (Benedict also often puts the words ‘historical Jesus’ in scare quotes) and ‘the historical (geschichtliche) biblical Christ.’ But Benedict wants the biblical Christ to be the historical Jesus in the most factual sense, although admitting that the historical critical method cannot reconstruct the Jesus of history with certitude. How does Benedict bridge the gap? Ultimately, by an appeal to the Church’s faith. His theology is a “theology from above”. Since Jesus is God made man, his every word and act must be read in light of this. Historical study can catch only the surface, but theology can attain a full, integrated picture of the real, biblical, historical Jesus.
Frey notes how Benedict’s attempt to unite the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith causes the categories to become blurred, so that ‘it is ultimately unclear what the attribute “historical” is supposed to designate.’ Benedict’s own portrait of the historical Jesus lies exposed to the same criticism as other such attempts have faced. ‘Ratzinger’s plain declaration, “I trust the Gospels” (20), glosses over many problems that would have to be more clearly set forth in a strictly historical presentation. Critical questions arise where tensions and contradictions cannot be dissolved by addition or harmonizing’ (p. 46). ‘Certainly the biblical canon obliges us to seek after the unity in the plurality of testimonies. But it must remain an open question whether this will invariably take the form of an “organic” consistency or whether sometimes perspectives that are opposed both historically and theologically remain alongside one another without it being possible to unite them in a “higher” unity or on a line of sequential unfolding of truth. Where the systematician may tend to such models, the exegete, as champion of the text, has the duty to recall the always individual work of the different witnesses.’ Benedict ‘understandably laments that recent Johannine research has largely left the historical Jesus out of the discussion. Yet I would nonetheless maintain that this – despite some individual items of noteworthy historical information – has happened for good reasons. The alternative would have been, as with Schleiermacher, to prefer the “authentic total impression” of the Fourth Evangelist and to postulate that John, who as an eye-witness knows the events better, can complete the Synoptics and correct them in cases of conflict. This involves abandoning the synoptic statements on the Kingdom of God and the Parousia for example… Naturally Ratzinger does not draw this conclusion… Like other conservative exegetes he grasps at the model whereby the “presbyter John” mentioned by Papias was a disciple of the Apostle of the same name. But these considerations proceed merely on the ground of vague possibilities, which can scarcely be supported textually… The Spirit-effected process of interpretation and translation which transcends the level of historical facticity is what permits one to see the doxa in the sarx and grounds the specific character of the Johannine image of Christ… There is no way to elude the insight that the language of the Johannine Jesus is not that of the earthly Jesus, but that of the Evangelist, a language he uses also when he himself is narrating or has other figures speak’ (pp. 48-50). Here Frey is pointing out the obvious. He agrees that the developed Christology of John is not an alien imposition on the Gospel, but articulates what can already be grasped in the emergence and claim of Jesus. However, ‘the exegete, unlike the dogmatician, cannot proceed in an a priori way from the “inner surplus value of the word” and the unfolding of its “inner potential,” but must rather seek to proceed from the distinct characters of the texts toward possible unifying connections and, in given cases, irreducible differences.’
Frey (p. 46) suggests that the gap between the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith cannot be so swiftly closed but demands a constant movement back and forth, a slower and more consistent process of interpretation. Indeed, it was exactly such a movement that Edward Schillebeeckx introduced into the mainstream of Catholic theology in 1974; the Vatican rejection of Schillebeeckx’s work has created the kind of short-circuits that the Pope’s book represents. The exegetes see rich promise of deeper insight into Jesus in the tensions and contradictions between the gospel accounts, which Benedict seeks to harmonize. For the same reason, Söding (p. 145) urges that the tensions between the Pope’s book and New Testament scholarship should not be dissolved but multiplied.
Unlike Söding’s collection, a response to the Pope’s book from the systematic theologians, Jesus und der Papst, edited by Helmut Hoping and Michael Schulz (Herder, 2007), is a purely Catholic product, and indeed seems to represent the Communio wing of Catholic theology. The authors are reacting against Söding’s collection and go beyond the Pope in their negative characterization of scriptural scholarship, accused of ‘an absolutization of philological, historical and literary critical methods’ (p. 113). These need to be completed by ‘other, specifically theological methods’ (p. 114). Unfortunately, when the authors do display these theological methods, they turn out to be those of an archaic metaphysical speculation, in which the representations of classical theology are taken as fixed quantities to be manipulated like pawns. There is talk of the Spirit acting as the principle of union between the human and divine natures of Christ (p. 17) and of the psychology of Jesus yielding a reflection of the ontological datum of the hypostatic union (p. 16). At times such discourse seems to be straying into the realm of science fiction.
The authors have little sense of the modest and functional character of the dogmatic terminology of the early Councils, and they reject impatiently the Harnackian thesis that dogma in its origin and development is a product of the Greek mind on the soil of the Gospel. Rather caricaturally, Harnack is seen as using the concept of hellenization in the sense of “the falsifying consignment of the biblical message to uncritically adopted Greek philosophy” (p. 36). The summary answer is given, drawing on Alois Grillmeier’s debate with Hans Küng, that early Christian doctrinal development, notably at Nicea, was not a hellenization of the faith but a transformation of the philosophical concept of God (pp. 36, 121). There is no openness here to the subtlety and promise of Harnack’s line of inquiry, and no sense of its importance at a time when Christianity is coming into dialogue with non-Greek cultures and philosophies.
Hellenization is blandly associated with the rejection of reason.
Much is made of the argument that if Jesus did not indicate his divinity, then the early Church is ascribed an implausibly high degree of theological creativity. But what is missing here is a vivid sense of the impact of Jesus’s role as eschatological prophet, and again of the paschal experience – both of these limn out the figure of Jesus as Eschatological Event (Bultmann) and provide a substantial historical basis for the later discourse on Christ as the enfleshment of the divine Word in human history (Jn 1:14). A theology from below will dwell long and carefully with the eschatological impact of Jesus’s message and action and of the resurrection-event before going on to make modest claims about the ontological status of Christ, claims that will never be allowed to float free of their basis in the biblical events.
Herder has published yet another collection of essays on the Pope’s book, edited by Ulrich Ruh, Das Jesusbuch des Papstes – Die Debatte (2008). This contains some efffusive pieces by non-theologians mixed with one or two sharp theological critiques, well reflecting the divided reception of the work. Manfred Lütz, a theologian and psychiatrist, celebrated Benedict as one who dedramatizes the papacy and restores theological sobriety; his fidelity for Vatican II is vouched for by an anecdote about John XXIII’s enthusiasm for a speech of Cardinal Frings penned by the young Ratzinger (pp. 96-7). But time does not stand still; the process of the Council is not necessarily frozen at John XXIII’s thoughts and the later development of Ratzinger is not necessarily the best development of his early thinking as Council peritus. Georg Pfleiderer, Lutheran systematician at Basel, sees the Pope’s book as a wasted opportunity. Many of his readers will come across the names of Harnack, Jülicher, Bultmann, Jeremias and Schnackenburg for the first time in his pages but ‘will scarcely have from this book the impression that it could be necessary or profitable to go on to busy themselves directly with these great scholars or their contemporary followers’ (p. 147). As regards the theological culture of the laity, the book is comparable to the Harry Potter series as regards children’s reading, a mixed blessing. ‘What could have happened, what would it have meant for this Church, indeed for the whole of Christendom, if the head of the Catholic Church had really sat down among the theologians, and among today’s exegetes, in order really to learn from them?’ (p. 146). As it is, the Pope’s book shows not the slightest trace of undergoing any self-correction as a result of exposure to historical scholarship. ‘The features of the picture of Jesus that the Pope derives from the texts in discussion with chosen recent exegetes best matches his own theology’ (ib.). ‘In key passages the scholarly author retreats behind his spiritual authority, which is thereby able to make itself free from all mere “professorial thinking” [Benedict, p. 372] with its professional limitations. The attitudes of a mixture of ideology-critique and sagelike simplicity, along with a superiority upheld by trust in the credibility of Scripture, replace arguments’ (p. 144). Rabbi Walter Homolka deplores the narrowness and opportunism of Benedict’s use of a single Jewish author, Neusner, and urges him to pay attention to the many Jesus books by Jewish authors and to open up to a real dialogue with Judaism. Editor Joachim Frank deplores the pugnacious attitude of Benedict, his lack of empathy with the theologians and exegetes he dismissively caricatures; the tone is wohlwollend-empathisch but the content is marked by recurrent defensive gestures (p. 45) and ‘digs below the belt’ (p. 46). Frank deplores the statement that the West ‘with its pride of knowing better’ first made the Third World into ‘the Third Word in today’s sense’ (Benedict, p. 62) and his reference to Islam as a religion of holy war (Benedict, p. 123) (pp. 45-6). The quotation of Soloviev that demonizes Tübingen exegetes, and that Benedict here uses for the third time, is compared with the quote from the Byzantine Emperor in the Regensburg address: ‘here too the Pope cites the sottises of a third party’ (p. 47). Old Testament exegete Volker Weymann finds that Benedict downplays the humanity of Jesus (p. 185). Politician Hermann Kues worries about Benedict’s portrait of a depoliticized Jesus (p. 89), whereas Dagmar Mensink, religion consultant of the Social Democratic Party, sees Benedict as rescuing the Gospels from the false horizons of feminism and materialism (liberation theology?) (p. 109).
Söding has also edited a more popular volume, Ein Weg zu Jesus: Schlüssel zum tieferen Verständnis des Papstbuches (Herder 2007); there is also Georg Bubolz, Das Buch des Papstes: Jesus von Nazareth: Informationen, Hintergründe, Denkanstöße (Patmos, 2007); J.-H. Tück, ed. Annäherungen an ‘Jesus von Nazareth’ (Grünewald, 2007); Collective, ‘Jesus von Nazareth’ kontrovers (LIT, 2002). There is sharp criticism in M. Schneider, Jesus von Nazarath: Zum neuen Buch von Papst Benedikt XVI (Köln, 2007), who denounces the undialogal black and white argumentation of Benedict, saying that he has built no bridges between dogmatics and exegesis but rather destroyed existing ones (p. 113). ‘Many judgments are dismissive, move to banality and insult’ and show ‘a mistrust of Church and theology’ (p. 112). ‘The greater part of these clichés are misleading, while he passes over in silence the original context and the ongoing process in which research learned from such self-critique’ (ib.).
Of related interest is the debate on the Pope’s Regensburg lecture, especially in Knut Wengel, ed. Die Religionen und die Vernunft (Herder, 2007). Here the Pope’s dialogue-partner Jürgen Habermas takes issue with his dismissive attitude to modern reason, pointing out that without Scotus and nominalism we would not have modern science, that Kant upheld to autonomy and dignity of human freedom, and that modern historicist awareness is not a recipe for relativism but for a differentiated respect of cultural differences. Kurt Flasch and Lutheran bishop Wolfgang Huber draw attention to the Pope’s misquotation of Kant, who wrote “I have overcome knowledge (i.e. false speculative knowledge) to make room for faith,” not, as Benedict has him say, “I have put aside thinking” (pp. 43-4, 62). Huber also contests the characterization of Luther as one who rejected rationality in theology (p. 58). In a rather lamentable polemic against Huber, Cardinal Walter Kasper accuses him, wrongly, of keeping Luther only as a ‘culture hero’ and of mentioning Karl Barth only to point out his limits (as if these were not widely recognized today) while making much of Schleiermacher and Harnack, who are less ecumenically palatable to Catholics (pp. 72-3). Flasch asks if there is any theologian who can point out that the God of Abraham is not the God of the philosophers. Indeed it is sad that that compatriots of Luther, Melanchthon, Gottfried Arnold, Schleiermacher, Albrecht Ritschl, Harnack and Heidegger seem incapable of addressing the Hellenization question. Catholic theologians are still hampered by confessional prejudice and even Lutheran ones succumb to the rather frozen metaphysical outlook of Wolfhart Pannenberg.
German theologians (and bishops, more implicitly) have also been to the fore in contesting the dubious theology of the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum. Benedict Kranemann, ‘Liturgie im Widerspruch,’ in Albert Gerhards, ed. Ein Ritus in zwei Formen (Herder, 2008) points out that the Motu Proprio undermines the unity of the lex credendi and that the use of the old rite for the sacraments of confirmation, “extreme unction” (as the old rite continues to call it) and matrimony ignores and contradicts the prescriptions of Sacrosanctum Concilium 67-77, based on preconciliar demands. Restorationists have the same attitude to Vatican II as the Irish voters against the Lisbon Treaty have to Europe: they imagine it as a big ball of fluff that has no teeth. But in flouting the authority of the Council they may find themselves in a canonically and theologically untenable position.
Hermann Löhr reports in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung October 6, 2008, on a new collection of critical responses to the Jesus-Book: Hermann Häring, ed. ‘Jesus von Nazareth’ in der wissenschaftlichen Diskussion (Berlin: LIT, 2008). Here the Pope’s critics, mainly Roman Catholic, give their response ‘including some who have long wrestled with the professor of theology and Prefect of the CDF. But this parti pris need not be a disadvantage,’ for in contrast to other milder volumes, this one is marked by penetration, objectivity and the wide horizon that it opens up. ‘The state of his knowledge of New Testament exegesis and Jesus research is strangely out of date… Despite his earnest efforts his view of humanity and its social situation is eurocentric… His attitude to rationality in the discourse of faith seems ambivalent and inconsistent. The history of thought does not come to a stop with the confession of Nicea… “We must question behind the validity of dogmas,” urges the Innsbruck pastoral theologian Paul Weß. There seems to be a great need for dialogue inside the Catholic world too…Joachim Kügler, a New Testament scholar from Bayreuth and one of the sharpest German-speaking critics of the papal book writes: “Jesus von Nazareth should have appeared entirely without the papal name as a work of the theologian Ratzinger for the sake of the clarity of roles.” The language of the Jesus book is closely analyzed, especially in the contribution of Bernd Ogan, that can be taken also as the farewell letter of a theologian to this faith, inspired by Richard Dawkins’ God Delusion. Ratzinger’s language is exposed to Adorno’s critique of the “Jargon of authenticity”: “What is the meaning of notions like originarity, definitiveness, contemporaneity, coming and the one who comes…?” A valid complaint, that touches not only the ideolect of the Pope but every theology that thinks it can master the Bible with existential philosophy for example… In Ratzinger’s use of canonical criticism ‘the achievements of historical critical exegesis are lost. His acceptance of it is half-hearted since he seeks to outbid it even as he affirms it. The least one can ask of a canonical exegesis would be a methodically controlled technique of interpretation that would really be applied to the whole canon; but such is not found in Ratzinger’s play of associations, which is always “correct.” The “authentic theological interpretation,” as the contribution of Ottmar Fuchs, practical theologian at Tübingen University especially shows (one of the high points of this volume), is in reality a highly subjective paradigmatic replacement operation, in which one loses what can be known and attained from the biblical witness regardless of any – doubtless highly problematic – questioning back “behind” the texts: The pluriformity of the NT images of Christ is blurred when one amalgamates the synoptic and Johannine Jesus or overlooks that the Gospels themselves stage a difference between the pre-paschal and post-paschal Jesus. To assert the unity of the New Testament image of Christ, as a scholarly thesis, would be not only to lose exegetical knowledge acquired since the Enlightenment and not only since then. From the systematic theological point of view, it would also miss the irreducible plurality of the witness to revelation, to which the Church consciously responded with its choice of a “fourfold Gospel” – and precisely not a Gospel Harmony.’