Church in the World
Martini queries aspects of Pope?s bookRobert Mickens
- 2 June 2007
Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini has generously praised Pope Benedict XVI's best-selling new book on Jesus as "beautiful", defining it as an easy read that "helps us better understand Jesus as Son of God and, at the same time, the great faith" of Joseph Ratzinger.
But in a 30-minute talk at the Unesco headquarters in Paris on 23 May, the former rector of the Pontifical Biblical Institute also respectfully raised questions about the Pope's scriptural expertise and use of critical sources.
In an Italian translation of the cardinal's original French text published next day in Corriere della Sera, Vittorio Messori, author of the 1985 Ratzinger Report - a book-long interview on the state of the Church with then-Cardinal Ratzinger - immediately criticised it by saying the cardinal had "declassified" the Pope's 450-page book, Jesus of Nazareth, from "the shelf of biblical exegesis to that of spirituality, edifying reflection and personal witness". Messori portrayed the cardinal's book review as criticism couched in praise.
In fact, Cardinal Martini pointed out that Pope Benedict is "not an exegete" but someone who "was a professor of theology in various German universities beginning in the 1950s". He said: "Although [the Pope] moves with ease in the exegetical literature of his time, he has never done first-hand study of the critical text of the New Testament." The cardinal also noted that the Pope "hardly ever cites the possible variations" in Biblical texts and "does not discuss the value of the manuscripts", but "accepts the conclusions of what the majority of exegetes have retained as valuable".
According to the French Catholic paper La Croix, Cardinal Martini also noted "small faults" in Jesus of Nazareth; but he said these were not serious because "this is not a magisterial book". That comment was not in the Corriere della Sera Italian translation.
Pope Benedict says of his book that it is not a magisterial text but "only an expression of my personal research" and, thus, "anyone is free to contradict me". La Croix reported that Cardinal Martini said, "not without mischief", that it still would "not be easy for a Catholic to contradict what is written in this book".
Nonetheless, the cardinal ventured that "not everyone" would agree with the Pope when he writes, "The current state of research perfectly allows us to see in John, son of Zebedee ... the true author of the Gospel [of John]." And he pointed out that the Pope "firmly opposes that which has recently been called, particularly in works in the American- Anglo-Saxon world, the ‘imperialism of the historical-critical method'" of biblical criticism.
According to La Croix, Archbishop Joseph Doré said that, "concerning the Bible, the Ratzinger method, in a word, is ‘to trust in the Gospels'."
Pope Benedict's book has been released in six different languages and has sold more than 1.5 million copies, according to the Vatican.