First, we got the Jesus book (Amazon link on the right). I've not yet read it and probably won't allow myself until I've finished writing the book I'm working on, but Michael has.
This is a great book, magisterial (even though the pope doesn't want it thought of in that way). It is not just another book about Jesus, it a revolutionary book about Jesus...in that it recaptures why people have had their lives changed by their belief in Jesus for over 2,000 years.
What makes this book so special? It is like a modern Summa (those who know St. Thomas Aquinas will understand me here) in that it answers modern questions of doubt, skepticism and even inquiry on not only who Jesus is, but why Jesus is the most important person anyone has ever or can ever know.
As someone who has studied theology for a number of years and been exposed to every screwball theology out there, I found this book to be a corrective lens to refocus and correct my vision of who Jesus is and what following him means. What impresses me (and I'm not easily impressed) is that the Pope takes on the "screwball (my term, not his)" theologies in such a way as to making them seem silly (although he is incredibly charitable in his approach).
This book will have a great effect on renewing the Church and centering it on an image of Christ that is Biblical and credible, erasing years of poor and faulty preaching and teaching.
Let's pray that is true. What he was saying to me at dinner last night about this was that although most lay people will not have read the scholars that Benedict directly and indirectly tackles, they will have encountered their thought through much of the preaching they have heard.
The pope begins it with words "sharper than a sword": the words of the New Testament on perfect obedience to the Father of Jesus, the savior of all precisely because he was obedient in everything, even to the cross. The bishops, he asserts, are simply "bound" to this obedience: their mission is that of preaching the truth, baptizing, "saving souls one by one" in the name of Jesus.
"This, and nothing else, is the purpose of the Church," Benedict XVI emphasizes. Therefore, where the truth of the Christian faith is hidden, and where the sacraments are not celebrated, "the essential is also lacking for the solution of urgent social and political problems."
All of the instructions that the pope gave to the Brazilian bishops following the address descend from this foundation. Benedict XVI's clear intention is that of reestablishing Jesus, true God and true man, as the center of the Latin American Church: a Church that, in his judgment, has in recent decades strayed too far into political territory, under the influence of liberation theology.
For Benedict XVI, a strong effort of evangelization is the real response to the attacks against the family, to the crimes against life, to the abandoning of Catholicism in favor of the new "evangelical" and Pentecostal sects. And priestly celibacy also weakens when "the structure of total consecration to God begins to lose its deepest meaning." And the poor must also be offered "the divine balm of the faith, without overlooking material bread."
Evangelizing means teaching Christian truth in its entirety, as summarized in the Catechism. It means celebrating the sacraments, especially Confession and the Eucharist: not collective Confession, but individual, because "sin is a profoundly personal reality," and the Eucharist in keeping with the norms, because it "is never anyone's private property, neither of the celebrant nor of the community."
The pope asks the bishops to keep watch over theological activity, to pay attention to the formation of priests, to practice ecumenism without forgetting that "the one Church of Christ subsists in the Catholic Church, governed by the successor of Peter and by the bishops in communion with him."
It is easy to intuit the situations that prompted each of these instructions given by Benedict XVI to the bishops of Brazil: from unbridled liturgical spontaneity to the widespread violation of priestly celibacy. The pope did not give himself over to describing these situations. Exactly as he did not say a single explicit word – contrary to the expectations of many – about liberation theology. He gave only the slightest outlines of an analysis of the success of the Pentecostal sects. And he did not meet with any of the leaders of these sects, not even in the brief encounter scheduled for Sao Paolo with the heads of other Christian confessions and other religions.
Instead, Benedict XVI centered all of his preaching on the foundation from which he began in his address to the bishops: Jesus. That is, he carried out the same work of concentrating on the essential that characterizes his encyclical "Deus Caritas Est" and his book "Jesus of Nazareth."
He entrusts the analyses and the course of action to the bishops and delegates of the continental congress that he inaugurated in Aparecida on May 13. He merely pointed out the objective for them.
A few weeks before reading Katharine Park's intriguing volume on the early history of anatomical dissection, I found myself at a luncheon where alumni of a large Ivy League university had gathered in the interest of educational sodality and fund-raising, a variety of rite commonly favored by organizations of aging graduates and their alma maters. Perhaps to prepare the mood for the postprandial speaker--a visiting art historian about to discuss the works of Leonardo da Vinci--one of the group's officers was holding forth at my table on a thesis so consistent with common preconceptions about the intellectual backwardness of the Catholic Church that it always finds a receptive audience. With a forcefulness honed by decades as a trial lawyer, he was regaling his attentive listeners with accusations of the obstinacy with which the church opposed human dissection during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. This, he pointed out as emphatically as if he were addressing a jury, had necessitated all kinds of clandestine and gruesome activities on the part of those whose aim was to study the human body, whether for scientific purposes or because they were artists of the caliber of Leonardo, Titian, and Raphael. Not only was medical knowledge thus stunted in its advancement, he added in his summation, but such opposition necessitated the well-known horrors of grave-robbing in order to obtain cadavers for study, an unnatural activity that marred the image of the profession of healing until late in the nineteenth century.
Were Benedict XVI present to act as advocate for his long-ago predecessors, he would have entered a plea of not guilty on their behalf. And the pope would certainly have won the ensuing debate, because the overwhelming weight of evidence supports his long-dead clients. Stated simply, the persuasive lawyer was dead wrong. Whatever difficulties may have been faced by Galileo and several other prominent scientists of that and later eras, the anatomists and the artists had few such obstructionist forces to contend with, at least from the Catholic hierarchy of the time. The truth of the matter differs markedly from what might have been thought by the old alums listening with such knowing accord to the disquisition being presented to them.
Not only did the church not stand in the way of dissection, but it frequently provided an atmosphere and means to facilitate it. Perhaps the most direct demonstration of such a supportive philosophy is to be found in a Bull issued in 1482 by Pope Sixtus IV, who responded to a request from the students and faculty of the University of Tübingen by permitting human dissection providing that local clerical permission was granted. In doing this, Sixtus was only acknowledging practices already in effect at the universities of Bologna and Padua, in both of which he had been a student and in neither of which had church authorities ever prevented the opening of corpses for the purposes of research and teaching.
Leonardo's first such studies took place in the mid-1480s, probably at Milan's Ospedale del Brolo, a unit of the Ospedale Maggiore licensed to allow dissections with the consent of the local bishop. And scarcely a decade after the Bull of Sixtus, the prior of the Church of San Spirito in Florence gave dissecting permission to, among others, a young painter named Michelangelo Buonarroti. As for grave-robbing, it is no historical aberration that the best-known escapades of famous grave robbers and their ghastly doings happen to have taken place in Protestant countries, such as England, Scotland, and the United States. The explanation for this phenomenon is clear: it was primarily in Protestant lands, not Catholic ones, that bodies were difficult to obtain, because there were stringent, often clergy-driven, laws against dissection.
I do not mean to imply that my tablemate was an ignoramus, or that his hearers were swayed by his argument because they were uneducated in the facts as presented in standard descriptions of early modern history. It is hardly their fault that current-day literature and even many textbooks have portrayed an imaginary scenario in which the church stood inexorably opposed to the Renaissance mood of rapidly emerging scientific discovery, particularly with respect to delving into the secrets of life. Every schoolboy knows that the new humanism that is the hallmark of the period manifested itself, among other ways, in a fascination with the structure and function of man's body, but every schoolboy has also been taught that the Catholic Church did what it could to halt or at least slow the scientific progress that might be the inevitable result of such a fascination. If he did not learn it in the classroom, the schoolboy read of it as portrayed in every example of the literary fiction that deals with the subject.
Katharine Park's important book has two major themes, and putting to a well-deserved rest the erroneous image of a thoroughly resistant church is one of them. True, there were certainly conspicuous instances--and again, Galileo's is the most prominent--of theological wrongheadedness and maleficent obstructionism, and even an underlying current of belief that made certain scientists of the early modern period interpret objective findings in a way that did not clash with church teachings. But in general Catholicism has taken a rap much more severe than it deserves, especially in the area of anatomy. As Park writes:
A fascinating review of what sounds like a fascinating book, as the author apparently examines the motivations of exploring the human body, some of which involve the search for evidence of sanctity, and most of which, in terms of women, reflected the ancient fascination with the "secrets" of women's bodies.