VATICAN CITY (CNS)—The Nativity story, like the whole story of Christ, is not merely an event in the past, but has unfolding significance for people today, with implications for such issues as the limits of political power and the purpose of human freedom, Pope Benedict writes in his third and final volume on the life and teachings of Jesus.
Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives is only 132 pages long, yet it includes wide-ranging reflections on such matters as the significance of the Virgin Birth and the distinctive views of nature in ancient pagan and Judeo-Christian cultures.
The book was formally presented at the Vatican Nov. 20, and was scheduled for publication in English and eight other languages in 50 countries Nov. 21.
In the book, Pope Benedict examines Jesus’ birth and childhood as recounted in the Gospels of Sts. Matthew and Luke. His interpretation of the biblical texts refers frequently to the work of other scholars and draws on a variety of academic fields, including linguistics, political science, art history and the history of science.
The book’s publication completes the three-volume Jesus of Nazareth series, which also includes From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration and Holy Week: From the Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection
In his new book, the pope argues that Matthew and Luke, in their Gospel accounts, set out to “write history, real history that had actually happened, admittedly interpreted and understood in the context of the word of God.” The pope calls the virgin birth and the resurrection “cornerstones” of Christian faith, since they show God acting directly and decisively in the material world.
“These two moments are a scandal to the modern spirit,” which expects and allows God to act only in ideas, thoughts and the spiritual world, not the material, he writes. Yet it is not illogical or irrational to suppose that God possesses creative powers and power over matter, otherwise “then he is simply not God.”
Pope Benedict examines the political context of the time of Jesus’ birth, which featured both the so-called “Pax Romana” — the widespread peace brought by the Roman ruler Caesar Augustus—and King Herod’s thirst for power, which led to the slaughter of the innocents.