__Benedict XVI — faith in the icon,
not the iconoclast of Galilee?
If so, does it matter?__
After a dozen years, or more, of close attention to the Jesus Seminar, I’ve taken to saying the gospels — canonical and non-canonical — are at best imaginative novellas, not journalism or eyewitness reports meant to be taken literally. To readers here that is old hat. For rock-solid Christians it probably is heresy.
There are two threads running through Christian literature. One is centered on Jesus, the pre-resurrection man. The other explores christology. The two strands are intermixed but can be teased apart; that’s what the Jesus Seminar did in its early years. Now, the Seminar is producing a rich new history of the development of faith _in_ Christ, to be seen alongside the material thought to be really representative of Jesus and his _own_ faith in God and humanity.
There is no doubt about the power of both canonical and extra-canonical literature. It rises to great heights in its celebration of a divine redeemer. Add music and restrained, but uplifting, liturgical terpsichore and you have the Mass. People raised on the Mass may leave the church but they seem never to get away from recalling how the Mass takes over all of one’s senses.
Pope Benedict XVI is quoted in Time magazine for May 2, 2005 on the power of the Mass. Religion writer David Ban Biema seems to have highlighted a certain political correctness on the Pope’s part — the faith which the Pope proclaims to be the only wholly valid one is built upon limited factual truth clothed in affective drama. The gut-grabbing drama of gospel and liturgy is of human creation.
Says Van Biema, “In a memoir of his early years, Ratzinger remembered … .
“His first true inkling of the fullness of his future calling … may have been the profundity of the Latin Mass, for which he had a German translation.
“‘Here I was encountering a reality that no one had simply thought up, a reality that no official authority or great individual had created,’ he later wrote in his memoir. ‘It was much more than a product of human history’.”
It seems to me that the faith the Pope has spent two decades policing depends upon taking gospel witnesses literally. This just seems so simplistic and so wrong, I’d love to be in the room when John Dominic Crossan has an audience with the Pope. Crossan says much more nuanced things, like _”resurrection never happened; resurrection always happens.”_ I wonder if Benedict XVI could ever sit that loose on biblical interpretation.
This note is being shared because I’ve been spending a lot of time with the Nag Hammadi Library, noticing that the rich images there are really no more strange than the ones in the canon, and teaching, in my way, that all of that early material was meant to be heard as imaginative drama. To me, that makes it more, rather than less enduringly, true.
What do you think? _Bob Cramer._