by Peter Menkin
Pope Benedict XVI has written a new book, the second in a series of three signed and authored under the Pope’s name Joseph
Ratzinger. The work is now on The New York Times Best Seller list, and his previous title sold 3 million copies.
Jesuit Father Joseph Fessio, founder and editor of the publishing house, says that 300,000 copies were published in Italy, 200,000 in Germany, and 120,000 in France.
The study guide for Joseph Ratziner’s book Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week, published by Ignatius Press, will be available from Ignatius Press on March 30th. It includes chapter summaries and outlines, a list of key terms, a glossary, and a section for readers to write down their personal reflections as they read the book. The book was published March 10, 2011 in eight languages – including German, Italian, English, Spanish, French, Portuguese and Polish.
The book has been published in English by Ignatius Press, The Catholic Truth Society (United Kingdom/Ireland), Paulines Publication (Africa), Freedom Publishing (Australia), and Asia Trading Corporation (Asia)..
The assertion that the study of the Gospels make, among others, is that the Jewish people are not complicit in the killing of Christ. A closer look at the book is found here: Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week – From the Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection at www.jesusofnazareth2.com, or become a Facebook fan at www.facebook.com/jesusofnazareth2
“It’s clear that what interests the Holy Father is helping people to know and love someone whom he knows and loves,” says Father Fessio. “But he does this as a scholar. This book is a bright star in the constellation of books about Jesus.” And many scholars have responded with praise for the book, noting its unique combination of complexity, clarity, breadth of learning, and depth of theological insight. The Catholic News Service is the source of the Father Fessio quote above, though the website for the book is source for the remarks introduced below.
For a theological and interpretive look at the new book, Father Joseph Fessio, SJ, remarks at length:
For John, the accusers were “simply ‘the Jews’”. But Benedict shows that in John’s Gospel that designation has a “precise and clearly defined meaning”, i.e. the Temple aristocracy, not the Jewish people as an undifferentiated whole.
In Mark, there is a widening of the circle of accusers: the “ochlos”, the crowd, “the masses”. But Benedict points out that the crowd was mainly comprised of sympathizers of Barabbas, who wanted the customary amnesty to be granted to him. The followers of Jesus “remained hidden out of fear”. This crowd, therefore, does not represent the attitude or the actions of the Jewish people with respect to Jesus.
In Matthew, the “whole people” say: “His blood be upon us and on our children”, the famous “blood vengeance”. Here Benedict makes three incisive comments:
At this time of your most solemn celebration, I feel particularly close, precisely because of what “Nostra Aetate” calls Christians to remember always: that the church “received the revelation of the Old Testament through the people with whom God in his inexpressible mercy concluded the ancient covenant. Nor can she forget that she draws sustenance from the root of that well-cultivated olive tree onto which have been grafted the wild shoots, the gentiles” (“Nostra Aetate,” 4). In addressing myself to you I wish to reaffirm the Second Vatican Council’s teaching on Catholic-Jewish relations and reiterate the church’s commitment to the dialogue that in the past 40 years has fundamentally changed our relationship for the better.
Because of that growth in trust and friendship, Christians and Jews can rejoice together in the deep spiritual ethos of the Passover, a memorial (“zikkaron”) of freedom and redemption. Each year, when we listen to the Passover story we return to that blessed night of liberation. This holy time of the year should be a call to both our communities to pursue justice, mercy, solidarity with the stranger in the land, with the widow and orphan, as Moses commanded: “But you shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you from there; therefore I command you to do this” (Dt 24:18)…
… In my heart I repeat with you the psalm of the paschal “Hallel” (Ps 118:1-4), invoking abundant divine blessings upon you: “O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his steadfast love endures forever. Let Israel say, ‘His steadfast love endures forever.’ … Let those who fear the Lord say, ‘His steadfast love endures forever.’“
It is apparent that this work, the new book about The Gospels, is remarkable and destined to be popular work about Jesus Christ, and for Catholic-Jewish relations offers another new date in continuing conversation towards closer friendship and even understanding. Certainly, it makes a claim that Jews in this modern world will find acceptable and by most, welcomed. But who is the Press who published Joseph Ratzinger’s book, Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week – From the Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection? This is the official remark from their website:
Ignatius Press is among the largest U.S. publishers and distributors of Catholic books, magazines, videos, DVDs, and music. It is the primary English-language publisher of Pope Benedict XVI’s books. Ignatius Press publishes a wide-range of works, including popular, best-selling titles; major spiritual and theological works; works of philosophy and Christian literature; and English translations of contemporary European theologians. It also publishes the magazines “Catholic World Report” and “Homiletic and Pastoral Review.” Jesuit Father Joseph Fessio founded Ignatius Press in 1978. A former pupil of Pope Benedict XVI, Father Fessio says the objective of Ignatius Press is “to support the teachings of the Church.” Ignatius Press is named for St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuit Order. The Catholic publishing house is based in San Francisco, California. For more information, visit the Ignatius Press website at www.Ignatius.com
At one point this writer was curious enough to make inquiry of what the nazi hunters, terrorism fighters, and organized fighters of antisemitism, The Simon Weisenthal Center thought of the book by Joseph Ratzinger. Would not they welcome this statement as a kind of move towards reconciliation. When contacting the organization, this writer learned that members of the organization Simon Wiesenthal Center (Los Angeles-New York City) had met the Pope on two occasions. Once in the United States. Once at the Vatican. With good fortune, Simon Wiesenthal Center offered an interview with Mark Wietzman, current Governmenta Affairs man, a man devoted in his lifetime to working to end anti-semitism and familiar with Catholic-Jewish Relations. This American, who is an observant Jew, agreed to an interview during a phone call while in a cab going to the airport in New York City on his way to Prague. Later, he spoke by phone from his home in New York State with this writer on a Sunday morning about his meeting with Pope Benedict XVI, and shares with this writer and readers observations and opinions on Catholic-Jewish relations. The interview:
Where was the meeting?…
Jewish leaders who were invited to meet the Pope: It was in Washington, D.C. on the grounds of the Catholic Center. There was a day for a larger inter-religious meeting and there was a breakoff to meet with an individual Jewish group itself. (April 17, 2008 at the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center.)
Can you tell us what feelings or impressions you had of the Pope?…
I think for myself there were a couple of feelings: There was a tremendous feeling for the office. For the leader of the world’s Catholics there is certain grandeur about that. I was interested in observing how we reacted in the history of Jewish Catholic Relations. To get a certain sense of the man himself: The religious, the political and the human aspects…
I was interested in observing how he reacted to the history of Jewish Catholic Relations and how he was going to address that. All of these aspects embodied in this one individual who bears so much responsibility and who stands as the leader of one the world’s great religions..
Was there a holiness or luminescence about the man, or something special?…
I think that is very difficult…I think that is a judgment that [there is] a divine in the human capacity. The Jewish belief is that we are all created in the divine image. We did have a sense of a combination of both intellectual and spiritual attributes that came across.I did feel that the man had dedicated himself wholly and whole heartedly to the [religious life]. I went in with [the sense offered in writings by] all the press that describes his austere intellectual, theological side of him as dominating. What impressed me was his humanity. That was a wonderful thing, [especially] in light of all the reports. He was warm, benevolent.
The Pope certainly impressed me as a man who tried to serve as a bridge to bring the spiritual into the world. We did have a sense of a combination of both great intellectual and spiritual attributes that came across from the Pope.
In a nutshell, what is your opinion of his Gospel account where Jews are held differently than previously known in the popular Roman Catholic (and some say Christian) mind, that Jews are not complicit in the killing of Jesus?…
It was an act of strong courage and boldness. It enlarged upon Nostra Aetate. It was an act of strong courage and boldness. It enlarged upon Nostra Aetate. In recent years there was an issue of a schismatic group (the Society of Saint Pius X) who had a leading member (Bishop Richard Williamson) who publicly questioned the Holocaust.
This group has a history of rejecting the Second Vatican Council, and all the reforms that came from it, which include the repudiation of the deicide charge against Jews. Right now there are negotiations between the Vatican and this group, aimed at bringing them back into the Church. The Pope’s new statement is a clear affirmation and enlargement upon Nostra Aetate. To me it is emphatically saying that the acceptance of Nostra Aetate and its succeeding teachings is a bedrock of the Church’s theology, that Pope Benedict will not accept turning back the clock and reinstalling the old “teachings of contempt” that led to generations of Christian antisemitism.
In the sense that there is a characteristic of relationship called Charism of Friendship, did the Pope indicate or offer that to your contingent and the Jewish Community? (Charism of friendship as meaning special warmth.)…
I very much felt that the Pope was trying to indicate this special relationship with the Jewish people. And, it was a very welcome and needed message, for at the same time as this meeting there was the issue of the negotiations with the group above as well as some other instances that led Jews to wonder somewhat about the Church’s commitment to this issue.
But I felt that it went beyond any political message…I’m sure there was diplomatic concern. But I felt it went beyond that. It was important to the Pope personally. I think he went out of his way to be sure we understood that.
Will you take a moment and remark specifically on the Pope’s new book?…
The Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit who writes frequently about spirituality, said the Pope’s new book was a “ringing reaffirmation” of Nostra Aetate, which was passed during the Second Vatican Council, with the pope putting his “personal stamp on it in a way that’s irrefutable.”
In a paper that I gave at a conference at Yale last summer, I wrote that “If baptism was once for Jews the ticket to admission to Western society as Heinrich Heine famously put it, then acceptance of Vatican II, including the rejection of Catholic antisemitism and the acceptance of religious liberty, must be the price of admission for these groups into today’s church.”
By his words Pope Benedict has made it clear that he, and the Catholic Church, is still firmly and irrevocably committed to the rejection of the ancient charge of deicide, which was the basis for centuries of antisemitism. He has sent a strong message to those who still cling to that ancient prejudice that such beliefs have no place in today’s church, and he has thus pointed the way to the continued growth of the positive relationship between Catholics and Jews.
In an opinion piece published in The Forward (Published March 09, 2011, issue of March 18, 2011), Eugene Korn says about Catholic intensions, in specific this Pope’s sense of converting the Jews to Christianity:
“Meanwhile, in passages so far overlooked by Jewish commentators, Benedict sensitively touches upon a major problem that has plagued Catholic-Jewish relations all throughout history: converting Jews. This topic has been the focus of considerable discord in Catholic-Jewish relations in recent years. In 2008, Benedict upset many Jews with his reauthorization of the Latin Mass containing a prayer for the conversion of the Jews. And in 2009, a statement by American Catholic Bishops endorsing the evangelization of Jews nearly destroyed their interfaith dialogue. (The bishops later retracted the offending claim.)
“As a theological conservative, Benedict has written previously that the Jewish covenant at Sinai has been superseded. But his supersessionism has always been focused on the end of time, and he has maintained that Jewish unification with the church is “hardly possible, and perhaps not even desirable before the eschaton.” In his latest book, he expands this idea, insisting that for now “Israel retains its own mission” and that saving Israel “is in the hands of God” — meaning, presumably, not in the hands of Christian missionaries. Had Christians followed this doctrine throughout the millennia, less Jewish blood would have ran in the streets, and Jews would have been freer to practice their faith with dignity.
“Benedict’s expectation of the future acceptance of Christian faith by everyone takes the practical threat out of Christian supersessionism for Jews today. And if some Jews still object to his eschatological supersessionism, they should remember that it is not far from what most traditional Jews believe will occur in the “end of days,” when gentiles will accept Judaism’s God and, as Jews proclaim regularly in our Aleinu prayer, “In that day, the Lord will be One and His name One.”
“Benedict has chosen to stress these teachings not because of Jewish pressure nor to be politically correct. He wrote the book for Catholics around the world, not to win Jewish minds and hearts. Evidently Benedict understands that purging the New Testament and Catholic thinking of all traces of the Adversus Judaeos motifs so prevalent in early and medieval Christian theology is essential if he is to purify the faith of Christian believers. This makes the most recent installment of “Jesus of Nazareth” an all the more important and impressive work.”
(Rabbi Eugene Korn is American director of the Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding and Cooperation in Efrat and Jerusalem and editor of Meorot: A Forum of Modern Orthodox Discourse.)
Excerpt from the book, Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week – From the Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection:
Jesus before Pilate
Jesus’ interrogation before the Sanhedrin had concluded in the way Caiaphas had expected: Jesus was found guilty of blasphemy, for which the penalty was death. But since only the Romans could carry out the death sentence, the case now had to be brought before Pilate and the political dimension of the guilty verdict had to be emphasized. Jesus had declared himself to be the Messiah; hence he had laid claim to the dignity of kingship, albeit in a way peculiarly his own. The claim to Messianic kingship was a political offense, one that had to be punished by Roman justice. With cockcrow, daybreak had arrived. The Roman Governor used to hold court early in the morning.
So Jesus is now led by his accusers to the praetorium and is presented to Pilate as a criminal who deserves to die. It is the “day of preparation” for the Passover feast. The lambs are slaughtered in the afternoon for the evening meal. Hence cultic purity must be preserved; so the priestly accusers may not enter the Gentile praetorium, and they negotiate with the Roman Governor outside the building. John, who provides this detail (18:28–29), thereby highlights the contradiction between the scrupulous attitude to regulations for cultic purity and the question of real inner purity: it simply does not occur to Jesus’ accusers that impurity does not come from entering a Gentile house, but rather from the inner disposition of the heart. At the same time the evangelist emphasizes that the Passover meal had not yet taken place and that the slaughter of the lambs was still to come.
In all essentials, the four Gospels harmonize with one another in their accounts of the progress of the trial. Only John reports the conversation between Jesus and Pilate, in which the question about Jesus’ kingship, the reason for his death, is explored in depth (18:33–38). The historicity of this tradition is of course contested by exegetes. While Charles H. Dodd and Raymond E. Brown judge it positively, Charles K. Barrett is extremely critical: “John’s additions and alterations do not inspire confidence in his historical reliability” (The Gospel according to Saint John, p. 530). Certainly no one would claim that John set out to provide anything resembling a transcript of the trial. Yet we may assume that he was able to explain with great precision the core question at issue and that he presents us with a true account of the trial. Barrett also says “that John has with keen insight picked out the key of the Passion narrative in the kingship of Jesus, and has made its meaning clearer, perhaps, than any other New Testament writer” (ibid., p. 531).
Now we must ask: Who exactly were Jesus’ accusers? Who insisted that he be condemned to death? We must take note of the different answers that the Gospels give to this question. According to John it was simply “the Jews”. But John’s use of this expression does not in any way indicate — as the modern reader might suppose — the people of Israel in general, even less is it “racist” in character. After all, John himself was ethnically a Jew, as were Jesus and all his followers. The entire early Christian community was made up of Jews. In John’s Gospel this word has a precise and clearly defined meaning: he is referring to the Temple aristocracy. So the circle of accusers who instigate Jesus’ death is precisely indicated in the Fourth Gospel and clearly limited: it is the Temple aristocracy — and not without certain exceptions, as the reference to Nicodemus (7:50–52) shows.
In Mark’s Gospel, the circle of accusers is broadened in the context of the Passover amnesty (Barabbas or Jesus): the “ochlos” enters the scene and opts for the release of Barabbas. “Ochlos” in the first instance simply means a crowd of people, the “masses”. The word frequently has a pejorative connotation, meaning “mob”. In any event, it does not refer to the Jewish people as such. In the case of the Passover amnesty (which admittedly is not attested in other sources, but even so need not be doubted), the people, as so often with such amnesties, have a right to put forward a proposal, expressed by way of “acclamation”. Popular acclamation in this case has juridical character (cf. Pesch, Markusevangelium II, p. 466). Effectively this “crowd” is made up of the followers of Barabbas who have been mobilized to secure the amnesty for him: as a rebel against Roman power he could naturally count on a good number of supporters. So the Barabbas party, the “crowd”, was conspicuous, while the followers of Jesus remained hidden out of fear; this meant that the vox populi, on which Roman law was built, was represented one-sidedly. In Mark’s account, then, in addition to “the Jews”, that is to say the dominant priestly circle, the ochlos comes into play, the circle of Barabbas’ supporters, but not the Jewish people as such.
An extension of Mark’s ochlos, with fateful consequences, is found in Matthew’s account (27:25), which speaks of “all the people” and attributes to them the demand for Jesus’ crucifixion. Matthew is certainly not recounting historical fact here: How could the whole people have been present at this moment to clamor for Jesus’ death? It seems obvious that the historical reality is correctly described in John’s account and in Mark’s. The real group of accusers are the current Temple authorities, joined in the context of the Passover amnesty by the “crowd” of Barabbas’ supporters.
Here we may agree with Joachim Gnilka, who argues that Matthew, going beyond historical considerations, is attempting a theological etiology with which to account for the terrible fate of the people of Israel in the Jewish War, when land, city, and Temple were taken from them (cf. Matthäusevangelium II, p. 459). Matthew is thinking here of Jesus’ prophecy concerning the end of the Temple: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets and stoning those who are sent to you! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! Behold, your house is forsaken . . .” (Mt 23:37–38: cf. Gnilka, Matthäusevangelium, the whole of the section entitled “Gerichtsworte“, II, pp. 295–308).
These words — as argued earlier, in the chapter on Jesus’ eschatological discourse — remind us of the inner similarity between the Prophet Jeremiah’s message and that of Jesus. Jeremiah — against the blindness of the then dominant circles — prophesied the destruction of the Temple and Israel’s exile. But he also spoke of a “new covenant”: punishment is not the last word; it leads to healing. In the same way Jesus prophesies the “deserted house” and proceeds to offer the New Covenant “in his blood”: ultimately it is a question of healing, not of destruction and rejection.
When in Matthew’s account the “whole people” say: “His blood be on us and on our children” (27:25), the Christian will remember that Jesus’ blood speaks a different language from the blood of Abel (Heb 12:24): it does not cry out for vengeance and punishment; it brings reconciliation. It is not poured out against anyone; it is poured out for many, for all. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God . . . God put [Jesus] forward as an expiation by his blood” (Rom 3:23, 25). Just as Caiaphas’ words about the need for Jesus’ death have to be read in an entirely new light from the perspective of faith, the same applies to Matthew’s reference to blood: read in the light of faith, it means that we all stand in need of the purifying power of love which is his blood. These words are not a curse, but rather redemption, salvation. Only when understood in terms of the theology of the Last Supper and the Cross, drawn from the whole of the New Testament, does this verse from Matthew’s Gospel take on its correct meaning.
Let us move now from the accusers to the judge: the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate. While Flavius Josephus and especially Philo of Alexandria paint a rather negative picture of him, other sources portray him as decisive, pragmatic, and realistic. It is often said that the Gospels presented him in an increasingly positive light out of a politically motivated pro-Roman tendency and that they shifted the blame for Jesus’ death more and more onto the Jews. Yet there were no grounds for any such tendency in the historical circumstances of the evangelists: by the time the Gospels were written, Nero’s persecution had already revealed the cruel side of the Roman State and the great arbitrariness of imperial power. If we may date the Book of Revelation to approximately the same period as John’s Gospel, then it is clear that the Fourth Gospel did not come to be written in a context that could have given rise to a pro-Roman stance.
The image of Pilate in the Gospels presents the Roman Prefect quite realistically as a man who could be brutal when he judged this to be in the interests of public order. Yet he also knew that Rome owed its world dominance not least to its tolerance of foreign divinities and to the capacity of Roman law to build peace. This is how he comes across to us during Jesus’ trial.
The charge that Jesus claimed to be king of the Jews was a serious one. Rome had no difficulty in recognizing regional kings like Herod, but they had to be legitimated by Rome and they had to receive from Rome the definition and limitation of their sovereignty. A king without such legitimation was a rebel who threatened the Pax Romana and therefore had to be put to death.
Pilate knew, however, that no rebel uprising had been instigated by Jesus. Everything he had heard must have made Jesus seem to him like a religious fanatic, who may have offended against some Jewish legal and religious rulings, but that was of no concern to him. The Jews themselves would have to judge that. From the point of view of the Roman juridical and political order, which fell under his competence, there was nothing serious to hold against Jesus.
At this point we must pass from considerations about the person of Pilate to the trial itself. In John 18:34–35 it is clearly stated that, on the basis of the information in his possession, Pilate had nothing that would incriminate Jesus. Nothing had come to the knowledge of the Roman authority that could in any way have posed a risk to law and order. The charge came from Jesus’ own people, from the Temple authority. It must have astonished Pilate that Jesus’ own people presented themselves to him as defenders of Rome, when the information at his disposal did not suggest the need for any action on his part.
Yet during the interrogation we suddenly arrive at a dramatic moment: Jesus’ confession. To Pilate’s question: “So you are a king?” he answers: “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Every one who is of the truth hears my voice” ( Jn 18:37). Previously Jesus had said: “My kingship is not of this world; if my kingship were of this world, my servants would fight, that I might not be handed over to the Jews; but my kingship is not from the world” (18:36).
This “confession” of Jesus places Pilate in an extraordinary situation: the accused claims kingship and a kingdom (basileía). Yet he underlines the complete otherness of his kingship, and he even makes the particular point that must have been decisive for the Roman judge: No one is fighting for this kingship. If power, indeed military power, is characteristic of kingship and kingdoms, there is no sign of it in Jesus’ case. And neither is there any threat to Roman order. This kingdom is powerless. It has “no legions”.
With these words Jesus created a thoroughly new concept of kingship and kingdom, and he held it up to Pilate, the representative of classical worldly power. What is Pilate to make of it, and what are we to make of it, this concept of kingdom and kingship? Is it unreal, is it sheer fantasy that can be safely ignored? Or does it somehow affect us?
In addition to the clear delimitation of his concept of kingdom (no fighting, earthly powerlessness), Jesus had introduced a positive idea, in order to explain the nature and particular character of the power of this kingship: namely, truth. Pilate brought another idea into play as the dialogue proceeded, one that came from his own world and was normally connected with “kingdom”: namely, power — authority (exousía). Dominion demands power; it even defines it. Jesus, however, defines as the essence of his kingship witness to the truth. Is truth a political category? Or has Jesus’ “kingdom” nothing to do with politics? To which order does it belong? If Jesus bases his concept of kingship and kingdom on truth as the fundamental category, then it is entirely understandable that the pragmatic Pilate asks him: “What is truth?” (18:38).
It is the question that is also asked by modern political theory: Can politics accept truth as a structural category? Or must truth, as something unattainable, be relegated to the subjective sphere, its place taken by an attempt to build peace and justice using whatever instruments are available to power? By relying on truth, does not politics, in view of the impossibility of attaining consensus on truth, make itself a tool of particular traditions that in reality are merely forms of holding on to power?
And yet, on the other hand, what happens when truth counts for nothing? What kind of justice is then possible? Must there not be common criteria that guarantee real justice for all — criteria that are independent of the arbitrariness of changing opinions and powerful lobbies? Is it not true that the great dictatorships were fed by the power of the ideological lie and that only truth was capable of bringing freedom?
What is truth? The pragmatist’s question, tossed off with a degree of scepticism, is a very serious question, bound up with the fate of mankind. What, then, is truth? Are we able to recognize it? Can it serve as a criterion for our intellect and will, both in individual choices and in the life of the community?
The classic definition from scholastic philosophy designates truth as “adaequatio intellectus et rei” (conformity between the intellect and reality; Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae I, q. 21, a. 2c). If a man’s intellect reflects a thing as it is in itself, then he has found truth: but only a small fragment of reality — not truth in its grandeur and integrity.
We come closer to what Jesus meant with another of Saint Thomas’ teachings: “Truth is in God’s intellect properly and firstly (proprie et primo); in human intellect it is present properly and derivatively (proprie quidem et secundario)” (De Verit., q. 1, a. 4c). And in conclusion we arrive at the succinct formula: God is “ipsa summa et prima veritas” (truth itself, the sovereign and first truth; Summa Theologiae I, q. 16, a. 5c).
This formula brings us close to what Jesus means when he speaks of the truth, when he says that his purpose in coming into the world was to “bear witness to the truth”. Again and again in the world, truth and error, truth and untruth, are almost inseparably mixed together. The truth in all its grandeur and purity does not appear. The world is “true” to the extent that it reflects God: the creative logic, the eternal reason that brought it to birth. And it becomes more and more true the closer it draws to God. Man becomes true, he becomes himself, when he grows in God’s likeness. Then he attains to his proper nature. God is the reality that gives being and intelligibility.
“Bearing witness to the truth” means giving priority to God and to his will over against the interests of the world and its powers. God is the criterion of being. In this sense, truth is the real “king” that confers light and greatness upon all things. We may also say that bearing witness to the truth means making creation intelligible and its truth accessible from God’s perspective — the perspective of creative reason — in such a way that it can serve as a criterion and a signpost in this world of ours, in such a way that the great and the mighty are exposed to the power of truth, the common law, the law of truth.
Let us say plainly: the unredeemed state of the world consists precisely in the failure to understand the meaning of creation, in the failure to recognize truth; as a result, the rule of pragmatism is imposed, by which the strong arm of the powerful becomes the god of this world.
At this point, modern man is tempted to say: Creation has become intelligible to us through science. Indeed, Francis S. Collins, for example, who led the Human Genome Project, says with joyful astonishment: “The language of God was revealed” (The Language of God, p. 122). Indeed, in the magnificent mathematics of creation, which today we can read in the human genetic code, we recognize the language of God. But unfortunately not the whole language. The functional truth about man has been discovered. But the truth about man himself — who he is, where he comes from, what he should do, what is right, what is wrong — this unfortunately cannot be read in the same way. Hand in hand with growing knowledge of functional truth there seems to be an increasing blindness toward “truth” itself — toward the question of our real identity and purpose.
What is truth? Pilate was not alone in dismissing this question as unanswerable and irrelevant for his purposes. Today too, in political argument and in discussion of the foundations of law, it is generally experienced as disturbing. Yet if man lives without truth, life passes him by; ultimately he surrenders the field to whoever is the stronger. “Redemption” in the fullest sense can only consist in the truth becoming recognizable. And it becomes recognizable when God becomes recognizable. He becomes recognizable in Jesus Christ. In Christ, God entered the world and set up the criterion of truth in the midst of history. Truth is outwardly powerless in the world, just as Christ is powerless by the world’s standards: he has no legions; he is crucified. Yet in his very powerlessness, he is powerful: only thus, again and again, does truth become power.
In the dialogue between Jesus and Pilate, the subject matter is Jesus’ kingship and, hence, the kingship, the “kingdom”, of God. In the course of this same conversation it becomes abundantly clear that there is no discontinuity between Jesus’ Galilean teaching — the proclamation of the kingdom of God — and his Jerusalem teaching. The center of the message, all the way to the Cross — all the way to the inscription above the Cross — is the kingdom of God, the new kingship represented by Jesus. And this kingship is centered on truth. The kingship proclaimed by Jesus, at first in parables and then at the end quite openly before the earthly judge, is none other than the kingship of truth. The inauguration of this kingship is man’s true liberation.
At the same time it becomes clear that between the pre-Resurrection focus on the kingdom of God and the post-Resurrection focus on faith in Jesus Christ as Son of God there is no contradiction. In Christ, God — the Truth — entered the world. Christology is the concrete form acquired by the proclamation of God’s kingdom.
After the interrogation, Pilate knew for certain what in principle he had already known beforehand: this Jesus was no political rebel; his message and his activity posed no threat for the Roman rulers. Whether Jesus had offended against the Torah was of no concern to him as a Roman.
Yet Pilate seems also to have experienced a certain superstitious wariness concerning this remarkable figure. True, Pilate was a sceptic. As a man of his time, though, he did not exclude the possibility that gods or, at any rate, god-like beings could take on human form. John tells us that “the Jews” accused Jesus of making himself the Son of God, and then he adds: “When Pilate heard these words, he was even more afraid” (19:8).
I think we must take seriously the idea of Pilate’s fear: Perhaps there really was something divine in this man? Perhaps Pilate would be opposing divine power if he were to condemn him? Perhaps he would have to reckon with the anger of the deity? I think his attitude during the trial can be explained not only on the basis of a certain commitment to see justice done, but also on the basis of such considerations as these.
Jesus’ accusers obviously realize this, and so they now play off one fear against another. Against the superstitious fear of a possible divine presence, they appeal to the entirely practical fear of forfeiting the emperor’s favor, being removed from office, and thus plunging into a downward spiral. The declaration: “If you release this man, you are not Caesar’s friend” ( Jn 19:12) is a threat. In the end, concern for career proves stronger than fear of divine powers.