In particular, the first volume of Benedict’s book Jesus of Nazareth drew extensively on the writing of Rabbi Jacob Neusner, who showed that Jesus’ statements in Matthew 12 were a radical Christological declaration. Although Orthodox Jews well may take issue with some Neusner’s formulations, as Rabbi Meir Soloveichik observed, the pope’s literary dialogue with the American rabbi evinced his commitment to uncovering the Hebrew sources of Christianity.
On a personal note: As a graduate student poring through Renaissance texts on music and mathematics, I encountered then Cardinal Ratzinger’s writings on music. Subsequently the first fruits of my research were published by the Vatican’s music journal Rivista Internazionale di Musica Sacra, and I sent a copy of the manuscript to the cardinal, then head of the Sacred Congregation of the Faith in Rome. To my surprise I received a cordial letter from Ratzinger with a couple of helpful suggestions; the great man had not only taken the time to acknowledge an unsolicited paper from a graduate student, but had read it as well. I had the privilege to see his kindness and generosity first hand.
Years later I opened a copy of Der Spiegel at the Narita Airport transit lounge and read a summary of then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger’s just-published book Die Salz von der Erde, published in English as The Salt of the Earth. It contained this stunning assertion:
We might have to part with the notion of a popular Church. It is possible that we are on the verge of a new era in the history of the Church, under circumstances very different from those we have faced in the past, when Christianity will resemble the mustard seed [Matthew 13:31-32], that is, will continue only in the form of small and seemingly insignificant groups, which yet will oppose evil with all their strength and bring Good into this world.
The courage of this statement from a prince of the Church touched me. “I have a mustard seed and I’m not afraid to use it,” I summarized Ratzinger’s attitude towards the attrition of faith in the West just before his election in 2005. The West has lost a great spiritual leader. We will be hard put to find another like him.
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