View all Novenas | August 30, 2023
Part 3 – God the Son – Week 1
Part 3 – God the Son – Week 1
Part 2 of Ratzinger’s Introduction to Christianity, dedicated to Jesus Christ, forms the heart of his book. It is sub-divided into 2 chapters, and I will dedicate a novena to each of them.
Interestingly, however, only the second of these chapters contains Ratzinger’s commentary on the six main doctrines about Jesus that are taught by the Creed: that He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary; that He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried; that He descended into Hell; that He rose again on the third day; that He ascended into Heaven; and that He will come again to judge the living and the dead.
Chapter 1 in the section on Jesus Christ is instead devoted to a more fundamental topic: what the ‘name’ or ‘title’ Jesus Christ actually means, what it tells us about the core of our Christian faith in this man, Jesus of Nazareth, whose every action, and indeed whose very identity, was to be the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of God. It is this theme – that as Christians we can perhaps take for granted and have not stopped to reflect deeply enough upon – that thus constitutes the content of this 3rd novena in our series.
So what is it that we are actually professing when we proclaim the words ‘I believe in Jesus Christ, His Only Son, Our Lord?’ In the first place, Ratzinger tells us, this formula contains the real novelty and difficulty of Christian faith. For as Christians we not only believe that God is Almighty and Personal, that He is Creative Reason and Eternal Love – which is a summary of what we learnt in our last novena on God the Father – but also that He then became man, that He truly took human flesh and nature upon Himself, and that by entering into human history and becoming one of us became the very center and foundation of that history.
“It is only in the second section of the Creed that we come up against the real difficulty—already considered briefly in the introduction—about Christianity: the profession of faith that the man Jesus, an individual executed in Palestine round about the year 30, the Christus (anointed, chosen) of God, indeed God’s own Son, is the central and decisive point of all human history. It seems both presumptuous and foolish to assert that one single figure who is bound to disappear farther and farther into the mists of the past is the authoritative center of all history. Although faith in the logos, the meaningfulness of being, corresponds perfectly with a tendency in the human reason, this second article of the Creed proclaims the absolutely staggering alliance of logos and sarx, of meaning and a single historical figure. The meaning that sustains all being has become flesh; that is, it has entered history and become one individual in it; it is no longer simply what encompasses and sustains history but a point in it. Accordingly the meaning of all being is first of all no longer to be found in the sweep of mind that rises above the individual, the limited, into the universal; it is no longer simply given in the world of ideas, which transcends the individual and is reflected in it only in a fragmentary fashion; it is to be found in the midst of time, in the countenance of one man. One is reminded of the moving conclusion of Dante’s Divine Comedy, where, looking on the mystery of God, in the midst of that “all-powerful love which, quiet and united, leads around in a circle the sun and all the stars”, the poet discovers in blissful wonder his own likeness, a human countenance.’ The transformation of the path from being to meaning that results from this will have to be considered later. For the time being, let us note that alongside the union of the God of faith and the God of the philosophers, which we recognized in the first article as the basic assumption and structural form of the Christian faith, a second, no less decisive alliance appears, namely, that of the logos and sarx, of word and flesh, of faith and history. The historical man Jesus is the Son of God, and the Son of God is the man Jesus. God comes to pass for man through men, nay, even more concretely, through the man in whom the quintessence of humanity appears and who for that very reason is at the same time God himself.
At first, this article of faith represents a stumbling block for human thinking. In this have we not fallen victim to an absolutely staggering kind of positivism? Can we cling at all to the straw of one single historical event? Can we dare to base our whole existence, indeed the whole of history, on the straw of one happening in the great sea of history? Such a notion, which even in itself is an adventurous one and seemed equally improbable to both ancient and Asiatic thought, is rendered still more difficult in the intellectual climate of modern times…”
- Ratzinger, Introduction to Christianity, Ignatius Press, San Francisco 2004 , 193-194.
- Reflect on the astounding fact of the Incarnation, on the thought that as Christians we believe that God Himself – the Creator, the Almighty, the Eternal – became man, took on human flesh and became someone like me. Have I grown accustomed to this revolutionary teaching or does it still astound me? Try to imagine hearing this truth for the first time. Let it fill you with wonder, with shock, perhaps even with holy disbelief, as you contemplate the enormity – and the apparent ‘absurdness’ – of this core Christian teaching.