Part 3 – God the Son – Week 2

Part 3 – God the Son – Week 2

In today’s reading, Ratzinger begins to unfold the hidden depths of the ‘name’ Jesus Christ. As we well know, he tells us, ‘Christ’ was not the family or last name of ‘Jesus,’ but rather His title, His ‘job description’ as Messiah. But the fact that we use this title as part of His name is not just an accident of speech and history, he then continues. Instead, it tells us that in Jesus person and ‘job’ were completely united. Jesus didn’t just ‘do the job’ of being Messiah: He was the Messiah, His very being was that of mediation, that of bringing us to God and brining God to us. That is also why His teaching and miracles, all that He said and did are, in the ultimate analysis, less important than who He is, than His very person. And nowhere does this become more apparent than on the Cross, Ratzinger concludes: for in his nakedness and weakness, in his ‘nothingness,’ the crucified Jesus is most fully revealed as the Christ, as the One who does not just tell us about God, but who as God gives us His body and blood, His very life.



“The Creed, which we are following in this book as a representative summary of the faith, formulates its faith in Jesus in the quite simple phrase “and [I believe] in Christ Jesus”. The most striking thing about it for us is that, as in St. Paul’s preferred usage, the word Christ, […] was originally not a name but a title (“Messiah”) […].

Ferdinand Kattenbusch, the great student of the Apostles Creed, illustrates the process with a neat example from his own time (1897): he points to the comparison with the phrase: “Kaiser Wilhelm”. The words “Kaiser” and “Wilhelm” go so closely together that the title “Kaiser” had itself already become almost a part of the name; yet everyone was still aware that the word was not just a name but denoted a function. The phrase, ‘Christ Jesus’ is an exactly similar case and shows just the same development: Christ is a title and yet also already part of the unique name for the man from Nazareth. This fusion of the name with the title, the title with the name, is far from being just another example of history’s forgetfulness. On the contrary, it spotlights the very heart of that process of understanding that faith went through with regard to the figure of Nazareth. For what faith really states is precisely that with Jesus it is not possible to distinguish office and person; with him, this differentiation simply becomes inapplicable. The person is the office; the office is the person. The two are no longer separable. Here there is no private area reserved for an “I” that remains in the background behind the deeds and actions and thus at some time or other can be “off duty”; here there is no “I” separate from the work; the “I” is the work, and the work is the “I”.

Jesus did not leave behind him (again, as the faith expressed in the Creed understood it) a body of teaching that could be separated from his “I”, as one can collect and evaluate the ideas of great thinkers without going into the personalities of the thinkers themselves. The Creed offers no teachings of Jesus; evidently no one even conceived the—to us—obvious idea of attempting anything like this, because the operative understanding pointed in a completely different direction. Similarly, as faith understood the position, Jesus did not perform a work that could be distinguished from his “I” and depicted separately. On the contrary, to understand him as the Christ means to be convinced that he has put himself into his word. Here there is no “I” (as there is with all of us) that utters words; he has identified himself so closely with his word that “I” and word are indistinguishable: he is word. In the same way, to faith, his work is nothing else than the unreserved way in which he merges himself into this very work; he performs himself and gives himself; his work is the giving of himself. […]

In other words, faith’s decisive statement about Jesus lies in the indivisible unity of the two words “Jesus Christ”, a unity that conceals the experience of the identity of existence and mission. […] The person of Jesus is his teaching, and his teaching is he himself. Christian faith, that is, faith in Jesus as the Christ, is therefore truly “personal faith”. What this means can really be understood only from this standpoint. Such faith is not the acceptance of a system but the acceptance of this person who is his word; of the word as person and of the person as Word. […]

What has been said so far will be clarified if we go back a step farther, past the Apostles’ Creed, to the origin of the Christian faith as a whole. Today we can establish with some certainty that the birthplace of the faith in Jesus as the Christ, that is, the birthplace of “Christ”-ian faith as a whole, is the Cross. Jesus himself did not proclaim himself directly as the Christ (“Messiah”). […] The man who gave him this name was Pilate, who for his part associated himself with the accusation of the Jews by giving in to this accusation and proclaiming Jesus on the Cross, in an execution notice drawn up in all the international languages of the day, as the executed king (= Messiah, Christus) of the Jews. This execution notice, the death sentence of history, became with paradoxical unity the “profession of faith”, the real starting point and taproot of the Christian faith, which holds Jesus to be the Christ: as the crucified criminal, this Jesus is the Christ, the King. His crucifixion is his coronation; his kingship is his surrender of himself to men, the identification of word, mission, and existence is thus his word. He is word because he is love. From the Cross faith understands in increasing measure that this Jesus did not just do and say something; that in him message and person are identical, that he is all along what he says. John needed only to draw the final straightforward inference: if that is so—and this is the christological basis of his Gospel—then this Jesus Christ is “word”; but a person who not only has words but is his word and his work, who is the logos (“the Word”, meaning, mind) itself: that person has always existed and will always exist; he is the ground on which the world stands—if we ever meet such a person, then he is the meaning that comprises us all and by which we are all sustained.

The unfolding of the understanding that we call faith thus happens in such a way that Christians first hit upon the identification of person, word, and work through the Cross. Through it they recognized the really and finally decisive factor, in the presence of which all else becomes of secondary importance. For this reason their profession of faith could be restricted to the simple association of the words Jesus and Christ—this combination said it all. Jesus is seen from the Cross, which speaks louder than any words: he is the Christ—no more need be said. The crucified “I” of the Lord is such an abundant reality that all else can retire into the background.”



  1. Ratzinger, Introduction to Christianity, Ignatius Press, San Francisco 2004 [1968], 202-207.




  1. Spend some time before an image of Christ, preferably one of Christ crucified. Look at His face, suffering and in pain, but filled with strength – the strength and power of love. Christ is truly the ‘revelation’ of God, the one who in His very being, in His very person, is God with us, is God with me. Christianity is not a set of doctrines or moral codes, Ratzinger often wrote, but a personal encounter with Jesus Christ, true God and true man. Speak to Jesus today from your heart and renew your faith, your trust, and your love in Him.


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