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Italian Protestant both praises and criticises Pope’s book on Jesus


Pope Benedict XVI’s new book on Jesus Christ has received both praise and criticism from Italian Protestant theologian Daniele Garrone who was invited to take part in its official presentation at the Vatican.

The book, "Jesus of Nazareth", is a "passionate meditation that gives us a portrait of Jesus in the New Testament", said Garrone, dean of the Waldensian faculty of theology in Rome.
"The Pope’s book gives us an opportunity to experience the substance of ecumenism: to know that where I’m looking for the face of God, there is another Christian, different from me, who too is looking for the same face."

Garrone joined the director of Holy See Press Office, the Rev. Federico Lombardi; Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna; and Italian philosopher Massimo Cacciari for the 13 April media conference at which the book was presented. The Italian Protestant praised the Vatican for inviting him to take part, saying it was "a very rare occasion".

Pope Benedict describes the book, which went on sale on 16 April in German, Italian, Polish and Greek editions to mark his 80th birthday, as "a personal search for the face of the Lord". But the book also laments the ills that modern society has caused by believing that it can do without God.

Lombardi and Schönborn praised the book, while Cacciari said that it sets out for both believers and non-believers "crucial issues" about Jesus, man and God.

Still, Garrone expressed "reservations" about the book’s central claim that the historical "Jesus of history" is identical with the "Christ of faith". He also cautioned against what he called the Pope’s polemic against the modern world and present-day "post-Christian society". "Sin is not always, and only, to be found in the world," said Garrone.

"The bigger danger for the mystification of the figure of Jesus comes not from outside but, often, from those who preach Jesus," warned Garrone, who comes from a church that dates back eight centuries and once faced persecution at the hands of the papacy.

Pope Benedict in an introduction to the book – intended as the first of a two-volume work – explains that he began to write it in 2002, when he was still Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. He finished it in September 2006, almost 18 months after becoming Pope.

The book, he says, is intended as a personal meditation and not an expression of infallible judgements. "Everyone is free, than, to contradict me," he notes.

It is not the first time that a Pope has published books; John Paul II, for instance, did so. But it is the first occasion in modern times that a pontiff has published a "personal book" about biblical interpretation and theology.

In Italy, the first edition of the book has a print run of 350 000 copies. The Vatican expects that when translated into other languages – including English, French, Korean, Hungarian, Portuguese, and Spanish – the total run will amount to several million copies. 

(c) Ecumenical News International