Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives by Pope Benedict XVI

(New York: Image/Penguin, 2012), 146

This was my Advent 2022 reading. Scripture is inexhaustible, and Ratzinger's reflections on Scripture are nearly inexhaustible as well. His Jesus of Nazareth trilogy is the treasure from his life of thinking about the life of Jesus.

Three things are very apparent from Ratzinger's reflections of the Infancy Narratives. First, Jesus is the fulfillment of all of Israel's hopes. Jesus fulfills the prophecies of the Old Testament, and is "unveiled" in the New1. Second, while simultaneously bringing to fulfillment the prophecies of the Old Testament, there are echoes and whispers in the Infancy Narratives of Jesus' Cross and Resurrection. This is the reason why he came into the world. Finally, Ratzinger affirms that these narratives are real history, theologically interpreted for sure, but describing real events. For God "the true guiding force behind all history" (65).




  • Good exegesis involve two stages (xi):
    • Historical: ask what the respective authors intended to convey through their text in their own day
    • Is what I read here true? Does it concern me? If so, how?

Chapter 1: "Where Are You From?"

Summary: The paradox of Jesus' origin is that he is both known as the ordinary carpenter, and also of mysterious origin. Who Jesus is, and where he comes from are linked, as the Evangelists communicate carefully to us in their genealogies of Jesus.

The question about Jesus' origin as a question about being and mission

  • Matthew's genealogy revolves around Abraham (through whom blessing comes to all) and David (making this a Gospel of Christ the King)
    • Ending his genealogy with a woman, Mary, marks the new beginning in Christ
  • Luke's genealogy shows that humanity starts afresh in Jesus

Chapter 2: The Annunciation of the Birth of John the Baptist and the Annunciation of the Birth of Jesus

On the particular literary character of the texts

  • "A story is told here which interprets the Scriptures. And the converse is also true: what the Scriptures intended to say in many passages becomes visible only now through this new story." (15, cf. 2022-12-03-Dei Verbum 16: "God, the inspirer and author of both Testaments, wisely arranged that the New Testament be hidden in the Old and the Old be made manifest in the New." re The unity of the Old and New Testamentsy)
  • The infancy narratives are interpreted history (17)

The annunciation of the birth of John

  • The whole Old Covenant priesthood become a prophecy of Jesus (18, cf. Ps-118)
  • "John belongs to a long line of offspring born to infertile parents through a miraculous intervention of God, for whom nothing is impossible." (22)

The annunciation to Mary

  • "Mary appears as God's living tent, in which he chooses to dwell among men in a new way." (29)
  • Mary is "an image of the Church as she considers the word of God, tries to understand it in its entirety, and guards in her memory the things that have been given to her." (33-34)
  • Mary makes "the loftiest choice of human freedom" at the annunciation: God created man free, so the only way he can redeem him is through a free yes. Bernard portrays heaven and hearth holding its breath for Mary's "yes" (36)

The conception and birth of Jesus according to Matthew

  • Joseph is the link between Jesus and David
  • Ps-01 is the classic image of the just man, and a spiritual portrait of Joseph
  • Joseph is notable for his ability to perceive the divine and discern
  • The promise of forgiveness of sins is both too little (no political messiah?) and too much (encroaches on God's sphere)
    • Forgiveness of sins is essential because we are relational beings, and sin destroys our most important relationship (with God) (44)
  • Bibelkritik on Is-53: "The prophets prediction is like a miraculously formed keyhole, into which the key of Christ fits perfectly." (50)

Virgin birth—myth or historical truth?

  • "The oneness of the one God and the infinite distance between God and creature is fully preserved." (52)
  • God intervenes directly in the material world...the virgin birth and the real resurrection from the tomb are the cornerstones of the faith "(56-57)"

Chapter 3: The Birth of Jesus in Bethlehem

The historical and theological framework of the nativity story in Luke's Gospel

  • Secular world history is important for Luke: the "all the world" being enrolled now means a universal message of salvation can come
    • Peace is what the savior brings
  • On trusting the historical commentary of the sacred authors: "In any case, [Luke] was situated much closer to the sources and events than we could ever claim to be, despite all our historical scholarship." (63)
    • God is "the true guiding force behind all history." (65)

The birth of Jesus

  • Augustine: the manger is a reference to the table of God from which we receive the bread of God (68), and has become the Ark of the Covenant (69)
    • Is-01: "The ox knows its owner, and the ass its master's crib; but Israel does not know, my people does not understand."
  • Saved by grace through faith: "Grace and freedom are thoroughly interwoven, and we cannot unravel their interrelatedness in to clear formulae." (76)

The presentation of Jesus in the Temple

  • Jesus' family belonged to the poor of Israel
  • "Mary does not need to be purified from the birth of Jesus: his birth ushers in the purification of the world." (82)
  • Nunc dimittis (84-85):
    • "glory to your people Israel" taken from the Suffering Servant songs: Jesus is identified as Isaiah's suffering servant:
      • Is-42: ""I am the LORD, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations,"
      • Is-49: "It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth."
  • "The theology of glory is inseparably linked with the theology of the Cross." (85)

Chapter 4: The Wise Men from the East and the Flight Into Egypt

The historical and geographical framework of the narrative

  • Notes the pagan prophet Balaam

Who were the "Magi"?

  • There are two types of Magi, who illustrate the importance of the focus of their study (religion) and how we must choose correctly so as to not "side with the demons, even though Jesus has already defeated them." (93)
  • Beyond Scientism: "Wisdom, then, serves to purify the message of 'science': the rationality of that message does not remain at the level of intellectual knowledge, but seeks understanding in its fullness, and so raises reason to its loftiest possibilities." (95)

The Star

  • Kepler sought to explain the star as a conjunction in 7-6 BC of Jupiter, Saturn, and Mars, along with a supernova
  • The cosmos speaks of Christ, and the wise men represent the movement of the Gentiles toward Christ (100)
  • "St. Gregory Nazianzen says that at the very moment when the Magi adored Jesus, astrology came to an end, as the stars from then on traced the orbit determined by Christ." (101)

Jerusalem—stopping point on the journey

  • The text illustrates "the paradoxical element in God's way of acting, which runs through the whole of the Old Testament: greatness emerges from what seems in earthly terms small and insignificant, while worldly greatness collapses and falls." (104)

The worship of the Wise Men before Jesus

  • Ratzinger's life has been spent thinking about the Lord, which he continues: "I have yet to find a completely convincing explanation..." (106)
  • The gifts of the Magi:
    • Gold: Jesus' kingship
    • Incense: Jesus' divine sonship
    • Myrrh: the mystery of his Passion

Flight into Egypt and return to the Land of Israel

  • Hos-11: "out of Egypt I called my son"
  • "The Messianic trilogy" (117)
    • Is-07: "Behold, a virgin shall conceive and beard a son, and shall call his name Immanuel"
    • Is-09: "For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government will be upon his shoulder, and his name will be called "Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace."
    • Is-11: "There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots."
      • For Matthew, the "shoot" (nezer) is a reference to Jesus of Nazareth
  • Ratzinger discusses the historicity of the Gospel accounts and concludes: "Matthew is recounting real history, theologically thought through and interpreted, and thus helps us to understand the mystery of Jesus more deeply." (119)
    • "One must suppose, until the contrary is proven, that the evangelists did not intend to deceive their readers, but rather to inform them concerning historical contest the historicity of this account on mere suspicion exceeds every imaginable competence of historians." (cf. Kommentar zum Neuen Testament by Klaus Berger bib, 20)

Epilogue: The Twelve-Year-Old Jesus in the Temple

Summary: The answer of the twelve year old Jesus in the temple shows how he is truly God and truly man.

  • "Jesus' freedom is not the freedom of the liberal. It is the freedom of the Son, and thus the freedom of the truly devout person. As Son, Jesus brings a new freedom: not the freedom of someone with no obligations, but the freedom of someone totally united with the Father's will." (120-121)
  • "In the Holy Family, freedom and obedience were combined in a healthy manner" (122)
  • The three days to find Jesus is a reference to the three days between the Cross and resurrection
  • "Mary does not understand Jesus' saying, but she keeps it in her heart and allows it gradually to come to maturity there...Believing means submitting to this loftiness and slowly growing into it." (125)

Topic: Jesus Christ



file:(2022-12-25-Jesus of Nazareth The Infancy Narratives)

Created: 2022-12-04-Sun
Updated: 2023-02-05-Sun

  1. cf. Dei Verbum 16 and CCC 129.