I have been slowly slogging through the Jesus of Nazareth series by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, but published during his pontificate as Pope Benedict XVI. I say “slow,” not because it is bad, but because it is so dense and thoughtful that each sentence must be read, contemplated and integrated with one’s existing understanding of the subject in order to make any headway at all.
That being said, it is most rewarding to do so because Ratzinger goes through the entire Gospel narrative of Christ’s life, piece by piece, and explains connections with the Old Testament, related doctrines and explicates a great deal of theology along the way. If the Catechism is an introduction to the Church’s core teachings, moral philosophy and sacraments, the Jesus of Nazareth series is an introduction to the same but from the starting point of the Gospels, and therefore serves to connect it all in an intrinsically Christ-centered way. His work is truly a gift to the Church and any seekers.
Reading through the Holy Week volume, I encountered this passage regarding Christ’s Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, where He aligns His will with the Father’s in order to face the cross and His death. Ratzingers takes up the doctrine of the hypostatic union (that Jesus Christ is one Person (divine) with two natures (divine and human)) and shows its essential relevance for the Christian faith. In Jesus:
…there is only one “personal will”, which draws the “natural will” into itself. And this is possible without annihilating the specifically human element, because the human will, as created by God, is ordered to the divine will. In becoming attuned to the divine will, its experiences its fulfillment, not its annihilation. Maximus [the Confessor] says in this regard that the human will, by virtue of creation, tends towards synergy (working together) with the divine will, but that through sin, opposition takes the place of synergy: man, whose will attains fulfillment through becoming attuned to God’s will, now has the sense that his freedom is compromised by God’s will. He regards consenting to God’s will, not as his opportunity to become fully himself, but as a threat to his freedom against which he rebels.
The drama of the Mount of Olives lies in the fact that Jesus draws man’s natural will away from opposition and back toward synergy, and in doing so, he restores man’s greatness. In Jesus’s natural human will, the sum total of human nature’s resistance to God is, as it were, present within Jesus himself. The obstinacy of us all, the whole of our opposition to God is present, and in his struggle, Jesus elevates our recalcitrant nature to become its real self.
1) Here, plainly, is the importance of Jesus and the doctrine about his two natures. Only by being fully human, can he share in our fallenness and so help us. Only by being divine, can he offer it all to God the Father in a satisfactory way that atones for Original Sin. Thus the doctrine of the hypostatic union becomes meaningful and not a mere abstract formulation.
2) And more concretely, for the Christian life, our human wills work the same way as Christ’s. We think that by follow God, we lose freedom, but the opposite is true. By following God, we are most truly ourselves and truly free. It’s like a person walking down a road; he may think the signs and road indicators inhibit his freedom, but really he is thwarted if he ignores them and wanders into the desert. By following the signs and indicators, he arrives at his destination more quickly and safely with more time to do what he came for there.
Does theology sometimes seem overly abstract? Have you read any of this? If not, does it sound appealing? It’s hard to approach sharing the whole of the Christian Faith; does this help?