This was a one page paper for the class Jesus and Hermeneutics at Boston College with Dr. Daniel Harrington S.J. The purpose of the paper was to analyze the pope’s hermeneutical stance and his treatment of the various epithets of Jesus found in the gospels.
This post is also included in the Evangelicals and Catholics series as a way to disabuse many of my Protestant brethren of (or at least spawn more conversation regarding) the notion that Catholics are not interested in Scripture or scripturally based theological inquiry.
Thesis: While using the historical method, the Pope feels free to move beyond it to theological interpretation, showing the epithets of Jesus to reveal his oneness with God, which has eschatological implications.
Pope Benedict’s hermeneutical stance is one largely shaped by E.D. Hirsch. He praises the historical-critical method and says that it is an indispensable tool. This method can also be seen by his exegetical process in the discussion of the different titles of Jesus. However, he also departs from a purely historical stance and seems to incorporate Ricoeur-like ideas as well. For example, he emphasizes the position that what we have in the gospels is the “‘historical’ Jesus in the strict sense of the word” (xxii). Therefore, he is not interested in getting behind the text to find the “real” Jesus; he emphasizes that what we have is the text (the real Jesus). In addition, reminiscent of Ricoeur’s idea of distanciation he posits that “we can never go beyond the domain of hypothesis, because we simply cannot bring the past into the present” (xvii). The Pope wants to depart from strict historical investigation and move to theological interpretation which he rightly and poignantly admits requires faith (xxiii).
The three epithets which Pope Benedict explores all serve the function of displaying the oneness between Jesus and the Father (homoousios) (320). His exegesis of these three epithets outline the orthodox position: conveying Jesus divinity be association and identification with the Father. In light of the other reading in this course, these titles also convey an eschatological meaning. By using the term “Son of Man,” Jesus reveals his true identity and conceals it in mystery at the same time, analogous to many of his teachings (324). For those who had ears to hear, the loud allusion to Daniel 7 would have carried with it clear eschatological meaning concerning “the coming kingdom of salvation” (327). Pope Benedict provides a great example of this by exploring the story of the paralytic (331). This works well with Wright’s notion of the “inauguration” of the Kingdom. The designation “Son of God” also performs the function of linking Jesus to Father (344), and also brought with it political implications, albeit yet remaining an apolitical system (339). The “I am” statements also “show the inseparability of Father and Son” (348) by screaming in allusion back to the burning bush episode (349). These three titles have roots in OT texts yet are fulfilled in Jesus “as if they had been waiting for him” (354).
 Joseph Ratzinger, Jesus of Nazareth: From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration (trans. Adrian J. Walker; New York: Doubleday, 2007), xvi. (In-text citations from this point on).
 N.T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1996), 191. (In-text citations from this point on).