Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Pope Benedict's Revisionist Christmas

The True Story of The First Christmas” (Financial Times, 12/24/12, p.6) is of all things a commentary on Benedict XVI’s criticism of falsehoods that have seeped into our Christian folklore over the centuries. He deals with those major distortions in his new book, “Jesus of Nazareth”. “In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be enrolled.” The real news is that Joseph was no simple shepherd, but a person well off enough to have a second house in Bethlehem! And dress him more upper-class! He had to go to the capital to register that second dwelling.
And our pious Pope conjectures that the First Family overnighted in a cave, not in an unlikely wooden stable! As for all those rural animals? Forget them. Shepherds there may have been because they dominated the population at that time. But assembled by the angels. Un huh, the traditionally Infallible One conjectures humbly. 

FT continues its explication: ”the book is not an attack on traditions which are either inaccurate in the inception or which have grown fanciful in the retelling.” In short this is a tacit admission from the Vatican that Christmas is bigger than Jesus! Benedict describes the traditional crib scene but requests no changes. In the Christmas spirit he is noticeably very, very Merry.

Well what about those three kings of Orient? (My attention suddenly deepened: my son Daniel Patrick Moynihan Hazard, just turned 6, had his dramatic debut last week as the King with gold to present to Jesus, in his Kindergarten’s annual play in the leading Weimar Hotel Leonardo, as in De Vinci, latterly the Weimar Hilton.) The Pope speculates (!) that the confluence of Saturn and Jupiter “could well have pointed astronomers from the Babylonian-Person region toward the land of the Jews.” 

Jesus retroactively gives Benedict an A+ for eschewing dogma at this point in the story. He further speculates that the adoration of the Magi could be “an invention of Matthew based on a theological idea”. Ever the tireless tutor, Benny (if I may replicate his relaxed friendliness) asserts it doesn’t matter at all since it has no bearing upon “any essential aspect of our faith”. Oy, but this Kraut sleeks around very carefully in the logic department. 

Good news accrues: “The Epiphany is therefore a matter of taste.” Holey Moley. Could this guy pass Religion 101 at the Holy Rosary Academy (Bay City, MI) of my ten years of 30’s captivity, imprisoned by the certainties of my German Dominican nuns. Sister Felicia, my sweet kindergarten teacher and substitute mother would have had Benny 16 to be sitting in the Dummies Corner!

And how about his new view of those oh so humble shepherds? Should they set an example of the Christlike simple life. Uh huh. "It seems to me that we should not read too much into this. Jesus was born outside the city in an area surrounded by grazing grounds where shepherds would pasture their flocks." His ideal seems to be Simplify, Simplify! He also argues that the angels there were not “singing” but that that their words expressed “all the glory of the great joy they proclaim.” 

Humph! I agree with the FT’s secular skepticism. "That sounds like a big improvement: would-be characters in a Broadway musical have now been officially upgraded to the vanguard of the Almighty.”

Whew! Benny squeezed through that debate. He’s no raging Ratzinger hund. He’s a pussy cat –at least at Xmas time.

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