Fr. Thomas G. Weinandy, O.F.M., Cap., is a highly regarded and accomplished American theologian who was, for nine years, Executive Director of the U.S. Bishops’ Committee on Doctrine and is a current member of the Vatican’s International Theological Commission. His fields of academic specialty include Christology, Trinitarian theology, soteriology, and philosophical notions of God. He has taught at several American universities and for twelve years at the University of Oxford where he was Warden (Head) of Capuchin-run Greyfriars Hall. The author of several books and numerous articles for both academic and popular publications, he is the current President of the Academy of Catholic Theology, and a member of the Catholic Theological Society of America, the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars, the Catholic Theological Society of Great Britain, the North American Patristics Society, and the Association Internationale D’Etudes Patristiques.
His most recent book is Jesus Becoming Jesus: A Theological Interpretation of the Synoptic Gospels (Catholic University of American Press, 2018), which offers an ambitious and detailed theological interpretation of the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke.
Fr. Weinandy recently corresponded with Carl E. Olson, Editor of CWR, about his new book.
CWR: Let’s begin with the title: is it a reference in some way to recent books such as Bart Ehrman’s How Jesus Became God? More positively, in what way does “Jesus become Jesus”?
Fr. Weinandy: The title of my book is very important, but has no reference to any other book. In entitling my book Jesus Becoming Jesus, I wanted to emphasize three theological points that persist throughout the entire volume.
The first is the importance of the name “Jesus.” In Luke’s Infancy narrative, the angel Gabriel instructs Mary to name the son that is to be born of her “Jesus”: “You shall call his name Jesus” (Lk. 1:30). In Matthew’s Infancy narrative, an angel tells Joseph, in a dream, that he should not be afraid of taking Mary as his wife for the child conceived is of the Holy Spirit and then directs him: “You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Mt 1:20-21). While Mary and Joseph are told to name the child “Jesus,” the name is actually of divine origin. Gabriel and the angel make known that the God the Father himself wants him named “Jesus.”
Second, the Father wanted the child named “Jesus” precisely because it defines who the son of Mary is. In having Mary and Joseph call his name “Jesus,” the Father is revealing that he is YHWH-Saves for that is what the name “Jesus” means. When Jesus was born and named, he was YHWH-Saves for that is who he is.
Third, however, Jesus was only the Savior in potency for he had yet to become the actual Savior – he had not yet performed those acts by which humankind is saved. When he was conceived and born these saving acts were still in the future. Thus, Jesus had to enact his name – he had to become truly Jesus, YHWH-Saves, not simply in name but in actuality. This is why, in my book, I emphasize and highlight the actions of Jesus for it is through and in all that he does that he truly becomes more and more Jesus. Moreover, within the Gospels, the more Jesus becomes Jesus the more he not only reveals himself as the Savior, but also manifests more clearly that he is YHWH, that is, truly God (YHWH) as the Father’s eternal Son.
CWR: The central overarching theme, you say in the Preface, is that “Jesus (YHWH-Saves) through his saving acts has become Jesus (YHWH-Saves).” That is, Jesus enacts his name. Can you give a couple of examples of this?
Fr. Weinandy: While the entire book is filled with examples because Jesus throughout his saving ministry continually and progressively enacts his name, I can give a few examples here.
His miracles are very clear examples of Jesus becoming YHWH-Saves. Jesus heals the sick, casts out demons, raises the dead, multiplies the loaves and fish, stills the storm – all are examples of Jesus overcoming evil, saving from evil, and providing a new and abundant life, and so becoming Jesus. Even when he teaches, such as in the Beatitudes, he is becoming Jesus not only as the Savior who teaches salvific truth, but also in that he is himself the one who enacts the Beatitudes. In becoming man, he is the one who is truly poor in spirit and so he will be the first to inherit the Kingdom of Heaven.
In all of his saving acts he is enacting mercy and so he will receive mercy from his heavenly Father. He is the one who hungers for righteousness, the holiness of God’s people, and so he will be satisfied in his resurrection. By coming to embody all of the Beatitudes, Jesus is becoming Jesus and so reaping all of the blessings that the Beatitudes promise. In instituting the Eucharist at the Last Supper, Jesus prophetically manifests most fully his becoming Jesus. He is the one who will give up his body for the salvation of the world. He will pour out his blood for the redemption of many. The Eucharist is then the ever present act, the sacrament, whereby Jesus continually saves us throughout the ages, for he is ever giving us his risen body and blood, the body that was broken and the blood that was shed, for the forgiveness of our sins so that we can have eternal life in, with and through him.
Of course, the definitive salvific acts wherein Jesus becomes Jesus are his death and resurrection. On the cross he lovingly offers his life to the Father, in the Holy Spirit, out of love for us so that our sins can be forgiven. Because his sacrifice was efficacious, that is, he obtained the forgiveness of our sins; the Father raised him gloriously from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit. Now Jesus is Jesus – the risen Son of the Father in glory. As the Father’s risen Son, Jesus is empowered to perform his consummate saving act – that of pouring out his Holy Spirit upon the Church and upon all those who believe in his name, Jesus, and so are baptized in the Holy Spirit. In baptizing us in his Spirit, Jesus unites us to himself and so, in the Spirit, we are transformed into his filial likeness and so become children of his Father.
However, Jesus will not become fully Jesus until he comes again in glory at the end of time. Then all of the faithful will bodily rise in glory with Jesus and so share fully in his own resurrection – the fullness of his salvation. Only then, when we are fully saved will Jesus be fully Jesus – YHWH-Saves. This is why, Jesus himself and all of the Saints, long for his coming and why we too should anxiously await his return, for only then will Jesus become perfectly Jesus and we will become perfectly sons and daughters of his Father for all, in Christ, will share fully in the Holy Spirit – the Spirit of life and love.
Obviously, more could be said, but that is why the book is rather large! Nonetheless, I hope I have given some enticing examples that will attract others to read and study the entire book.
CWR: You state, at the very start, that this is not a book you intended to write, and you also note that you are not, “in the academic sense, a Scripture scholar.” With that in mind, what inspired the book? What need or “hole” do you think it addresses or fills?
Fr. Weinandy: That is correct. I did not intend to write this book. I am a systematic or doctrinal theologian. My doctorate is in Historical Theology – which means I have specialized in the Fathers of the Church, Thomas Aquinas and medieval theology, and contemporary theological issue, particularly Christology, Trinitarian theology and Soteriology. I am not, then, a Scripture Scholar.
A good theologian friend of mine suggested many years ago (decades) that I write a one volume Systematic Theology – meaning that I write book that examines the major doctrines of the Church – creation, God, Trinity, Incarnation, salvation, church, sacraments, etc. For various reasons, that suggestion was put on hold for many years. When I had a sabbatical in 2013, I decided I would take up my friend’s suggestion. My plan was to take up the various mysteries of the faith as I just outlined. I would do so by giving a reverent bow to Scripture and jump into the Fathers of the Church, Aquinas and the contemporary theological scene. I began by writing on the Incarnation, and so I thought I should say a few words about the Infancy Narratives in Matthew and Luke and the Prologue in John’s Gospel. Well, after six weeks of writing I was still on Luke with much more to say and had not even looked at Matthew. I thought to myself, “What has happened to my one volume Sytematics?” I remember going outside and saying: “Lord, I do not know what I should do? What should I do?” The words that came immediately to mind were: “Just stick with the scriptures.” So that is what I did – I stayed solely with the scriptures. That is how this book came to be. It took on a life of its own.
I knew I could not write a book on Matthew, Mark and Luke as a Scripture Scholar because I was not one, and more importantly I did not want to become one. I would write this book as a “theological interpretation of the Synoptic Gospels.” That gave me a great deal of freedom. I could take the Bible as it has come down to us – as inspired by the Holy Spirit. I did not have to go into all the questions scripture scholars get into – all of the various kinds of criticisms, nor did I have concern myself with the historical critical method, nor did I have to read tons of secondary literature. I, obviously, had read many scripture commentaries over my many years as a theologian, and I did have to take into account, to some extent, what scripture scholars have proposed, but I had the freedom to write as who I am – an historical dogmatic theologian. Because of this, I think my book is unique and I hope refreshing when it comes to examining the Gospels theologically. At least I found it more fun in writing it than I had sometimes in reading other commentaries.
This leads me to another unique aspect of my book. I theologically examined Matthew, Mark and Luke together. Normally, scripture commentaries deal with one book of the Bible – a commentary on Genesis, or Mark or Romans. Since Matthew, Mark and Luke are synoptic, that is, they have parallel accounts of the same events, I look at all of the accounts simultaneously. For example, I examine all of their accounts of Jesus’ baptism by John together, or their individual narratives of Peter’s profession of faith and the Transfiguration. Or, I studied together their accounts of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. I did the same with their various Passion and Resurrection narratives. I found this theologically exciting. Not only was it fascinating to see how similar they were, but even more so how each had distinctive variations and all of these distinct differences were of theological significance. Moreover, at the end I was able to pull together the similarities and differences into one comprehensive theological whole that provided a fuller understanding of Jesus and his work of salvation – a more complete expression of Jesus becoming Jesus. It took a great deal of work and thought to do this, but it was a marvelous theological and, even spiritual, experience.
As to the hole that my book might fill, I think my weaving together of scripture and theology is helpful. Since Vatican II, and even before, it has often been lamented that Scripture Scholars do scripture and theologians do theology and never do these two meet. This is very unfortunate, but the answer to this concern takes me on to your next question.
CWR: In what ways does Dei Verbum inform this work? And how have you sought to emphasize and explore the hermeneutical inter-relationship between Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition?
Fr. Weinandy: Dei Verbum very much informs my work. I was consciously aware of what it stated throughout the writing of my book.
Sacred theology relies on the written Word of God, taken together with sacred Tradition, as on a permanent foundation. By this Word it is firmly strengthened and constantly rejuvenated, as it searches out, under the light of the faith, the full truth stored up in the mystery of Christ. Therefore, the ‘study of the sacred page’ should be the very soul of sacred theology (DV 24).
To do theology properly one must be imbued with scripture. We see this very readily in the Fathers of the Church, such as Athanasius, Cyril of Alexandria and Augustine, and in the medieval theologians such as Thomas Aquinas and Bonaventure. Moreover, Scripture must be read and understood within the Christian and Catholic Tradition, for it was the apostolic preaching that gave rise to the New Testament and its understanding of the Old Testament. Thus, scripture gave birth to Christian and Catholic Doctrine – such as in the Council of Nicaea (325 AD), that professes that Jesus as the Father’s Son was begotten and not made, consubstantial with the Father; or the 1st Council of Constantinople (381 AD) which proclaimed that the Holy Spirit is the Lord the Giver of life and who proceeds from the Father; or the Council of Chalcedon (451 AD) which declared that Jesus was one and same person of the Son who existed as God and as man.
All of these creedal declarations flowed from and gave authoritative interpretation to the Biblical proclamation. In this light, these doctrinal truths, having emerged from the apostolic Scripture, become, in turn, the interpretive tools by which a fuller understanding of Scripture can be achieved. In my book I have attempted to imbue the sacred mysteries of our faith with scripture, and simultaneously endeavoring to penetrate the scriptural accounts of these sacred mysteries through their later doctrinal expression. There is here an interpretative circle. Scripture gives rise to doctrine and doctrine gives rise to a deeper encounter with scripture. It is a marvelously fruitful inter-relationship – one that cannot be ignored.
CWR: You’ve written other works of Christology as well as works on the Trinity. How does the reality of the Trinity inform and guide your study of Christ’s Incarnation, public ministry, Passion, and Resurrection? How intent were you on emphasizing both the communion found in the Trinity, as well as the shared “act” of their work?
Fr. Weinandy: Yes, I have spent most of my academic life pondering and writing on the Trinity, the Incarnation and the salvation that flows from these central mysteries of our faith. Although my book is primarily about Jesus, as the Father’s Son, becoming Jesus, it is equally about his Father and the Holy Spirit. The persons of the Trinity never act apart from one another, but they always act in unison. We see this at the very onset of Jesus’ ministry, the taking up of his saving work, when he is baptized by John. Jesus is the one who is baptized in the Holy Spirit while his Father proclaims that he is his beloved Son in whom he is well pleased.
Jesus is empowered to become Jesus, to enact the deeds of salvation, through the Holy Spirit that dwells within him. Moreover, his Father is well pleased because Jesus will be the obedient Servant-Son who will always do his Father’s will – even when he is tempted not to, such as in his agony in the garden. Thus, all of Jesus’ saving works are not only his, but also the Father’s and the Holy Spirit’s. I stress in my book that as we see the Father’s Son Jesus becoming more and more Jesus (Son-YHWH-Saves) through his saving acts, culminating in his death and resurrection, the more we see the Father becoming Father-YHWH-Saves and the Spirit becoming Spirit-YHWH-Saves. Through the saving acts of the man Jesus, we behold the entire Trinity, the one God YHWH, saving us – all simultaneously acting together, yet each in their own distinct personal manner.
As I noted a number of times throughout the book: To know properly who the man Jesus is is to know the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Or, in accordance with Peter’s profession of faith: Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. It is so beautifully amazing.
CWR: As you wrote the book, what new things did you learn? Did you change or revise previous understandings a particular action or saying?
Fr. Weinandy: The simple answer to this question is that more than 75% of this book contains new things that I have learned. Yes, I had some ideas about all the topics covered, but in pondering anew, in paying close attention to each word, in perceiving the logical inter-connection between sentences, in grasping the revelational flow of the different events, I learned a great deal. Sometimes I just had to stop and marvel at the insights that came to me. It was an incredible experience – at least for me. I hope they were all of the Spirit. So, I did not so much revise any previous understanding, though there were a few occasions when that occurred, as much expanding my understanding in ways I never imagined.
CWR: Who do you think will benefit from this book? How might it be used by individuals and groups?
Fr. Weinandy: I would like to think that most Christians, and especially Catholics, would benefit from reading this book. While it is a rather large book that is theological in nature, I ardently tried, as I always do, to write clearly and simply. I figure if I can understand what I say, so can everyone else. I think then that it could be used in undergraduate and graduate courses – both in scriptures courses and in strictly theological courses. I think it would be very helpful to seminarians not only for their academic knowledge, but also for their future peaching since I combine Scripture and doctrinal theology.
One rarely hears a sermon that speaks about the mysteries of the faith, which I think the faithful would find helpful. (As an aside, I am tired of hearing moralistic homilies that ultimately just tell me that I must be a nice guy.) Then, too, it could be used for Bible Study groups and adult education. So I think it can appeal to a large audience. The first printing of 600 copies has already sold out and it is in its second printing – so that is a very good sign that word is getting out that it is a book worth buying – at a good price I might add!
CWR: Any final thoughts?
Fr. Weinandy: I have two final thoughts. First, I am presently working on volume two of Jesus Becoming Jesus. This will be a theological interpretation of the Gospel of John. I hope to complete it in the next year and a half to two years. This is proving to be an even more challenging theological undertaking than that of Matthew, Mark and Luke. I hope that I am up to it, but I am enjoying it even though it is a very difficult task.
Second, when I set out to write a one volume book on Systematic Theology, I did so in the hope that I who wrote book and those who read it would come to love more deeply the mysteries of our Catholic faith. I attempted to carry that motivation with me in writing this book. I would like to think that this book, more than what my Systematic would have, achieves that end – of loving Jesus more and all the mysteries that his name, YHWH-Saves, embodies. We must always remember that the Spirit is compelling us to glorify the Father by glorifying Jesus who became Jesus for us.=