The Pope has condemned religiously motivated violence, describing it as a “favourite instrument of the Antichrist” in his new book about the life of Jesus published last week.
In Jesus of Nazareth – Holy Week: From the Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection, published by the Catholic Truth Society, the Holy Father criticised the idea that violence in the name of religion is justifiable.
Looking at the way Christ was portrayed by theologians during the 1960s as a revolutionary, Benedict XVI said that according to theologians of that era Jesus belongs within the line of the Zealots, who rebelled against the Roman Empire.
The Pope said: “The cleansing of the Temple serves as the central proof of this thesis, since it was unambiguously an act of violence that could not have been achieved without violence, even though the evangelists did their best to conceal this. Moreover, the fact that the people hailed Jesus as Son of David and harbinger of the Davidic kingdom is construed as a political statement, and the crucifixion of Jesus by the Romans for claiming to be ‘King of the Jews’ is seen as definitive proof that he was a revolutionary – a Zealot – and that he was executed as such. The cruel consequences of religiously motivated violence are only too evident to us all. Violence does not build up the kingdom of God, the kingdom of humanity. On the contrary, it is a favourite instrument of the Antichrist, however idealistic its religious motivation may be. It serves not humanity, but inhumanity.”
Jesus, he said, was not a Zealot. He rejected the idea of political violence and his “whole ministry and his message … point in a radically different direction”.
“No,” the Pope said, “violent revolution, killing others in God’s name, was not his way. His ‘zeal’ for the kingdom of God took quite a different form.
“In the just man exposed to suffering, the memory of the disciples recognised Jesus: zeal for God’s house leads him to the Passion, to the Cross. This is the fundamental transformation that Jesus brought to the theme of zeal-zelos. The ‘zeal’ that would serve God through violence he transformed into the zeal of the Cross. Thus he definitively established the criterion for true zeal – the zeal of self-giving love. This zeal must become the Christian’s goal; it contains the authoritative answer to the question about Jesus’s relation to the Zealot movement.”
The Pope’s book was launched just days after the Holy See’s representative to the United Nations urged the UN to reiterate that freedom of religion was at the heart of fundamental human rights.
Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, permanent representative of the Holy See to the UN in Geneva, cited a statistic that 75 per cent of those killed because of their religion across the world are Christian.
He was speaking at the 16th ordinary session of the Human Rights Council on religious freedom.
Pope Benedict has consistently spoken out against religiously motivated violence, including in his famous 2006 Regensburg lecture, in which he said: “Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul.”
He began the year by condemning sectarian violence, including attacks against Christians in the Middle East.
In October he will host a meeting of religious leaders in Assisi to discuss how they can promote peace, 25 years after Pope John Paul II held a similar event.
But soon after the meeting was announced the Islamic Research Council of the University of al-Azhar in Cairo, the highest authority of Sunni Islam, said it was ending dialogue with the Vatican after the Pope spoke out against anti-Christian violence in Egypt.