Copies of the Italian version of Pope Benedict XVI's new book at their public release
The Nativity story is not merely an event in the past, but has unfolding significance for people today, with implications for such issues as the limits of political power and the purpose of human freedom, Pope Benedict writes in his third and final volume on the life and teachings of Jesus, reports the Catholic News Service.
Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives is only 132 pages long, yet it includes wide-ranging reflections on such matters as the significance of the Virgin Birth and the distinctive views of nature in ancient pagan and Judeo-Christian cultures.
The book was formally presented at the Vatican on November 20, and was scheduled for publication in English and eight other languages in 50 countries yesterday.
In the book, Pope Benedict examines Jesus' birth and childhood as recounted in the Gospels of Saints Matthew and Luke. His interpretation of the biblical texts refers frequently to the work of other scholars and draws on a variety of academic fields, including linguistics, political science, art history and the history of science.
The BBC reports that the book debunks several Christmas traditions, including the year of Jesus' birth, which the Pope argues was miscalculated by a monk.
He also argues that there is no evidence in the Gospel for the presence of animals at the birth in a stable in Bethlehem but says images of oxen and donkeys have become such a staple part of the Nativity that they are now accepted.
CNS says the book's publication completes the three-volume Jesus of Nazareth series, which also includes From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration (2007) and Holy Week: From the Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection (2011).
Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, said at the November 20 book launch that the three books are the "fruit of a long inner journey" by Joseph Ratzinger, whose personal views they represent.
While much of what the pope says is accepted Catholic dogma, the texts themselves are not part of the church's Magisterium and their arguments are free to be disputed, Father Lombardi said.
FULL STORY Nativity story's significance continues to unfold today, pope writes (CNS)
Pope publishes final instalment of life of Jesus (BBC)