Vittorio Messori: ‘The Gospel Is Historically Reliable’

Solène Tadiè of the National Catholic Register interviewed the renowned journalist and writer on the occasion of the republishing of one of his books on Jesus Christ, Patì sotto Ponzio Pilato (He Suffered Under Pontius Pilate)


Newsroom (September 3, 2020 Gaudium Press) On the occasion of the republishing of one of his books on Jesus Christ, Patì sotto Ponzio Pilato (He Suffered Under Pontius Pilate), Solène Tadiè of the National Catholic Register interviewed the renowned journalist and writer Vittorio Messori. The topics were, among others, his books on Jesus, the history of his writing, some aspects of his life, his friendship with Cardinal Ratzinger. We reproduce here some of the most important parts of the interview with Messori, who is also a doctor in political science.

Regarding a misunderstood humanism in the Church, Messori said that often “we tend to reduce it to the practice of good deeds, like helping our neighbours, welcome refugees, build homes for the elderly, etc. It becomes a Gospel based on good intentions, reducing it to a kind of humanism. But we must remember that the main teaching of the Gospel is not goodness; it is not about supporting all those who are in need around us, even if, of course, these deeds are necessary. But what we must never forget is that the word ‘Gospel,’ which comes from Greek euangélion, means ‘Good News.’ The first purpose of the Gospel, from which the good deeds also flow, is to announce the Good News that Jesus Christ defeated death and opened the doors of heaven”.

 The first duty of the priest is to announce Christ, who died and rose from the dead.

He even went to the extent of relating this misunderstood humanism to the crisis of the priesthood. He stated that “Christ didn’t come to teach us how to make good deeds before anything else. In reality, our good deeds are a consequence of the Good News. The priority is to open the doors of heaven to ourselves. In the same way, the crisis of the priesthood nowadays derives from the fact that many priests have forgotten that their first duty is to announce to their flock the Gospel and the resurrection of Christ, which proved that he really was the Son of God.”

Messori proves the continuing interest in Jesus and his teachings with the success of his first work on the life of the Savior, Ipotesi su Gesù (Hypothesis about Jesus), with two million copies were sold in Italy alone.

“Relying on my own experience, I could say that countless people are willing to learn more about Christ and his life; they are eager to deepen their knowledge about him. Many priests today are reluctant to speak about Jesus Christ, because they think that the truth about his existence and sacrifice is no longer acceptable to the common man,” something Messori believes to be wrong and further proves it with the impressive figure of “20,000 letters from readers in reaction to my books over the past years.”

 The history of the Gospels is more than proven.

Journalist Tadié asked Messori if the evangelists could have misinterpreted some events that occurred. Messori responded that he made, first and foremost, a historical investigation. “I’ve been studying in every detail, word by word, everything the four Gospels say about the passion and death of Christ, while having a good knowledge of Jewish and Roman history. No one could challenge the historical truth. The possibilities to destroy the facts exposed in my book are equivalent to zero because everything I wrote to prove the truth of the passion and death of Christ is part of a history that we can totally demonstrate. Then regarding the possible misinterpretation by the Evangelists, I would say that many versions were circulating in the years following the resurrection of Christ — at least 20 — and the Church selected only four of them because they were the most reliable. The authentic Gospel authors were writing in the heat of the moment —soon after Christ’s death and resurrection — so we have testimonies which derive directly from those who lived these events.”

Messori said that he did not conduct his research on the Gospels as a believer,; rather,  his conversion occurred as a consequence . “Thus, if I had found out that something didn’t match with the historical reality, I would simply have abandoned my rising Catholic faith.  Now, the more I move forward in my life, the more I am convinced that I was not wrong and that the Gospel is truly a mystery to be explored and embraced.”

 A life-changing discovery

His discovery of the historical veracity of the Gospels had a decisive impact on his life.

“I got passionate about the history of the Gospel, and this is how it all started. In 40 years of work, I’ve published 24 books, all related to apologetics. The attempts of my books are to show modern man that it is still possible to believe in the Gospel. All these years, I’ve been trying to prove something I’d been doubting the first part of my life: that is, the fact that the Gospel is historically reliable, that everything truly happened. All the truth of the Gospel is summed up in one event only, that is, the passion, death, and resurrection of Christ. My three books that are being republished, Ipotesi su Gesù, Patì sotto Ponzio Pilato, and Dicono che è risorto, offer an in-depth study and investigation on this event that changed the course of history. They are the pillars that support the whole structure of my thought.”

 His relationship with Cardinal Ratzinger

In his interview, Messori also shared fond memories of his relationship with Cardinal Ratzinger, which resulted in the famous work Rapporto sulla fede (Report on Faith). We reproduce his comments:

“I was very friendly with Joseph Ratzinger when he was a cardinal. The book we wrote together didn’t go unnoticed, indeed, and had a wide coverage worldwide, as it was the first time that the prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) confided in a journalist. We used to go to lunch together every time I visited him in Rome. We would always tease each other on the peculiarity of our relationship, as it was not common at that time for clerics and journalists to be associated so closely.

He is the kindest and most understanding person I’ve ever met. The fact that he was presented like the “great inquisitor of the Holy Office”— just as if he was preventing the Church from evolving — has always made me smile. In reality, Ratzinger was — and still is — above all a scholar, a professor. He used to be very happy when he taught at the German university.

He would always say he did not feel he was able to watch over the work of his Catholic colleagues and call them to order. He asked John Paul II three times to retire from his position as prefect at the CDF, but the latter refused every time. He used to say that it was not his job, that he was a simple professor. I was always struck by his humility. I see him as a very good candidate for heaven.”

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