Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Apostle or Presbyter?

Michael Barber, writing over at The Sacred Page, has posted a compelling argument that the author of the fourth gospel was the Apostle John. Most of us have always assumed that the Evangelist and the Apostle were one and the same, but many modern "scripture scholars" have turned critical (and doubtful) eyes upon the authors of many of the books contained in the Bible.

Barber is confident that he is correct in attributing authorship to the Apostle (under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, of course), and he ends with a strongly worded conclusion.

In conclusion, I want to say that, at first blush, it would seem that the "academically responsible" approach would be to remain noncommittal about Johannine authorship. However, I'm coming to the conclusion that the opposite is true. Hedging on Johannine authorship seems to betray an unwillingness to acknowledge the coherence of the early testimony with the internal evidence.

One wonders if such reluctance is motivated by other concerns. Clearly, asserting that someone like the rich young ruler is the author of the Fourth Gospel seems to stretch the limits of credulity. Rather, it would seem the unanimous patristic witness was reliable when it held that the Gospel the manuscripts all call "The Gospel According to John" was written by, well... er, John.

Who are these "scholars" who "betray an unwillingness to acknowledge the coherence of the early testimony with internal evidence?" In Jesus of Nazareth, From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration (Doubleday 2007), Pope Benedict XVI seems to stake out a postion ("I entirely concur . . .") that draws a distinction between the Apostle John and another John, the Presbyter, who wrote the Gospel.

. . . in Ephesus there was something like a Johannine school, which traced its origins to Jesus' favorite disciple himself, but in which certain "Presbyter John" presided as the utimate authority. This "presbyter" John appears as the sender and author of the Second and Third Letters of John (in each case in the first verse of the first chapter) simply under the title "the presbyter" (without reference to the name John). He is evidently not the same as the Apostle, which means that here in the canonical text we encounter expressly the mysterious figure of the presbyter. He must have been closely connected with the Apostle; perhaps he had even been acquainted with Jesus himself. After the death of the Apostle, he was identified wholly as the bearer of the latter's heritage, and in the collective memory, the two figures were increasingly fused. At any rate, there seem to be grounds for ascribing to "Presbyter John" an essential role in the definitive shaping of the Gospel, though he must always have regarded himself as the trustee of the tradition he had received from the son of Zebedee.

I entirely concur with the conclusion that Peter Stuhlmacher has drawn from the above data. He holds "that the contents of the Gospel go back to the disciple whom Jesus (especially) loved. The presbyter understood himself as his transmitter and mouthpiece" (Biblische Theologie, II, p. 206). In a similar vein Stuhlmacher cites E. Ruckstuhl and P. Dschullnigg to the effect that "the author of the Gospel of John is, as it were, the literary executor of the favorite disciple" (ibid., p. 207).

Saturday, December 24, 2011

For Your Sake God Has Become Man

The Office of Readings for Christmas Eve features a selection from a sermon by Saint Augustine. Here are the first two paragraphs:

Awake, mankind! For your sake God has become man. Awake, you who sleep, rise up from the dead, and Christ will enlighten you. I tell you again: for your sake, God became man.

You would have suffered eternal death, had he not been born in time. Never would you have been freed from sinful flesh, had he not taken on himself the likeness of sinful flesh. You would have suffered everlasting unhappiness, had it not been for this mercy. You would never have returned to life, had he not shared your death. You would have been lost if he had not hastened ‘to your aid. You would have perished, had he not come.

How fortunate we are that God did not leave us to our fallen fate! But clearly, it seems to me, the belief in this truth has vast implications for our whole outlook on life. What would be the implications of being consigned by Original Sin to our sinful flesh without redemption? As Christians, our relationship with God is radically different from those who do not accept the divinity of Christ and his redeeming sacrifice. I'm thinking primarily of Jews and Moslems, who, like Christians, believe in the one God.

At Christmas time, we celebrate the fact that the Son of God took on a human nature and entered the world as one of us so that we might receive the sanctifying grace lost by our first parents. He entered the world as a helpless infant, just as any other man would. On this blessed Christmas Day, let us celebrate our common humanity with Christ and all of God's children.

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Outside My Window

The short reading selected by the editors of Magnificat for today’s (December 12, Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe) morning prayer was from the Song of Songs. It speaks of the end of winter and the appearance of flowers.

He says to me,
“Arise my beloved, my beautiful,
and come!
For see, the winter is past,
the rains are over and gone.
The flowers appear on the earth.”
(Song of Songs 2:10-12)

Maybe the imagery invoked by the passage is appropriate for the Third Week of Advent. But this is the second week of December. The first day of winter is just over a week away. Here in Ohio, the temperatures have failed to climb above freezing for the last several days, and, although warmer temperatures are coming, the forecast is for rain.

I found it difficult to read without noting the contrast with conditions outside my window.

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Clay and the Potter

On the First Sunday of Advent this year (Cycle B), the Lectionary had us read a passage from chapters 63 and 64 of the Book of Isaiah. That’s in the post-exile, messianic part of the book. The last line of the selected passage reads,

Yet, O LORD, you are our father; we are the clay and you the potter: we are all the work of your hands.

In the New American Bible, this is Isaiah 64:7. In my New International Version and my Revised Standard Version, this is 64:8. The difference appears to be in where to end chapter 63 and start chapter 64. Silly me! I had thought that the chapters and verses were standardized by St. Jerome in the fourth century.

But I digress from what I thought was interesting.

On Friday of the First Week of Advent, the Lectionary directed us to an earlier chapter of Isaiah, where the prophet is leveling his indictment against Israel, describing how she has been unfaithful to the covenant. The passage used at mass begins with verse 17 of chapter 29, but the verse immediately before it draws an interesting contrast to the selection from the previous Sunday:

Your perversity is as though the potter were taken to be the clay: As though what is made should say of its maker, “He did not make me!” Or the vessel should say of the potter, “He does not understand.” (Is 29:16)

Which chapter, 29 or 64, more closely reflects the prevailing attitude of our culture today? Are we clay that acknowledges the potter and are willing to be worked into a useful vessel, or do we think that we can shape the potter to our desires? Israel had to be conquered and sent into exile to move from the hubris of Is 29:16 to the humility of Is 64:7/8. I pray that we might respond to a more gentle correction, even as I doubt that anything short of extreme will get our attention.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Joy and Sorrow

For those who pray the Rosary, Mondays typically bring meditation on the joyful mysteries. During my Monday morning reflections lately, I can’t help but notice the proximity in the mysteries of joy and sorrow. At least two of the joyful mysteries of the Rosary are closely related to two of the Seven Sorrows of Mary.

The fourth joyful mystery is the Presentation, Recounted in the second chapter of Luke’s Gospel, Mary and Joseph took the infant Jesus to the Temple, in accordance with the Mosaic Law. Yet the joy of the Presentation is tempered by the encounter with Simeon: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” (Luke 2:34-35) This is the first of Mary’s seven sorrows.

The fifth joyful mystery is the finding of Jesus in the Temple. This scene also comes from the second chapter of Luke, when Jesus is twelve years old. Before he was found, however, he was lost. Mary and Joseph did not find him until the third day. The search for the lost Jesus is the third of Mary’s seven sorrows.

Is there something to be learned about life here? Can we conclude from this that joy and sorrow often walk hand-in-hand?

I thought of this again while attending mass on Thanksgiving Day. The month of November starts with All Saints Day and All Souls Day. Throughout the month, our parish has a book prominently located within the sanctuary with a lit vigil candle. The book lists members of the parish who have died during the preceding year. Even on the day set aside to give thanks for God’s blessings, we were reminded that some were no longer with us. We can hope that they are in heaven, or at least being cleansed in purgatory with heaven as their ultimate destination, but we can’t know with certainty. At any rate, we are deprived of their company in this life.

Must every moment of joy be touched with a hint of sorrow?