Thursday, January 03, 2008

St. John, The Apostle: Trustworthy Evangelist

St. John, “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” knew Jesus in a way the other evangelists (Matthew, Mark and Luke) did not. His Gospel shows it. John recorded Jesus’ discourses around images; the others recorded parables. The reason for this felicitous discrepancy was that John (together with Peter and James) knew Jesus “from the inside,” while the others were progressing from the outside in.

I take this insight from Benedict XVI:

“Listening to the Synoptics, we have realized that the mystery of Jesus’ openness with the Father is ever present and determines everything, even though it remains hidden beneath his humanity. On one hand, it was perceived by his sharp eyed opponents. On the other hand, the disciples, who experienced Jesus at prayer and were privileged to know him intimately from the inside, were beginning – step by step, at key moments with great immediacy, and despite all their misunderstandings – to recognize this absolutely new reality. In John Jesus’ divinity appears unveiled. His disputes with the Jewish Temple authorities, taken together, could be said to anticipate his trial before the Sanhedrin, which John, unlike the Synoptics, does not mention specifically.

“John’s Gospel is different: Instead of parables, we hear extended discourses built around images, and the main theater of Jesus’ activity shifts from Galilee to Jerusalem.”[1]

Doubt Concerning John's Authorship

That John the Apostle was the Evangelist was clear in Christian tradition until c. 330 when Eusebius, the Church historian, “tells us about a five-volume work of the bishop of Hierapolis, Papias, who died around 220. Papias mentions there that he had not known or seen the holy Apostles himself, but that he had received the teaching of the faith from people who had been close to the Apostles. He also speaks of others who were likewise disciples of the Lord, and he mentions the names Aristion and ‘Presbyter John.’ [2]Now, the important point is that he distinguishes between the Apostle and Evangelist John, on one hand, and ‘Presbyter John,’ on the other. Although he had not personally known the former, he had met the latter.”[3]

Benedict comments: “This information is very remarkable indeed: When combined with related pieces of evidence, it suggests that in Ephesus there was something like a Johannine school, which traced its origins to Jesus’ favorite disciple himself, but in which a certain ‘Presbyter John’ presided as the ultimate authority. This ‘presbyter’ John appears as the sender and author of the Second and Third Letter 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.”[4]

Benedict concludes: “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… In a similar vein Stuhlmacher cites E. Ruckstuhl and P. Schullnigg to the effect that ‘the author of the Gospel of John is, as it were, the literary executor of the favorite disciple’ …

“With these observations, we have already taken a decisive step toward answering the question of the historical credibility of the Fourth Gospel. This Gospel ultimately goes back to an eyewitness, and even the actual redaction of the text was substantially the work of one of his closest followers within the living circle of his disciples.

“Thinking along similar lines, Peter Stuhlmacher writes that there are grounds for the conjecture ‘that the Johannine school carried on the style of thinking and teaching that before Easter set the tone of Jesus’ internal didactic discourses with Peter, James, and John (as well as with the whole group of the Twelve)… While the Synoptic tradition reflects the way in which the apostles and their disciples spoke about Jesus as they were teaching on Church missions or in Church communities, the Johannine circle took this instruction as the basis and premise for further thinking about, and discussion of, the mystery of revelation, of God’s self-disclosure in “the Son”…’”

John’s Gospel as “Remembering”

John’s account of Jesus is always a “remembering.” As the proclamation of Jesus is addressed to an anamnesis in us of our being created in the image and likeness of the divine Persons, so also John’s Gospel and first Letter is an anamnesis that he has of Jesus. Benedict says: “For, on one hand, the author of the Fourth Gospel gives a very personal accent to his own remembrance, as we see from his observation at the end of the Crucifixion scene (cf. Jn. 19, 35); on the other hand, it is never a merely private remembering, but a remembering in and with the ‘we’ of the Church: ‘that which… we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands.’ With John, the subject who remembers is always the ‘we’ – he remembers in and with the community of the disciples, in and with the Church. However much the author stands out as an individual witness, the remembering subject that speaks here is always the ‘we’ of the community of disciples, the ‘we’ of the Church. Because the personal recollection that provides the foundation of the Gospel is purified and deepened by being inserted into the memory of the Church, it does indeed transcend the banal recollection of facts.”[6]

The point of remembering is always significant with Ratzinger-Benedict because the experience and consciousness of revelation (knowing God) is the always the whole self that is given, and therefore, memory is always of the self given, never merely facts like scientific digits or telephone numbers. As he remarked concerning Our Lady: “Mary kept the word in her heart and pondered it (Lk. 1, 29)…) First of all, then, she is portrayed as a source of the tradition. The word is kept in her memory; therefore she is a reliable witness for what took place. But memory requires more than a merely external registering of events. We can only receive and hold fast to the uttered word if we are involved inwardly. If something does not touch me, it will not penetrate; it will dissolve in the flux of memories and lose its particular face. Above all it is a fact that understanding and preserving what is understood go together. If I have not really understood a thing, I will not be able to communicate it properly. Only by understanding do I receive reality at all; and understanding, in turn, depends on a certain measure of inner identification with what is to be understood. It depends on love. I cannot really understand something for which I have no love whatsoever. So the transmission of the message needs more than the kind of memory that stores telephone numbers: what is required is a memory of the heart, in which I invest something of myself. Involvement and faithfulness are not opposites: they are interdependent.”[7]

Conclusion: “This means that the Gospel of John, because it is a ‘pneumatic Gospel,’ does not simply transmit a stenographic transcripts of Jesus’ words and ways; ti escorts us, in virtue of understanding-through-remembering, beyond the external into the depth of words and events that come from God and lead back to him. As such, the Gospel is ‘remembering,’ which means that it remains faithful to what really happened and is not a ‘Jesus poem,’ not a violation of the historical evernts. Rather, it truly shows us who Jesus was, and thereby it shows us someone who not only was, but is; who can always say ‘I am’ in the present tense. “Before Abraham was, I am (Jn. 8, 58). It shows us the real Jesus, and we can confidently make use of it as a source of information about him.”[8]

[1] J. Ratzinger-Benedict XVI, “Jesus of Nazareth,” Doubleday (2007) 218-219.
[2] Eusebius (260-339 A.D.) writes: “Here it should be observed that he (Papias) twice includes the name of John. The first John he pouts in the same list as Peter, James, Matthew, and the rest of the apostles, obviously with the evangelist in mind; the second, with a changed form of expression, he places in a second group outside the number of the apostles, giving precedence to Aristion and clearly calling John a presbyter. He thus confirms the truth of the story that two men in Asia had the same name, and that there were two tombs in Ephesus, each of which is still called John’s. This is highly significant, for it is likely that the second – if we cannot accept the first – saw the Revelation that bears the name of John. Papias, whom we are now discussing, owns that he learnt the words of the apostles from their former followers, but says that he listened to Aristion and the presbyter John with his own ears. Certainly he often mentions them by name, and reproduces their teachings in his writings;” “The History of the Church,” Penguin Books (1965), Revised and edited with a new introduction by Andrew Louth, Bk. III, #39.
[3] Ibid 226.
[4] Ibid
[5] Ibid. 226-227.
[6] Ibid 231.
[7] J. Ratzinger, “Seek That Which is Above,” Ignatius (1986) 100-101.
[8] “Jesus of Nazareth,” op. cit. 234-235.

1 comment:

Kentucky Scot said...

Well said, as usual.