8 September 2016

The First and Last Gospel

Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the Flesh, nor of the will of Man, but of God. So the Johannine prologue, the Christmas Gospel in the Missa in Die, the wonderful pericope which we read day after day at the end of Mass, describes those who have 'received' Him. By Baptism, we have that New Birth which is of God and not of human begetting.

But there is a very early variant reading in some witnesses to the text of S John: Who was born .... In other words, the sentence is made to refer to the Lord Himself and to His Virginal Conception. It fits rather well, doesn't it?

The scholarly consensus has always been that the text as usually translated is the correct one. Frankly, I've never been completely sure about that. (My old mentor in the science art of Textual Criticism, the immortal Professor G D Kilpatrick, was once prepared to accept the reading of a single Armenian ms contra mundum, so determined was his 'eclecticism'.) The old 'Westcott and Hort' Victorian certainty, the superstition of 'the best manuscript' -  the idea that if only we had sufficient evidence ('O God, please give us some fantastic First Century Papyri!') we would be able to reconstruct the authorial original that came hot from the pen of S John -  represents an attitude to Textual Criticism which among Classicists has either been abandoned or qualified.

But, assuming that the Textus Receptus is indeed to be followed, it nevertheless remains true that S John is here deftly alluding to the Lord's Virginal Conception; and that the Fathers and scribes who produced the variant reading accurately picked up and made explicit an implication which the Evangelist intended to be perceived. He is saying 'Nudge nudge, of course we know that the Lord was born of a Virgin; but I want you to realise that your own New Birth, in Him, is just as Virginal as his temporal Conception'. That's the sort of way the Fourth Evangelist works. (He doesn't, for example, describe the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper, but he does give us his Chapter 6.) Could the Disciplina arcani have something to do with this? We remember the words of S Ignatius of Antioch that the Virginity of Mary and her Childbearing and the Death of the Lord  were Three Mysteries of a Cry [krauges] which were hidden from the Devil, wrought in the stillness of God (Ad Ephesios XIX 1 et vide egennethe in v. sup.).

Incorporated into Him, we are made sharers in His Divine, unfleshly, Birth "from above" (gennethentes anothen), just as we also share His Death and His Resurrection.

So we are Sons of the Father, Corde nati ex Parentis, and Enfants de Marie, just as the Lord himself was.

1 comment:

Fr. Hugh said...

You probably already are aware of this, but the Biblicum's Ignace de la Potterie in his Mary in the Mystery of the Covenant held for the singular "who" reading.
Thanks for your illuminating posts: nothing like them elsewhere
Hugh Barbour, O.Praem.