19 June 2021

Yet more Crass (2)

It is truly remarkable how often people competent in relevant fields, but not technically "NT Specialists", easily spot the crass nature of "Modern Biblical Scholarship"... while the 'experts' are blind to it. Because, for the 'experts', their livelihood and academic standing depend upon acceptance of all the accumulated claptrap. 'Experts' have their 'academic periodicals', their societies, their conferences, acceptance of which binds them all together and relieves them of any obligation to take seriously any writer who doesn't swallow the main corporate conclusions of their narcissistic clerisy.

C S Lewis (Fernseed and Elephants) did an elegant (and hilarious) demolition of such 'Scholarship' to an audience of Anglican seminarians. He had, he said, been studying literary genres all his life; and what the Biblical 'experts' wrote about such things was nonsense.

Anthony Kenney, former Catholic Priest but for most of his life a secular and agnostic philosopher, demonstrated by stylometric analysis that (contrary to the certainties of the 'experts') all but one of the 'Pauline' letters really were by one writer.

Tom Skeat, an eminent Codicologist, showed grounds for thinking that it was in Rome around 100ish that the decision was made to acknowledge a Gospel Canon of Four Gospels. I do not know of any NT 'experts' who incorporated his findings into their accounts of the evolution of the NT Canon.

Bishop John ('Honest to God') Robinson, who had been a very 'liberal' academic all his life, wrote first On redating the New Testament and then The Priority of John, demolishing the theories, accepted as certainties among the 'experts', which dated the NT douments late. Something so subversive of the entire Modern Scholarly Consensus could never have been accepted for publication if Robinson had not for decades been very famous. It probably also helped that, when he wrote Priority, he was dying of cancer.

Professor Graham Stanton, having seen the little notebooks produced by planing wood which were used by the legionaries along Hadrian's Wall, expressed to me the opinion that the Lord's hearers might have jotted down verbatim what they heard him say in just such handy little notebooks ... ergo no need for any solution to the Synoptic Problem, because there isn't one.

A Nord called Gerhardsson explained the processes used by rabbinic teachers to make their pupils learn their teachings off by heart: ergo no need for any solution to the Synoptic Prioblem, because there isn't one.

Butler deployed arguments for regarding Matthew as the first Gospel, but he was ignored because he was a papist. Ergo ...

Eric Mascall demonstrated the factual plausibility and likely authenticity of some narratives in John, but he wasn't a NT scholar ... just a silly old mathematician/logician ... so, of course, nobody took any notice of him.

Austin Farrer wrote On dispensing with Q, showing what nonsense the Q-hypothesis was. Everybody agreed that he, and his paper, were immensely, incredibly, fantastically, clever, but that he was not a NT specialist; ergo ... of course ... he did not even merit refutation.

It's all very much like the reaction when Joseph Ratzinger started expresssing views about Liturgy. The 'Experts' gathered round to explain that he was "not a Liturgist", so his views were worthless.

I expect that's still A Grillo's opinion.

18 June 2021


Dunno if you read, a couple of months ago, of some two-millennia-old Biblical fragments recently discovered in caves in the Judean deaert. One of them (Zechariah 8:16-17) was ... except for the Tetragrammaton ... written in Greek.

Greek was the lingua franca of the Mediterranean world.  Rome was the lergest Greek-speaking city in that world. Non-Greek languages survived in circumstances of bilinguality. Think Palestine ... think Wales ...

But we know that Christ spoke Aramaic. This raises an interesting question. The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke contain long passages which are more or less verbally identical. 


Now: if you ask three people to translate a single text into a different language, it is highly improbable that their three renderings will be verbally identical, even reproducing the same word-order. In a classroom, you will work out whose work was passed around and then plagiarised by the other "students". Time was when, at this point, the cane came out of the cupboard. Not that I ever used one. I relied on Mental Cruelty.

So, clearly, one needs an answer to the problem of the Three Synoptic Gospels. Who did the original translation of the words of the Lord from Aramaic into Greek? Mark is shorter and cruder, so he is clearly first. The other two borrowed from him. What about passages in Matthew and Luke which are not borrowed from Mark? It stands to reason that they were taken from a now-lost work which wiser men than me (or you) have called 'Q'.

Bingo! You have solved "the Synoptic Problem".

But do we know that Christ spoke Aramaic? Of course we do. Mark records him as using the Aramaic Talitha Coum(i) when raising Jairus' daughter. And Abba and Ephphatha. QED.

Um ...

But why does Mark only record a few odd Aramaic words? Modern Scientific Commentators go shifty at this point. Do these words safely record Christ as an Aramaic speaker ... or do they neatly record some rare occasions when a habitual Greek-speaker spoke Aramaic instead?

In conditions of bilinguality, the 'old' language ... Welsh or Aramaic ... may still be used round the hearth, in families, by women and children. The chaps will use the big, cosmopolitan language ... English, let us say, or Greek. But when turning to babies, young girls, the handicapped, they might well use the 'informal' local language. I have heard educated speakers of 'Establishment' English automatically using the Glottal Stop when they address children or minorities which they (perhaps unconsciously) despise.

I have a fair bit more to say on all this. But first let me dispose of the 'Priority of Mark' ...shorter, cruder, therefore clearly first of the Gospels to have been written.

A great Oxford papyrologist called Peter Parsons once gave a paper, not on any biblical subject, but on Classical Literature. Particularly the chronology of the plays of Aeschylus. Recent papyrological discoveries had revealed that the Supplices was quite late in the playwrite's oeuvre. But it had always been assumed that it was among his first plays ... because of its 'primitive' structure etc, etc..

Parsons adduced other examples of the dangers of facile a priori assumptions.

One of the problems about Modern Scientific Biblical Scholarship is that those involved in it are often much too proud to take any notice of those outside their own narrow, precious, speciality. Particularly of us Classicists! More on this later.

If Christ habitually spoke Greek, then the 'Synoptic Problem' disappears into thin air. Massive numbers of 'learned' books and articles are ... Crass. No; we do not need another imaginative reconstruction of 'Q'.

And the 'new' Judean manuscript makes clear (what we well knew already) that Christ would not have been the only faithful Jew to speak Greek. Indeed, consider the varied names recorded of His disciples. PHILIPPOS is not only a Greek name; it is redolent of the Macedonian North Greek culture which became part of the common hellenic currency of the regions which had been conquered by Alexander the Great and ruled by his 'Successors'. 'ANDREAS is Greek for ... no; I will leave to you the fun of speculating. You might enjoy including in your speculations the names of the hellenised Chief Priests mentioned in the Books of the Maccabees.

To continue.

17 June 2021

Pope Benedict: the Greek Old Testament (3)

So the LXX is not just a translation of the Hebrew OT; it is in itself a divinely given moment in the process of divine revelation; in a sense, rather like the discernment by the Church of the Canon of Scripture. It therefore deserves respect for and in itself, and is neither only nor even mainly a means to a different end (such as the reconstitution of a Hebrew 'original text').

But that concept of an 'original text' is, as I observed earlier, an idea characteristic of the Enlightenment but in itself questionable and now questioned. I think it can be sustained best in relation to an epistle of S Paul (there must presumably once have been one particular document which physically was taken by Phoebe from Corinth to Rome). But, even here, there is the overwhelming probability that all our existing textual forms go back to an early collection or edition of the Apostle's writings. Once you move beyond the Epistles, you run up against the relationship between Orality and Literacy in cultures predating the invention of printing, and particularly in the ancient world. Work has been done on this subject, both by secular Classicists (such as Rosalind Thomas of Balliol) and by NT specialists (such as Loveday Alexander at Sheffield). To put just one part of this briefly: in a fundamentally oral society, the written word often served as back-up for business which was mainly done orally. If you taught somebody cookery, this was basically done on the job, by word of mouth, in the kitchen. Books about cookery were supports, but they presupposed the oral and, in reaction to the oral, were texts that tended to fluidity. (You may yourself have a cookery book in your kitchen which, over the decades, you have modified, corrected, augmented as the result of your own practice of the culinary art.) Even in the letters of S Paul one finds hints that the person who (physically) carried the letter will fill it out, will explain it to the recipients.

So the 'Enlightenment' idea that, if only you had enough evidence and sufficient skill to deploy it, you could in principle reconstruct an 'original text', is dubious (it also puts disproportionate power into the hands of those who proclaim themselves to be Experts, and whose 'scientific' conclusions will probably be overturned by the generation which succeeds them). Even more dubious is the common Protestant superstition (a superstition because it erroneously makes into an idol, reifies, what should be one functioning element in ecclesial life) or fetich (a fetich because it is a paraphilia rather like being erotically fixated on your husband's ears rather than on his totality) that there is a static 'Bible' which stands as a test of doctrine over and above the life of the Church, and to which that life is subject and, even forensically, needs to be made answerable. 'Bible' is simply a vitally important element within a whole, within a traditio or paradosis. And this should, in my opinion, lead us to a privileging of those biblical editions which have fed and do feed the Church, have been cited by Fathers and Councils, and have been sanctified and authorised by sustained liturgical use. So: three cheers for the LXX. 

And ... my final point ... three cheers also for the Vulgate*. And I would include in my cheers the passage about the Adulterous Woman, in John 8, even if it is not an 'original' part of the Gospel, and 1 John 5:7b, even if that is not part of the 'original' text of its Epistle, and the last part of Mark 16; such passages, whatever their history, are still canonical Scripture. Incidentally, by Vulgate (Vg) I do not mean the NeoVulgate of S John Paul II, which I regard as subordinate to the 'real' Vg because of the 'Enlightenment' methodology of its production. There is most certainly nothing bad about it; it has the Church's formal approval. It just does not have the status, the auctoritas, of the LXX or the proper Vulgate (I suppose, a thousand or two years of intensive use might enhance the status of the NeoVulgate!). And, happily, the LXX and the Vg present us with texts which have considerable similarities. It's not nearly so often a matter of LXX versus Vg as it is of LXX+Vg versus The Rest. (The day, incidentally, when Orthodoxy abandons the Textus Receptus will be the day when, I hope, my Orthodox friends will become Old Believers!)

So don't throw away your English translations of the Vulgate, whether they be Dr Challoner's revision of the Douai-Rheims Bible, or Mgr Knox's translation, sadly underrated as it nowadays is. There is certainly no harm in the RSV (make sure that it is either a 'Catholic Edition' or else contains the 'Deuterocanonical Books', and do not ever use the feminist "New Revised Standard Version") ... it is probably the best of the modern Anglophone Bibles and it is certainly better to read the RSV than to read nothing ... but ... well, I've given you my own preferences!
* I do not include in the same three cheers the MT as used in the medieval and modern synagogue, because its text-type has been formed, for nearly two millennia, independently from and, to a degree, probably in reaction against, the Church. It has in its own right, of course, immense value and interest as a witness to the history of the post-Jamnian rabbinic Judaism of our present world, the product of that radical reconstruction which Diaspora Judaism needed after the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple had rendered so much of the Jewish Bible obsolete.

16 June 2021

PDM privatim

Perlegam si quid ad me mittere tibi placuerit.

Pope Benedict: The Greek Old Testament (2)

So when Benedict XVI said that the LXX is "an independent textual witness", he was saying that, in any attempt to reconstruct an 'original text' of the Old Testament, the LXX is just as respectable piece of evidence as the MT (the Hebrew texts used in modern synagogues). The Reformation view that the 'Scriptures' should be translated from the 'authentic Hebrew Original' is a gross oversimplification. That's Common Sense, if you think about it: why should Hebrew manuscripts which date from hundreds of years AD be prioritised above the now lost Hebrew manuscripts which the Jewish translators in Alexandria two or three centuries BC had in front of them on their desks? Why should the LXX, 'the Bible' which S Paul knew and used, be viewed as inferior to the much later MT? Indeed: let me digress from the main thrust of my argument to say that it may well also have been Christ's Bible: the assumption that the Lord Himself always spoke Aramaic (or Hebrew) is dubious in view of the fact that he lived very near a large Greek city in a bilingual Palestine. (And did you know that the notices in the Temple at Jerusalem were in Greek?) S Mark records, in his Greek Gospel, that Christ spoke in Aramaic to the girl he raised to life and to the dumb man whom he cured. The most obvious conclusion to draw from that is that he normally spoke Greek but reverted to the local language, Aramaic, when raising a young girl or curing a handicapped man. In bilingual societies, it is common for the cosmopolitan international language of the world of men and of great affairs (English; Greek; French) to occupy a different sociological niche from that occupied by the old local language of hearth and family (Welsh; Aramaic; S Bernadette's Gascon). It was as a toddler that the Incarnate Word would have heard from his Mother the Aramaic term for Daddy, Abba. It was the language of mothers and children.

The LXX, then, is not a bit like old uncle Bob, of whom in polite company we are rather ashamed because of his uncouth manners ("It's the way he burps and dribbles as he eats his rice pudding with his mouth open ..."). And Alexandria (with which the LXX is associated) symbolises the height of Greek culture and civilisation. Athens had in comparison become something of a backwater. Alexandria was wealthy and sophisticated and it sucked into itself the artistic and literary resources of the Greek world. Its library, founded and sustained by royal patronage, was the greatest in the world. Its Librarians were the great scholars of Hellenistic antiquity. And its Jewish community was wealthy and humane and powerful and a patron of the arts. This is why Pope Benedict was right to see the LXX as a synthesis of Greek and Jewish erudition. And he was right to see this cultural marriage as "a distinct and important step in the history of Revelation".  It is not without the hand of Providence that S Paul was soaked in the LXX; that Christianity rode around the Mediterranean on the back of the LXX.
One more section of this to come.

15 June 2021

Father Tim Finigan

Only last Sunday I wrote about the splendid ministry of Father Tim. Many of you will have heard that he is rather unwell. 

Please ...

Pope Benedict: the Greek Old Testament (1)

As with many of you, the 'Islam question' has inspired me to a new reading of Pope Benedict's Regensberg lecture. Today I would like to draw two sentences to your attention. "Today we know that the Greek translation of the Old Testament produced in Alexandria - the Septuagint - is more than a simple (and in that sense really less than satisfactory) translation of the Hebrew text: it is an independent textual witness and a distinct and important step in the history of revelation, one which brought about this encounter [between 'biblical faith' and 'the best of Greek thought'] in a way that was decisive for the birth and spread of Christianity. A profound encounter is taking place here, an encounter between genuine enlightenment and religion."

'Modern Biblical Scholarship' has, in Western academic circles, seen one of its tasks as being to practise 'Textual Criticism'. This phrase does not mean what most people assume; what it does mean is comparing the different manuscripts (and other evidences) of a ancient text so as to analyse the differences between them and to reconstruct what the 'original' text said. So the Greek Old Testament, the Septuagint, was commonly viewed as just one source of evidence for reconstructing the original Hebrew text (which, until such discoveries as the 'Dead Sea Scrolls', had medieval Jewish manuscripts as its earliest witnesses ... manuscripts which we shall call the MT). The LXX (= the Septuagint) was found lacking because it seemed to be an inaccurate rendering of the Hebrew. This was never very fair, and recent discoveries suggest that that the Hebrew manuscripts from which the LXX was translated have every claim to be given no less consideration than the MT. Furthermore, a very interesting Methodist scholar called Margaret Barker has plausibly argued that, where LXX and MT differ, this can sometimes be the result of the MT text having altered original readings which were seen by Rabbinic Judaism as too favourable to Christianity. Another Furthermore: a number of textual critics (such as an American called Epp) now doubt whether the concept of an 'original text' actually is a viable idea when we are dealing with ancient manuscripts both sacred and secular. I happen to share that view, and will return to it later.

To be continued.

14 June 2021

S Basil and his mouth

In reprinting this 2015 piece, I have left it unrevised, nor have I deleted the original, very jolly, thread!

Doctors of the Church commonly, both in the Novus and Vetus Masses, have an Introit which begins In medio Ecclesiae aperuit os eius et implevit eum Dominus spiritu sapientiae ... in the Latin, but, according to the New ICEL translation, In the midst of the Church he opened his mouth, and the Lord filled him with the spirit of wisdom ...

I am worried by the implied translation of eius. In Latin there are two words for his. We use suum when 'his' refers ('reflexive') back to the subject of the verb (and, in effect, means 'his own'). We use eius when 'his' does not refer back to the subject of the verb. So 'his' cannot refer back to 'he'. The character who 'opened' did not open his own mouth. If the Latin had meant to say 'he opened his [own] mouth', the word would have to be suum.

The subject both of 'opened' and of 'filled' has therefore to be Dominus, the Lord; even though it comes a bit late in the Latin (Latin word order is more flexible than English). So the introit means In the midst of the Church the Lord opened his mouth and filled him with the spirit of wisdom ... .  Divine initiative ... prevenient grace ...

"But" - you cry - "probably Fr H is getting this wrong. Excessive pedanticism, combined with their innate arrogance, is the reason why all right-thinking people hate, loath, and detest all classicists so much".

You are probably right about most of that, but I have not got this little matter wrong. Try the Septuagint, where the subject of the sentence is in fact Divine Wisdom; she is the subject of every verb in the relevant passage (Ecclesiasticus 15:1-5). In the Neo-Vulgate, the same is true. And in the Authorised Version and the RSV. And, in the 1949 Burns Oates Latin-English Missal, Mgr Ronald Knox, no mean classicist, no mean biblicist, translates this introit The Lord moved him to speak before the assembled people, filling him with the spirit of wisdom ...

It's an interesting passage. Close examination will reveal to you that the translations I have listed have the verb in the future; and that one line preserved in the Vulgate is missing elsewhere. Hebrew tenses don't work like Indo-European tenses; and the Vulgate sometimes preserves a better text than other versions - its variant readings are always worth taking seriously. (There must be someone out there who would enjoy getting into the Vetus Latina ... and there are some Hebrew fragments of Sirach ...)

The introduction to the Neo-Vulgate wisely expresses doubt whether an "original text" of this book, 'The Wisdom of Jesus the Son of Sirach', otherwise known as 'Ecclesiasticus'** [not to be confused with Ecclesiastes], ever was or could be recoverable; an agnosticism with which I would like to see more editors, both of sacred and of profane texts, handling their documents. Catholics, free from the fetiches of textual fundamentalism, have less need to be worried by this than do Westcotts and Horts and the 'modern' scholarship of the twentieth century.

** If the bible on your desk doesn't have this book in it, under either name, it means you are using a Protestant bible. Get a Catholic one!

13 June 2021

So beautiful ... why do they hate it so much?

Perhaps a couple of years ago, I had the privilege to be in the company of a great prelate just after he had offered a pontifical High Mass in the old rite.

Suddenly, quite out of the blue, he murmurred: "So beautiful, so beautiful. Why do they hate it so much?" 

Afterwards, I started to recall the events which followed our entry into Full Communion with the See of S Peter, when a determined effort was made to prevent my admission to the presbyterate of the Latin Church. During those long, difficult, and extraordinarily painful months, I had the advice and support of some very good and holy men. I shall eternally be grateful to them. I remember all of the things that were said to me.

One of them said, and repeated it a number of of times, "John, you simply must realise how strongly these people feel about the 'Extraordinary Form'".

Another said he would explain to me why there was such prejudice against the old Mass. "It's because they associate it with a form of Catholicism which they think of as rigid, sin-obsessed, oppressive, and, frankly, frightening. They are afraid that, with the old Mass, the entire moral and cultural complex which they think they remember will return. And the thought terrifies them."

Happily, there is, I sense, rather less such liturgical terror now among Catholic Bishops, at least, here in England. Some of them make careful and generous provision for the Authentic Form of the Roman Rite. 

Although ... I do hope that they are not thereby trying to control or limit its effect upon ordinary parish life. We need priests in parochial ministry who share the mind and methods of the great Fr Tim, once, so gloriously, of Blackfen. God forbid that the old Mass should be, or even appear to be, a precious ghetto for precious and exclusive clergy and laity anxious to hide away from their fellow Catholics. 

What is necessary is 'dual economy' parishes ... such as those often provided by the Oratories. An easy and gracious and unneurotic symbiosis ...

Joseph Ratzinger said in the 1990s when some English Catholic bishops were violently resisting a 'Corporate Solution' for Anglican Catholics: "What are they so afraid of?"

So ... To answer the question in my heading ... Fear. They hate the Old Rite because the Enemy has set fear in their hearts. Fear is his weapon of choice.

12 June 2021

Jesuits or Jansenists?

I was born too early to have been part of the Drug Culture which you, dear readers, enjoyed so much, but I do know just a bit about addiction. 

There is a ... particular passion ... I try to resist it ... which can only be indulged by those who possess a number of old Missals.

It is an addiction to the section of Missals headed Appendix pro aliquibus locis.

This Appendix is at the back of the book. It contains Masses authorised but only for use in particular dioceses or orders. 

I have never encountered two missals which have identical versions of the Appendix. The fascination lies in the view you get of the gradual evolution of particular devotions among particular groups. You meet versions of Masses which existed locally before a particular Festival was "extended to the Universal Church". These Mass formulae are not always identical to what later became authorised. Before you know what's happening, you're making notes about changes, similarities, oddities, influences ... hooked, in fact. Just like people high on Thingummy and Whatsit.

I don't recommend getting hooked on the Appendix pro aliquibus locis. As with all addictions, the results are horrible. The addict could find him/herself sweating in bed as the leering, diabolical face of Hannibal Bugnini looms over the fevered couch. Behind him, the waving trunks of mountaineering elephants. The horrible menacing sound of massed Extraordinary Eucharistic Ministers, on heat and endlessly crooning Eat this bread, drink this wine ...

Don't risk it. Instead, I will tell you about my own experiences this morning.

The Appendix I was browsing through dated from before the liturgical observance of the Sacred Heart had became part of the universal worship of the Latin Church. The Mass formula for the places where it had been allowed by indult  began with an Introit in which the psalmus was the verse Misericordias Domini in aeternum cantabo. That was natural: time was, when Masses of the Lord's Passion (nearly?) always began thus. In Sarum and the Ordinariate Missal, the Mass of the Five Wounds still begins thus. (I remember a heureka moment in Devon when I realised that the inscription on a carved bench end from the 1490s, which nobody had been able to decipher, began MIASDNI ... misericordias domini in abbrevation.)

But the 1962 Missal gives a different Mass for the Sacred Heart

I wonder why Rome changed the original Mass of the Sacred Heart. Could it be something to do with Jesuits versus Jansenists? Somebody out there will know all about this.

Then I turned the page ... and discovered that the Jesuits were observing, on the Sunday (Pentecost III) after the Sacred Heart, the Feast of the Most Pure Heart of Mary. I believe Rome resisted a number of requests for that Feast in the nineteenth century.

You can see the logic of bringing these two celebrations close together ... the same logic, of course, led the Novus Ordo people in the 1960s to move the Immaculate Heart from August to the Saturday after the Sacred Heart. Conceptual coherence, and all that.

But ... I think it's a good idea. Liturgical dates fixed in the 1940s and 50s by Pius XII do not, in my view, have the same call on our respect as traditional dates ... like Ss Philip and James on May 1.

And when it comes to Jesuits versus Jansenists, I'm a Jesuit!

11 June 2021

The Reverend Professor Canon Doctor Eric Mascall

Tomorrow is a great day in the Calendar for those of us who remember a stanza in The Ultra-Catholic:

We've started a 'Sodality of John of San Fagondez,'

Consisting of the five young men who serve High Mass on Sundays;

And though they simply will not come to weekday Mass at seven,

They turn out looking wonderful on Sundays at eleven. 

Ah, the days when clergy and laity might turn up on weekdays at seven. The rejuvenation of the Church after Vatican II put a stop to all that.

Newman and "The Anglican Patrimony"

People still sometimes ask what is this Anglican Patrimony of which Professor Ratzinger wrote in Anglicanorum coetibus. Does it just mean occasional Choral Evensong?

I believe dear old Archdeacon ... oops, Cardinal ... Manning summed it up thus:

I see much danger of an English Catholicism of which Newman is the highest type. It is the old Anglican, patristic, literary, Oxford tone transplanted into the Church.

Bang on, except for that strange word 'danger'.

I have often wondered whether our own Professor Henry 'Patrimony' Chadwick had Manning's words consciously in mind when he wrote

The fact that [Newman] had been converted to Catholicism by Oxford and the study of the Church Fathers, not by any personal friendship with Roman Catholics, meant that everything he wrote and said sounded almost Anglican.

That's the Patrimony: Anglican tone. Including, of course, Saint John Henry Newman's old Anglican gifts of Irony, Satire, and especially, above all, and pretty well daily, the Argumentum ad hominem.  

And an adherence to Saint John Henry's belief in the iniquities of Liberalism.

And his resolute opposition to Ultrahyperueberpapalism. 

And his emphasis on getting one's guidance from the Fathers. 

And writing decent English. 

Those are things I would have concentrated upon if anybody had ever asked me to contribute to the endless Conferences that keep happening in order to pin down and identify the meaning of "the Anglican Patrimony".