Back in Seminary days we would often study the question of authorship when it came to books of the Bible. Especially in modern times there are extensive debates about such things. I remember being annoyed at the question in most cases since I didn’t really care who the Holy Spirit gave the text to, in the end, God was the author.

I was also annoyed at some of the premises used to reject authorship. For example, it was widely held by modern scholars that St. Paul couldn’t possibly be the author of the the Pastoral Epistles (1 & 2 Timothy, Titus) since the description of the Church was “far too developed” to have been written prior to 65 AD. Never mind that the Acts of the Apostles describes many of the “dubious” hierarchal elements (presbyters (e.5. Acts 14:23), deacons (e.g. acts 6:3), and apostles (bishops). Never mind any of that, for us moderns there is the tendency to consider as  “primitive” early eras. So Paul’s authorship was questioned by many in those days.

John’s gospel too was considered far too lofty by modern scholars to have been written by a “simple fisherman.” Where could this “unlettered man” have gotten such profound and mystical insights?  Again, never mind that he may have been as old as 90 when he authored the gospel, and may have pondered it for some 60 years. Never mind that he lived for at least part of that time with the sinless Virgin Mary, who knew her son as no one knew him and saw him with sinless eyes. No, never mind the power of grace and infused vision. No, it was too much for many modern and rationalistic scholars to accept that a simple fisherman could pull it off. It must have been by some other more lettered man like “John the Elder,” or it must have been other smarter types in the Johanine community, or school that authored this.

Here too I was just a simple 25 year old seminarian but it seemed to me that far too many modern interpreters stressed only the human dimension of Revelation. Something more mystical was missing from their view. That God could somehow give a profound vision to the early Apostles, and an infused mysticism was almost wholly absent in their analysis. Even as a 25 year old I knew better than to exclude that. I was young, but had already experienced aspects of the charismatic movement where inspiration and gifts were to be sought and expected.

And had not Jesus himself said to the Apostles, But the Paraclete, the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring all things to your mind, whatsoever I shall have said to you (Jn 14:26).

I recently came across a quote from Origen, the early 3rd Century Father, whose insight into John struck me as profound and telling, deeply faithful and challenging for every Christian. Pondering himself, where John “got all this” Origen says,

We may therefore make bold to say that the Gospels are the first fruits of all the Scriptures, but that of the Gospels that of John is the first fruits. No one can apprehend the meaning of it except he that has lain on Jesus’ breast and received from Jesus Mary to be his mother also. (Origen, Commentary on John, 6)

There is was, the lynchpin, the truest answer. John had mystical vision and saw the Lord in the loftiest way because he knew and experienced the heart of the Lord, and had Mary for his Mother. John was a brilliant theologian and possessed of deep insight, less because he knew books, and more because he knew the Lord, heart to heart.

And how surely and truly Mary’s role in this cannot be overlooked. Think of the conversations she and John must have had, the mystical prayer she must have enjoyed, and shared with John, the memories and the things that only the heart of a sinless mother could see and know. How John must have marveled at the gift of her. And how he too, who had known the heart of the Lord, and rested at his heart, at the Last Supper must have been able to pray and converse with her.

Speculation you say? Perhaps. But a vision I share with the great theologian Origen. It was love that gave John insight, it was relationship with Jesus, and with Mother Mary, by Jesus own gift, that his mystical gospel took flight.

And what of you and me? How will we gain insight into the Lord, and the truth of his Gospel? Books and learning? Studying Greek? Reading commentaries? Sure, all well and good. But these things are best at telling you what the text is saying. But it takes a deep relationship with the Lord to see Scripture’s mystical meaning.

Study? Sure. But don’t forget to pray! Scripture comes from the heart of the Lord and it is only there, by entering the heart of the Lord, and living there through prayer that Scripture’s truest meaning will ever be grasped.

Having trouble getting there? No one loves and understands Jesus like his Mother Mary. Ask her intercession and help, she will show you the heart of her Son.

Jesus gave John two gifts: the gift of his heart, and the gift of his mother. And John soared to such places that people could ask, “How did he get all this?” But you know how.

He offers you and me the same. Do you want vision, do you want to appreciate the depths of scripture and all God’s truth? Do you want the eyes of your heart opened to new mysteries and mystical experience? Accept the gifts Jesus offers: the gift of his heart, the gift of his mother.

Consider well the admonition of one of the most learned men who ever lived:No one can apprehend the meaning of it except he that has lain on Jesus’ breast and received from Jesus Mary to be his mother also.

Here is Fr. Thomas Luis de Victoria at his most mystical: O Magnum Mysterium (O Great mystery and wondrous sacrament, that animals would witness the birth of Christ. O Blessed Virgin whose womb merited to carry the Lord Jesus Christ, Alleluia!)

9 Responses

  1. Dan says:

    Happy Feast of the Queenship of Mary! Great post. (though I’m not sure I’d call Origen a Father :-) )

    Let us pray that mysticism, reverence, and devotion will replace that sickening reductionism that has pervaded the modern Church

  2. Alan says:

    “Whatsoever He shall say to you, do ye.”
    -St. Mary (Jn2:5)

  3. Deacon Jimmy says:

    Absolutely wonderful insight Father! As I was studying the authorship issue during Diaconate formation, those questions revolved around in my head also. Far be it from me to question our professor, but I kept thinking that being inspired by the Holy Spirit would move one to go beyond one’s own limitations wouldn’t it?

    Oh if only all of us could lay our head on the breast of Christ and listen to His beating heart.

  4. Nguyen Thuong Minh says:

    Epistle 236
    My some thoughts about “the homily” of Msgr. Charles Pope are here below:
    Firstly, in the homily, Msgr. Charles Pope said that sometime Father was angry about who author of Bible is.
    Thus, theme of the homily talks about author of Bible.
    Secondly, now permit me to say some my thoughts to relate to the theme of the homily hereafter:
    I am Doctor of Economist Political Economy, 60, a laity seminarian of Vietnamese Catholic Monastery of Mai Khoi.
    Of course I wrote my doctoral thesis in addition I also wrote and translated around 5,000 pages of articles and books.
    For that very reason, I know clearly about authors because I also am an author.
    As an author (writer), when writing an article or a book, I must read some articles or books of other authors or interviewing many witnesses so that I can write it.
    Similarly, we all knew that Moses was the author and compiler of the first five books of the OT including Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.
    I have thought that when writing the first five books of the OT, Moses also interviewed many witnesses, compiled many old texts in order to write them.
    However, in Vietnam, many laity people have not concerned about author. When they read an article or a book, they only believe in content of the article or book.
    Therefore, copyright infringements are common situations in Vietnam today.
    Many Vietnamese readers including doctors, writers, Buddhist monks, etc. who said that when reading an articles or a book, if I realize a certain sentence is right, then the sentence is my sentence.
    As a result, suppose that I read Genesis 1:1 written: In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth and if I believe that this sentence is right, the sentence is my sentence and God also is my God.
    Moses can’t sue me as pirate because it is clear that God isn’t a private property of Moses.
    According to Vietnamese tradition, if an article or a book was announced publicly, then it is people’s public property.
    For example, in the title of the homily, Msgr. Charles Pope wrote the sentence “Love lifted me”. I realized that the sentence is right and good, hence now the sentence is my one./.

  5. Ismael says:

    <>

    Indeed this critique is in my opinion quite feeble.

    First of all, only because he was initially a ‘simple fisherman’ it does not mean he was stupid. A simple fisherman can be a very smart and intelligent person. Sure he might have been ‘ignorant’, but ignorance, unlike stupidity, can be corrected with time.
    Also even if one IS ignorant, it does not mean he is not capable of profound thoughts.

    Second Jews valued education in their time, even for lower classes. I think this goes double for educating children of all classes in matters regarding the scriptures. John like many of his time went to synagogues where ‘rabbis’ preached and taught the scriptures (just like Jesus also did, by the way)

    Lastly, like you note Msgr. Pope, John had time to ponder, to meet many people, some of which might have been very learned and he might have learned from them.

    So the ‘simple fisherman argument’ seems to me just as a petty excuse. Also the reasoning behind it is non sequitur, since it concludes that all fishermen are incapable of profound thinking, which is certainly just a gross generalization.

    This only if we think in HUMAN terms.

    If we believe that there is a God and that He can send the Holy Spirit to illuminate someone’s mind, then the fisherman argument becomes almost ridiculous.

    Of course an atheist or a non-Christian will not be impressed by a ‘appeal to the Holy Spirit’, yet even if we forget about the charismas of the Holy Spirit (and in the historical-critical method one must set supernatural causes aside anyway), the argument is still invalid in my opinion.

    • Alan says:

      … all that pent up crankiness because you didn’t like the use of “simple fisherman”…. Sheesh! Although you outlined the difference between stupidity and ignorance, perhaps you should look up the difference between humility and arrogance.

  6. Regine says:

    Padre Pio was quoted to have said, “In books we seek God, in prayer we find him. Prayer is the key which opens God’s heart.” I would like to think that St. John could see with God’s eyes and write about His revelation because he was IN Love. I have always thought that this is the very reason why the Saints persevered in prayer and in their love of God because they were “caught up” in His overwhelming glory, and were not short of asking the Blessed Mother’s intercession.

  7. Pegofmar1 says:

    I agree with you, Monsignor. God can give wisdom and the right words to anyone he chooses.

  8. Jude says:

    Cardinal Newman in a University Sermon preached on the feast of the Presentation of Our Lord took as his text, “But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.”

    Commenting on these words he wrote:

    “But Mary’s faith did not end in a mere acquiescence in Divine providences and revelations: as the text informs us, she “pondered” them. When the shepherds came, and told of the vision of Angels which they had seen at the time of the Nativity, and how one of them announced that the Infant in her arms was “the Saviour, which is Christ the Lord,” while others did but wonder, “Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.” Again, when her Son and Saviour had come to the age of twelve years, and had left her for awhile for His Father’s service, and had been found, to her surprise, in the Temple, amid the doctors, both hearing them and asking them questions, and had, on her addressing Him, vouchsafed to justify His conduct, we are told, “His mother kept all these sayings in her heart.” And accordingly, at the marriage-feast in Cana, her faith anticipated His first miracle, and she said to the servants, “Whatsoever He saith unto you, do it.”

    Thus St. Mary is our pattern of Faith, both in the reception and in the study of Divine Truth. She does not think it enough to accept, she dwells upon it; not enough to possess, she uses it; not enough to assent, she developes it; not enough to submit the Reason, she reasons upon it; not indeed reasoning first, and believing afterwards, with Zacharias, yet first believing without reasoning, next from love and reverence, reasoning after believing. And thus she symbolizes to us, not only the faith of the unlearned, but of the doctors of the Church also, who have to investigate, and weigh, and define, as well as to profess the Gospel; to draw the line between truth and heresy; to anticipate or remedy the various aberrations of wrong reason; to combat pride and recklessness with their own arms; and thus to triumph over the sophist and the innovator.

    Reading this passage I was struck by Newman’s description of Our Lady as the “pattern of Faith, both in the reception and in the study of Divine Truth” and that she symbolizes “not only the faith of the unlearned, but of the doctors of the Church.”

    If then the Beloved Disciple held sweet converse with Our Lady in the years after our Lord’s Ascension, is it any wonder that he was able to ascend such doctrinal and mystical heights, when he was able to receive the fruits of Our Lady’s own contemplation of the Word.

Leave a Reply