Back in my 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, since in most cases I didn’t really care to whom the Holy Spirit gave the text; in the end, God was the author.
I was also annoyed at some of the premises used to reject apostolic authorship. For example, it was widely held by modern scholars that St. Paul couldn’t possibly have been the author of 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.g., 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 early eras as “primitive.” So Paul’s authorship was questioned by many in those days.
John’s gospel was also 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 the view of the Bible experts who equated wisdom with scholarly credentials. That God could somehow give a profound vision and an infused mysticism to the early Apostles was almost completely 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 where John “got all this,” Origen in effect sets forth the two most crucial requirements for a theologian:
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 it was, the lynchpin, the truest answer, the two most crucial reasons for John’s mystical heights. John had mystical vision and saw the Lord in the loftiest way because he knew and experienced the heart of the Lord, knew and experienced the love of the Lord, and had Mary for his Mother.
John was a brilliant theologian and possessed deep insight, less because he knew books, and more because he knew the Lord, heart to heart; he experienced the love of God and loved him in return.
Second, surely and truly, Mary’s role in John’s insight 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 hearth, at the Last Supper must have been able to pray and converse with her.
Speculation you say? Perhaps. But it is 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 reached the loftiest heights.
And what of you and me? How will we gain insight into the Lord, and the truth of his Gospel? By books and learning? By studying Greek? By reading commentaries? Sure, all well and good. But these things are best at telling you what the text is saying. It takes a deep relationship with the Lord to see Scripture’s mystical meaning. And Mary’s beautiful intercession and motherly promptings help things to soar, for she herself pondered all these things and reflected on them in her heart.
Want to be a great theologian? Study for 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.
Step two, entrust your study and reflection to Mother Mary. No one loves and understands Jesus like his Mother Mary. Ask for her intercession and help and she will show you the heart of her Son.
Jesus gave John two gifts: his heart and 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 and the gift of his mother.
Consider well the admonition of one of the most learned men who ever lived, Origen: 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!)