Back in my seminary days, we would often study the question of authorship when it came to the 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 had given the text. 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.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 earlier 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 have pulled 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.
Although I was just a simple 25-year-old seminarian, 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 and an infused mysticism to the early Apostles was almost wholly absent in their analysis. Even as a 25-year-old young man I knew better than to exclude that. Although I was young I had already experienced aspects of the charismatic movement in which 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 theologian), whose insight into John struck me as profound and telling, deeply faithful, and challenging for every Christian. Pondering 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 have 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. 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 deep insight, less because he knew books than 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 it is a vision I share with the great theologian, Origen. It was love that gave John insight; it was through his 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. 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 as does 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? Then 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: No one can apprehend the meaning of it except he have 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!)