Life after Epiphany


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tears

2468946This past week in Australia has seen public outcry at the fact that the newly announced cabinet includes only one woman. Whilst I will plainly state my opinion that this is a cosmetic and transparently partisan complaint of little substance, given that our leadership should entirely be selected on capability and merit rather than meaningless gender quotas, I do not want to get stuck on this point. Rather, I would like to acknowledge that the vocation of woman is different to the vocation of man, and I would like to explore one aspect of this vocation of woman.

Now before the radical feminists of the world get all up in arms let me be very clear: I am NOT saying that there is not a role for women to play in leadership or government in this day and age. Absolutely not. There is overlap between the roles of women and men, but there are also characteristics of serving the Lord and building up the Church that tend to be unique to femininity and masculinity. I would envisage women as leaders to fall within the overlap, but perhaps a woman’s style of leadership might then veer into the area of what is unique to femininity.

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Fr. Gerald Vann OP, in a book that is a personal favourite of mine, Heart of Compassion: The Vocation of Woman Today, appeals to the teaching of St. Paul in the Mystical Body of Christ and its composition comprising many different parts with different roles (1 Cor 12:21). He tells us that we will not achieve the freedom and dignity of woman by trying to make her a man – and then goes on to examine some of the ways in which the differences are complimentary. His underlying thesis appears to be that the woman’s contribution is ESSENTIAL to the success of the masculine vocation, and that the masculine vocation helps to give meaning or context to the feminine vocation.

After an examination on a generic level, Fr. Vann moves to a detailed exploration of the ‘Vocation of Tears’ that I found very striking… and moving. It is of course fitting that he establishes the Blessed Mother as the exemplar of a feminine vocation well-lived… she who kept all things and pondered them in her heart.

stMarysCathedralMAR2013 021What a precious gift, that the woman is, by nature, receptive and contemplative! Pondering deeply will almost always entail some kind of personal response, and often this is one of compassion. Maternity, whether biological or spiritual, requires compassion, and the Mother of Sorrow, depicted in the pieta holding her precious Son, teaches us trust during despair and courage in the face of suffering.

“We cannot think adequately of woman’s vocation within the Mystical Body of Christ without thinking of the mystery of vicarious suffering and expiation”

~ Fr. Gerald Vann OP (p70, Heart of Compassion)

Fr. Vann further illustrates with a look at St. Monica, quiet and patient over many years weeping and crying out to the Lord on behalf of her son, St. Augustine. He tells us that St. Monica would take part in the philosophical discussions that were involved in St. Augustine’s catechetical preparation for Baptism, but emphasised that the conversion came much earlier, a movement of the Spirit in St. Augustine’s life, an answer to prayer… the fruit of tears, not words.

“We are concerned with the tears that express a deep feeling of responsibility in the sight of God, that are themselves a prayer and a sacrifice to God, and that are part of the vocation of Christian motherhood because the love of the son who causes them is in itself an aspect of the love of God. It is tears such as these that can be the channel of saving grace; it is the children of tears such as these who cannot perish.”

~ Fr. Gerald Vann OP (p72, Heart of Compassion)

Fr. Vann exhorts women to learn to pray the De Profundis, i.e. Psalm 129 (130), on behalf of humankind, and in so doing, to unite our very prayer life with the one efficacious sacrifice made by Jesus on the Cross. If we look around us, we see so many reasons to despair, so many reasons to weep. Our tears, though, are not tears of despair. Our tears are fundamentally an expression of hope, hope in the love and mercy of the Father who keeps His promise to His children.

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Did Catholics change the Bible? Let’s look at Genesis 3:15 (Part 2)

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Those of you who read the first part of this study would know that, noting certain differences between the Vulgate translation of Genesis 3:15 and other translations, I began to wonder if the Bible had been changed in order to impose a certain meaning upon the text.

The translation from the Hebrew reads:

I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.

This version of the text presents God addressing the serpent, telling him that the offspring of the woman would crush/bruise his head. St Jerome’s Vulgate translation, on the other hand, presents a scenario where the woman herself crushes the serpent’s head.:

I will put enmities between thee and the woman, and thy seed and her seed: she shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel.

The question, then, arises over who it is that is doing the head-crushing. Is it the woman, or her offspring? To have presented the text in the way that he has, Jerome has performed two operations on the sentence:

  1. changed the subject of the sentence from ‘seed of the woman’ to ‘woman’
  2. missed (or ignored?) the gender of the word ‘heel’ (NB: the Hebrew word for ‘heel’ in this text can only be parsed as singular and either masculine or neuter. The feminine form of the word is quite different. )

Were the translation only to require one or other of these changes then Jerome’s handling of the text could be explained away as an accident; however, given that two separate operations were involved in arriving at Jerome’s translation, and that noticing either one in the process of translation would signpost the other, it is more likely that Jerome’s alteration of the meaning of the sentence was quite deliberate. Jerome WAS very well-versed in classical languages, after all. Perhaps Jerome himself can tell us what’s going on, here. In a later analysis of his own work, Jerome says:

more correctly, it has in the Hebrew it will crush your head, and you shall crush its heel. For our footsteps are indeed shackled by the serpent, and the Lord shall crush Satan under our feet swiftly*

This brief comment from Jerome tells us a very great deal; first, it tells us that Jerome recognized the form of the noun “heel”, and of the preceding personal pronoun, to be masculine/neuter singular. Additionally, the comment demonstrates that although Jerome recognized the singular form in the Hebrew, his interpretation of its content corresponding to the word “seed” (i.e. the owner of the heel) to be a collective empowered by Christ. WHOA!! Wait a minute! St. Jerome DID change the text? He conceded his inaccuracy! And it seems he let it stand! What’s going on here? Let’s start with a little bit of context. As far as we know, St. Jerome’s translation of Genesis was the first translation of the book into Latin and the first translation of the book from the Hebrew by a Christian. Also important – the translation was happening in the late fourth century AD. What St. Jerome was doing was ground breaking to the extent that St. Augustine even expressed initial concern about not relying upon the Greek translation that was already available (the Septuagint) – many of the letters between St. Augustine and St. Jerome have been preserved that demonstrate a discussion at great length over the translations, and even over St. Jerome’s method – the use of asterisks and obelisks as codes for flagging discrepancies between the original Hebrew and the Septuagint translation… discrepancies very similar to that which we are investigating here! All of this historical context is going to help us next time when we tackle the idea of canon,  and have a look at whether or not St. Jerome was doing something shady by translating the text as he did.

<< Go back to part 1 of this series       Watch this space for part 3… >>

_______ * St. Jerome. St Jerome’s Hebrew Questions on Genesis: Translated with an Introduction and Commentary by C.T.R. Hayward, NY: Oxford University Press, 1995. Reprinted in 2001. 33.


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John 21:15-19… a whole other layer of meaning embedded in the original Greek text

Almost everyone is familiar with the reality that there are several words in Greek for ‘love.’ Perhaps fewer are aware that in this famous passage, Jesus and Peter have their wires crossed – 2 out of 3 times, Jesus and Peter are using different words for ‘love.’

15 When they had finished breakfast,GreekMac Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you αγαπας me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I φιλο you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 A second time he said to him, “Simon, son of John, do you αγαπας me?” He said to him, “Yes Lord; you know that I φιλο you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you φιλεις me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you φιλεις me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I φιλο you.” 18 Truly, truly I say to you, when you were young, you girded yourself and walked where you would; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish to go.” 19 (This he said to show by what death he was to glorify God.) And after this he said to him, “Follow me.”

When I was younger I was taught at school and at Mass alike that the reason for the repeated question was in a certain way to ceremonially repair the relationship after Peter denied Christ three times. I’m sure that there is some truth to this; Augustine and Chrysostom both proffer this and their interpretation is not to be sniffed at! What I find so wonderful about Scripture is that there is such depth that can never truly be plumbed!! I find the teaching of the Fathers in this regard to be very beautiful, but I believe that the significance of this passage goes even deeper than this… there is so much to be drawn from it!

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Consider the first time that the question is asked. Jesus asked Peter if he loved Him in the sense of αγαπη.The noun refers to a sort of self-sacrificing love for other that has later come to be associated with Christian love – this should give us a beginning. But it is only a beginning… you see, the sense of this word in verbal form equates to following through and proving or acting out one’s love. If the love concerned is of the self-sacrificing variety, then necessarily, proving that sort of love means to sacrifice oneself. Jesus didn’t just ask Peter if he loved Him, but rather if he loved Him in such a way that he would sacrifice himself to demonstrate that!!

Now let us examine Peter’s answer – he uses a completely different word!!

Peter uses another word for love – φιλο. Love in the φιλο sense refers to having a deep sense of feeling for someone as a friend. This is a wonderful thing – Peter feels a strong friendship for Christ. Yet this is not what Christ was asking! I find myself wondering if Christ in His human nature didn’t feel a twang of sorrow at this response.

At the same time, this was a truthful answer on Peter’s part. In that instant he had not been given whatever grace was required to give that genuine αγαπη love to which Christ was inviting him. And not only did he admit as much, but he also demonstrated by what he said that he knew Christ was already well aware of this fact! There is a frankness in Peter that I find refreshing, somehow.

Christ shows us the sort of friend and brother He is; He demonstrates how much He trusts Peter by giving to him the care of His lambs. Then, He Peter to rise to a higher love than which he was at that point capable by his own
strength… He asked Peter if he loved Him with an αγαπη love.

Peter’s response demonstrated that, even in the face of the trust that Christ had placed in him, he didn’t ‘get it’ and he again declared his friendship.

Christ’s third question of Peter is where He brings out the ‘big guns’. This third question is not a repeat of the previous two (unlike what English translations of the Bible lead us to believe.) Knowing, of course, that Peter  is not yet ready for αγαπη love, Jesus asks Peter simply if he loves Him in a φιλο sense. The Scripture passage above tells us that Peter was grieved that Christ had asked him this. Many might suppose that this is because Jesus has just drilled him and nagged him as if He were having confidence issues or as if He didn’t trust what He  heard the first time. That might be how we would respond if we were asked the same question three times in one sitting… we all know, though, that Christ had no reason for confidence issues, and we’ve just seen through Christ’s
entrusting of His flock to Peter that trust wasn’t an issue either.

I think the reason for Peter’s sorrow is the self-knowledge that came of Christ appearing to lower His expectations. Christ was obviously aware of Peter’s shortcomings, but Peter, who had been so ready to declare at the Last Supper that he would follow Jesus even to death (Mark 14:29) came to the realisation that although he loved Christ dearly as a friend, he was not yet able to love Him in that deep, self-sacrificing sense.

Peter, in response to this third question, declares the twofold truth that Jesus knows everything, and that He knows that Peter loves (φιλο) Him. I get a real sense of Peter longing to be able to give Christ the αγαπη love to which He was inviting him, but not being able to let go of whatever may have been holding him back.

The remarks with which Christ closes out this little encounter seem ominous, but really, they are a beautiful promise, a fulfilment of the promise of beatitude to all who seek righteousness (Matt 5:6)! Christ is telling Peter that he WILL be capable of αγαπη in the future and that he will bring glory to God – that he would be able to love the Lord in the way he longed to love Him.

FINALLY, now that Jesus has told Peter exactly what he’s in for… given him all the information he needs to know… He says “Follow me” – He renews the call and allows Peter to choose what He has just foretold.

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Random aside: I find myself wondering if this isn’t the scriptural basis for the standard manner of progression through religious formation. One makes temporary profession and lives the life for a time, and then makes a final profession some years later. First profession is perhaps a symbolic response to the ‘follow me’ Jesus spoke at the nets; the final profession is that response that encompasses a readiness to die to oneself to follow the Lord, and may be seen as the response to the passage above.