Wednesday, March 21, 2007

That Judas Novel...

Amy Welborn is asking the right question about the controversy.

All well and good, but the questions still goes begging: Why did the Pontifical Biblical Institute accede to Moloney's request?
This is in response to Fr Paul Mankowski, S.J.'s clarification of the Pontifical Biblical Institute's lack of involvement in the production or approval of this book.
A week ago, we Jesuits of the Pontifical Biblical Institute were informed in the course of a regular community meeting that our main lecture hall would be in use on March 20 at the request of a former faculty member (Salesian Father Frank Moloney) for the public launch of a novel he had co-authored with Jeffrey Archer. The Rector apologized in advance for any inconvenience caused by the event itself and for any ructions provoked by attendant publicity.

That publicity -- both before and after the event -- gave rise to lurid headlines ("Pope Gives Blessing to Gospel of Jeffrey Archer") and to nonsense of other kinds as well. Here's the lede from the Times of London:

Jesus never turned water into wine, He did not walk on the water and He never calmed the storm on the Sea of Galilee, according to a new 'Gospel' published today with Vatican approval and co-authored by Jeffrey Archer.

The following points are offered in correction of errors of fact, emphasis, or interpretation given in the English-speaking media:

* The Pope did not "bless" the Archer-Moloney novel.

* The Pontifical Biblical Institute provided the bottled water at the speaker's rostrum for the Archer-Moloney press conference. Its scholars had nothing whatever to do with the book's content.

* The Archer-Moloney novel was not "published with Vatican approval."

* No biblical scholar, including my former colleague Fr. Frank Moloney, believes Fr. Frank Moloney to be "the world's greatest living biblical scholar."

* Fr. Moloney is not "one of the Pope's top theological advisers."

* The International Theological Commission, of which Fr. Moloney was a member, enjoys the same level of teaching authority as the Philatelic Office of the Holy See -- that's to say: zero.

* The teaching of the dogmatic constitution Dei Verbum §11 has not been abrogated.
Before I had a chance to find out more about this book, I was actually quite enthusiastic about an Archer-Moloney attempt to tell the Gospel story from Judas's point of view because I had occasion to read a few of Moloney's articles about the Gospel of St John and found them to be well-informed, scholarly and orthodox. I'm not very clued-in to the whole world of Biblical Theology, so I presumed that Moloney was a fairly well-respected and orthodox priest and professor. Needless to say, some of his reported statements in the press and what I am hearing about this book are casting my initial assessment of Moloney's work into doubt.
What strikes me in particular, however, is that the pre-launch publicity made a huge deal of the fact that the book was being launched at the Pontifical Biblical Institute. Fr Paul Mankowski may only have been formally informed of the launch last week, but for the past month or two invitations to the launch have been circulating in Rome which, if one doesn't read them carefully, create the impression of the Biblical Institute having a significant role to play in the launch of the book. They don't have the Biblicum's coat of arms on them, as one would expect from an official invite, but they do include the name of the Pontifical Biblical Institute in a larger font than anything else on the invitation:


will host the presentation of the novel


Recounted by Jeffrey Archer with the Assistance of Francis J. Moloney, S.D.B.
The volume will be presented by its co-authors
Tuesday, March 20, 2007 - 4:30 p.m.
Aula Mahna of the Pontifical Biblical Institute
Entrance: Piazza della Pilotta, 35 - 00187 Roma

As I say, if one weren't paying attention, one could easily think that the Biblical Institute had a greater role to play in the book than it actually did. Certainly, someone has (wittingly or unwittingly) associated the name of the Pontifical Biblical Institute and the Holy See with some very dubious material.
By the by, one part of Fr Mankowski's article struck me forcefully:
Archer recounts to Gledhill how Moloney bowled him over by his insistence that Jesus "never did" walk on water, etc. Archer never suggests there was a reasoned chain of argument, he merely mentions Moloney's knowledge of the ancient languages and admits to despair about knowing when the Gospel accounts are true: "You have to be as clever as Frank," he says, "to know when they are and when they aren't."
That admission is tantamount to saying that truth is irrelevant to the Bible, since only a fraction of Christians could ever be so endowed as to make the critical distinctions. But I'm not convinced the situation is as bad as all that. Someone with reason to know once remarked that many things revealed to mere children are hidden from the clever.
The attitude that Mankowski attacks is a form of gnosticism - the assertion that the truth of the Gospel is only accessible to those possessing the arcane gnosis of advanced Biblical scholarship.


Sharon said...

Fr Moloney gave permission for the Don Bosco Youth Group to use viewing The Da Vinci Code as a fundraiser here in Melbourne, Australia. He said it was ok because he was going to give a talk afterwards. I neglected to ask whether the talk would be for or against the DVC. St John Bosco must have been turning in his grave!

Hermann Burchard said...

Fr Mankowski mentions Dei Verbum 11 but might have gone on to 12, about interpreting scripture, because a human vessel is used. On this Saint Paul in 1 Cor 2:15 gives a carte blanche to some of us, that spiritual men can judge all things. This possibly includes a more enlightened under- standing of miracles, by the ancient allegorical method, long sanctioned by the Church.

Zadok the Roman said...


It seems to me that you're creating a false dichotomy - the allegorical method of the Fathers certainly assigned a symbolic meaning to the miracles of Christ, but there is no warrant in the Fathers for denying their historicity.

Indeed, I think that it is fundamental to our understanding of scripture that we understand the miracles of Christ both as historical events and as carrying a symbolic significance. They were not mere displays of power on behalf of Jesus, but were also intended to teach us about God and His Kingdom. Like everything recorded about Jesus, there is a deeper significance... but the fact that something has a symbolic significance does not mean that it didn't actually happen.

If we accept Christ as the Son of God made man, what is so implausible about His miracles?

Anonymous said...

Appalled by the vulgarity of the publicity for Archer, but equally appalled by the fundamentalism of Fr Mankowski -- he may know his Hebrew but he is no theologian.

Zadok the Roman said...

Please explain... I'm not sure I see the 'fundamentalism' referred to.