Friday, December 24, 2010

The Truth of Christmas Beyond the Myths

An extensive review (excerpt and link below) by Fr. John F. McCarthy of Father René Laurentin's translated 1982 book on the Infancy Narratives of Our Lord.

Jean Guitton of the French Academy believes that the book will be an eye-opener for many readers for three reasons: 1) because it does away with illusory presuppositions which tend to weaken one's faith; 2) because it restores the historical reality of the Infancy of Christ; and 3) because it manifests the divine reality of the Incarnation which readily vanishes if the historical dimensions of Matthew and Luke are downplayed (Msgr. Wrenn, ibid.). This is indeed a great accomplishment. Cardinal Ratzinger, in his preface, presents a similar appraisal: "With this book, the infancy Gospels are restored to us with a new life. ... This book, which fulfills the best potentials of modern theology, stirs in me a feeling of profound gratitude; it deserves widespread recognition. May it find many attentive readers who learn from it and discover anew the richness and realism of the Christian faith."

The English translation is fairly faithful and accurate... but its defects are carried with it, and sometimes it does not seem to do full justice to the text or to the point that Fr. Laurentin is making, even though in most cases it serves well. For example, on page 156 of the English text, Fr. Laurentin tells us that in Lk 1:45 "Elizabeth recognizes the qualification which the mother of the Lord acquired by her consent in faith (Lk 1:38)" where she says, "Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord." But the original French text says, "Blessed (happy) is she who has believed, because the words spoken by the Lord will be fulfilled."

Mary's role in development of Infancy narratives

The effort of Fr. Laurentin to restore the historical reality of the Infancy of Christ to the field of biblical scholarship shines out most clearly, in my estimation, in his successful attempt to bring out the role of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the development of the Infancy Narratives. That Mary is the probable source of Lk 1-2 is the climax and crowning point of his book, and for this alone the book deserves recognition both as an outstanding contribution to Scripture study in this era and as a forward-looking oracle of the Scripture study of the future.

To summarize briefly some aspects of this insight of Fr. Laurentin, never greatly developed even by Catholic exegetes of the past, I would note the following: on pages 31-33, Fr. Laurentin reviews attempts in recent times to reconstruct a Hebrew proto-Luke 1-2, and he notes that "the retroversion of the infancy Gospel into Hebrew" can bring to light the possibility that Luke 1-2 "derives from a Jewish-Christian source." He finds that "Luke 1-2 presents the indication of a translation to the same extent as the Septuagint." To whatever extent these indications are there, Fr. Laurentin is able convincingly to conclude (p. 33) that Lk 1-2 reflects a Jewish-Christian community which includes Mary and in which "family memories could have been gathered together, preserved, and meditated upon in pure Christian light," even though he is not able to describe the genesis of the sources or to determine the role played by oral tradition and whatever elements may have been added by redaction. Here Fr. Laurentin is a pathfinder, and those who follow him may be able by careful work to determine these elements more clearly...The need of a better method than that of form-criticism is well illustrated in the book. The method of 'semiotics,' which Fr. Laurentin presents as an alternative, is better to the degree that it begins from reality (not fiction) ...Read it all

"... a work of genius, opening up paths for which I have been waiting for thirty years." -- Jean Guitton of the French Academy

"...With this book, the Infancy Gospels are restored to us with a new life." -- From the Preface by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith and President of the Pontifical Biblical Commission

"The Holy Father (JPII) encourages your works which are very aptly oriented to defend the treasures of the Church."

The God of the Cave: A Place of Dreams Come True

by G.K. Chesterton

The shepherds had found their Shepherd. And the thing they found was of a kind with the things they sought. The populace had been wrong in many things; but they had not been wrong in believing that holy things could have a habitation and that divinity need not disdain the limits of time and space. And the barbarian who conceived the crudest fancy about the sun being stolen and hidden in a box, or the wildest myth about the god being rescued and his enemy deceived with a stone, was nearer to the secret of the cave and knew more about the crisis of the world, than all those in the circle of cities round the Mediterranean who had become content with cold abstractions or cosmopolitan generalisations; than all those who were spinning thinner and thinner threads of thought out of the transcendentalism of Plato or the orientalism of Pythagoras. The place that the shepherds found was not an academy or an abstract republic; it was not a place of myths allegorised or dissected or explained or explained away. It was a place of dreams come true...More

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