Category Archives: John Paul II

Editing Encyclicals

In John Paul II’s encyclical, Evangelium Vitae, was originally published with this sentence addressed to women who have had abortions:

You will come to understand that nothing is definitively lost and you will also be able to ask forgiveness from your child, who is now living in the Lord. (Section 99; hosted at EWTN)

But if you check out the edition on the Vatican website it says:

To the same Father and his mercy you can with sure hope entrust your child. (Section 99; hosted at Vatican.va)

The official Latin text, which agrees with the edition on Vatican.va, says:

Infantem autem vestrum potestis Eidem Patri Eiusque misericordiae cum spe committere. (vatican.va)

It’s not the end of the world, but it’s interesting to see papal self-editing in action. The big issue here is the fate of aborted babies (and others) who die without baptism and therefore in a state of original sin. The International Theological Commission recently did a study on this question so I won’t try to solve it here. The point is that JPII seems to have originally over-stated his case by teaching that all aborted babies were in Heaven and then edited out this statement so that it would not pre-empt the doctrinal development that is on-going. I am very curious as to how this question will eventually be resolved or if it will be.

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Did Mary Crush the Serpent’s Head?

If you go to any Catholic Church or bookstore, you’re likely to see a statue of the Virgin Mary standing on a snake. A statue of the Virgin makes sense, but why does she always have a serpent underfoot? Well, it’s a long story.

The story begins with Gen 3:15, some of the words that God speaks to the serpent after deceiving Adam and Eve, inducing their Fall, “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” (RSV). So, you’re probably thinking, “I don’t see the connection. It says ‘he shall bruise’ not ‘she’.” And you’re right, for the RSV. But if you look at the Douay-Rheims version, it says, “she shall crush thy head.” What’s going on?

Well, what we have here really is a text-critical problem.

Hebrew Masoretic Text: הוּא יְשׁוּפְךָ֣ רֹ֔אשׁ  (hu’ yeshuphka rosh, “he will crush your head”)

Greek Septuagint: αὐτός σου τηρήσει κεφαλήν (“he will watch your head”)

Latin Vulgate: ipsa conteret caput tuum (“she will crush your head”)

Nova Vulgata (1979): ipsum conteret caput tuum (“it will crush your head”)

In the Hebrew, the masculine pronoun hu’ is referring back to the noun zera‘, which is a masculine noun. The other thing to mention is that the verb form, yeshuphka, is third person masculine singular with a second person singular pronominal suffix.  And the vowel pointing could not change it to feminine—the feminine form would include one different letter, not just vowel points. It would be תָּשׁוּפְךָ* (tashuphka). The masculine is not just in the pronoun, but is embedded in the verb.

In Greek, the masculine pronoun autos is used even though the antecedent (spermatos, seed) is neuter. It seems that the masculine is preferred here by the translator because the seed/offspring of Eve would presumably be a person, not a thing.

The Nova Vulgata uses ipsum, a neuter pronoun referring to a neuter noun (seed, semen). But St. Jerome’s Vulgate is the outlier here, reading ipsa, which here is the feminine nominative singular (not the nom/acc neuter plural) and the Douay-Rheims version is based on the Vulgate. I should also add that the Nova Vulgata is the current official version of the Bible promulgated by the Vatican.

The old Catholic Encyclopedia defends the Vulgate text of this passage thusly:

The reading “she” (ipsa) is neither an intentional corruption of the original text, nor is it an accidental error; it is rather an explanatory version expressing explicitly the fact of Our Lady’s part in the victory over the serpent, which is contained implicitly in the Hebrew original. The strength of the Christian tradition as to Mary’s share in this victory may be inferred from the retention of “she” in St. Jerome’s version in spite of his acquaintance with the original text and with the reading “he” (ipse) in the old Latin version. (emphasis added)

This explanation is rather generous, but it’s more helpful than saying that we just don’t know why Jerome translated this way.

Interestingly, Jerome’s translation made it into a very important papal statement, the declaration of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception in Pope Pius IX’s Apostolic Constitution, Ineffabilis Deus:

Hence, just as Christ, the Mediator between God and man, assumed human nature, blotted the handwriting of the decree that stood against us, and fastened it triumphantly to the cross, so the most holy Virgin, united with him by a most intimate and indissoluble bond, was, with him and through him, eternally at enmity with the evil serpent, and most completely triumphed over him, and thus crushed his head with her immaculate foot.

I like the idea of the Virgin Mary having an “immaculate foot,” but I still think this statement is based on a flaw in Jerome’s translation. Interestingly, when John Paul II took up the Protoevangelium in his audience on Dec 17, 1986 he regards Christ as the agent of “crushing” not Mary.

Now, of course, from a theological perspective, every Christian shares in Christ’s victory over sin and the devil. The New Testament substantiates this: But rejoice in so far as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. (1 Peter 4:13 RSV) “For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that overcomes the world, our faith.” (1 John 5:4 RSV) Mary, as the most Christian Christian, is as JPII teaches in the above-cited text, “the one who first shares in that victory over sin won by Christ.” So all Christians get to “crush the serpent’s head” through Christ’s victory on the cross and the Virgin Mary is the first to share in that victory. Are the statues based on a faulty translation? Yes. But are they still theologically correct? Yes.

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John Paul II’s Words to the Man Elected Pope

“I also ask the one who is elected not to refuse, for fear of its weight, the office to which he has been called, but to submit humbly to the design of the divine will. God who imposes the burden will sustain him with his hand, so that he will be able to bear it. In conferring the heavy task upon him, God will also help him to accomplish it and, in giving him the dignity, he will grant him the strength not to be overwhelmed by the weight of his office.”

-John Paul II, Universi Dominici Gregis, sec. 86

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Why Benedict XVI Will Serve One Year Later Into Life than John Paul II

My post on the “math” behind Pope Benedict’s resignation has garnered some attention, so I wanted to speculate as to why Benedict might have set it up this way. If you haven’t read my previous post, the basic gist is that Benedict will serve the Church exactly 365 days longer than John Paul II–not that Benedict’s pontificate will be longer (JPII reigned for almost 27 years, but B16 will reign for almost 8), but that he will be exactly one year older when he abdicates than John Paul was when he died.

My speculations are as follows:

1. Benedict wants to honor the legacy of John Paul II. Many people were calling for John Paul’s resignation in the last few years of his pontificate, arguing that his ill health and frailty made him incapable of serving as pope. But John Paul stuck it out to the end and really became an example for eldercare and the morality of late-in-life health choices, namely that the dignity of the human person must be preserved and no steps should be taken to hasten death. Benedict, while having a different perspective than John Paul (see #3 below), wants to honor John Paul’s witness and serve the Church late into his life. By serving exactly 365 days longer, he nods to John Paul’s legacy and the example he gave to us.

2. John Paul II’s former personal secretary, Stanislaw Cardinal Dziwisz, has made comments criticizing Benedict XVI’s abdication as “coming down from the cross.” (Newsmax story here) I think this is exactly the kind of criticism that Benedict was hoping to circumvent (at least in the history books) by the timing of his resignation. The counter could always be: I served the Church even later into my life than John Paul–by a year!

3. Benedict wants to honor John Paul, while at the same time disagreeing with him. In 2002, he reportedly made comments that it would be “very wise” for a pope to resign if he was incapacitated by ill health.

4. Cardinal Ratzinger submitted his original resignation to John Paul II in Spring 2002 on his 75th birthday. Now, just before his 86th birthday, he’ll have served the Church 11 years past the mandatory retirement age for bishops of 75. (Just another interesting note–Benedict will not be participating in the conclave to elect the new pope, but even if he did he would be unable to vote, being past his 80th birthday.)

5. Perhaps Benedict wanted to abdicate before the canonization of John Paul II, so as not to give the impression that he was granting sainthood for the sake of an old friend. The miracle needed for John Paul II’s canonization is in the hands of the Congregation for the causes of saints (Vatican Insider).

6. Lastly, I think that Benedict wants to set a precedent for future popes. He believes the Church needs energetic leadership and that ill health late in life can preclude a man from bringing this kind of leadership to the task of governing the Church. Benedict, perhaps, is suggesting to future popes that if their old age or ill health prevents them from doing the pope’s job well that they too should abdicate and allow a younger man to fulfill the role.

 

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Papal Resignation Math – Why February 28, 2013?

After the Pope’s shocking announcement of his resignation yesterday, I kept wondering about the timing. Why not resign right away? Why not resign at the beginning or end of a liturgical season? Why not resign on a major feast day? And why 8:00PM?

Pope Benedict XVI announced that he will abdicate the Papal throne at 8:00PM local time on February 28. I believe that most everything he does is symbolic and rich in meaning, as we saw with his gesture of laying his pallium on the tomb of Celestine V. So, if the timing of his resignation is symbolic and meaningful, how so?

First, the date: I believe the date of Pope Benedict’s resignation is tied to the death of John Paul II. Before you call me crazy, let me explain: If you calculate the time from John Paul II’s birth to death, it is 31,000 days (counting his birth-day 05/18/1920, but not his “death-day” 04/02/2005). He died 46 days short of his 85th birthday at the age of 84 years, 10 months and 15 days. Now Benedict XVI is going to resign exactly 31,365 days (counting his birthday 4/16/1927, but not his resignation day 02/28/2013) after his own birth, at the age of 85 years, 10 months and 14 days. Benedict XVI will have served as Pope exactly one year, or 365 days, later into his life than John Paul II.

Now, how about the time? Most official things in the Church–like bishop appointments–happen at noon, Rome time (CEST). The Church calendar officially changes dates at midnight–hence midnight Masses (despite the liturgy of the hours of a feast beginning the evening before). So noon or midnight would have been logical, normal, explainable times for the Pope to step down. So, why 8:00pm? Well, John Paul II was born at 5:30PM UTC+1 and died at 9:37PM UTC+1. Benedict was born at 8:30AM UTC+1 and will resign at 8:00PM UTC+1. So to be extremely precise, from John Paul II’s birth to death was 31,000 days,  4 hours, 7 minutes. From Benedict XVI’s birth to resignation will be 31,365 days, 11 hours, 30 minutes. So the exact difference between JPII’s birth-to-death and Benedict’s birth-to-resignation will be 365 days, 7 hours and 23 minutes. Ok, I have to confess at this point that the time does not seem particularly significant, only the date. If 8:00PM is meaningful, I can’t figure out why. However, I do think it is remarkable that Benedict will serve exactly one year later into life than John Paul II.

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John Paul II on the Mission of Bible Scholars

John Paul II gave an address to the Pontifical Biblical Commission upon receipt of their document, the Interpretation of the Bible in the Church. In that speech, he outlined a few points regarding the mission of biblical scholars that I found helpful and motivating. Unfotunately, it’s not in English on the Vatican website, but it is in French. There’s an English translation of some excerpts here. Here are a couple quotes:

“To this end, it is obviously necessary that the exegete himself perceive the divine Word in the texts. He can do this only if his intellectual work is sustained by a vigorous spiritual life.” (sec. 9)

“In order better to carry out this very important ecclesial task [the explanation of Scripture], exegetes will be keen to remain close to the preaching of God’s word, both by devoting part of their time to this ministry and by maintaining close relations with those who exercise it and helping them with publications of pastoral exegesis.” (sec. 11)

-John Paul II, “Address on the Interpretation of the Bible in the Church,” In  The Scripture Documents: An Anthology of Official Catholic Teachings (trans Dean P. Bechard; Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2002) 175, 177.

In the first quote, John Paul highlights the importance of arriving at the meaning of the text intended by God, the so-called “divine meaning” or the “theological meaning” (a phrase often used by Fr. Frank Matera in describing the exegete’s aim). To me, this concept is very helpful in understanding what biblical exegesis is all about. It really does have a goal that is realizable. Sometimes it seems in the face of the immense stacks of exegetical books in theological libraries that no one will ever figure out the meaning of the Bible! I mean, if people have been seriously working on it for 2,000 years and still feel the need to publish more and more books about it, where’s the hope for a resolution? But the Bible does have meaning, one that can be discovered and related and believed in. John Paul also frames the task of exegesis well as a matter of “perception,” and a kind of perception that is informed by prayer, spiritual life. So the exegete could never be replaced by a robot. Rather, his personal spiritual life is somehow involved in the act of perception of the divine meaning of the biblical text.

In the second quotation above, John Paul highlights the pastoral dimension of the exegetical task. Exegetes, he says, either ought to be preachers themselves or to help preachers in their exposition of God’s word. Lots of Bible scholars, I think, do not see themselves this way at all. But here John Paul insists that biblical scholars ought to be engaged in publishing pastoral exegesis–i.e. popular works–not just scholarly works. He adds after the sentence I quoted above, “Thus they will avoid becoming lost in the complexities of abstract scientific research, which distances them from the true meaning of the Scriptures. Indeed, this meaning is inseperable from their goal, which is to put believers into a personal relationship with God.” (sec. 11, p. 177). So, in John Paul’s mind, there is a distinct possibility of BIble scholars becoming lost! That would not be good. However, I wonder if John Paul had some biblical scholars in mind that he had met in his lifetime–ones who were obsessed with weird little details of Hebrew poetry or archaeology and unable to inspire anyone’s faith. That would be a bad place to be, a lost, uninspiring Bible scholar, trapped in the ivory tower and unable to communicate what he knows to regular people who want to be in a personal relationship with God. I’ll have to think about this one for a while.

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John Paul II on How to do Exegesis

As the Council well reminded us: “In the sacred books the Father who is in heaven comes lovingly to meet his children, and talks with them. And such is the force and power of the word of God that it can serve the Church as her support and vigour, and th children of the Church as strength for their faith, food for the soul, and a pure and lasting source of spiritual life.” (Dei Verbum, no. 21)…Without this support [a vigorous spiritual life], exegetical research remains incomplete; it loses sight of its main purpose and is confined to secondary tasks. It can even become a sort of escape. Scientific study of the merely human aspects of the texts can make him forget that the word of God invites each person to come out of himself to live in faith and love….

While engaged in the very work of interpretation, one must remain in the presence of God as much as possible…they will avoid becoming lost in the complexities of abstract scientific research which distances them from the true meaning of the Scriptures. Indeed, this meaning is inseparable from their goal, which is to put believers into a personal relationship with God.

-Pope John Paul II, “Bible Experts Must Be Guided by the Spirit,” L’Osservatore Romano (English ed.), 28 April 1993, pp.3-4, quoted in Ralph Martin, The Catholic Church at the End of an Age: What is the Spirit Saying?, (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1994), pp.151-152.

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