Wednesday, May 25, 2011

(1) Gospel Truths

Arriving home from the Holy Land I pretty much settled into
some more familiar activities. For quite awhile I had been
collecting and reading books by Benedictine authors. I was
trying to understand better the monastic approach to life.
Nearly from the start I depended on the writings of Thomas
Merton--a Trappist monk whose Order, nonethless, focused
on the Benedictine Rule.

Reading through these books I realized that these monastic
authors had a far better grip than I when it came to their faith.
Their writing presupposed a far better background than I
when it came to biblical study and Christianity in general. I
suppose I could have excused myself, being a mostly
unlearned lay person, but I realized that this was no excuse.
Rather, becoming "learned" was the challenge! Call it part of
the schooling process; or more specifically, call it the continuing
never ending endeavor towards "Seeking God." This is a
Benedictine mandate, and I was wondering how to go forth
with this.

At this point Providence provided some direction. While
wondering how to go forth, an opportunity arose to attend a
week-long workshop at a large Benedictine ArchAbbey
that was about a day's drive away. The subject was an
examination of the Four Gospels, presented by a monk-
scholar whose expertise was well known. Indeed he had been
a contributor to select Bible publications. I felt I couldn't miss
the opportunity, so off I went.

Arriving, I found the ArchAbbey an absolutely huge facility,
There was the monastery, much larger than my local abbey
and full of a great deal more monks. The ArchAbbey also had
a Benedictine college attached to it. So I was able to make use
of its library during my free time. And I did, discovering many
new Benedictine books that I added to my list to read later on.

After my afternoon arrival, we were served dinner and then
treated to a lovely concert in the sanctuary, One of the monks
had once been a professional opera singer, and he delighted
us with an hour of gorgeous songs. Sitting there I looked around
and admired the large sanctuary. It was not a cold place, but
rather exuded a warmth and a peace that somehow can envelop
a person. This special hour went far too quickly. Again, it was
part of the famous Benedictine hospitality.

Following a walk around the spacious grounds, we went to the
classroom for introductions. It turned out that I found myself
surrounded by priests. There were only two lay persons in the
class: a gentleman and me. The remainder, maybe about 25,
were both religious order and diocesan priests. Need I say I felt
a bit uncomfortable (being the only female) surrounded by all
these men in their collars, robes, or at least totally black attire.
Nevertheless, I was determined to see the workshop through.

Little did I know that this workshop would propel me into entirely
new territories of spiritual study--and generate some really big

Our Gospels workshop at the ArchAbbey started out slowly, maybe
even carefully. Even I knew about some of the disparities in the
Gospels, not getting the stories straight; but what threw me was the
gradual scholarly understanding that, indeed, the Gospels were
written as "narratives." They were stories about Jesus, involving
symbolism, written to fit a certain ancient audience or group to
which the writer was affiliated.

Tradition has it that the disciples--Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John--
were the authors of the Gospels named after them. The only
trouble with this was that it is now fairly well known that the Gospels
were written decades and decades after the death of Jesus. For
example it is believed as follows: Mark in 70 c.e.; Matthew in
90 c.e.; Luke in 90 c.e.; and John at the end of the 1st century c.e.

This makes a person hard pressed to believe that those first
disciples,who likely were illiterate or nearly illiterate fishermen,
could write the original Greek texts of the Gospels. Matthew the
Tax Collector perhaps was somewhat literate in that we know that
he could count. And Luke the Physician was likely literate--and
probably spoke and wrote Greek, which was actually the major
language of commerce in the Hellenistic World.

Also the Gospels written towards the end of the 1st century c.e.
would seem to have been written by writers who assumed the
name of a disciple in terms of authorship. This was not uncommon
practice then in the greater Greco-Roman culture.

However, we know that the Gospels were written by humans--not
by the hand of God. Were the writers "divinely inspired?' Who is to
say. The Gospels have had a long track record. Still the Gospels
are not to be taken literally, like a historical document with a writer
following Jesus around like a scribe. Rather, scholars believe the
Synoptic Gospels--Matthew, Mark, and Luke--were based upon Oral
Tradition, or upon another earlier record that is referred to as the
Q-document. This supposed unknown document has never been
discovered, however. As for John's Gospel, presumably written in
Ephesus, it's more a spiritual testament written maybe by several