from issue no.10 - 2003

Questions and prejudices about John’s Gospel

Honorable Senator for Life
Giulio Andreotti
I am an eighty seven year old man from the Roman countryside and as such allow myself to write to you for clarifications and advice which you will certainly be able to give me and for which I thank you in advance.
I became determined to bring to your chosen attention "a sheet" from that which would be my book in pectore, having taken into account your adherence, in a totally public way, to our religion as well as for the indomitable character and uncommon frankness that you have maintained throughout your human misfortunes.
This sheet states in extreme synthesis that which the whole book wishes to demonstrate which is that the Johannine Gospel is a true and real forgery and undoubtedly that’s the reason this was considered by the Church to be the most important Gospel, in that it says things that the three synoptic gospels don’t say, but which together are for the Church of enormous strategic and theological importance because of the collateral effects they have always exercised on the masses of the faithful!
I have come to think that you will also have experienced the same doubts which this sheet contains, but I doubt that you will have found a rational response, in that you certainly have that which John Paul II preached to two million young people on the level ground of Tor Vergata: the faith!
This letter wishes to know precisely whether you have rationally overcome these doubts contained in the sheet or not!
From the perspective that emerges from this sheet, it results that all is false and of enormous falsity in that all of Christianity results as being gravely infected from its first birth, because of the opportunists who immediately rushed into the religious organization, as hawks above whatever victim appears on the horizon!
I have not limited myself to reading only the Gospels !
In the Ecclesiastical History of Eusebius of Cesarea the existence in Ephesus of two personages, namesakes and important contemporaries, is most evident, John the apostle and John the presbyter.
The first, a ninety four year old, a venerable and important person but absolutely incapable of writing anything; the second, an authoritative personality of the local Church which popular opinion considered the true author of the Johannine Gospel.
The English writer Dorothy Sayers, a profound expert in the argument, came to sustain that John the evangelist wrote his Gospel with the help of his trusted friend John!
This is the minimum that one can imagine to have happened! But in reality it is evident and logical that the young functionary of the Church, strong in his own experience, did in fact do what he had intended to do in face of the venerable figure of John the apostle, who without doubt had to appear as the true author, in order to gain the approval of the masses immediately.
Some time back a certain doctor, when I brought to his attention the multiple and notable divergences between the synoptic Gospels and the Gospel of John, replied to me: "But the synoptic Gospels are theological!".
Apart from the amazement that this reply aroused, I came to think that I should follow a course in theology to get the explanations that I am seeking.
In any case, Honorable Senator, would you please, however, give me your reply which will calm my unquiet spirit eager for a serene development of daily life rather than extraordinary cases which disturb rather than reassure.
Best wishes and sincere apologies for the disturbance which my letter will have caused you.
Pasquale Lupi
Frosinone, August 16 - 2003

The letter contains legitimate questions along with affirmations that appear to be dictated by anti Catholic prejudice.

I. What does the Church believe about the four Gospels?
The Ecumenical Vatican Council II in its Dogmatic Constitution Dei Verbum, through the authoritative indication of Paul VI, affirmed as a fact of faith the historicity of the Gospels and their apostolic origin.
“The Church has always and everywhere held and continues to hold that the four Gospels are of apostolic origin. For what the apostles preached in fulfilment of the commission of Christ, afterwards they themselves and apostolic men, under the inspiration of the divine Spirit, handed on to us in writing: the foundation of faith, namely, the fourfold Gospel, according to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John” (Dei Verbum 18).
“Holy Mother Church has firmly and with absolute constancy held, and continues to hold, that the four Gospels just named, whose historical character the Church unhesitiatingly asserts, faithfully hand on what Jesus Christ, Son of God, while living among men, really did and taught for their eternal salvation, until the day He was taken up into heaven (see Acts 1, 1-2)” (Dei Verbum 19).

As appears from the Council text, there is freedom of research about how the four evengelical writings were formed and about their immediate authors.
Recently Cardinal Ratzinger, on the occasion of the centenary of the constitution of the Pontifical Biblical Commission, commented as follows on the affirmations of the Council:
“The reality of the birth of Jesus from the Virgin Mary, the effective institution of the Eucharist by Jesus at the Last Supper, his resurrection in the body from the dead – this is the meaning of the empty tomb – are elements of the faith as such, that it can and must defend against an only alleged better historical knowledge.
That Jesus – in everything that is essential – effectively was what the Gospels show is in no way a historic conjecture, but a datum of faith.Objections that would like to convince us of the opposite are not the expression of real scientific knowledge, but an arbitrary overestimation of the method.
That in their particulars many questions must remain open and be entrusted to an interpretation conscious of its responsibility is what we have learned in the meantime” (J. Ratzinger, “For the faith the reality of the happening is constitutive exigency”, in 30Days, no.6, 2003, p.65-66).
2. In so far as the author of the fourth Gospel is concerned, we report the simple and clear observations of the Jerusalem Bible.
“Almost unanimously [to the question about the author] tradition responds: the apostle John, the son of Zebedee. Already in the first half of the II century we see that the fourth Gospel is known and used by many authors: Saint Ignatius of Antioch, the author of the Odes to Solomon, Papias, Saint Justin and perhaps already Saint Clement of Rome […] proof that it already possessed apostolic authority. The first explicit testimony is that of Saint Irenaeus, towards 180: “Afterwards John also, the disciple of the Lord, the same who reclined on his breast, published the Gospel during his stay in Ephesus”. Almost at the same time, Clement of Alexandria also, Tertullian, the Muratorian canon formally attribute the fourth Gospel to the apostle John. If at the confines of the II-III centuries, a contrary opinion can be found, it is that of those who are reacting against the Montanist “spirituals”, who used John’s Gospel for tendentious purposes. But this opposition reduces to little and, based on theological reasons, has no root in tradition”.
The testimony of Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons and martyr, who belongs to the second generation after the apostles, in his works Adversus haereses (III, 1, 1), is particularly significant precisely because Irenaeus was at “a young age” a disciple of Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna, who in turn had known the apostle John (Adversus haereses III, 3, 4).

3. In the thological review Rassegna di Teologia, number 4, July-August 2003, there is an article by Yves Simoens, The Gospel according to John.
The chapter on the author of the fourth Gospel is divided into two paragraphs: “John, the son of Zebedee?” and “The presbyter John and ‘the disciple whom Jesus loved’”. The author, evaluating recent studies which evidenced the priestly dimension of the fourth Gospel (it is significant that the name of Zebedee occurs in the list of the names of the priestly classes), seems to conclude his observations by preferring the traditional hypothesis of the identity between the apostle John, the son of Zebedee, and the author of the fourth Gospel.
With regard to the observation, contained in Lupi’s letter, that John the apostle would have been incapable of writing such a rich and beautiful Gospel, we read in the article:
“The argument always proposed to contest the authorship of this Gospel to John, the son of Zebedee, consists in the very beauty and richness of this exceptional text. How would a fisherman from Galilee have been able to write such a masterpiece? This scepticism must be tempered immediately however. The vocabulary of this Gospel – and this is true also for the Epistles – is much poorer than that of Luke, without mentioning Paul. From this restricted palette, however, the author extracts a blend of colors and dull colors which issue in the production of paintings composed of gradations, with delicate touches which are sometimes very subtle. The deepening in faith and love of that which was lived in the company of a person such as Jesus, throughout so many years, must also be able to transform a mind and a sensibility into becoming capable of communicating the splendor of such a human and spiritual experience as well as possible”.

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