Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site

Handing on a tradition



One of the challenges facing churches today has to do with tradition. Tradition is a sometimes charged word, but it refers to an everyday social need. It has to do with how a community passes on its way of life and its understanding of authoritative writings that shape it. The word itself can refer both to what is passed on and to the process of passing it on. The challenge of passing on a tradition is perennial. Both ways of living and writings reflect the culture of their own time and so need to be translated into the changing languages of later cultures.

The challenge is perhaps especially acute in our own culture which emphasises the need for individuals to shape their identity by their own choices. In this world the call to pass on a way of life and identity can be seen as old-fashioned and constraining of freedom. The writings foundational to the tradition will then also be dismissed as irrelevant and authoritarian.

Such a cultural climate makes it difficult for churches to represent the Scriptures as authoritative. It also challenges Western societies in their need to hand on a democratic way of life and governance in a culture that lacks familiarity and interest in its founding documents and history. To meet this challenge both in churches and in state the contribution of people who have a deep familiarity with the tradition is particularly important.

Two recent books written by Biblical scholars for church audiences engage with Christian tradition in ways that explore its richness and engage with contemporary culture. They are very different in their style and in their intended audience. In Come to the light: Reflections on the Gospel of John, Jesuit Scripture scholar Brendan Byrne draws on lectures given at Retreats for committed Catholics to explain the movement and inner movement of John’s Gospel. Addressing such an interested and receptive audience at home with the tradition and with its documents, he writes in a language and style that are explanatory, authoritative and inviting.

In The Church Triumphant as salt: Becoming the community Jesus speaks about, Sally Douglas, a Uniting Church Scripture scholar and congregational minister, addresses people who are interested in faith and church but are wary of the language of the tradition and about its claim to be normative. She needs simultaneously to allay the fears of people who are ready to dismiss any appeal to tradition as heavy and alienating and to explore with them some of its riches. Her language and style are colloquial, reassuring and engaging.

The challenge posed to the modern reader by the Gospel of John is similar to that of being dropped into a conversation without knowing where the participants are coming from. You might sense the seriousness of the subject but are unlikely to be able to follow the thread of their arguments.


'The history, literature, philosophies and institutions that embody the tradition, for all their defects, need to be valued for the way in which they shape a community. They also need to be brought into conversation with today’s challenges and insights.'


Without further knowledge, the Jesus of John’s Gospel might seem a distant and bemusing figure. Come to the Light sets the Gospel into the tradition which Jesus inherited, so that he is shown to be its apex. It provides the insider’s knowledge of the Jewish tradition that the first readers of the Gospel would have had. In doing this, it brings home the strange, even shocking character of the claims of the Christian tradition, namely that God actually joined us in our lives and world in Jesus, that we have access to God through the limitations and vicissitudes of that life, and that the victory of Jesus’ life does not come through an epiphany of light but through the depths of darkness in the tortured death of a Roman execution. The slow movement in the dialogues that form much of the Gospel from incomprehension to misunderstanding to comprehension invites the reader to appropriate the depths of the Gospel.

In terms of the tradition this book is a work of instruction that allows the committed reader to recover the original surprise and the depth of a key document. That recovery in turn will contribute to the construction of the faith community and the reconstruction of the tradition in response to the insights and pressures of a changing culture. 

The challenge that faces Sally Douglas in The Church Triumphant as salt is more complex. She does not just address readers who are the centre of their church and are thoroughly in touch with their tradition but focuses on people who have come in from the cold, have found in the community something that they seek, but who may also find religious language suspect and even alienating. Both these people and elderly members of the congregation who were brought up with a deep knowledge of the tradition also fear that the Christian tradition is in decline and so belongs to the past and not to the future.

To do this she deconstructs an understanding of the tradition that leads to discouragement and reconstructs one more faithful to the tradition. She does this imaginatively by exploring the metaphor of salt both in the tradition and in the contemporary life of an inner-city church congregations. She explores the image and implications of a salty church, contrasting the smallness and unobtrusiveness but high value of salt with the blandness, impermanence and uselessness of a church and tradition drained of salt.

The image of the church as salt then leads her to consider the saltiness of tears within a church that acknowledges grief and reaches out in compassion. The salt of the womb in which life grows, too, suggests a model of growth that is hidden and fragile, as distinct from an image of planned spectacular growth. The preservative character of salt illuminates the importance of ordinary and often unnoticed patterns of prayer and companionship within church congregations. The way in which salt seasons food suggests the power of small and simple and initiatives to affect the larger community.

Douglas’ book is complex and exploratory. It deconstructs versions of the tradition that identify the Church with growth, a privileged place in society, and with external authority. It also reconstructs the tradition, highlighting those aspects that are countercultural and linking them with initiatives of small church communities. The authority of the book lies in the writer’s familiarity with the tradition and the way in which she shows the people and writings of the past to face situations and choices similar to those of our own day.

These short popular books by scholars who draw on their learning in addressing people within their communities, though excellent, may seem hardly noteworthy. Similar books are published in the dozens every year. They speak more broadly to our society, however, in highlighting the care taken by the communities out of which they are written to hand on the depth and complexity of their tradition. It matters to these communities that people can draw on their tradition in their engagement with their culture so that the tradition is itself reconstructed.

The publication of such books invites us to ask what care and pains our broader society is taking in the face of identical cultural trends to ignore or devalue the tradition embodied in our democratic system and its practices. Much energy is given to deconstructing the ways in which we speak about race, sexuality, law and gender and also to re-evaluating the reputation of people who have been prominent in public life. This emphasis is to be applauded for uncovering the discrimination and self-interest concealed in our language, our stories and our institutional practices. It can, however, lead to fragmentation and to mutual suspicion. The current travails of public life in the United States focus attention on these risks.

To preserve a national tradition requires a seriousness about reconstruction equal to that brought to deconstruction. The history, literature, philosophies and institutions that embody the tradition, for all their defects, need to be valued for the way in which they shape a community. They also need to be brought into conversation with today’s challenges and insights. In this work of rediscovery the contribution of scholars familiar with the tradition is vital.


Andrew HamiltonAndrew Hamilton is consulting editor of Eureka Street, and writer at Jesuit Social Services.

Main image: Woman lighting prayer candle. (Getty Images)

Topic tags: Andrew Hamilton, church, culture, tradition, deconstruction



submit a comment

Existing comments

I am reminded by your article of the story of an absent-minded schoolmaster, who used to love to take watches apart and then (hopefully) reassemble them. One day he absent-mindedly took apart a student's Rolex. You know the rest. That's why watchmaking is a four year apprenticeship. The two biblical scholars you mention obviously did their apprenticeship and more. "Reading the Bible" without some proper guidance in the form of a commentary of some sort can really lead you astray. Uninformed or misinformed preaching can do the same. There is, or was till the 1950s, a common understanding by most mainstream denominations of what the basic truths of Christianity were. This has changed and there are now some weird ideas circulating in many of the churches, including some theological schools. Can you doubt the Resurrection and be a Christian, even a minister or priest? I must say I doubt you can. Politics is similar. Do you know how to protest according to the way it has been done within our parliamentary system by the likes of Wilberforce, or do you want to pull the system apart? If you do the latter you will regret it, like the amateur watchmaker.

Edward Fido | 21 October 2021  

One obvious value of tradition, both in the religious and the secular world is as a stepping off point for the individual person, for the family, and for the wider community to understand their present circumstances and to mould their futures. Just as we enter adulthood with the understanding of life gained from our parents and our school education, we can develop our individual spirituality on the basis of what our religious tradition teaches. To develop a mature spirituality entirely alone, without learning from religious traditions would be as difficult as developing an awareness of the cosmos without studying the science of astronomy. While we might be more acquainted with the tradition of the religion our family has professed for generations, we can also learn a lot from other religious traditions. A world without traditions would be a very difficult swamp to navigate.

Ian Fraser | 22 October 2021  

Thanks, Andy, for reviewing the latest offerings from these authors. Your's reminds me of the difficulties in challenging and dispensing with tradition. John's Gospel, which Brendan Byrne has made the centrepiece of his scholarship and spiritual guidance, is a complex and challenging one for me to comprehend, filled as it is with accounts of a transcendental Christ, described by the disciple and gospel writer after Christ's death and in the context of the bleak experience and aftermath of the destruction of the Temple. Its Apocalyptic vision, replete with grim references to the End Times, is easily misread by Christians formed in the rational tradition to test the assertions of others in terms of their reasonability and transcendental eschatology, while offering rich pickings for literalists reared on 'other-worldly' theologies that offer little scope for empowerment and engagement in 'this world'. It makes sense that Brendan (and Andy) adopt/s a contemporary literary analysis of this Gospel account, charged as it is with conflicting narratives, thereby offering scope for a discourse that 'deconstructs' as well as 'reconstructs'. Andy whets my jaded appetite further by alluding to Sally Douglas' use of salt to provide a better understanding of the wealth of the Christian tradition.

Michael Furtado | 23 October 2021  

Tradition is bunk unless it is based on logic. This is the difference between a tradition which holds that unless you know why God appeared on Earth as a man, you can’t with certainty know that a woman is able to change wafer and wine to body and blood, and another tradition which holds that women should wrap their heads in cloth.

‘the need for individuals to shape their identity by their own choices’: Add a P for Philosophy to the STEM taught in Catholic schools to the students of tradition so they can shape their identity by informed choice, choice, like tradition, being bunk unless it is based on logic.

roy chen yee | 24 October 2021  

Does your use of loose Christological language know no bounds, Michael Furtado? You claim (23/10) that John's Gospel is replete with "accounts of a 'transcendental Christ'". Neither Brendan Byrne nor any other Johannine scholar with whose work I'm acquainted employs the epithet "transcendental" as a synonym for "divine" in describing the person or status of Christ. In the context of identifying Christ, the eternal Word-made-flesh, "transcendental" says nothing of Christ's divinity, upheld emphatically in John's repeated identifications in his Gospel (eg, 4:26; 6:35; 8:12,28,58; 10:9; 11:25; 14:6; 15:1,6) with the "I am" disclosures applying exclusively to God in the Old Testament (eg, Gen 15: 1,7; 17:1; 26:24; 35:11; Ex 3:6, 14; 20:2; Deut 5: 6; 32:39; Is:43: 13, 25; 48:12; 51:12; 52:6). Of John's Christology, Fr Byrne says in his outstanding commentary "Life Abounding: A Reading of John's Gospel"(Strathfield: St Paul's Publications, 2015, p.15): "We can recognize the immense theological significance of /the Fourth Gospel's/ "high" Christology precisely in the context of its explicit stress from the very start (1:14) upon incarnation." Nothing, in other words, that smacks of transcendental New Age spirituality, or that encourages ambiguous interpretation of Christ's identity. Tradition, insofar as it depends on language for its communication, relies heavily on shared understanding derived from clear expression, especially of realities and concepts indispensable to its maintaining and development.

John RD | 24 October 2021  
Show Responses

JRD's overreach on John's Gospel misses both the point of Brendan's lifelong exegetical effort to promote its understanding as well as Andy's review it to promote ES readership engagement. Without evangelists like Brendan & Andy, there'd be little point in Iggy all those years ago founding an order to promote a more rigorous engagement with the Gospel texts as a means of spreading the Good News of the Kingdom. As such my hunch, based on a lifetime of observation and experience, has been that the Society that has drawn Brendan, Andy and many others together has placed communication and engagement with the tradition above the too-easy, offence-taking, 'ram it down their throats' side-taking that JRD, Roy, Edward and others adopt as their preferred evangelical mode. Granted that there are hordes of lay Catholics, members of other religious congregations and even (God forbid!) some Jesuits who have strayed down this 'Dinna knae wha' the heck Ah'm here furr but Ah'm willin tae die furr it' path, and while acknowledging the need to take sides often especially on matters of justice and peace, pleeeeze, brothers, spare moi the preacher-man invective. As any good teacher might, let's engage with Brendan's and Andy's thesis.

Michael Furtado | 26 October 2021  

It's a curious form of missing the point in the manner you assert, MF, that explicitly acknowledges the outstanding contribution of Fr Brendan Byrne to biblical scholarship. I look forward to his latest work reviewed here by Fr Andrew Hamilton. You'll appreciate, I'd hope, that I'm not in the habit of commenting on books before I've read them, or exclusively on the basis of reviews.

John RD | 26 October 2021  

I admire your caution, JRD, but not the brakes you place on yourself that you implicitly apply to others. Not all books can be read - not, at least, at the time of their review - so it concerns that ES' use of a comments page should be reserved in your view for the exclusive use of those who have bought and read the book, which I have not as yet done. That said, I am aware of Brendan Byrne's profound Pauline scholarship and value it as a means of understanding several contradictions that flow through St Paul's work, which I would have dismissed had it not been for reading Brendan or speaking with and listening to him. This reveals a difference between you and me about the question of curiosity in regard to and arousal of interest in the meaning of any text. Evidently you approach such a challenge with the predisposition to accept that it is the magisterial truth, whatever that may mean. Frankly I think that such a premise isn't worth having, for it would signify the attitude of a child, respectful without doubt, but bored out of her wits were it not for the critical commentary.

Michael Furtado | 04 November 2021  

MF (4/11), as a Catholic, I approach scholarly interpretation of scripture in conjunction with the Church's tradition of teaching and practice. You'd be quite correct to assume that in cases of disputed interpretation, I accept the Magisterium's judgment. Pope John Paul II has identified a contemporary "crisis of meaning" evident in an increasing "fragmentation of knowledge" (to be distinguished from a healthy legitimate pluralism). He speaks of ". . . a maelstrom of data and facts in which we live and which seems to comprise the very fabric of life", leaving many people "to wonder whether it still makes sense to ask about meaning." ("Fides et Ratio", VII, 81. Strathfield: St Paul's Publications, 1998, p. 115). The Catholic dialogue between scripture and tradition, adjudicated when necessary by the Magisterium within its spheres of competence, provides a unifying principle in the face of "fragmentation".

John RD | 05 November 2021  

Roy Chen Yee, as usual, misses the point. In Christianity, most especially the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, there is Sacred Tradition which arises out of the deposit of Grace left by Jesus and the traditions of people.

Edward Fido | 24 October 2021  
Show Responses

‘In Christianity, most especially the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, there is Sacred Tradition which arises out of the deposit of Grace left by Jesus and the traditions of people.’ And? The Magisterium is logic.

roy chen yee | 25 October 2021  

In his 1978 Harvard Address, Alexander Solzhenitsyn saw a void in the centre of Western civilization that resulted from Enlightenment liberalism which had discarded a thousand years of tradition: “a total liberation occurred from the moral heritage of Christian centuries.” Solzhenitsyn saw that this could end up like some unstoppable Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: “Liberalism was inevitably displaced by radicalism; radicalism had to surrender to socialism; and socialism could never resist communism.”
With today’s “need for individuals to shape their identity by their own choices” he might well have predicted the current war against biological sex.
During the 20th century, the rich Christianity that inspired Bach’s music and Chartres Cathedral was diluted and dissipated. Nietzsche proclaimed God was dead, and in 1961, Khrushchev smugly announced that Russian astronaut Yuri Gagarin could find no trace of God in space.
Interestingly, the Oxford History of the Twentieth Century list 29 notable cultural achievements during the first five years of the century (including works by Giacomo Puccini, Anton Chekov, Joseph Conrad and Sergei Rachmaninov) but only 1 during the last five years (Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction).

Ross Howard | 24 October 2021  

I think you have bowled a really curly one, John RD. It was, I think, Matthew Fox, now no longer either Catholic nor a priest in this Church, with his 'Creation Spirituality' who opened the door for some very strange concepts to seep into Catholicism. The late John Main, with his 'Christian Meditation', based on the Hindu practice of meditating on a mantra, was also off track. Real, officially acknowledged Catholic Christian Mystics, like St John of the Cross were quite different. They were inspired, but their lives were often extremely difficult. The sort of 'spiritual directors' around, both Catholic and Anglican, terrify me.

Edward Fido | 25 October 2021  
Show Responses

As you're aware, Edward, the mystics recognized as saints and doctors of the spiritual life by the Church, for all their individual distinctiveness, exemplified the integration of spirituality and orthodox teaching and practice of the faith.

John RD | 25 October 2021  

Edward, your elision from Anglicanism to Catholicism and now Orthodoxy must be a wonder to ES' diverse and perennially polite readership. You regale us with fantastic accounts of a life commenced in Bombay, schooled at Melbourne Grammar, finished off at UMelb, married off to a Russian ballerina, now (sadly) succumbed to dementia, with fascinating forays into Cambridge academic life and various other characters, always positioned on your favourite Love-Hate scale, though never a continuum and forever devoid of a rationale. One has to wonder, dear Edward, and without plunging you into the existential crisis in which we are all inevitably plunged, where your next religious port-of-call will be. Will it be the B'ahai? Or what about Mahayana Buddhism? I see you up there with Blessed Seraphim, enveloped in a warm celestial stew of unknowing (minus the willingness to convey it), hand raised, although whether in Nazi salute or peaceful condescension, its sometimes hard to tell. Of course, I know all this because I've done it myself. Except that I dwell on my own vulnerabilities and don't project them onto others whose frailties lead them - just like you and me - onto this page. Through the Breakdown into the Breakthrough?

Michael Furtado | 26 October 2021  

'in which we are all inevitably plunged': all? inevitably? where? The schoolboy thespian of the stage overdramatises?

roy chen yee | 27 October 2021  

Only you can answer your 27/X question, Roy. Methinks, for instance, that thou doth protest too much about the homosexuality that so incessantly compels you into weaponising it in such a way as to send off more than the usual allocation of smoke signals suggesting that you share that gifted but rejected idiosyncrasy with me. Remember Wilde, Roy? 'Passionate antipathies betray secret affinities'?

Michael Furtado | 28 October 2021  

‘'Passionate antipathies betray secret affinities'?’ Not in this instance. Contraception and the giving in to sexual predilections, whether by deed or only in thought, are the two most equal-opportunity declarations to God that ‘I will not serve’. Not everybody gets the chance to be a genocidist because not everybody gets to be born into the Kim or Assad families (and not everybody has the skill and rat cunning to get to a position where they could be a genocidist, barring some Rwandan priests and nuns), and not everybody gets the opportunity to make billions of dollars off the sweat and toil of others. Not even everybody gets the chance to shoot somebody on a movie set. But everybody, no matter how puny and insignificant in the world of affairs they may be, has the absolute sovereignty over his or her body to make a slum of the temple of the Holy Spirit. Intrinsic evils tend to be evils where it only takes one person to remove the evil from the situation, unlike the complicated sociopolitical dysfunctionalities that progressives like to posture about. Hence, the repeated returns to the sexual sins, the easiest of all sins to be dispensed with.

roy chen yee | 29 October 2021  

‘warm celestial stew of unknowing (minus the willingness to convey it), hand raised, although whether in Nazi salute’: Nazis don’t get to Heaven except by the same passport issued to Caiaphas and colleagues: forgive them for they know not what they do (preserving, on the grounds of logic, the traditional distinction between a mortal and a venial sin, and perhaps leaving the fate of Judas ambiguous). Thinking you know when you really don’t is a stew of unknowing minus the ability to convey it. Perhaps an elision of ‘willingness’ in favour of ‘ability’ may be in order for anyone prone to deliver a Nazi salute.

roy chen yee | 27 October 2021  

Swapping 'ability' for 'willingness' would have risked hurting Edward, Roy: a thought that obviously never registers with you.

Michael Furtado | 29 October 2021  

‘would have risked hurting Edward’: It didn’t hurt Caiaphas. Why would it hurt Edward? Unwillingness goes to moral culpability; inability doesn’t. With friends with logical swords like you, Edward doesn’t need enemies.

roy chen yee | 30 October 2021  

The problem with saying ‘I see you up there’ with some intention to contradict is that, by your own frame of logic, where they are means that nothing you say to contradict means anything.

roy chen yee | 27 October 2021  

In case you hadn't noticed, some interjections aren't intended to 'contradict', Roy. They are to register delight, surprise even, deliver a gentle chide perhaps and, lethally, a lure to draw you out of your snake-pit. Treacherous, diabolical, emasculating moi, playing my hypnotic gay 'pungi' like a seductive 'hijra', and in the manner of hated but alluring bogus saviour, to procure 'baksheesh' as well as to control, extract and counteract your deadly, magisterial, King Cobra venom. Thanks for obliging: its the anti-venine we desperately need - what we Babes in the Wood call Impure Ganges Water! - in order to survive your mouth-frothing spitoonery and gain a free-pass to a softer, alternative, 'Kleenex' version of eternal life than the one you offer.

Michael Furtado | 29 October 2021  

‘In case you hadn't noticed, some interjections aren't intended to 'contradict', Roy. They are to register delight, surprise even, deliver a gentle chide perhaps and, lethally, a lure to draw you out of your snake-pit.’ 1. The interjection was addressed to Edward. 2. The interjection said you saw him in Heaven unwilling to convey Heaven, a contradiction because in Heaven, there can be no lack of charity. Everybody in Heaven wants everybody elsewhere to be in Heaven. 3. With friends with logical swords like you, Edward doesn’t need enemies.

roy chen yee | 30 October 2021  

Edward, Sorry to shock you but it is widely thought by many Carmelites, poets and mystics, all of them Catholic, that the idioms employed by San Juan de la Cruz suggest that he was gay and that his terrifically sensuous and erotic poem, 'One Dark Night,' has been hijacked by heterosexuals to impose a straight reading of what is essentially a gay text. John 'escapes' down a tower 'in the dark' with no one to espy him. He uses a sinewy and sensuous imagination, interspersed with the language of longing, to describe how he finds himself in a scented garden where he encounters his male lover, Christ. There, in the darkness, with no one to see them - a 'beat', if ever I've encountered one - they kiss and embrace, and Christ wounds his neck with what any adult person here who has experienced the intimacy, mystery and ecstasy of sexual love would describe as a 'love-bite', enunciated in more flowery and elevating terms by the French as a 'morsure d'amour'. The really shocking aspect of this account isn't the possibly novel interpretation that I share overhere but how generations of Gay women and men have been disenfranchised of/off it.

Michael Furtado | 29 October 2021  

A higher-order emotion (eg., spiritual bliss of the type perhaps experienced in Heaven) can only be described by a lower-order creature in terms of its lower-order emotions because it has no better vocabulary. Perhaps the best a human can do to explain spiritual bliss is to use an unequal because degraded analogy of sexual ecstasy, in the same way that perhaps the best a monkey can do to distinguish between contentment and disappointment is to compare the sensation of a grape to that of a cucumber:


Juan, poor fellow, as a human, simply hasn’t the expanse of vocabulary to describe what he feels. Secular ecstasy being only a subset of spiritual bliss, the whole cannot be described in terms of the part except by imperfect analogy. Even if the monkeys are capuchins.

roy chen yee | 30 October 2021  

A typical example of the dualism in which you seek refuge whenever anybody interested in repairing the difficult divides that St John encountered rises to challenge you. What a miserable pity! I wonder who or what it was that cleaved you into the half-angel, half-devil that you perennially present here. For a start it must at least tire being so infernally repetitious. Haven't you a better song to sing, instead of intoning the 'Dies Irae' to the incessant tolling of a death-knell? That death awaits us all is an inescapable fact, but that you should warn of it, Cassandra-like, and in perpetuity takes some dreary, twisted beating.

Michael Furtado | 01 November 2021  

You alert me, Roy, to a point about St John of the Cross that both you and I might have missed. This exchange, like so much else in this august journal, has been hijacked now by a longstanding dispute between you and me. Not that disputation should automatically have a bad press, but there are surely better alternatives. Firstly, it drives women off the page, because the idioms we employ easily become 'gotcha' statements and invariably weaponise the discourse. Secondly, and often unseen and disdained by protagonists like us, it is a MALE THING! I see men, both gay and straight, black and white, rich and poor, falling into this trap all the time. Judith Butler, the eminent and 'observant Jewish' feminist has written illuminatingly about this as has Stephanie Dowrick. And, archetypically, such idioms and cultures are enshrined in the violent mimetic model of Christianity that underpins everything (apart from the brilliant quips!) you post and which your model of Church enshrines. Back to St John: I think that, far from alluding to a brief quickie with Christ, his use of the spiritual word, 'swoon', covers what real love is about. Ask any celibate gay priest. Wouldn't you concur?

Michael Furtado | 10 November 2021  

‘Firstly, it drives women off the page, because the idioms we employ easily become 'gotcha' statements and invariably weaponise the discourse. Secondly, and often unseen and disdained by protagonists like us, it is a MALE THING! I see men, both gay and straight, black and white, rich and poor, falling into this trap all the time. Judith Butler, the eminent and 'observant Jewish' feminist has written illuminatingly about this as has Stephanie Dowrick. And, archetypically, such idioms and cultures are enshrined in the violent mimetic model of Christianity that underpins everything (apart from the brilliant quips!) you post and which your model of Church enshrines.’ ‘Gotcha’ is the whinge of those who can’t put forward reasons for their opinion. You’re overcomplicating a simple disagreement over what 2+2 equals. One of us is saying 4, the other 5, and anyone who isn’t interested in the to and fro can add their own post about something else to this thread. A thread lives in hyperspace and has virtually infinite area and volume. Like Heaven, it has many mansions in its house, a charm for any woman who is, as per her nature, inquisitive about rooms and furnishings.

roy chen yee | 14 November 2021  

Heaven forbid that the tradition gets diluted by new ideas.The Catholic church could have won the hearts and minds of its descendants if it was a bit more flexible.I am not denying the wonderful scholarship of Brendan Byrne or the other writer Andy referred to,but the core question is how do we pass this knowledge and emancipated theology on.We're not all called to be theologians.When I couldn't combine my two passions of art and theology in a combination course,I found that I was a bit ahead of the game.We are all gifted in different ways, one should be able to combine singing,dance,science,politics or anything they want with a theology course or in spiritual direction for that matter.I suggest being a little more flexible for those of us who may not be so "head centred." Then there could be some good theological conversations result or maybe a cultural museum,to embrace other interests and gifts with theology.Dear Edward so be so quick to dismiss the christian meditation movement as heresy.As I understand it John Main recaptured the Jesus prayer from, if not the desert fathers and mothers,certainly revitalised the Jesus Prayer from the orthodox tradition.The prayer of the heart."The Kardia"Then there is the Jewish midrash tradition on passing on the stories from the tradition in many forms,including art.Congratulations to the Baptist theological courses incorporating art with theology,and emerging theology schools combining music and theology.In the Catholic tradition let's not lose the wealth of knowledge of the likes of Brendan Byrne by refusing to embrace some new creative ways of handing on the tradition.

Roz | 25 October 2021  

Roz, please don't take this as a dig at you, because it isn't. My wife's late mother was a Russian from the Urals, who, as a girl suffered unimaginable horror under both Stalin and the Nazis. Like many Russians, what kept her going was her Orthodox Faith, of which the Jesus Prayer is the shining gem. The Jesus Prayer has a whole tradition of its own, which is different both to John Main's original Benedictine tradition and his later eclecticism. To get an idea of this tradition, I would highly recommend Frederica Matthewes-Green's book, 'The Jesus Prayer: The Ancient Desert Prayer Which Tunes The Heart To God'. If you read it, I think you will see where I'm coming from on this one.

Edward Fido | 26 October 2021  
Show Responses

Dear Edward,Thank you for the title of a resource that may assist me.I am saddened to hear if your wife's late mother's horrific experience but that her faith and perhaps the Jesus prayer sustained her.Roz

Roz | 27 October 2021  

Crikey!! I didn't realise that believing in God and following the teachings of Jesus Christ was so bloody complicated as much of the discussion here seems to indicate.

john frawley | 28 October 2021  
Show Responses

The breathing is simple. It's the other vasci vasca vascu whatever stuff that is the problem. Unless you're a Doctor ... of the Church, that is.

roy chen yee | 28 October 2021  

Said with characteristic amusement, JF. When we were lads the emphasis was on the synoptic Gospel account and what mattered in those simple faith-filled days was mainly belief determined by a common but primitive scriptural tradition devoid of scholarship. Leo XIII and the onset of modernism changed all that. Some friends here, invariably of our vintage, have never recovered from that. Jesus in the Gospel of John is difficult to reconstruct as an historical person, because his character in the gospel is in full voice giving very developed theological soliloquies about himself. This can hardly be a verbatim account of what Jesus actually said, for while John was a mystic and entitled to his view, he was still a young man when Jesus died and recorded what he saw in terms of discourses that developed out of the very violent times in which he lived and during which the Romans destroyed the Temple and most Jews of both persuasions thought themselves to be facing the End Times. This is why John's transcendental mysticism is embraced by Christians of apocalyptic vision even though they depart dramatically from the other three Gospels. Scripture scholarship is accordingly a developing field registering deep differences.

Michael Furtado | 29 October 2021  

MF: No New Testament scholars of my acquaintance - Protestant or Catholic - regards the Fourth Gospel as representative of the "transcendental mysticism" you wish to establish (29/10). For many decades, the Johannine account has been recognised as presenting a realised eschatology. For instance, Fr Brendan Byrne SJ (on whose scholarly expertise we can both agree) alerts readers to John's distinctive use of the term "kingdom (or "rule") of God", of which Fr Byrne says: "It is best taken as referring to the heavenly sphere (cf. ta ourania. . ., which is at once the abode of God removed from the world. . . and at the same time the divine presence that is "invading" and reclaiming the world in the person and ministry of Jesus (cf. 19: 36-37). (Strathfield: St Paul's Publications, 2015, p.66).

John RD | 05 November 2021  

Contrary to your assertion, JRD, while there are some scripture scholars who read John's Gospel in the terms that you support - these include B. F. Westcott, Edwyn Hoskyns, R. H. Lightfoot and our own Raymond Brown - there are several others who disagree. These include C. H. Dodd, C. K. Barrett, J. S. Spong and the eminent Indian scripture scholar J. J. Kanagaraj, who made a powerful case for reading John through the lens, not just of mysticism, but of Jewish mysticism, called 'merkabah' or 'throne mysticism', once dismissed by NT scholars as postdating the writing of the New Testament. I have heard Jerome Murphy-O'Connor, himself an eminent Pauline scholar, state that with the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, this impression has had to be corrected. I heard him, in answer to a question put to him in Australia about Johannine mysticism, that the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls had conclusively demonstrated that 'merkabah mysticism' was widely known and practiced in first century Judaism.

Michael Furtado | 05 November 2021  

MF: CH Dodd, who in the 1930s introduced and actually supported the term "realised eschatology"- even, then, emphasising the "the already" aspect over the "not yet" - would, I imagine, be more than a little surprised to find himself aligned with what you generically classify as "transcendental mysticism" (29/10) in John's Gospel. If there are aspects of "merkabah mysticism" in John's account, their influence is hardly so prominent as to override the evidence of an "already-not yet" eschatology in the text: where in John's futurist or apocalyptic references in his Gospel do we see anything of the esoteric imagery characteristic of merkabah mysticism?

John RD | 06 November 2021  

‘This can hardly be a verbatim account of what Jesus actually said, for while John was a mystic and entitled to his view, he was still a young man when Jesus died….’ And he was a still a young man when Jesus rose and spent forty days teaching his disciples a lot of stuff between Resurrection and Ascension, young as in Age on Good Friday + 40 days. Unless the young man was nodding off, he would be remembering a lot of what he was taught.

roy chen yee | 08 November 2021  

Roy's (8/X) reference to the Resurrected Christ and the period between that and His Ascension lends proof enough of the authenticity of my resort to the use of mystical or transcendental language. We are told, for instance, that He was visible to some and not to others, as well as appearing to a jouneying group and then dis-appearing. This is not to cast doubt on the authenticity of John's experiential account nor on his belief but to draw attention to his style of writing and recording his experience which, in everyday language suggests what is nowadays described as a transcendental, in the sense of it being apparent to some and not to others. Another sense of the rightness of my use of the word 'transcendental' is that in John's account it suggests an 'out of body' experience, which is a term commonly employed to describe transcendentalism. I make no sharp distinctions here, as literalist fundamentalists are inclined to do, between whether these events actually happened or not. It seems to me that matters of belief eclipse the essentialist focus on factuality that Roy and JRD privilege. Thus, I accept John's Testament as an statement of faith and not literal truth.

Michael Furtado | 09 November 2021  

‘Thus, I accept John's Testament as a statement of faith and not literal truth.’

Forty days is a lot of time to be just spent on parlour tricks like disappearing and reappearing. The information that the risen Christ disbursed to his listeners is said to have been more than all the books in the world could hold. That suggests some stringent intellectual work being done by both speaker and listeners. The knowledge that the listeners would have taken away with them after the Ascension would have had to have been faith derived from the literal truth of lectures from God.

‘between whether these events actually happened or not. It seems to me that matters of belief eclipse the essentialist focus…’

Why? Much of that faith would have been the certainty about fact which would have come from seeing, hearing and knowing God in the flesh in front of their noses. In fact, it might even be true to say that after the forty days, the disciples didn’t need much faith for all the certainties that come from personal tuition from God. If anything, John was reporting what he was told.

roy chen yee | 09 November 2021  

There's nothing 'out of body' about resurrection when we affirm in the Apostles Creed: "I believe in the resurrection of the body." A risen, transformed body remains recognizably a body as repeatedly evidenced in the New Testament's post-resurrection witnessings of Jesus' appearances to his disciples before his ascension.

John RD | 10 November 2021  

I have no disagreement with Roy's and JRD's testament of belief. Its just that I think that there is quite a bit of space between belief and non-belief, which is why I pray everyday, as the man did in Mark's Gospel: 'Lord, I believe; help Thou then my unbelief.' The same applies to the Apostles Creed, for which I as yet find it impossible to stand up and recite. Thanks for encouraging me and please continue to pray for me.

Michael Furtado | 11 November 2021  

‘the Apostles Creed….’ Given that this credo can be recited forever, even after the end of the universe as it now is, because then it will become an archive of something that happened and therefore a truth in itself, the question could be asked whether the eternal recollection of the name of a mere homo sapiens, one Marcus P. Pilatus, means anything for the soul of Marcus P. Pilatus. Even the Devil is denied the honour of being eternally on the lips of the saved. Perhaps the Ethiopian Orthodox Church has something going for its tradition concerning Mr. and Mrs. Pilate. Anyway, on a hot Sunday morning when concentration is wavering because coffee is calling, if you can’t think about the rest of the creed, perhaps you can wonder about this.

roy chen yee | 13 November 2021  

Similar Articles

In a state of synodality

  • Brian Lucas
  • 21 October 2021

One takeaway from the First Assembly of the Plenary Council that might come as no surprise is that the controlling elite in the Church, the bishops, are not dependent on popular support. They are appointed not elected. They are generally irremovable. They come from a culture that is about preserving ‘the tradition’ (which can easily be expanded to include historical novelties that are not really part of the tradition). Moving into the new world of synodality brings obvious challenges.