(1) In a previous post, I merely put up a link to the thesis, nothing more. That post was one of the most popular ever for hits in one day. However, according to the “clicks” stats, only some dozens of visitors were brave enough to download the *.PDF. I’d like to get it out there a bit more, and not only downloaded, but printed out, examined, and put forward for a much wider publishing. Thus, with a few edits, I’m republishing this post from my now defunct blog I had when a chaplain in Lourdes. This post is my advertisement for the project of my life, not just the thesis, but the popular version of the thesis. For many reasons, on so many levels, some of which I mention below, this is a battle in our Church Militant that needs to be fought and won. Other things have always gotten in the way. You decide.
(2) I would ask those who get nervous with any “controversy” whatsoever, who crawl out of their skin at the least indication that the status quo of the lowest common denominator is being challenged, who think any controversy is a dismissable controversy merely among scholars, and would never, as a controversy, have anything seriously to do with defending the established doctrine and morality of the Church, and therefore shouldn’t be aired in public… I would ask them to calm down and be deadly careful about what is put into such a dismissable category as “mere controversy among scholars.” Are doctrines of faith and morals dismissable controversies of scholars just because some scholars reject the teaching of Holy Mother Church? Really? One should think long and hard about that.
Now there is, I admit, in this post and in the future posts about Genesis that I hope to write, some good amount of “controversy”.
In fact, I hope to cite some of the most in-your-face statements of the great and Venerable Pius XII (in his support) when no one, not even one, accurately accepts what he says today on the topics I will, please God, put forward.
I hope to cite some of the insights of Blessed Pope John Paul II, correctly, with a hermeneutic of continuity. Perhaps you can guess what that’s about. I try to let the Scriptures speak for themselves. No popularizer, to date, has been successful to any great degree in doing this. Some have failed miserably, even, perhaps, maliciously. But I’ll refrain from commentary about that, and just concentrate on what is provided by our Lord.
I hope to cite our present Holy Father, gloriously reigning, Pope Benedict XVI. This project, by way of inspiration, has involved Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger and Pope Benedict XVI from the start. The controversy here is so epic in proportion that it has caught the attention of the Holy Father himself. In fact, the interest of the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, in this matter, is keen. He is a perfect gentlemen and a humble scholar [the only kind of true scholar], who is always open to learning more. What a great example for all scholars, for all ecclesiastics. Shouldn’t we all be like that? To say that he agrees with what I have to say might seem like unacceptable hubris. So, how about I say that I agree with what he now has to say? We now both agree with what is in Sacred Scripture and in the Council of Trent and in the Apostolic Consitution, Ineffabilis Deus, on the Immaculate Conception (8 Dec. 1854).
Perhaps there is a difficulty some have with understanding the word ineffable (see ,”ineffabilis“). It does not mean that one should not speak the truth in all charity about the Immaculate Conception, since that might be “controversial” for heretics and dissidents. But, really, it does not mean that at all. Really.
Although one might think that such agreement between the Holy Father, myself and the historical interventions of the Magisterium, is sufficient to absolve me from being accused of airing scholarly controversies in public, that is not the case for all and sundry.
In fact, I can’t even count how many have told me since I started this project in 2004 that the agreement between the Holy Father, myself and the defined doctrine of Holy Mother Church is proof enough… wait for it… that I am to be considered to be a heretic, and silenced if at all possible, for the faith, it is said, is itself a scandal to the simple minded, those without much education, who have to be shielded from learning about the faith. Sigh. I maintain, against all such dwellers of the regions of the lowest common denominator of nothing, that what I propose is not mere “controversy among scholars” so much as an explication of God’s revelation, and that it is truth provided in charity which drives the real heretics berzerk. It’s their decision to go berzerk. It’s not my fault for speaking of Jesus, the greatest love of my life. I say, “Let them go bezerk! Let the human forces of hell rail against God.” When they are done foaming at the mouth, perhaps they can calm down and re-assess the interest they have in not promoting the truth in all charity. And isn’t that what the new evangelization is all about, repentance and a new enthusiasm for the Living Truth, Mary’s Son? How can we evangelize by way of the very sign of contradiction, which is the cross, without controversy?! Let’s be reasonable and faithful, gentlemen! Fear? What’s that? As one reader put it, the Church Militant is not for wusses.
Moreover, being without many years of school does not mean that one has no capacity for the faith, and does not mean that one cannot be very intelligent, very incisive, very perceptive, very able to knock holes in the arguments of those who for whatever reason are not being clear! To hold that lack of education is to be equated with stupidity and lack of discernment would be very cynical indeed. Any “old church lady” (as they are called with disdain), those with no education whatsoever (it is thought misogynistically), can easily see the glaring insufficiencies of the heretics (however erudite) and tell them what is lacking. What I do here is merely to provide some support for their great spirit. If there is a scholar or two who wants to tag along, great! If the interest in the thesis in Rome is any indication, I’m guessing there will be very many universities and seminaries following the popular version. The Universities and seminaries have my special attention after what was said against them by the Pontifical Biblical Institute regarding their being too stupid to appreciate the scientific work done in my thesis (see further below).
Now, I remember one priest in particular who, sitting with me in a coffee-bar in Lourdes, read the letter I was thinking of sending off to Pope Benedict XVI (which I did eventually send, only to get a reply, as I’ll mention further below). This priest in Lourdes, a long-time friend, was incredulous that I had even drafted such a letter. For my own good, he said, he ripped the letter into tiny shreds with great emotion, shoving the pile of hundreds of bits of paper at me across the coffee-bar table, commanding me to burn them lest someone meticulously put them back together again. He said that “they” (officials in the Holy See) can kill me for that, meaning going out of their way to work with my more immediate ecclesiastical superiors, so as to make life on this earth, as a priest, a real hell on earth for me. This friend of mine, trying to protect me, was working on his doctoral thesis at the Pontifical Biblical Institue at the time, a really good fellow, if a bit of a chicken. But that response of his is typical. It was not the response of the Holy Father. The Holy Father is, if you didn’t know it, truly a holy father as the Holy Father. As such, he is almost alone in intellectual prowess, with faith seeking understanding, and using his fatherly governance to encourage his faithful priest sons.
What the thesis demonstates
For what seems to be the first time — due to circumstances in the history of exegesis — some aspects of the reason for the formation of Adam and the creation of the heavens and the earth, the anthropology in view of which original sin is possible, original sin, the promise of redemption, the immaculate conception of the mother of the Redeemer, and the reason for the actual state of affairs we have now have been demonstrated from the Hebrew text. The most exegetes have been willing to say for the past two millennia concerns “typology” or fittingness, or some such thing, regarding even just some of these things. For what I’ve done, I’m not talking about accommodating the text to any of these things, as has always been done; I’m talking about that which is demonstrable from the Hebrew text itself. Hysterical laughter is the reaction usually given to such an affirmation. But there are, of course, other very careful reactions, some of which you can read further below. For the *.PDF edition of the thesis, just click on the picture of the volume at the top of this post (for which only some copies were printed to be sent out to some universities) or click here.
We’ll be going through the thesis little by little, enjoyably, I hope. You can find the original printed version of the thesis in, for instance, the library of the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome, at IX 15 18, the section which includes only the most important works in the history of the exegesis of Genesis. Thanks to the Library staff for that, especially at a time when so very many volumes were removed in a general clean-up. I’m humbled. Click on the image above to go to the search page of the library of the Pontifical Biblical Institute. Type in Byers and hit enter. Click on my name in that list and it will bring you to the location and other bibliographical data.
Cite the thesis all you want so as to attack it, confirm it, whatever. Just be scrupulous about the source of your citation. The page numbering of the electronic document is the same as the printed version (WYSIWYG). So you can cite it as if it were the printed version, though a couple of tiny orthographic corrections were made, as well as a bit of the first footnote of the first chapter being tweaked a bit. You might want to cite the blog here as well, since I’ll be trying to put up a popular version which, if you’re not following the perhaps way- too-compact presentation in the thesis, you’ll see an explanation in the popular version blogged out here that will bring it all home to you. In your charity, let me know if you find any other corrections which need to be made.
Authority and authorities
I think I’m going to have a great deal of fun writing the popular version of the thesis here on the blog. I’m thinking that that’s all the “authority” I need to continue doing what I’m doing. However, sometimes people like to know the authority others may have for whatever it is that they’re on about. O.K., if all this really needs authoritative backing, there are a number of reasons why I enjoy a certain authority for what I’ll be writing.
(1) The first thing providing me with plenty of authority is just having two feet on the ground (no prejudice to San Giuseppe di Copertino). I realize that:
(a) I have no magisterial authority. Knowing this is useful and provides me with plenty of authority. Sometimes people think that everyone, especially wthemselves, are infallible, except for the Pope. Instead, in 1854, Blessed Pius IX made a magisterial appraisal of Sacred Tradition that he judged to be consistent with the presentation of Mary by Sacred Scripture, thus declaring Mary to be immaculately conceived. Speaking to the universal Church as the Supreme Pontiff on this matter of faith, Blessed Pius IX exercized the gift of infallibility. Because I know that I’m not infallible (rare among Scripture scholars), I’m free to follow the successor of Saint Peter, even though never abandoning unrelenting scientific analysis.
(b) I’m not the best example of a lived Tradition. Knowing this is useful, for this can open one up to noticing the goodness of others, a kind of authority of enjoying that others have the authority of the saints. For instance, in 1858, Saint Bernadette received eighteen apparitions from the one calling herself the Immaculate Conception. Saint Bernadette, so wonderful in her jaw-dropping transparency and disarming honesty and incisiveness, had the authority of being one of the little ones to whom these things are revealed (Matthew 11,25; Luke 10,21). She is a canonized example of lived Tradition. Indeed, Sacred Tradition is a living faith uniting one with God, a faith which is the same for everyone. As Cardinal Siri said in Gethsemane (a must read!), God’s truth is univocal, for God is Truth and doesn’t speak with a forked tongue. It’s good to take notice of people who are with God. I hope I do that in the thesis with the great prophets of old. I hold them, in humble thanksgiving, to be great friends.
(c) I know that I’m subject to falling into hubris, frequently, but, with, perhaps, unspeakable hubris, I take note of that but forge on however weak I know myself to be. That’s especially useful, for it opens one up to the humility of giving what one has been given to give. I trust in the providence of God to make right what I might destroy, if only I turn to His mercy while I do the best I can. And so here I am, so not a saint, so not a little one, so fallible. I not only (have the hubris to) think, for instance, that I have found the truth of the Immaculate Conception to be manifested in Genesis 2,4–3,24, but I have even more hubris to think that I can blog this out successfully in a way that the many can appreciate, offering the occasion to come closer to Jesus through Mary. It is appropriate in all this that I have been (and still am) one of the ones included under the rubric of sinners, for whom Saint Bernadette did three-fold penance, penance, penance. The fact is that many are doing prayer and penance for me. This blogging out of a popular version of the thesis is my partial attempt at some sort of partial thanksgiving, some sort of payback, even though my doing the actual writing is not a penance. What tremendous irony! Am I to do this? Mary’s Son, Jesus, I think, is having a good time with my aspirations. How unworthy I am, but how good and kind is this Son of man, Son of God, Son of Mary, who gave His life for the likes even of me…
Moreover, I think I have some authority since…
(1) I am eager for correction: My authority for blogging out a popular version of a thesis as outrageous as this is to be found precisely in my being open to being corrected. I offer you my blessing for your correction, happy to receive your blessing with the direction that you give.
In my eagerness to have the correction I need, I have been known to go to extremes. For instance, when I was in Lourdes as a chaplain, the O.C.D. Fathers invited me to stay a month above the cave of Elijah on Mount Carmel. Knowing my history of aspirations with the Carmelites, one friar in Lourdes wanted me to join them! Anyway, I took the opportunity to firstly contact a certain Cardinal having everything to do with behind the scenes dialog between the State of Israel and the Holy See on so very many levels. I told him of my desire to inititate a rather rambunctuous project concerning my thesis on Genesis 2,4–3,24, a Jewish/Catholic explication of the text with scientific philology and common sense and respect for the text being the common ground upon which to battle things out with a kind of rabbinic dialogue, answering questions with other questions, always jacking up the stakes. The good Cardinal put me into contact with the head of Jewish-Catholic relations in Israel at the time. After talking with him at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, he put me into contact with a certain Rabbi, next in line, it seems, to head up Jewish-Catholic relations in Israel. He read the text, analyzing every word, as he told me, extremely carefully. When he was done he told me that there was little chance he would enter into such a project for the reason that Rabbis do not turn primarily to the Scriptures for their work, but to other sources. Since that didn’t go forward, I beg the readers of at least the popular version to go out of their way to correct anything that needs correction! Help me out! Now besides all that…
(2) I try not to abuse authority:
(a) I don’t hide behind my own authority (if I actually had some). I’ll never say: “I know whatever, just because I’m me.” That would be just so much rubbish. And, as far as anything academic you might find here, well, I don’t make whatever academic authority I or anyone else may have into some sort of esoteric gnosticism that is ready to stomp on those without many years of study. You won’t find me hiding behind degrees as the authority for which I say something. I will, however, point to ruthlessly scientific argumentation. Also, know that I’m a “plodder”, meaning I really have to stare at things for a long time sometimes. That’s the way it is. See the note about Saint Joseph Copertino above. Perhaps one day I’ll say something about myself and this flying saint. Anyway, if I say something that requires an explanation, I’ll try to provide it. Hiding behind impossibly obscure claims with no explanations given is just so much rubbish upon which the perpetrators need to be burned, I mean, corrected, which is what I frequently need. Sometimes I may know what I mean, but may not express that with all the necessary premises for readers, in which case, again, I invite you to point this out to me. Reality checks are wonderful learning experiences.
(b) I don’t stomp on superior authority. My authority for blogging out a thesis as outrageous as this is to be found precisely in my agreeing with the fact that it is not helpful to abuse any superior authority by using that authority as an argument stopper when, at the same time, that very authority does not want to be used and even abused in that way, for sometimes (and this is one of those times) those in authority want to see their underlings like me going about helping the facts to speak for themselves. I do insist, however, that this is what that authority wants. And that is humbling for this lowly scholar.
* * *
Now, if that very last bit is revelatory about the kind of respect I have for authority, it is surely helpful for readers of this blog to know more about where I stand before those who have authority. This is NOT to claim their authority. It’s just to say that having gone out of my way to provide the occasion, I’ve not only not been censured about the essential content that you’ll be seeing in the popular version (and you can cross check with the published version in the *PDF above), but I’m even expected by some to come up with something more. This is a far cry from approval (though that has also sometimes been given). But that’s the way it must be for many laudable, helpful reasons. Having said that, I must say that many have asked, repeatedly, for a popular version, which, please God, you’ll have. But before getting into all that further below, let me just ask…Why should I bother? And why should you care? To say it again with more emphasis:
For historical reasons that we’ll get into later, this is the first time that an ultra-historically critical scientific exegesis of the Hebrew text of Genesis 2,4–3,24 has been done. And because of that, it’s the first time, as mentioned above, that it has been demonstrated that the woman of Genesis 3,15 is not the wife of the one who was the first to shake his fist at God, that she is immaculately free from Adam’s sin, that she is future to the writer of the account. Genesis speaks of this Immaculate Conception as the mother of that “Seed” who is to redeem the children of Adam from their sin, indeed, from original sin. All this, and so much more, has been demonstrated to be what the Hebrew text presents. Is that outrageous? Does it push for a ressourcement of our understanding of the economy of salvation over time? Does it “threaten” to bring ecumenical dialogue to a higher level? Does it call for great respect for the Israel of old, from whom our Salvation, the Son of David, the Son of Adam, the Son of God, has come? Yes, to all those questions.
In an age when most scholars, almost to a man — even among the “orthodox theologians” — reject that original sin is presented in Genesis, Romans, etc., and, therefore, reject even the possibility of any special significance of the Immaculate Conception, it is important to come to grips with the actual economy of salvation. Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ, as Saint Jerome said. It is also ignorance of our own Immaculate Mother. The popular version of the thesis is intended to be an occasion to know Christ and our Immaculate Mother all the more. There is but one faith shared by Jews and Catholics, faith in the Seed of the Woman, the Redeemer, the One saving us from the ravages of original sin and our own sin. That statement is stunning, if true. It is. Stay tuned.
This is a detail of a picture of the Pontifical Biblical Institute given to me as part of a going away present by the wonderful staff of the Biblicum Library.
More on authority and authorities
Dozens have read the thesis, including those inimical to the conclusions. Included among those making an intense analysis of the thesis are the experts of the experts at the Pontifical Biblical Institute and professors from most of the Pontifical Universities in Rome (six of them as it was being written). Long after defending the thesis, publishing and getting the degree, it remains true that none have provided, or been able to provide, any argument against the essential argumentation in the thesis. I say this as a challenge even now, not because I think I am right and that’s all there is to it, but because the subject treated is so important. Correct me if you can, as a service to the Church, as your gift to the Immaculate Conception.
One fine linguist-exegete specializing in the Pentateuch said that my thesis is an irony, for, he said, I’ve employed scientific methodology with great intensity (the best of what others use, indeed, as greatly refined and developed all the more, also in view of this passage), and yet, he said, I’ve come up with the opposite of what so many others have said. I agree that this is an irony on a political level… a huge irony… but it is not an irony on the level of what is reasonable, for science and faith are never opposed. The scientific conclusions present their own confirmations of the faith. It’s awesome, really. Even though the thesis is more reasonably scientific than anything I’ve seen on Genesis (many thousands of commentaries, monographs, articles, Festschriften, word-studies, etc.), what has been done quietly presents an integral vision of Judeo-Catholic doctrine, morality and the spiritual life. I underlined and italicised all that since I report a comment further below which has it that I have been unilaterally technical. While that is true, the thesis has provided benefits for doctrine, morality and the spirtual life. These things are not opposed to reason. But we’ll get to all that in detail. For now, let me repeat one last time before going on: There are no arguments from authority used in the thesis, and this is not the intention of the thanksgivings which follow. It’s the other way around. The only reason why any authority should take note of the thesis is because it does not depend on any arguments from authority. All the same, it is true that the methodology and conclusions of the thesis are in full accord with the highest authorities.
Thanks go to the minutante in the “First Section – General Affairs” of the Secretariat of State of the Holy See, who wrote me a kind letter on behalf of and in accordance with the wishes of the Holy Father. That letter was then signed by an Assessor on 7 October 2008 (the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary). The subject of the minutante’s letter concerned the thesis (mentioned above), which I had sent to the Holy Father along with a rather incisive letter on 30 September 2008 (the Feast of Saint Jerome). Here’s the picture I took of it from my room in the Chaplain’s House above the grotto in Lourdes. You can see the O.C.D. monastery in the background:
Dear Father Byers,
The Holy Father wishes me to express his gratitude for your kind letter and the gift of a copy of your recent book. He appreciates the sentiments which prompted you to share your research with him.
His Holiness will remember you in his prayers. Invoking upon you joy and peace in our Lord Jesus Christ, he cordially imparts his Apostolic Blessing.
A form letter? Not quite. Such letters are not sent as they were during the reign of John Paul II. Moreover, just so you know, a minutante is well-paid to say nice things while remaining non-committal, thus protecting the Holy Father from even appearing to grant approval to something that has been sent to him. Good idea, that. However, although there are plenty of the usual non-descript affirmations of blessings that can be heaped upon friends and enemies alike, there are two things in this particular letter which threaten to cut short the career of any minutante unless he is acting upon the direct wishes of the Holy Father:
(1) Someone like me (politically a nobody) does not expect such gifts as books to be recognized, and one is happy with that. At most, there should only be some gratitude for the reception of the book, no matter who the author is, good or evil. There absolutely no reason to cite anyone’s letter (and especially my rather incisive two page letter). That mention would normally be way too dangerous to make, for it is known that such a mention will generate interest in the content of that letter, too dangerous that is, unless there is some trust in the one for whom such mention is made.
(2) There is absolutely no reason to include the second sentence, which goes out of its way to provide a more precise reason for the Holy Father’s gratitude for the thesis and, specifically, the letter. As it is, I rather precisely delineated some of the reasoning upon which the sentiments prompting me to share my research with the Holy Father are founded.
Now, maybe I’m just being an enfant terrible, but it seems to me that this kind of thing cannot happen (especially in view of my particularly incisive letter) unless it is done under the specific direction of the Holy Father. So, it has to be asked: Is it possible that the Holy Father would have spent some minutes on the letter and the two pages of the thesis which refer to him?
As far as the thesis itself is concerned, the Holy Father, as best I can ascertain, had a copy of it sitting on his desk since late Spring of 2007, some 15 months before his arrival in Lourdes, at which time the thesis and a letter was sent to him by way of special arrangement. I ascertain that “sitting on his desk” bit by way of a comment of a friend who asked his friend in the Secretariat of State about the whereabouts of the volume. He was emphatic with joy that it was, in fact, on the desk of the Holy Father. How it got there was, however, by way of another official in the Secretariat of State, one of the higher-ups on the famed “terzo piano”, a long time friend, who told me he would get the volume to the Holy Father and go so far as to request an almost never granted non-diplomatic merely personal audience with his Holiness. Yikes! I even had the temerity to offer to offer a paragraph or so should this be useful for a homily or message during his pilgrimage to Lourdes. I’m sorry, but I get carried away at times. Other exemplars of the thesis may also have come to the Holy Father by way of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith and by way of a certain Cardinal who, at the time, was meeting with the Holy Father I think even weekly.
By the time the Autumn of 2008 came around, the Holy Father had totally changed his mind about a lifetime of thought on original sin and the Immaculate Conception, as proven by his Angelus Message of 14 September 2008 (see below). He would have had to spend no more than two mintues with my thesis and letter to see exactly where I was going, and decide to send a response to me. The best exegetes in the world took months and months to read the thesis. It took my moderator four years! In this case, count the days the Holy Father could have had the letter in his hands before sending a response. I sent the letter on the last day of September and the response came back — through the nunciature of Paris! — on the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, nine days later.
The above is the scene at the Mass and then Angelus during which Pope Benedict XVI spoke his thoughts on the Immaculate Conception, reversing a lifetime of thought on the matter, inescapably: the best piece of scholarship to come from this great Bishop of Rome.
[...] La contemplation du ‘oui’ de Marie. Ce ‘oui’ limpide et sans réserve s’enracine dans le mystère de la liberté de Marie, liberté pleine et entière devant Dieu, dégagée de toute complicité avec le péché, grâce au privilège de son Immaculée Conception.
Ce privilège concédé à Marie, qui la distingue de notre condition commune, ne l’éloigne pas, mais au contraire la rapproche de nous. Alors que le péché divise, nous éloigne les uns des autres, la pureté de Marie la rend infiniment proche de nos cœurs, attentive à chacun de nous et désireuse de notre vrai bien.
The significance of Pope Benedict saying those particular words in the extremely carefully phrased way that he did is awesome. In my pedantic translation:
[...] The contemplation of the ‘Yes’ of Mary. This ‘Yes’, clear and without reserve, is rooted in the mystery of the freedom of Mary, freedom full and entire before God, separated from any complicity with sin, thanks to the privilege of her Immaculate Conception.
This privilege conceded to Mary, which distinguishes her from our common human condition, does not make her distant, but on the contrary, it makes her close to us. Just as sin divides, distancing us from one another, the purity of Mary rendered her infinitely close to our hearts, attentive to each of us, and desirous of our true good.
This represents a total reversal by Pope Benedict XVI of all that he had thought about original sin and the Immaculate Conception as Professor and Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. Previously he had a view of original sin that is contracted by ourselves not by way of propagation but by way of imitation. Although I mention this in the thesis, it will have to further explained in a popular version. Here, with this 2008 message at Lourdes, we see that which can only be consonant with original sin by way of propagation. Stare at it, a long time. Just when you think you’ve come up with a loophole by which to reconcile his previous thought with what he presents here, the loophole disappears. It’s really quite inescapable. He did it. This is most awesome piece of humble totally erudite academics I have ever seen in my life. More on this in future posts. Original sin and the Immaculate Conception touch, in their own way, all aspects of theology. This is just so amazingly, a source of real rejoicing for me.
Someone who’s been in the Secretaritat of State for many years, during a preliminary visit to Lourdes with Cardinal █ (before the Holy Father’s pilgrimage in 2008), provided me a time frame to send the thesis (again) and the letter (for the first time) to the Holy Father, that is, when, having returned to Rome, this official of the Secretariat of State would have already personally mentioned the impending arrival of the letter and thesis to the Pope’s Secretary, Monsignor Georg Gänswein, to whom the package was to be addressed. Tricky, that. Of course, some content of the letter as discussed by one of the closest confidants (R.I.P.) of the Holy Father helped things along. We’ll get to that just below.
Thanks go to His Eminence, Cardinal Albert Vanhoye, S.J. He’s Rector Emeritus of the Pontifical Biblical Institute and past Secretary of the Pontifical Biblical Commission as presided by then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger… and my own professor in the by-gone days of my licentiate at the Pontifical Biblical Institute (full marks for that course!). He encouraged me to publish widely my thesis on Genesis. What the Cardinal wrote (click on the image of his note to enlarge) was written some days after I had a lively discussion with him at the Biblicum for the best part of an hour, after I had already gone to Lourdes. As I remember, part of that discussion included a mention of why the Holy Father might have an interest in seeing some pages of the thesis (not that that part of the discussion had any consequences necessarily).
Thanks go to dom Gérard Calvet, O.S.B. (R.I.P.), whose observations, advice and prayers remain with me. He’s had his own big part to play in all this starting in the Summer of 2007. Here’s a picture taken during one of the many visits of Cardinal Ratzinger to dom Gérard at l’abbaye Sainte-Madeleine du Barroux as well as to la Font de Pertus. More on all this later, please God. Remind me!
Canon Law matters! The imprimi potest follows the nihil obstat (by way of its vidimus et approbavimus) from the delegated censors of the Vicariate of Rome (at the P.U.S.T.). The Vicariate offered its own imprimatur:
A special thanks goes to my moderator and the P.U.S.T. The Dominicans provided a surprising academic freedom to use reason, even if, for some elsewhere, that is unacceptable should it confirm (of course) the reasonableness of the content of the faith (which is what happened with this thesis on Genesis 2,4–3,24). That freedom was given by my moderator, Father Joseph Agius, O.P., the Rector Magnificus of the Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas in Rome at the time. Thanks!
The second reader, Father Stipe Jurič, O.P., the censor, who did his degrees at the P.I.B., and who is a veteran professor of many years, said that this was the best thesis he had ever read. Thanks, Father!
I also thank the deputed Dean for the Defense Commission, Father… well… I better not mention his name inasmuch as I want to tell you this story. He’s quite ferocious when it comes to doctoral defenses. It’s not unknown for him to take up as much time as the professors in asking questions and/or trouncing students(and rightly so). He even denounced one student as a heretic (which the student really, really deserved). I’ve never seen him not ask a tough series of questions. But for my thesis… nothing. I didn’t think that the fact that we had been friends for decades got in the way of him asking questions! I asked him about this later, specifically whether he had at least glanced through the index before the defense, whether he had seen the name of Cardinal Ratzinger / Pope Benedict. He said he had, and that he had read the now (in)famous pages 202-203. When he saw my growing astonishment about his silence during the defense, he admitted that he was too afraid to ask any questions. Thanks… but… Maybe I’ve taken this academic freedom thing too far. I want people to ask questions. I need questions. They help one to grow. That’s not a limitation of freedom. It sets one free from at least some of the limitations of a too narrow perspective that anyone might have!
A very special thanks goes to the ad hoc commission of censors set up by the Pontifical Biblical Institute’s Analecta Biblica. A great friend of many decades, Father Reto Nay, founder of Gloria.TV, published his summa cum laude doctoral thesis at the P.B.I. (on Ezekiel) in that series when it was still a serious academic venture. At any rate, my thanks are so special to the commission because of their having rejected publishing my thesis. (Yes, that’s sincere. You read it correctly. If you need coffee, now’s the time to get it! I will have to bother about getting another publisher before I die, but that’s another problem with which I’m hoping someone can help me.) In one way and also in another, willingly and somewhat unwillingly, the members of the commission played along with my being an enfant terrible on behalf of the P.I.B., where, earlier on, I did my licentiate in Sacred Scripture. I presented the thesis for the Angelicum (written pretty much 24/7 in the Biblicum library) for publishing in the Analecta, knowing that such an entry in the Analecta might well be impossible for political reasons, the same reasons why I went to the Angelicum for the doctorate in Sacred Theology instead of to the P.B.I. for the S.S.D. This has somewhat to do with, of all things, Romans 5,12, which we will discuss as time goes on, please God. The politics are pretty horrific. I relate this story to you as a demonstration of just how timely the subject matter treated in this planned series on Genesis happens to be. Of course, the subject matter is always essential to our daily lives as Catholics, but this history adds a certain helpful emphasis.
The Biblicum has been living with a highly emotional history beginning in 1955, before I was born, and continuing to this day. This has to do with a rejection of the doctrine of original sin in favor of an opinion about our sin merely imitating the sin of Adam, sins that are wrought by everyone, one by one, person by person. Early on, professors were ripped out of their posts, with some (partially) reinstalled later. I wanted to try publishing in the Analecta anyway, for if I were successful, it would have helped to stop the dumbing-down of methodology that’s been going on for way too long. If I wasn’t successful (which I fully expected), still, it could not be said that I didn’t try to do something. So many times I’ve already been called a traitor for going to the Dominicans at the Angelicum after having been with the Jesuits at the Biblicum. To have been a traitor two times over would have been too much.
I’m being silly with this last bit, for I think I’ve done more in my thesis to rehabilitate some attitudes evident in the exegesis of M.-J. Lagrange, O.P., than anyone since the far reaching efforts of M. Gilbert, S.J. That rehabilitation has been a special project of the P.I.B. (more than it has been for the Dominicans). Now, something happened that was much better than publishing this particular thesis with the Jesuits, even though the thesis demonstrates the Hebrew text’s indication of original sin while the P.I.B. still has difficulty with this matter. For some six months before I presented the thesis, the P.I.B. was discussing ways in which to dumb-down the Analecta Biblica ideologically. I didn’t give much credence to those who spoke to me about such things, even though they would have known what they were talking about. It would all be too much, I thought, so I ignored all this. I did not know it at the time, but it is when Cardinal Vanhoye, S.J., became the Editor Emeritus of Analecta Biblica (which he had been directing as Cardinal) that the opportunity was taken to dumb-down this important biblical series. That’s not my judgment. It’s the judgment of the P.I.B., as we will see. That doesn’t mean that the change was brought about by the new director, for such policy changes are brought about by many.
Here’s the P.I.B.’s rather amazing email. The commission rejects the thesis for publishing in the Analecta Biblica for two reasons, the first of which, wonderfully, is used against the ideological dumbing-down not only of the Analecta Biblica, but against, quite incredibly, the non-leadership role that the P.I.B. has taken on in the last number of years. The second reason, based on the weakness of an “it seems”, speaks to the consequences of the dumbing-down. There are many benefits to dumbing-down, and this practice has been ideologically used by many for longer than the Biblicum has been in existence. Anyway, this email is a kind of window into the battle for science over mere political correctness that is being waged in the Biblicum. It seems to be written for publication. So, I publish it! Now, in summary, the idea is that the thesis is too good for the Analecta[!], not the way the Analecta was previously, but the way it is now, not necessarily because of the new director, but because of the new policies. In reading this email, know that the director of Analecta is now also the dean of the biblical faculty as I write this [This was the end of 2008], and know also that he is faithfully fulfilling his function of reporting the results of the commission (of just two others in this case as far as I know). Yet, he adds some of his own commentary, for which I thank him. The politics in this email are subtle and refined, the best of what is Jesuit. Think, and think again. In fact, pretend you are a Jesuit in reading it (if you are not actually a Jesuit).
Click to enlarge the email graphic above. That yahoo.com email of mine is now defunct.
Here’s my translation of that email, with my emphases and [comments].
Date: Thu, 25 Oct 2007 17:39:36 +0200
From: “Pietro Bovati SJ” <█@biblico.it> Add to Address Book Add Mobile Alert
To: “George David Byers” █@yahoo.com
The process of evaluation of your manuscript, presented some months ago for publication in the series “Analecta Biblica”, has finally been brought to a close. [I presented the thesis within a fortnight of the defense if I remember correctly. All the same, I would not have published the thesis without showing it to the Holy Father first.] I must, however, tell you that your work, notwithstanding  the many respectable aspects present in the field of exegetical analysis, has not been judged to be suitable for our series [but for other better series, yes: see below]. I well and truly regret this. [I take this at face value. Although he's the Director, his function is to summarize the opinions of the censors. He's done this so well that one can almost identify who they are. If I'm not mistaken, there are, among the censors for this thesis, a Hebrew linguist (a friend) and a Pentateuchal exegete (who did not become a friend in all those years, unfortunately).]
The principle motivation for this negative judgement is precisely [Thanks for that.] the exquisitely [Thanks for that.] philological approach of your study that renders the work “illegible” for the one who does not have a notable familiarity with Hebrew (as you yourself say on page vii) [where I say that this is a scientific work of exegesis, which is necessarily philological, and written for the experts. This is a necessary step before making a popular version. The experts should have a notable familiarity with Hebrew, right?], but which all the same makes for an extremely painful reading even for the experts [of the commission only? We'll see. Now, I'll admit that it is difficult, but "extremely painful"? Top level exegesis welcomes science, even if that science requires by its very nature the agonizing effort that the Supreme Pontiffs have requested again and again from their exegetes. This complaint about pain, then... Does it not refer more to an unwillingness to wrap one's mind around the fact that science, in this case, historical philology, is not to be an exercise wrought on behalf of political correctness? I'm just asking. I am reminded of footnote one of chapter one of the thesis. The irony will make you laugh and cry and get on your knees to pray. The P.I.B. is asking for a thesis on Genesis which is "adapté aux intelligences d'une humanité moins développée" (adapted to the understandings of a less developed humanity... meaning themselves... Sorry, but, there it is...)] Our series does not [anymore] have a character so unilaterally technical [Thanks for that compliment about my thesis being unilaterally technical. But are you also saying that Analecta Biblica is now to be a bit more happy-go-lucky? This is the P.I.B. writing this, not me.]; and those who have subscribed [to Analecta Biblica] would be disconcerted by such an offering, which is, in fact, reserved to a few readers. [Thanks again. And you are correct about the "few readers" bit, but let's be more precise. We're taking about a few readers at each of the hundreds of the best universities around the world, some of whom are doing scientific research on Genesis 2,4--3,24, and desire a work stripped of useless fluff. Are we really to think that all the best researchers in the world are all so stupid as to be disconcerted by a serious study instead of rejoicing in the science of it all? We're talking about Oxford and Cambridge, Tübingen and Regensburg, the P.I.B. itself along with the Oriental Institute, l’École Biblique and Hebrew Union College, not to mention האוניברסיטה העברית בירושלים, Harvard Divinity School and the University of Chicago, Leuven and Louvain, Berkeley and... well, never mind. It’s none of my business. If any subscribing individuals or institutes want to express a judgement about their alleged inability to evaluate a scientific text (regardless of agreeing or disagreeing with the thesis) -- and whether that judgement matches the Biblicum's a priori accusation of them being so stupid -- well, that’s up to them. There have been dozens of readers of the thesis prior to opening this blog, and some of them were not professional students or exegetes; they went through it, understanding it... When I offered this objection I was told it didn't matter. This is the Biblicum purposely opening itself up to ridicule by the best universities in the world. Now, I think all of this does have a purpose, which, in the end, can only help the thesis to be known, and can only help the P.I.B. to put an end to its own ideological dumbing-down of Catholic academia. It's a tough road that has been chosen, both for me and for them. But that shows just how far down the dumbing-down slope things have slid. Jesuits! But there is hope with this email. Tremendous hope. Think. Think Jesuit.]
The censors have also noted that there is not an adequate debate with important authors, specifically those who are German [like Pope Benedict and dozens of others?], who are representative of different opinions [some of which are read into the text on an anachronistic whim]; and what you say about this on p. vi does not seem to be a sufficient justification for such a lacuna [If what is said is true, I am thankful for the correction. Yet, it is given only with a "does not seem" and provides no example. Thus, I must thank them for their uncertainty, which invites a response. When I did respond, I was told it didn't matter if I was correct. Now, as it is, I'm not interested in justifications, but in a just debate. What I say on page vi, in simple words, is that it's enough to kill off mistaken reasoning with more incisive reasoning, doing that without continually insulting others. Why do that? Just take their works, kill them by way of total annihiliation, and be done with it. If one rips out the very foundation upon which all the arguments of someone else find their strength, is one to continue uselessly saying how silly such arguments are? I want to do up some real science, a real ressourcement, but that means undercutting the presently weak foundations (based on long superceded philology), and digging those foundations deeper. Those who have gone through the many thousands of commentaries, monographs, articles, Festschriften, etc., on Genesis 2,4--3,24, will know why the bibliography is the way it is. There is some instructive humor in the choices as well as purposeful neglect of some "important" authors, even if they are German. As it is, I have little time for publications which endlessly parrot the ideas of others (sometimes useless, almost word for word plagiarism) so as to have a pretense of importance. Many of those who were left out of the bibliography were left out on purpose, especially if they were "important". Their being neglected may demonstrate my disapproval of their empty repetition of others, or my disgust for vacuous, truly unscientific, merely politically correct argumentation. Those who had something to say were critiqued, sometimes with deadly brevity, yes, but this is not the problem. There is a current at the Biblicum which would have it that we must not, cannot do any serious exegesis at this time, but that we must consign ourselves to rehashing second hand arguments to the thousandth degree, and that anyone who pretends to do a ressourcement of the whole of it for any particular passage (also in view of the whole) is not within the political mainstream, and is therefore mistaken. With all due respect: Sigh... Scientific exegesis is possible now, and must be done. Many younger students and professors at the Biblicum, good friends, agree with having a more serious approach, and that is the merit of the Biblicum which I still respect and love to this very day. There are so many very good and serious students and professors who spend their days laboring in this corner of the Lord's vineyard. Good on them. For me, the Biblicum is always my home away from home.]
Because your work presents  important merits from the linguisitic [Thanks for that.] and  philological point of view [Thanks for that.], and since  many points concerning the history of the research appear to be of interest [Thanks for that. Wow... There was no reason to add that bit. A great favor. The "appear to be" bit appears to be hesitant because, I suppose, this regards a rather incisive evaluation of the work of a good number of Jesuits at the beginning and end of the thesis. An atomic explosion there. We'll get to that, please God. Very humble of them.] it would be necessary to search for  a series which explicitely concerns itself with this kind of exactitude [There we have it. Thanks very much for that, even though such felicitations are sad for me to receive, for I would much rather see the Analecta Biblica among those series which are concerned with exactitude. The series is defined here, for the first time (mine being the first thesis submitted to the new director) as being a series no longer concerned with this kind of exactitude, even if the thesis also has "many respectable aspects present in the field of exegetical analysis"... Sad, all of this, while heading into (at that time) the 100th anniversary of the foundation of the Biblicum by Saint Pius X], and which also have  the capacity to spread publicity about its value in the field of research. [Thanks for that. But, I mean, the Analecta could have done that, at least in the past. There is another admission here that the Biblicum is now happy to be left out of serious academic discussion. Of course, this email, which trashes the Biblicum in favor of my thesis is a great favor jacking up the credibility of the thesis more than could have been done if the email announced that the thesis would be numbered in the series. The preparations were so far along that I already had the number of the series that would be reserved for my thesis. All considered, in the end, this is all really pretty cool. This is all very, very much the Jesuit kind of thing to do. I am honored. And I mean that. Thanks.]
Once again I confess to you my regret [Thanks, with mixed feelings of course. Interesting choice of words.] I wish you the best in quickly finding a way that enables the publishing of your dissertation. [Thanks for that. Nothing as of this re-posting in 2012, but maybe someone can help with that?]
With esteem, Fr Pietro Bovati [Thanks, Father, for your deadly honest work.]
Director of “Analecta Biblica”
Please God, I’ll have much more to say about the politics (which are also important for members of the Church Militant!) in regard to, of all things, Romans 5,12, and what’s been happening in some quarters of Rome since 1955 regarding original sin. The thesis, coupled with Pope Benedict’s Angelus Address in Lourdes, is deeply disturbing to those who, at all costs, push for original sin as our own sin of imitation (a dumbing down of doctrine which is contradictory to all that we have in Sacred Scripture and to all that which is manifested by Sacred Tradition). The one thing that must not see the light of day for some is serious exegesis, for that would be too dangerous for the preservation of an ideological lack of orthodoxy, which depends on dumbing everything down. I’m no prophet, but I must say that this series of the blog will be watched rather closely, for it will go to the heart of some of the more intense politics that can be found in Rome for what is now the better part of a century.
Thanks go to all those who have helped me along the way, and those who read and participate in this blog. Some of you know each other. Others will be introduced. Some will remain unknown, at least for now, like Cardinal █, who is sometimes shy and retiring. In regard to the thesis, he made a prediction about how the justice and irony of God’s mercy is likely to play out. We’ll come back to this point, please God, after a number of years.
Genesis 3,15 – the war
We are at war, but it is the fallen angels that we are against (see Ephesians 6,12). Let’s investigate the text of Scripture, rejoicing in the faith, not attacking each other, though ideas are open for attack!