Book of the Month
The Living Voice of the Gospel
Masterly but accessible erudition, with breathtaking theological creativity focused on most loving pastoral affections. He can teach us how Christ shares our lives and we his. Once in a Christian’s life we should work out how the scriptures work.
Reviewed by Terry Monagle, writer and presenter, author of Claws of Fire. (Terry Monagle is also published by John Garratt)
Fr. Frank Moloney, in this book, calls on all his human and scholarly experience to attempt some tentative conclusions about the nature of Christ, and attempts some speculation about the nature of the meeting of Christ’s divinity and humanity. This speculation emerges from a life long scholarly and creative and sensitive reading of each of the four Gospels. He is not afraid of the big questions.
This work is quite accessible to the ordinary reader and is not so scholarly that it cannot be used for meditative reading, for Lectio Divina.
Moloney is perhaps the most prominent scripture scholar to have emerged in Australia and his work continues to receive global recognition and honour. Fr Moloney, born in Australia, has been professor of Scripture in Melbourne, at the Salesian University in Rome, at the Biblical School in Jerusalem and the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome. He was dean of the School of Theology and Religious Studies at the Catholic University of America. Moloney served for almost 20 years as a member of the International Theological Commission, the principal advisory body to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. In 2001 he was elected President of the Catholic Biblical Association of America, the first non-American citizen to occupy that post.
He has published more than 30 books on Scripture and a large number of articles in specialist magazines. He has been called the foremost Johannine scholar in the English speaking world.
As of this year Frank Moloney has become Provincial of the Salesians for Australia and the South Pacific.
Among his books, in addition to studies on the Gospels and the religious life, he has written on the Eucharist in the New Testament.
Last year he was invited by Pope Benedict to attend the XI Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops held between 2 and 23 October in Rome as theological adviser. Interviewed later he suggested that the Pope’s own presentation was far superior than most of those given by other church leaders. He regards the Pope as a highly skilled and capable theologian.
Despite these honours and positions he has been attacked by right wing Catholics for being 'a patron of the Australian organisation Catalyst for Renewal, an organisation whose mission mirrors the US group Call-to-Action.' This at least indicates an activist dimension to his work and faith.
The book made me confront questions such as the following. What is it to have a book at the centre of a religion?
Are the book centred religions necessarily different to those which are perhaps derived more from the natural experiences of the universe its fertility and mankind’s survival in this context?
What is it about the gospels which have generated their on-going readership?
What role does biblical scholarship caught between inspirational spirituality and sluggish authoritarianism?
In part answer to this Moloney has said:
This current book has eight principal chapters. Four are devoted to a general background to each of the gospels, while four are devoted to a close reading of a particular event in each text. He gives very useful background, about each of the trends in biblical scholarship which have emerged in the last two hundred years.
Then he comes to his speculations, in which he is assisted by leads given by Karl Rahner about the nature of Christ. But this speculation is not of merely academic interest.
After a long and profound look at the human condition, which he calls ‘spirit in the world,’ Rahner makes a theological leap. He points to those things that are deepest in us, and which make or break us as human beings, and suggests that they transcend us. They are bigger than us, and they overwhelm us, yet determine us as human beings. In short, they are the experienced signs of the presence of the divine within every single human being. Thus, to be authentically human means to recognize the reality of the divine within us. To be authentically Christian, is to respond to the divine that makes or breaks us, in the light of Jesus Christ and the Gospel.
He imagines that God came to birth in Christ in something of the same way that God comes to birth in each of us. That the Divine in the human Christ was so refined and transformed, that divinization took place in a way so complete as to be beyond our imagination. But that it we extrapolate from our experiences of unity, of those moments when our hearts and being are, ‘one with the one’, then we might have some inkling of the unity of Christ’s divinity and humanity and how it was achieved. How inspiring to think, that our journey was Christ’s journey too, albeit on a different plane.
From the Conclusion of the Book
“This is the best thing about us, not our weak point. We sin when we do not respond properly to the presence of the divine in our humanity, and we begin to act selfishly, arrogantly, jealously, proudly, satisfying the hungers of our basic urges. These responses are not ‘human’.
Jesus, is the only human being who has ever unconditionally realized the divine potential that is in every human being: the exalted Jesus: bringer of the Kingdom in word and person, Son and Son of man (unconditionally open to the divine potential in all of us.)
Rather than understanding the union of the human and the divine as a divine invasion of the human, that took place only in Jesus, this model works in the opposite direction. The Gospels lead us to suggest that in Jesus the full potential of humanity has been totally realized. This means that, in and through Jesus of Nazareth, the human invaded the divine. Problems remain, as with the traditional model. How can the divine be caught up in the human? A life time of searching will not answer that question, and I too must fallback on the truth that here we are dealing with the mystery of the design and action of God. However, this suggestion places ‘mystery’ where it belongs, in the divine Godhead and not in the humanity of Jesus, something which he shares with us, and which we can experience and understand. It is here that the life of Jesus of Nazareth and the Christian disciple intersect.
Jesus realized the fullness of the divinity possible for all human beings because he was Son. It is his being the Son of God that engenders his response to God. Does this mean that we can never hope to do the same? On the contrary and this is the point of this concluding reflection. We are all capable of repeating the life-style of Jesus, and, in our own time, realizing our divinity in its fullness. However, we do this not because we are sons and daughters, but because we are made sons and daughters by means of our Baptism.
Finally, these reflections call us to recognize our vocation as disciples to ‘life in Christ.’ We are to put on Christ so that we might recognize our dignity. All that is noble in us: our loving, our laughter, our play, our mission as preachers, our dancing, eating, and drinking, our praying, alone and with others, our search for justice and peace, and the many other things we do in response to that which is deepest within us, is part of our journey to be as Jesus Christ was (see Phil 2:5-11; 4:8-9). Like Jesus, Christian disciples reach beyond themselves into the mystery of the divinity that is, at one and the same time constitutive of our being, yet the object of our search. As Rahner puts it: ‘I encounter myself when I find myself in the world and when I ask about God; and when I ask about my essence. I always find myself already in the world and on the way to God. I am both of these at once, and cannot be one without the other.
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