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JESUS MASTER

IN THE THEOLOGICAL AND EXEGETICAL PRODUCTION
OF THE LAST YEARS

Acts of the International Seminar
on "Jesus, the Master"
(Ariccia, October 14-24, 1996)

by Luigi Giovannini ssp

 

We are at the start of the Seminar on Jesus Master. It was asked of me to do a research on the theological and/or exegetical production of the last years in order to verify if there has been a certain silence regarding the theme of "Master."

I have prepared a weighty dosser(1) whose structure and the elaboration I shall illustrate here (2). But first, I would like to underline its meaning and the cultural and practical use it has to provoke and encourage. To discover and document that "our" spirituality is not "exclusive" but it comes "from afar" and that it nonetheless goes beyond our small sphere could make us less important; it seems as if a reappraisal, but it can be a stimulus to make us feel a part of something that goes beyond us and to which together we could contribute for its realization by letting us bring our modest but precious stone in the universal construction. In the conclusion, we shall come back to this "presentation."

The dossier is subdivided into three parts: the documents of the church, the theologies-Christologies of the 1900s, the Paulines. For each of the first two parts, there are two passages: the description of the "complete" picture (respectively of the Christological texts of the Magisterium and of the principal authors and the texts of theology/Christology) and the reference-analysis of the texts wherein the title "Master" for Jesus is used. It is a process we can define as in concentric circles.

The first part is subdivided into two blocks:

Above all, about eighty documents of the Magisterium are listed (Pope – Bishops’ conferences – Bishops, from Pius XI to John Paul II, from the Italian Bishops’ Conference to Pole and French episcopates, from Biffi to Martini and Bonicelli). These specifically touch on Christological matters. Naturally, all the documents of the Church refer one way or the other to Christ, but we want to list in this first section, in chronological order, the statements that in some manner make specific reference to Christ. This list shall constitute therefore the general picture against whose background the texts wherein Jesus is more or less explicitly referred to as ‘Master.’ One could notice that these do not "directly" point out to Christ and still lesser to Christology, if not at later times and occasionally.

Against this background, the analysis of the use of the term "Master" applied to Christ is located. It was possible to verify that among these documents, a good number of them use the term, although quite "occasionally" or just an alternative to the name Jesus and hence without charging the title with all its symbolic content. These documents, to each of which we shall recall the outline and add some other annotations considered significant, have been subdivided into five series:

Regarding the implicit references, we have to avoid "imprisoning" our research in the need of finding applied to Jesus always and only the explicit term "master": indeed, also terms like "prophet," "revealer," "exegete," (of God and of human existence, as Schillebeeckx would say)(4), or else, "model," after whom we pattern ourselves, because these terms evidently express the same concept. On the other hand, the explicit term itself may not always have the whole content weight because, at times, as Msgr. Ravasi has pointed out,(5) also "disciple" is not at all synonymous to apostle, but more of "believer" (this is true especially in the case of the Discourse on the Mount, which is not a discourse for the privileged ones, but for all believers, followers of Christ). Always regarding the implicit-indirect references, their variety itself could indeed be enlightening and orientational for our Pauline spirituality. It is not a matter of interpreting the terms in such an extensive manner that it "dominates us" entirely, but on the other hand, it is important that we do not neglect what the title Master can comport to Jesus (and hence also for us in our double roles of disciples and collaborators).

The first part of the dossier concludes with two appendices which reveal Montini-Paul VI’s passionate love for Jesus "Master" and the use of the title of Jesus "Master" in the "private" works of Karol Wojtyla-John Paul II. Aside from the official documents (wherein perhaps the intervention of these two great popes is hard to separate from the content of their anonymous collaborators), there are in fact different and more immediate interventions, which confirm their personal relationship with Jesus (Master).

The second part more directly tackles the theological-exegetical production of the last years, practically of our century.

Above all is proposed a series of information and evaluations, rather global-synthetic, of the theologies and Christologies of the 1900s. The 1900s could be characterized as the "short century" from the cultural and specifically theological point of view in comparison with the 1800s, which could be called the "long century": the 1800s in fact had already some concrete anticipation in the last years of the 1700, granted that the French Revolution gravitates to a certain degree already on the new century of which it did not have any solution of continuity through the event, not only the politics of Napoleon Bonaparte; and also, on the other direction, the 1800s extends for other reasons, in the ecclesiastical and cultural field, until the first decade of the 1900, or up to the conclusion of Leo XII’s (1903) pontificate and perhaps even to the whole of Pius X’s pontificate (in spite of the great censure of modernism, whose condemnation otherwise re-echoes in some way something similar of the Syllabus of Pius IX), so much so that in 1914, the end of St. Pius X’s pontificate (if not the foundation of the Pauline Family), is also the year World War I broke, a war that truly caused an epochal change this time. As regards the 1900s as the short century, it is a given that one can conclude from the fact that, having started late, it was finishing early, either because of the epochal events of 1989 (even if later the event of the fall of the wall has been notably reshaped by following events in China and in Eastern Europe) and because of the frenetic, and also depressing reappearance’s of a thought considered to be in some degree already at its end and which seems to have lost every trust of sustaining a patrimony from which we are ever more going further.

In this picture, recalled along general lines, comes the prospected analysis of some more significant authors and are listed Christologies which have been published within works-theological summas (already completed or under completion), some specific essays on general Christology and finally specific works on some aspects of Christology. Although without narrating the detailed history of theology (and of exegesis (in these last hundred years, we do not limit ourselves in offering a mere framework to our discussion regarding the place reserved to the figure and to the title of Master in this theology. It is in fact a matter of evaluating above all the consistency theology may have had as a whole and then to verify what space-role to attribute to Christology (to Christ!) and only thus can the use/non-use of the term Master could be properly evaluated. One needs to know what to look for, what is the center of interest of the theologies (and of the exegetes) of the last years.(6)

With this background, one could take note of the works that contain explicit-direct references to the title "Master." There are therefore three analyses-lists: some twenty works especially significant or with ample references to the title "Master" attributed to Christ, listed and analyzed in chronological order; other works with occasional but explicit references and finally some works containing implicit-indirect references: the works of these two last collections are listed and analyzed in alphabetical order. Among the authors whose works appear especially significant or with broad references it seems important to us to mention in this presentation at least the following: Canon Chiesa, author of the book Gesł Maestro, released in 1926; Delbrei, Tihamer (who has different works), Ceresi, Garofalo, Garrigou-Lagrange, Danielou, Fabris, Imbach, Titianma Sanon, Forte (above all in the book La parola della fede), Sanders, De Zan.

Finally, there is the third part of the dossier, which wants to underline the contribution of Pauline men and women to the use of the title "Master" attributed to Jesus.

They are three consistent and encouraging lists, so much so that there are some empty spaces in the documentation.(7) Furthermore, in this case we had to give up preparing the so-called "backgrounder" made up of the publications on Jesus Christ (in general), within which those regarding more directly Jesus Master could have been pointed out, but precisely we have directly recalled the contribution brought by Paulines to the use of the term Master applied to Jesus, as authors through academic researches and through works of spiritual animation, or as editors. Without wanting to express any kind of judgement here on the matter, in this sphere it seems opportune to underline the especially valid interventions from the "scientific" point of view by Fr. Dragone, Fr. Roatta, Fr. Pasquero and, in our days, Fr. Kaitholil.

Nonetheless, also in this specific environment, the attention and commitment in proposing and promoting the use of the title "Master" do not seem to be that frequent as perhaps one would have desired and hence one could as well speak here of "a certain ‘silence’ in the theological and/or exegetical production in the last years."

With the limits imposed by the little time at our disposal for deepening the analysis of the works and in spite the fact that almost only the works in Italian have been analyzed, one can hold that this research of ours has permanent interest which goes beyond the occasion for which it was made and edited. It can already allow some positive conclusions.

First of all, it seems that one can already affirm a certain relevance of the term and of the theme of Jesus Master. Although regarding this topic there is a "a certain ‘silence’ in the theological and/or exegetical production in the these last years," nonetheless there is a relatively broad use of it in a considerable number of recent documents of the Magisterium and in theological-exegetical texts and especially in "liturgical" texts.

This holds true especially for the first five documents remembered in the first part. Some of them, like for example the documents related to the IV General Assembly of the CELAM or the encyclical Veritatis splendor and above the Catechism for Adults of the CEI, could be "exemplary" points of reference for us, also for our specific apostolate of spreading the "Good News," either because of the relief given to the use of the word Master, or for their direct or indirect, theoretical-practical meaning.

Even more, we have to remember and underline that precisely the Gospel invocation, "Master, where do you live?" with the encouraging words of Christ, "Come and see" (Jn 1:38-39) has been chosen by John Paul II as the slogan for the World Youth Day scheduled in Paris this coming August 1997 and is thus integrated (and integrates us) with full title in the prospect of the Third Millenium.

We can therefore hold that there is a present and, it seems a future for this "definition" or better self-definition of Jesus. But it is a future that also depends on us Paulines, without any exclusivity or presumptions, but truly in a manner similar to what Fr. Vanni was making us notice, concerning St. Paul, that we Paulines, as St. Paul’s true sons, have the task and the ecclesial responsibility to adequately know in order to be witnesses to it.(8) In this manner, also we can carry our little stone for the universal construction or we shall add our little voice to the "choir" of which Fr. Alberione loved to speak.

 

           Jesus Master yesterday, today and for ever

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