Book Reviews
Book Reviews

Book Reviews

FAITH Magazine March-April 2006

Michael John Galbraith enjoys a robust defence of the Johannine authorship of the fourth Gospel and the divinity of Christ; Michael Dolman is inspired by a beautiful and personal account of a saint, co-authored by her husband and James Preece on an introduction to the Bible which contains diamonds and mud.

Bad, Mad or God: Proving the Divinity of Christ from St John’s Gospel
by John Redford, St Paul’s, 383pp, £17.99

The methodology of a defence lawyer in a criminal investigation is substantially different from that of the scientist in the laboratory determining the facts of a crime scene investigation. With the former, there is a professional bias in favour of the accused; with the latter, there is a cold indifference to any original intentions or extenuating circumstances. But does the bias of a lawyer in a courtroom drama (be it positive or negative) make the legal process any less objective than that of the scientist in the laboratory?

John Redford thinks not. He uses this analogy of the courtroom in order to highlight a fundamental problem in modern biblical criticism, namely, the entrenched scepticism of the academic establishment when it comes to judging the historicity of the Gospel of St John. The problem with the critical tradition, from Reimarus to Bultmann and beyond, has been the interpretation of historical events within the methodology of the laboratory – as if the historical veracity of John’s Gospel can be analysed while dogmatically refusing to accept the possibility of Jesus’ miracles and divine self-knowledge.

Like a defence lawyer in the courtroom analogy, Redford begins the third and final section of his book with a positive bias, or “conditional faith”, in the substantial historicity of John’s account. Coupled with some of the tools of biblical criticism (such as the criteria of Embarrassment, Double Discontinuity and Multiple Attestation), he seeks to demonstrate the case for the origin of the Johannine tradition in the words and actions of the historical Jesus, as passed on by eyewitness accounts and possibly by John the son of Zebedee himself.

Yet, he insists, this is far from a fundamentalist defence of the absolute historicity of the text (cf. p.192). While section three takes up the majority of the book, Redford’s positive bias in favour of the historicity of John’s account is preceded in section one by a devastating critique of the philosophical scepticism behind modern criticism, and by a building up of the substantial historicity of the synoptic tradition with a “critical minimum” in section two in the light of the findings of N.T. Wright and others.

These first two sections, in which Redford not only demonstrates his historical grasp of the situation but his own scholarly expertise, are particularly coherent and engaging. Responding to the critical tradition’s Quest for the historical Jesus (where the Jesus of history is thought to lie behind the layers of theological gloss of the Christian community), Redford shows how the real crux of the problem is the post-Cartesian scepticism of all things supernatural, above all the Incarnation. The inability of the critical tradition to accept the historicity of high Christological statements, miracles, Jesus’ divine self knowledge and such like, owes itself more to their “epistemological positivism”(p.92) than to the lack of authenticity of the texts. Hence the circular arguments so prevalentin the critical tradition with their abundance of contradicting source theories, hypothetical communities and secessionist splinter groups.

The third and most important section is also the most complex. Confronting a variety of questions brought to the fore by modern criticism of John’s Gospel (such as miracles, Jesus’ claim to divinity, the “I AM” sayings, John’s supposed anti-Semitism and the Resurrection), Redford consistently argues for the probable historical authenticity of John’s account but always with the same tools of historical criticism.

In effect, he beats the critical tradition at their own game, defending the authenticity of the miracle accounts, counteracting the unfounded claims of anti-Semitism and demonstrating the early tradition of high Christology in the primitive Church. Contrary to the innumerable and often bizarre theories on the origin and formation of John’s Gospel, Redford leaves us with a Gospel whose message has a simplicity and clarity which “is often lost in the maze of discussion concerning possible redaction and theories of multiple editions and stages” (p.182). In continuity with the prologue of John, the whole Gospel is an apologia for the belief in Jesus as the Son of God, just as he claimed to be and demonstrated by his signs.

Unfortunately, the same clarity is not always so evident in this section of Redford’s book. As he admits himself, “it would be better to describe our argumentation as spiralling rather than linear”(p.348). Indeed, of one chapter he concedes that he had no idea how crucial it would be in the process of building up his argument when he started writing the book (cf. p.258). Nevertheless, any weakness here is usually counteracted by helpful summaries at the beginning and end of each chapter.

In sum, this is an excellent book and ought to be recommended reading material for all students of the New Testament, especially for seminarians. The first two sections in themselves offer a useful historical overview of the developments in biblical criticism and the third section offers numerous insights into the theology of St John and the life of the primitive Church while the whole work together could help usher in some long-awaited commonsense in New Testament studies.

Fr Michael John Galbraith




St Gianna Molla
by Pietro Molla / Elio Guerriero, Ignatius Press, 125pp, £7.95

Many of us came to know of St Gianna Molla two years ago after she was canonised by the late Holy Father John Paul II on 16th May in St Peter’s Square. St Gianna is perhaps best known for the extreme sacrifice she made in giving her own life so that her fourth child, Gianna Emanuela, might live.

In this beautiful yet simple book we come to know Gianna in a personal way, largely through the testimony of her husband Pietro Molla. The book is not a straightforward biography but is comprised of three parts. To begin there is a short presentation of the two families of origin of St Gianna Beretta Molla: the Berettas from Milan and the Mollas from Mesero. In these pages we come to understand the Catholic cultures that Gianna and her husband grew up in; the strong family examples and influences that inspired so much in their own lives and in their life together as husband and wife.

The second part is an interview conducted by Elio Guerriero, the author of this book and long time journalist and writer. The direct questions lead us to understand and appreciate St Gianna as she is known by Pietro. During the interview he explains how they met, their falling in love, their joyful engagement and their time together as a family. Pietro speaks in a simple and open way about his wife and their life as a couple and family; the way Gianna’s passion for life and for God brought such joy to the many aspects of family living. The interview also explores other areas of Gianna’s life: her involvement with the Church, her professional life as a physician, and the dreadful circumstances that lead up to the birth of Gianna Emanuela – a birth that demanded the greatest sacrifice. Theconversation then moves to the beatification and canonization process, which began in 1970, highlighting the pressures that the family endured as the Church sought to examine Gianna’s life in greater detail.

Part three is a precious reflection written by Pietro. He uses a beautiful style whereby he directs his words directly to Gianna, speaking to her in a familiar way about her virtues as he observed them in their life together. This section is written in a deeply heartfelt way; it is honest and real.
The book contains a number of black and white photographs of their life together. These show us a family occupied with the normal activities of life. They present a family that we can identify with. There are also many excerpts from Gianna’s writings: letters written to Pietro and other members of the family, conferences prepared for the young women in her Catholic Action group, and prayers written for different situations.

It is clear that although Gianna will be remembered predominantly for the way in which she put the life of her unborn child before her own life, this is only one of many ways in which she witnesses to the Gospel. Pietro reveals to us a woman who has a great love of nature and life: she enjoyed skiing, tennis, mountain climbing, dancing, concerts and the theatre. She lived a deep spiritual life that included daily Mass, daily rosary, meditation before the Blessed Sacrament, involvement with S.V.P. and Catholic Action groups. In her professional life she sought to recognise and serve Christ in her neighbour, dealing with her many patients with great tenderness, and deep faith.
St Gianna comes across in a way that is at once inspirational and ordinary. Here in this relationship is a truly sacramental appreciation of marriage. Shortly before their marriage day she wrote to Pietro, “I would like our new family to be a cenacle gathered around Jesus”. Their mature and down to earth faith came to recognise God’s divine providence, to trust in his love and care in daily life and even when faced with suffering and death. Pietro manages to communicate the real struggle and suffering that marked the last months of their life together. There is nothing superficial in his description, yet his deeply moving reflections remain simple: “Pain remains a mystery even in the light of our faith, and I have experienced in myself that the only way to accept it is that of Jesuscrucified”.

Pietro recalls a passage from Gianna’s notes, “Love and sacrifice are as intimately connected as sun and light. We cannot love without suffering or suffer without loving. Look how many sacrifices are made by mothers who truly love their children. They are ready for everything, even to give their own blood. Did not Jesus die on the Cross for us, out of love for us? Love is affirmed and confirmed with the blood of sacrifice”.

The Church holds St Gianna up not only as an example to inspire all parents, but also as a reminder of the many hidden parents whose daily lives are a heroic witness to the Gospel. In a culture that can often leave us feeling despondent about married life, this biography is refreshing; a reminder of how God’s grace can transform lives when we place our trust in Him and open our hearts to His love.

Fr Michael Dolman
Our Lady of Mount Carmel

You can understand the Bible. A practical & illuminating guide to each book of the Bible
by Peter Kreeft, Ignatius Press available from Family Publications, 328pp, £11.50

If you're anything like me you probably don't have any friends. No wait. That either came out wrong or it was a desperate plea for attention. What I meant was that if you're anything like me you probably don't have any friends who are actively investigating the Catholic faith. It's a rare occasion then, when a friend or colleague tells you they want to know more about the Church and about Christ and, invariably, that they have tried reading the Bible and found it, well, a bit hard. When such an occasion arises I invariably reach for a book. A friend from another Christian denomination might well be handed Mark Shea's By What Authority while a friend who has never set foot in a Church in their life is more likely to find themselves with a copy of C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity.

Books are good, they remember facts a lot better than I do and don't start incessantly repeating the same point after a couple of drinks. The people who write books have time think things through and put forward their points well. They had better, because a lot of responsibility rests on the book hand my friend – in my friend’s mind that book represents me. It represents the Church. He may be wrong, but if my friend finds he has proven the book false he may well feel he has proven me false, or worse, he might feel he has proven Christ false. In short, any book designed for those just beginning to study the Bible is a tool, and it had better be a good one, because if it fails, it not only fails me, it fails my friend.

So... where was I? Oh yes. You can understand the Bible. Peter Kreeft gets off to a good start, quoting G.K. Chesterton in the introduction is a very good way to garner my affections. Unfortunately, my pleasure is short lived. Kreeft follows up with something that places a furrow firmly upon my brow. The Introduction begins with a top ten list for reading the Bible profitably. At number one? “...forget commentaries and books that try to tell you what the Bible means. Read the Bible itself...”. Now forgive me if I'm splitting hairs here, but is an advice against books about the Bible the best way to start a book about the Bible?

The roller coaster ride begins. Over the next few hundred pages Peter Kreeft swings from the sublime to the unforgivable and back again. It's diamonds and mud mixed together. Beautiful summations of Christian truth can be found but, unfortunately, so can horrific mistakes.
Take the following, p20. “When God changes Abram's name to Abraham and Jacob's name to Israel, He does something only God can do, because for the Hebrews your name means not your social label but your divinely ordained nature, character and destiny. That's why Jesus was implicitly claiming divinity when He changed Simon's name to Peter”. That may or may not be true, I know not, but I do know the following; twenty-two pages later Peter Kreeft writes “Joshua. Moses gave him this name changing his original name, Hosea”. Now I'm no mathematician, but something doesn't add up here. Did Kreeft's editor not pick up on this one? Unfortunately there's more. We read of Esther that “God's name is not mentioned even once” and then of Song of Songs that “it is the only book of the Bible that neveronce mentions the name of God”. Which one is it Peter?

The above, combined with the occasional use of the “we Americans” means this is a book I can never place in the hand of a friend. A bad workman may blame his tools but a good workman knows when a tool is no good for the job. It might be a useful tool for you though, if you're a tinkerer, if you can take it apart and extract the good. If you seek ideas for a Bible study course or if you can read past the blunders and dig out the gold maybe this is a book for you after all.
Sadly, for me, the blurb on the back of the book comes true “This book belongs on the shelf of every Bible Teacher and Student” and on my shelf it will remain.

James Preece

Faith Magazine

March - April 2006