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Life Arts    H4'ed 5/16/15

John Allen's Hype About Pope Francis (REVIEW ESSAY)

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"If as we have been implying throughout this study, one is to read John's Gospel as a dialogue between himself and his reader, not so much as a biography of Jesus [but] as an autobiography of the evangelist, not as history but as good news, we shall gain new insights into the mystery of Jesus' raising by God to a new, unprecedented existence -- 'a life lived unto God' (Rom. 6:10) [as an archetypal figure in the human psyche, I would say]."

Stanley's interpretation of the Gospel According to John as the expression of the author's autobiography of his own experience is far more radical than Willis Barnstone's perceptive interpretation of the Gospel According to John in his fine book THE RESTORED NEW TESTAMENT (2009), where he connects the Gospel According to John with ancient Gnosticism. Actually, everything Barnstone says in that book is deeply informed and perceptive. It is regrettable that he was not familiar with Stanley's 1986 book.

Among other things, Barnstone notes, with apparent approval, that Eve in the story of Adam and Eve in Genesis was regarded in ancient Gnosticism as the Prometheus-like hero in that story. Of course this interpretation of Eve is far more radical than any interpretations that Stanley or Pope Francis would be likely to endorse.

Nevertheless, the Jesuit process of discernment of spirits is the process that we would have to engage in if we were to see Eve as the Prometheus-like hero of the story in Genesis.

For further discussion of ancient Gnosticism, see Alfred Ribi's at times polemical book THE SEARCH FOR ROOTS: C. G. JUNG AND THE TRADITION OF GNOSIS (2013). I agree with Ribi that Jung at times used the imagery of roots.

But I would argue that the psycho-spiritual process of individuation culminates in being adrift on the sea of the collective unconscious, which requires us to practice discernment of spirits.

For the maxims of one Jesuit moralist who cultivated the practice of discernment of spirits, see Baltasar Gracian's book THE POCKET ORACLE AND ART OF PRUDENCE, translated by Jeremy Robbins (2011; orig. Spanish ed., 1647).

Of course the Jesuit practice of discernment of spirits led detractors to coin the term "jesuitical."

Pope Francis' famous comment about "Who am I to judge?" could also be characterized as "jesuitical" in spirit.

In conclusion, I extend my best wishes to Pope Francis for his efforts to set a good example for Roman Catholics and non-Catholic Christians. Even non-Christians may be edified by his good example.

Disclosure: When I was in the Jesuits (1979-1987), I took a graduate course on the Fourth Gospel from Fr. Stanley at the University of Toronto, where I first heard him present his thesis that the Fourth Gospel expresses the author's autobiography. Before I retired from the University of Minnesota Duluth at the end of May 2009, I regularly taught an introductory-level survey course on the Bible in which I used the study edition of the New English Bible (later known as the Revised English Bible) as one required textbook. Stanley translated the Gospel According to John and supplied the footnotes in the study edition in the New English Bible (later known as the Revised English Bible).

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Thomas James Farrell is professor emeritus of writing studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He started teaching at UMD in Fall 1987, and he retired from UMD at the end of May 2009. He was born in 1944. He holds three degrees from Saint Louis University (SLU): B.A. in English, 1966; M.A.(T) in English 1968; higher education, 1974. On May 16, 1969, the editors of the SLU student newspaper named him Man of the Year, an honor customarily conferred on an administrator or a faculty member, not on a graduate student -- nor on a woman up to that time. He is the proud author of the book (more...)

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