Buffon Giuseppe ,
Antonianum, 87/3 (2012) p. 417-422
This autumn trimester issue of the review, which I have the pleasure of introducing to you, opens with an article on a subject of some significance for the theological tradition of the Franciscans, heavily invested intellectually in “mystical theology of the Stigmata.” In this article, the Author, the young Professor Alessandro Cavicchia ofm, addresses the centrality in St. John’s Gospel of the account of the Passion, concentrating particularly on the verse, “they shall look on him whom they have pierced” ( Jn 19,37), quoted from the Hebrew Scriptures (Zech 12,10). The Author offers a fascinatingly exhaustive study of the role and interpretation of this verse in a number of different traditions of Messianic theology in Judaism, as they are seen to integrate it in diverse ways in their varying conceptions of the Messiah as both a Suffering Servant and a Glorious King, whether they conclude that this is one and the same Messiah or two distinct ones. Having thus richly painted the Jewish background, Cavicchia goes on to an exacting and exceptionally erudite study of the role of this same verse as quoted in St. John’s Gospel. It is impossible to do it justice in a few words. Yet, without in any way presuming to do so, it may be said here that this passage emerges from this Author’s meticulous research as constituting, in a true sense, a high point of the Gospel account, in that the Evangelist himself appears to have put together the narration in the perspective of preparation for the event of the Passion. In the Johannine context, the evocation of these words of the Prophet Zechariah would indicate the expiatory end as the culmination of the very existence of Jesus of Nazareth. In this sense the quotation from Zechariah, the last one in this Gospel, would disclose the decisive meaning, not only of the death, but also of the life of Jesus, narrated previously. Together with the references to the Servant- Sacrificial Lamb, the quotation from Zech 12,10, interprets the last scene of the death of Jesus, made especially striking by being attested by an eye witness (v. 35). With these texts as foundation, the death of Jesus is read as a sacrifice of expiation (cf. 19.36b) and as the “last” opportunity of adhering to the faith, of repentance and purification, for all those who “will look upon the one pierced.” Cavicchia further underlines how precisely Jesus’s extreme act of giving up his life in fulfillment of the mission entrusted to the Christ, constitutes the condition for the gift of the Spirit. In his opinion, also the reference to “seeing”, or “looking upon” – a fundamental concept in St. John’s Gospel in relation to faith, to revelation – would bring out the special meaningfulness of this passage in the “economy” of the Fourth Gospel. The Gospel, in effect, particularly at the moment when human beings are called to make their ultimate choice in front of the crucified Christ, bespeaks the distinction between those who simply “watch” the event unfold, and those who, “looking upon the one whom they have pierced”, actually “see” and thus believe. In such wise, for St. John’s Gospel, the “one who has been pierced” – using the words of Zechariah - constitutes the God’s ultimate appeal for the conversion of the human being, who in turn would be receiving the gift of the Spirit, with a view to the establishment, through the definitive intervention of YHWH, of the Kingdom of God.
Professor Frédéric Manns, ofm, too, makes available to us the fruits of an exhaustive study of St. John’s Gospel, which he approaches from a rabbinical perspective. This paper, to which he himself provided the introduction in the previous issue of our review, has been assigned by us to a special new section that we have named, “subsidia et instrumenta.” This scholar, an expert on Judaism, applies to the Fourth Gospel a detailed analysis, verse by verse, offering us here the first part, going all the way to Chapter 10, verse 36. He is planning to let us publish the second and final part in the next issue of the review. To be sure, his highly detailed treatment of certain passages of St. John’s Gospel cannot fail to capture and hold the reader’s attention. Thus, for example, the deep study of the verses of the Prologue, or the treatment of the recounting of the wedding at Cana, or indeed of the story of the Bronze Serpent, likewise his studies of the healings and of the disputations, in particular the disputation between Jesus and the Teachers of the Law concerning the “children of Abraham.” Scholars of the Franciscan tradition, especially Mariologists, will surely find interesting the study devoted to the words Jesus addresses to Mary (who will then say: Do whatever he tells you!) in the course of the wedding feast at Cana. There is the surprising parallelism that Manns, making use of the doctoral thesis of Gómez Fernández, identifies, first between the words of Mary and those of Pharaoh, and then between Jesus and Joseph: “The answers of the Pharaoh and Mary are identical: ‘Do what he will say to you.’” Thought-provoking is the parallelism this scholar indicates between the Covenant at Sinai and the marriage covenant, or rather, between Moses, mediator of the former, and Mary who takes the initiative to favour the latter. In relation to this, Manns reminds us that in the Song of Songs, God who appears as the Beloved, the Bridegroom, invites his People, represented by the Bride, into the vineyard, where he intends to consummate the covenant with his Bride / his People; here it is the bride who asks her bridegroom to pour her the wine, a Messianic symbol.
From the heights of these considerations, all useful for gaining a deeper understanding of the Franciscan spiritual and theological tradition, we now descend, so to speak, to ground-level, au ras du sol, with the article by Dr. Antonio Mursia, on the Franciscn presence in Catania before the earthquake of 1693. The author, in fact, proposes to analyse the strategies, as it were, implemented in order to settle in the city of Catania, in the course of the centuries, by Franciscans belonging to the different branches, namely Conventuals, Observants, Cappuchins. With reference to the Middle Ages, the Author highlights the difficulties encountered by these religious on account of the opposition of the Benedictines and, above all, of the bishops, these latter being allied with the local powers-that-be against Papal policy. The role played by the religious as social mediators and political actors does, on the other hand, predominantly characterise the stage that followed, corresponding to the fourteenth century, when the Friars enjoyed the support of Queen Eleonora. Later, the Friars Minor Observant came in who, for religious, spiritual reasons, chose to settle in the periphery adjacent to the city centre. Thus the separation between the Observants and the Conventuals, which occurred in the early sixteenth century, had repercussions in terms of city planning, which were manifested in the attempts by the Observants to wrest away from the Conventuals the great architectural complex of San Francesco, their historic seat. Analogously to the Observants, the Cappuchins, too, starting in the 1530’s, settled first outwith the city walls, and then, thanks to the prestige attendant upon their popularity and simplicity, moved to a more central area. As it was making the plans for the city’s re-building after the earthquake of 1693, the Catanese City Senate substantially confirmed the positions acquired beforehand. Rather spledidly grand was the building put up for the Conventuals; marked by relative modesty, on the contrary, was the structure assigned to the Observants, while the Cappuchins, pressed to do so by the city authorities, were made to accept rather more comfortable and more elegant housing that they had had in the past.
In the considerations on freedom, proposed in the essay of moral theology professor Martin Carbajo ofm, references are not lacking to the Subtle Doctor, the Franciscan John Duns Scotus. The subject is known to the readers of Antonianum, inasmuch as it was treated of in previous issues by other authors, who discussed it in the perspectives of philosophy and dogmatic theology. Carbajo here offers rather an ethical-moral reading of the concept of freedom. He maintains that this virtue, liberty, minted by Christianity and unknown to the Greek world, is synonymous with human dignity, in that the absence of the ex ercise of liberty calls forth the annihilation of the person itself. In his view, the freedom that is born of gift, of gratuitousness, is always a freedom oriented to the other, with the other, for the other, never against the other. Freedom conceived of instead as control over the other, power over things, arbitrariness that takes no account of the other, leads to conflict, to abuse, even to murderous tyranny over the other. “Freedom exists truly only when reciprocal ties, regulated by truth and justice, unite persons,” he suggests. Carbajo appears to carry forward his reasoning along the lines of the concept of fraternity, of Franciscan origin. Indeed he maintains that universal brotherhood / sisterhood, even more than the concept of the common good, highlights the relational nature of the person, the respect due to the autonomy of the individual that is not severed from the person’s responsibility towards the other, and in relation to every created being. The principle of human and cosmic fraternity, moreover, offers the best way to correct a globalisation that brings about exclusion, new forms of colonialism or imperialism, and a fundamentalist reaction that appeals to an identity that is enclosed within confessional or cultural limits or regional confines. The concept of fraternity makes evident, too, one of the basic principles of social ethics, namely the one that is defined thus: “The State is for the person, and not the other way around.” Put otherwise, the idea of fraternity should underline as well the principle of subsidiarity, which was accepted and spread precisely when in Europe there mounted the totalitarianisms of both right and left. In this regard, it is useful to emphasise that, in that same period,
Franciscan thought was considered synonymous with democracy, so much so that Romolo Murri suggested that St. Francis be declared the patron saint of Christian Democracy. To the principle of subsidiarity as premise of fraternity, there is connected also the right and duty of responsible participation in the governance of the commonwealth, the res publica. In this manner, there is promoted a social maturity that consequently leads to diminishing dependence on public assistance, according to the principle: “more of society, less of the State.”
Insofar as the definiton is accepted of Franciscan theology as a practical science, the reasoning of Professors Lluis Oviedo ofm, a theologian, and David Jaeger ofm, a canonist, can be held not to diverge from the Franciscan theological genre. Prof. Oviedo, for his part, claims for theology a more empirical connotation and a greater attentiveness to the socio-cultural and institutional context. He appears, moreover, to attribute certain moral and disciplinary failings of some members of the Church – such as, for example, the recently disclosed cases of paedophilia – to excessively idealised theologi cal interpretations, above all in the field of ecclesiology. Along the same lines, he suggests, therefore, an analysis of the organisational aspects of the Church in the light of models worked out by the social sciences, particularly organisational theories. In other words, Oviedo holds that the ecclesial institution, considered within the limits of its human dimension, can usefully be examined with the help of those disciplines that study organisations and institutions. In such wise it should be possible to identify dysfunctions in the different areas, ranging from that of decision-making to that of choosing candidates, from that of disciplinary vigilance to that of watching out for clientelistic relationships, and so on. Going on to consider these matters on a more properly theological plane, Oviedo suggests that the recent scandals challenge especially the ecclesial “note” of holiness, which therefore deserves to be more precisely reviewed, not of course in terms of doctrine, but in terms of nuanced everyday theological presentation. It is his view that, given the resonance of the recent “paedophilia” scandals, the line be insistently followed that has been indicated by Pope BENEDICT XVI, who has called for acts of penitence for the sins committed within the Church, promoting concrete initiatives for indemnifying the victims, and encouraging ever greater transparency. In this manner, holiness will appear as it truly is, namely a free gift of God, offered to weak and fallible human beings. The canonist Jaeger calls for a rigorous yet just enforcement of the Church’s laws. Indeed, according to Jaeger, “The applicability of the ‘rule of law’ is not rendered superfluous, nor is it diminished, by the peculiar nature of the ecclesiastical society, its divine origin or hierarchical, rather than democratic or representative, government”. On the contrary, he points out, the Church is called to be speculum iustitiae to the world. In the past, there may have been instances of dysfunction in the exercise of the rule of law. This happened, for example, when local Church authorities, charged with enforcing the laws, considered themselves above the law and immune to its demands. Thus, too, in more recent times, it happened that such local authorities, influenced by a misguided benevolence, were reluctant to impose the disciplinary and penal measures established by the canon law. Some were predisposed to such negligence by the post-Conciliar wave of “anti-juridism,” which arose in the context of the broader “all you need is love” sloganeering “that was supposed to supplant social organisation and orderly governance in secular society”. On the other hand, the absence of a juridical sensibility, or rather of a sense of justice, has now led here and there, at the local level, to instances of grave failings in the observance of canon law rules and principles of procedural justice in dealing with members of the clergy against whom reports of “paedophilia” have been received. Clergymen are thus sometimes summarily ostracised locally before trial, stripped of the presumption of innocence, and may even end up deprived, in effect, of the right to trial, in which to defend themselves, disprove the accusations against them and regain their good standing.
I cannot, of course, conclude this presentation of the contents of the autumn issue of Antonianum without first expressing my heartelt good wishes, addressed especially to my colleagues teaching here, at the Pontifical University “Antonianum”, as we all take up our academic duties again at this start of the new academic year.