"For Fear of the Jews" (If Only)

June 2004

Three times in the New Testament we read the expression “for fear of the Jews” in reference to different events (Jn. 7:13; 19:38; 20:19). Catholics, especially bishops, have been falling over themselves trying to assure Jews, or at least the belligerently hypersensitive among them, that Mel Gibson’s film The Passion of the Christ is not anti-Semitic. We don’t object to that, though it’s gotten out of hand. Pope John Paul repeatedly says, “Be not afraid!” It’s his signature phrase. Oh, but many of our bishops are plenty afraid of the Jews.

Bishop Patrick McGrath of the Diocese of San Jose, Calif., went way overboard when he wrote the following in the San Jose Mercury News (Feb. 18): “While the primary source material of the film is attributed to the four gospels, these sacred books are not historical accounts of the historical events that they narrate. They are theological reflections upon the events….” But if the Gospels are “not historical accounts of the historical events,” then those books are not “sacred.” They’re fairy tales, just like the Gnostic gospels (which are making a comeback thanks to, among others, Elaine Pagels and The DaVinci Code by Dan Brown).

So, what does Vatican II say about the Gospels? This: “Holy Mother Church has firmly and with absolute constancy maintained and continues to maintain, that the four Gospels…, whose historicity she unhesitatingly affirms, faithfully hand on what Jesus, the Son of God, while he lived among men, really did and taught for their eternal salvation…. The sacred authors…always…told us the honest truth about Jesus” (Dei Verbum, #19; italics added). While there is ambiguity in many of the documents of Vatican II, the above statement is clear as a bell.

The lay-owned and lay-edited San Francisco Faith (April) did a story on McGrath’s mockery of the New Testament. Says the author of the story: “I sent an email and phoned the diocese, asking how Bishop McGrath reconciles his views with Vatican II [Dei Verbum, #19], but received no response.” Of course! Bishop McGrath doesn’t need to answer to mere laymen.

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New Oxford Notes: June 2004

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