Volume > Issue > Briefly: December 1998

December 1998

Theological Lexicon of the New Testament

By Ceslas Spicq, O.P

Publisher: Hendrickson

Pages: Three volumes, 1,500 pages.

Price: $1995 per volume.

Review Author: Stephen F. Miletic

Here is an excellent resource for anyone — from a professional scholar to a clerical exegete to a serious lay reader — who is interested in some contact with the original Greek of the New Testament. The price is modest, and Ernest’s translating and editing of Fr. Spicq’s work (from French) make it accessible even to the nonspecialist. A caution to scholars: This is not a comprehensive lexicon, and the three volumes do not attempt to treat every word or word cluster in the New Testament (I was surprised to find that the important word kephale — “head” — is omitted, for example).

But within its limits this is a superb example of the “word study” genre, one that treats the koine Greek of the New Testament (NT) first historically, then grammatically, and then theologically. It is a foundational resource for anyone interested in carrying on the traditional Catholic discipline of finding the spiritual and theological meanings of Scripture “within the literal” sense of the text. Spicq’s great contribution is helping the reader deal with what exactly is on the page, the first step in any theological reading of the NT.

In Ernest’s rendering, each entry reads smoothly, almost like a brief encyclopedia article. Jargon is pleasantly absent, and technical matters on which the discussions are based are relegated to very readable footnotes. The unobtrusive bibliographical information is first-rate, blending both classic and modern works on grammar, etymology, morphology, syntax, and orthography. All the annotation is user-friendly. The reader who already possesses some NT study tools will appreciate the cross-references to Strong’s Concordance and to Louw and Nida’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament.

And every serious reader of the NT will appreciate Spicq’s deft marshaling of a vast array of citations from Greek texts from classical (pre-4th century B.C.), Hellenistic (post-4th century B.C.), Jewish Hellenistic, Semitic, and Latin sources. Spicq cites from a wide variety of ancient primary sources (including epigraphy, papyri, and inscriptions), giving the reader a rare opportunity to compare quotations from contemporary canonical and noncanonical writings. Finally, each volume contains a complete index of the Greek words treated in it, so that even someone not familiar with Greek can easily locate and study any word or phrase.

Spicq is exemplary for avoiding the occupational hazard of theological lexicographers, which is their failure to keep philology distinct from theology. Lexicographers of the past have not always conscientiously distinguished later theological interpretations of a text from the original intentions of that text’s human authors. (James Barr’s famous analysis of such flaws in 1962 is well known to scholars in the field.)

Because Spicq begins with morphology, grammar, syntax, and context understood historically, he reduces the risks always run by the makers of such dictionaries: the risk of reading back into the NT a later, patristic interpretation; the risk of unsubstantiated etymological pronouncements; and the risk of assigning a meaning from one NT context to the same word in a wholly different context. (St. Paul’s uses of the word sarx — “flesh” — come to mind.) Spicq steps neatly around the pitfalls in this treacherous scholarly terrain. His treatment of agape — “love” — is a fine example of his technique, for his caution and perspicacity result in a truly deepened understanding, for his reader, of that immensely important word.

In the Catholic tradition, one initially focuses on the intent of the historical, human author in order eventually to “hear” the voice of God the Spirit, the ultimate Author of Scripture. This requires a living faith in God, enabled by the Holy Spirit (what the Scholastics call fides qua). From such a hearing we begin to grasp the spiritual and theological meanings suggested by the text within its natural and supernatural contexts. This kind of work requires meticulous analysis, balanced judgment, and a lively interior faith. For such a project, Fr. Spicq has provided a basic tool: a window into the theological world of the New Testament authors. Highly recommended.

The Great Betrayal: How American Sovereignty and Social Justice Are Being Sacrificed to the Gods of the Global Economy

By James D. Ernest

Publisher: Little Brown

Pages: 326

Price: $22.95

Review Author: David J. Peterson

Patrick Buchanan, the conservative commentator, has a knack for stirring up controversy. The Great Betrayal has already thrown much of the liberal establishment into a state of exasperation, for Buchanan has dared to suggest that the celebrated economic boom of the 1990s has done little for the average citizen. He contends that most of America’s recent prosperity is a myth and that the globalization of the world economy has been a disaster for millions of middle-class and working-class Americans.

Unlike typical periods of national prosperity, the present recovery includes a weekly “body count” of the ever-growing number of people who have been “downsized” due to the drive for corporate profits. Surprising as it may seem, Buchanan’s figures show that one result of the economic boom is that more Americans are now impoverished than ever before. “Real wages of American workers nosedived a full 19% from 1973 to 1994,” he writes. Such a sustained period of declining real wages has never occurred before in our nation’s history, not even during the Great Depression.

The Great Betrayal points out that global trade deals such as NAFTA and GATT have added “hundreds of millions of Latin Americans and Asians to the labor pool of industrial democracies.” These new workers in the hiring hall have one trait in common: “all are willing to work for a fraction of the wages that an American needs to feed, clothe, house and educate his or her family.” For many leaders of corporate America this is an ideal situation. In the words of Stanley J. Mihelick, Executive Vice President at Goodyear, “Until we get real wage levels down much closer to those of the Brazils and the Koreas we cannot pass along productivity gains to wages and still be competitive.” In the knowledge industry (among authors, economists, lawyers, bankers, and computer technicians), wages continue to rise. It is workers in America who are paying the price for free trade.

To highlight the failures of the present system, the book contains a detailed account of America’s early economic history. Contrary to what most of us were taught, America’s industrialization took place not because of free markets or free trade but instead was guided by policies of protectionism and high tariffs. As Buchanan says, “in the thirty years from 1870 to 1900, with a protective tariff America experienced its greatest growth rate in history — an average of over 7% per year. In the same thirty-year period real wages rose 53%.” The Republicans of the era were nationalists whose policies created prosperity for businessmen and farmers, and also high wages for working people. The policy was known as “harmony of interests” or simply “the American System.”

By contrast, says Buchanan, the advocates of pure laissez-faire emerged as a clique of internationalists, men who were wedded to one-world utopianism. The free traders did not win over either major party in the U.S. until the turn of the century, when they captured the hapless Democrats. With the election of Woodrow Wilson in 1912, our harmony-of-interest policies began to dissolve. America adopted its first national income tax. Twenty years later, with the election of Franklin D. Roosevelt, the free traders had completed their takeover of Washington, D.C. Cordell Hull, the leading anti-tariff activist, was made Secretary of State, and protectionism was systematically dismantled. The internationalist Hull had always believed that foreign duties should be reduced so that the bulk of U.S. government revenues would come from the pockets of the American taxpayer!

Buchanan accuses today’s “two party plutocracy” of fiddling away like Nero while raging fires threaten to envelop the nation. Specifically, he says America’s trade deficit reached a whopping $190 billion in 1996 and amounts to $2 trillion since 1980. Our manufacturing and industrial capacity is vanishing; this means that in the event of a war we would be at the mercy of our enemies. In addition, America now has the largest income inequality of all industrialized nations. Last but not least, Buchanan raises what many people feel is the most serious dilemma facing modern democracies: namely, whether certain aspects of globalized capitalism violate America’s Judeo-Christian heritage.

Whatever you may think of Buchanan’s economic programs, many people recognize the need to re-evaluate what the federal government and the business establishment mean by global development and economic progress. The author argues that we must observe a standard of justice and common sense. Such is not the case when average families do not share in the benefits of the national bounty. Reliable statistics show that only the wealthiest 20 to 30 percent of Americans have made any gains from the recent recovery. The Great Betrayal is a good lesson in history and economics.

Mass Confusion: The Do's and Don'ts of Catholic Worship

By Patrick J. Buchanan

Publisher: Catholic Answers (P.O. Box 17490, San Diego CA 92177; 888-291-8000)

Pages: 244

Price: $1595 plus $4.95 shipping.

Review Author: Dale Vree

What a brilliant title for a book on liturgical abuses! How often do laity enter church seeking a secure haven from the storms of life — yearning for clarity in their lives — only to be confronted by a bewildering array of liturgical “innovations” which are perhaps meant to be meaningful but are experienced as meaningless distractions or outrageous annoyances? Yes, Mass confusion and mass confusion.

Akin states that “the faithful have a right to experience the liturgy as the Church designed and intended it.” When this right is violated, not only is the sanctity of the Church abused but the faithful themselves are abused, says Akin. Ironically, the most flagrant liturgical abusers usually style themselves as champions of the laity. With friends like these….

Liturgical abuse is a chronic problem in the Church today, and Akin makes clear what is and is not an abuse. A liturgical abuse is not necessarily what you or I happen not to like, and Akin refrains from giving us his private opinions on what the liturgical law should be. Instead, the book is loaded with unambiguous and concise information on what the liturgical law of the Church actually is.

One abuse that is spreading rapidly is having the faithful stand during the Eucharistic Prayer. Kneeling, however, is required by the Church. Akin adds an interesting point: “Church law does not require the presence of kneelers, but it does require the practice of kneeling…. The Holy See has ruled that the absence of kneelers is not a sufficient reason to remain standing or sitting.” So when you’re in one of those grotesque new churches which lacks kneelers, kneel at the Eucharistic Prayer anyhow, even if everyone else has been cowed into standing.

I highly recommend this book to ordinary laymen who want to defend their liturgical rights — as well as to those who think they pretty much know the liturgical law, for they’ll probably learn things they didn’t know. The concluding chapter is especially useful, for it tells you how to proceed when you encounter liturgical abuse and feel the need to do something about it. No, we laymen don’t have to put up with being abused, and remedies are available.

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