Friday, September 12, 2008

Latest banned book: Paul, Least of the Apostles!

Our best-selling life of St. Paul has been banned from at least one Catholic bookstore! Considering that banned books usually sell quite well, I anticipate a brisk rise in sales.

More seriously, though, here's the story:

Last Monday an email was forwarded to me from another department in our publishing house. It was from the bookstore Aquinas and More, and contained some questions about one of our publications: Paul, Least of the Apostles." The bookstore manager thinks that the book is problematic and withdrew it from their shelves.
In case anyone reading this has heard of this controversy, I am posting here my reply which will hopefully clarify things. The 5 points I am responding to are taken directly from the email.

Thank you for your note concerning the book Paul, Least of the Apostles. We are always happy to receive feedback from our readers. I can understand your concern that the books that you promote will be faithful to Church teaching. We also have this at heart and make great efforts to insure that our books present the Catholic faith accurately. That is why we are taking your concerns seriously. I am presenting each of your points in what follows:

1. Are you aware that Mr. Decaux's sources are overwhelmingly Protestant/Calvinist? 11 of the 13 books in his bibliography are such.

I’m assuming that your concern here is that Protestant authors would be misleading. I can understand this, and it is important to read such works with a critical eye. Yet, as I’m sure you will agree, scholars need to be aware of a wide variety of works in writing about their chosen field. To list a book in the bibliography does not necessarily imply agreement with everything in that work. It is simply meant to show that the author has done his homework, so to speak. The list of sources for each chapter gives more details about the wider works cited. Many of these are Catholic authors. Because the book was written in French, of course, quite a few of the works are from French authors.

Actually, three of the thirteen titles listed in the bibliography are by Catholic authors, and one is a collection of the works of Josephus, an ancient source. The Protestant authors of the other works are generally regarded as reliable mainstream authors. James Dunn, for example, has done quite an exhaustive study on St. Paul. The work by E. P. Sanders is regarded as ground-breaking in terms of his study of Paul’s relationship with Judaism. Granted, not everything that writers say may be acceptable to Catholics. But scholars do need to be aware of the wide range of work being done in a field. [A note I'm adding now: Pope Benedict lists the works of several Protestant, Jewish and Orthodox authors in his book on Jesus. This includes the very liberal writers Harnack and Bultmann. Surely this doesn't make the Pope suspect of unorthodoxy, does it?]

2. Are you aware that the author says St. Paul was neurotic?

Can you clarify what you are referencing here with the exact quotation?

3. Are you aware that the author quotes Nietzsche, the great atheist philosopher, in giving opinions about St. Paul?

I am assuming that you are referring to this section: Some have recalled the conversion of Saint Augustine who felt the need of “stopping time” to put order in the “tumult”—he too—of his thoughts and feelings. Nietzsche said: “Whoever would be some day the bearer of an important message remains quiet for a long time; whoever wants to produce lightening must for a long time be a cloud.”

The context refers to Paul’s three years in the desert before he started his mission. The quote from Nietzsche brings out that point in a rather striking manner, it is not meant as an endorsement of Nietzsche’s philosophy in any way. Rather, it seems quite apropos to the context.

In his recent encyclical Spe Salvi, Pope Benedict XVI draws on the work of seven non-Catholic philosophers. In doing this he is not endorsing whatever errors may be in their writings, but he is expressing a typically Catholic readiness to rejoice in truth wherever it is found. The sisters and staff at Pauline Books and Media also wish to follow our Pope in this attitude.

4. Are you aware, in a lengthy section around page 106, that the author denies the Petrine ministry and distorts Paul's letters to "prove it?"

Could you clarify with quotations the exact material that you find problematic here? This section of the book deals with the controversy surrounding the question of Jewish Christians in the early church and the use of Jewish customs. It is a point of history that Paul did in fact oppose Peter on some aspects of this issue, as Paul says in Galatians, so the disagreement between Peter and Paul is a matter of the Scriptural record. It would seem far-reaching to conclude that the author has Paul rejecting the Petrine ministry. Decuaux is dealing with the situation as it was at the time. It took hundreds of years for the question of the Petrine ministry to be worked out in practice. As I’m sure you know, papal infallibility wasn’t defined until 1870.

5. The final chapter of the book uses the apocryphal "Acts of Paul" and includes a lengthy excerpt. The Church has never recognized this work as legitimate.

It is true that the Church has not accepted the Acts of Paul as a canonical work. However, that is not how our book is presenting it. The introduction to this section clearly states that the Acts of Paul is an apocryphal work. The author points this out, along with some reasons for caution concerning it. It is not presented as if it had Scriptural authority. Nevertheless, it is an ancient work that is of interest to those studying the life of Paul. We thought that some readers might like to read an ancient text about Paul’s martyrdom. The introductory information provided about it should alert them to the nature of the work and what to expect from it.

The Church has sometimes used elements from apocryphal works even though they are not canonical. For example, the liturgical feast of St. Joachim and Ann uses the names for Mary’s parents that are found in the Protoevangelium of James, an apocryphal gospel. But information from it has found its way into the liturgy. So, it seems that the Church might be telling us that we can learn something from apocryphal works, even if it is nothing more than a snapshot of how some early Christians thought about these matters.

Hopefully these responses will help to resolve some of your concerns about this book, Mr. Davis, and serve to indicate our own concern for a correct presentation of Catholic teaching while leaving room for an author’s opinion on non-dogmatic matters. To this purpose, in our publishing apostolate we do our best to take to heart the words of St. Paul to the Philippians: “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (4:8)

If I can be of any further assistance in this matter, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Praying for God’s blessing upon you and your family, I remain,


Sr. Marianne Lorraine, FSP

Order your banned book here



Michelle said...

I saw their comments on the book before you responded. So glad to see your response. Seriously - when it comes to St. Paul we can trust the Daughters to produce quality inspirational books! Keep up the great work.

Sr. Marie Paul said...


Excellent clarification. St. Paul continues to be misunderstood today...even in his daughters!

Lisa said...

Kudos, Sister Lorraine, on an excellent and well-tempered informative response.

There are many people who probably mean well in their cautious critiques of written material (sometimes ourselves included) but who unfortunately are not sufficiently catechized (our shared responsibility, not their own "fault") in terms of some of their concerns.

You very pastorally and sensitively spoke in a sound but not demeaning way to the issues they raised. In doing so, you offer us a model of how to respond constructively.

Hopefully they will have the opportunity to take your response to heart and be enlightened in their understanding of the texts and its references.

Blessings abundant,

xaipe said...

These poor people! They would have been scandalized by St. Thomas himself, who was thought to be going outside all bounds by quoting pagan and Muslim thinkers. But truth is truth, regardless of whose lips it comes from.

Laura The Crazy Mama said...

Heehee, am I a bad person to reeeeeeeally want to buy your book now? If it hadn't any controversy, I may not have had nearly as much of my interest piqued!

I wanted to do something special in honor of St. Paul this year. I guess I'd better buy this book. My birthday is the 4th and I needed a good book to read. (Hinthint, Dad)

Very good response, Sister!

Anonymous said...

The book in question says on page 106 regarding James that he replaced Peter as head of the Church in Jerusalem as well as head of the entire Christian Movement (ie the entire Church).

"--that James replaced him, not only as head of the church of the city but as the head of the Christian movement." Pg106

This is directly contrary to the Teaching of the Church that Peter was always the head of the Christian "movement" the head of the Church.

It also says on this page (106)that the Primacy (inferring of James) is indicated in the ordering of the names of the three pillars "James, Cephas (peter), and John." That the name order indicted a primacy!

This is the biggest reason why this book needs to be pulled or corrected! During this year of St. Paul especially!

As Pope Benedict (as Cardinal R.) addresses this question in "Called to Communion" pg 51-52 "To all appearances James exercised a sort of primacy of Jewish Christianity...However this primacy never attained a significant role in the universal Church, and it disappeared from history with the downfall of Jewish Christianity....(then after speaking of Johns special rank he continues) ...Nonetheless, the priority of each of the three has diverse reasons and is of a different nature. In Consequence, however one defines in detail the way in which the pillars coexisted within the group of three, the unique primacy of Peter, which goes back to the Lord himself, remains unaffected by the common function of being a "pillar", the fact stands that every proclaimation of the gospel must gauge itself by the preaching of Peter. In addition, the Letter to the Galatians attests that this primacy is also valid when the first apostle falls short of his mission in his personal conduct (Gal 2:11-14)."

Sr. Lorraine said...

In response to the anonymous post, I could just say that the whole context of the discussion on page 106 is what happened in Jerusalem and during the Jerusalem Council. The issue concerned the Judaizers, etc.
As the quote from Ratzinger makes clear, James did in fact exercise a "sort of primacy of Jewish Christianity." That is really what the book is talking about. It is not a discussion of the papacy as such, nor a denial of it.
The full quote is: "We estimate that it was at the same time, when Peter fled from Jerusalem--in 43 or 44--that James replaced him..."etc. followed by the part you quoted. James did in fact replace Peter in Jerusalem.
The author is not denying Peter's authority. In fact, the very next paragraph states, "Hallowed with the sacred authority that all recognized in him, Peter intervened" [in the council.]
You are correct in stating that Jesus gave the authority of primacy to Peter. Yet the Church also recognizes the development of doctrine. It was not like Jesus gave it in such a way that no development was to occur. Historically there was a lot of development regarding the Petrine ministry. That doesn't affect our faith. But my point is that we can't read back into the apostolic age our 21st century understanding of how the papacy has developed these past 2000 years.
My larger point is that you can't just take one sentence and condemn a whole book on that basis. To do that is to risk becoming too narrow in one's thinking. It's important to ask what is the author really saying? And also to be sure we really understand it before dismissing it as unorthodox. On page 29 the author affirms Peter's mission: "Jesus solemnly confided a mission to Peter, an ex-fisherman from the Lake of Tiberias, who had abandoned his nets to respond to Jesus' call. The mission --Peter, you are the Rock--was to assure the permanence of the message Jesus had preached in the course of his public life."

Sr. Lorraine said...

Another point about the primacy: in this book the author is not speaking about doctrines in the abstract. Instead, he is talking about how things happened historically. So in regard to James, he is really just speaking of a de facto situation where James did actually emerge as a major leader in the Church in Jerusalem. That situation only existed for a short time, and it never was against the position of Peter.
What I really am trying to say is just give the author his due. We don't need to be overly suspicious and see heresies everywhere. It reminds me of what Pope John Paul said in his theology of the body talks. He referred to "masters of suspicion." It was in a different context, of course, but he was referring to a kind of mindset that is overly suspicious and inclined to see evil in innocent things.

greycat333 said...


This is the same poster again (anon).

I am happy to hear that the author supports Peters authority in other places.

However perhaps then an edit is still in order.

For the quotes in question are still not true:

"--that James replaced him, not only as head of the church of the city but as the head of the Christian movement." Pg106

He is not talking just about the council. Just re-read the quote. He is talking about the Christian movement thus the wider Church.

To "replace" Peter as the head of the Christian movement is to replace him as head of the Church --or at least this is what the wording infers. For he very clearly states he is not referring to just the city...

It is very problematic wording.

It also says on this page (106)that the Primacy (inferring of James) is indicated in the ordering of the names of the three pillars "James, Cephas (peter), and John." That the name order indicted a primacy!

(Perhaps you can provide the quote --I do not have it in front of me)

So James had a Primacy over Peter"??? Says who?

This is simply not the case.

James did not "replace" Peter as "head of the Christian movement" -- Peter always remained head of the Christian Movement.

Nor did James have any Primacy over Peter in ANYTHING. (His kind of primacy was only over the Jews in a sense.)

But by saying the ordering of names of James ...then Peter signaled a primacy he seems to be saying the James had a primacy over Peter.

No context can change the problems with either of these quotes.

No context can make these statements true.

The rest of the book may be a fine book (again I am not the one who sent you the letter) --but these two quotes can really confuse readers and are simply untrue and in need of at least an edit.

greycat333 said...

PS: Sister you wrote:

"Instead, he is talking about how things happened historically. So in regard to James, he is really just speaking of a de facto situation where James did actually emerge as a major leader in the Church in Jerusalem."

If this was the case this would be fine...

This would be fine if he was talking clearly about the leadership of James among the Jews...but he clearly is not doing this.

He states that James "Replaced" Peter not only in the city (cause he moved on) but as "head of the Christian movement"(not the city --he already said that part --but the whole movement!). This last part is the incorrect statement. He is not just talking about the "Jewish-Christians" or even the "Christians in the city" he is clearly moving onto saying
that James replaced Peter as:

"Head of the Christian movement". That is head of the Christians.

Peter never was replaced in this role --until his death--and that was not by James...

So I understand what you think the author is trying to say--and perhaps that is what he is trying to say (always give benefit of doubt) but that is NOT what he is saying (at least what the translation into English).

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your thoughtful response. I will add this book for historical teaching, in my home, on the age of the Apostles.