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
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