Monday 29 August 2016

Luisa Piccarreta

Wonderful experience during the long flight from Mumbai to Frankfurt the other day: one of the stewards, a senior person, was really very kind when he saw I was a priest (that's how all religious are read, I guess), going out of his way to make me comfortable, bringing me religious souvenirs and mementos, and even kneeling down and asking my blessing at the end, much to my embarrassment.

One of the things he shared with me was his devotion to Luisa Piccarreta, a Venerable from Corato, the place of the recent train accident in Italy. Information at, cell 080898221, Corato, BA 70033, Italy.  

Saturday 27 August 2016

Wines from the time of Jesus

Vine seeds discovered from the Byzantine period, by Prof. Guy Bar-Oz, Dr Lior Weissbrod, Dr Tali Erikson-Gini, Haifa University. (Notice at the Ben Gurion Airport)

Some months ago, there was an article - in the New York Herald Tribune, I think - about Israelis producing "wine from the time of Jesus." In a little line, the article acknowledged that the first to produce vine from autochthonous grape varieties were "the Salesian monks of Cremisan." The varieties - which with all probability go back to the time of Jesus - are Dabouki and Hamdani Jandali.

Wednesday 24 August 2016

The Salesian Rector, assessments (scrutinies) and admissions

Andrew Wong pointed out an interesting text in Don Bosco's recommendations to Don Rua, just appointed Rector of Mirabello, the first house outside Valdocco. The text is point 4 under the recommendations regarding Students: Don Bosco tells the Rector, who is also the confessor, not to ever take part in the meetings at which the students are assessed.

The question is: what was the early practice of the Congregation as far as scrutinies were concerned? Did Don Bosco take part, as Rector Major? Did he want his Rectors to take part?

What about their participation at the local council moments of admission?

And if the congregation takes away the clause about the Rector as the proposed spiritual director for confreres in initial formation (up to practical training) - will it take away also the friendly chat? And what would that imply for the figure of the Rector? Would be still be the Salesian Rector as Don Bosco conceived him? Would it be a change in the right direction?

My feeling still is that the real issue is not here, in the area of the juridical and the traditional, but in the area of our own experience of spiritual accompaniment, and our own preparation for this task. 

The divine reversal


"The divine reversal interrupts the human desire for mastery and control, and the habitual recoil of the human self into massive possessiveness." [Fred Lawrence, "Lonergan, the Integral Postmodern?" MJLS 18/2 (2000) 121.] Interruption of the human desire for mastery and control: wonderfully evocative. Letting go. Of the massive possessiveness. 

Nostalgic aestheticism

Fred Lawrence calls Nietzsche's critique of modernity a postmodern propaedeutic for a recovery of the sacred that transcends nostalgic aestheticism. [Lawrence, "Lonergan, the Integral Postmodern? Method: Journal of Lonergan Studies 18/2 (2000) 97.] Nostalgic aestheticism: there is a danger that religion / faith can get stuck at this kind of thing. Though, as Cardinal Martini points out, the aesthetic can also be one of the ways by which we go to God, or that God draws us to himself. And that is very familiar: so often, one's appreciation of a scriptural text is more aesthetic than really religious. And perhaps even one's being touched by a religious service or a moment of prayer. The truly religious, I guess, begins when one is touched and called into question, and when one gives in to grace and responds to the call. So Kierkegaard distinguished the aesthetic dilettante from the moral and then the religious person.... Not exactly the same thing, but something there all the same. 

The Assyrian Church of the East

Christoph Baumer, The Church of the East: An Illustrated History of Assyrian Christianity.

The unbelievable extent to which the Assyrian Church spread out all over the Mongol empire and China, thanks to the Silk Route. 

The Associazione Biblica Salesiana

Something to be very much appreciated about the Associazione Biblica Salesiana is its clear sense of identity and belonging to the Salesian Congregation.

One of the great problems facing it regards membership: there are literally hundreds of Salesian bible scholars and others who have a licentiate in biblical studies, but the membership does not reach 100, active members are even fewer, and the participants in the current meeting are less than 30. However, it might be best to also adopt "the mentality of a movement" as Pascual Chavez said in another context. This means that some will be active, others will be passive, and yet others will not even be members - but the ABS should make it a point to maintain an as complete database as possible of Bible people in the Salesian Family, with their qualifications and publications if possible. One begins and goes on, without great expectations and without getting discouraged. The association is after all a free one, and the question of "forcing" people to join does not arise. Like the sun shining on the summer hills of Italy, the excellence of the Association will be the true drawing force.

To this we must add that the reasons for which Salesians are sent for biblical studies are varied: not all are meant for teaching. I remember Jean-Sylvain Jeannot (HAI) telling me at Testaccio that his provincial was preparing him for youth ministry. What a wonderful preparation, in fact!

A suggestion would be for the Association to interest itself in collaboration not only with Youth Ministry, but also with the other specializations of theology. Bible scholars are either hard-core researchers (like those at the Ecole Biblique) or else - mostly - exegetes or interpreters. But they do belong to the whole enterprise of theology in the church, and they have a vital relationship with patrologists and historians of doctrine, with systematic theologians, and with the pastoral theologians.

Another suggestion would be to seriously engage in the formation of members and others to "experiential" learning. That would certainly be relevant to formators, but to all youth ministers in general. The formal biblical preparation does not include such learning - it is not meant to, I suppose.

And then, finally - it would be a pity if the ABS were not to find moments of true prayer with the bible in hand - moment of lectio divina - during its meetings. The Youth Ministry people are doing it in their meetings. Why not the ABS.

The BEST project of the Ecole Biblique of Jerusalem

Great visit to the Ecole Biblique with the ABS. Never really been there properly in my 3 years in Jerusalem.

Two youngish professors presented the new project - "The Bible in its Traditions" (BEST).

The Jerusalem Bible was the product of the first two generations of the Ecole (1943-1956). The translators tried to find, as far as possible, the most original texts, and in hopeless cases to reconstitute them or leave a gap in the text, rather than translate the traditional text. The first edition was released in between 1943 and 1956, and the second in 1973.

By the time of the release of the third edition between 1998 and 2000, new questions had arisen. One of the main preoccupations in biblical science and in humanities in general, was the role of readers in the process of definition of meaning of the text - or how the reception of the text through different traditions and versions helps us understand the meaning of the text.

This led to the decision to take into account the plurality of versions and translations of the text, and also the diversity of traditions of the readers of the text.

The third edition of the Jerusalem Bible did not solve this problem. This is the focus of the new BEST project. This is also the reason behind the choice of the motto of this project: "One thing God has spoken, two things I have heard." This line of scripture captures well the plurality that can be produced in the encounter of the word of God and humanity - a plurality that is not Babel but Pentecost.

So the new "translation" (and it is not a translation in the classical sense any more) will contain, if I understand right, the texts of the principal versions of the bible: LXX, Masoretic, Vulgate, Textus Receptus, (etc). It will also have three levels of notes dealing with (1) text, (2) context, and (3) reception.

A hugely ambitious project, with some 200 scholars collaborating online, thanks to the new possibilities of the cyber world - and one that has infused new life into the Ecole. Some books are already ready for publication. Others are in the pipeline. All this, in Lonergan's terminology, would the functional specialty Research, I guess, though a very new direction of Research - giving voice to the real plurality that we experience when we ask questions like What is the original text. No one can take for granted any more, it would seem, what was the staple of 30 years ago: that the Masoretic is anterior to the Septuagint. And it would seem that most of the authors of the New Testament, those who wrote in Greek, used the Septuagint rather than the Masoretic. And people are learning not to scoff at the Vulgate, because it would appear that Jerome had access to texts no longer available to us - and traces are to be found in his translation.

Tuesday 23 August 2016

If I forget you Jerusalem...

אִם-אֶשְׁכָּחֵךְ יְרוּשָׁלִָם--    תִּשְׁכַּח יְמִינִי.


If I forget you Jerusalem, let my right hand wither (Ps 137,5)

Friday 19 August 2016

Thursday 18 August 2016

Salesian Consecrated Life, a presentation

[based on our Letter on the Salesian Brother, version 13 - "The Salesian Brother: Icon of Salesian Religious Consecration, of the Family Spirit, and of the Lay Dimension of the Congregation," draft 13 of 25.06.2016]

1. Introduction

Pope Francis invites us to contemplate the beauty of consecrated life.

Why a reflection on consecrated life? Because we are convinced that at the root of symptoms such as clericalism, diminishing number of vocations to the Brotherhood, and the significant number of Salesians who become diocesan priests, lies a difficulty in giving attention to, understanding, and living out the consecrated dimension of our vocation. This is the root also of the subtle shift from our consecrated identity to work.

2. The relationship between the two forms of our vocation

We feel the need to define better the relationship between the two forms of our one Salesian vocation, but this is not to be had by distinguishing roles or tasks. Far better is the emerging theology of the states of life. Pope Francis seems to have made use of it when he said, in his letter of indiction of the year of consecrated life, that religious are marked not by radicality but by the fact that they are signs within the church. The three encyclicals (PDO, CL, and VC) point out that the states of life within the church are ordered to one another. Each state, we might say, is a sign to the others of an aspect of the church that belongs to all. Thus the created world is sacred for all Christians, but the laity are for us a sign of this sacredness. Again, all are called to the life of the resurrection, when there will be neither marrying nor giving in marriage, but consecrated people are signs of this reality, “eschatological signs.” And the whole church is called to service, but deacons are for all of us signs and embodiments of service.

How might this help us understand better the relationship between the ministerial and lay forms of our Salesian vocation? Rather than seeking the distinction in the jobs we do, we could remember that, as Fr Viganò taught, the whole congregation has a lay dimension, and the whole congregation, like the whole people of God, is a priestly people. The Salesian Brother embodies the former, while the Salesian priest embodies the latter, and each is a sign and reminder to the other.

Given that, as Fr Rinaldi and Fr Chavez have said, the Salesian Brother represents the Salesian vocation in its pure form, we might even say that the Brother is a sign and icon to his priest confreres of our basic and fundamental salesian consecrated identity.

3. A theology of consecrated life

It might be worth spending a few moments putting down a few elements of a theology of consecrated life.

Consecrated life makes no sense without reference to Jesus.

Jesus came to reveal the Good News of the gift of eternal life, our call to communion with God, and to draw all people into that communion.

The Church is the body of those who respond to that call.

Within the church there is the ministry of Peter and the figure of Mary. Peter and his successors are at the service of the church, while Mary in her Yes to the Lord is a figure of the Church. Not all are called to the Petrine ministry, but all are called, like Mary, to say Yes to the Lord. In fact, the CCC states clearly that the church is Marian before being Petrine, that the Petrine ministry is totally at the service of the basic vocation of the church to holiness, and that it will come to an end with the passing of this world.

Consecrated life takes its place at the Marian heart of the church. It is a sign of the fact that we are all called to the final embrace of God, to the life of the resurrection that Jesus prefigured already especially in his celibacy. It is in this sense that consecrated life is a living memorial of Jesus.

The priestly ministry remains valid even when the priest is unworthy. But the consecrated life is totally emptied of its meaning when the consecrated person fails to live up to his vocation. There is no chastity in one who is not chaste.


Wednesday 17 August 2016

Paul Melo e Castro, Lengthening Shadows

Paul Melo e Castro, Lengthening Shadows: An anthology of Goa short stories translated from Portuguese, vols. 1-2. Saligao: Goa 1556 / Margao: Golden Heart Emporium, 2016. Paul’s father, who is Portuguese, was born in Goa and lived there until 1961. (see, as of 17.08.2016) Paul himself was born in 1978.

The advantage of his being in many ways an ‘outsider’ is that he can put down the difficult facts about caste from an outsider point of view. Most of the writers, he admits, belonged to the upper castes, whether Brahmin or Chardo.

Monday 15 August 2016

The Cairo Geniza - notes from Ghosh's In an Antique Land


From Amitav Ghosh, In an Antique Land (Ravi Dayal Publisher / Penguin Books, 1992, 2008). Notes taken 15.08.2016.

Bomma, the slave of MS H.6, first appeared in an article by E. Strauss, “New Sources for the History of Middle Eastern Jews,” Zion [Hebrew, published in Jerusalem] 1942. The article contained transcriptions of several medieval documents, among them a letter by Khalaf ibn Ishaq, a Jewish merchant living in Aden, to Abraham Ben Yiju, a Jewish merchant living in Mangalore. Strauss estimates the date as 1148.

The name appears in the letters as B-M-H, which Ghosh proposes as BOMMA.

Bomma appears again in another letter between the same parties, but written in 1139 (9 years before the earlier one), and published in Letters of Medieval Jewish Traders, tr. and ed. S.D. Goitein (Princeton University, 1973).

Ben Yiju: a Jewish merchant, originally of Tunisia, who had gone to India via Egypt, and had spent 17 years there in Mangalore. A calligrapher, scholar, and poet, besides trader. Returned to Egypt after amassing great wealth in India. Last years in Egypt; his papers found their way to the Cairo Geniza. [8.]

Ghosh, scholar student in Oxford in 1978, pursuing a PhD in social anthropology. To Tunisia in 1979 to learn Arabic, and in Lataifa, Egypt, in 1980, “a couple of hours journey to the south-east of Alexandria.” [8.]

The name Cairo comes from the formal name for the city, Al-Qahira, rarely used. More usually it is known as Masr. But when the people of Cairo speak of Masr, they often have in mind a particular district in the south: Old Cairo, Masr al-Qadima, Masr al-‘Atiqa, Mari Gargis, Fustat Masr, Fustat. [20.]

Within Fustat, a small enclave became the home to Ben Yiju. It used to be a Roman fortress called Babylon, built by Trajan in 130 AD, on the site of an earlier structure. The name may have come rom the Arabic Bab il-On, the Gate of On, after the ancient sanctuary of Heliopolis. Other names for the fort: Qasr al-Shama, Fortress of the Lamp. [20.]

The second gateway of Babylon, in its southern wall, is now a putrefying pit. This is the site of the single most important event in the history of Cairo: through this gateway the Arab general ‘Amr ibn al-‘As entered Babylon in 641 AD, victorious over the Christian powers in Masr. [21.]

With this victory, the centre of gravity shifted from Alexandria to Babylon, which was a small military outpost. The general elected to base his army in an entirely new city, the site of his camp while besieging Bablylon. [21.] The name: Fustat.

[So: Ben Yiju settled in Fustat, with its synagogue and Geniza; while Ghosh studied Arabic in Lataifa, much more to the north west, nearer to Alexandria.]

Fustat served as capital for 3 centuries. A new invasion and victory moved the capital a few miles north. The Fatimid general, Jawhar al-Rumi, built his new city bside the conquered one, and called it al-Qahira, the Martial or the Victorious, after the planet Mars, al-Qahir. As Cairo, this name passed into European languages. [22.]

When Ben Yiju first came to Masr in the early years of the 12th C, it was probably still a solemn bureaucratic place. The bustling market kind of place was Fustat, which was on the river, and an important port linking the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean, nucleus of one of the richest and most cosmopolitan cities on earth. [23.]

Babylon became spiritual home to Ben Yiju. Majority Copts, but also at least 3 Jewish groups: Iraqis, Palestinians, and the Karaites. Ben Yiju joined the Palestinian group that included the indigenous Jews of Egypt, and followed the school of Jerusalem. Fustat is now a rubbish dump, but Bablylon proved to have greater staying power. [24.]

The synagogue of Ben Ezra, the synagogue of the Palestinians, lay near the eastern walls of Babylon. It lasted 700 years after Ben Yiju, still standing into the late 19th C. it was described in 1884 by A.J. Butler as a small and simplified version of a Coptic basilica. [37.]

This synagogue received an influx of migrants from Ifriqiya (Tunisia), Jewish merchants whose surnames reflected 3 continents, well-travelled people, but not born to privilege. Yet they were educated, read Hippocrates and Galen in Arabic translation, the medical writings of Arab physicians and scholars such as Ibn Rushd (Averroes) and al-Razi. One of their members was Musa ibn Maimon, Maimonides. He had close family ties with the India trade. [39.]

But the greatest achievement of the congregation was the Geniza, a name perhaps from the Persian ganj or storehouse (see the Anglicized Ballygunge and Daltongunj). [39-40.]

The Geniza, built perhaps when the synagogue was rebuilt in 1025, contained 8 centuries of papers. A great quantity in the first two and a half centries of rebuilding; and then again 300 years later, with the wave of immigrants because of the Spanish inquisition. The last document: 1875, a divorce settlement written in Bombay. [40.]

In 1890 the 11th C building was torn down and rebuilt; this still stands, and now has been rejuvenated. [40-41.]

18th C: Masr was part of the Ottoman Empire, now enfeebled, allowed to retain its territories only by consent of the Great European Powers. The indian Ocean trde had been destroyed by European navies. Masr attracted attention as a potential bridge to the territories of the Indian Ocean. [60.]

also a new interest in the past of Egypt. A new scholarly interest.

First report of the Geniza in Europe: 1752 or 1753, the Jewish traveller Simon Van Geldern visited the Synagogue. But the interest was in Egypt of the ancients. [61.]

After Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt in 1798, the country attracted fresh attention. Still the Geniza remained unnoticed. [61.]

The scholarly attention begins in 1864. Egypt is now in British hands. Jacob Saphir scholar and collected of Judaic antiquities, visited the synagogue several times. He found the Geniza 2 and half storeys high, open to the sky. He took a few leaves with him. Published his account in 1866. [62-3.]

Soon after, the visit of Abraham Firkowitch, a Crimean Karaite Jew. His collection is now in the St Petersburg State Public Library. The MSS were bought in two lots; they contain a huge number of biblical MSS; but there is no way of knowing for sure which came from the Geniza. F never revealed his sources, because he had obtained many by swindle. He was merely following the method then usual in Western scholarship. [63.]

1888 visit of Elkan N. Adler to the Jewish community and its prominent families. No mention of the Geniza.

The Synagogue was rebuilt. The dispersal of the Geniza begins. [65.] Documents to Parish, Frankfurt, London, Vienna, Budapest. The Bodleian at Oxford.

Solomon Wertheimer of Jerusalem sent some documents of the Geniza to Solomon Schechter, who dismissed them as worthless. [66.]

Adler returned to Cairo in 1896. Took away a sackful of documents. Much of this is in the Jewish Theological Seminary of New York. [67.]

1896, Agnes S. Lewis and Margaret D. Gibson, Presbyterians, visited and carried away some documents. They made Schechter interested. Visited Cairo. Carried away 30 boxes and sacks of material. [72.] Given to the University of Cambridge Library: the Taylor-Schechter Collection. Here the story of Ben Yiju and his slave. [72.]

Other documents discovered in the Jewish cemetery of Fustat, at the turn of the century and a decade later. [72.]

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