Friday, October 31, 2008

Back to basics

I have been mulling over writing a post about the US elections, or about the Extraordinary form of the Mass, or even about the new English mass translastion, but I'm not there yet on any of those.

So it was a delight to receive an email from one of our trainee teachers at Maryvale Institute was asked this question:

Can you give me a definitive answer to the authors of the Gospels please Fr Peter?  I think Mark and John were apostles of Jesus and Luke was a follower of Peter I think?  I am confused.  When I did RE A level John was probably the Elder and not the apostle or the Beloved. Anyway if you have a minute I would be grateful if you could give me an answer.

Here is my quick (and rather unreferenced) answer:

The authorship of the Gospels has long been discussed and debated. If you delve into a good Bible commentary, such as the Jerome, it will give you an overview of the debate. Suffice to say there are traditional answers and the current critical consensus. The latter should not be considered to be definitive.

(A recent book on some of these issues has been written by Fr John Redford, entitled "Who was John?" It is available in the Maryvale bookshop!)

To a certain extent, we should be cautious about the term 'author'. A reading of what we call the Synoptic Gospels (Mt, Mk and Lk) shows that to a large extent they were editors, forging together material they had collected. John seems to put more creativity into the task, but continues to follow the inherited outlines of the story - especially in the passion.

Bear in mind also that only Luke's Gospel actually includes a reference to the evangelist in the text itself. Some would argue that the names of Mark, Matthew and John (esp Mt) are later ascriptions (though surely very very early).

Another point to remember is that in the ancient world (as indeed today), the name on the top of the document (or at the bottom) does not necessarily indicate that that person wrote every word. Quite beside the matter of sources, writers would also have those who wrote for them (amanuenses) who might have been like modern day copy typists, but at other times - like a modern day secretary - might have had more freedom. The end of John's Gospel certainly appears to have been 'completed' by a disciple of the 'author', and it could well be that the writing of the Gospels were collaborative activities.

So, when we use the term evangelist (better than 'author') we probably means the principal director or authority behind the Gospel project, the precise extent of whose involvement it is impossible for us to know.

The traditional identifications are that Matthew (aka Levi) and John were amongst the apostles of Jesus. Mark (aka John Mark) was a follower of St Paul, who took Peter as a major source. Luke is the only gentile evangelist, who also wrote the Acts of the Apostles, and was a doctor who accompanied St Paul on some of his journeys.

Much critical scholarship in the 19th and 20th centuries has rejected all these identifications, mainly because there has been a desire to see the writing of the Gospels to be much later than the lives of the individuals themselves. However, this is very much an open question, and more recent writing has tended to move back to earlier dates.

For my own part, I think it is pretty safe to operate on the basis that the traditional ascriptions are broadly correct, especially if you are to qualify what you say and write by saying, for Mark for example, 'thought to be the John Mark mentioned by Paul'  - this indicates that you are aware of the debate, which is by no means final.

My one hesitancy is over Matthew. Though the matter is still hotly debated, the critical consensus remains that Mt depends on Mk for much of his text, and it is hard to see how this could be if Mt was an eyewitness.

However, more to the point is whether this matters at all in most circumstances. When writing about the content of the Gospel, we can comfortably say 'Matthew writes ...' (though remember to say Jesus says when Jesus says). If asked in the classroom, we can honestly say that Mt is traditionally thought to be one of the apostles, though we can't be sure. (After all, the Gospel itself doesn't tell us). Who the evangelist Matthew was - or were - does not have very much bearing on the content at all from a spiritual-theological point of view, and only limited importance for historical studies.

From a Catholic understanding, each of the Gospels is part of holy Scripture, as defined by the Church, which teaches that the writers were inspired by the Holy Spirit to give us God's word, but also wrote as human authors. Who these people actually were is relevant to understanding what they wrote, but whoever they were, their words remain part of Scripture.

Of course, when these issues would really matter is if you were writing an essay with the question "Who was Matthew?" If you ever do so, I would be delighted to read a copy!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

The iPhone has built in obsolescence!

Our son, Luke, sent me this message yesterday evening. He has made an interesting discovery about the iPhone:

"I'm bored, in bed and I can't sleep. Downloaded FRING which works superbly.

But the thing that caught my eye was the iPhone calendar. I found that it will go no further than December 2068.

You'll be 110, I'll be 80 so I think at some point in the next 60 years I should think about replacing my handset!

I know, strange isn't it?"

Saturday, October 18, 2008

QT on the BBC

Our youngest son, Luke, was in the audience on Question Time on Thursday. Unfortunately he didn't get to ask any questions.

(Luke is the one on the right)

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

No BNP leader on Question Time in Stoke on Trent.

The list of panel members to Thursday's Question Time apparently does
not include anyone from the BNP:

As my source could be expected to have some 'inside' information, we
can only wonder at what the background to the information might have
been. Perhaps once again the BNP have refused to accept conditions for
their appearance.

Fr Peter Weatherby

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Credit Crunch

I was interviewed this morning on Radio Stoke about the effect of the Credit Crunch on Churches. I'm hardly and expert, but you can listen to the interview by clicking the title or this link (6 minutes) or listen to the full programme (3 hours) at

Freedom of Speech

Well, it seems I am getting a few readers to my blog. The trick, it seems, it to pop in one or two key words (other bloggers note). My most recent post has generated a lot of traffic, and many comments. Most of the comments purport to come from UK nationals and British patriots, whose 'time has come' and who deserve free speech in order to rid Britian of its racial impurities. I summarise, of course, and in the interests of good taste and peace of mind of family members, I have removed the comments from the site - but if you want to you can read many of them here (see, I do believe in freedom of speech ...)

However, those clever people at Google analytics can tell me an interesting story. Most of the traffic was generated from a US based site called "StormFront". The banner to the site has words in a Germanic Gothic script. I am sure I am not the only one who has not missed the connection with the most famous racist organisations of the twentieth century.

Most visitors, and it seems comments, come from the forum posts which you can also read here: You will see that in the main this is not rational pollitical debate, and includes at least one death threat: "The church is fall of nonces maybe we should withdraw them of air?". Some writers also advise those commenting on my blog how to frame their comments. It is worth reading these posts, because this is what giving an equivalent platform for groups like the BNP really means.

There is one comment received so far deserves a particular response. Gary raised the question of free speech and democracy, and asks whether to deny the BNP a voice on Question Time actually goes against these principles. This point is clearly not lost on the BBC, and the internal debate in the Corporation has occasionally surfaced in public comment. Back in 2003 the BBC apparently blocked an invitation to BNP councillors to take part in Question Time. However there are clearly some voices in the BBC who feel this approach should change - an article last year by Peter Rippon of the BBC indicates some movement in the debate, and the visit to the local radio station here in Stoke-on-Trent might well indicate what could be called a 'softening' by the BBC. Ironically, I speculate, it may be the anxiety of a challenge to the BBC's policy under European Human Rights legislation that is causing some rethinking.

Anyway, to deal with Gary's point and connected issues

1. I am not suggesting an absolute ban on the BNP. My comments relate to this particular (possible) invitation.

2. To invite the leader of the BNP to appear on QT allows the party to appear like any other party - they are not.

3. The very existence of the site, the comments made on it, and the other reactions to my blog make my point in (2) very clear. In addition, there is widespread evidence of illegal activity by BNP activists including convictions for Griffin himself. The StormFront site claims that earlier invitations have been extended to the BNP but conditions have been laid upon them which they have not been prepared to accept - most likely, the BBC have been trying to avoid charges of inciting racial hatred being made against the Corporation.

4. The fact that this invitation appears to be being made for a recording in Stoke-on-Trent is particularly sensitive. Indeed, if true, the apparent secrecy surrounding the invitation and the venue is proof in itself that this is seen to be a delicate matter. It also comes just a few days before a local referendum, which - although not of particular interest to the BNP (it is about the future structure of local government and whether we have an elected mayor) - it also puts the city in the publc spotlight.

5. Respectfully, I submit that it is rather naive to suppose that if the policies and opinions of a racist party were given full exposure (especially on their terms) then they would be plainly seen for what they are. That did not happen in Weimar Germany, nor indeed much more recently in the former Yugoslavia. Such groups thrive and exploit publicity and are not open about their dealings.

6. Freedom of Speech is never an absolute right. In fact, it is not a right at all in UK law, or at least it wasn't until the incorporation in Uk law of the European Covention. "Freedom is not unlimited; it must halt before 'the tree of the knowledge of good and evil', for it is called to accept the moral law given by God." (Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Catholic Church 136). Racism is clearly against that moral law (ibid, paras 144, 431, 433, 557) and our responsibility is to promote racial harmony and understanding, not to encourage the opposite.

Now there are two other points which I ought briefly to add.

The first is this: there is a debate to be had about the extent to which Freedom of Speech may and may not be allowed in a democratic (ie. liberal secular) society. I allow that there may be a range of views on this. In the current climate of the 'War on Terror', there has been a restriction on many aspects of freedom of speech and expression, something I observe with some alarm. One of the difficulties of the democratic liberalism with which we are familiar with in the West is that at heart there is a profound contradiction - the statement attributed to Voltaire “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” The trouble is that it is those we are prepared to die for who are those most likely to be those who want to kill us. Fortunately for Voltaire he never actually made this statement, and he died a natural death. Some views, I would hold, are so repugnant as not to merit the privilege of free propagation. In fact, I think everyone holds this to some extent - the only debate is about where the line is drawn. We would not have this debate about the publication of paedophilic pornography, for example, and the law in the UK and elsewhere restricts support for terrorist groups - even in poetry. If racist parties take pleasure in demeaning, vilifying and threatening others in their Web sites and publications, then we have to ask to what extent this is different.

And the second point, no less important, is that racist parties thrive on real concerns which people have, and while the racists should not have the same access to freedom of speech, this should not be used as a reason for ignoring real anxieties and concerns of ordinary people. The process of education and fostering understanding of ethnically different groups is one important feature. Education and information about the contribution which migrants make to economies and cultures and challenging stereotypes and misinformation is another. But if we think that is enough we are mistaken. Many ordinary people harbour not only simple prejudice but also fear about what is unfamiliar, and have concerns over economic or social stresses in their own lives which seem to overlap with aspects of ethnic diversity. If those in authority dismiss such issues as prejudice or ignorance, then they are driving ordinary good people into the hands of the racists because they seem to provide a direct diagnosis to the problem and a simple answer. To paraphrase someone, we need to address both racism and the causes of racism.

Or, as Edmund Burke wrote, All that is required for the triumph of evil, is that good men do nothing.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

I heard it in the Coachmakers ...

The Coachmakers is not only a fantastic pub serving an excellent selection of real ales. It is also a place where you can learn a great deal.

At the end of BBC Question Time yesterday evening (Thursday 9th) it was indicated that the next programme - to be recorded on Thursday 16th - would be in Stoke-on-Trent. But the full list of guests, and the venue for the recording, were not mentioned. Neither it seems, are they mentioned on the website. Curiouser and curiouser, local BBC staff do not seem to know where the recording will be either.

Well, this could be something, or it could be nothing. Which is where that little bit of extra information, informally imparted, makes the picture a little more complete.

The mystery guest, I learnt - though I should add that I cannot confirm this, is to be Nick Griffin, of the British National Party, the racist, neo-nazi group which has had significant success in local elections in Stoke on Trent and has several local councillors. It has been involved in agitation locally, most recently organising a national rally in the city. Its criminal activities, convictions of its activists and financial irregularities are well documented (here and here and here).

I also learnt that an unnamed BBC official visited local radio offices recently and instructed the staff that they must 'treat the BNP exactly the same as every other party'. If all or any of this is true, then Stoke-on-Trent, as a BNP 'stronghold' is a place of some interest to the BBC, but is the laudable commitment of the BBC to freedom of speech really such a good thing in this case?

Shouting 'fire' in a crowded room is not the excercise of free speech, and preaching race hatred, especially in a city which knows such relative deprivation and has remarkably harmonious and wide racial diversity, should not be protected as a right, but clearly seen for what it is, vindictive and malicious poison.

The secrecy surrounding both the name of the guests and the venue for the recording indicate the sensitivity of the invitation. To invite Griffin to the recording here is Stoke-on-Trent would allow national perceptions of the advance of the BNP and the racism of the city to be reinforced, not rejected.

Is there anything we could do?
I think that those who reject BNP hatred should ask the BBC to confirm
or deny the invitation, and if it is true to lobby them to withdraw it.
I believe that right thinking people locally should apply now to be in the audience that day then - if Griffin is indeed on the guest list - not turn up (CLICK HERE).
And if the recording does go ahead with Griffin, good thinking people should peacefully protest outside the venue.

Of course ... my source may have it all wrong ... let's find out.
COMMENTS CAN NO LONGER BE LEFT ON THIS POST as many of those received have been threatening, abusive and have caused anxiety and distress to friends and family members. I do not however, intend removing the post itself, as- notwithstanding the speculation about the invitation in question - what is published here is clearly verifiable.