FR. RENÉ LAURENTIN'S THE TRUTH OF CHRISTMAS
Reviewed by John F. McCarthy
The full title of the English translation of this work is The Truth of Christmas - Beyond the Myths - The Gospels of the Infancy of Christ. The original French edition is entitled Les Évangiles de l'Enfance du Christ. Vérité de Noël au-delà des mythes (Desclée: Paris, 1982). It was awarded First Prize for Religious Literature by the French Academy a few months after it appeared. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger wrote a laudatory preface for the third French edition, which appeared in 1983. This preface is included in the English translation.
In the March 1987 issue of LIVING TRADITION there is featured an extensive review of Father René Laurentin's recently translated book on the Infancy Narratives of Our Lord, The Truth of Christmas (Les Évangiles de l'Enfance du Christ).
In the effort to bring out a balanced appraisal, there is also criticism of what appear to be some weak points in Father Laurentin's presentation. Nevertheless, the review is substantially positive, and the importance of this book should not be overlooked. For those who have endured decades of poorly grounded and poorly reasoned exegetical production, based on the 'new hypotheses' of higher criticism, there arises from a reading of this volume new hope and a renewed desire to continue on and complete what Father Laurentin has so opportunely begun. The Marian Year could provide a splendid occasion to advance this work. We hope that Father Laurentin and others will join in the attempt to promote further steps away from the barren ground of form-criticism and forward towards increased understanding of the inspired text of the Gospels.
The English translation of this sizeable work (583 pages) was done by Msgr. Michael Wrenn and seven colleagues in a period of only five months. Finding a publisher was not easy. About a year and a half later, St. Bede's Publications of Petersham, Massachusetts, agreed to bring it out. According to Msgr. Wrenn (writing in the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars Newsletter, December 1986, p. 8) the strong maneuverings from within the scholarly community to block the publication of Fr. Laurentin's book proceeded, not so much from scientific interest as from "an ideological concern that popular theories and hypotheses are now being seriously and scientifically challenged."
Jean Guitton of the French Academy believes that the book will be an eye-opener for many readers for three reasons: 1) because it does away with illusory presuppositions which tend to weaken one's faith; 2) because it restores the historical reality of the Infancy of Christ; and 3) because it manifests the divine reality of the Incarnation which readily vanishes if the historical dimensions of Matthew and Luke are downplayed (Msgr. Wrenn, ibid.). This is indeed a great accomplishment. Cardinal Ratzinger, in his preface, presents a similar appraisal: "With this book, the infancy Gospels are restored to us with a new life. ... This book, which fulfills the best potentials of modern theology, stirs in me a feeling of profound gratitude; it deserves widespread recognition. May it find many attentive readers who learn from it and discover anew the richness and realism of the Christian faith."
The English translation is fairly faithful and accurate. The translators are to be complimented for the translation that they have presented and for their having made this important work available to English-language readers. For the many quotations from Sacred Scripture the Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition, of the Bible has been used. This version is more precise than some other English versions, but its defects are carried with it, and sometimes it does not seem to do full justice to the text or to the point that Fr. Laurentin is making, even though in most cases it serves well. For example, on page 156 of the English text, Fr. Laurentin tells us that in Lk 1:45 "Elizabeth recognizes the qualification which the mother of the Lord acquired by her consent in faith (Lk 1:38)" where she says, "Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord." But the original French text says, "Blessed (happy) is she who has believed, because the words spoken by the Lord will be fulfilled."
Occasionally one or more sentences of the French text have been skipped in the English. By chance I have noted this on pages 156 and 355 of the English (not especially important passages), while a full-page diagram on page 273 of the French, illustrating the semiotic square of Lk 1-2 according to the CADIR Group of Lyons (p. 225 in the English), has been left out entirely. These omissions do not seriously damage the presentation of Fr. Laurentin. Nor does the confusion of Lucien Legrand with James Lagrand in footnote 9 on page 538.
Another small deficiency is the unobservance in the English translation of Fr. Laurentin's careful distinction between "Nazarene" and "Nazorean" in the Greek text. It comes out "Nazarene" in all cases in the English. Thus the point that Fr. Laurentin is making in this regard (e.g., on pp. 277, 278, 307, and 324) is somewhat obscured.
On page 60 of the English translation, Fr. Laurentin tells us regarding the Infancy Narrative of Luke: "It is very careful not to identify the divine sonship with the virginal conception. This conception with a human father appears as the sign, not merely of a transcendent action of God, but also of the divine identity of the one who is born." "This conception with a human father" would put quite a big hole in the Truth of Christmas, but it is only the product of a typographical error, thanks be to God, since the French text (p. 79) reads "this conception without a father" (sans père), and I trust that the publishers of the English edition will hasten to bring the Good News about this to their readers at the earliest opportunity, if they have not done so already.
The effort of Fr. Laurentin to restore the historical reality of the Infancy of Christ to the field of biblical scholarship shines out most clearly, in my estimation, in his successful attempt to bring out the role of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the development of the Infancy Narratives. That Mary is the probable source of Lk 1-2 is the climax and crowning point of his book, and for this alone the book deserves recognition both as an outstanding contribution to Scripture study in this era and as a forward-looking oracle of the Scripture study of the future.
To summarize briefly some aspects of this insight of Fr. Laurentin, never greatly developed even by Catholic exegetes of the past, I would note the following: on pages 31-33, Fr. Laurentin reviews attempts in recent times to reconstruct a Hebrew proto-Luke 1-2, and he notes that "the retroversion of the infancy Gospel into Hebrew" can bring to light the possibility that Luke 1-2 "derives from a Jewish-Christian source." He finds that "Luke 1-2 presents the indication of a translation to the same extent as the Septuagint." To whatever extent these indications are there, Fr. Laurentin is able convincingly to conclude (p. 33) that Lk 1-2 reflects a Jewish-Christian community which includes Mary and in which "family memories could have been gathered together, preserved, and meditated upon in pure Christian light," even though he is not able to describe the genesis of the sources or to determine the role played by oral tradition and whatever elements may have been added by redaction. Here Fr. Laurentin is a pathfinder, and those who follow him may be able by careful work to determine these elements more clearly.
Fr. Laurentin adds to this insight on page 76 and elsewhere develops (e.g., on pp. 459 and 463) the interesting role played by John the Evangelist and his followers in producing Lk 1-2. We know that Blessed Mary was a central part of the "Johannine community," and here again we see the possible influence of Mary behind the writing of Lk 1-2. Referring to the record of Lk 2:51 that the Mother of Jesus "kept all these words in her heart," Fr. Laurentin observes (p. 88): "This positive refrain (an echo of 2:19) indicates that Mary's meditation in search of understanding continued up to the mature understanding yielded by the Gospel of Luke. Thus Fr. Laurentin (p. 105) finds Lk 1-2 to be "the fruit of a long meditation, which has discovered, selected and stylized the significant elements...." The point not to be missed is that Mary's meditation and study was a large factor in the discovery, selection, and stylizing of the significant elements in Lk 1-2 (cf. pp. 188-190 and on p. 502, note 60, concerning Lk 2:19: "The evangelist, concerned with eyewitnesses (Lk 1-2), seems to indicate here (as enunciator) that this mature meditation formed the source of the Gospel. Mary exercises her memory in an active way.")
Fr. Laurentin (pp. 380-381) cogently counters the position of Fr. Raymond Brown that the Magnificat is "too developed" to have derived from the Blessed Virgin Mary. Fr. Laurentin reasonably suggests, "Why not then evaluate these texts according to their content rather than according to fragile presuppositions which seek to attribute the canticles to the 'creative Christian community' (itself a lovely myth, generously exploited by the Formeschichte school)? ... What 'critical' analyses often lose sight of is the fact that the prayer of those times lies within the framework of a living tradition. Its roots lay in past models that lent themselves to successive levels of updating which almost went unnoticed. The important thing, then, is to situate these canticles within their tradition, a tradition which was characterized by a faithful and retentive memory--a phenomenon totally unknown to us."
Regarding the Benedictus of Zachary, Fr. Laurentin concludes (p. 385) that the possibility that it was preserved in the memory of Mary "concurs with the admitted facts and the multiple indications which oppose bookish hypotheses."
Regarding the Nunc Dimittis, Fr. Laurentin observes (p. 534, note 24): "If it has been preserved and transmitted as Lk 1:l4 would lead us to believe, the transmission cannot be Simeon's doing. But Mary was present at this scene (2:27), in fact, in the foreground (2:34). Thus it is to her memory that we owe the transmission of this canticle and the prophecy of the sword (2:35). This is the inevitable solution, if historicity is not denied a priori and one is not to insist upon making a patchwork of Luke 1-2's superstructure."
Thus, for Fr. Laurentin the first two chapters of Luke are "a light produced by meditation," which originated "in Mary and in the humble believers who have reflected and pondered for a long time without fully comprehending" (p. 457), a view of the infancy of Our Lord derived probably not directly from Mary but rather from the community in which Luke lived (p. 458). "Mary is the witness par excellence in an intimate and integral way - the long-term witness.
Her existence is wholly relative to Christ and to his future. While Luke is the most laudatory evangelist with respect to the Virgin, he forestalls any form of Marian exaltation that would forget that her glory is rooted in humility and has its ultimate perfection in reference to God alone" (p. 460).
In the final analysis, Fr. Laurentin finds that "Mary is the only possible source of an episode like the annunciation and the most appropriate source of several others" (p. 461). Luke's part in the final redaction was "a discreet, elegant and faithful adaptation. He consistently and determinedly respected his source. Most notably, he allowed it to retain its Semitic character" (p. 463).
Besides this outstanding presentation of Blessed Mary as the source of Lk 1-2, there are other very meritorious features of The Truth of Christmas, as well as problematic features that need to be addressed.
Fr. Laurentin introduces his readers to a new method of exegesis called 'semiotics,' which takes as its object "the study of how signs produce (or induce) a meaning." It starts with the observation that "meaning depends upon the structured organization of signs--whence the name 'structuralism,' by which this method is known to the public." It has been in existence only since the 1960s; it springs from a line of linguistics begun by Ferdinand de Saussure (d. 1913), "who tried to explain how elementary sounds (phonemes) are organized to produce a meaningful language by a structured interplay of differences and contrasts" (p. 111). Saussure used the logical 'square of opposition' as a linguistic procedure "that works on material and objective indices by explaining the genesis of meaning from significative base-elements (called sememes) which produce it." As Fr. Laurentin explains the method, "what matters is not these elements themselves but their relations and correlations: their organization" (p. 112). "Semiotic analysis objectively gives an account of the meaning 'produced' by structured relations of elementary components (sememes)" (p. 117).
This new procedure is like a breath of fresh air to contemporary biblical exegesis in the sense that it draws attention back to logic and away from the illogical form-critical analysis that is currently in vogue. To raise the question of logic at all in contemporary exegetical scholarship is a step forward, and the square of opposition certainly has some bearing upon the validity or non-validity of an exegetical method. In reading The Truth of Christmas I was impressed by the painstaking manner in which Fr. Laurentin analyzes words in their original language and tries to penetrate into them by the use of the square of opposition. He brings many interesting things to light about these words in a manner redolent of the great Catholic exegetes of the past, who moved with consummate care from one word to the next and from one verse to the next. Fr. Laurentin's method does not reach their high consistency, but he is certainly aiming in the right direction.
On the other hand, I do not find that the semiotic approach provides a sufficient framework for a comprehensive exegesis of the text. Certainly, a meditative comparison of key words in the text will bear fruit of understanding, and Fr. Laurentin uses the semiotic square to do this, but in most cases a similar understanding would proceed from a simple comparison without the use of this square. Thus, the semiotic presentation often seems to be no more than an elaborate illustration of the obvious. Semiotics does add the element of technical procedure, and this enables a more organized result, but not on the comprehensive level that seems to be desired.
Thus, Fr. Laurentin sees the key relation of contrariety in Lk 1-2 to be between 'law' and 'grace' and in Mt 1-2 to be between 'generation' and 'kingship,' and, in a certain sense, this is true. Much understanding comes forth from the semiotic analysis of these two structured relationships. But full understanding seems to be blocked when words themselves are made the keys to understanding and the framework of analysis is limited to the square of opposition.
This difficulty appears in the very division of Fr. Laurentin's book into semiotic analysis and historical analysis. "Exegesis analyzes texts. History inquires into the reality of what the texts relate" (p. 311). For Fr. Laurentin, semiotic analysis "ignores the question of historicity" (p. 288), yet the question of historicity is somehow always there. In fact it is necessarily omnipresent. Fr. Laurentin sees semiotic analysis and historical analysis as two different approaches which he cannot integrate into a single conclusive synthesis. He observes (p. 449): "If one attempts to achieve an overall and definitive view, one runs the risk of slipping away from orderly knowledge with only the illusion of having gained something." This is extremely pessimistic. Historical analysis can certainly be brought into a unified framework with what Fr. Laurentin calls 'semiotic analysis.' And this must be done, because otherwise the semiotic analysis will tend time and again to slip into errors with regard to the historical reality, as seems to happen in The Truth of Christmas.
This tendency appears, for example, in the discussion of literary genres, which comes in the exegetical part but which pertains to the question of historical reality. In summing up this study, Fr. Laurentin tells us (p. 451) that the science of semiotics "reveals the dynamic and profound unity of the texts, their fundamental consistency overriding the apparent medley of diverse episodes and literary genres. The depth of the text requires us to go beyond the analytic models erected for stories and tales." In other words, to go beyond what fiction and tales can do in themselves. But this is an evasion of the question of historicity, which needs to be faced first. That Christ gives new and deeper meaning to the narrative of the events is obvious, but that is another question. Hence, I would suggest that the lack of sufficiently clear historical concepts in Fr. Laurentin's method places the treatment of literary genres on a shaky historical basis, which would not be so insecure if a more comprehensive framework had been used. With his semiotic exegesis, Fr. Laurentin makes mighty efforts but never seems to escape completely from the dubious historical categories of form-criticism or to be able to show the extent to which the "literary genres" of form-criticism are actually figments of the form-critical imagination.
With regard, then, to the kind of historicity to be found in the Infancy Narratives of Matthew and Luke, I would maintain that Fr. Laurentin's intention is sound, but his historical apparatus is faulty. He recognizes (p. 315) Luke's "fundamental concern to conform to the actual events" that took place, but he does not clearly ascertain what Luke's fundamental historical concern implies. Fr. Laurentin characterizes Luke's account as "not purely factual or anecdotal," but rather as "a holy history" which "would have been perceived as such." A holy history it is, but a more adequate apparatus of historical concepts will show that the holiness of the account is set down in an absolute adherence to the historical facts; it is not fictional at all. The criterion of historical truth is mathematical (contra p. 314) in the sense that the account is in one-to-one correspondence with the historical facts. Fr. Laurentin encourages us to recognize this crucial fact, yet he does not arrive at it himself.
The thrust of Fr. Laurentin's book is, in fact, encouraging us to return to the fundamental distinction between the historical and the symbolic, or allegorical, sense of the text and to develop this distinction into a systematic approach meeting all the modern standards. It is a deficiency of his present exposition that he hardly takes into consideration the Catholic exegesis of almost two millennia, but instead tries to base his results on a method going back only to the 1960s. Often he ends up crediting himself and his colleagues with insights that were well expressed (even better expressed) by commentators of centuries ago, and he leaves unsolved some questions that have been worked out and resolved long ago. From the start he is hesitant about going back to earlier exegetical positions, even of the Fathers of the Church, but ultimately he is prevented by the too-narrow limits of his semiotic method. Regarding the case in point (pp. 314-315), holiness does not substitute for historical fact; it is a dimension of the historical facts that leads into the higher senses of the text. An adequate method of exegesis must treat the historical sense first as historical and then move on to an examination of the holiness as a deeper meaning inherent in the historical facts, expressed by means of symbol and allegory.
Fr. Laurentin says this beautifully on page 317: "Luke intends to give an assurance of faith. But his Gospel does not do this by yielding abstract dogmas, rather, it sets out the very history of Jesus. It is of the utmost importance that this history be true; otherwise, it would have no meaning. The assurance with which certain exegetes disassociate the symbolic from the historical stems from a culture and a philosophy altogether different from that of our evangelist. He intends to pass on a truth that is understood, meditated upon, competently interpreted, solidly grounded in fact as well as in meaning. ... Luke insists on the akribeia (accuracy) with which he has done his work." Yet the lack of a mental framework systematically distinguishing the historical from the symbolic in the text of Luke usually does not enable Fr. Laurentin to bring out the historical accuracy of the text. For instance, on page 320 Fr. Laurentin tells us: "Luke did not write history like a modern historian. He collated narratives of a simple, direct, colloquial character which had already been elucidated, interpreted, meditated upon. In keeping with his policy, he respected their meaning and scope. He restricted himself to perfecting them, making them explicit, or sifting them within the limits which his use of Mark or other texts allowed him; and we see that he did it to his credit."
This statement is a somewhat confused tribute to the inspired writer. If Luke "did not write history like a modern historian," the reason is twofold: a) he had insights and divine guidance that no modern historian has; b) he was writing a kind of genre that no modern historian would be capable of. But, within the historical perspective that he has chosen, his text is every bit as historically accurate as a modern historian could make it. If what Luke wrote had been previously meditated upon, the meditation pertains to the spiritual meanings or the organization of the text; it does not affect the accuracy of the historical facts. And his use of sources was guided by the special inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
Fr. Laurentin's book concludes under the heading "The Inspiring Experience," but it says little of the special charism of biblical inspiration: "Texts worthy of the name are born of a non-rational stimulus, of a profound and creative impression whether of love, beauty, or even of anguish" (p. 453). Hence a text "has in itself the source of its own existence, its organic structure is generated first of all from within, as in the case of a living thing." The "common proof" of the "authentic inspiration" of the texts of Mt 1-2 and Lk 1-2, he adds on pages 464-465, "is that instead of inventing mythological accounts, they simply accepted the obscurity, the helplessness, and the silence of the child, the fact that his glory was hidden from human eyes. ... The real ground of their interpretation, rooted as it is in the correlative authenticity of their sources and the context of their own experience, is the dawning awareness of transcendence as an interior reality, through the sudden appearance of the Holy Spirit, signaling the beginning of the new creation. ... It implies a certain amount of relativity but at the same time it points to an incommunicable experience which is the source and springboard of all the rest. ... Dare we finally refer to the only possible synthetic point of view in this domain - that of God, the inspiring Spirit, who may be perceived working in human lowliness? The two evangelists invite us to this perspective, for it is clearly from God's point of view that they disclose events, each in his own way and employing his own sources of information. ... This is no longer a matter of analysis or logical expression, but one of contemplation. A spiritual experience is not describable like an object or an item of anatomy. One has access to a spiritual experience only by means of signs and symbols."
These words of Fr. Laurentin are eloquent, but they lack the precision of technical language. The special charism of biblical inspiration is not born of a non-rational stimulus, but of the infinite understanding of the Holy Spirit, a Divine Person. The inspired text of Sacred Scripture does not have in itself the source of its own existence; its organic structure is not generated from within but from the Holy Spirit, Who influences the mind and will "from within" in relation to the created world, but from outside the human mind and will themselves inasmuch as the Holy Spirit, being Himself outside of and above the mind, suggests objective ideas to it. And what is narrated in the inspired text is patterned on reality that stands outside of the mind of the human writer; it is not generated by the mind of the writer.
Again, the "common proof" of the authentic inspiration of the texts is not the simple acceptance of obscurity, helplessness, and silence. Such realism is an apologetical argument in favor of their historicity, but the proof of their inspiration is otherwise. It lies in the testimony and teaching of the Church, and this aspect of inspiration is almost completely overlooked by Fr. Laurentin. He does mention "God, the inspiring Spirit," in the final page of his book, but not in the special sense defined by the teaching Church (in Dei Verbum, No. 11, Providentissimus Deus, etc.), for this is a special supernatural assistance that goes beyond the mere "dawning experience of transcendence as an interior reality." And this inspiration is not an incommunicable experience, but rather an experience aimed specifically at communication through the written word. This written inspired word is a matter of analysis and logical expression as well as a matter of contemplation. Biblical inspiration is not merely a subjective experience; it is an experience of objective ideas to which the minds of readers have access, first on the level of historical narrative, and then on the level of mystery.
Again, the "common proof" of the authentic inspiration of the texts is the historical inerrancy which accompanies them. In the context of universal doubt which pervades many circles of biblical scholarship today, this may sound untenable, but the fact is that those who look at the realities presented in the text and contemplate them in the realism of true Christian faith (which is a knowledge of revealed realities) are themselves "inspired" in a general way and find in this inspiration a confirmation of the authentic inspiration of the text. But this second common proof is not independent of the testimony of the Church.
Hence, I find that what Fr. Laurentin says about the "inspiring experience" of Matthew and Luke is correct with regard to some non-technical aspects of the text, but inaccurate on the level of technical explanation. In particular, for Fr. Laurentin, Matthew's "inspiring experience" is "the experience of the Lord." Matthew is "a teacher, within the context of a purely Jewish tradition, transformed by the Good News of Christ," and "a preacher of a Church of silence" (p. 454). Luke's "inspiring experience" is "the experience of Pentecost" (p. 456). "With Luke, Scripture is less a matter of explicit confirmation or proof text than a light. It is a light produced by meditation, originating, according to Luke, in Mary and in the humble believers who have reflected and pondered for a long time without fully comprehending" (p. 457).
These concluding characterizations of the inspired text of Mt 1-2 and Lk 1-2 are true and also beautiful, especially with regard to the "experience of the Lord" and the "light produced by meditation originating in Mary," but they are inadequate on a technical level. The inspired text of Mt 1-2, with its eloquent and amazingly subtle polemic against the non-believing Jews of his era, and with its elaborately constructed allegorical pattern, goes far beyond the description of Fr. Laurentin. And the special light reflected in the text of Luke, traceable to Our Lady, is in part the tropological sense discerned by the Fathers of the Church but not recognized on a technical level by Fr. Laurentin. His contribution, therefore, on the level of characterization of the inspired text, is merely to begin the process and to encourage others to complete it.
The semiotic square of Fr. Laurentin represents an appeal to the use of an explicit mental framework in the exegesis of the Sacred Scriptures, but it is not itself a sufficient framework. I submit that the needed framework would be the opposing concepts of the literal and the allegorical senses of the inspired text, and that this can be a sufficient framework if these two concepts are elaborated to the required degree. Thus, for example, Fr. Laurentin's "experience of the Lord" as the "inspiring experience" of Matthew must be examined and understood on the diversified levels of the historical experience of the Lord (and Matthew was one of his disciples) and the contemplative experience of the Lord, set down in the symbolic pattern of Mt 1-2. Again, the "experience of Pentecost" does not alter the historical character of Lk 1-2, even though it adds a contemplative dimension to it. This "light produced by meditation" is first of all a penetration of the historical facts which does not falsify them. Then it is a contemplative light which includes the basic allegory of Christ portrayed in Mt 1-2, but which goes on to emphasize more than does Mt 1-2 the subjective and tropological aspect of the experience of the Lord. Finally, the eschatology of the last things, present so emphatically in the Gospel according to John, is not absent from the text of Mt 1-2 and Lk 1-2, as a complete exegesis will easily show. Thus we have the basic framework of an adequate approach to these chapters: the literal and historical sense, the allegorical sense, the tropological sense, and the anagogical (or eschatological) sense.
I think that in the circumstances of modern scholarship and scientific work, it is important also to begin a systematic distinction between the simple literal sense, apparent in a mere grasp of the meaning of the words, and what could be called the historical sense, which is brought to light by more advanced historical inquiry. In the absence of such a systematic distinction, the full historical import of the text is often missed.
From his semiotic analysis of Mt 1-2, Fr. Laurentin finds that "Matthew makes us read the infancy of Jesus from the standpoint of God and in the light of revelation" (p. 288). He discovers that the contrariety of two words, generation and kingship, "proves to be the key to the meaning of the whole narrative," especially when the words 'generation' and 'kingship' are replaced with the more abstract terms, 'renewed through generation' and 'dynastic permanence' (p. 293). For dynastic permanence, Jesus does not need to beget a son to succeed him, because his dynasty is achieved "in his eschatalogical existence as Son of God," and "human origins are replaced by a divine origin" (p. 295). "The Messiah transcends the accepted genealogy and topography. The Gospel overturns the established values of the culture" (p. 299).
What Fr. Laurentin concludes here is already fairly obvious even to the casual reader of the accounts and is known before any semiotic analysis. What new insight has been given by semiotic analysis is not easy to recognize. What is more recognizable is the confusion that this presentation makes between the historical and the mystical senses of the account. Semiotic analysis "ignores the question of historicity" (p. 288), but, in doing so, it seems to ignore the historical sense of the text as well. To read the text of Mt 1-2 "from the standpoint of God" and "in the light of revelation," meant for the Fathers of the Church, first to see the narrative as historical reality guided and presented by God, and then to see the deeper mysteries contained within these historical facts. In the text of Mt 1, Jesus has both a human origin and a divine origin. The key to the meaning of the narrative lies in discovering the masterful way in which Matthew brings this out, not by replacing human origins with a divine origin, but by constructing a narrative showing both the human and the divine origin of Jesus and containing a subtle polemic on the historical level and a deep mystery on the mystical level. Fr. Laurentin seems to have missed this point.
He says textually, regarding the semiotic analysis of Mt 1-2: "Cyclical perpetuity, in which death is temporarily conquered by the coming of a new generation, is replaced by eternal life. Human origins are replaced by a divine origin. The infancy Gospels do not make all this explicit, but this is nonetheless the intuition that controls their symbolic structure. ... Beyond the outward semblances of power stands Jesus, the true king, born of God. The virginal generation is the sign of his transcendence over the kings of the earth. It prepares the way for the revelation of his being as Son of God" (p. 295).
Again, what Fr. Laurentin says is true and entirely in keeping with what we spontaneously see in the inspired account, but he lacks technical precision inasmuch as he fails to note that for Matthew as well as for Luke the Virginal Conception as virginal is the sign of transcendence, but as a conception it is the human origin of God-with-us.
Fr. Laurentin presents the simple truth of the Virginal Conception reported in Matthew: "The genealogy and the story of the conception and birth of Christ are two expressions of one and the same central fact. Jesus is born of the human race; not of Joseph (who is accounted his father), but of God: of the Holy Spirit through the Virgin Mary" (p. 260). He tells us that in both Matthew and Luke "Jesus is portrayed as the Son of God from the outset," but "Matthew avoids using the title in connection with the origin of the Messiah ... in order to remove any suggestion of a theogamy" (p. 305). In Lk 1 and Mt 1 "divine filiation excludes a human father, but plays a transcendent role" (p. 542, note 29). "Likewise, Matthew and Luke radically exclude any involvement with the flesh in the virginal conception, i.e., the Holy Spirit does not generate. They are fully convinced of the transcendence of God" (p. 415).
This is vaguely true, but the word 'transcendence' is problematic, because it remains undefined. Certainly the Holy Spirit did something to effect the Virginal Conception. Lk 1:35 quotes the words of the Angel Gabriel: "The Holy Spirit shall come upon you and the power of the Most High shall overshadow you." Fr. Laurentin describes this coming of the Holy Spirit as purely symbolic: "Only a purely symbolic identification could serve to introduce this unheard-of revelation, which later theology would have so much trouble formulating in an abstract fashion, as an 'incarnation' or humanization of the Son of God" (p. 53). "The identification of the Holy One born of Mary with the God who dwelt in the Ark of the Covenant (Ex 40:35) is made explicit in (Lk) 1:35. Exodus 40:35 is not a prediction. But Luke gives it the value of a typological announcement, according to the usage of Jewish tradition which is attentive to the meaning of the events as much as of the words. The Ark of the Covenant (which by then had disappeared) is the symbol of the eschatological presence of the Messiah" (p. 54). "The closest model to the announcement to Mary is undoubtedly the announcement of Nathan to David (2 Sm 7:14). The basic, common point concerns the birth of the Messiah, but in Luke's re-working of this text we find a profound metamorphosis of the twofold sonship which was prophetically outlined in the announcement to David: human sonship is no longer a matter of a father or of a normal genealogy, but the case of a virgin, conceiving by God alone, in total break with genealogy. As to the sonship of the Messiah with respect to God, which in the case of David is on the purely moral level, it becomes an identification of the Messiah with God" (p. 94). "The annunciation also provides a fulfillment to the literary genre of the sealing of a covenant between God and human beings.... It is without knowing man, through God's power, that she gives human birth to the Son of God, whose name means Savior because he will reconcile God and human beings. ... The child's conception is signified with reference to the presence of God in the Ark of the Covenant. But the glorious coming of the Holy One, of the Son of God, into Mary, is announced in the future (1:35) and, out of reverence for the ineffable character of the event, its realization will in no way be described" (p. 95).
There is a profound ambiguity in these words of Fr. Laurentin. The coming of the Holy Spirit upon the Virgin Mary is highly symbolic, but it is not purely symbolic or basically symbolic. It is basically an historical fact, and historical facts never need to be introduced by symbolic identification. The reason for the symbolic aspect of this revelation is its relationship to the entire pattern of symbolic relationships between the Old Testament and the New, between nature and grace. This symbolism is of crucial importance, but it does not replace the historical event. Secondly, the Ark of the Covenant was, indeed, a prototype of the Virgin Mary, but Luke's narrative does not arise from a reworking of Exodus 40:34-35; it derives from the historic event which turned the Virgin Mary into an archetype of the Ark of the Covenant. Throughout his book, Fr. Laurentin never sufficiently clarifies the fact that the Infancy Narratives are descriptions of historical events, not pictorial projections stemming from a reworking of Old Testament texts. The Old Testament prefigurements were actually fulfilled by the real historical events that are narrated in Mt 1-2 and Lk 1-2; they were not just literarily fulfilled by the creative thinking of Christian meditators. Fr. Laurentin does not succeed in clearly stating this. Thirdly, the eschatological presence of the Messiah must be kept distinct from his historical presence. While the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the Virgin Mary is announced in the future in Lk 1:35, it became immediately thereafter a present happening. In the historical interpretation of the text, it is the coming as present that is the direct object of study. It does not seem to me true to say that this realization "will in no way be described." It is adequately described for the circumstances.
Hence, I cannot entirely agree with the affirmation (p. 150) that the Virginal Conception "does not explicitly refer to a formalized biological action of God," but appears rather as "a transcendent sign of the eschatological coming of God." At the time of Isaias it was a transcendent sign of the eschatological coming of God in Jesus Christ, but at the moment that Luke is referring to it is a miraculous biological event, how explicit and how formalized being beside the point. Whether it was a "biological action of God" was pondered and in large part resolved by commentators long ago.
Cornelius a Lapide (on Mt 1:16) expounds the matter thus: "The expression, Of whom was born, signifies that the Holy Spirit was the most potent and active cause of the Nativity of Christ, who, within the Blessed Virgin, from her most pure blood, formed, organized, and animated the Body of Christ, and hypostatically united It to the Word in the first moment of Its conception. Still the Blessed Virgin was the secondary cause, and the true Mother in the generating of Christ, not merely as passively furnishing the material, but as actively cooperating therein by way of forming, disposing, and organizing that material. See Francis Suarez, part 3, q. 32, art. 4 and q. 33, art. 4), where he teaches that Christ's generation from the Virgin was supernatural, as far as its manner and swiftness were concerned, because, in one moment, it was perfected by the Holy Spirit as the efficient cause. And so the action whereby Mary became a mother was natural; the mode was supernatural."
A little later (at Mt 1:18) a Lapide adds: "She was found with child from the Holy Spirit. Not as though Christ fell off of the substance of the Holy Spirit, as is the case with other offspring, nor was He of the Holy Spirit as of a father; because Christ, as man, was not like to the Holy Spirit, Who in his nature is God; but of the Holy Spirit as an agent and artificer. Thus St. Ambrose, at Lk 1:35. From the Holy Spirit, therefore, not as from a father, but from the One Who was, as it were, supplying the concourse of a father. For what the father does in the mother, this the Holy Spirit did in the Virgin by forming Jesus through his power and operation. So St. Ambrose, (On the Holy Spirit, bk. 2, ch. 5), and St. Augustine, (Enchiridion, ch. 39). For the Blessed Virgin alone supplied to her Son the bodily material that both the father and the mother supply to other children. See Francis Suarez, part 3, q. 29, art. 1" (my trans. based on The Great Commentary of Cornelius a Lapide, trans. Thomas W. Mossman, John Hodges ed., London, 1903).
St. Thomas Aquinas clarifies this more in his Commentary on St. Matthew (1:20). "Note that, in conceptions of other women, in the seed of the man is the formative power, whose subject is the seed, and through this power is formed the fetus, and it is nourished in the body of the woman. The power of the Holy Spirit supplied this. And therefore sometimes the Saints have said that the Holy Spirit was there in place of seed, and sometimes they say that there was no seed there. And this is because in the seed of the man there are two things, the corrupted substance itself which descends from the body of the man and the formative power.
"Therefore it must be said that the Holy Spirit was in place of the seed (pro semine) with respect to the formative power, but He was not there in place of the seed, with respect to the bodily substance, because the Body of Christ was not made from the substance of the Holy Spirit, nor was his Conception. It is therefore evident that the Holy Spirit cannot be called the Father of Christ either according to his divine nature or according to his human nature. Not according to his divine nature, because, although Christ has the same glory as the Holy Spirit, the Son according to his divine nature receives nothing from the Holy Spirit, and therefore He cannot be called his son, for a son receives something from his father. Similarly, not according to his human nature, because a father and a son have to coincide in their substance; Christ, however, although He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, nevertheless was not conceived from the substance of the Holy Spirit."
Why Our Lord was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit is also explained by St. Thomas (Commentary on St. Matthew, 1:18). "Although according to Augustine the works of the Trinity are indivisible, and therefore not only the Holy Spirit but also the Father and the Son effected the Conception, nevertheless by a certain appropriation it is attributed to the Holy Spirit, and this for three reasons. The first reason is, because the Holy Spirit is love, and this was the sign of the greatest love that God willed his Son to become incarnate: 'God so loved the world that He gave his only-begotten Son' (Jn 3:16). The second reason is, because grace is attributed to the Holy Spirit: 'There are diversities of graces, but the same Spirit' (1 Cor 12:4), and this was the greatest grace. The third reason is reported in the Acts of the Nicene Council, and it is that in us there is a twofold word: the word of the heart and the word of the voice. The word of the heart is the conception of the intellect, which is hidden to men except insofar as it is expressed by the voice, or by the word of the voice. To the word of the heart is compared the eternal Word before the Incarnation, when He was with the Father and was hidden to us, while to the word of the voice is compared the Incarnate Word which has now appeared to us and is manifest. But the word of the heart is not joined to the voice except by the intervention of the spirit, and, therefore, rightly was the Incarnation of the Word, through which He became visible to us, effected by the intervention of the Holy Spirit."
I find that Fr. Laurentin's terminology does not reflect these fine distinctions of earlier commentators where he says things like the following:
1) "This symbolic inclusion emphasizes the fact that Christ had no other (i.e., no human) origin but rather originated from God himself" (p. 509, note 91). The genealogy of Luke (3:23-38) does not emphasize that Christ had "no human origin." Fr. Laurentin's exegesis of the genealogy of Luke is incomplete.
2) "The Holy Spirit and the power of God in (Lk) 1:35 appear less as the cause of this new birth than as guarantor of the divine identity of the Son of God, signified by the sign of the shekinah" (p. 60). Fr. Laurentin here confuses the figurative with the historical sense. On the level of the historical sense the Holy Spirit and the power of God appear as the cause of this new birth. Furthermore, there is no contrast of lesser and greater between the historical and the mystical senses of the Scriptures.
3) "By whom is Jesus begotten? Matthew begins to reveal the true Father of Christ: it is God alone, of whom Christ is the son" (p. 510, note 5). Here, as elsewhere, Fr. Laurentin does not observe the distinction quoted from St. Thomas Aquinas and others regarding the begetting of the humanity of Christ. He leaves the question unanswered.
4) "Jesus was really 'begotten.' ... Jesus was indeed begotten but one cannot say that God begot him the way a man would beget. He makes him to be born into the human race in an ineffable manner" (p. 404). Of course, one cannot say that God begot Him the way a man would beget. St. Thomas explained this clearly. But the manner of begetting is not as ineffable as Fr. Laurentin makes out. To shroud the Virginal Conception in more mystery than it actually presents obscures the data that are given in Matthew and Luke. What is really called for is a new effort to explain the text and to clarify the data of Matthew and Luke, using what we know today about biological conception.
5) "It was not Joseph who begot him. Mary is the only human origin of Jesus, for Matthew and for Luke. ... The divine origin is not referred to the Father, but to the Holy Spirit" (p. 404). This terminology does not sufficiently observe the distinction between the divine origin of the divinity of Jesus and the divine origin of his humanity. What is referred to the Holy Spirit by Matthew and Luke is the divine origin of the humanity of Jesus to the extent that the Holy Spirit was the efficient cause of the initiation of his humanity.
6) "Matthew and Luke radically exclude any involvement with the flesh in the virginal conception, i.e., the Holy Spirit does not generate. They are fully convinced of the transcendence of God" (p. 415). God cannot become "involved" with the flesh in the sense of descending as God to the level of the flesh. Yet the Word became involved in another sense when He "became flesh," namely, through hypostatic union. And the Holy Spirit somehow 'touched' the humanity of Jesus and anointed it with his sanctity. The Holy Spirit certainly does not generate as a biological source; He generates by creating a biological force that serves in place of the male seed, and this biological force is not transcendent.
7) "Due to a lack of chromosome Y, the product of parthenogenesis would be of the female sex" (p. 401). This shows the clear need for the intervention of God in the case of Jesus, not only by creating a vital force to serve in place of the male seed, but also possibly by creating some new substance, thus making Jesus in some way a "new creation" on the paternal side and a descendant of Adam on the maternal side. This question could well be pondered by contemporary theologians. It would seem to modify Fr. Laurentin's idea that the Holy Spirit "does not interpose himself, but rather awakens the subject from within to what is best in himself, and matures his relationship to Christ and to God" (p. 441). Did the Holy Spirit awaken the Y chromosome from within the Virgin Mary?
Another problem regarding the Virginal Conception relates to the prophecy in Isa 7:14. Fr. Laurentin observes: "(T)he Virginal Conception (la Conception virginale, translated here "the virgin birth") stands as a serious and solid datum. ... The two evangelists .... accept this datum in spite of the absence of biblical antecedents. The only possible link was the prophecy of Isaiah 7:14. But they had to interpret this prophecy in a sense that was totally different from that of the Jewish tradition, which saw in the text no trace whatever of a virginal conception" (pp. 402-403; cf. p. 417).
To say that Isa 7:14 was "the only possible link" of the Old Testament to the datum of the Virginal Conception displays to me an unawareness of what earlier commentators have shown. But I restrict my comments here to the interpretation of Isa 7:14. In referring to "Jewish tradition," (here and throughout his book) Fr. Laurentin does not, in the first place, make the necessary technical distinction between the inspired tradition of the Old Testament and the extra-biblical traditions of the Jewish people. This absence of distinction is fatal with reference to the Gospel of Matthew, because Matthew is presenting a polemic contrast between the traditions of the Jews and the real meaning of the Old Testament texts.
In the second place, Fr. Laurentin's interpretation of Isa 7:14 is not based entirely on fact. He says (p. 269): "The Hebrew text speaks of a young girl, not necessarily a virgin, and it is she who will give the child its name. In translating 'young girl' as virgin (parthenos) Matthew was perhaps following the Septuagint translation. In the Septuagint, on the other hand, it is King Ahaz who is asked to bestow the name: 'You shall call him.' Matthew however adopts a vague passive translation, 'He will be called,' and makes the prophecy relevant to the unexpected event of the virginal conception."
The fact is that both in the Septuagint and in the Masoretic Hebrew text the prophecy in Isa 7:14 is addressed to the House of David: "Hear, therefore, O House of David" (Isa 7:13). And it is precisely as addressed to the House of David that Matthew says, "Now all this took place in order that that might be fulfilled which the Lord spoke through the prophet" (Mt 1:22). The prophecy of Isaias was that the male seed of the House of David would not produce the Messiah, but rather that a virgin would conceive. Matthew demonstrates this, first by displaying the descent of the male seed, which does not issue in the Savior; secondly, by showing that the Savior was virginally conceived; and thirdly, by showing that Joseph, who carried the male seed of the House of David, named the Child. Matthew explicitly tells us that Joseph, as a descendant of David, was to name the Child Jesus. And he tells us implicitly that Joseph in his heart called the Child Emmanuel, inasmuch as Joseph firmly believed that the Child was both God and man.
It is apparently because Fr. Laurentin does not perceive that the prophecy in Isa 7:14 is explicitly addressed to the House of David that he says: "Isaiah 7:14 does not use the word 'virgin' but 'young girl.'" The Septuagint translated the Hebrew by parthenos, but "this does not imply a development in the direction of the virginal conception," for then "the Greek text would have retained the most significant factor of the Hebrew text, where it is the young girl who receives the mission of giving the name to the child" (p. 411). The fact is that in both cases it is the House of David that gives the name to the Child. But note also that this is an indication that the Virgin Mary belonged to the House of David, for God did not go back on his promise to David and to his seed, and Fr. Laurentin seems to miss this point also, where he says that the narrative of Luke "removes any biological basis for his title as son of David" (p. 153; cf. pp. 174, 290, 320, 343, 344, and 528, note 4).
Fr. Laurentin tells us (p. 479, note 64) that the use of the word parthenos ('virgin') in the Septuagint translation of Isa 7:14 does not make the prediction of a virginal conception more explicit than the Hebrew almāh ('young girl'), because "the word parthenos is understood in a very broad sense in the Hebrew and in the Septuagint. Thus Dinah is twice called 'virgin' (Hebrew: bethûlāh, Greek: parthenos) in Gen 34:3 after having been violated.
Let us suppose that the Greek parthenos ('virgin') had a broader meaning than the word 'virgin' has today, as did the Hebrew words 'almāh' and 'bethûlāh.' The Virginal Conception remains predicted all the same in Isa 7:14, because all three of these words mean 'a virgin' at least in the sense of a woman who has not conceived a child from the seed of a man. The whole notion of a 'sign' in Isa 7:14 ("Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign") is that of a miracle in nature or of an extraordinary happening. Now, it is no miracle or extraordinary thing for a young woman to conceive a child from the seed of a man. Therefore the word 'virgin' in Isa 7:14 (whether understood in the strict sense or in the broad sense defined above) must be taken in the reduplicative sense: "a virgin as a virgin will conceive and bear a son." And so, no matter how the Greek word parthenos is taken, and no matter how the Hebrew word almāh is taken, the prophecy in Isa 7:14, from its obvious context, means that a woman will conceive a son without the seed of a man, and that is precisely the miracle of the Virginal Conception of Jesus.
The example of Gen 34:3 is not to me a clear indication that the word 'parthenos' does not mean 'virgin' in the strict sense. This verse of the Septuagint and of the Masoretic text has been difficult to translate, and I think partly because of an overlapping time-sequence with that of the preceding verse. The completed act of the violation of Dinah is recounted in Gen 34:2. The next verse takes up the love of Sichem for her, and seems for this to go back partly to the time before the violation. Note that Dinah is once again in this verse introduced as the "daughter of Jacob." So there could be an anachronism from overlapping time-sequences or the word parthenos may here mean "the (violated) virgin."
In brief, I would say that credit belongs to Fr. Laurentin for taking seriously the Virginal Conception and attempting to defend it, but he concedes too much to the adversaries in presenting his defense, and he bases his defense on some weak arguments. To say, as Fr. Laurentin does (p. 404), that Luke and Matthew received the datum of the Virginal Conception as "the statement of a fact," and not "in the form of a narrative" does not leave enough ground for defending the historicity of this fact. Some narrative is implicit in the historical event; without an implicit narrative there is no historical event.
On the other hand, Fr. Laurentin does a service to scholarship in pointing out the historical origin of the theologoumenon thesis of form-critical exegetes (p. 91 and elsewhere).
With reference to the literary genre of Matthew and Luke, Fr. Laurentin makes an advance over the form-critical analysis (pp. 89-92), but he leaves the conclusive work yet to be done. His note on the philosophical idealism underlying the form-critical approach (p. 535) is an example of the scholarly character of his book. He eloquently appeals for honesty of theological expression as opposed to the falsification of truths by deceptive language in the new hypotheses: "Where theology falsifies language, it alters the transmission of the faith and convinces no one" (p. 423). But the weakness of his historical apparatus prevents him from arriving convincingly at the literary genre of Matthew and Luke.
Fr. Laurentin, moreover, does not see all of the inadequacies of the form-critical method (p. 429). Thus, he believes that angels exist, but he presents an interpretation of Mt 1-2 and Lk 1-2 in which they are mere symbols to represent God speaking to man (p. 440), "imagery of the ambient culture" (p. 439), "sometimes little more than a literary device used out of respect for God's transcendence" (p. 285).
In his analysis of Lk 1:35, Fr. Laurentin says that Luke took the words "(He) shall be called Holy" from Exodus 13:1 and transposed them (p. 69). This conclusion presupposes that they were not the real words of a real angel, and the presupposition seems to come from form-criticism. There are several similar discussions about the words of angels in Fr. Laurentin's book (cf. pp. 140, 148, and elsewhere).
In his analysis of Mt 1-2 and Lk 1-2, Fr. Laurentin eliminates all miracles except the Virginal Conception. "In the entire account of the infancy of Christ there is only one miracle: his coming to be without a human father. The other wonderful events of the infancy Gospel are not strictly miraculous in character. They belong rather to the categories of providential signs and of existential communion with God, such as have occurred from the time of the prophets to our own day" (p. 428).
This kind of reductive interpretation of the Gospel accounts does not bolster our faith. It lacks the technical concepts which can characterize the accounts in appropriate language. It smacks of form-criticism to say, for instance, regarding the star of the wise men, that we do not know "what is to be attributed to the freedom proper to this literary genre or to the symbolization that intervenes in every narrative"; or again, regarding both the star and the angels in Matthew, that "these two symbolic forms, in the cultural code of that period, functioned somewhat analogously as signs of the transcendent action of God" (p. 396). Precise language must state that these signs are first of all historical realities and then signs on a higher level of the intervention of God in human history.
For similar reasons, the whole treatment of "midrash" by Fr. Laurentin in this book needs to be revised. He accepts, for instance, the "substantial historicity" of the accounts of Mt 2, but he creates unnecessary historical problems by saying that "this does not allow us to determine with precision what belongs to historical reality and what to the creative contribution of the redactor" (p. 375). In this affirmation, the phrase "with precision" is extraneous. The fact is that with proper historical analysis, excluding the false methodology of form-criticism, one can determine what belongs to historical reality, and that is really the task that lies before us. Historical science can confirm what faith tells us in the Gospel accounts. And it can give us the necessary framework to understand the text. Fr. Laurentin opines that the Gospel of Luke "is, indeed, not an external framework; rather, it unfolds from the inside" (p. 28). But it does have a framework, and only through the use of one's own adequate exegetical framework can it be recognized. Fr. Laurentin maintains that "God is not an object in Lk 1-2" (p. 218). Yet Lk 1-2 is somehow about God. What is important to note is that God is the proximate mental object of any proper framework of exegesis of Lk 1-2, and, therefore, on a higher level, the divinity of Jesus and the Three Divine Persons are objects in the text as well.
A major contribution of Fr. Laurentin in The Truth of Christmas is the study presented (pp. 62-68) of the seventy weeks prophesied in Dan 9:24 in relation to the chronology of Lk 1-2. Another important contribution is his analysis of the word 'holy' in relation to the Old Testament concept of 'nazir' (pp. 68-70, 307, 482, note 76, and 486, note 97).
Some comments in the book seem gratuitous, such as, that "Paul took no interest in the infancy of Jesus" (p. 327); that it was a "flight to Nazareth" (referring to the flight into Egypt) (p. 274); that it is "the Lord, the addresser of new values, the controller of the principal narrative program, who until this time had been operating behind the actorial figures of the angels, the angel Gabriel, or the Holy Spirit" (p. 503, note 62, quoting Agnes Gueuret). The study of kecharitōmenē (pp. 18-19), and the assertion that it does not mean "full of grace" (Lk 1:28) is unconvincing and even self-contradictory, inasmuch as Fr. Laurentin himself says afterwards that the verb "does not just mean to look upon with favor, but to transform by this favor or grace."
CONCLUSION. The comments given above are indicative of The Truth of Christmas but not exhaustive. The book does away with some, but not all, of the illusory presuppositions that tend to weaken one's faith; it accentuates the need to restore the historical reality of the Infancy Narratives, but leaves much work yet to be done, especially in the area of historical method. This book deserves widespread reading, especially because it challenges the reader to find new answers to the questions that Scripture scholars are constantly raising.
The identification of the Blessed Virgin Mary as the principal source of Lk 1-2 is a great accomplishment. The whole book deserves to be read, just for this. Studies of some of the words in the Infancy Narratives are also outstanding.
The need of a better method than that of form-criticism is well illustrated in the book. The method of 'semiotics,' which Fr. Laurentin presents as an alternative, is better to the degree that it begins from reality (not fiction) and draws attention to mental frameworks (which form-critics do not), but it is too limited for the purpose intended. The only adequate method is that of the four senses, begun by the Fathers of the Church and waiting now to be elaborated and systematized. An important feature of this neo-Patristic method must be a careful use of historical concepts. Let us, then, take up the task from here, and thank Fr. Laurentin for the incentive that he has given us.
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