Friday, January 4, 2013

Chrysostom's Commentary for January

Frequent commentator Chrysostom will be contributing a monthly column to this blog.  Here is his inaugural post:

"Full of Grace": A Popular Exegetical and Theological Inquiry

A controverted rendering, and a lynchpin of Roman Catholic Mariology. As was recently written by Michael Brendan Dougherty over at The American Conservative, the RSV-CE - Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition - is "the mainstream option for believing Catholics", which, in the next clause, he scathingly criticizes as "descended from the King James, but [with] a few Romish flourishes like 'Hail Mary, full of grace' in Luke."

Why is this phrase - one word in the Greek - so important to Catholics, and, it would seem, to Protestants as well? (Ne'er has a Protestant Bible been seen by these shores, that containeth within it the words "full of grace" in According to Luke, Chapter 1, Verse 28.) Why is this the one "Romish flourish" that is nearly mandatory in any Bible that wishes to be called Catholic? Like the RSV-CE, all prophecy can be translated right out of the Old Testament, and typology eliminated through conjectural emendation: but, when the magic words, "hail, full of grace" are added in the right place, it becomes a Catholic version. This one word, κεχαριτωμένη (kecharitomenê) - a Biblical hapax legomenon, or word occurring only once in a given corpus, so that various uses can not be compared to draw out the likely meaning - exists in all manuscript traditions of the Greek NT: it is given the highest rating of certainty in the Nestle-Aland 27th edition. Whether using the Textus Receptus, the Nestle-Aland text, Westcott-Hort, Tischendorf, or the Byzantine Patriarchal text, the same word is translated: it is the translation itself that is in question. Next to the "עלמה-παρθένος [almah-parthenos] controversy" at Isaiah 7:14 (where the controversy is, perhaps, as much about which word to translate as how to translate a word) is possibly the most commonly- and popularly-debated translation choice in Scripture.

In many textual and translational debates, the lines are drawn between liberals, whether Protestant or Catholic, and conservatives and traditionalists, whether Protestant or Catholic: this is the case, in, say, Isaiah 7:14, in Genesis 1:1-2, in Psalm 22/23, so on and so forth - in virtually every passage that teaches or defends a traditional Christian claim or is purported to prophesy Christ - as is it in the vast majority of debates of the correct manuscript tradition (although, in the latter case, the Trads may come out swinging on the side of the Vulgate, and sidestep the critical text-textus receptus axis completely), or between high church and low church, as in the translation of ἐπίσκοπος as "bishop" or "overseer". At least in this last case, each side can attempt to muster an historical argument for their translation: in translating κεχαριτωμένη, there is no such luxury, only ideas duking it out in timeless manner.

This - the elusive translation of the elusive word κεχαριτωμένη - is a debate where the lines are drawn between conservatives and conservatives: conservative "Bible-believing" Protestants who want no Papism in their book, and conservative Catholics who want tradition and the testimony of the Fathers to bear out: the translation of the passage has incredible implications for the defense or lack thereof of Catholic Mariology by those who don't read the Greek - and the passage itself has incredible implications for the same by those who do read Greek but debate the word's meaning.

Thus I propose that the meaning of the hapax legomenon κεχαριτωμένη can not be puzzled out with certainty, or even likelihood, by purely exegetical considerations, nor even with the addition of naturalistic "historical" considerations, but only by the addition of theological considerations. The Annunciation is not amenable to modern "scientific history" even in theory, as, again, in theory, the structure of the early Church is. Even if it were, there is no recording of it outside of the Gospel of Luke: this is what we have, and on this signal word we must stand, etc. etc.


Anonymous said...

As coincedence would have it, I was just reading something on "kecharitomene" the other day.

For your possible interest:

The angel Gabriel's greeting to Mary is of great consequence for our understanding of Mary and Marian doctrine. The greeting has been variously translated as "Rejoice highly favored" and "Hail full of grace." The object of the varied translations is the Greek word kecharitomene which refers to one who has been transformed by God's grace. The word is used only one other time in the New Testament and that is in the epistle to the Ephesians where Paul is addressing those who by becoming Christians are transformed by grace and receive the remission of sins ...

First, Rene Laurentin notes:

The exaltation of Mary by God's gratuitous choice is one of the salient themes of the first chapter of Luke's Gospel. The angel Gabriel greets her with the name kecharitomene (1:28). The word defies translation in most languages. Recourse must be had to a circumlocution such as one who has won God's favor,' or object of God's favor.' The word is a perfect participle and in Greek the perfect tense indicates permanence or stability. A favor that is stable and definitive is therefore implied. Furthermore, this name is given her from on high; it is Mary's true name in the eyes of God, her name of grace. Indeed, the name kecharitomene is formed from the word charis, meaning 'grace,' as its root. Mary is the object of favor, in a pre-eminent way. She is the-one-who-has-found-grace, (charin), in the words of the Angel Gabriel in Luke 1:30. (27).

Ignace de la Potterie continues the exploration ...

The verb utilized here by Luke (charitoun) is extremely rare in Greek. It is present only two times in the New Testament: in the text of Luke on the Annunciation (Luke 1:28). "kecharitomene," and in the Epistle to the Ephesians (Ephesians 1:6), "echaritosen." ... These verbs, then, effect a change of something in the person or the thing affected. Thus, the radical of the verb 'charitoo' being 'charis' (= grace), the idea which is expressed is that of a change brought about by grace. In addition the verb used by Luke is in the past participial form. "Kecharitomene" signifies then, in the person to whom the verb relates, that is, Mary, that the action of the grace of God has already brought about a change. It does not tell us how that came about. What is essential here is that it affirms that Mary has been transformed by the grace of God ...

The perfect passive participle is used by Luke to indicate that the transformation by grace has already taken place in Mary, well before the moment of the Annunciation.

For more on "Kecharitomene,"  see: Mary in Scripture. Section 3 (B)


Timothy said...

Thanks John! Those quotes are very helpful.

Anonymous said...

Your welcome, Timothy. It was my pleasure.


CJA Mayo said...

Anonymous, thanks a lot. I was going to paraphrase that closely (read: plagiarize) in order to meet my next deadline.

Leonardo said...


Sometimes it seems to me than the terminology dedicated to the mother of Jesus is splendid, and plenty of gracious words.

But those kind of words are rarely used in real life. I wonder if the mother of Jesus received those kind of words by the persons who loved and were around her.

Best regards.

Anonymous said...

While I am not against someone going to lengthy explanations to help make the koine Greek match the way Catholic liturgy renders the expression, we tend to forget that these words spoken by the angel to Mary were NOT spoken in Greek, but in the Aramaic/Hebrew of the period.

The Church Fathers did understand the Greek text to mean "full of grace," but it was due not to a strict reading from the Biblical text but from the traditions upon which the text of Luke was based.

The expression is similar (though not identical in the way it is written) to the one in John 1:14, where the "Word" is described in koine Greek to be "full of grace and truth."

Both expressions use logic that is not owned by English speakers, and in fact it is quite Eastern in mental development. There are not even equivalents in the Greek language, thus explaining why it takes a bit of work to explain why the Greek doesn't immediately read the way it has been traditionally rendered.

In Eastern thought a person that is "highly favored" is similar to saying that a drinking glass is "highly filled." When a glass is filled as high as one can fill it, there is no room for anything else. It's like reading the gas or petrol tank on an automobile and seeing the arrow on the "full" mark. You can't put anything else in. "Favor" being "grace," and being 'highly filled' with it means there is not room for anything like imperfection, sin.

In other langauges we tend to say "sinless," meaning having "less" of "sin." But in the Hebrew world the logic is the other way around. The positive is stressed. Filled with grace means there isn't room for much else. This is definitely a foreign way to think of perfection in cultures that use English, Greek, and even the Latin-based languages.

In John the expression that the Word was "full of grace and truth" is repeating what the first part of the prologue was saying, that Christ was Divine, the Fulfillment of all God's promises, God Incarnate. In Luke the expression is written a bit differently due to it being used as a title or better yet a replacement for Mary's name, koine Greek being an inflectional language. As long as the root is there, the basic meaning remains intact.

The traditions that developed into the written word came from the Semitic world, and they all had to be translated. This is why the Church Fathers and the Vulgate held to this rendition. The Greek really doesn't say this of its own because the logic about perfection is identical with English--something without sin is "sinLESS" not "graceFUL" as it is in Hebrew and Aramaic.

However, as pointed out, those who work at trying to explain the Greek text's meaning are not off either. Nobody harps over the rendering "full of grace" at John 1:14. Apparently the problem is not one regarding anything more than being uncomfortable with the inevitable, namely accepting tradition and holy writ as an organic whole.

Biblical Catholic said...

"While I am not against someone going to lengthy explanations to help make the koine Greek match the way Catholic liturgy renders the expression, we tend to forget that these words spoken by the angel to Mary were NOT spoken in Greek, but in the Aramaic/Hebrew of the period."

Actually we have no way of knowing what language any conversation in any of the gospels may have originally been in, but if we believe in plenary inspiration, then the fact that a particular Greek word was chosen instead of another one has be to be regarded as significant.

Russ said...

In his book The Joy Of Knowing Christ: Meditations on the Gospel by Pope Benedict XVI had this to say about the angel's greeting to Mary (pages 15-18):

The first word on which I would like to meditate with you is the angel’s greeting to Mary. In the Italian translation the angel says, “Hail, Mary.” But the Greek word kaire means in itself “be glad” or “rejoice.”

And here is the first surprising thing: the greeting among the Jews was “Shalom,” “Peace,” whereas the greeting of the Greek world was Kaire, “Be glad.”

It is surprising that the angel, on entering Mary’s house, should have greeted her with the greeting of the Greeks: Kaire, “Be glad, rejoice.” And when, forty years later, the Greeks had read this gospel, they were able to see an important message in it: they realized that the beginning of the New Testament, to which the passage from Luke referred, was bringing openness to the world of peoples and to the universality of the People of God, which by then included not only the Jewish people but also the world in its totality, all peoples. The new universality of the kingdom of the true son of David appears in this Greek greeting of the angel.

Pope Benedict then explains a bit on the prophetic promise that is found in the prophet Zephaniah, before continuing:

Let us now reflect in particular on the first word: “Rejoice, be glad.” This is the first word that resounds in the New Testament as such, because the angel’s announcement to Zechariah of the birth of John the Baptist is the word that still rings out on the threshold between the two Testaments. It is only with this dialogue which the angel Gabriel has with Mary that the New Testament really begins. We can therefore say that the first word of the New Testament is an invitation to joy: “Rejoice, be glad!” The NT is truly “gospel,” the “good news” that brings us joy. God is not remote from us, unknown, enigmatic or perhaps dangerous. God is close to us, so close that he makes himself a child, and we caninformally address this God.

It was the Greek world above all that grasped this innovation, that felt this joy deeply, for it had been unclear to the Greeks whether there was a good God, a wicked God, or simply no God. Religion at that time spoke to them of so many divinities: therefore, they had felt they were surrounded by very different divinities that were opposed to one another; thus, they were afraid that if they did something for one of these divinities, another might be offended and seek revenge.

So it was that they lived in a world of fear, surrounded by dangerous demons, never knowing how to save themselves from these forces in conflict with one another. It was a world of fear, a dark world. Then they heard: “Rejoice, these demons are nothing; the true God exists and this true God is good, he loves us, he knows us, he is with us, with us even to the point that he took on flesh!”

Russ said...

In addition,I decided to see how the New Jerusalem Bible treated the angel's greeting and it has, "Rejoice, you who enjoy God's favor!" And then in a footnote it explains that "who enjoy God's favor" literally reads "you who have been and remain filled with the divine favour."

CJA Mayo said...

Anonymous: do I have your permission to quote the last paragraph of your last post ("However, as pointed out...") in the next post here?

I'm going way off the rails with what I intended for this series (it was originally a smoothed over rough draft-writing outline for a book), but I'd like to engage with the commentators and their comments instead of writing through them.

Better ideas are born in the forge of the minds of other men, than one idea worried endlessly in the forge of a single mind: "As iron doth sharpen iron, so doth one man sharpen another".

Anonymous said...

CJA Mayo, feel free to use anything you wish.

Biblical Catholic, without commenting on plenary inspiration and its merits, my comment is not without scholarly merit(for example, the last paragraph of my comment shows I SUPPORT those who wish to argue from the Greek). While there is too little room to go into detail here (besides I am sure by your well-supported comments that you have access to most any reference), there is academic support to believe the Luke's infancy gospel had Our Lady as one of it's sources (if not the main or sole one). True, we don't what language the angel Gabriel spoke (or if it was even language as we know it), it is understood from both the peculiar expression as well as from etymological sources that the Greek text is trying to capture the Semitic use of an expression of "sinLESSness." With Mary as the source, and given her station in life as well as what is known about first century Jewish speech, the evidence does point to Aramaic or perhaps even Hebrew as the language of Mary. I do not understand the logic of your comment on my own, unless I made the mistake of not being clear enough that I was supporting the argument at hand though from a position different than you may have had in mind.