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The Feast of St. John the Evangelist

The Church celebrated the feast of St. John the Evangelist on December 27th. Since St. John’s feast day is so close to Christmas, we decided to wait a little while to feature him in our blog.

To give St. John his due, here is an excerpt from Verbum’s Navarre Bible: Saint John’s Gospel, “The Relationship between the Gospel of St. John and the Synoptic Gospels:”

If we enter St John’s Gospel after reading the Synoptics, we sense that we are entering a different atmosphere. Even in the prologue the evangelist soars towards the heights of divinity. It is not surprising that St John is symbolized by an eagle. The evangelist “soars very high, mounts beyond the darkness of the earth and fixes his gaze on the light of truth …(St. Augustine, On the Gospel of John 15,1).

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The Eagle of St. John the Evangelist by Andrei Rublev, c. 1400.

[…]
St John himself gives us one reason why his Gospel is different. He says that it is a testimony to what he has seen and heard. Rather than speak of evangelizing or preaching, the Fourth Gospel prefers to use “testify” or “bear witness” or “teach”. Thus, he presents the preaching of the Baptist as an instance of testimony to Christ (cf. Jn 1:7, 19, 32, 34; 3:26; 5:33). Our Lord is always the object of this testimony, which comes from different directions in the Fourth Gospel: first and foremost, it comes from the Father who has sent Jesus to bear witness to him (cf. Jn 5:37)… […]

Another unusual feature of St John’s Gospel is that it is a “spiritual gospel,” in the words of Clement of Alexandria (on account of which St John has been called “the theologian”). This refers to John’s desire to explore and explain the deeper meaning of Jesus’ words and actions. In St John’s account our Lord usually begins his teachings with an intriguing remark or question, to awaken the curiosity of his listeners, and then moves on to explain some point of doctrine. For example, in the case of Nicodemus, when he speaks about being born again; or his conversation with the Samaritan woman about living water: what Jesus is saying obviously means much more than one would get from a first glance at the text. In fact, it is only when the Holy Spirit comes that the disciples grasp the full meaning of the Master’s words (cf. Jn 14:26)… The Master, when he sees they cannot grasp his meaning, consoles them by promising the “Spirit of truth,” who will guide them into all the truth (Jn 16:13).[…]

St John insists that he “has seen” all this; that he has “touched” it with his hands (Jn 1:14; 19:35; 1 Jn 1:2). After a lifetime of preaching and prayer, it is only logical that he should see it all from a deeper, clearer perspective. St Augustine is right when he says that St John “soared beyond the flesh, soared beyond the earth which he trod, beyond the seas which he saw, beyond the air where birds fly; soared beyond the sun, beyond the moon and the stars, beyond all spirits which are unseen, beyond his own intelligence and the very reason of his thinking soul. Soaring beyond all these, beyond his very self, where did he reach, what did he see? ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God’” (St. Augustine, On the Gospel of John 20,13) Therefore, what he narrates, far from contradicting what we read in the Synoptics, takes it as read, and fills it out.

St John on Patmos by Joannes Gleismuller, 1490.

St John on Patmos by Joannes Gleismuller, 1490.

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