- Annotations and Meditations on the Gospels
The third volume of Annotations and Meditations on the Gospels, recently published by St. Joseph's University Press, completes a series that should now become a centerpiece of their catalogue. Volume 2, The Passion Narratives, a larger and more theologically complex selection than its two predecessors, also includes "Another note about Translation," and an introductory study. Frederick Homann, in his note, discusses the Faustian challenge facing him when trying to capture the affective language of Nadal's meditations while avoiding the scandal of the anti Semitic attitudes in the text, a commonplace in sixteenth-century Christian writing. Homann, a mathematician by profession, has tried to approach these questions of translation style with creative fidelity, but his reflections on his challenge are thought-provoking and merit perusal by anyone working on written translations. [End Page 1298]
Walter Melion's study of "the Image of the Suffering Christ" returns to the fundamentals of "composition of place," an exercise Nadal borrowed from Saint Ignatius Loyola. Melion focuses less on the artistic iconography of the prints this time, and more on the theological extrapolations that fill in the details of the Passion narrative and that reflect and create a more human-oriented Christology. Melion ties this interpretive tradition not only to the well-established influence of Carthusian Ludolph of Saxony's Vita Christi, but also to the mystical theology of the Meditationes Sancti Bonaventurae by that Franciscan doctor. Franciscan spirituality, rooted in meditations on the human activities of Jesus through such devotions as the crèche and Stations of the Cross, make an obvious predecessor to Ignatius's composition of place in the Spiritual Exercises. Melion's study fleshes this out well. Perhaps Melion's most compelling point, however, is his discussion of Nadal's opposition of "pious meditation" (the intent of Nadal's work) with the "impious accusations" leveled at Jesus and the subject of those meditations. While the former sees the divinity of the Christ through the eyes of faith, and so allows one to experience the sufferings of the God-Man, the latter rejects the obvious manifestations of divinity, unable to see past its threat to the power of darkness. Most important to that opposition is that there are no racial, ethnic, historical, or other physical characteristics to identify those who are gifted by the light of faith or those who reject it in their blindness. The perennial accusations against the Jewish people as culpable for this rejection, sadly too common in Christian history, simply projects the reality of human doubt and sinfulness onto an easily identifiable group.
The occasion of writing this review happily coincided with my annual retreat. This made it possible to "road test" the three volumes of Nadal's meditations as points for my own prayer. Not surprisingly, those days of prayer focused on the eyes of faith and the recognition of the divinity of the Christ in the human activity of Jesus. While I found that Nadal's descriptions were generally too detailed (especially when compared to those suggested by Ignatius in his Spiritual Exercises) for my taste, they nevertheless moved me to reflect on that fundamental acceptance/ rejection of the assertion of Jesus as the Christ, a choice fundamental to understanding the purpose of the Gospels.
While the third volume of Nadal's Annotations and Meditations, then, continues to provide a useful aid to a prayerful consideration of the life of Jesus Christ, Homann and Melion both provide ample insights to attract the attention of historians, theologians, and artists. In reading these meditations from the sixteenth century, it is imperative not to equate spiritual blindness with any single ethnic group thereby missing one's own spiritual blindness. By avoiding that temptation, these three volumes can effectively aid the meditations of the third and fourth weeks of Ignatius's Spiritual Exercises, as well as the transition from the first to second...