Category Archives: Catholicism

Some Notes on the Gospels of John and Thomas

Nota Bena: I hope to be reworking this as my knowledge of the subject matter sharpens. I also hope to improve the currently rather lamentable quality of the writing.

Recently, I have finished reading the Gospel of John as translated by the Jesus Seminar in THE FIVE GOSPELS. I am working through the Gospel of Thomas at the moment, but I do have to say that I prefer John to Thomas, who so often comes across as just weird. Thomas’s real-or-quasi-Gnostic emphasis is on the individual seen as possessing an inner divine spark fallen into them like a flaming meteor from the heavens. The individual is to discover this divine inner spark by looking into themselves (if I have gotten Thomas right, which is by no means certain) with the aid of hints (sayings) supplied by Yeshua ben Yosef. The downside of this is the weirdness that I, at least, attribute to the absence of a normalizing influence of a tradition as sustained by a community and the communion — i.e., interaction among– its members as symbolized by practices such as the sharing of bread and wine emphasized by the synoptics.

John’s emphasis on the other hand is on the community, the body of Christ. Yes, each person possesses the divine spark, but this comes to life only through communion with the other members of the body of Christ, which of course starts with the God-man. (Christ, that is, and not so much the historical figure of Yeshua ben Yosef very few of whose sayings apparently made it into John). This communion, which brings the person outside of themselves and into communal contact with the divine via a community (and therefore tradition), is the reason I identify as a Catholic (at least of the Ivan Illich ‘fire all the bloody priests and all the godawful clerical bureaucrats’ variety) taking refuge in that corner provided by Dignity. John’s attraction is the emphasis on love — love among the members of the Johanine community who, apparently facing intense persecution from the outside, needed the cohesiveness provided by this; love between the God-man/Yeshua and the disciple beloved by him, a love that surely brought the beloved disciple outside of himself. These, i.e., the emphasis on community/tradition, and the mysticism that very powerfully launches the gospel from the very start (‘In the beginning was the Logos’) are the powerful attractions of the gospel.

The downsides though are those one might expect as the shadows so to speak of many of these positive qualities: love of the member of the community has as its shadow hatred of the outsider — back then the Judeans, this community’s hatred of whom forms the ugly beginnings of anti-Semitism; now LGBT people –; community cohesion and unity has as its shadow an intense maybe paranoiac fear of and reaction against betrayal and treachery by an individual member; the community formed by the body of Christ is always threatening, as per Ivan Illich, to devolve into a horrible bureaucracy; the attractive idea that a particular community SUFFICES to provide an entry point into, a window onto the divine — whatever it is that is beyond, transcendent — becomes the ugly thought that this particular historical community and ONLY this community is NECESSARY to gain access to the divine with all the ugly blindness and bigotry that is likely to spawn. The mysticism has as its shadow the vulnerability to lapsing into that darkness in which all cows are black — though Mr.┬áTom Morris does present an analytical defense, which I am still working through, of the logical coherence of (what I see as) Johannine trinitarianism.

So John is very much a mixed bag — and maybe there is no way to latch onto the positives without constantly being vulnerable to lapsing into the ugly shadows.