Friday, March 27, 2009

Does Hebrews Quote from an Ancient Liturgy?

Field, John Edward. "The Epistle to the Hebrews and the Liturgy of S. James." Union Review: A Magazine of Catholic Literature and Art (1872): 41-58.

This essay is a precursor to his commentary, The Apostolic Liturgy and the Epistle to the Hebrews: Being a Commentary on the Epistle in its Relation to the Holy Eucharist, with Appendices on the Liturgy of the Primitive Church (1882). In short, Field argues that Hebrews quotes from the Greek Eucharistic Liturgy of St. James, rather than vice versa. He reasons that it was more likely that Paul--whom he assumes to be the author of Hebrews--would have quoted from portions of the liturgy and then inserted his own expressions to support his theological argument, rather than that the liturgist would have quoted Paul and omitted key expressions from Paul's epistles. I will illustrate this with one example from his article.

Hebrews 10:19 reads as follows (as quoted from the article):

"Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the Holy Place by the Blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He hath consecrated for us through the veil, that is to say, His Flesh, and having an High Priest over the House of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith."

The following is the commencement of the "Prayer of the Veil" from the Liturgy of St. James:

"We give thanks to Thee, O Lord our God, for that Thou hast given us boldness to enter into Thy Holy Place by a new and living way which Thou hast consecrated for us through the Veil of the Flesh of Thy Christ. Wherefore we, being counted worthy to come into the place of the Tabernacle of Thy Glory, and to be within the Veil, and to behold the Holy of Holies, fall down before Thy goodness." (Italics his)

Fields notes that two expressions are missing from the liturgy: "by the Blood of Jesus" and "and having an High Priest over the House of God." These two expressions are the subject of the main treatment of the epistle. Fields reasons thus:

"Hence, if the Apostle is quoting the passage from the Liturgy, there is an obvious reason for these two insertions, as links to connect it with all the preceding doctrinal argument; but reverse the supposition, and regard the Epistle as the original writing, and it is impossible to assign a reason why the liturgist, in quoting the passage, should omit these prominent parts of it,--indeed, it is inconceivable that he should do so" (46).

Fields believes that Paul quotes from this liturgy in his other epistles, for example in 1 Corinthians 2:9 and 1 Timothy 4:9. Immediately, one objection to Fields' argument arises. Fields assumes that Paul is the author of Corinthians, Timothy, and Hebrews--a supposition that is not widely accepted by most scholars. I do not believe Paul wrote Hebrews, and I have my doubts about Timothy. If we are dealing with two, or even three, different authors here, then we would have to assume that all three are quoting from the same liturgy.

Fields' argument can cut the other way. It is just as easy to assume that the liturgist constructed his liturgy from snippets of the Pauline epistle without using whole expressions verbatim. Fields says that the liturgy largely has expressions in common with the Pauline epistles, and in those writings in which the eucharist and liturgy takes most prominence. However, there are some passages in the liturgy which allude to the gospels or Acts, such as the reference to the Spirit descending as a dove on Jesus at his baptism, or the descent of the spirit at Pentecost. No, I think it is more likely that the liturgy was quoting from Hebrews and other portions of the NT, and not vice versa.

1 comment:

  1. The 150 year old priest would not have accepted criticism from such a whipper-snapper as you! But I agree with you, his logic is flawed. What assumptions do we bring that deflate such logic? Not the right question. My bias is that no one has ever told me why the priests are right about anything. The liturgy works by grace not by logic - and I stick to it because of my powerlessness not because of imputed authority. That allows me to doubt almost any reason. The only aspect of faith and tradition that I do not doubt is the reality of that holy place into which I am invited by God. I cannot help but impute the authority of love to the Most High.