Jerome Murphy-O’Connor meets St Paul?

I sometime fantasize about writing a series of fiction novels with a theological slant. One idea I toy with now and then is to do a series of detective mystery novels, each with a different saint of the Catholic Church as the main investigator, written with their life and particular charism in mind. “St Augustine Investigates”, “St Therese of Liseux Investigates”, “St Padre Pio Investigates” etc. Could be fun.

Another idea I toy with now and then is the old idea that Peter Kreeft uses so well in such books as “Socrates meets Kant”: pitting together great minds from different ages. In that vein, I would really like to do a “Professor Jerome Murphy-O’Connor meets St Paul”. I would love to see the sparks fly!!

I will candidly admit that I have not read much JM-O’C. I know he is a great expert on the Pauline epistles, and especially on the Corinthian correspondence. I am doing an Anima Education course on 1 Corinthians at the moment (continuing for a second 6-week period this Monday night), and so I am reading his little work in the “The People’s Bible Commentary” series on 1 Corinthians. I chose this rather than his major commentary because I was looking for a text to recommend my class as an accessible popular work informed by deep scholarship. At first I thought I might be on the right track, but now I am having my doubts.

JM-O’C gives a whole new meaning to “critical” exegesis! Here is just one example I have just read:

A Potty Principle: In each instance Paul’s answer was essentially “Yes, but”, because circumstances alter cases. Now he formulates a general principle to cover all such situations: “each one should retain the place in life that the Lord assigned to him, and to which God has called him” (7:16, cf. 7:20). At this point one begins to have a certain sympathy with the Corinthians because, when taken literally, this is nonsense. …Obviously Paul has put his foot in it once again. (p.78)

There are instances where JM-O’C takes it upon himself to be critical of the apostle. Has anyone with greater familiarity with his work noticed this?

About Schütz

I am a PhD candidate & sessional academic at Australian Catholic University in Melbourne, Australia. After almost 10 years in ministry as a Lutheran pastor, I was received into the Catholic Church in 2003. I worked for the Archdiocese of Melbourne for 18 years in Ecumenism and Interfaith Relations. I have been editor of Gesher for the Council of Christians & Jews and am guest editor of the historical journal “Footprints”. I have a passion for pilgrimage and pioneered the MacKillop Woods Way.
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3 Responses to Jerome Murphy-O’Connor meets St Paul?

  1. Stephen K says:

    David, you seem surprised – if not downright scandalised – that Father Jerome Murphy-O’Connor would see flaws or faults or very human inconsistencies in another human, Paul of the Epistles! Can you explain this, i.e. why you would be so surprised or scandalised? I can’t think of anything more normal. Are you suggesting Father Jerome has nothing of merit to say? That we should not buy his book?

  2. Peregrinus says:

    Paul’s writing is itself pretty combative at times, isn’t it? He doesn’t read like someone who is dispensing long-considered pearls of condensed wisdom to attentive and pliant disciples, but as someone who is engaging in vigorous debate, refuting the positions of others, trying to change minds, correcting the opinions of his interlocutors, etc, etc. And it seems to me that that’s the way we have to read him, if we’re going to read him the way he expected (at least sometimes) his audience to read him. So asking oneself whether Paul hasn’t overstated his case, from time to time, seems to me perfectly reasonable.

  3. Schütz says:

    Sorry for the delay in replying, gentlemen.

    I am warming to JM-O’C the more I read of him. He has many good points and insights, despite his odd attitude toward Paul’s apostolic authority. After writing this post, I discussed him briefly with one of the Catholic Theological College’s NT scholars and they opined that he probably should have stuck to what he really knew, which was the archeological and historical background to the Pauline corpus, rather than straying into exegesis as such.

    I have since learned that JM-O’C was called to God some years back, so I guess he and Paul are having it out between themselves soul to soul (face to face will need to wait to the resurrection). Perhaps that is his personal purgatory!

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