Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Theological Censorship: Pagola's "Jesus"

Being a librarian and the daughter of a journalist, Rebel Girl detests censorship in all its forms, particularly the censorship of theologians. Now a major Spanish theologian, Jose Antonio Pagola, joins the ranks of the censored. PPC, the publishers of the Spanish edition of Fr. Pagola's popular book, Jesús. Aproximación histórica, now in its 9th edition and translated into multiple languages, have been ordered to stop printing it and the book has been recalled from bookstores after having already sold 60,000 copies. The book is available in English as Jesus, an Historical Approximation (Convivium, 2009). Incidentally, Convivium's Web site offers some videos of Fr. Pagola talking about his book in Spanish, with an English overdub. Fr. Pagola explains quite sensibly that he was setting out to better know the reality of Jesus. How, he asks, can you follow someone you do not know?

Fr. Pagola, who has degrees in theology and Sacred Scripture, has written numerous Christological works over the last four decades. He has taught at the San Sebastian Seminary and the Facultad de Teología del Norte de España. He has also held many clerical positions, the highest being Vicar General to now retired Bishop José María Setién in the Diocese of San Sebastian.

Nobody seems certain about the reasons for the order to withdraw the popular book from circulation. Speculations in the press have ranged from an order from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome, to a desire to limit the spread of the Spanish language edition before it reaches extensively into Latin America, to retaliation against the popularity of the former bishop, Msgr. Juan María Uriarte, who supports Fr. Pagola and gave the work his "nihil obstat".

The Spanish bishops' conference had issued a rather stern note of clarification about Jesús back in 2008 but otherwise took no further action at that point. Succinctly summarizing their objections, they said:

From the methodological perspective, there are three main deficiencies in the book Jesús. Aproximación histórica: a) the rupture that, in fact, is established between faith and history; b) the mistrust with respect to the historicity of the gospels; and c) a reading of the story of Jesus from some presuppositions that end up twisting it around. The doctrinal deficiencies can be summed up into six: a) a reductionist presentation of Jesus as a mere prophet; b) denial of his divine filial awareness; c) denial of the redemptive meaning Jesus gives to His death; d) obscuring of the reality of sin and the meaning of forgiveness; e) denial of Jesus' intent to found the Church as a hierarchical community; and f) confusion about the historical, real, and transcendental character of Jesus' resurrection.
Another particularly harsh critic, Monseñor Demetrio Fernández of the Diocese of Tarazona, issued a pastoral letter titled El libro de Pagola hará daño ("Pagola's book will do damage"), arguing that the work would confuse the faithful.

Fr. Pagola answered these and other criticisms in a paper titled La Verdad Os Hará Libres ("The Truth Shall Make You Free"). Fr. Pagola explains that his work fits well within the guidelines for Biblical interpretation issued by the Pontifical Biblical Commission and that it is in line with other historical-critical writings such as John Meier's A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus that have been well-received by the Vatican. Then he launches into a point-by-point rebuttal, demonstrating how his critics have either failed to read his book completely or err in not understanding the difference between Christological and Jesuological analysis - expecting his book to conform to the first, when in fact it falls within the second. He also indicates that he read and took to heart the notification issued to fellow theologian Jon Sobrino with respect to the divine/human nature of Jesus and attempted to apply it to his writing. The response is remarkable in its erudition, patience and humility, given the difference in stature between this scholar and most of his critics.

The case has caused considerable uproar among clergy in the Basque region. Last week, 250 priests in the San Sebastian diocese signed an open letter supporting Fr. Pagola. The priests, who mention their gratitude to Fr. Pagola for having trained many of them, express their solidarity and question who or what is behind the order to withdraw his book from the bookstores. They also express their support for their former bishop, Msgr. Uriarte. In a more extreme protest, Fr. Juan María Bautista, pastor of San Francisco Javier in Bilbao, refused to perform the Consecration during the Sunday Mass and used the homily to excoriate the hierarchy for its "inquisitorial obscurantism".

The Spanish online theological forum Atrio has been discussing the matter at length in various posts from Fr. Pagola's fellow theoogians such as Javier Vitoria, professor at the Deusto Theological School.

Those who detest censorship and want to read Jesús. Aproximación histórica in Spanish can find a free PDF version of the 3rd edition here but if you read English, I would strongly encourage you to buy a copy of the book as a better form of protest. I also hope that another Spanish publishing house will rise to the challenge and sign a contract with Fr. Pagola to pick up where PPC left off. Even if Catholic bookstores in that country are too intimidated to carry the title, it could still be sold through the big retailers such as FNAC and Casa del Libro. I'm waiting impatiently for my English copy to arrive...


  1. Excellent book! Fr. Pagola, we really admire your book, and the only way we are going to let others to determine what we should read or not, is by reading your book ourselves and reach a determination of our own. Thanks again, Fr. Pagola

  2. Querido P. José Antonio:

    ¿Cómo, Ud. publica mi opinión acerca de su libro del 23 de Octubre de 2010, a las 2:24 PM, y no responde ninguno de los correos que le he enviado a su dirección vgentza@euskalnet.net? Gracias, Sergio

  3. ¡Qué rápido respondió esta vez!