The Fourth. Gospel. By the late Edwyn Clement Hoskyns, Bart., D.D. (St. Andrews); edited by Francis Noel Davey. 2 vols. (Longmans, 30s.)
Reviewed by HUGH POPE, 0.P.
IR EDWYN HOSKYNS was the author of the Commentary on the Johannine !epistles in The New Commentary; he also translated Barth On the Epistle to the Romans; but he is perhaps better known by his Riddle of the New Testament.
The present Commentary he left unfinished, but his collaborator, Dr. Davey, has made it a labour of love
to prepare it for the Press. In his Preface he gives an interesting account of Hoskyns' method of preparation for his task, and in his Introductory Essay: The Fourth Gospel, and the Problem of the Meaning of History, he gives us a foretaste of the lines on which the Commentary is to run.
He takes as an example the question of Lazarus: To say, on the baste of the existing documentary evidence, that Lazarus, having died. was. or was rat, restored to life, is a judgment that cannot be made by a Biblical theologian . . . since the New Testament does not furnish Will record of the event comparable to the minute analysis demanded by scientific observation." He apparently deprecates undue insistence on the chronological details in the Gospel-though they are so marked a feature of it:
" The true understanding of the history of Jesus," he maintains,"springs from that God-given perception of which the Apostles who beheld His glory, and of those who share their apprehension (xvii. 20) can confidently .speak, and it cuts right across the chronological understanding of history. For this reason, in the interests of that history which has been seen to bear witness to God, it has to be detached from its chronological context and narrated non-historically, aince only so can justice be done to its theological significance."
THE Introduction, by Dr. Hoskyns himself, is the really valuable part of the book. It deals with The Problem of the Fourth Gospel; The Controversy --a most interesting account of the divergent views that have been held by one or other school of thought; The Evangelist and His Readers; and notably The Historical Tension of the Fourth Gospel—a somewhat perplexing title.
Most readers of the Fourth Gospel find it a singularly straightforward book : the story of faith and unfaith told in a series of narratives with appended discourses. Nor is it a nebulous faith, a belief in the power and charm of a unique personality shamefully misunderstood and still more shamefully done to death, but—in the author's own words—a belief that the man so portrayed "is the Christ, the Son of God," and a conviction that If we so believe we shall "have life in His names' Such has always been the traditional, Catholic concept of this Gospel written by " the Beloved Disciple," John, the son of Zebedee. Nor has this belief been confined to members of the Catholic Church. Great scholars, men like Westcott and Lightfoot in England, have defended this view of the book with erudition and conviction. But it has long been otherwise in other lands. Indeed, Loisy could scoffingly say that such conservative views were almost the monopoly of "savants de la langue anglaise."
Tiip tendency among modern critics is toatreat this Gospel much as they have -treated the Pentateuch, and while some would, like Harnack, maintain that there is little if any historical basis for the details of Christ's life as portrayed in this Gospel, others would urge that there must be a core of fact, that the narrative is in this respect kin to the mythical "Q " of the Synoptic narratives.
BUT there is another school which focuses attention on the way in which the author uses certain happenings, which he describes in detail, as a mere peg on which to hang long discourses by Christ. He is not really interested in the history for its own sake, they say, in fact those pseudohistorical details are simply due to his imagination, and if we would under
stand him aright we must eliminate the apparent " facts " and fix our attention solely upon what he wants to teach. To this school Sir Edwyn Hoskyns belongs —so far as we can discover; for we must confess that it is exceedingly hard to disentangle his thought.
But he is thoroughly conversant with Catholic ideas on the subject, has read and appreciated Lagrange's Commentary, "in which massive learning is controlled by mature judgment, and set forth with extreme delicacy and reserve of expression." But while dissenting vehemently from those who would regard the historical details "as myth, or fable, or allegory," Sir Edwyn Hoskyns seems, to us, to fall into that very error. For when we turn to his actual Commentary we can trace the influence of Loisy on every page. The term " Incarnation " is constantly used, but what does it mean? "The incarnate Word of God. Word—words—the business of the world: these are the themes.
. . Infinity. history, eternity—time, 'flesh' as the place where the Word of God is recognised, believed and known. . . . Since only the Word of God can bring into being the children of God Jesus was the Ward made flesh."
We need not pursue the inquiry further, but will content ourselves with remarking that the words of the witness at the close, " we know that his testimony is true." do not necessarily differentiate this witness from the author, as the late Abbot Chapman showed so convincingly in his analysis of the use of the spme plural form elsewhere in St. John's writings. (See Journal of Theological Studies, July, 1030.)