Any reference work is as good as its index, and it was unfortunate that the first word that came up fortuitously for inspection was "deacon". After all, there is little point in a nonscholar buying such a work in the first place unless the urgently required and obvious references are all covered.
There was no alphabetical entry. And thereby hangs a tale! Which perhaps explains my conversion and a distinct feeling that every busy pastor and agoniser over sermons for the weekend must surely buy a copy of this magnificent work before Christmas, or someone should buy him one as a present.
Because the next word that came up was "Abba", and it would be a poor sort of Biblical theology that couldn't enthuse about that. There was no main entry: but there was a whole series of encoded references which made me do then what I should have done in the first place read the introduction on how to use the dictionary.
At once there was a flood of biblical information available, and to cap it all there was the analytic table at the back where the reference to "deacon" stood out bright and clear, and brought the immediate insight that the Vulgate had simply transliterated the word into "minister".
Now it may well be that all this is no news to you. and perhaps this dictionary, like all works of haute vulgarisation, is not intended for genuine worldclass scholars. But for the or Dictionary of Biblical Theology (2nd Edition) edited by X. Leon-Dufour. S.J. (Geoffrey Chapman £6.50) dinary reader, who knows that he has long been deprived of the genuine insights of modern
scriptural scholarship, this can be a heady wine.
After all, if the word "ministry" is the same as "diaconate," and if "deacon" means "servant" and Christ is
the servant par excellence, then the title "Christ the Deacon" is
not fanciful, and the priest is
also a deacon and so is the bishop. And where will it all
end? Perhaps with conversion? Look that up ... but by now we are learning and find that under "repentance".
It is a fascinating exercise to take an entry such as "unity" in the book and compare the same word with the entry in some such modern compendium as, say, Rahner's Sacramentarn Mandl. The cool analysis into "concept and nature and analogy" tends to contrast with the divisions, "The source of unity and its breach through sin,' and "The search for unity through the Covenant."
Use both approaches together, as they should be used. and one begins to get some notion of the height and the breadth of the new theological insights. These are a far cry from dependence on any one school of pagan philosophy or triumphalist reliance on the magnificoes of Renaissance art and music. We begin to feel that we are really returning to the serene cast of mind of the Evangelists.
Once, long ago -there are a few students who will remember one of our great Northern seminaries permitted a German biblical theologian to "explain the proofs for the Sacrament of Baptism as found in Scripture". He began by showing that there were no such "proofs" and that the texts adduced were thinner in content of baptismal truth than many we had not even considered.
His revelations were regarded as radical and suspect. but we gained a first glimpse of the Semitic mind through which the original revelation had passed, and our awe of Aristotle. Socrates and Aquinas was never quite the same again. Oddly, one's respect for Augustine grew.
So the whirligig of time brings in its revenges and the discipline is now respectable, and forms a dictionary and soon will have its manuals. And the potted versions of biblical theology will fall into disrepute. But that day is not yet, and this dictionary is a great investment, an adventure of startling novelty at times, and a wonderful present.
J. P. Fay