Theologian's attempt to demystify Christ meets with wrath of Church

5th February 2008, Comments 0 comments

Book becomes bestseller, despite Catholic hierarchy's attempts to muzzle it

5 February 2008

MADRID -  A popular new book about Jesus is stirring controversy within the Spanish Catholic Church, leading some bishops to call for it to be censored on grounds that it breaks with Church dogma about the life and beliefs of Christ.

Written by widely published theologian José Antonio Pagola, Jesús. Aproximación histórica (Jesus. An Historic Approximation) addresses Christ's life from a modern perspective, demystifying much of the dogma contained in the Bible and in other religious scriptures. And that is precisely what a group of hard line Spanish clergymen dislike about it.

"Pagola's Jesus is not the Jesus of faith of the Church," Demetrio Fernández, the bishop of the Aragonese town of Tarazona, charged in an open letter to the faithful last December as the book looked likely to become a popular Christmas gift among churchgoers.

Fernández's letter, however, probably only served to draw more attention to the book and two months after it was first published Jesús. Aproximación histórica has sold 40,000 copies, making it a bestseller for a religious title in Spain.

The bishop of Tarazona and others, including José Rico Pavés, the head of the secretariat for the Episcopal Commission for the Doctrine of the Faith, are far from pleased, fearing that, despite its popularity, the book will "confuse" Catholic worshippers and will ultimately prove harmful for the Church and the Catholic religion.

"I am worried that this book is selling so well, especially around Christmas," Bishop Fernández wrote. "This book, which is a pleasure to read due to the good literary style of its author, will seed confusion."

Fernández and Pagola hail from two different wings of the Church although both have impressive academic credentials. The bishop of Tarazona was a professor of Christology for 27 years at the San Ildefonso Technical Institute in Toledo, while Pagola is one of Spain's foremost theologians who has published two dozen books on Catholicism.

Pagola's prominence has undoubtedly made him a bigger target for critics, although despite calls for his book to be censured and complaints to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (formerly known as the Holy Inquisition) he has continued to defend his work.

"Many people have asked how I am doing, how I am surviving this and what is happening. To anyone who is interested, I offer words of encouragement," Pagola wrote to supporters recently. "Something I have been thinking over a lot throughout all this are my feelings toward those condemning me. And I am hearing the words of Jesus to his followers: Do not judge anyone... do not condemn anyone. Forgive. I know well the sentiments of Jesus. For that reason I pray for those who reject me, I do so using their names. I think that, deep down, they don't know what they are doing."

[Copyright EL PAÍS / JUAN G. BEDOYA 2008]

Subject: Spanish news

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