Father Ron Witherup
addressed members of the Foundations of Ministry program and lay Catholic parish leaders on Dec. 3, then spoke to priests and deacons the following day.
During the Dec. 3 talk, he
told those present that he
hoped to present "an overarching framework for understanding the Gospel of Matthew" most people do not get when they hear only "snippets and snapshots" read from the Lectionary at weekday and Sunday Masses.
"You really need to keep in mind the bigger picture of what the author had in mind.
suggested the importance of reading the Gospel through once or twice at a sitting - since it is not long or complex - to get the full flavor.
began by noting that the Church rarely officially involves itself in defining the specific meaning of passages, or in making ultimate judgments about such questions as a Gospel's authorship, date of origin, where it was written, or the like.
But most scholars now believe that who precisely "Matthew" might be remains open to debate.
Longstanding Church tradition had said that he was the tax collector who was one of the Twelve, an eyewitness to the events in the life of Jesus.
"For a long time in Church history this was assumed to be the case," the priest explained.
"But most scholars now think the copies of copies of Greek manuscripts with Gospel 'titles' we have come from the second century, in the language the Gospels were written in." The originals have been lost over time; all the Gospels were first handed down in oral tradition before they were written down.
But Father Witherup
said most scholars now believe that an individual we call "Matthew" was the final compiler, probably a later Christian, perhaps a Jewish Christian who compiled a text that was familiar in his community.
Although a minority of scholars believe Matthew was first, Father Witherup
said that is doubtful, since Matthew contains the narrative of Jesus' infancy and the Sermon on the Mount.
As to where the Gospel of Matthew was written, there remains uncertainty, Father Witherup
told those present.
"None of the early churches were large," Father Witherup
said scholars have pointed out its detailed organization and parallelism to suggest that it was used as a catechism with a great deal of Christian doctrine in it.
"This material is presented in extremely orderly fashion compared to Mark," he
, a native of western Pennsylvania, is currently provincial superior of the U.S. Province of Sulpicians and immediate past president of the Conference of Major Superiors of Men
He is a former dean and professor of Sacred Scripture at St. Patrick Seminary, Menlo Park, Calif.
has devoted his
ministry primarily to initial and ongoing formation of priests, and has written numerous books and articles, including "Matthew: God With Us."