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"That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands, con
cerning the word of life -- the life was made manifest, and we saw it, and testify to it ...." I John 1:1-2 (RSV)

"After his resurrection the disciples saw the living Christ, whom they knew to have died, with the eyes of faith (oculata fide)." Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, III, 55, 2 ad 1, as quoted in D. M. Stanley, Jesus in Gethsemane (New York, Paulist Press 1980).

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Gerhard von Rad - Anamnesis

Israel's poetry was "the one possible form for expressing special basic insights."  Gerhard von Rad, Old Testament Theology Vol. 1 (New York, Harper & Row Trans. 1962), at page 109.  The poetry made Israel's history present: "It was not just there along with prose as something one might elect to use - a more elevated form of discourse as it were then - but poetry alone enabled a people to express experiences met with in the course of their history in such a way as to make the past become absolutely present." Von Rad at page 109.  This reminds me of the theological idea of "anamnesis" which was the subject of a previous post dealing with remembering - making present - which we see in the celebration of Jewish feasts and in the Eucharist.

There is a powerful lesson here.  Our modern minds have great difficulty making the past present because we live by what von Rad calls "the law of historical exclusiveness." Page 110.  "We have to further consider that in their presentation of religious material the peoples of antiquity were not aware of the law of historical exclusiveness, according to which a certain event or a certain experience can be attached only to a single definite point in history.  In particular, events bearing a saving character retained for all posterity, and in that posterity's eyes, a contemporaneousness which it is hard for us to appreciate."
Von Rad at 110.

The poetic stories of Israel address those "who credit Jahweh with great acts of history."  Von Rad at page 109.   The OT is not a systematically ordered "world of the faith."  Von Rad at 111.  The OT testimonies are not about the faith, but about Jahweh.  "Never, in these testimonies about history, did Israel point to her own faith, but to Jahweh."   Page. 111. And here you find the kind of  beautiful sentences which make von Rad even in translation from the German a joy to read:

Faith undoubtedly finds very clear expression in [the testimonies]; but as a subject it lies concealed, and can often only be grasped by means of a variety of inferences which are often psychological and on that account problematical.   In a word, the faith is not the subject of Israel's confessional utterances, but only its vehicle, its mouthpiece.
Von Rad at page 111.

For the believer this is serious business.  The believer makes the stories of Israel present.  God's call of Abraham, his deliverance of the people from Egypt, and  his revelation of the covenant on Mount Sinai are testimonies for today. The testimonies point not to God's people but to God himself.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Snowstorm Thoughts on the Two Johns

Jack and Katy at  Glacier NP Montana  July, 2012,
Credit:  Tim Schuessler

The Pope's book on the infancy narratives of Jesus is out just in time for Christmas.   I look forward to reading it. But  I'm snowed in today in Wisconsin, and thanks to Jimmy Akin I'm coming back to my thoughts on  the first of the Pope's three books on Jesus, which I read last summer.  

For anyone who needs a "pep talk" on the historical value of the Gospel of John,  check out Pope Benedict XVI's discussion of that Gospel in his first Jesus book,  Jesus of Nazareth Vol. 1 (Doubleday 2007)  In chapter 8 the Pope talks about the two Johns. 

At page 225 the Pope cites John 19:35 and  defends the Apostle John as the eyewitness who authored the Gospel, but he says "the complexity of the Gospel's redaction raises further questions."  P. 225.  How does the text get into its final form?   Citing other scholars who speak of references in Eusebius quoting Papias whose writings are lost, the Pope sees "Presbyter John" as the author of what was told to him by the Apostle John.  Both lived in Ephesus and were part of "the Johannine school" which traced its origins to the Apostle but in which "'Presbyter John' presided  as the ultimate authority."  P.  226.     Papias did not know the Apostle,  but he did know Presbyter John.  

Thanks to these traces of  Papias which we find in Eusebius we can see how through this mysterious Presbyter John the Gospel of John with its powerful  claim to be "eyewitness testimony"  may have come down to us after the synoptic Gospels were written.  Critics say that the Apostle would have been dead by the time his Gospel was written, and that means the writer is presenting stories and traditions that you can't tie to the words and deeds of Jesus.   But if the Presbyter and perhaps other younger associates who were part of the Johannine school, who were close to the eyewitness (the Apostle),  put the  teachings of the Apostle  into final form, that timing  problem is solved.  This argument based on the two Johns, which the Pope beautifully presents, is an excellent push back against those who would have us doubt the historicity of the Gospel of John.  

With this understanding of the two  Johns you can move on to a study of this fascinating question:  Who is the "beloved disciple" whom we see  in the Gospel of John?   Some say it was Lazarus, or some other disciple who was not an apostle.   The text does not say. See chapter 15  of  Jesus and the Eyewitnesses  (Eerdmans 2006) by Richard Bauckham.   I believe the beloved disciple was the Apostle John himself.     But that question will have to be the subject of another post. 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Dei Verbum Part II - Analogy of Faith

Last post I discussed the Vatican II document, Dei Verbum, which states that in studying the Bible the believer can seek guidance from sacred tradition, the teaching of the church.   In  these two posts I suggest that laypersons should read Dei Verbum itself, and not just the books and articles about it.    Here is my favorite section from  the document: 

But the task of authentically interpreting the word of God, whether written or handed on,  has been entrusted exclusively to the living teaching office of the Church,  whose authority is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ. This teaching office is not above the word of God, but serves it, teaching only what has been handed on, listening to it devoutly, guarding it scrupulously and explaining it faithfully in accord with a divine commission and with the help of the Holy Spirit, it draws from this one deposit of faith everything which it presents for belief as divinely revealed.

Dei Verbum, chapter II, section 10 (footnotes omitted).

I was jarred when I first read this section of Dei Verbum, and I actually plan on memorizing it because these passionate words from Vatican II  bring to life the adventure of Bible study.     We are not in this alone. The "teaching office of the Church" is there to help as believers approach the holy word of God.

How do I look to the teaching of the church to understand a biblical text, in the spirit of this quoted section from Dei Verbum?    The church rarely  provides guidance on particular texts.  And I can't find anything in Dei Verbum which speaks to this practical Bible study problem.     For practical advice on this subject of how to approach particular texts I strongly recommend the little 2005 book written by Fr. Daniel Harrington, S.J. titled,  How Do Catholics Read the Bible?  

The church's "teaching office" also has some practical advice.   If a particular  text remains unclear to the amateur Bible student, and  the  church has not dealt with that text in its teaching,  the Catechism of the Catholic Church at section 114 offers assistance to the layperson with the idea of "the analogy of faith"  described as follows:

114.   3.   Be attentive to the analogy of faith.  By "analogy of faith" we mean the coherence of the truths of faith among themselves and with the whole plan of scripture.

Catechism of the Catholic Church, section 114.   If an interpretation of a particular text  is contrary to the "truths of faith" and "the whole plan of scripture" which we learn from church teaching, that interpretation is probably wrong.        

If a layperson gets stuck trying to figure out a particular text, realize that Bible study is not always easy.  That's why we have professionals, language study,  scholars and seminaries whose work is encouraged by Dei Verbum, as discussed in the last post.   And yes, Bible study should be done in fellowship with others, because the body of Christ is a community. I just took an Introduction to Scripture  online class, and that helped a lot.     Even after doing all the right things and following the principles of Catholic Bible study, a layperson's study of the Bible may generate more questions than answers, and there is nothing wrong with that.   The more I learn the more questions I have.   Life and faith is full of mystery, and the same goes for the Bible.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Dei Verbum

Last post I noted that the Vatican II document,  “Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, ”known and cited as Dei Verbum has been a helpful guide to me as I continue to learn how to approach the Bible.  There is a lot of talk about Dei Verbum, and scholars write about what other commentators say about it, but why not read the document itself?   It's not difficult to read and understand.  The faith is based on scripture and sacred tradition:

But in order to keep the Gospel forever whole and alive within the Church, the Apostles left bishops as their successors, "handing over" to them "the authority to teach in their own place." This sacred tradition, therefore, and Sacred Scripture of both the Old and New Testaments are like a mirror in which the pilgrim Church on earth looks at God, from whom she has received everything, until she is brought finally to see Him as He is, face to face (see 1 John 3:2).

Dei Verbum, chapter 2, section 7 (footnotes and citations omitted).

The document explains the connection between scripture and the sacred tradition (the teaching of the church):

Hence there exists a close connection and communication between sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture. For both of them, flowing from the same divine wellspring, in a certain way merge into a unity and tend toward the same end. For Sacred Scripture is the word of God inasmuch as it is consigned to writing under the inspiration of the divine Spirit, while sacred tradition takes the word of God entrusted by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit to the Apostles, and hands it on to their successors in its full purity, so that led by the light of the Spirit of truth, they may in proclaiming it preserve this word of God faithfully, explain it, and make it more widely known. Consequently it is not from Sacred Scripture alone that the Church draws her certainty about everything which has been revealed. Therefore both sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture are to be accepted and venerated with the same sense of loyalty and reverence.

Dei Verbum, Chapter 2 section 9.

In chapter 6, at section 23, the church teaches that scholarly study is  important:

The sacred synod encourages the sons of the Church and Biblical scholars to continue energetically, following the mind of the Church, with the work they have so well begun, with a constant renewal of vigor. 

Dei Verbum, chapter 2, section 9 (citing Pius XII, encyclical "Divino Afflante Spiritu,"  Pontifical Biblical Commission, Instruction on Promoting Biblical Studies, 1943).

 What does this 1943 encyclical, Divino Afflante Spiritu add to the discussion?  In that encyclical Pope Pius XII  set forth what later became known as the Magna Carta of Catholic biblical scholarship.
See John R. Donahue, S. J.,   "Biblical Scholarship 50 Years After Divino Afflante Spiritu," America Magazine, September 18, 1993 which states:

Divino Afflante Spiritu rejects those Catholic conser­vatives who “...pretend that nothing remains to be added by the Catholic exegete of our time to what Christianity has brought to light” (No. 32). Exegesis of the text was to be determined by the literal (or literary) sense, defined as “the literal meaning of the words, intended and expressed by the sacred writer” (No. 26). The letter also approved critical methods urging that exegetes “endeavor to determine the peculiar character and circumstances of the sacred writer, the age in which he lived, the sources written or oral to which he had recourse and the forms of expression he employed” (No. 33). While exegetes were also exhorted “to disclose and expound the spiritual significance intended and ordained by God,” they should “scrupulously refrain from propos­ing as the genuine meaning of Scripture other figurative senses” (No. 27). This reflects Thomas Aquinas’s com­ment that “nothing necessary to faith is contained in the spiritual sense that Scripture does not put forward else­where in the literal sense” (Summa Theologica, 1.1.10). The encyclical exhorted exegetes to be inspired by an “ardent and active love of their subject and be sincerely devoted to Holy Mother Church” (No. 46), encouraged them to tackle unsolved problems and urged that their work be judged “not only with equity and justice, but with charity,” and that “all should abhor that intemperate zeal which imagines that whatever is new should for that very reason be opposed or suspected” (No. 47).

The church here gives the scholar freedom "to determine the peculiar character and circumstances of the sacred writer, the age in which he lived, the sources written or oral to which he had recourse and the forms of expression he employed. ”  Divino Afflante No. 33.    Reading Dei Verbum and Pius XII's encyclical, my guidance from the church here is that I come to the scripture with humility and reverance.  This is the word of God.   I also seek to learn from historical-critical methods which can help me to understand the historical context, the setting and literary form or forms of expression of the biblical text at issue.    After approaching a text with reverence, and after learning from Bible scholars who provide assistance as just described,  what if a particular text remains too difficult for the lay reader to grasp?   That question will be the subject of the next post.  

For me, the teaching of  Dei Verbum is a a spiritual lifeline.    Believers  don't have to be afraid of Bible scholars.  But believers must approach the Bible with reverence and humility, because this is the holy word of God.   That means I am approaching the text with presuppositions based on my faith.   I suppose that James  Kugel would say that's an offering up of your brain for the comfort of faith.  But people who approach the Bible with presuppositions against the faith or indifferent to  the faith need to realize those biases as well, as William Kolbrener says in a previous post in which I have quoted him rebutting Kugel.    From  reading the text of  Dei Verbum, and not from reading books about it, I encountered a subject which surprised me, and that is the idea of faith as a gift.    We take this gift of faith to the study of the Bible.    

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

James Kugel - How to Read the Bible

I just finished reading James Kugel's 2007 book,   How to Read the Bible, which received the Everett Family Foundation Jewish Book of the Year Award by by the Jewish Book Council.   He argues that modern scholars read the Bible one way, and traditional religionists ("the interpreters") another.   Anyone who is honest, he argues, would see that the modern scholars have the facts on their side.   After you get a handle on that, you can still find some religious meaning in the "interpreted" Bible.  See page 45: " ... I am a believer in the divine inspiration of Scripture and an inheritor of many of the traditions of ancient interpreters cited in this book ...."    

Kugel writes:  "What the modern biblical scholars say about the Bible is often not sublime or uplifting.  Indeed, if they are right and what the Bible is really about is different authors with their particular interests and programs, if it has to do only with contradictory details and hunter-gatherer societies and folkloristic motifs, then why bother with it at all?"  P. 57 (italics in original).  He proceeds with detailed discussions of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, the great flood, the tower of Babel, the call of Abraham, Jacob and Esau, Joseph and his brothers, Moses, the Psalms and the prophets, 773 pages in all, from this scholar, but written for the general reader.  In each case, Kugel shows the wisdom of the approach taken by the modern scholar, by pointing out the bible authors' true concerns and contradictory details,  and the defects of  the traditional approaches to each story taken by the "interpreters."  

I understand the idea of looking at each text with fresh eyes and listen to the evidence of the "plain sense" of the meaning of each text.  And it is helpful to point out things from that evidence, such as the fact that when we get to Abraham in Genesis chapter 12 as a person in that culture  he likely believed there were many gods.  Kugel, at p.  91 (citing Josh. 24:2-3).  With that in mind, it's not credible to say, as some of the "interpreters" say, that Abraham was the founder of monotheism.  P. 103.  That's not a point that should shake any believer's faith, that Yahweh called Abraham in a culture where people worshiped other gods (Josh. 24:2-3) and that in doing so Abraham may have retained certain ideas from the old religions.  From a reading of the texts we can't be sure of what was in the mind of Abraham after he was called by Yahweh.  (Catholics may refer to the Lord as Yahweh, and I realize that such naming is an issue for Jewish believers, and I mean no disrespect here. The OT naming of God is a large subject.)   We do know that Abraham  called on the name of Yahweh,  and that he  lived among the Canaanites,  and I have posted on that.   But Kugel missed the issue in his discussion of the call of Abraham.  God is the central character in that narrative.    Our Lord God  is the central character of almost all of the books of the  OT.  

But I had a hard time finding the Lord in  How to Read the Bible. Only in the last chapter do we hear of  Kugel's support for his spiritual take on the message of the Bible, where he says, "...I really do not believe it is my business to try to second-guess the text's divine inspiration."  P. 689.    But the general reader gets the  impression that this kind of second-guessing is a main theme of the book.  Kugel would like us to grow up,  deal with the evidence and stop living in the  dream world of uncritical belief in the sublimity of biblical texts. 

Kugel's  view of scripture is too low for me. I found this review by William Kolbrener helpful:

Kugel’s hypothetical “unInterpreted Bible” is also a fantasy – the fantasy of modern biblical scholars. Not just from a post-modernist sensibility (which Kugel rightfully dismisses), but, from a perspective which ranges from Aristotle to Kuhn, from Milton to Wittgenstein, that understands that perceptions are never innocent of assumptions, and traditions of interpretation are always the vehicles for encountering texts. The mostly etiological (that is causal) interpretations of Kugel’s modern scholars may be elegant, clever and ordered, but such interpretations leave the Bible as simplistic, even simpleminded. Kugel claims that the ancient interpreters ignore the “plain sense” of Scripture and supply the “final and definitive interpretation,” but it’s really the explanations he advocates that provide final and definitive interpretations of the biblical text. In Kugel’s reading, it is predictably the heroic modern biblical scholar, from his (ostensibly) Archimedean vantage point, who provides the causal link that renders everything coherent and final.

Wiliam Kolbrener, "James Kugel and Me on How to Read the Bible," online blog post at . http://openmindedtorah.blogspot.com/2010/03/james-kugel-and-me-on-how-to-read-bible.html
March 13, 2010.

For me as an amateur the teaching of the Catholic church,  in Dei Verbum and other church documents, has been a helpful source for guidance on how to strike a balance, learning from modern scholarship, but doing so with the idea that the scripture is the word of God written by human authors.   Jesus quotes from Moses and Isaiah with boldness and confidence.   The words of Jesus and the teaching of  Dei Verbum  give me confidence that after learning what we can from modern scholarship,  the old interpretive study of the OT is a worthy endeavor.

In the next post, I will highlight a few things from Dei Verbum which have been helpful to me.