Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Making Time For Worship: Understanding Liturgical Seasons (Part 1)

Making Time For Worship: Understanding Liturgical Seasons (Part 1)
by Michael Barber © 2006

Check the news wires and you’ll see that one of the big stories today is the celebration of Mardis Gras down in New Orleans. Most people are familiar with the annual public displays of wantonness and immorality down in Louisiana. What is often a footnote to the story is that Mardis Gras was historically tied to another day: Ash Wednesday.

The original settlers of New Orleans (and Louisiana in general) were French Catholics. Mardis Gras marks the last day before the season of Lent—a time of fasting and self-denial. The original idea was that it was a day to enjoy those things you might be planning on giving up during during the introspection and penitential time of Lent—sweets, creature comforts, etc. Of course, now its name is synonymous with unbridled hedonism—a total distortion of the spirituality of the season.

I guess that should not surprise us. Our society has systematically secularized the calendar, which is actually pretty odd since throughout history the calendar for virtually all civilizations was primarily a religious expression. Our culture, however, has forsaken "holy days" for "holidays" (note the etymology). As we prepare for and begin the season of Lent I will be posting articles on the importance of the liturgical year—the biblical basis, the practice of Jews at the time of Jesus, Jesus’ own observances, and the practice of the early Church. Moreover, I will focus on the seasonal rites of fasting and penitence. This is an introduction to the concept.

Grace Builds Upon Nature
One of the major axioms of Thomism is the principle that “grace builds upon nature.” In fact, Aquinas said that grace presupposes nature. God does not simply wipe out our humanity in offering us his grace. Grace works within our nature to heal it, to perfect it and to elevate it. This relationship is understood in light of others: the Old Testament and the New Testament, faith and reason, etc.

In other words, it is not as though the natural is evil and the supernatural is good. Creation itself was made to be “good.” In a special way, humanity is created “in the image of God” (Gen. 1:27). Yet, all creation points us to the Creator. This is the theme of Psalm 19:

1 The heavens are telling the glory of God;
and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.
2 Day to day pours forth speech,
and night to night declares knowledge.
3 There is no speech, nor are there words;
their voice is not heard;
4 yet their voice goes out through all the
earth, and their words to the end of the world.
In them he has set a tent for the sun,
5 which comes forth like a bridegroom leaving his
chamber, and like a strong man runs its course with
6 Its rising is from the end of the heavens,
and its circuit to the end of them;
and there is nothing hid from its heat.

The psalmist goes on to speak of the law of the Lord. The psalmist here is showing that God’s Torah is evident in creation. Likewise, St. Paul seems to speak of this kind of natural theology in Romans 1.

The World As Temple
This ordering of creation to God is seen in the seven-day creation narrative. The six days of work are meant to point us toward the Lord—toward the Sabbath. Here I want to take an extensive quote from Cardinal Ratzinger’s The Spirit of the Liturgy (I won't put it in block):

“Creation moves toward the Sabbath, to the day on which man and the whole created order participates in God’s rest, in his freedom. Nothing is said directly about worship, still less about the Creator needing the gifts of men. The Sabbath is a vision of freedom. On this day slave and master are equals. The ‘hallowing’ of the Sabbath means precisely this: a rest from all relationships of subordination and a temporary relief from all burden of work. Now some pople conclude from this that the Old Testament makes no connection between creation and worship, that it leads to a pure vision of a liberated society as the goal of human history, that from the very beginning its orientation is anthropological and social, indeed, revolutionary. But this is a complete misunderstanding of the Sabbath. The account of creation and the Sinai regulations about the Sabbath come from the same source. To understand the account of creation properly, one has to read the Sabbath ordinances of the Torah. Then everything becomes clear. The Sabbath is the sign of the covenant between God and man; it sums up the inward essence of the covenant. If this is so, then we can now define the intention of the account of creation as follows: creation exists to be a place for the covenant that God wants to make with man… If creation is meant to be a space for the covenant, the place where God and man meet with one another, then it must be thought of as a space for worship” (The Spirit of the Liturgy, 25-26).

That the world was understood as sacred space is clear also from other passages. We'll consider just a couple.

It is not surprising then that ancient Israel saw the world not just as a mere habitat, but viewed it as a kind of cosmic temple. This is evident, for example, in Job 38, which describes the creation of the world in terms evocative of a temple-building project: laying a “foundation” (v. 4); determining its “measurements” (v. 5); establishing its “cornerstone” (v. 6); the description of the angels “singing” like the Levites in the temple (v. 7); setting its “bars and doors” (8-10); the clouds as glory-cloud of presence (v. 9); restricting the entry of the waters, described as “proud waves” (v. 11).

We could also look at the way the construction of the tent and the temple mirror the creation narrative. Moses blesses the tabernacle when it’s complete, just as God blessed creation when his work was done (Gen 2:3; Exod 39:43; 40:9). Moses finishes his work by speaking of the holiness of the Sabbath, just as the Lord sanctified the seventh day at the end of the creation account in Genesis 1 (Gen. 2:2-4; Exod 31:12-17).

So much more could be said about this (e.g., look at the creation themes in Solomon's dedication of the temple (1 Kings 6-8). Suffice it to say, many scholars have recognized temple imagery in the description of creation. For example, Jon D. Levenson: : “The Temple is the epitome of the world, a concentrated form of its essence, a miniature of the cosmos.” (Sinai and Zion, 138). (For more discussion and scholarly support, see my book, Singing In The Reign: The Psalms and the Liturgy of God’s Kingdom.)

The Liturgical Year
From the very beginning, worship is woven into God’s design for creation. Time is sanctified by the Sabbath. In a sense, Genesis 1 gives us the beginning of a liturgical calendar. In fact, when God creates the sun, moon and stars, his express purpose for them is that they will serve “for signs and for seasons and for days and years” (Gen 1:14). It is generally accepted that the determination of seasons and days refers specifically to liturgical feasts and seasons. (Remember, holidays where originally, holy-days.)

From this acorn we will see the oak tree of the liturgical calendar which, like the Sabbath, is finally spelled out at Sinai. We will look at the Old Testament religious calendar and see how out it developed until the time of Christ. We will then move on to consider how Jesus, himself a Jew of his time, observed religious feasts. Finally, we will look at the early Christian liturgical observances and see how they grew out of the Old Testament liturgical year.

Stay with me folks, we’ve got a lot to get to!
(Read Part 2.)

Monday, February 27, 2006

Da Vinci Code Tried In Court

You would have to be living under a rock to not be aware of Dan Brown's novel, The Da Vinci Code. So many people have already offered thorough critiques of the book, there is no need to repeat them on this blog. In fact, the book has found no traction in the scholarly world. (One of the most searing critiques was offered by biblical scholar Richard Hays at a roundtable discussion. If you haven't seen it, you've got to check out the link just highlighted.)

Although Brown makes grand claims about being a clever researcher, it is clear that most of his sensational theories have been taken right out of the pages of a book written in 1983, Holy Blood, Holy Grail. However, this well documented criticism of the Code now comes with the added force of a legal charge: plagiarism. This week Brown appeared in court in London where he is having to face some very serious legal charges.

One source that has done a good job covering the controversy over Dan Brown's book is Insight Scoop, the blog from the editor of Ignatius Press, the publishing house that has printed most of Pope Benedict's books. Carl Olson, the author of the blog, has done a great job listing some of the similarities. Here's an excerpt:

Perhaps the strongest evidence of borrowing is found in The Da Vinci Code's remarks about Constantine, Christianity in the fourth century, and the relationship of pagan beliefs to Christian doctrine. Here are some examples:

The Da Vinci Code: Constantine "was a lifelong pagan who was baptized on his deathbed, too weak to protest" (p 232)

Holy Blood, Holy Grail: "The image of Constantine as a fervent convert to Christianity is clearly wrong. He himself was not even baptized until 337–when he lay on his deathbed and was apparently
too weakened or too apathetic to protest." (p 366)

The Da Vinci Code: "In Constantine's day, Rome's official religion was sun worship–the cult of Sol Invictus, or the Invincible Sun–and Constantine was its head priest."

Holy Blood, Holy Grail: "The state religion of Rome under Constantine was, in fact, pagan sun worship; and Constantine, all his life, acted as its chief priest."

The Da Vinci Code: "Christian and pagans began warring, and the conflict grew to such proportions that it threatened to rend Rome in two. Constantine decided that something had to be done. In 325 A.D., he decided to unify Rome under a single religion. Christianity."
(p 232)

Holy Blood, Holy Grail: "While Constantine was not, therefore, the good Christian that later tradition depicts, he consolidated, in the name of unity and uniformity, the status of Christian orthodoxy. In A.D. 325, for example, he convened the Council of Nicea." (p 368).

The Da Vinci Code: "Historians still marvel at the brilliance with which Constantine converted the sun-worshipping pagans to Christianity. By fusing pagan symbols, dates, and rituals into the growing Christian tradition, he created a kind of hybrid religion that was acceptable to both parties." (p 232)

Holy Blood, Holy Grail: "In the interest of unity, Constantine deliberately chose to blur the distinctions between Christianity, Mithraism, and Sol Invictus–deliberately chose not to see any contradictions among them." (p. 367) It then discusses Christmas and December 25th and (supposedly)shared beliefs between Christianity and Mithraism.

The Da Vinci Code: "Originally ... Christianity honored the Jewish Sabbath of Saturday, but Constantine shifted it to coincide with the pagan's veneration day of the sun." (p. 232-3)

Holy Blood, Holy Grail: "Christianity had hitherto held the Jewish Sabbath–Saturday–as sacred. Now, in accordance with Constantine's edict, it transferred its sacred day to Sunday." (p. 367)

The Da Vinci Code: At the Council of Nicaea, Teabing states, "many aspects of Christianity were debated and voted upon–the date of Easter, the role of bishops, the administration of sacraments, and, of course, the divinity of Jesus." (p. 233). The vote is described as "relatively close" by Teabing (p. 233).

Holy Blood, Holy Grail: "At this council the dating of Easter was established. Rules were framed that defined the authority of bishops, thereby paving the way for a concentration of power in ecclesiastical hands. Most important of all, the Council of Nicea decided, by vote, that Jesus was a god, not a mortal prophet." (p. 368). An endnote states of the vote: "218 for, 2 against," which is far closer to the truth than Teabing's claim.

The Da Vinci Code: "To rewrite the history books [states Teabing, the historian], Constantine knew he would need bold stroke. From this sprang the most profound moment in Christian history. ...Constantine commissioned and financed a new Bible, which omitted those gospels that spoke of Christ's human traits and embellished those gospels that made Him godlike. The earlier gospels were outlawed, gathered up, and burned." (p. 234)

Holy Blood, Holy Grail: "Thus, a year after the Council of Nicea, [Constantine] sanctioned the confiscation and destruction of all works that challenged orthodox teachings–works by pagan authors that referred to Jesus, as well as works by 'heretical' Christians. ... Then, in A.D. 331, he commissioned and financed new copies of the Bible. This constituted one of the single most decisive factors in the entire history of Christianity and provided Christian orthodoxy–the 'adherents of the message'–with an unparalleled opportunity" (368). Then, on the next page, the authors state that "the New Testament itself is only a selection of early Christian documents dating from the fourth century. There are a great many other works that predate the New Testament in its present form" (p 369). The authors argue that those other documents depict Jesus as being human only, even "all too human" (p. 270).

Check out the whole article.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Lent and What the Pope Said Today

The season of Lent will begin on Wednesday. I'm working on a longer post (or series of posts) on the role of liturgical seasons and fasting in second temple Judaism, the New Testament and early Christianity. It is important to keep in mind that the practice of spending an appointed time in prayer and fasting is nothing new. Stay tuned for more on that.

As I find myself thinking about what my particular plans will be for the Lenten season, I have to remind myself not to view its observance as merely a legalistic obligation. Getting our ashes on Wednesday is more than a fashion statement. We need to forget the exterior dimensions and focus more and more on our own need for interior conversion. Besides, ashes don't make very good fashion statements.

Pope Benedict dedicated his Sunday Angelus address to this topic and had some wonderful things to say about it. Here's an excerpt:
"The Lenten season must not be faced with an "old" spirit, as if it were a heavy and tedious obligation, but with the new spirit of the one who has found in Jesus and his paschal mystery the meaning of life, and now feels that everything must make reference to him. This was the attitude of the Apostle Paul, who affirmed that he left everything behind to be able to know Christ "and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that if possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead" (Philippians 3:10-11)."
God, come to our assistance. Lord, make haste to help us.

Taking God At His Word (Part 2)

(Continued from the previous post. Please read Part 1 first).

The Word of the Lord
The concept of “inspiration” actually comes from St. Paul. In 2 Timothy 3:16, Paul explains: “All Scripture is inspired by God.” The Greek word translated “inspiration” literally means, “God-breathed.” The Holy Spirit is the true author of Scripture. Vatican II explains that the books of Sacred Scripture “have God as their author” (Dei Verbum, 11).

Of course, the biblical books also have human authors—St. Paul, St. John, etc. It is important to remember that these sacred writers used their own particular experiences and styles in writing—that’s why the Gospel of John reads differently than, say, the Gospel of Luke. Nevertheless, the Church teaches that it was the Holy Spirit who was working in them and through them to write down exactly what he wanted them to write and nothing more. Vatican II states:

“In composing the sacred books, God chose men and while employed by Him they made use of their power and abilities, so that with Him acting in them and through them, they, as true authors, consigned to writing everything and only those things which he wanted” (Dei Verbum, 11).

In Scripture, therefore, we have the “Word of God.” In fact, the Bible is the Word of God in the very words of God (cf. Dei Verbum, 24).

The Church teaches, therefore, that the study of the Bible should be “the very soul of sacred theology” (Dei Verbum, 24). In fact, before he became Pope Benedict XVI, Cardinal Ratzinger wrote: “dogma is nothing other than the Church’s interpretation of Scripture.” Therefore, he wrote, “the Bible becomes the model of all theology” (Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Principles of Catholic Theology: Building Stones for a Fundamental Theology [San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1987], 321.)

Catholics do not disregard Scripture. Any Catholic who says the Bible is unimportant, doesn’t know what the Church teaches. Echoing St. Jerome, the Church has consistently taught: “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.”

Going by the Book
Notwithstanding the great amount of common ground Catholics and Protestants share, there are of course real differences and I don’t want to simply pretend they don’t exist. Unlike mainline Protestantism, Catholics do not believe the Bible is the only authority for Christians—we recognize the role of Tradition and the Church’s Teaching Office (the “Magisterium”). Scripture has a primacy in Catholic theology, but it is not our “sole” authority. This is where Catholics and Protestants really do disagree. Martin Luther and the Reformers championed the cry, Sola Scriptura!—“the Bible alone.” This goes right to the heart of the Protestant “protest” against Catholicism.

Although this essay is concerned with the Catholic understanding of Scripture, I feel the need here to help clarify why Catholics recognize Tradition and the Magisterium as authoritative.

Scripture and Tradition
First of all, it is widely accepted—especially among those who study hermeneutical issues—that the modernist notion of pure objectivity has gone the way of the dodo. No one comes to a text without presuppositions. As writers like Anthony Thiselton have shown us by building on the works of philosophers such as Hans-Georg Gadamer and Alasdair McIntyre, tradition is unavoidable. In this vein, Roger Lundin writes about the inevitable collapse of the Cartesian-Modernist idea of the “orphaned individual” (See The Promise of Hermeneneutics, 1-64). As these non-Catholic writers have demonstrated, our interpretation of biblical texts never happens outside of a tradition.

Catholics believe that God recognized this long before philosophers did. Not only did the Spirit inspire the sacred authors, he also guides the transmission and interpretation of that text. Not only does he give us an authoritative inspired text (the Bible), he also gives us an authoritative Spirit-led Tradition.

Of course, we could play you-show-me-your-verse-and-I’ll-show-you-mine all day. I don’t know how many times non-Catholic friends have pointed out to me Jesus' words to the Pharisees: “And why do you transgress the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?” (Matt 15:3). Likewise, I know I have many times cited 2 Thess 2:15: “stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us either by word of mouth or by letter." Protestants and Catholics believe their view is supported by Scripture. Ironically, our understanding of these texts will largely depend upon which tradition we stand in. Sincerity and intelligence abound on both sides.

At the end of the day, it seems non-Catholics believe that the biblical texts they cite are inspired by God, though the tradition they read it within is not guided by the Spirit per se - and Catholics like me wonder how God could leave us with that kind of dilemma.

The Bible and the Church
Catholics turn to a number of passages for biblical support of the idea of an authoritative Church. For example, in Matthew 16:18-19 and 18:17 Jesus speaks of the binding authority possessed by Peter and the Church. With reference to these passages, John Howard Yoder, a Mennonite scholar, writes, “The church is, therefore, most centrally defined as the place where ‘binding’ and ‘loosing’ takes place. Where this does not happen, ‘church’ is not fully present.” (“Practicing the Rule of Christ,” in Virtues and Practices in the Christian Tradition: Christian Ethics after MacIntyre, [Edited by Nancy Murphy et al.; Notre Dame: Indiana, 1997],143).

But again, we could play divide and conquer all day—a passage is cited by one side, the other side then tries to pick it apart to cast doubt on the conclusions drawn from it. Oftentimes, both sides, if they are honest, will have to admit that the same text can yield varying possible (though not all “likely”) interpretations (of course, that’s the debate isn’t it!). It would seem to some that we simply arrive at an impasse.

I mentioned that Catholics have a hard time understanding why non-Catholics hold to the authority of the Bible alone and reject the authority of the pope and councils. Aside from the exegetical disagreements, the denial, to us, seems problematic: without the authority of something other than the Bible, how does one know which books belong in the Bible in the first place? How do we know which books are truly inspired by the Holy Spirit? No biblical book gives us the list. (And even if one did, how would we know that it itself was inspired?) It seems therefore that the Bible’s authority is not sufficient—there's a need for something more than Scripture in order to know what belongs in.

Leaving aside the more complex issue of the deutero-canonical (“Apocrypha”) books—which, incidentally, leading Protestant scholars like Martin Hengel and Albert Sunburg Jr. have argued were wrongly excluded from the Protestant canon—it seems obvious that the canon was finally determined by the Church. Catholics believe that it is important to read Scripture in the light of the Church that assembled its books into the canon in the first place.

The reason I’ve gone through these issues is two-fold. First, I wanted to explain that Catholics do not believe Tradition and the Magisterium supplant Scripture. We believe their authoritative role is affirmed by Scripture. God uses Tradition and the Church to help us recognize what Scripture is and how to interpret it faithfully by the Spirit. Yet, though we affirm their authority, we never call them "inspired."

The Unique Role of Scripture
Before he became pope, Cardinal Ratzinger emphasized that Catholics must recognize the privileged role Scripture has in the Church. “The normative theologians,” he wrote, “are the authors of Holy Scripture” (Principles of Catholic Theology, 321). Catholic theology is first and foremost to be a “biblical theology” (cf., Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, On the Theological Formation of Future Priests). Terms like “Trinity,” “Transubstantiation,” “Immaculate Conception,” etc., are given to us by the Magisterium and represent the infallible teaching of the Church. These dogmas are meant to help us understand the truth that is found in Scripture. As Pope Benedict once wrote that dogma is “nothing other than an interpretation of Scripture” (“Crisis in Catechesis,” Canadian Catholic Review, 7 (1983): 178).

For more I highly recommend the last essay in Scott Hahn's book, Scripture Matters.

In fact, when Catholics gather for worship we do not EVER read papal encyclicals, counciliar documents or writings from the saints. The only thing prescribed (and permitted) for liturgical reading is Scripture. Indeed, the inspired books were collected into what we now call the “Bible,” because Christians needed to know what could be read in the Liturgy. The early Christians didn’t have their own private study bibles. The proper place to read Scripture was the liturgy. The Bible is a liturgical book.

But we'll deal with that in a later essay…

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Taking God At His Word (Part 1)

Taking God At His Word: Scripture's Role In Catholic Teaching
by Michael Barber

(In the following post I will begin a multi-part explanation of the Catholic understanding of the role of Scripture. My hope and my prayer for this essay is two-fold. First, that this essay will help clarrify for non-Catholic Christians what the role of Scripture is in Catholic teaching. Secondly, that this essay will help Catholics come to a deeper appreciation for God's Word.)

There I was in Rome in the spring of 2002. I was just arriving at a restaurant where I was about to have dinner with Dr. Scott Hahn and Fr. Thomas Williams, a professor at the Pontifical University of the Regina Apostolorum. I had to pinch myself. Could this get any better? Yes, in fact it could. This day was about to become one of the most memorable days of my life.

As we were walking into the restaurant Dr. Hahn told me, “Last time I was here I ran into Cardinal Ratzinger.” We opened up the front door and Dr. Hahn said, in the same breath, “…and there he is.” Sure enough, there was the future pope, sitting in the back of the restaurant in the middle of a large table. It looked kind of like a painting of the “Last Supper.” In a way it was just that, a “last supper.” He was there with the members of the congregation for the faith, who were celebrating the retirement of one of their colleagues.

Of course, I had been hoping to meet Cardinal Ratzinger. As a student at Franciscan University, I had a read most of his books available in English—some of them were required reading for classes. Suffice it to say, I was a fan. Furthermore, I had just finished his brand new book at the time, Many Religions, One Covenant. Incidentally, the Foreward for that book, was written by the man who sat to the left of me at dinner—Scott Hahn. I could hardly contain my excitement.

When dinner was over we had our chance to speak with him. He was very kind, a gentle and soft-spoken man. I told him that I was studying theology and planned to teach and write after earning my doctorate in theology. He asked me what my specific focus was. I said, “Biblical Theology.” He said, “That’s a very important area.” He went on to tell me how important it was for Catholics to pursue Scripture study—to allow the Bible to be, in the words of Vatican II, “the soul of sacred theology” (Dei Verbum, 24). After our brief conversation he signed my copy of his new book and gave us his blessing. I will never forget that day.

That They All May Be One
One thing Pope Benedict has made very clear in his first few addresses as Holy Father is his desire to bring about the unity of Christians. But, with the myriad of denominations, can there really be a re-unification of Christians? Pope Benedict believes so. He has continually affirmed his desire for true dialogue between Catholics and non-Catholic Christians. In fact, the Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that dialogue between Christians is absolutely necessary (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 285).

First and foremost, in order for there to be real discussion with other Christians, Catholics themselves have to know exactly what the Church teaches. Dialogue doesn’t mean we simply pretend there are no differences between Catholics and non-Catholic Christians! Yet, despite these differences it is important emphasize the great deal we share in common. As a Catholic who has studied at two Protestant institutions (Azusa Pacific University and Fuller), I have learned the following: most of the problems non-Catholic Christians have with Catholicism stem from the fact that they have never really heard what Catholics believe.

Technically, “Protestants” are those who “protest”—but what exactly are they protesting? Historically, the answer is the Catholic faith. However, I truly believe that much of what most “Protestants” believe they are “protesting” isn’t truly Catholic teaching at all. I believe Fulton Sheen was correct when he said, “It would be hard to find 100 people in the world who hate the Catholic Church, but there are many thousands who hate what they ‘think’ is the Catholic Church.” We will get to some examples later.

Why they misunderstand Catholic beliefs is clearly a complicated issue. Part of it has to do with the fact that some of them learned about Catholicism from teachers who were severely anti-Catholic. A much bigger part of the problem is the sad fact that Catholics themselves often reinforce false impressions about the Church’s teaching. Here is not the place for that discussion. Suffice it to say, Catholicism is oftentimes not what most non-Catholics think it is.

Happily, thanks to John Paul II, we now have the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It’s easier to find out what the Church officially teaches than ever before. The Catechism sums up the teachings of all the Councils and Magisterial documents written over the Church’s history. What do Catholics believe?—look in the Catechism. If there’s a question about what Catholics really affirm, now people don’t have to take some theologian’s word for it. They can get it straight “from the horse’s mouth.”

Going by the Book
Of course, we could write volumes about the various ways Catholic teachings have been misrepresented to non-Catholics. Here I want to focus on what Pope Benedict has often addressed: the Church’s understanding of Scripture.

Non-Catholic Christians often have the mistaken impression that the Catholic faith has little room for Scripture. Whereas the Protestant tradition honors the Bible, Catholicism, it is believed, relegates it to a position of lesser importance. It is often asserted, “Catholics have Tradition, Protestants have the Bible.”

Of course, this is a totally false representation of the Catholic faith. Quoting Vatican II, the Catechsim explains, “The Church has always venerated the divine Scriptures as she venerated the Body of the Lord” (CCC 140; Dei Verbum 21). The false notions many non-Catholics have about the role of Scripture in Catholic teaching is a perfect example of the misunderstanding that abounds. Far from denigrating the role of Scripture, the Church, as we shall see, has a very high view of the Bible.

Catholics, like most non-Catholic Christians, recognize that Scripture is “inspired” by the Holy Spirit. In fact, the Church teaches that only Scripture is inspired—not the pope, not tradition, only the Bible. Of course, we also believe that the Spirit is also at work in the Church’s Living Tradition and the Church’s teaching authority (the “Magisterium”). Nevertheless, though they are authoritative and guided by the Spirit, they are not called “inspired.” In the Catholic faith, that term is reserved for Scripture alone.

This requires a careful explanation. (Read Part 2...)

Thursday, February 23, 2006

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Today we will talk about the new Cardinals, the Catholic understanding of the papacy and much more!

Interview with Cardinal-designate Fr. Vanhoye

Yesterday I spoke a little bit about Pope Benedict's focus on the role of Scripture in doing theology. For those of you unfamiliar with the new Cardinal-designate (and for anybody else interested!), here is an interview with Fr. Vanhoye from First Things. In it he said:

"For exegetes the first task is to remember that Scripture is the soul of theology. With this awareness, one cannot limit one’s study of the biblical word to research that is exclusively historical or literary. It is necessary to get to the heart of the matter, to express the religious meaning of the text. If exegesis does not do this, theology cannot take Scripture as the soul of theology, since there would exist no proportion or affinity between the results of exegesis and the task of theological systematization."

(For more on Vanhoye check the post below on the new Cardinals.)

Jesus in the Wilderness

New Testament scholar Michael Bird, a Reformed Baptist and Professor of New Testament at Highland Theological College in Scotland, has been posting on the account of Jesus' forty days and nights of testing in the wilderness. Apparently, he is working on a journal article on the topic. He recently posted on the typological aspects of the narrative. Here is what he has to say:

In the temptation stories (Mark 1.12-13; Matthew 4.1-11/Luke 4.1-13)
various examples and typologies emerge:

1. Jesus as the New Adam. That Jesus was with the wild beasts may recall Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden and their temptation. Also, it may recall a Jewish tradition that Adam and Eve were ministered to by Angels in the garden (Adam and Eve 4.1-2; b.Sanh. 59b).

2. Jesus as Faithful Israel. The three temptations recall elements of the Exodus story: wandering in the wilderness (Exod 16:35), hunger (Exod 16:2-8), testing God (Exod 17:1-3), and idolatry (Exodus 32).

3. Jesus as Elijah-like prophet. Elijah spent 40 days on Mt. Horeb (1 Kgs 19:8).4. Jesus as the New Moses. Jesus was “fasting” like Moses did (Exod 24:18; 34:28).
Jesus' sojourn in the wilderness for forty days and forty nights again
comports iwht Moses on the mountain (Deut 9:9; Exod 34:28).

As I mentioned earlier, one of the most exciting things I get to be a part of is the work of the Saint Paul Center for Biblical Theology. One of the main themes you'll find throughout the works put out by the Center is the importance of reading the New Testament in light of the Old and the Old Testament in light of the New. St. Augustine had a great saying, "The Old Testament is revealed in the New Testament, and the New Testament is concealed in the Old."

In fact, most of the books of the Bible are found in the Old Testament! Disregarding the Old was the message of the heretic Marcion - the Church has always valued both Testaments. You can especially see this in the new lectionary - one of the great triumphs of the Second Vatican Council. Prior to Vatican II, Catholics read very little from the Old Testament at Mass. In fact, they read a lot less of Scripture at Mass overall because the Church used an annual reading cycle. Each year the same readings were read over and over. The fathers of the Second Vatican Council established a beautiful three year lectionary cycle. This new lectionary established for every Sunday Mass readings from both the Old Testament (the First Reading and a Psalm) and from the New Testament (the Second Reading and the Gospel).

Furthermore, the lectionary readings were carefully chosen to reveal the way Christ in the New Testament fulfills what we find in the Old. So, for example, in cycle A, in the first week of Lent, before we read about Jesus' temptation in the wilderness we read about the testing of Adam and Eve in the Garden. In cycle C, Jesus' temptation is paired with Moses' speech in Deuteronomy 26, in which he describes the way the Lord led Israel through the wilderness. In the liturgy we learn how to read the Bible properly - always reading the New in light of the Old.

Incidentally, the new lectionary was so beautiful many non-Catholic denominations such as the Anglican community adopted it for use in their own worship. I really believe that such a reading of Scripture will help re-unite Christians - not divide them further. Thanks again to Michael Bird for his excellent post.

For more see:
"Interpreteting Texts in the Context of the Whole Bible," by David L. Baker.
"Neo-Patristic Exegesis: Its Approach and Its Method," by Msgr. John F. McCarthy.
"The Sacraments and the History of Salvation," by Cardinal Jean Daneilou.

These articles and many more can be found at www.salvationhistory.com

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Another Priest Is Martyred In Muslim Riots

Zenit News Agency is releasing more details about the second priest killed in the controversy over those anti-Mohammed cartoons. His name was Father Michael Gajere. L'Osservatore Romano reports: "The priest was brutally slain by a group of armed men, after heroically having saved the life of the altar boys present in the parish." In case you haven't heard, here was the initial story from the Associated Press. Here's an excerpt:

"Nigerian Muslims protesting caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad attacked Christians and burned churches on Saturday, killing at least 15 people in the deadliest confrontation yet in the whirlwind of Muslim anger over the drawings.

It was the first major protest to erupt over the issue in Africa's most populous nation. An Associated Press reporter saw mobs of Muslim protesters swarm through the city center with machetes, sticks and iron rods. One group threw a tire around a man, poured gas on him and set him ablaze...

...Thousands of rioters burned 15 churches in Maiduguri [Nigeria] in a three-hour rampage before troops and police reinforcements restored order, Nigerian police spokesman Haz Iwendi said. Iwendi said security forces arrested dozens of people in the city about 1,000 miles northeast of the capital, Lagos.

Chima Ezeoke, a Christian Maiduguri resident, said protesters attacked and looted shops owned by minority Christians, most of them with origins in the country's south. "Most of the dead were Christians beaten to death on the streets by the rioters," Ezeoke said. Witnesses said three children and a priest were among those killed..."

More on the new Cardinals

A few more things about the new Cardinals. First and foremost, only two Americans were named this time around. America has more than its fair share of Cardinals already - second only to Italy. Considering the massive growth in Catholic communities around the world, it doesn't surprise me at all that the Pope chose men from other places throughout the world. In case you're not familiar with the rest of the names on the list, let me help you out a little...

Archbishop Levada, the man the Pope appointed to his old job, has spoken out rather forcefully on the need to remain faithful to the Church's Magisterial teachings. However, over time his position has evolved. Interestingly, back in the 1970's, Levada made statements which seem to indicate that he believed that papal infallibility is limited to matters of faith - but not to moral issues such as abortion. Obviously, one of the significant implications of such a view would be that Catholic politicians would be free to either oppose or support abortion. However, in his comments following the publication of John Paul's Evangelium Vitae, it is clear that Levada had clearly abandoned this previous view:

"The individual politician, like any Catholic, who is at odds with the teaching of the Church about the principle involved, i.e., that abortion constitutes the killing of innocent human life and is always gravely immoral (cf. Evangelium Vitae, nn. 57-62), has an obligation to reflect more deeply on the issue, in the hope of allowing the persuasive character of this infallibly taught teaching to become part of his belief and value system. I say infallibly taught not because Pope John Paul II has assumed in Evangelium Vitae the special prerogative recognized for individual papal teachings in the First Vatican Council, but
rather because he has called attention explicitly to the fact that Catholic teaching on abortion has been an infallible doctrine of the Church by virtue of the universal ordinary Magisterium, recognized for the teachings of the Pope and worldwide college of bishops together by the Second Vatican Council. (From The
Catholic Sentinel, 6/2/1995).

On another important political issue, homosexual marriage - an especially hot button issue in his former diocese of San Francisco - Levada stated:
"Heterosexual marriage, procreation and the nurturing of children form the bedrock of the family, and the family unit lies at the heart of every society. To extend the meaning of marriage beyond a union of a man and a woman, their procreative capacity, and their establishment of family represents a misguided understanding of marriage."

Another one of the Bishops elevated by Pope Benedict is Bishop Joseph Zen Ze-kiun - a man who has been a constant thorn in the side of China's Communist government. Wikepedia has a lot of good information on his important work. Click here.

Recently, Archbishop O'Malley made waves in Boston by skipping a Catholic Charities dinner honoring Boston mayor Thomas Menino, an outspoken abortion advocate. He has been very much opposed to giving Holy Communion to pro-choice politicians. He has said, "a Catholic politician who holds a public, pro-choice position should not be receiving Communion." One of O'Malley's primary concerns has been addressing fallout from the sex abuse scandals which has rocked the Boston diocese. In order to pay off the staggering $85 million dollar court settlement, the diocese has been forced to sell off precious churches and church property. Click here for more about O'Malley.

Archbishop Jean-Pierre Ricard has been the president of the French Conference of Catholic Bishops. He has spoken strongly against anti-semitism in Europe. He is also known in France as one of the most outspoken opponents homosexual marriage. See the BBC story.

New Cardinals Announced

What an exciting way to start off this new blog! Today, Pope Benedict announced 15 new Cardinals. Here's the list:

+Archbishop William Levada, Archbishop-emeritus of San Francisco Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
+Archbishop Franc Rode, C.M., Archbishop-emeritus of Ljubljana, Prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life
+Archbishop Agostino Vallini, Bishop-emeritus of Albano, Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura
+Archbishop Jorge Liberato Urosa Savino of Caracas
+Archbishop Gaudencio Rosales of Manila
+Archbishop Jean-Pierre Ricard of Bordeaux
+Archbishop Antonio Canizares Llovera of Toledo
+Archbishop Nicholas Cheong Jin-Suk of Seoul
+Archbishop Sean O'Malley, O.F.M. Cap. of Boston
+Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz of Krakow (John Paul's personal secretary and very close friend)
+Archbishop Carlo Caffara of Bologna
+Bishop Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, S.D.B of Hong Kong

In addition to these, the Pope elevated three well respected churchmen. All of the following are over the age of 80 and will therefore never vote in a papal conclave. In a sense, these are honorary appointments:
+Archbishop Andrea Cordero Lanza di Montezemolo, the archpriest of the Roman basilica of St. Paul outside the Walls, a veteran Vatican diplomat and member of a noted Italian family.
+Archbishop Peter Poreku Dery, the retired Archbishop of Tamale, Ghana, who is 87.
+Father Albert Vanhoye, the French Jesuit who was rector of the Pontifical Biblical Institue and secretary to the Pontifical Biblical Commision.

For more details go here.

I want to highlight a couple of things here. First, it is interesting that the only non-Bishop on the list is a biblical scholar, Father Albert Vanhoye. Fr. Vanhoye is one of the world experts in scholarship in the book of Hebrews. Notice here Pope Benedict's clear interest in highlighting the importance of biblical studies. In fact, one of the distinctive elements of Cardinal Ratzinger's work is his attempt to do BIBLICAL theology. Catholic theolgoy needs to be bibilcally based. I'll have more to say about this in the future. Suffice it to say, the appointment of Vanhoye reveals two things. First, it indicates that the Pope has great respect for this biblical scholar. Second, it underscores his interest in fulfilling the Second Vatican Council's call for making the study of the Bible ("the study of the sacred page") the "soul of theology" (Dei Verbum, 24).

Also, I think that it is worthy of note that one of the new Cardinals is Archbishop Carlo Caffara of Bologna, the noted moral theologian. Caffara is the founder of the John Paul II Institutes for Marriage and Family. There are two institutes right now - one in Rome and one in Washington, D.C.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006


Welcome to Singing In The Reign, my blog. Let me tell you a little bit about myself. My name is Michael Barber. I am a Catholic author, speaker and radio host. I have been studying theology and philosophy since I was young. I am currently working on my Ph.D. in Theology at Fuller in Pasadena, California. I received my B. A. in Theology and Philosophy from Azusa Pacific University in southern California and a M. A. in Theology from the Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio.

As I said, I am a Catholic author. I have written two books, "Singing in the Reign: The Psalms and the Liturgy of God’s Kingdom" and, a brand new book, "Coming Soon: Unlocking the Book of Revelation and Applying Its Lessons Today."

I recently began a new weekly radio show, Reasons for Faith Live, which is heard on EWTN’s Radio Network every Friday at 11am Pacific Coast Time. Go to http://www.ewtn.com/ for more details.

On most Tuesdays, I lead Bible studies and classes at the Sacred Heart Chapel, the Catholic Resource Center’s headquarters in Covina, California. A number of these studies are available on CD through St. Joseph’s Communications. Topics I have covered include: “The Bible is a Catholic Book,” “The Dead Sea Scrolls,” “Revelation Revealed,” and “How To Talk To Fallen Away Catholics”. If you're are free on Tuesdays come by - the studies are FREE and include full multi-media presentations and handouts. For more information go to http://www.catholicresourcecenter.org/

Finally, I am a Research Fellow for the Saint Paul Center for Biblical Theology. This exciting new Catholic organization was founded by Dr. Scott Hahn and promotes Catholic biblical study. Nothing excites me more than the work of the SPC and you are sure to find frequent references made to it here. Please check out the Center's award winning site: http://www.salvationhistory.com/

People have been telling me for years that I should begin a blog. I always said I never would. I now recognize the need to have a place where people can easily find me. Check out the blog each day for everything from updates on Catholic news stories to my thoughts on current theological debates; from commentary on the Sunday readings to movie reviews. This is a site I hope you'll find intellectually stimulating, beneficial to your spiritual life, and fun. I hope it is a site you'll add to your "favorites". And please add your own comments on the various posts!