Thursday, May 01, 2014

Vatican II on the Bible in Seminary Formation

The canonizations of Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II last weekend underscored the significance of the Second Vatican Council in the history of the Catholic Church.

This, therefore, is a good time to remind ourselves of the importance of the council and its message.

Of course, this blog takes its cue from the council's efforts to renew Catholic biblical studies and its direction that "the study of the sacred page is, as it were, the soul of sacred theology" (Dei Verbum, 24).

Along those lines, I thought I'd offer here a selection from a different document, namely, the Decree on Priestly Formation, entitled, Optatum Totius. Here once again the council calls for a better integration of biblical and theological studies.

At John Paul the Great Catholic University, we have a number of seminarians studying for the priesthood who--as part of their formation--are enrolled in our M.A. in Biblical Theology program.

We also have a number of priests and deacons who have enrolled in our program to supplement the formation they have received. Still also, we have catechists who have enrolled in our "catechetical track", looking to deepen their knowledge of Scripture and their abilities to teach it to others.

The document is quite precise in what should constitute priestly formation. I hope we are doing a good job fulfilling this description of the proper pedagogy for seminarians, but, as the above paragraph indicates, I think the basic pedagogy mapped out here is a model for those not only studying for priesthood but those studying Catholic theology in general.

I'd love to get your comments on this passage.

The students are to be formed with particular care in the study of the Bible, which ought to be, as it were, the soul of all theology. After a suitable introduction they are to be initiated carefully into the method of exegesis; and they are to see the great themes of divine revelation and to receive from their daily reading of and meditating on the sacred books inspiration and nourishment.

Dogmatic theology should be so arranged that these biblical themes are proposed first of all. Next there should be opened up to the students what the Fathers of the Eastern and Western Church have contributed to the faithful transmission and development of the individual truths of revelation. The further history of dogma should also be presented, account being taken of its relation to the general history of the Church. Next, in order that they may illumine the mysteries of salvation as completely as possible, the students should learn to penetrate them more deeply with the help of speculation, under the guidance of St. Thomas, and to perceive their interconnections. They should be taught to recognize these same mysteries as present and working in liturgical actions and in the entire life of the Church. They should learn to seek the solutions to human problems under the light of revelation, to apply the eternal truths of revelation to the changeable conditions of human affairs and to communicate them in a way suited to men of our day.

Likewise let the other theological disciplines be renewed through a more living contact with the mystery of Christ and the history of salvation. Special care must be given to the perfecting of moral theology. Its scientific exposition, nourished more on the teaching of the Bible, should shed light on the loftiness of the calling of the faithful in Christ and the obligation that is theirs of bearing fruit in charity for the life of the world. (Optatum Totius, no. 16)


Susan Moore said...

Very important to note; “Careful study of the Bible”, refers to the 73 book Bible, not the one that has been reduced by about 10%, and has 66 books. Why do I say that is important? Because whatever the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church “declares bound on earth shall be held bound in heaven, and whatever you declare loosed on earth shall be held loosed in heaven” (Matt. 18:18 NAB 1971). Those are the ones who have been given faith. The others have belief systems relative to what they prefer to believe is true and untrue. These belief systems can be highly individualistic and oppose one another. There is a difference -all Christians are not pieces of the same pie. Awesome that theology is thought to begin with that Word of God: absolute truth.

The linguistic metalanguage is what gives definition to the themes of the Bible. Without that God-spoken language -made alive through both the general revelation that God spoke into existence, and the specific revelation that occurred when that same God came to us and spoke and fulfilled prophesies that demonstrated His divine nature and eternal power- there would be no themes of the Bible (“Faith, then, comes through hearing, and what is heard is the word of Christ” Romans 10:17).

Does it matter that you and I use the same method of exegesis, or does it matter that we arrive at the same conclusion?

Thanks for the blog. Looks like I'll be learning Latin this summer -can't wait!

Susan Moore said...

Part 1 of 3.
God first spoke creation into existence, and then rested.
God walked with and spoke to Adam and Eve. He also spoke to Noah, Abraham, and the Prophets. He came as the Son of God and spoke to humans. And then he ascended to the right hand of our Father and rests.
But He continues to speak to us through His living words:
1. In written Scripture: His recorded words and the testimonies of His life; of His will, His way and His word.
2. Through His creation; everyone knows the truth about God by seeing what He has made (Romans 1:18-20 paraphrased). The Lord’s words and His works always go together. There is 100% congruency between what He says and what He does. There is no randomness in God’s creation. Abram is our first example of our innate human understanding of that truth (Genesis 15:5-6). Our Lord’s previous and current signs, wonders and miracles are always a transformation of His already established creation. And through those transformations we can hear his whispered words, “Michael, I will never leave you nor forsake you”, “See, Susan, I make all things new.”
Although the truth about God is known by seeing what He has made, “Faith, then, comes through hearing, and what is heard is the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17).

Susan Moore said...

Part 2 of 3.
All of that is the premise. The words of Scripture turn together like a Rubics Cube: either they all line up in colors (themes), or they don’t. And it is His linguistic metalanguage that enable them to line up; and in that display rests yet another example of His words and His works always going together (in spite of us).
I think the ‘easiest’ way to see His metalanguage is to take the name of one of the things He spoke into existence, such as ‘water’ ‘tree’ ‘vine’ ‘lamb’, and follow the transformation(s) of the meaning of that word over time, as recorded in the Bible, from referring to a physical thing, to referring to a spiritual ‘thing’. Using the word in its original language works better, because all the translating has removed some of those original key words in some places. It is vital to begin in Genesis and work towards Revelation; remember, this is a longitudinal exegesis. Taking an element of His creation out of Psalms, for example, and examining it is a cross-sectional exegesis. The linguist metalanguage offers a longitudinal approach. It forms the skeleton and connective tissue of the themes of the Bible: it maintains the integrity of the theme (that is to say, it give a theme its ‘look’), and it allows for the pre-prescribed and harmonious connections between the themes.

Another way is to find the names of all the things that follows when He says, “I am…”, and then follow those single words from Genesis towards Revelation. “I am” is the power of the Spirit that enables us to grow once the Word is consumed and accepted as Lord and God in the confirmation of our faith.

Susan Moore said...

Part 3 of 3
When a person ‘sees’ the linguistic metalanguage, also experienced as knowledge is this truth, “Faith is confident assurance concerning what we hope for, and conviction about the things we do not see. Because of faith the men of old were approved by God. Through faith we perceive that the worlds were created by the word of God, and that what is visible came into being through the invisible” (Hebrews 11:1-3). And because of that, through the integrity of His living word that His linguistic metalanguage provides, we are able to grow in understanding and ‘see’, with our mind’s eye, His unseen spiritual realm.

Therefore, if God did not speak creation into existence, then the entire Bible is false.
But because God did speak creation into existence, He can take the names of His created things, and over thousands of years, 40 or more scribes (‘authors’), and 3 ‘original’ languages, transform those names by transposing new meanings onto old meanings, and produce integrity in what we mortals take credit for having assembled: The Bible.

“How deep are the riches and the wisdom and the knowledge of God! How inscrutable His judgments, how unsearchable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been His counselor? Who has given Him anything so as to deserve return? For from Him and through Him and for Him all things are. To Him be glory forever. Amen” (Romans 12:33-36).

Ok, that’s the best I have been able to say it. I can die now.

Susan Moore said...

Part 1 of 2.
It is entirely possible that one may come to a time and think, “Susan, I followed the trail of a word to the end of its Biblical life in Hebrew, and then that word-rabbit went down a great big hole; if I go down that hole after that word-rabbit, what will happen to me: how do I select the correct word in Greek when there is more than one Greek word that may reflect that Hebrew word?
That is a very good question, and our Lord (“The Lord, a merciful and gracious God…” Ex. 34:6NAB 1971), has taken care of that, too.
To solve that puzzles one can look at the “I am” verses in which Jesus was referring to Himself, and those will usually give a language comparison. For example, the NT “I myself am the living bread come down from heaven” (John 6:51), is a reference to the OT Ex. 16:4, “Then the Lord said to Moses, “I will now rain down bread from heaven for you.”
Also, on occasion He has inspired a disciple to make reference to an applicable Old Testament text. For example, in the NT, “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’” in 2 Cor. 4:6, is a reference by Paul to the OT Genesis 1:3, “Then God said, ‘Let there be light’, and there was light.”

Susan Moore said...

Part 2 of 2
Although it may look inviting to take the seemingly easier road and use the Septuagint, for some reason the Lord showed me His metalanguage in the NAB 1971. As a preface to that Bible, there is a letter signed from “Paulus P P. vi”, and it reads, “For more than a quarter of a century, members of the Catholic Biblical Association of America, sponsored by the Bishops’ Committee of the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, have labored to create this new translation of the Scriptures from the original languages, or from the oldest extant form in which the texts exist. In so doing, the translators have carried out the directive of our predecessor, Pius XII, in his famous Encyclical, Divino Afflante Spiritu, and the decree of the Second Vatican Council (Dei Verbum), which prescribed that ‘up-to-date and appropriate translations be made in the various languages, by preference from the original texts of the sacred books’, and that ‘with the approval of Church authority, these translations may be produced in cooperation with our separated brethren’ so that ‘all Christians may be able to use them.” (“…slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity, continuing His kindness for a thousand generations, and forgiving wickedness, and crime and sin.”).

Acroamatic said...

Comment from a very veteran teacher: The priest-in-formation, like the young religion/theology teacher, must be learning to BREATHE Scripture. That's not just a preference in scholarship, but spiritual growth, and it's essential. The really wonderful priests I have known are those whose project in ministry echoes the apostolic Church and the Church of the first centuries. You may think you know Scripture in minute detail, but living the deep roots of our Church is lifelong learning.