Wednesday, October 29, 2014

"Hope does not disappoint": Readings for Sunday's Commemoration of All Souls

This Sunday is the Commemoration of All Souls. The message of the readings, then, is really thus summed up by a line in the Second Reading: "Hope does not disappoint."

I hope these reflections will prove helpful in your own preparation for Sunday. Be sure to leave a note in the comment box. We love hearing from you.

FIRST READING: Wisdom 3:1-9
The souls of the just are in the hand of God,
and no torment shall touch them.
They seemed, in the view of the foolish, to be dead;
and their passing away was thought an affliction
and their going forth from us, utter destruction.
But they are in peace.
For if before men, indeed, they be punished,
yet is their hope full of immortality;
chastised a little, they shall be greatly blessed,
because God tried them
and found them worthy of himself.
As gold in the furnace, he proved them,
and as sacrificial offerings he took them to himself.
In the time of their visitation they shall shine,
and shall dart about as sparks through stubble;
they shall judge nations and rule over peoples,
and the LORD shall be their King forever.
Those who trust in him shall understand truth,
and the faithful shall abide with him in love:
because grace and mercy are with his holy ones,
and his care is with his elect.
The First Reading is taken from a book that is only found in the Catholic Bible. With that in mind, here's a little on the book of Wisdom of Solomon.

The last page of the Canon Muratori
Wisdom of Solomon. In Catholic tradition, the book is classified among the "Deuterocanonical" books (what Jewish and Protestant writers call "Apocryphal").

The book was clearly regarded by some ancient Greek speaking Jews and is also used by the early Church fathers.[1]

Interestingly, the early Christian canonical list known as the Muratorian fragment (likely written around the eighth century[2]) places it among the New Testament books.

The councils of Rome (382), Hippo (393), and Carthage (397) accepted the book as canonical as among one of the "five books of Solomon".

While it is no proof of canonicity--Paul cites, for example pagan poets--it is worth noting that the book of Wisdom seems to be used by New Testament authors as well (cf. Wis. 13:1-10; 14:12 and Rom. 1:18-25; cf. also Wis. 5:17-21 and Eph. 6:11-17).

Monday, October 27, 2014

Origen on Tradition

Recently I looked at a standard textbook used to teach Fundamental Theology. It contained many patristic references to the authority of tradition. One was lacking though--and from a very early and influential source. I've reproduced it below.

The irony is, of course, that later councils would condemn Origen's teaching as heretical.
Although there are many who believe that they themselves hold to the teachings of Christ, there are yet some among them who think differently from their predecessors. The teaching of the Church has indeed been handed down through an order of succession from the apostles and remains in the churches even to the present time. That alone is to be believed as the truth which is in no way at variance with ecclesiastical and apostolic tradition.”—Origen, Fundamental Doctrines, 1, preface, 2 (emphasis added).

Friday, October 24, 2014

How Do Law and Love Relate? The 30th Sunday of Ordinary Time

How does love relate to law?  The two can seem opposed, a contrast to one another.  Love is a romantic dinner for two on a veranda overlooking the Seine.  Law is a solemn old man in a black robe, sitting behind a high podium with police officers at his side. 

The Readings for this Sunday insist that law and love, as strange as it may seem, are ultimately united.  Without love, law is cold.  Without law, love is mere emotion.  The Readings show the unity of the Old and New Testaments in pointing to the love of God as the highest law.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Yes, don't forget older scholarship--like this collection of essays. . .

Anthony Le Donne just had a great post up relating how New Testament scholar Dale Allison apparently encourages students to familiarize themselves with the work of older scholars.

My doktorvater, Colin Brown, felt the same way. He always encouraged me to read the works of scholars such as C.H. Dodd, T. W. Manson (far too often overlooked, in my mind!), and Vincent Taylor.

Well, in that spirit, I thought I'd post about a book I just received a book in the mail that I'm really looking forward to reading:
Robert Banks, editor, Reconciliation and Hope: New Testament Essays on Atonement and Eschatology (Exeter: Paternoster Press, 1974).
The book is a Festchrift presented to Leon Morris on the occasion of his 60th birthday. (Yes, the scholars here are somewhat more recent than some of those mentioned above--but the book is 40 years old now!)

I ordered the book because it features an essay on "priesthood" in Paul--a topic I am researching--but looking through the table of contents more carefully, there seems to be a number of interesting pieces.

Anyways, to Allison's insistence on remembering the contribution of scholars from earlier period, I say a hearty, "Amen!"

Friday, October 17, 2014

Ratzinger on the Abuse of Ecclesiastical Power

"Those who talk nowadays of the abuse of power connected with doctrinal discipline in the Church generally have in mind only the misuse of authority on the part of the Church’s ministerial office, which doubtless can occur. But it is entirely forgotten that there is also a misemployment of the authority conferred by one’s mission: the exploitation of the readiness to listen and to trust, which even today men still manifest toward the pronouncements of the Church, for a purely private utterance. Ecclesiastical authority actively serves this misappropriation of power when, by giving it free reign, it makes its own prestige available where it has absolutely no right to do so. The solicitude for the faith of the little ones must be more important in its eyes than the opposition of the great."

--Joseph Ratzinger, The Nature and Mission of Theology: Essays to Orient Theology in Today’s Debates (trans. Adrian Walker; San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1995), 62–63, 64.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Join Us Friday: Catholic Answers Radio Live from JP Catholic

This Friday Catholic Answers' Radio Program, hosted by the irrepressible Patrick Coffin, will be doing a special broadcast live from JP Catholic.  In the first hour (from 3-4pm Pacific), my colleague John Kincaid will be addressing the question, "Was Paul a Christian?" I will be up in the second hour answering the question, "Are the Gospels Historical?"

If you're in the southern California area, I hope you can join us and be part of the live audience.

What makes Ratzinger uneasy about going to church

"Today, many Christians, myself included, experience a quiet uneasiness about attending divine services in a strange church; they are appalled at the thought of the half-understood theories, the amazing and tasteless personal opinions of this or that priest that they will have to endure during the homily--to say nothing of the personal liturgical inventions to which they will be subjected. No one goes to church to hear someone else's personal opinions. I am simply not interested in what fantasies this or that individual priest may have spun for himself regarding questions of Christian faith. They may be appropriate for an evening's conversation but not for that obligation that brings me to church Sunday after Sunday. Anyone who preaches himself in this way overrates himself and attributes to himself an importance he does not have. When I go to church, it is not to find there my own or anyone else's innovations but what we have all received as the faith of the Church--the faith that spans the centuries and can support us all."

--Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Principles of Catholic Theology: Building Stones for a Fundamental Theology (trans. M. F. McCarthy; San Francisco: Ignatius, 1987), 283.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The "Trans-political" Kingdom of God: The Twenty-Ninth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Human beings are political animals, Aristotle famously suggested, and Jesus would agree. However, the readings for this week reveal that the political nature of the Kingdom of God transcends the regimes of this age and those who rule them. This is seen immediately in the first reading from Isaiah 45.

First Reading: Isaiah 45:1, 4–6
Thus says the LORD to his anointed, Cyrus,
whose right hand I grasp,
subduing nations before him,
and making kings run in his service,
opening doors before him
and leaving the gates unbarred:
For the sake of Jacob, my servant,
of Israel, my chosen one,
I have called you by your name,
giving you a title, though you knew me not.
I am the LORD and there is no other,
there is no God besides me.
It is I who arm you, though you know me not,
so that toward the rising and the setting of the sun
people may know that there is none besides me.
I am the LORD, there is no other.
In this first reading we encounter the figure of Cyrus, King of Persia, who famously liberated Judah from Babylon and allowed them to return to Palestine in the latter part of the sixth century B.C. It is impossible to doubt the strength of Cyrus and his empire. Yet the prophet is clear that Cyrus’s success was ultimately due to God’s deeper providential purposes in human history, purposes that are here described as his covenantal fidelity to his chosen people of Israel.

In particular, it is clear that God has chosen both Israel and Cyrus in order to make clear that he alone is the true God and King of the nations, for beyond the rise of Cyrus and the fall of Babylon is the Lord of history and the true King of the nations. This leads nicely to the responsorial psalm, for in her worship the covenantal people of God gather to acknowledge the true King of the nations, thereby uniting liturgy and politics in a rather public manner that at first blush should strike us moderns as quite alien.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Would the Real Pharisees Please Step Forward? The Debates on Marriage

I posted on this issue already, and took the post down because it was not stated with enough precision.  But upon further consideration, I believe my essential contribution was correct, and wish to restate it more accurately.

In the context of the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family, there has been an attempt by some to characterize the position of those who support current Church teaching and practice on divorce and remarriage as “Pharisaical,” while associating those who wish to accommodate some form of ecclesiastical blessing of second marriages within the Church with the evangelical mercy and love of Jesus.

This is extremely ironic, because in point of fact, it was the Pharisees who were very open to divorce and remarriage, but Jesus who opposed it. 

Let’s review the relevant texts:

Gathercole on the Titles of the Gospels

The titles of the gospels were not originally placed there by the evangelists but were added at a later point in the manuscript tradition.

Actually, it may not be that simple. This article by Simon Gathercole shows that the received scholarly "tradition" on this cannot be supported by the manuscript evidence.

Why aren't more people talking about this?

Friday, October 10, 2014

Thomas Oden's "Change of Heart"

InterVarsity Press is advertising a new book by the well-known Protestant theologian Thomas C. Oden, who transitioned from 1960's style Protestant liberalism to a kind of Patristic "mere Christianity." Oden offers the following anecdote about the pivotal moment in his "conversion," which came about through a fraternal correction from a colleague, Jewish scholar Will Herberg:

"Will was trying to show me that the errors I was making were much deeper than I had realized.  I tried to defend myself.  Suddenly, my irascible, endearing Jewish friend leaned into my face and told me that I was densely ignorant of Christianity, and he simply couldn't permit me to throw my life away.  Holding one finger up, looking straight at me with fury in his eyes, he said, 'You will remain theologically uneducated until you study carefully Athanasius, Augustine, and Aquinas ... If you are ever going to become a credible theologian instead of a know-it-all pundit, you had best restart your life on firmer ground.  You are not a theologian except in name only, even if you are paid to be one."
Yes, Dr. Oden, and Athanasius, Augustine, and Aquinas had another thing in common: they were all Catholics in communion with Rome.  We would love you to consider their ecclesiology!

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Ratzinger's Ever-Relevant Erasmus Lecture

In my class Philosophy and Biblical Interpretation, I had the privilege of introducing our first quarter MA students in biblical theology to Cardinal Ratzinger's (Benedict XVI) Erasmus Lecture (January 27, 1988). Among the many remarkable features of this lecture, one section stands out in my mind for its definitive relevance for the future of exegesis and theology.

After broadly discussing the basis for Dibelius's and Butltmann's exegetical method, Ratzinger then continues:

  "But I think we must go a step further in order to appreciate the fundamental decision of the system which generated these particular categories for judgment (i.e., of Dibelius and Bultmann). The real philosophic presupposition of the whole system seems to me to lie in the philosophic turning point proposed by Immanuel Kant.

According to him, the voice of being-in-itself cannot be heard by human beings. Man can hear it only indirectly in the postulates of practical reason, which have remained, as it were, the small opening through which he can make contact with the real, that is, his eternal destiny. For the rest, as far as the content of his intellectual life is concerned, he must limit himself to the realm of the categories.

Thence comes the restriction to the positive, to the empirical, to the "exact" science, which by definition excludes the appearance of what is "wholly other," or the one who is wholly other, or a new initiative from another plane.

In theological terms, this means that revelation must recede into the pure formality of the eschatological stance, which corresponds to the Kantian split. As far as everything else is concerned, it all needs to be "explained."

What might otherwise seem like a direct proclamation of the divine can only be myth, whose laws of development  can be discovered. It is with this basic conviction that Bultmann, with the majority of modern exegetes, read the Bible.

He is certain that it cannot be the way it is depicted in the Bible, and he looks for methods to prove the way it really had to be. To that extent there lies in modern exegesis a reduction of history into philosophy, a revision of history by means of philosophy.

The real question before us then is, can one read the Bible any other way? Or perhaps better, must one agree with the philosophy which requires this kind of reading?

At its core, the debate about modern exegesis is not a dispute among historians: it is rather a philosophical debate. Only in this way can it be carried on correctly. Otherwise it is like swordplay in a mist.

The exegetical problem is identical in the main with the struggle for the foundations of our time. Such a struggle cannot be conducted casually, nor can it be won with a few suggestions. It will demand, as I have already intimated, the attentive and critical commitment of an entire generation."

Sola Scriptura or Sola Revelatio?

Here is another stunningly insightful passage from Joseph Ratzinger's book, 
God’s Word: Scripture—Tradition—Office (eds. P. Hünermann and T. Söding; trans. H. Taylor; San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2008), 51-53.
Really, if you aren't familiar with this book, you need to get it. 

The following is taken from a section with the subheading, "Revelation and Scripture".


A first thesis concerning our problem area, starting from the patristic understanding of Scripture and revelation, might sound something like this:

The fact that there is “tradition” rests first of all on the incongruence between the two entities “revelation” and “Scripture”. For revelation signifies all God’s acts and utterances directed to man; it signifies a reality of which Scripture gives us information but that is not simply Scripture itself. Revelation goes beyond Scripture, then, to the same extent as reality goes beyond information about it.[12] We could also say that Scripture is the material principle of revelation (perhaps the only one, perhaps one of a number—we may leave that point open for the moment) but is not that revelation itself. The Reformers were still quite aware of that; only in the subsequent disputes between post-Tridentine Catholic theology and Protestant orthodoxy was it noticeably blurred.[13] In our own [twentieth] century, Protestant theologians themselves, like Barth and Brunner, have rediscovered this fact, which was entirely self-evident to both patristic and medieval theology.[14]  
What we are saying can also be made clear from a different starting point: you can have Scripture without having revelation. For revelation always and only becomes a reality where there is faith. The nonbeliever remains under the veil of which Paul speaks in the third chapter of his Second Letter to the Corinthians.[15] He can read Scripture and know what is in it, can even understand at a purely intellectual level, what is meant and how what is said hangs together—and yet he has not shared in the revelation. Rather, revelation has only arrived where, in addition to the material assertions witnessing to it, its inner reality has itself become effective after the manner of faith. Consequently, the person who receives it also is a part of the revelation to a certain degree, for without him it does not exist. You cannot put revelation in your pocket like a book you carry around with you. It is a living reality that requires a living person as the locus of its presence.

In view of the foregoing, we could say that revelation goes beyond the fact of Scripture in two directions:

a. As a reality that has its basis in God, it always extends upward into God’s action.

b. As a reality that happens to man in faith, it extends, as it were, beyond the mediating fact of Scripture, too.

It becomes clear, from this incongruence between Scripture and revelation, that quite independently of the question of whether Scripture is the sole material source or not, there can never be an actual principle of sola scriptura in Christianity (something that, as we said, was still clear in principle to the great Reformers and was only forgotten later, in so-called Protestant orthodoxy). Scripture is not revelation but, in any case, is only a part of this greater reality. 
[12] This statement is not intended to mean that Scripture is merely an account, without any substance, of facts that remain entirely outside of it. Rather (as, hopefully, what follows will show), the view that the reality of revelation is a reality of the word—that in the word, the proclamation of the reality of revelation comes to me—should remain fully valid. It nonetheless remains true that the mere word before us, available to us, is not yet itself the reality of revelation, which is never just “available” to us. What is said here is simply intended to point to the difference between the word and the reality that occurs within it, a difference not abolished by the nature of revelation as word. 
[13] See G. Gloege, “Schriftprinzip”, in RGG, 3rd ed., V, 1540–43. Further bibliography there. LThK VII, 1104–15; J. R. Geiselmann, “Offenbarung”, in H. Fries, Handbuch zum Begriff der Offenbarung; see M. Vereno, R. Schnackenburg, and H. Fries, in Theologische Grundbegriffe II (Munich, 1963), 242–50, and the bibliographical material offered in each case. 
[14] See W. H. van de Pol, Das reformatorische Christentum (Einsiedeln, 1956), 117–92. 
[15] See on these ideas A. Oepke’s important article “ἀποκαλύπτω”, in ThWNT III, 565–97.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Food and Clothing at God's Banquet: The 28th Sunday of OT


Food and clothing are necessary for life, and they are both themes in the Readings for this weekend.  Food and clothing go together sometimes: for example, we still dress up for a formal banquet or a fancy date night.  Some people still try to dress well for mass, and that’s a good custom, because how we dress shows the importance that we place on the event.  No one shows up for a job interview in a tank top and cut-offs, for example.  Is Mass as important as a job interview? 

But our external dress is not the point of this Sunday’s Readings.  Instead, they focus on the idea of a spiritual supper, and the spiritual preparation or “dress” that is necessary to participate in God’s ultimate wedding banquet. 

Our readings for this week begin with Isaiah’s famous prophecy of a feast on Mount Zion:

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Level-headed advice from Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P.

Time for a "gut check". 

Whatever is "new" is not necessarily true. At the same time, however, that does not mean that real advances are never made. 

An authentic Catholic approach to theology can never claim that all that can be said has been said but it should also avoid the trap of simply paying attention to the "latest trends".  

Or as the great twentieth-century Catholic theologian, Garrigou-Lagrange, said. . . 
"The desire of the true philosopher is, indeed, to acquire an accurate knowledge of philosophy, but he does not consider the temporal sequence of doctrines, as if these were the criterion or sign of their relative truth, and as if this sequence of doctrines were always and necessarily an evolution in the ascendant order, but never a regression and senile decline. From the fact that Scotus came after St. Thomas [Aquinas], it does not follow that his doctrine is truer, and that later on there is greater perfection in the eclecticism of Suarez.  
We must use the historical method in the history of doctrines, and this is indeed of great help in understanding the state and difficulty of the question, so as to give us, as it were, a panorama of the solutions of any great problem. But in philosophy we must employ the analytic and synthetic method proportionate to it. In theology, however, we rely first upon proofs taken from the authority of Holy Scripture or divine tradition, or even the writings of the holy Fathers, and in the second place on arguments drawn from reason, while, of course, not neglecting the history of problems and their solution."  
--Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, The One God: Commentary on the First Part of St. Thomas' Theological Summa (trans. B. Rose; St. Louis: Herder Book Co., 1943), 13.