Reading the Bible in the


Reading the Bible in the Catholic Church

I pick on T.S. O'Rama yet again. He posted this provocative note:

Now since I wasn't alive pre-Vatican II, I have no idea if what I am about to say is completely true. It is what I've heard. Second-hand. So correct me if I'm wrong. But what I've heard is that the Church, paternalistically, told the faithful just to read the Baltimore Catechism and accept the answers unquestioningly. My understanding is that there were not bible study classes; which is understandable given that scripture in the wrong hands is dangerous (i.e. it fractured the Church). Not to mention that form criticism and historical criticism has weakened many a faith (my mother's among them - she said her faith was much stronger in the 50s..especially before she decided the infancy narratives were 'made up'). it better to be dumb with a strong faith or smart, in the ways of biblical criticism, and have a weak faith? I leave it to another mother, Mater Ecclesia.

I cannot speak to the truth of the first part of this. I have heard both that it was discouraged and that it was encouraged in the pre-Vatican II Church. Certainly it was permitted and to some extent expected among religious--witness St. Thérèse's compiled little book of the gospels. However, whether lay people participated or were encouraged to do so, I do not know and I would like to find out.

What I wished to note was the question with regard to Form Criticism and most particularly the historical-critical method. I read Fr. Raymond Brown's "Birth of the Messiah" and arrived at a different conclusion. This is not to fault those who did swallow the whole argument or what they may have seen as the argument. What I concluded from a careful reading the entire work is that the historical-critical method was a tool insufficient to the job in the case. Fr. Brown basically concluded that based on the evidence of the historical-critical method the infancy narratives could not be shown to be historical. And my answer to that was, "So?" I decided that the method was hampered by its essential tenets and that given that form of study there was a limit to what it could say or prove. In fact, it functioned merely to say whether a given set of propositions is supported by evidence outside the Bible itself. It cannot be use to "prove" something was made up or untrue, it can only be used to say that given the limitations of the method we cannot show something to have been historical. T.S. is correct in saying that such material should be handled very carefully and not simply disseminated for the faithful without a good and truthful guide that spells out clearly what a method can and cannot accomplish. To read Brown's book without this knowledge is a serious endangerment of Faith, although I am certain Fr. Brown did not intend this. I believe that as a scholar he was often terribly ignorant of the possible effects of reading the book. Many scholars are so cocooned in their ivory towers that they have little sense of what a lay person reading their work might conclude.

So, I say we need not choose one or the other, but if something poses a real danger to faith, it should be avoided at all costs. It is one of the reasons I avoid certain types of argument and controversy, and I avoid reading even the "good work" of people who later had dubious work--Haring, Rahner, Schillbeckx, and de Mello come to mind. I know that there is much to enrich the faith there. But, it is also easy to become so used to the tone, argument, and influence of the person that you follow them straight into the errors that led them astray from Orthodoxy. It is also why I am very cautious about people like de Lubac and von Balthasar. There is still the lingering stigma of the Garrigou-Lagrange school. However, I have seen sufficient evidence that the majority of what these two theologians thought and taught is fairly orthodox.

I also know that certain practices properly undertaken are probably faith enhancing; however, centering prayer has always struck me as not particularly Christian in its initial axioms. If I am asked, I always express this caution and avoid the practice of the prayer myself. However, others may find it very helpful under the guidance of a truly gifted and God-discerning spiritual director. Sometimes living in such a privileged and educated society carries a tremendous price of caution. Jesus told us, "To whom much is given, much is expected."

It's a shame that some have been led astray and their faith weakened. But in all things, if eyes are firmly focused on Christ, if we allow ourselves to be guided by the Holy Spirit, the teaching of the Magisterium, and the unalloyed (non-NAB) teaching of the Bible, we cannot go wrong. Christ Himself promised that the good shepherd would leave the ninety-nine and go in search of the single stray lamb.

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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on October 25, 2002 7:10 PM.

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