Analysis by Oswald Sobrino, J.D., M.A., who has published in New Blackfriars (U.K.), Homiletic & Pastoral Review, The Catholic Answer, New Oxford Review, CatholicExchange.com, and the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars Quarterly. He is a lay graduate student at Sacred Heart Major Seminary, Detroit. © 2002-06 Oswald Sobrino.
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Posture During the Mass According to the New General Instruction of the Roman Missal
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Saturday, May 31, 2003Posture During the Mass According to the New General Instruction of the Roman Missal
Dioceses throughout the country are implementing or beginning to implement the new General Instruction of the Roman Missal ("GIRM"). The U.S. Catholic Bishops' Committee on the Liturgy has posted a document clarifying the appropriate posture during Mass according to the new rules. You can find this welcome summary concerning posture at Mass at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops website in an easy-to-understand table format.
I have personally heard of one instance in which a presenter at a liturgy workshop in one diocese proceeded to contradict the new rules by substituting his own opinions. Please become involved in your parishes and be alert. In his recent encyclical on the Eucharist, John Paul II urged all to reverently conform to the liturgical norms. Let's make sure our parishes do the same. And let's respectfully and charitably verify with the local bishop any changes that may seem odd or suspect. In my opinion, some may try to use this period of implementation as an opportunity to slip in unauthorized changes based on their own frustrated liturgical preferences-- a phenomenon that has gone on for too long.
Jenkins' The Next Christendom: Part 2
In the first part of this extended book review of Philip Jenkins' The Next Christendom, we considered the central thesis of the book, namely, that, contrary to liberal Western opinion, the major story in Third World religion is not so much the rise of Islam but rather the booming of Christianity. Yet, since Islam is also growing in the Third World, the first part of this review focused on Islam as the main rival to Christianity and thus Catholicism in the future. Jenkins makes clear that religious persecution, some of it quite brutal, by Islamic authorities is an undeniable reality for too many Third World Christians. Thus, the challenge for Catholicism is to forcefully address such religious intolerance. In this regard, it is important to be clear. The call is not to attack or show disprespect for the religious claims of Islam or any other religion, but rather to insist that full religious freedom be accorded to all religions, including Islam, in all nations and regions of the world. There is no Islamic exception to the U.N. Charter on Human Rights. Just as Muslim minorities rightfully benefit from religious freedom in historically Christian nations, so should Christian minorities in Islamic nations benefit. As the largest religious body in the world and as an active and influential force in world diplomacy, Catholicism must take the lead in this effort to secure religious freedom for Christians in the Third World.
In today's second part, I will focus on the second major challenge faced by Catholicism in the Third World: fundamentalist Protestantism and Pentecostalism. In discussing this second major rival to global Catholicism, I will focus on the historically Catholic region of Latin America, although Pentecostalism is also a rival to Catholicism in Africa and Asia. Jenkins confirms that today while "the great majority of people [in Latin America] still define their religious life in Catholic terms," the Catholic Church in Latin America has suffered "a major defection to Protestantism" (Jenkins, p. 57; p. 61). Today, Protestants form about 10% of the entire population of Latin America as a result of a 6% average annual rate of growth since 1960 (Jenkins, p. 61). It is also noteworthy that most of this growth is not due to Southern Baptist missionaries: since the nineteen fifties, "Pentecostals account for 80 or 90 percent of Protestant/Pentecostal growth acrosss Latin America" (Jenkins, p.63). Unlike the "mainstream" version of American fundamentalism most familiar to those in the United States, Pentecostalism puts much greater emphasis on "direct spiritual revelations," on emotionalism in worship, and, as its name implies, on the charismatic expression of the gifts of the Holy Spirit (p. 63). Thus, Pentecostalism because of its distinctive ways of worship and practice poses a challenge to non-Pentecostal forms of Protestant fundamentalism as much as it does to Catholicism.
Today, Brazil is the country with the largest number of Catholics in the world. Yet, Protestantism, especially Pentecostalism, has been quite successful in Brazil in recent decades (Jenkins, p. 64). Today, about 20% of Brazilians are Protestant or Pentecostal (Jenkins, p. 92). This growth has been so strong that Jenkins takes seriously the possibility that by the middle of the twenty-first century, Brazil may very well be "half-Protestant" (Jenkins, p. 92). You can rest assured that the Vatican is well aware of the situation. In my view, if a Latin American pope emerges from the next conclave, this situation will have played a significant role in his selection.
In fact, Catholicism may be better equipped to respond to the Pentecostal wave than non-Pentecostal fundamentalists. The Charismatic Movement within the Catholic Church also emphasizes a more emotionally expressive worship and outward manifestations in worship of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, including "speaking in tongues." It is a good bet that every diocese in the United States has its officially approved Catholic Charismatic movement. The Church has rightfully found a place for this "pentecostal" spirituality within its structure. In the future, the Church must further support and even encourage the Charismatic Movement as a way to respond to the spiritual needs of Latin American Catholics before they jump ship to Protestant Pentecostalism.
In this regard, it is important to underline that this issue is not just a matter of competition but of remaining within the fundamental parameters of Christianity according to Catholic sacramental theology. Catholic theology recognizes as Christian those who receive true baptism, that is, a washing with water invoking the Trinity. In some, but certainly not all, Protestant Pentecostal groups, genuine Christian baptism is commonly missing because believers are baptized solely "in the name of Jesus" without invocation of the entire Trinity. In fact, these Pentecostal groups, usually referred to as "Oneness" Pentecostals, reject the doctrine of the Trinity itself. (In contrast, the prominent Assemblies of God in the United States do baptize using the traditional Trinitarian formula and affirm the doctrine of the Trinity.) Fundamental Catholic sacramental theology, not just a concern with numbers, thus impels the Church to respond to the spiritual needs accented by Pentecostal spirituality.
Yet, what are the factors that attract so many nominal or even practicing Catholics to Protestantism and Pentecostalism? Jenkins points out that the appeal of Pentecostalism is primarily to the poor (Jenkins, p. 63). In a time of tremendous social and economic dislocation, as the rural poor migrate to large cities and become the urban poor, the warm spiritual solace, close-knit community life, and even social services provided by Pentecostal churches are understandably in demand (Jenkins, p. 73). In spite of this sociological and economic aspect to the appeal of fundamentalism and Pentecostalism, we cannot lose sight of the fundamental spiritual hunger present. Although I cannot speak on a firsthand basis as to the situation in Latin America, I have been able to observe over the years what draws Latin American Catholics, and even non-Hispanic Catholics, to fundamentalist churches. I assume that what we see in the United States can help explain what is also happening in Latin America.
At this point, we might as well be clear about the distinction between the Third World and the First World: in many ways, the United States straddles both, much more so than Europe even with Europe's growing immigrant populations. In the U.S., the Catholic Church faces the same challenge from fundamentalism and Pentecostalism as she faces in Latin America proper. Jenkins notes that, especially among third generation Latinos, there is clear evidence of a "continuing hemorrhage" of Latino Catholics to Protestantism which has led Latino Catholics to try to emulate Pentecostal practices (Jenkins, pp. 101-102).
What I have observed in the United States is the strong attraction of two parts of fundamentalist spirituality: a strong emphasis on the Bible and the attraction of small and intimate congregations. In my opinion, a poor Latin immigrant dislocated from his or her familiar surroundings is looking for warmth. To most Latins, Anglo-America is a distinctly "cold" culture in its daily interactions. Unfortunately, the large Catholic parish with several Masses scheduled on Sunday with large numbers of people flowing in and out with little personal contact is not going to attract people already put off by an impersonal English-speaking culture. The assimilated American Catholic Church has assimilated too well. Too many English-speaking parishes have lost the warmth of their immigrant forebears. To no surprise, the new Catholic immigrants are looking for that same warmth.
In this regard, Catholics can see the providential nature of Vatican II's call for renewed immersion in the Bible and for an emphasis on the unity of the community as the Body of Christ. After all, we Catholics do firmly believe that the Bible is the inspired Word of God; as such there is no better way to present the Gospel in a way immediately understandable to dislocated, poor people in their own language. In fact, the original audience for much of the New Testament were precisely the poor and dislocated people of the Greco-Roman world. The Word of God is, to no surprise, inherently attractive.
Just as important is the need for American parishes to re-emphasize traditional Catholic devotions which are deeply imbedded in Latin culture and which express that culture's emphasis on tangible emotional expression. For Catholics, the fullest presence of the Word of God is in the Eucharist. As such, the revival of Eucharist devotion and adoration is central to retaining the loyalty of immigrant Catholics. Like the Bible, the Eucharist is inherently attractive. And, of course, there is devotion to Mary who directs us to Jesus. In fact, as Jenkins notes, Our Lady of Guadalupe has been a feast day in all U.S. dioceses since 1988 (Jenkins, pp. 117-119) (As an aside, Jenkins' discussion of Marian devotion is one of the few areas where his discussion of Catholicism is in need of revision; his reference at p. 118 to the possibility of Mary's being made "a fourth member of the Trinity" is preposterous.)
As we have seen, the second major rival, after Islam, to global Catholicism is Protestant Pentecostalism. The Catholic Church is providentially equipped to answer this spiritual challenge. With a long-standing Catholic Charismatic Movement, with Vatican II's call to all Catholics to immerse themselves in the Scriptures and its call to unity as one Body, with the spiritual benefits of Eucharistic adoration and Marian devotion, the Catholic Church has all the gifts necessary to meet this spiritual challenge. We will be judged on our stewardship of those divine gifts.
Friday, May 30, 2003Cardinal Arinze's May 17th Commencement Address at Georgetown University: Amen
Nigerian Francis Cardinal Arinze, head of the Vatican's congregation overseeing the liturgy, gave a wonderful commencement address at Georgetown University that is worth reading carefully. You can find it at the Adoremus.org website . In one speech, the Cardinal focuses like a laser on the challenges to the family, on the joy of Christianity, on the truth and universal significance of Catholicism, and on the authentic charism of St. Ignatius Loyola. Amen.
Jenkins' The Next Christendom: Part I
Back on February 5, 2003, Catholic Analysis reviewed an article by Pennsylvania State Unversity historian and religion scholar Philip Jenkins summarizing his insights from his book The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity (Oxford University Press 2002), and promised a fuller review of this important book. Here is the first part of that full review. First, since the topic is religion, what is Jenkins' background? He is an Episcopalian and, as I understand it, a former Catholic. But, in this book it is clear that Jenkins is a quite different observer from what you would expect given the heterodoxy of large segments of the American Episcopal Church. He is a fair and sympathetic observer of the Catholic Church, although there are some relatively tangential observations about Catholicism that need revision. He bears no grudges against conservative or orthodox Christianity and paints a sympathetic portrait of the emerging global Christianity in the Third World as traditional and theologically conservative. As a result, his book presents an exciting picture of opportunities for those committed to the preservation and expansion of a traditional Christianity that affirms the historic beliefs of the ancient creeds. Notice I said opportunities because, as Jenkins points out, emerging trends can of course take a different course if traditional Christians are idle. In short, this book is a crucial contribution to understanding the near future of world Christianity, and it describes a magnificent opportunity for a worldwide revival of a theologically genuine Christianity as opposed to the disfigured theologically liberal version common in the modern West.
In this review, I take a distinctly Catholic perspective on the book's insights and will outline the three challenges that Catholicism will face from religious forces in this new century. The identity of the three rival religious forces are no surprise. The first is Islam. The second is fundamentalist Protestantism and Pentecostalism. The third is the liberal disfiguration of Christianity from within the ranks of the Church. In this first part of the review, I will focus on Islam.
In my view, Islam emerges as the major rival for global Catholicism and vice-versa, a conclusion that I think Jenkins would agree with. Jenkins in effect makes this conclusion inevitable when he documents how global Christianity is expanding in the Third World and is sure to continue to expand in the face of an Islam that is also growing. He presents a thesis of Christian expansion in the Third World that contradicts the mindset of the liberal and secular West in which the only vigorous religious force in the Third World is Islam. Jenkins forcefully rejects this inaccurate Western assumption: "Christianity should enjoy a worldwide boom in the new century, but the vast majority of believers wil be neither white nor European, nor Euro-American" (Jenkins, p. 2). In rejecting the conventional view of Third World religion, Jenkins corrects the flawed conclusion of Samuel P. Huntington's best-selling The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order (Simon & Schuster 1996). Huntington believes that in the long run Islam will overtake Christianity in its share of the global population. Jenkins disagrees:
But far from Islam being the world's largest religion by 2020 or so, as Huntington suggests, Christianity will still have a massive lead, and will maintain its position into the foreseeable future. By 2050, there should still be about three Christians for every two Muslims worldwide."
Jenkins, p. 5.
Jenkins' necessary and well-founded correction of Huntington is another example about not believing everything peddled by prestigious "experts" in bestsellers. Jenkins points out that Huntington goes wrong by ignoring "the fact that similar or even higher rates [of population growth] are also found in already populous Christian countries" (Jenkins, p. 5). In addition, Huntington commits an error common among elite Western opinion makers by focusing on Christianity as a Western phenomenon while ignoring what Jenkins refers to as "the forces of the Crusade, from the Christian Third World" (Jenkins, p. 6). Jenkins also points out a significant milestone seldom, if ever, mentioned in the secular or even religious press: "Sometime in the 1960s, another historic landmark occurred, when Christians first outnumbered Muslims in Africa" (Jenkins, p. 56).
For the Catholic Church, this means a continuing collision with Islam in both Africa and Asia where both religions will continue to rapidly grow. Clashes between Christians and Muslims are likely to arise or continue in the Sudan, Indonesia, Egypt, the Philippines, the Congo, Uganda, Nigeria, Ethiopia, and Tanzania. Jenkins describes at length the horrendous situation for Christians in the Sudan who are faced with brutal persecution and slavery. (As an aside, it is ironic that some African-Americans seek to affirm their ethnic identity as Muslims when two "of the very few countries that still avowedly" practice slavery are Muslim: the African nations of Sudan and Mauritania where the "normal pattern involves lighter-skinned Arabic slave-owners and Black slaves" [Jenkins, p. 171]. Jenkins adds: "Often, too, Sudanese slaves are Christian" [Jenkins, p. 171].) Jenkins also documents the persecution of Egyptian Christians or Copts and the imposition of Muslim religious law on Christians in parts of Nigeria, which as a whole is about evenly divided between Christians and Muslims.
From all these terrible situations for Christians, Jenkins rightfully raises "the long term question of whether Christians can survive under Islam, even as despised minorities" (Jenkins, p. 172). In other words, the U.N. Charter on Human Rights which proclaims religious freedom as a universal human right is not recognized in many Muslim nations or regions. Of course, we cannot depend on the U.N. to enforce such rights on its own initiative or sua sponte. Thus, in my view, the central diplomatic task for the Catholic Church in this regard is to forcefully challenge Muslim authorities to recognize religious freedom. In the past, the Pope has pointed out the irony of having a large mosque in Rome, the capital of Catholicism, while no churches are allowed in the Muslim heartland of Saudi Arabia. Out of all Christian communities, only the Catholic Church has the international weight in numbers and diplomatic capabilities to challenge this hypocritical and oppressive situation of persecution by Muslim authorities. What the Catholic Church must avoid is an insipid form of "detente" with Muslim oppression, the same detente that failed in dealing with the Soviet Union in Eastern Europe in the seventies. The model should rather be that of Solidarity in Poland: assertive and peaceful challenge to an oppressive situation. This is a risky but necessary approach in the face of the continuing brutal and intolerable persecution of Christians. Some will raise the fear of a "clash of civilizations." Well, the clash has been and is on-going in Nigeria, Sudan, and elsewhere. It is time to stop it by securing the universally recognized right of religious freedom for all religions on a reciprocal basis.
Jenkins contradicts the politically correct by confirming this view of the current state of affairs: "In the world as a whole, there is no question that the threat of intolerance and persecution chiefly comes from the Islamic side of the equation" (Jenkins, p. 170). Those of us in the United States also have an essential role to play in lobbying our government to challenge religious persecution in Muslim nations and regions and not overlook religious persecution for the sake of oil. An interesting test case will be whether the newly liberated Iraq will recognize all religious communities in Iraq as equal under the law. That result may very well be the greatest achievement of the war in Iraq in the long run. One of the leading candidates for pope in the foreseeable future is Francis Cardinal Arinze of Nigeria who is from one of the current and looming battlefields between Islam and Christianity. It will be interesting to see if an Arinze papacy would forcefully challenge the forces of religious persecution on the diplomatic front.
Thursday, May 29, 2003Jesuit Archaeologist Who Discovered Tomb and Bones of St. Peter Passes Away at Age 102
The New York Times on-line runs today an Associated Press obituary of Antonio Ferrua who was the Jesuit archaeologist who discovered the tomb and bones of St. Peter under St. Peter's Basilica in Rome through archaeological work in the nineteen forties under Pius XII. According to the obituary, Pope Paul VI later declared the bones to be those of St. Peter, although Ferrua himself is said to have withheld judgment on the identity of the bones. George Weigel mentions this discovery in his book The Truth of Catholicism (Harper Collins 2002):
Deep beneath St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican are the scavi, a series of archaelogical digs begun by Pope Pius XII during the Second World War in an attempt to find the tomb of the prince of the apostles, which ancient tradition had associated with that site. Archaeological digs don't yield irrefutable answers, like algebraic equations. Still, the best scholarly opinion is that we can say with a reasonable degree of certainty that the apostle's tomb has been found . . . .
Weigel, pp. 47-48 (emphasis in last sentence added).
So much for those who question Peter's ministry in Rome. Even the Associated Press calls Peter "the first pope" in the obituary. Now, if more anti-papal "Catholics" like Garry Wills could only catch up with the Associated Press, we would really be making progress. In gratitude for this important discovery, let us pray that Antonio Ferrua may rest in peace.
Inculturation and the "Old" Latin Mass
Many are excited about the indications that the Vatican will issue a document later this year aimed at restoring liturgical order and propriety to the celebration of the Mass. The prima facie and unassailable evidence that such a document will indeed come is the interview given by Cardinal Arinze of Nigeria to Inside the Vatican. Arinze is the head of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. The story from Inside the Vatican also indicates that the document will encourage wider use of the "old" Latin or Tridentine Mass. Although this interview with a prominent and leading cardinal was publicized on May 13th, two weeks ago, I have not seen any other Catholic news service or periodical refer to the story. The National Catholic Distorter (aka National Catholic Reporter) has a correspondent in the Vatican following any developments, significant and insignificant, genuine or imagined, in Rome. Yet, to my knowledge, he has made no reference to the Arinze interview, although surely he is aware of the interview conducted by his fellow Vatican journalists. Maybe, that silence from a heterodox publication indicates fear about the content of the interview. Sometimes you can tell more about the significance of a story from the way heterodox periodicals treat it. Does the silence indicate fear of the substance of the story, or does it indicate factual doubt about the substance of the story? It is hard to see a basis for factual doubt when the story is based on an interview quoting directly from a prominent named source who bears official responsibility for the area of liturgy. It would be easy to seek confirmation or denial from the quoted source or his assistants. We will see.
In any event, the issue of the wider use of the Tridentine Mass bears some thought. In Catholic circles today, the issue of "inculturation" looms large. Basically, "inculturation" refers to making Catholicism meaningful to persons in different cultural contexts. Thus, in Africa, where dancing is accepted as part of congregational worship, dancing can occur within the liturgy (see Philip Jenkins, The Next Christendom [Oxford University Press 2002], pp. 108-115, for a discussion of inculturation). Let us try to look at the wider use of the Tridentine Mass as an appropriate form of inculturation for those in Western societies. In Africa and Asia, veneration of ancestors is a significant part of the native cultures. Some Catholic churches make references in their prayers to ancestors as part of speaking to this culture. Likewise, we must try to look at Western culture as outsiders to see the proper role of the Tridentine Mass.
Today, modern Western countries are dominated by an ideology that is thoroughly secular and that disdains any belief in the supernatural. The modern West is formally agnostic and practically atheistic. Thus, any signs of reverence for or acknowledgement of the divine are few and minimal. In addition, the modern West is obsessed with "modernity." One of the basic categories of thought ascendant in the West is that anything pre-modern is bad, while anything that is good must be modern. Thus, science is deified, while the thought and culture of the pre-modern West is viewed as part of the "dark ages." Naturally, human nature in the West expresses a sense of emptiness and nothingness in the face of this ideological secularism, best seen in the literature and "philosophy" of despair and nihilism produced in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries by Nietzsche and Sartre. A quintessential mark of this secular modernity is arrogance. Western man refuses to submit to anything superior. While this rebelliousness may seem part of the ideal of political democracy and equality, this refusal to submit to anything superior is an illusion. In fact, Western man submits to science and technology on a daily basis. In addition, the refusal to submit to anything superior is not fundamentally motivated by ideals of democracy and equality but rather by a refusal to be bound by moral rules, especially those from the natural law tradition. Hence, the sex act becomes a recreational tool divorced from its natural end, abortion becomes a fundamental human right, and now the era of embryo engineering and cloning is upon us.
In such a disturbed culture, the Gospel proclaimed by the Church calls Western man to encounter the call of God. The Church through the Scriptures and the Eucharist presents the call of God. Thus, in the modern West, the Church must inculturate this call to God in a culture proudly disdainful of the divine. How is that to be done? Inculturation cannot mean, as many Catholic liberals who have thoroughly assimilated the assumptions of secular modernity say and practice, that the Catholic Church abandons belief in the supernatural by reinterpreting the plain sense of Scripture or by abandoning belief in the Real Eucharistic Presence. Such an approach is not inculturation; it is suicide. Yet, that is exactly what is proposed by liberal Protestantism and Catholic theological liberals. Their proposal is not surprising given their cultural immersion.
In Africa, the people and the cultures reject a secular, modernistic world denuded of the divine. So in Africa, inculturation means incorporating certain cultural customs from a culture fundamentally compatible with divine revelation and divine worship. But we in the West now possess a culture that is fundamentally hostile to revelation and worship. In the West, inculturation must involve recalling to the West the ancient sense of the sacred that it has abandoned. Using an ancient and sacral language is obviously one way to recover the sense of the sacred in the West. For the West, that ancient and sacral language is Latin. Likewise, in a Western culture that embraces promethean arrogance, the Church must recall the call to submit to God. In liturgy, that means that by gesture and posture we acknowledge that we are creatures, not creators. By intoning the mea culpa and striking the chest, by kneeling, by together with the celebrant facing toward God in the Mass, the modern people of the West are called to surrender to the transcendent God and to abandon the worship of the self or of a particular community. For the same reason, inculturation of the Christian message in the West means emphasizing the theology and necessity of sacramental confession in which man humbly approaches Christ.
In traditional cultures such as those in Latin America, Asia, and Africa, where the people retain a strong sense of the divine, inculturation works by building on the manifestations of that pre-existing belief in the divine. In today's Western countries, inculturation must proceed differently by re-introducing a lost cultural sense of the divine. From this perspective, encouraging wider use of the Tridentine Mass is a quintessential form of inculturation that is long overdue, along with greater order and reverence in the celebration of the Novus Ordo or Vatican II Mass. "Inculturation" literally means "to go into a culture." In the modern Western nations, that means the Catholic Church must enter a secular culture and recall it to the ancient sense of the divine that culture has abandoned but which remains apparent in its pre-modern literature, architecture, and history. The Tridentine liturgy is one important way to recall that sense of the divine that once shaped the West. We would be foolish to ignore it.
Wednesday, May 28, 2003One Biblical Scholar Corrects Those Debunking Christianity: A Cautionary Example About Historical Critical Scholarship
In a prior essay on the Dead Sea Scrolls, Catholic Analysis referred to the work of Joseph Fitzmeyer, S.J., who was part of the early editorial team working on the Dead Sea Scrolls. He has collected some of his work on the scrolls in a book called The Dead Sea Scrolls and Christian Origins (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans 2000) (hereafter "Fitzmeyer"). In two of his essays, Fitzmeyer uses evidence from the Dead Sea Scrolls to correct the opinions of Rudolph Bultmann (1884-1976) on the use of the titles "Lord" and "Son of God" for Jesus in the New Testament. The two essays are "The Dead Sea Scrolls and Early Christianity" (hereafter "Early Christianity") and "The Background of `Son of God' as Title for Jesus" (hereafter "Son of God"). Bultmann was probably the most influential practitioner of biblical higher criticism of the last century who is still highly influential today. He was notorious for his project of "demythologizing" the New Testament-- a project still carried on today by many scholars, including those in the Jesus Seminar.
Fitzmeyer quotes Bultmann's opinion on the use of the title "Lord" in its unmodified or simple form:
At the very outset the unmodified expression "the Lord" is unthinkable in Jewish usage. "Lord" used of God is always given some modifier; we read: "the Lord of heaven and earth," "our Lord" and similar expressions.
R. Bultmann, Theology of the New Testament (2 vols.; London: SCM, 1952-55), 1:51, quoted in Fitzmeyer's Early Christianity, 30 (emphasis added by Catholic Analysis).
Well, what was "unthinkable" to a German professor of the mid-twentieth century was certainly thinkable by the Jews at Qumran (the site of the Dead Sea Scrolls community) before and during the life of Christ. The upshot of Bultmann's view was that the unmodified title "(the) Lord" or, in transliterated Greek, (ho) Kyrios "could not have been part of the primitive Jewish Christian proclamation about Jesus, because Jews themselves would never have used such title of God" (Fitzmeyer, 30). The implication of Bultmann's opinion is that all talk of Jesus as "the Lord" was part of the mythologizing process that occurred when Christianity began to spread to Hellenistic areas "as they [Christian missionaries] carried the message about Christ from Palestine into the contemporary Greco-Roman world, where gods, emperors, and other illustrious personages wre sometimes called Kyrios" (Fitzmeyer, 31).
Fitzmeyer corrects Herr Bultmann. Citing evidence from the biblical Dead Sea Scrolls, Fitzmeyer concludes "that Kyrios, `Lord,' used so often of the risen Christ in the New Testament, was fully at home in the earliest stratum of Palestinian Christian teaching, at least as a confessional title, if not also as a kerygmatic [i.e., "proclaiming" or "preaching"] title" (Fitzmeyer, 31). Given that the demythologizing project aims to undermine the divinity of Christ, it is worth noting that Fitzmeyer states that the evidence "shows clearly that it was not unthinkable for a Palestinian Jew of the first century B.C. to refer to God simply as `Lord' "(Fitzmeyer, 31).
Bultmann was also at work in undermining the divinity of Christ in his opinions concerning the title "Son of God." Bultmann did concede that "for Hellenistic-Jewish Christians" the title "Son of God" was already "embedded in their missionary message, for the earliest Church had already called Jesus so . . . ." (Fitzmeyer in Son of God, 65). Yet, Bultmann again viewed the title as having been transformed when it reached the Hellenistic areas of the Greco-Roman world:
[Bultmann] maintained that the connotation of the title as indicative of "divine origin" or of being "filled with divine `power' " (and not merely messiahship) was related to a Gentile or Hellenistic setting. For him the title was associated with the role of Jesus as theios aner [Greek for "divine man"], and its real content was thus of Hellenistic imprint.
R. Bultmann, Theology of the New Testament, 1:128, quoted in Fitzmeyer, 65 (transliteration and emphasis added by Catholic Analysis).
In my view, Bultmann is wholly relating the divine implication of the title "Son of God" to the Greco-Roman use of this title "for emperors, demigods, or heroes born of gods and goddesses, or even for theioi andres [divine men] in . . . [their] contemporary world . . . . " (cf. Fitzmeyer, 65). In contrast, Fitzmeyer concludes that the use of the title "Son of God" in one of the Aramaic Dead Sea Scrolls "makes it possible that it was used of Jesus in the primitive kerygma [proclamation] formulated by Jewish Christians in Palestine" (Fitzmeyer, 72). Fitzmeyer continues: "In other words, such a title for him [Jesus] was not necessarily developed as the product of Christian missionary activity among Gentiles in the eastern Mediterranean world" (Fitzmeyer, 72).
What can we conclude from the correction of Bultmann by the evidence from the Dead Sea Scrolls? We can conclude what the sense of the faithful has sensed about the "higher biblical criticism": many of its practitioners are pursuing a particular theological agenda in the guise of scholarship based on flawed speculation, intuitions, and guesswork. The Roman poet Vergil wrote the famous warning in his account of the Trojan War about fearing Greeks even bearing gifts. Well, we should, if not fear, at least be quite skeptical of those biblical scholars bearing the supposed gifts of erudition.
Yet, in contrast, we have the work of many other more responsible scholars like Fitzmeyer that can be at times of real value, although a blanket endorsement of the work of any one biblical scholar, even one like Fitzmeyer, is inadvisable given the volume of scholarly work and speculation involved. The Church has officially encouraged responsible biblical criticism as noted by none other than Fr. John Hardon, S.J. Yet, Fr. Hardon rightly notes that "Catholic scholars must . . . recognize that the Church's magisterium has the final word on the conclusions reached by biblical criticism" (John A. Hardon, S.J., Modern Catholic Dictionary [Reprinted: Bardstown, Ky.: Eternal Life 2001] [originally published by Doubleday]). This excursion into the Dead Sea Scrolls confirms Hardon's prudent view.
Tuesday, May 27, 2003Catholics and the Scriptures
One of the oldest remaining myths about Roman Catholicism, especially among some, but not all, Protestant evangelicals is that of Roman Catholic hostility toward the reading of the Bible by lay Catholics. Vatican II, now over forty years old, dispelled this myth in clear and strong language:
The sacred synod also earnestly and especially urges all the Christian faithful, especially religious, to learn by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures the "excellent knowledge of Jesus Christ" (Phil 3:8). "For ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ." [Here quoting St. Jerome, and citing in support Popes Benedict XV and Pius XII]. Therefore, they should gladly put themselves in touch with the sacred text itself, whether it be through the liturgy, rich in the divine word, or through devotional reading, or through instructions suitable for the purpose and other aids which, in our time, with approval and active support of the shepherds of the Church, are commendably spread everywhere.
Dei Verbum, sect. 25, from The Sixteen Documents of Vatican II (Pauline Books 1999) (emphasis added).
The Council makes note that Catholics have access to the Bible "through the liturgy, rich in the divine word." It is worth recalling what the Catholic convert and biblical scholar Scott Hahn wrote about attending his first Mass prior to becoming a Catholic. He was struck by how much of the Mass consisted of repetition of texts from the Bible with which he was long familiar. Next time you attend the Mass try to notice how much is directly from the Scriptures in addition to the readings themselves and the responsorial Psalm. (If you don't notice it, it is time to open the Bible more frequently!) Clearly, the words of consecration are directly from the New Testament. The Agnus Dei is none other than the words of John the Baptist to Jesus recorded in the New Testament, just as the words of the Lord's Prayer are from the Gospels. And of course the Sanctus is also taken from Scripture, and the words "Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, etc." are directly from the centurion's words to Christ in the Gospel. Thus, it was clear to a Protestant biblical scholar that the Mass is thoroughly biblical. As such, Catholics familiar with the words of the Mass have in a sense internalized the very words of Scripture in a way that is surprising to those Protestants who have no experience of liturgical worship. We can phrase this reality in an ironic way: to the surprise of some fundamentalists, the Mass is fundamentally biblical.
Vatican II's Dei Verbum ("Word of God") also makes note that "[t]hrough the . . . [apostolic] Tradition, the Church's full canon of the sacred books is known, and the sacred writings themselves are more profoundly understood and unceasingly made active in her . . . ." (Dei Verbum, sect. 8). Here Vatican II points to the undeniable historical fact that the Catholic Church through the guidance of the Holy Spirit identified those writings which were inspired by the Holy Spirit to form the Scriptures. All Christians hold to the same 27 books of the New Testament canon. That New Testament canon was made known through the Tradition of the Church. Thus, even the most anti-Catholic of fundamentalists is holding in his hands a New Testament which he owes to the discernment of the Catholic Church through the Holy Spirit. In other words, as many others have noted, the Church gave us the Christian Bible.
The historical fact of the formation of the canon within the Church ties in to the theme of the biblical nature of the liturgy. Before all of the books of the New Testament were written, some were already being read within the liturgy of the first century Christians. Moreover, scholars have idenitifed parts of New Testament books, such as the Pauline epistles, that appear to have originally been hymns or other liturgical material. Thus, portions of the New Testament appear to have originated as part of the liturgical hymns and prayers of the early Christians. The "Christ-Hymn" in Philippians 2:6-11 is a prominent example (see The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, 48:18-22) (hereafter "NJBC"). Other examples include Colossians 1:15-20, 1 Tim. 3:16, and 1 Peter 2:22-25 (NJBC, 54:13). This scenario further illustrates that the New Testament emerged from the Church and, more specifically, from the liturgy. Thus, the text of the New Testament itself testifies that it is an ecclesial and liturgical reality, not something that emerged outside of the Church. Before there was a definite New Testament canon, the Church possessed the New Testament in her liturgy. This historical perspective contradicts the simplistic, ahistorical view found among some non-Catholic Christians that treats the New Testament as if it just appeared suddenly as a bound and published volume with a clear table of contents.
Thus, as Catholics we must realize that the New Testament canon came to all Christians through the Catholic Church. We must also realize that the Mass is fundamentally biblical, and that all Catholics are called to form themselves from the written Word of God just as we are called to receive Christ the Word of God in the Eucharist:
The Church has always venerated the divine Scriptures just as she venerates the Body of the Lord, since, especially in the sacred liturgy, she unceasingly receives and offers to the faithful the bread of life from the table both of God's Word and of Christ's Body.
Dei Verbum, sect. 21.
There again is the coherence, balance, and unity that is the glory and beauty of Catholicism.
Monday, May 26, 2003The Dead Sea Scrolls And the Deuterocanonical Books of the Old Testament
In a previous essay " 'Aporcypha' or Deuterocanonicals?" (May 7, 2003), I set forth the Catholic view that the deuterocanonical books of the Old Testaments in Catholic and Eastern Orthodox bibles (called the "apocrypha" by many Protestants) were part of the Scriptures used by the early Christians. I wrote the essay to correct the unbalanced presentation made by some, certainly not all, Protestant writers that fail to disclose this historical fact. I submit that once readers realize that the deuterocanonical books, such as Tobit, Sirach, Baruch, etc., were part of the Scriptures used by the very early first century Christians, the presence of these books in Catholic bibles appears in a different light. The deuterocanonicals cannot then be viewed as somehow being "corruptions" of a pre-existing and complete Jewish canon of Scripture, as many Protestants seem to hold, because this Jewish canon in fact did not come to exist until 90 A.D. when Christianity was already spreading through the Roman Empire and was already in direct conflict and competition with the synagogue. In my view, the current Jewish canon that excludes the deuterocanonical books may very well have been a reaction against the use of these books by Christians. It is ironic that today's Protestants who continue to reject the deuterocanonical books may be doing so on the basis of an Old Testament canon devised by Jews in 90 A.D. for the purpose of emphasizing the differences between Judaism and Christianity in order to blunt the spread of Christianity among Jews.
Yet, there is more to the story. In 1947, when the State of Israel was coming into existence, the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered. Among the scrolls, were the writings and records of a community of Jews with strong messianic and apocalyptic expectations that were active from about 150 B.C. to 68 A.D. and who many believe were Essenes. But more interesting for me is the fact that in addition to scrolls reflecting the life of the Essene community, among the Dead Sea Scrolls were many biblical scrolls, i.e., many copies of books used by Jews as scripture. In 1999, several scholars collected and translated these biblical scrolls and published them as The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible (Harper Collins 1999), translated by and with commentary by Martin Abegg, Jr., Peter Flint, & Eugene Ulrich (hereafter "DSC"). These scholars describe the biblical content of these scrolls as follows:
Parts of every book of the the Jewish and Protestant Old Testament are included, with the exception of Esther and Nehemiah. In addition, some other books now included in Roman Catholic Bibles were found at Qumran [the site of this Essene community]: Tobit, Ben Sira (also known as Sirach or Ecclesiasticus), and the Letter of Jeremiah (also known as Baruch 6).
DSC, pp. xvi-xvii.
All of these deuterocanonical books or parts of books (Tobit, Sirach, and the Letter of Jeremiah) are also found in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures made by Jewish scholars prior to the time of Christ that was used by the early Church and which is the basis for the current Old Testament canon of the Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox churches. One British scholar of biblical manuscripts writes about the role of the Septuagint in the early Church:
The first Christians knew and used the Septuagint in Greek. It was the only body of Scripture known to Saint Paul, for the Gospels did not yet exist as a written text when he was first preaching Christianity. . . . When Saint Paul invoked the Bible, he did so by reference to the Septuagint. The Gospel writers used it too. When the author of Saint Matthew's Gospel cites the prophecy of Isaiah in Matthew 1:23, he uses the phrasing of the Septuagint which differs very slightly from that of the text in Hebrew.
Christopher De Hamel, The Book. A History of the Bible (London: Phaidon Press 2001), p. 46.
It is clear that the Septuagint, which included the deuterocanonical books, was the Bible of the early Christians.
In addition to the evidence from the Septuagint, the biblical scrolls among the Dead Sea Scrolls also testify to the fact that Jews considered some of the deuterocanonical books as Sacred Scripture prior to and during the life of Christ on earth. In fact, the editors of The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible claim that their translation "presents the remains of the books for which there is good evidence that Jews at the time viewed . . . as Sacred Scripture" (DSC, p. vii). The evangelical publication Christianity Today hailed The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible as "the nearest thing to having `the Bible Jesus read' " (on book cover). The editors of The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible themselves claim on the back cover of their book that the Dead Sea biblical scrolls are "the world's most ancient version of the Bible [that] allows us to read the Scriptures as they were in the time of Jesus."
In fact in their background material for readers, the editors state, as argued in Catholic Analysis, that the Septuagint (which contains the deuterocanonical books) "is quoted in the New Testament and was used by early Christian authors, [and therefore] constitutes the Bible of the early church and helps to explain early Christian exegesis of Scripture" (DSC, p. xiii).
In short, both the Septuagint and the Dead Sea Scrolls document that in the time of Jesus and the apostles the deuterocanonical books were viewed as part of Sacred Scripture. If you wish to be consistent with the apostolic Church, then you cannot reject the deuterocanonical books. All of which brings us to the irony that many Protestants who apply the razor of reform to cutting away the alleged corruptions of medieval Catholicism have in the case of the deuterocanonical books also applied the razor of reform to cut away the practice of the first century Christian Church. Luther's reformation thus extended to targeting practices at the very origin of the Church.
In addition, some who question the deuterocanonical books have raised the point that some of the deuterocanonical books were not originally written in Hebrew. Of the deuterocanonical books found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, Sirach is found in Hebrew, the Epistle of Jeremiah (Baruch 6) is found in Greek (although the editors state that it was "likely composed in Hebrew"), and Tobit is found in the Semitic languages of Aramaic and Hebrew (see DSC, pp. 599, 628, & 636). Some of those who raised doubts about the original language of some of the deuterocanonicals were fathers of the Church, who now stand corrected. As Joseph Fitzmeyer, S.J., who was part of the early editorial team working on the Dead Sea Scrolls, has written concerning the book of Tobit: "The fact that we now have both Aramaic and Hebrew forms of the book of Tobit reveals something about the book which neither Origen nor Jerome knew" (Joseph Fitzmeyer, S.J., The Dead Sea Scrolls and Christian Origins, p. 135 [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans 2000]).
All of the above is presented, not in a spirit of triumphalism, but rather in an attempt to set the historical record straight. In the end, the most important results from the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls are ones that all Christians, Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox, and Jews can rejoice in:
1. That the Dead Sea Scrolls provide pre-Christian texts of the Old Testament that were not previously available (DSC, p. x); and
For all believers in the Bible as the inspired Word of God, that providential accuracy in transmission over the centuries is no surprise. The care and reverence for the biblical texts shown by the Jews at Qumran that made such accuracy possible testify to our common Judeo-Christian belief in the divine inspiration of the Bible.