March 13, 2010

Sacred Scripture and the Catholic Church

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The 22nd meeting of Liturgy & Lager featured a discussion of the relationship between the Church and Scripture, with an emphasis on the Church's developing stance towards the critical methodologies used by biblical scholars.

In the 50 years following the foundational encyclical of Leo XIII, Providentissimus Deus, the Church, through the organ of the Pontifical Biblical Commission (established in 1903), largely resisted the higher critical methods that had been almost universally adopted by Protestant biblical scholars. The PBC officially opposed many of the conclusions of modern(ist) biblical scholarship concerning the historicity of biblical events and the formation of the biblical texts, opting to affirm traditional assements (or assumptions) of date, authorship and historicity.

However, during the next 50 year period, inaugurated by the influential encyclical of Pope Pius XII, Divino Afflante Spiritu, the PBC adjusted to new insights concerning the applicability of higher criticism to Scripture. The new appreciation in the Church for higher criticism of Scripture is traceable in part to recognition of the objective gains made in understanding the Bible through these methods. Also, the Church was coming to the realization that some aspects of higher criticism did not necessarily depend upon the philosophical tenants of what had come to be called "modernism," which philosophy the Church had definitively rejected. Therefore, Catholic exegetes could employee certain critical methods while remaining faithful to the Church in upholding the historical integrity Scripture including the actuality of supernatural events recorded in the Bible.

Pius XII insisted that careful attention to the sacred authors' literary idioms and narrative strategies (as these came to be better understood through the discipline of comparative literature) would lead to a resolution of certain historical and interpretive difficulties. Such resolution would provide a firm defense of the Catholic Church's definition of the complete inerrancy of Scripture (cf. Vatican I, reaffirmed by Vatican II), without recourse to any equivocal use of the term "inerrancy" or restriction of its scope.

By 1993, exactly one century after the publication of Providentissimus Deus, the PBC was enthusiastically advocating the use higher of critical methodologies by Catholic exegetes (See the PBC document, "Interpretation of the Bible in the Church"). Unfortunately, in the intervening half century, many Catholic scholars had failed to heed the nuanced recommendations of Pius XII concerning the use of higher critical methods. Catholic biblical studies had been affected by the same systemic assumptions that characterized mainstream Protestant and secular scholarship. Catholic scholars were fighting for recognition and respect within the guild of modern(ist) biblical scholarship. Unfortunately, these assumptions (e.g., methodological naturalism) tend to radically undermine the integrity of Sacred Scripture and the authority of the Church.

In 1971, as the conflict between exegetes and the Church was beginning to escalate, the PBC was reorganized by Pope Paul VI, such that it no longer functions as an organ of the Magisterium. Instead of being comprised of Cardinals advised by scholars, the PBC became a consulting body attached to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and is comprised of biblical scholars. Since 1971, no document produced by the PBC has been, ipso facto, the teaching of the Church. Although in 1988 Pope John Paul II brought the PBC into a closer relation with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith by establishing the Prefect of the CDF as President of the PBC, thus allowing for more Magisterial influence upon the Commission, the PBC continues in its capacity as a consulting body, rather than an organ of the Magisterium. The difference can be appreciated by considering that before 1971, the Pope promulgated the decrees of the PBC. Since 1971, the Pope merely addresses the PBC, encouraging them to work for the good of the Church. (As of 2010, 36 documents have been published by the PBC. Thirty of these documents were promulgated before the reconstitution of 1971.)

The official reconstitution of the PBC distances the Biblical Commission from the Magisterium, and is reflective of a growing divergence between the interpretive opinions of many Catholic exegetes and the definitive doctrines of the Catholic Church. For the past generation or so, an uneasy truce, and in some cases an outright antagonism, has existed between the Catholic faith and Catholic biblical scholarship. This tension has been the subject of much reflection at the highest levels of the Church, including the 2003 document by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, "On the Relationship Between Magisterim and Exegetes."

Most recently, the mind of the Church on the subject of biblical exegesis has been expressed by Pope Benedict XVI in his Apostolic Exhortation, Verbum Domini (2010).

Here is our topic in outline form, featuring a list of the most important ecclesial documents of the past century, pertaining to the interpretation of Sacred Scripture (the material under headings I, II, and VII was discussed during the meeting, but has not been included in the above summary):

Sacred Scripture and the Catholic Church: A Century of Development

I. Prolegomena

The Irreducibly Ecclesial Context of Reading “the Bible”

II. The Rise of Private Interpretation and Higher Criticism

The Protestant Reformation and Private Interpretation

The Enlightenment and Higher Criticism

III. The Condemnation of Modernism (1893—1943)

1893 Providentissimus Deus (On the Study of Holy Scripture)

1902 Vigilantiae (On the Institution of a Commission for Biblical Studies)

1903 Pontifical Biblical Commission (PBC) established

1907 Lamentabili Sane (Syllabus Condemning the Errors of the Modernists)

1907 Pascendi Dominici Gregis (Encyclical on the Doctrines of the Modernists)

1907 Prasestantia Scripturae (Motu proprio on the decisions of the PBC and on the censures and penalties against those who neglect to observe the prescriptions against the errors of the modernists)

1920 Spiritus Paraclitus (Encyclical on St. Jerome)

IV. Reconciliation of the Church and Higher Criticism (1943—1993)

1943 Divino Afflante Spiritu (Encyclical on the 50th Anniversary of Providentissimus Deus)

1964 Instruction Concerning the Historical Truth of the Gospels (PBC)

1965 Dei Verbum (Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation)

1993 The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church (PBC document enthusiastically recommending higher critical methods of interpretation)

V. Development in Tension: Anti-Modernism and Higher Criticism?

1971 Sedula Cura (Motu Proprio, On New Laws Regulating the PBC)

1974 Address of Pope Paul VI to the PBC

1979 Address of Pope John Paul II to the PBC

1988 Pastor Bonus (Apostolic Constitution; Prefect of CDF established as President of PBC)

1988 Biblical Interpretation in Crisis (Cardinal Ratzinger, Erasmus Lecture)

1993 Preface to “The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church” (Prefect of CDF, President of PBC)

2003 Relationship Between Magisterium and Exegetes (Prefect of CDF, President of PBC)

VI. Magisterial Synthesis: The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church

2010 Verbum Domini (Apostolic Exhortation; Pope Benedict XVI)

VII. Principles

Ancient Texts and Ecclesial Memory

Historical Reason and the Word of God


March 8, 2010

Next Meeting

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June 12th - Location: Captain's Galley (Matthews)
11032 East Independence Boulevard, Matthews, NC 28105-4996
7:15 pm

Topic: Liturgical Orientation

Facilitator: Chris Lauer

March 4, 2010

Anti-Catholicism

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In this session, Paul Mitchell discussed examples of blatant anti-Christian and specifically anti-Catholic bias in the media. We looked at dozens of examples, documented in newspaper articles (etc.) which Paul copied and handed out. Good turn out and good discussion.

January 20, 2010

God's Immutability (1/8/10)

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January 2010's meeting was on the topic of God's Immutability, hosted by Tim Troutman. An open discussion followed a 15-20 minute monologue on the topic, and plenty of fellowship followed.

The issue of God's immutability is an issue that sometimes doesn't seem to have much practical value since we cannot comprehend God's essence as it truly is (i.e. outside of time). The Scriptures consistently speak of God in mutable terms; He gets angry, He regrets, He chooses, He pours out wrath, etc. But to ponder immutability, or any of God's attributes, is a worthy endeavor because it forces us to see ourselves in relation to our Creator. It helps put our lives into perspective, and if there are no other reasons, that shall suffice as practical.

December 5, 2009

Anglicanorum Coetibus and the Renewal of Catholic Liturgy--Recap

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December 4th, 2009

Thanks to everyone who joined in Liturgy & Lager last night in Charlotte. It was especially good to have with us Sid Cundiff, who is doing so much to promote the traditional liturgy of the Roman Catholic Church.

The points of similarity between traditional (i.e., ancient and organically developing) Catholic liturgy and the Anglican Prayer Book are fascinating to contemplate. For example, in many cases we find a beautiful and accurate translation of traditional Roman collects in the Anglican Prayer Book. Many of these same prayers have been excised from the Missal of Pope Paul VI, and replaced with novel compositions and / or redactions. Compare the 1962 Missal to both the historic Prayer Book and the 1970 Missal, especially at high points in the liturgical season, and you will find more similarities between the traditional Catholic liturgy and the Anglican liturgy than between the traditional Catholic liturgy and its modern counterpart.

With the pope's creation of the Anglican Ordinariate, there is an historic opportunity to wed Catholic theology with the finest form (aesthetically speaking) of English liturgy.Perhaps Catholics of the Anglican Ordinariate will be allowed to adopt a liturgy that is based directly upon the Sarum Use of the historic Roman Rite, which will be expressed by traditional, liturgical English, drawing directly from Cranmer's masterful translations of the old Roman prayers, while eschewing once and for all his non-Catholic theological insertions and omissions.

May God continually bless the work of Pope Benedict XVI, architect of the Anglican Ordinariate, and the first and foremost hero of the Catholic liturgical reform.

October 12, 2009

Reprise

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L&L of October 2009, our 18th (count 'em) session, found five or six guys having a good discussion, facilitated by a great presentation by Chris Lauer, on the topic of "Communion in the Hand." This was a reprise of the same presentation back in June, which few of us were able to attend. I think that there were some differences in perspective at play in our talk, but noted large agreement on principles.

Here is the link to the document: Communion in the Hand.

Bishops

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On September 11, five or six men gathered to consider the office of Bishop. Some shared personal recollections of time spent with our Bishop (Diocese of Charlotte). What a blessing to live in a cathedral city, and to hear Mass at which the Bishop presides, assisted by a faithful deacon.

We spent a lot of time talking about the relation of the bishops in a given city (e.g., ordinaries and suffragans, bishops in different rites), the relation of the bishops to the presbyters who are not bishops, and the development of the diocese. We also discussed the anachronistic definitions and subsequently skewed history of some historians and exegetes who deny that the episcopal and hierarchical principle was operative from the beginning of the Church.