Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Rome: Mighty Bulwark Against Modernism

Jason Engwer originally called attention to this article. Steve Hays, whether or not following Engwer's lead, put up a post on this topic. And, despite the fact that this is probably old hat relative to blogospheric chronology, I'll mention the article as well and provide some PP commentary.

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,13509-1811332,00.html

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Catholic Church no longer swears by truth of the Bible
By Ruth Gledhill, Religion Correspondent



THE hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church has published a teaching document instructing the faithful that some parts of the Bible are not actually true.

The Catholic bishops of England, Wales and Scotland are warning their five million worshippers, as well as any others drawn to the study of scripture, that they should not expect “total accuracy” from the Bible.

“We should not expect to find in Scripture full scientific accuracy or complete historical precision,” they say in The Gift of Scripture.

The document is timely, coming as it does amid the rise of the religious Right, in particular in the US.

Some Christians want a literal interpretation of the story of creation, as told in Genesis, taught alongside Darwin’s theory of evolution in schools, believing “intelligent design” to be an equally plausible theory of how the world began.

But the first 11 chapters of Genesis, in which two different and at times conflicting stories of creation are told, are among those that this country’s Catholic bishops insist cannot be “historical”. At most, they say, they may contain “historical traces”.

The document shows how far the Catholic Church has come since the 17th century, when Galileo was condemned as a heretic for flouting a near-universal belief in the divine inspiration of the Bible by advocating the Copernican view of the solar system. Only a century ago, Pope Pius X condemned Modernist Catholic scholars who adapted historical-critical methods of analysing ancient literature to the Bible.

In the document, the bishops acknowledge their debt to biblical scholars. They say the Bible must be approached in the knowledge that it is “God’s word expressed in human language” and that proper acknowledgement should be given both to the word of God and its human dimensions.

They say the Church must offer the gospel in ways “appropriate to changing times, intelligible and attractive to our contemporaries”.

The Bible is true in passages relating to human salvation, they say, but continue: “We should not expect total accuracy from the Bible in other, secular matters.”

They go on to condemn fundamentalism for its “intransigent intolerance” and to warn of “significant dangers” involved in a fundamentalist approach.

“Such an approach is dangerous, for example, when people of one nation or group see in the Bible a mandate for their own superiority, and even consider themselves permitted by the Bible to use violence against others.”

Of the notorious anti-Jewish curse in Matthew 27:25, “His blood be on us and on our children”, a passage used to justify centuries of anti-Semitism, the bishops say these and other words must never be used again as a pretext to treat Jewish people with contempt. Describing this passage as an example of dramatic exaggeration, the bishops say they have had “tragic consequences” in encouraging hatred and persecution. “The attitudes and language of first-century quarrels between Jews and Jewish Christians should never again be emulated in relations between Jews and Christians.”

As examples of passages not to be taken literally, the bishops cite the early chapters of Genesis, comparing them with early creation legends from other cultures, especially from the ancient East. The bishops say it is clear that the primary purpose of these chapters was to provide religious teaching and that they could not be described as historical writing.

Similarly, they refute the apocalyptic prophecies of Revelation, the last book of the Christian Bible, in which the writer describes the work of the risen Jesus, the death of the Beast and the wedding feast of Christ the Lamb.

The bishops say: “Such symbolic language must be respected for what it is, and is not to be interpreted literally. We should not expect to discover in this book details about the end of the world, about how many will be saved and about when the end will come.”

In their foreword to the teaching document, the two most senior Catholics of the land, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, Archbishop of Westminster, and Cardinal Keith O’Brien, Archbishop of St Andrew’s and Edinburgh, explain its context.

They say people today are searching for what is worthwhile, what has real value, what can be trusted and what is really true.

The new teaching has been issued as part of the 40th anniversary celebrations of Dei Verbum, the Second Vatican Council document explaining the place of Scripture in revelation. In the past 40 years, Catholics have learnt more than ever before to cherish the Bible. “We have rediscovered the Bible as a precious treasure, both ancient and ever new.”

A Christian charity is sending a film about the Christmas story to every primary school in Britain after hearing of a young boy who asked his teacher why Mary and Joseph had named their baby after a swear word. The Breakout Trust raised £200,000 to make the 30-minute animated film, It’s a Boy. Steve Legg, head of the charity, said: “There are over 12 million children in the UK and only 756,000 of them go to church regularly.

That leaves a staggering number who are probably not receiving basic Christian teaching.”

BELIEVE IT OR NOT

UNTRUE

Genesis ii, 21-22

So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept he took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh; and the rib which the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man

Genesis iii, 16

God said to the woman [after she was beguiled by the serpent]: “I will greatly multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children, yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.”

Matthew xxvii, 25

The words of the crowd: “His blood be on us and on our children.”

Revelation xix,20

And the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who in its presence had worked the signs by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshipped its image. These two were thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with brimstone.”

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PP Commentary of a slightly repetitive and possibly unconnected nature:

(1) Look for the star-struck Romanists who extol the RCC's bedrock certainty and its stand against modernism to invoke whatever loopholes exist to keep this from being an "official" teaching of the Church. We'll hear the invocations of the great personal freedoms of conscience that Mother Church allows. We'll be told by the conservative internet RC's that Rome Herself is conservative despite a few rogues here and there.

On the other hand, we say that a church body isn't conservative when her theologians and leaders act liberal, despite being conservative to a certain degree on paper.

Basically, if this is representative of Rome, then it doesn't bode well for those Romanists who do take scripture seriously. On the other hand, if one can waive away the opinions of the cardinals listed, who needs the magisterium in the first place? Or, as a third option, if one is left saying that one has to distinguish on their own between the "good" side of the magisterium and the more rogue-ish side, then what epistemic advantage does the Romanist enjoy over we benighted Protestants?

The real test is whether the Pope or the highest muckety-mucks in Rome adopt this document, or let it go without comment, or denounce it. The first two options won't make Rome look too good as a defender of scripture. The third option would allow me to take seriously claims that Rome does take its stand on scripture.

(2) Note the old chestnut about two separate creation accounts in Genesis. Conservative scholarship has dealt with the claims of contradiction in a reasonable fashion. Do religion article authors ever bother to check out conservative scholarship, or are they paid proportionally to the number of outworn liberal cliches they employ in their articles?

(3) Apparently, one of the Gifts of Scripture is that scripture can contain errant propositions even when scripture is speaking indicatively. Fortunately, we have the teaching magisterium of Holy Mother Church to do our thinking for us to tell us where scripture should be believed or where it shouldn't be believed.

The problem here is that, employing higher critical methods, these members of Rome seem to act as if they think that the acid of negative higher criticism, having been applied to the Biblical texts, won't in turn eat the documents of the ECF's, the encyclicals, and so on. Skepticism is an acid that, after eating scripture, will also devour the Roman claims as well.

(4) We conservative Protestants contend that the scriptural propositions are, in so far as they go, true. While scripture is not a textbook for any topic, where scripture talks on a topic, we contend that it speaks infallibly on whatever it has to say on that topic. Examples:

(a) Scripture is not a medical book, but when it indicates a bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ, we take this to mean that scripture says that Jesus Christ rose from the dead.

(b) Scripture is not a physics textbook, but when it indicates that Jesus Christ ascended in a straightforward fashion, we take it to mean that Jesus Christ ascended bodily.

(c) Scripture is not a birds-and-the-bees manual, but when it indicates that Mary conceived Jesus without natural human intercourse, we take it to mean that Jesus was conceived in the Virgin Mary apart from any sexual encounters with Joseph.

Note that (a)-(c) are quite offensive to large swaths of our modern culture. Why should these passages escape the acid of negative higher criticism while the passages that offend Jews don't?

Let us also quote from the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, widely held by conservative Evangelicals [such as yours truly]. From the section titled "A Short Statement" we have

1. God, who is Himself Truth and speaks truth only, has inspired Holy Scripture in order thereby to reveal Himself to lost mankind through Jesus Christ as Creator and Lord, Redeemer and Judge. Holy Scripture is God's witness to Himself.

2. Holy Scripture, being God's own Word, written by men prepared and superintended by His Spirit, is of infallible divine authority in all matters upon which it touches: it is to be believed, as God's instruction, in all that it affirms, obeyed, as God's command, in all that it requires; embraced, as God's pledge, in all that it promises.

3. The Holy Spirit, Scripture's divine Author, both authenticates it to us by His inward witness and opens our minds to understand its meaning.

4. Being wholly and verbally God-given, Scripture is without error or fault in all its teaching, no less in what it states about God's acts in creation, about the events of world history, and about its own literary origins under God, than in its witness to God's saving grace in individual lives.

5. The authority of Scripture is inescapably impaired if this total divine inerrancy is in any way limited or disregarded, or made relative to a view of truth contrary to the Bible's own; and such lapses bring serious loss to both the individual and the Church.


Note points 2 and 4 from the statement. Our position is completely antithetical to the Romanist position as exemplified by those behind the teaching document mentioned in the article.

(5) The authors of the document want to draw a demarcation line between those topics of scripture in which we can have confidence, and those topics in which we sholdn't have confidence.

(a) Where is the argument [or what is the argument] for their demarcation line? Perhaps it is in the document, which I have yet to read.

(i) They don't like the part about the Jews stating "his blood be on us and our children," but the argument is not based on textual evidence or any sort of reasoning presented [at least by what is given in the article]. Instead, the statement is dismissed as unhistorical because it offends Jews and has been misused by those with an axe to grind against Jews.

(ii) They don't like the part about Creation because, presumably, it offends modern minds and the assured results of science.

But the world doesn't like the deity of Christ either. The world does not like the dominical statements of Christ. Feminists do not like many of Paul's statements. People who view humans as fundamentally good don't like Romans 1-3. Homosexuals don't like Romans 1 or parts of 1 Corinthians. People who want to have care-free extra-marital sex don't like the Biblical intra-marital emphasis. Etc. Why not throw these out too?

(b) Note the scholarly doublespeak: in a book denigrating the authority of scripture, we are pointed to the "Gift of Scripture." As visible leaders of a very visible church body make claims that the Bible is being rediscovered as a precious resource, this so-called resource is a resource that, far from being something in which one can have confidence, is to the contrary a mish-mosh of truth and error, requiring a priestly and scholarly class to tell the laypeople out there what in it can be believed and what in it can't be believed.

(c) The rationale is given that the passages to be viewed as not historically true are to provide "religious teaching" in contradistinction to "historical" teaching and writing.

(i) But this presents a false [and oft-used liberal] dichotomy between theology and history, since religious teachings and the facts that undergird them, especially in Christendom, take place in spacetime. For example, Jesus' death and resurrection, which have metaphysical implications, has to be a historical event, or otherwise, as St Paul says in 1 Cor 15, we have hoped in vain.

(ii) It is disconcerting to see Holy Mother Church run away from historicity. This is the Church that professes historical continuity and apostolic succession. To this student, these Romanist scholars are picking and choosing quite arbitrarily.

(iii) The wedge between theology and history has been around for at least two centuries. While conservatives have rightfully pointed out that the two are not exclusive, we see that, if this article is accurate about this new Roman document, the scholars work with the same assumption as does the Jesus Seminar, an assumption that conservatives in both Protestantdom and Rome find [or should find] noxious.

(d) The Bible is, so they say, true in matters pertaining to salvation but not in secular matters. Like (c), this creates a needless distinction. Christianity is not a metaphysical system alone. It is a metaphysical system joined together with the assertions that reality is such-and-such, and that so-and-so things happened in history. Our salvation, besides being metaphysical and spiritual, is grounded explicitly in spacetime events.

(6) Note the usual call for relevance today. Now relevance by itself isn't a bad thing, but by itself is isn't necessarily a good thing either. Jesus Himself offended most people, and the early Christian teaching was just as offensive in the first century AD as it is today. Paul was treated poorly in the 1st century. Who's to say he wouldn't be treated poorly today?

(7) Note the dim view of fundamentalists and the supposed intransigent intolerance associated with it. I suppose Trent and Vatican I were Rome's examples of playing snugglebunnies with conservative Protestants.

Closing Comment:

We have here, if the article is accurate, another sorry display of the barely-suppressed liberal tendencies of some of the higher-ups Roman Catholic Church. What is, according to the more zealous internet apologists out there, the institution that provides Certainty, Assurance, that "something extra" that we Protestants lack, is an institution consisting of modernizing relativists, at least in part.

5 Comments:

Blogger Steve Jackson said...

The only thing standing between us and the liberalism of Spain and Massachuesetts [sic] is Roman Catholicism. Uh, wait . . . they are Roman Catholic.

Thursday, October 06, 2005 4:12:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sigh. Didn't Augustine finally accept the Genesis account after Ambrose explained that it did not need to be read literally?

One needs to understand that theological truth is not congruent with scientific (as we understand this today) or historical (as we understand this today) truth.

Take the account of Job and his trials. Does it make a difference whether or not an actual person named Job existed and experienced all that suffering? How is the truth of the message impaired if one understands it as an extended parable?

Now for scientific detail. How do we have, in the creation account in Genesis, an evening and a morning, when the sun and moon are not created until the fourth day?

Later on, if one understands the flood which carried Noah to Ararat to extend over the whole earth, pole to pole, covering every mountain, one must explain to what location the waters receded. A blanket of water sufficiently deep to cover the highest mountains is a LOT of water. Where did it go?

As for Galileo, the Church had no problem with the scientific theory. In fact, the research done by Copernicus was in some ways funded by the Church. Galileo tried to tell the Church how to interprete the Bible. The Church was unwilling to be hustled and rushed, partly because Protestants had been attacking her for allegedly ignoring scripture. Essentially doing what you do in this post in saying that the Church does not believe scripture. And for what it is worth, the Protestant worthies of the time (Luther, et. al.) denounced the "un-biblical" theory that the earth moves as contrary to scripture.

Thursday, October 06, 2005 7:52:00 PM  
Blogger Pedantic Protestant said...

Anon ---

Your first paragraph is irrelevant so far as I can tell.

Your second paragraph is something I don't think I agree with always.

Your third paragraph: I'm not sure the interpretation depends on the historicity of Job. On a side note, I'm not sure whether Jonah is historical or not either. Some things have interpretations that are invariant with respect to historicity. But not all things: consider the gospels.

For the remaining paragraphs: basically, you're saying that such-and-such phenomenon isn't physically possible in the natural course of things. And, I'd agree with you.

Yet at the same time, people being raised from the dead isn't anything we've seen in the natural course of things. The instantaneous healing of the sick isn't something that we've seen in the natural course of things. We don't walk on [nonfrozen] water in the natural course of things. A Jew being slung on a tree doesn't, in the natural course of things, change our status before God. Virgins don't, in the natural course of things, conceive a child.
Quail and manna don't appear for food in the natural course of things. Seas don't part in the natural course of things. People don't see into the future in the natural course of things. Etc.

So why not throw these out as well, given, as you say, that "theological truth is not congruent with scientific or historical truth"?

You can see what I'm getting at. I'm not advocating blind literalism for Genesis or whatever, but I'm for going with what scripture states in its idiom.

The acid of skepticism, when applied to supernatural things that one doesn't like, can't, so far as I can tell, be denied its devouring of those supernatural things that we do like.

I haven't stated what I think about Genesis, btw, nor have I stated what I think about the flood, either. Do you really think that modernists would shut up if we waived away Genesis and Exodus but left the Incarnation, Resurrection, etc? [You realize that the bodily Resurrection of Jesus was the prime article of attack in the deist controversy in England a few centuries back, don't you?] If you happen to be a Romanist, do you think that throwing out the things you mention will satiate the acid of skepticism, so that the acid won't eat away at, say, the impeccability of Mary, the Assumption of Mary, etc, will

What's your demarcation line?

BTW, it is best not to assume that you're speaking with some backwood rube, either. I've studied the idioms and genres of scripture as well as ANE materials to a certain degree, so please don't adopt the attitude that you're coming up with stumpers that I haven't heard from the local skeptic club. I'm a pretty sophisticated exegete, if I do say so myself. :-)

Finally, what I'm saying in this post, contrary to what you claim ["the Church does not believe scripture"], is that the RCC, if this latest position is official, represents the capitulation to modern skepticism by liberals in the RCC. I believe that the RCC believes scripture --- those parts that arbitrarily escape the acidic skepticism that is arbitrarily applied by the higher-ups. I wouldn't be surprised if the purported papist prooftexts are spared the RC acid, btw.

If I sound puckish here, apologies. I just got back from the weightroom and am sore and cranky.

Thursday, October 06, 2005 11:36:00 PM  
Blogger Steve Jackson said...

Here is an intelligent Catholic response to the article:

http://www.jimmyakin.org/2005/10/times_religion_.html#more

Friday, October 07, 2005 3:53:00 AM  
Blogger Pedantic Protestant said...

Actually, religion article writers are a suspect lot, so I'd agree with the general thrust of Akin's taking the writer to task.

Even though the writer, as I mentioned as well, dropped the same old liberal cliches, the facts as reported about what the aforementioned RC guys have done, if true, still should bother conservative RC's greatly.

I worked for seven years at a RC university [a large one] and the idea that RC's of the more moderate or liberal stripe play games with scripture hasn't been new to me. Internet RC's who live in their pastel-tinted soft-focus romantic view of what the RCC should be as compared to what it is seem more shocked.

Friday, October 07, 2005 11:14:00 AM  

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