Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Synod on the Word of God (part 1)


Since the Synod on the Word of God is now closed and we are awaiting the upcoming Apostolic Exhortation, I decided to take a look at the working document for the Synod that was posted on the Vatican website in May. I am still in the process of plowing through the 56 pages of the working document, Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church . I am only a third of the way through, but many things popped to mind immediately when I began reading.

First, I am very happy that the Church has decided to address the issue of the Scriptures. There is much confusion on the matter, even among informed Catholics, and clarity from the Magisterium is needed. This is a perfect opportunity for the Magisterium to step in and make clear what exactly the Church's teaching on the Sacred Scriptures is. Unfortunately, that does not happen with this document. When a clear, strong statement was needed, we instead got 56 drawling pages of obfuscations. Fortunately, this is only a working document, and perhaps we shall get a better finished product.

Second, I wonder at the modern mentality in the Magisterium which seems to view itself as a kind of Church congress which is perpetually in session and needs to make continual declarations and reaffirmations of things. The Councils of Constance and Basel tried to impose a permanently sitting Council in the Church, which of course was rejected by the Popes. However, we seem to have adopted this position in the modern Church without stating so explicitly. Traditionally, Synods and Councils (even regional ones) were called to resolve doctrinal or disciplinary problems, which they did by the promulgation of decrees of canons, such as the Synod of Whitby on the submission of the Celtic Church to the Roman rite, or the Spanish Council of Toledo which gave us many valuable canons on the Trinity that are quoted in the CCC.

What is the purpose of this Synod? According to the document, "The Synod's purpose is primarily pastoral and missionary, namely to thoroughly examine the topic's doctrinal teaching and, in the process, spread and strengthen the practice of encountering the Word of God as the source of life in various areas of experience" (II.4). Interesting. I agree there are times for pastoral statements, but it seems to me that in the past several decades, the word "pastoral" has been so overused and beaten into the ground that for me it is a code word for "We are issuing a document that really does not need to be issued just for the sake of appearing like we are doing something." It seems to me that the current Magisterium (since Vatican II) has taken to the idea that it needs to periodically make statements about things just for the sake of making statements, almost like the Constance-Basel idea of a permanently sitting Council that would continually work. Zenit reported that the Pope has already assembled the Bishops who will organize the next Synod, though they do not even have a topic selected yet! Perhaps I am drawing too tenuous of a connection here, but it seems to me that the more "pastoral" a document tends to be, the less effective.

By the way, who ever introduced this idea about pastoral being something truly distinct from doctrinal? The true doctrine is the best way to approach things pastorally, and all true pastoral approaches must be based in sound dogma. I think they are really two sides of the same coin, and that labeling things "pastoral" is a way to say "we are going to change teaching without officially changing teaching."

Now, on to the document.

One troubling thing about the document is the extreme subjective view it takes on the believer's relationship to Sacred Scripture. First of all, it whole-heartedly embraces the historical-critical method: "Every Christian is invited through the words of Sacred Scripture to discover the Word of God, the splendor of the glorious Gospel of Christ, who is the likeness of God. This takes places through a demanding, patient and ongoing process, involving historical-critical study (even diachronic), the application of every scientific and literary method available (intended for a synchronic understanding) and research from the vantage point of literature" (preface). These things are not bad in themselves if given a very positive spin, but we all know how the modernists will take these words and run with them. The Magisterium seems to perpetually make the mistake that theologians and lay people will give their decrees the most traditional, orthodox interpretation possible when in reality it is the opposite.

With regards to the subjective bent of the document, there are a lot of passages about "encountering" and "experiencing" and things like that. Notice the common use of subjective reference points:

The purpose of the document is stated to be "a reflection, in light of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, on the various experiences and aspects of encountering the Word of God in the Church today, according to her various traditions and rites and from the vantage point of faith" (1).

"The Word of God needs to be given greater priority in the life and mission of the Church; this will require courage and creativity in pedagogy of communicating, adapted to the times (culture, real-life situations, communication)" (3).

"The Synod's purpose is primarily pastoral and missionary, namely to thoroughly examine the topic's doctrinal teaching and, in the process, spread and strengthen the practice of encountering the Word of God as the source of life in various areas of experience" (4).

"Dei Verbum presents the theology of revelation as dialogue" (8). Doesn't "dialogue" seem to imply ongoing conversation, as if the faith was not given "once and for all" to the saints? (Jude 1)

"The Word of God is like a hymn with many voices" (9); I just don't know what to make of this one, which is the title of section nine: "The Word of God as a Hymn with Many Voices."

A particularly odd thing about the Synod is that it repeatedly refers to the proof of the inspiration of the Sacred Scriptures being not in any objective criteria, but in their subjective appeal to people! Listen:

"Through the charism of divine inspiration, the Books of Sacred Scripture have a direct, concrete power of appeal not possessed by other texts or human discources" (9.e).

Later, again, "As previously mentioned, the Books of Sacred Scripture have a direct concrete power of appeal not possessed by other Church texts" (18.a.).

This is not problematic if viewed in wider context of other proofs for the inspiration of Sacred Scripture; the Scriptures certainly do have a subjective appeal. However, as far as I have read, this "direct, concrete appeal" is the only evidence given for why Scripture should be considered inspired by the Church. What is the Synod doing by listing only the most subjective criteria as the sole criteria? This reminds me of my father in law saying that he can just "tell" by reading Wisdom of Solomon that it is not inspired.

The reference point for understanding Scripture, according to the Synod, is entirely modern. Perhaps the most laughable part of the document is its forward which refers to the post-Vatican II period as "A Season of Plentiful Fruits" (5). But listen to how the Synod just summarily dismisses all papal pronouncements from before the mid-20th century:

"The times again call for an obedient hearing of the Word of God in union with the Church’s Tradition, in light of the Second Vatican Council, specifically, taking up the contents of the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation Dei Verbum (DV), and other conciliar documents, notably the Dogmatic Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium (SC), the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen gentium (LG) and the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et spes (GS) (1). The two Notes of the Pontifical Biblical Commission, The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church and The Jewish People and Their Sacred Scriptures in the Christian Bible are also directly related to the synod topic. In addition, The Catechism of the Catholic Church and its Compendium, as well as The General Directory for Catechesis also have an authoritative character in the subject" (2)

I can understand citing Dei Verbum, but why Gaudium et Spes? What does that have to do with Scripture? And where are Spiritus Paraclitus, Divino Afflante Spiritu, Providentissimus Deus and Lamentabili Sane? Those documents treat very specifically about Sacred Scripture, why are they excluded? The Synod seems to be saying that we need to interpret it's findings within the worldview described in Gaudium et Spes. We see in the next section how it categorically dismisses pre-Vatican II statements:

"The teachings of Pope Pius XII, Pope Paul VI, Pope John Paul II and the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI are part of the Magisterium on the Word of God, as well as the documents published by the dicasteries of the Roman Curia, over the past 40 years since the Second Vatican Council" (ibid).

So what, things before the past 40 years are not to be considered Magisterial statements on the Word of God? Here is an excerpt from 18.c on the Old and New Testaments:

"The Synod is providing the occasion to rediscover Dei Verbum and later pontifical documents." I guess pre-Dei Verbum stuff is irrelevant now.

It is obvious that, at least from the working document, the Synod hopes to gives a purely modern spin on the Scriptures: one that looks only to "Dei Verbum and later pontifical documents" as the points of reference. In my opinion, as this working document stands, it establishes a modernist reference point for understanding the Scriptures, promotes an excessive subjectivism in interpreting them, and raises several highly questionable points about inerrancy (to be examined in the future). I know there is nothing outright heretical about any of this stuff, but we all know how the modernists will spin it. We'll just have to pray that Benedict throws a lot of this out when composing the Apostolic Exhortation.

Next time I'll take a look at the document's persistent but unexplained "difficulties" with the Old Testament. Please see the blog "Popin' Ain't Easy," linked on my sidebar, for some more good stuff on the document.

1 comment:

japhy said...

In the context you have given, 9e and 18a (about the "direct concrete power of appeal") are talking about a RESULT of being inspired, not PROOF of inspiration.