Friday, October 31, 2008

Synod's "Difficulties" (part 2)

[October 31, 2008] Though I have been a friend to Catholic Tradition for some time, it is only within the past two years that I have begun actively identifying myself as a Traditionalist. When I became aware that I was indeed a Traditionalist, I made up my mind that I wouldn't be overly critical and nitpicky. I wanted to be a positive Traditionalist, extolling the beauty of Catholic culture and Tradition without being the type to be too ornery or critical, especially of things regarding the papacy and the statements of the popes. However I may feel about the Church under John Paul II, he was still the Vicar of Christ, and I must honor him and be respectful towards his writings and his life. A big part of Christianity is joy in the Holy Spirit, and I have taken great pains in my own spiritual life to ensure that the frustration I feel about the state of the Church does not become so overwhelming as to quench my joy.

That's my disclaimer. Now, regarding the working document for the Synod on the Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church which I began to review last time, I have to honestly say that the further I read into it (I am now more than 2/3 done), the more I am shocked by what it says. This is truly a radical document, from a traditional standpoint. Not only that, but the wording on many things (even orthodox points) is very sloppy and liable to a multitude of interpretations. In fact I have to say, this document is horrible from every angle. I didn't even say that about Gaudium et Spes. At least GS is well-written. This working document is sloppy, confusing, self-contradictory, full of ambiguity and borderline heresy. Very strong words. It is only a working document, however, and we shall see what the Pope does with it.

Let's look at what the document has to say about the Old Testament. As the Church has ever affirmed since Marcion first challenged it, the Old Testament is a vital part of the Scriptures; the Catechism even calls the Psalms the heart of the Bible, and any attempt to belittle or do away with the OT is an attack on the very fundamentals of the Catholic Faith. The Synod recognizes this and urges greater familiarity with the Old Testament, but I have a problem with some presuppositions about the OT that the document seems to make. Here are some excerpts:

"The Bible needs to be seen as the Word of God who continues to reveal, despite many difficulties in understanding certain passages, especially those in the Old Testament" (3).

"[Local Churches] experience difficulty in taking up and understanding the Old Testament passages with risk of their being incorrectly used" (6).

"[Pastors should] present simple criteria for reading the Bible with Christ in mind, thereby resolving the difficulties in the Old Testament" (13).

"Still other [questions] touch upon difficult parts of the Bible, especially in the Old Testament" (14).

"Knowledge of the Old Testament...seems to be a real problem among Catholics, particularly as it relates to the mystery of Christ and the Church. Because of unresolved exegetical difficulties, many are reluctant to take up passages from the Old Testament which seem incomprehensible..." (17).

"Significant cultural and social changes taking place in the world call for a catechesis that helps to explain the "difficult pages" of the Bible, primarily in the Old Testament" (45).


Geez. Did anybody get the impression that the Synod considers the Old Testament "difficult?" What are these difficulties that the Synod keeps referring to? The document never clearly spells it out, but there are a few things it hints at. But before I go into that, let me ask one simply question: if you give a 7th grader the Book of Genesis to read side by side with the Book of Romans, which is easier to understand? I'd say for a child (and probably for anybody not acquainted with Scripture), Romans would present far more "difficulties" than Genesis. In fact, I can't think of many places in the Old Testament that are not easily understood, with the exceptions of some of the visions of Ezekiel and Daniel. Everything else is pretty straight forward. Sure, the books of Deuteronomy, Leviticus and Numbers are tedious and dull at times, but that does not mean they are "difficult" to understand.

So, what are these "difficulties?"

I can only assume that by "difficulties" the Synod is making a veiled reference to a preferred historical-critical interpretation of the Scriptures that mythologizes away much of the Old Testament. I believe, therefore, that the "unresolved exegetical difficulties" referenced by the Synod are fact that the Old Testament presents many things to us as historically factual (things Christians have always believed to be factual) that the Synod would prefer we interpret mythically. This would involve us with problems concerning inerrancy: thus, we have our "difficulty."

Is this really the case? When the Synod says "there is a real problem among Catholics, particularly as it relates to the mystery of Christ and the Church," it is in fact reminding us that much of the Old Testament can be applied mystically to Christ and the Church, as in the Song of Songs. There is nothing new here. But, thereby it seeks in a subtle manner to rob some of these passages of their literal or historic value. The Synod is concerned that we might read Genesis and take it literally, attributing historical value to Noah's Flood, the Tower of Babel or things like that. This is in fact what it has in mind: look at what it says in section 45:

"Significant cultural and social changes taking place in the world call for a catechesis that helps to explain the "difficult pages" of the Bible, primarily in the Old Testament, which give a certain view of history, science and the moral life, particularly ethical behaviour and how God is portrayed. Working towards an overall solution needs to take into account what is provided by not only exegesis and theology but also anthropology and pedagogy" (45).

Things seem to be historical which the Synod thinks ought to be interpreted symbolically. Certain scientific views of Creation and geological chronology are found in the OT which the Synod is embarrassed about; they need to be rethought (moving towards an "overall solution") in light of modern anthropology. The ethics of the Old Testament are also troubling to the Synod. People in the Old Testament are commanded to do things by God that the Synod is uneasy about having to explain. Rather than work at real theological understandings of these issues (and rather than standing upon the 2,000 year Tradition of the Church in seeking to "harmonize" these passages), the Synod would rather have us invoke "not only theology and exegesis but also anthropology" to symbolize these things. This is a reflection of the modernist Biblical interpretive scheme that is embarrassed by the Old Testament. I would say that it is the Synod, not Catholics, who seem to have "difficulties" with the Old Testament.

Touching on inerrancy, the Synod goes radically far in attempting to establish the heretical view of Scriptural inerrancy, popular since Dei Verbum. Look at what it says in section 15 on inspiration and how it uses Dei Verbum:

"--with regards to what might be inspired in the many parts of Sacred Scripture, inerrancy applies only to 'that truth which God wanted put into sacred writings for the sake of salvation' (DV11)."

 "Might" be inspired? Applies "only?" We all know that this is contradicted by mountains of Magisterial statements, especially Pius XII's Divino Afflante Spiritu 3, which specifically says, "It is absolutely wrong and forbidden either to narrow inspiration to certain parts only of Sacred Scripture or to admit that the sacred writers have erred." Yet the working document does just this in taking the modernist position on Dei Verbum 11, and asserts that the Bible does contain errors in matters of "history, science and the moral life."

The Synod's document takes a hard line against any literal interpretation of the Old Testament. I do not believe they are meaning to condemn all literalism, but the wording is so sloppy that this is in fact what they do, when in section 20 it states that despite a new resurgence of Biblical studies, there is "the risk that the Scriptures will be interpreted arbitrarily or literally, as in fundamentalism." Do you see the import of this passage?

Notice the language: It didn't condemn excessive literalism, or relying only on the literal interpretation, but it simply said "literally" alone, as if interpreting the Old Testament literally at all was wrong. Literal interpretations lead to "serious errors and...useless controversies." I can only imagine that by useless controversies it is referring to things like St. Augustine attempting to reconcile the two genealogies of Christ in the New Testament. Is it too difficult to resolve? Well, it's just symbolic and has no historical value. Problem resolved!

Indeed, the document has harsh words for those who dare to take the words of the Old Testament literally:

"In Bible reading, fundamentalism takes refuge in literalism and refuses to take into consideration the historical dimension of Biblical revelation, It is thus fully unable to accept the Incarnation itself" (29).

This is horrid and a terrible definition of fundamentalism. The document seems to say that fundamentalism consists simply in insisting that the Bible be taken literally, and even says that if you do insist on literalism, that you have not accepted the Incarnation! St. Athanasius defended the Incarnation and a literal belief in the Old Testament. What would he say about this? Augustine interpreted the stories of the Old Testament literally--did he not accept the Incarnation? What about Anselm? Aquinas? This statement makes a mockery of Catholic Scriptural exegesis throughout history.

Traditionally, Catholics have understood papal infallibility to apply to the region of faith and morals. Yet, among the "difficulties" of the Old Testament, the Synod's document lists "the moral life, particularly ethical behaviour" as presented in the Old Testament (45). Isn't morality supposed to be the one thing that we never waver on, along with dogma? Well, it seems to be referring to certain difficulties in explaining God's commands to commit genocidal warfare and things of that nature. St. Augustine and St. Thomas long ago dealt with such issues, but the Synod, once having rejected pre-Vatican II interpretive schemas (see last post), now is embarrassed to turn to the Saints and instead chooses to go down the road of a moral code that is "relative" to every historical period.

Now, let me end this rant on the following note: I am not saying the Church or the Synod even actually believes these things. Perhaps they do: perhaps they do want to advocate a relative morality and a strict symbolic application. I don't know, but I am willing to grant them the benefit of the doubt. My problem is this: this theology is so shoddy, the language so sloppy, that is this document is adopted as the basis for the Apostolic Exhortation, the modernists will run with it as far as it will take them, and we will have so many exegetical problems, confusions about inerrancy and modernist heresies that it will be well-nigh impossible this side of the Second Coming to sort them out.


Curtis said...

I also fear the term lectio divina is slowly becoming a Trojan Horse term for the anti-literalist stance you are describing. It is difficult to tell at this point.

Anonymous said...

Good grief! Thankfully, though, I don't think we have to worry about Pope Benedict turning out such a terrible finished document.

Jeffrey Pinyan said...

"--with regards to what might be inspired in the many parts of Sacred Scripture, inerrancy applies only to 'that truth which God wanted put into sacred writings for the sake of salvation' (DV11)."

That is horrendous. Someone deserves a smack on the back of the head. With a Catholic Bible.

Next time: Synod document calls for lay homilies!

For real? Article 50 says "The homily is to be done only by an ordained minister (82). In certain cases, canon law makes provisions for the laity to preach in a Church or oratory (83)." That's no different from what Canon Law says...