Another Piece of the Divine Jigsaw Puzzle
Catholicism wins hands down when it comes to intellectual appeal. The more one learns about it, the more one loves it. The deeper one delves into Scripture, along with the writings of the Church Fathers, and the more one ponders what one reads, the more one prizes the Catechism. Missing pieces of a divine jigsaw puzzle seem to turn up around every corner. This one fits. That one fits. They all fit!
Marcelo D’Asero’s article “The Davidic Typological Basis for the Dogma of the Assumption” (Jul.-Aug.) is a case in point. It never occurred to me that Davidic typology could bolster the case for Mary’s Assumption. So when I encountered D’Asero’s thesis, it was an “aha!” moment. Negative evidence such as the nonexistence of any tomb or relic associated with the Blessed Mother, coupled with the miraculous ascension of Elijah and Enoch, was all I ever needed, knowing that Mary must have been dearer in God’s eyes than any Old Testament prophet. It’s likewise all that I need today, but I’m delighted to know there’s more.
I must admit that on my first reading of D’Asero’s article, I drew back a bit. The Queen Mother tradition and King David’s bringing of the Ark to Jerusalem seemed rather attenuated as points of evidence. Then I realized that D’Asero was not palming them off as conclusive, or even highly suggestive. Perhaps he might have made this clearer. What is significant, though, is that all the signs, as well as everything construable as a sign, point in the same direction.
My one quibble would be with the author’s assertion that there is “obvious biblical support” for Mary’s perpetual virginity. The most one can claim, it would seem to me, is that there is no “obvious biblical support” for the reverse notion that Jesus had siblings. So-called proof for brothers and sisters is more apparent than real, based, as it is, on a linguistic misunderstanding; and, of course, it has the added drawback of going against Tradition.
But enough said about a mere quibble. D’Asero deserves a round of applause for giving us a stimulating and faith-affirming essay, while the NOR deserves the same for publishing it.
Frederick W. Marks
Martin Correctional Institution
Forest Hills, New York
Facebook, Friendship & the Human Person
I read J. Jacob Tawney’s article “The Fourfold Problems of Facebook” (Jul.-Aug.) with keen interest. Mr. Tawney is entirely correct to sound the warning bell about the beguiling effect that Facebook can have on the definition, and the quality, of friendship in the popular mind. Indeed, who can dispute his assertion that the “enormous numbers of ‘friends’ one can collect on Facebook is an unnatural deviation from authentic friendship”? Even in his choice of descriptive language, specifically using the verb collect, he accurately describes the process in which quantity, rather than quality, becomes the standard of worth. In truth, it can be described as nothing else than posing the danger of a “devolution of the entire concept of friendship.”
Mr. Tawney’s identification of the problem of “romanticizing the ordinary” is spot on, as it pinpoints a primary contributor to the new culture of narcissism, which, in truth, only exacerbates a problem as old as the Fall itself. Facebook, he says, “gives us the illusion that everything we do is interesting” — and I would add that this ultimately leaves the average person secretly disappointed with the mundane quality of his life, leading him to invest more and more time in the medium in order to attract those “likes” from his circle of “friends.”
But Mr. Tawney might have distinguished more carefully some of the problems he identifies in the use of Facebook from a medium such as letter-writing. For example, he writes that the obscuring of the reality of the soul “is how any medium of expression that is removed from bodily contact functions…. Moreover, the level of obscuring varies according to the degree by which contact is removed.” He goes on to say that “being physically present to one another opens up a space for vulnerability.” Yet these things are also true as applied to letter-writing, and I should not think that Mr. Tawney could quite as easily convince us that this medium is contributing to the weakening of friendships and other social ties.
Also, Mr. Tawney could have been more precise about the metaphysical definition of the human person. Although he is at pains to say that he does not fall into a dualistic manner of conceiving the human person, it is difficult to see how he could reasonably avoid just such a charge. The crux lies in the way the human person is defined. He speaks of the body as “disclosing or obscuring the reality of the soul,” and then he gives the analogy of the body as a stained-glass window reflecting the light of the sun. “The body,” he says, “acts as a veil over the mystery of the person and as such continually unveils the mystery.” If we are to follow the terms of the lines of argument, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that “reality of the soul” is equated with “mystery of the person,” and that “veil” (though one that can communicate to varying degrees) is equated with “body.” This conclusion, however, is deficient inasmuch as the human person metaphysically “arises” out of the body-soul unity (the hypostasis in Aristotelian-Thomistic terms) and is not, therefore, the “reality of the soul” that merely expresses itself through the “body.”
These things notwithstanding, I heartily congratulate Mr. Tawney for inviting readers to think more critically about the various means of modern communication and any resulting (unconscious) philosophical formation so that they might more effectively and intelligently employ them, while prudently limiting their use. Otherwise, the warning bell Mr. Tawney has sounded will sadly be for naught, and the prescience of Neil Postman, whose incisive critiques Mr. Tawney applies to this medium, will be the blinding of those by whose clear sight the world is to be led to that perfect communion for which each human heart longs, the most blessed Trinity.
Fr. Dean Bryan Thompson
Misidentified Milestones on the Long & Winding Road
I was reading right along, enjoying Howard P. Kainz’s review of James Hitchcock’s History of the Catholic Church (Jul.-Aug.), until I came to his penultimate sentence: “If one takes the long view, one can see that the Church has ‘come a long way’ in the good sense.”
Really? To whom do we attribute this bit of hyperbole?
Every statistic I have seen says that 75-80 percent of Catholics today do not attend weekly Mass. Before Vatican II, that figure was closer to 20-25 percent. Many seminaries and convents are now closed, parochial schools have been shuttered, and numerous parish churches have been closed or merged with others. The majority of those calling themselves “Catholic” are really only nominally Catholic; they cherry-pick what they want to believe and disregard what they don’t want to believe.
The Church has indeed “come a long way” — but in what direction?
Raymond J. Mattes Jr.
In his review of James Hitchcock’s History of the Catholic Church, Howard P. Kainz makes some truly astonishing statements. Based on his reading of Hitchcock’s work, he concludes that (1) the doctrine of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist was first formulated in the ninth century, (2) theological reference to the Trinity began with Tertullian in the third century, (3) private confession to a priest was not required until the ninth century, and (4) there were no Christian nuptial ceremonies until around A.D. 400. If true, these statements would cast serious doubt on the Church’s claim to be the vessel transmitting the traditions of the Apostolic Age unchanged into the 21st century. Fortunately, even the most superficial research shows all of these statements to be wildly inaccurate.
Concerning the Eucharist, around A.D. 107 St. Ignatius of Antioch wrote, “The Eucharist is the flesh of our Redeemer Jesus Christ, who suffered for our sin.” In A.D. 165 St. Justin Martyr wrote, “The food over which thanksgiving has been made…is both flesh and blood of that same incarnate Jesus.” In A.D. 202 St. Irenaeus of Lyons stated, “The bread over which thanksgiving is pronounced is the body of the Lord and the chalice of His blood.”
Regarding the Trinity, in A.D. 96 St. Clement of Rome wrote, “Have we not one God and one Christ and one Spirit of Grace?” In A.D. 107 St. Ignatius of Antioch not only taught the divinity of Christ in the most definitive fashion but also employed Trinitarian formulas.
Writing in the third century, Origen gave early testimony to the existence of secret confession to a priest, writing, “The sinner…is not ashamed to confess his sins to the priest of the Lord and to seek a medicine to cure them.” In A.D. 461 Pope St. Gregory the Great designated the demand for public confession “a misuse of apostolic rule” and instead emphasized that “it is enough to reveal the guilt of the conscience to the priest alone in secret confession.”
From the Church’s very beginning, marriage was regarded as a true and proper sacrament instituted by God. In A.D. 107 St. Ignatius of Antioch stated, “It befits the bridegroom and the bride to enter the nuptial relationship with the approval of the bishop so that the marriage may be according to the Lord and not according to concupiscence.” Tertullian, toward the end of the second century, wrote, “How shall I be able to describe the happiness of a marriage which the Church performs, the offering of the sacrifice ratifies, and the blessing seals, to which the angels assent, and which the Heavenly Father recognizes?”
Luther, Calvin, Cranmer, and other leaders of the Protestant revolt in the 16th century asserted that the Church’s sacramental system, her priesthood, and her hierarchical structure were all man-made inventions and a vile corruption of the “pure” Christianity of the early centuries. In actual fact, even a cursory reading of the Church Fathers, of both the East and the West, shows without doubt that Catholic doctrine and practice today is identical with what was taught and practiced from the Church’s earliest days. If Dr. Kainz’s reading of Dr. Hitchcock’s History is correct, then it is a sorry commentary on the latter’s scholarship.
HOWARD P. KAINZ REPLIES:
To Raymond Mattes
When I concluded from James Hitchcock’s History of the Catholic Church that “the Church has come a long way,” I was referring to both length and breadth.
Length: Throughout two millennia the Church has survived in spite of intermittent political and religious corruption and horrendous persecutions (the number of Catholic martyrdoms since the beginning of the 20th century exceeds the number in any previous century in Church history).
Breadth: The Church has expanded tremendously in the world. Between 1965 and 2010, Hitchcock writes, “While Catholics were only 17 percent of the population of Africa, their number had multiplied fifteen times since Vatican II, and, while they were only 3 percent of the population of Asia, their number there had tripled during the same time.” If Mattes focuses only on the development of the Church since the 1960s, and considers only the situation in the U.S. and other “first world” countries, which comprise only a small percentage of the world’s Catholics, he will miss seeing the forest for the trees.
To Hank Hassell
Mr. Hassell disagrees with some of Hitchcock’s dating of theological developments, but actually, in over 580 pages, Hitchcock does not ignore the intermediary developments Hassell points out. With regard to the doctrine of the Real Presence, Hitchcock writes, “The Eucharist had always been regarded as the Body of Christ, but without much discussion of precisely how that was so. Ratramnus distinguished Christ’s spiritual Body from His physical Body and held that He is present ‘figuratively’ in the Eucharist, which is a memorial of His sacrifice on the Cross. (Eriugena held a similar belief.) In response, Radbertus [d. 860] set forth the first developed theory of the Real Presence, insisting that Christ’s Body, as received by the faithful in the Eucharist, is the same Body that was borne by Mary and died on the Cross” (emphasis added).
With regard to the Holy Trinity, Hitchcock’s reference is to the theological term, not the doctrine: “Tertullian coined the Latin word Trinity (‘three in one’) and employed the non-philosophical term person to designate each of the members of the Trinity.”
As Hassell mentions, private confession existed along with public confession early in the Church, but became a matter of Church law in the ninth century. According to Hitchcock, “The Irish monks drew up books called Penitentials (‘penance books’), elaborating a severe discipline that was also applied to the laity — identifying particular sins, offering guidance for dealing with them, and prescribing appropriate penances…. In time, this led to the practice of private confession by lay people, a custom that had previously been observed only at the time of death…. By the ninth century, private confession for lay people was required at least once a year.” This became one of the six current “precepts of the Church” — the obligation to confess one’s mortal sins at least once a year, according to the Code of Canon Law (can. 989).
With regard to Hassell’s question about the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony, Hitchcock’s point pertained to the nuptial ceremony: “There was no Christian nuptial ceremony in the early centuries, so that in some ways marriage remained a matter of civil law, although by 400, couples who had been married according to civil law would subsequently go before a priest for a blessing. The essence of marriage was consent, something that in effect made the formal act of betrothal already a marriage.” According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, even now matrimony is not a sacrament administered by a priest, but “the spouses, as ministers of Christ’s grace, mutually confer upon each other the sacrament of Matrimony by expressing their consent before the Church” (no. 1623). Luther, Calvin, and other reformers denied that matrimony is one of the seven sacraments; for Protestants, marriage is a contract, usually recognized by civil authorities, but not a sacrament giving grace, in the Catholic sense.
Joseph P. Wall
The Gentleman Model of a Catholic Ruler
I very much enjoyed Stanley T. Grip Jr.’s excellent article “Otto von Habsburg, The Kaiser Who Never Was” (Jul.-Aug.) on the late crown prince, heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary. Both Otto and his saintly father, Emperor Karl, were the models of how Catholic rulers should live and govern. What a pity they lost their empire in the turmoil and confusion at the end of the First World War. How much bloodshed and suffering might have been avoided had they kept it!
I had the great good fortune to hear an address by Crown Prince Otto in July 1990 at a conference on the family held in Brighton, England, hosted by Princess Diana. Needless to say, his speech was magnificent and was well received.
The next day, our group (composed of Brits, Americans, Dutchmen, Scots, Frenchmen, and Canadians) did what we could to support the family, as called for by the conference. That is, we held a peaceful, nonviolent rescue at a nearby abortion clinic, closing it down. No children died there that day (we hope). Twelve of us were arrested, held overnight, and released the following day.
I would like to compliment Stanley T. Grip Jr. for his nicely written article about Otto von Habsburg. Few Americans, aside from students of Austrian history, have ever heard of this distinguished man, which is all the sadder because Archduke Otto (the son of the last Austrian emperor) spent considerable time in the U.S. during World War II.
Over 20 years ago, I had occasion to meet the gentleman several times in Munich, near which he had settled because the Austrian government refused to allow him to return to his native land. Our third encounter came at a sad time for me. I was sitting in the economy section of a Sabena flight from Munich to Brussels, returning home to Boston after my elderly mother had suffered a very serious stroke. Needless to say, I was surprised to find Otto sitting directly across the aisle from me in an almost empty compartment. We had a very pleasant conversation, during which he talked about his own mother, who had visited Massachusetts in 1940.
Otto was a member of the European Parliament, which explains why he was on that flight to Brussels. Perhaps he was met by someone beyond the customs control. But as I watched him walk by himself down the long passageway from the plane, I realized what an unlikely experience it had been for me to chat with a man who, as a small boy, had walked in the funeral procession of Emperor Franz Joseph in 1916 and who himself, under different circumstances, might have become the ruler of a large part of Europe.
Whether or not he was simply trying to travel incognito, it impressed me that a man in his position was not sitting in the first-class section of the plane. Otto, whose devotion to his Catholic faith ran deep, was known to be a modest, unassuming person, and I was happy to have experienced that firsthand.
Why Catholics Should Care About Ukraine
As a Catholic and an historian specializing in Ukraine, I am struck by the lack of understanding among Catholics about what is happening in that country. The human tragedies unfolding there, including the shooting down of a Malaysian airliner this July, are seen as individual tragedies, not part of some greater pattern of injustice. Few perceive Ukraine as an issue of particular concern to them as Catholics.
Some, of course, are merely indifferent. Ukraine is far away, and in any case is not a Catholic country. To them, I simply say that in today’s world there is no such thing as a remote problem. No Christian can consider a war taking hundreds of innocent lives to be too far away for concern. Moreover, there are some five million Catholics in Ukraine, most of them of the Greek-Byzantine rite, but there are many Latin-rite Catholics there too. After western Ukraine came under Soviet rule in 1945, the communist authorities liquidated the Greek-Catholic Church, which, despite intense persecution, maintained an underground existence for 43 years.
Some Catholics seem to approve of Russia’s conduct. A few on the political Left believe Russian propaganda about the “fascist,” “neo-Nazi” government in Kyiv, which supposedly took power on the crest of a rightist rebellion engineered by U.S. intelligence. They support Russia as a counterweight to an imperialistic America. They refuse to believe that Petro Poroshenko’s government rose to power as a result of a largely peaceful popular protest against a massively corrupt, authoritarian, and ruthlessly violent regime.
At the other extreme of the political spectrum, Catholic paleoconservatives like Patrick Buchanan see Russia as a great Christian power opposed to decadent European liberalism. Like the Left, they swallow the Russian version of events.
Other conservatives, however, have an argument that at first sounds convincing. The Poroshenko government was elected in place of an interim administration that itself was formed when the democratically elected president, Viktor Yanukovych, was compelled to flee the country last February. Hence, they reason, it is illegitimate. On the contrary, the Ukrainian revolution of 2013-2014 asserted Christian principles and was supported by both Ukrainian Catholic and Orthodox churches.
To be sure, some Catholics do support Ukraine. But I am not sure they always do so for the right reasons. Liberals tend to believe that Ukrainians want to be just like Europeans or Americans. While they aspire to Western values like freedom, democracy, and the rule of law, many Ukrainians are wary of current Western pathologies like extreme individualism, hedonism, consumerism, and commercialism — not to mention the juggernaut of same-sex marriage. Like many traditionally agrarian societies, they are conservative and committed to national and individual freedom, but not prone to trendy social, cultural, or intellectual fads.
Other Catholics, I suppose, support Ukraine because they see Russia as a continuation of the Soviet Union and therefore an enemy of America. In doing so, they might in fact be supporting American hegemony. Suffice it to say that one doesn’t have to be anti-Russian to defend the right of Ukrainians to their own sovereign territory.
There are better reasons for Catholics to support Ukraine. First, Russia’s unprovoked invasion of the Crimea, and its current multi-vectored war in the Donbas, is by no stretch of the imagination a “just war.” Neither Russia nor Russians were threatened by or in Ukraine. This is a case of aggressive war-making, in violation of religious and ethical norms as well as international law. And Ukraine has a right to defend itself against aggression.
Second, Ukraine is a predominantly Christian nation. Its “revolution of dignity” asserted the ideals of Christian humanism. As a nation with longstanding European ties — for much of its history, the country experienced Catholic Polish, Lithuanian, and Austrian rule — Ukraine could help to re-Christianize today’s secularized Europe. But that cannot happen if Moscow blocks its European aspirations.
Third, an aggressive Russia could drive the Ukrainians, who in general prefer to stay out of great-power politics, into the arms of the U.S. and its own political ambitions. This would be unfortunate, for Ukraine’s interests, and the world’s, would best be served by its political and economic independence. The invasion of Ukraine has exacerbated the trend toward Russian-American polarization. No one wants to be a pawn in such a game.
Fourth, Catholics should look beyond Russian President Vladimir Putin’s claims to uphold Christian ideals, to his demonstrated ultra-nationalism, authoritarianism, and contempt for all that is Western — Catholicism included. Those who find this hard to believe should note that this June, Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev, chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Department of External Church Relations, blamed much of the disorder in Ukraine on Greek Catholics, whose Orthodox ancestors chose to enter into communion with the Church of Rome. His cunning attempt to divide Catholics into those who favor close “ecumenical” ties with Moscow and those who, like the Ukrainians, stand firm for faith and freedom, is as transparent as it is insulting.
Of course, Catholics are free people, and we can each form our own opinions about the war in Ukraine and what we should do about it. But we must not be indifferent. Archbishop Thomas Gullickson, the apostolic nuncio to Ukraine, said in a recent interview with Vatican Radio, “The Christian presence in Ukraine is one of the most important ones, I’d say, not only in the former Soviet Union, but probably even in Europe today. There’s a sense of the presence of God in the lives of the people of Ukraine, and there’s a Christian orientation.” Is that not reason enough to care?
Oak Ridge, Tennessee
Hitting Below the Belt
In his response to Henry Borger’s strong defense of American capitalism and the free market (Jul.-Aug.), Thomas Storck compares Mr. Borger to those who “dissent from Catholic teaching…[such as] proponents of abortion and same-sex ‘marriage.'” Mr. Storck is at best vincibly ignorant, and at worst intellectually dishonest. The Church teaches that the moral prohibitions against abortion and homosexual acts are absolute; they are always intrinsically, objectively immoral, regardless of circumstances. But the choice of an economic system is a prudential moral decision entrusted primarily to the laity.
The Church articulates basic Christian principles; she has not condemned capitalism or socialism as intrinsically immoral. Even communism can work well when adopted voluntarily by those who take a vow of poverty. Capitalism, at least, sees private ownership of property as a right (as did St. Thomas Aquinas) and promotes individual responsibility (see 2 Thess. 3:10-12). All economic systems have flaws, just like any other human construct.
Mr. Storck’s reply misses the mark.
James J. Harris
San Diego, California
Thomas Stork uses a nasty ad hominem distortion of Henry Borger’s concluding statement to try to discredit his position. According to Mr. Stork, “Mr. Borger…seems determined to cling to his economic ideas, even if they can be shown to differ from those of the Church…. He goes on to say…’If that makes conservative Catholics like me who subscribe to this viewpoint “cafeteria Catholics”…then so be it.’ Well, at least Mr. Borger is honest. He makes no bones about his willingness to be a dissenting Catholic.”
Except Mr. Borger said and did nothing of the kind. Instead, he contrasted the concepts of a “centrally controlled economy” and a “free-market society,” and he rejected the false claims by some that the former aligns with Catholic doctrine. Mr. Borger further objected to the theory that the economic foundation of U.S. society needs to be fundamentally transformed into “a planned and controlled economy” totally under government control. It was in reference to these defective values that Mr. Borger declared his conditional “if.” Rejecting those errors, which are distortions of Catholic teaching, does not make him a “cafeteria Catholic.”
Thomas Storck really hit below the belt when he criticized Henry Borger for standing up for American ideals. The ideals of life, liberty, and property go back to the mid-18th century and have been well explained by many famous men, some of them Catholic and some not. Mr. Storck impugns the loyalty to the Church of millions of Americans who care as much about the Church as they do about their country. He also impugns the integrity of countless Americans who have died for their country and its ideals, one of those being economic freedom.
It is economic freedom that has given all Americans, Catholic or otherwise, the ability to establish the particular institutions they prefer, allowing them to proselytize without fear of the government or anyone else trying to shut them up, until recent decades.
My family grew up as conservative Republicans. We are also solid Catholics, and have believed in the benefits of freedom as much as anyone else, while still adhering to the teachings of the Church. I totally reject the base canard of Mr. Storck, who equates us with abortionists and homosexuals. How dare he put my family in the same class as the Kennedys, Joe Biden, and Nancy Pelosi!
Upper Arlington, Ohio
THOMAS STORCK REPLIES:
I’m puzzled why Janice Hicks, James J. Harris, and Peter Meis would object to my calling Henry Borger a dissenter. Did he himself not write, “Conservative Americans…oppose any scheme, even if it comes from the Vatican, that compromises [economic] freedom. If that makes conservative Catholics like me who subscribe to this viewpoint ‘cafeteria Catholics,’ as Storck charges, then so be it.” Substitute any other moral issue for “economic freedom” and there would be no doubt that whoever said it was a dissenter.
Is it not clear that Mr. Borger is putting what he sees as American ideals above what the Church might teach about the social order? Now, while it is true that the Church does not and never has mandated a planned economy, she has criticized a free-market economy. Quadragesimo Anno (no. 88), among other places, is clear on this point. While there are many prudential points regarding economic systems, about which there can be legitimate differences of opinion, there are some things on which we cannot disagree if we wish to be Catholics who think with the Church. What are these things? Well, the best place to find them is to read the corpus of Catholic social doctrine. Debate about the social order by Catholics must take place within the limits prescribed by the Magisterium. It is simply not true that we have unlimited freedom of opinion in this matter.
Mr. Meis, moreover, seems affronted that, as he sees it, I “criticized Henry Borger for standing up for American ideals.” I would hope that Mr. Meis would at least in theory admit that if American ideals and the teachings of the Church were ever in conflict, then a Catholic would obviously have no choice in the matter, and must adhere to the doctrines of Christ’s one Church. If he concedes this point, well and good. If he does not, then I’m afraid that he too must be numbered along with Mr. Borger as a dissenter.
I no longer wish to be a subscriber. The cheeky character I’ve enjoyed for over two decades is gone, and there’s little left to distinguish today’s NOR from the other Catholic publications that have survived. It’s hard to imagine Archbishop Rembert Weakland being offended by what you publish now, and you take cheap shots at traditionalists.
John F. Kippley
Thank you for all you do. God bless all that the NOR does. The truth may not be popular, but it has to be spoken anyway, and I am so thankful that the NOR takes that call to heart. Keep up the great publication!
The Rev. Philip M. Stark
Cumberland, Rhode Island
Free Rosary Booklets for Prisoners
The Seven Day Bible Rosary consists of a different set of mysteries for each day of the week plus a short meditation. It is free for prisoners who request it. Write to:
American Rosary Press
P.O. Box 112035
Cincinnati, OH 45211
The regular cost is: one for $5, three for $12, and five for $15, including shipping. For more information and a short history of the rosary, visit www.sevendaybiblerosary.com.
Dwight J. Sams
Riding the Elevator of Falsehood
In reply to Joseph H. Gehringer’s letter (“Clarifying the ‘Clarification,'” Jul.-Aug.), it makes me a bit lightheaded, thinking of all that going up and down on an elevator of falsehood, from one floor to another. But I am glad to be reassured that “serious Catholics” know about the three stages of development of the written Gospels as presented in Dei Verbum and the Catechism.
Mr. Gehringer is, however, wrong on just about every other point. The central point of contention is the 1955 “clarification” of the Pontifical Biblical Commission (PBC) concerning its earlier response to questions about interpretation and teaching of Scripture. The “magazine article” Mr. Gehringer mentions was in two versions, one in Latin and the other in German. It stated, “As long as these [early PBC] decrees propose views that are neither immediately nor mediately connected with truths of faith and morals, the interpreter of Sacred Scripture can pursue his scientific investigations with full liberty and accept the results of these interpretations, provided always that he respects the teaching authority of the Church.”
This does not sound like the mere “personal opinion” of its author and has not been taken as such — except by ultraconservatives like Mr. Gehringer. Others have tried to discount the clarification by pointing out that it was never entered into the Acta Apostolicae Sedis, as were the original responses. Apparently the PBC considered it unnecessary. An earlier opinion was that the clarification was unauthorized and invalid because the secretary and undersecretary of the PBC were about to be rebuked by the Holy Office but were saved by the intervention of a cardinal.
All these rear-guard actions have proved futile. The clarification has never been revoked, and Rome has consistently acted in accord with it. Scholars have published findings that contradict virtually every one of the points covered in the original decrees — with nary a rebuke from Roman authorities. To slap the label “modernist” on anything we happen not to like is surely too facile. All Catholics must bear in mind that, since the mid-20th century, the Church no longer makes binding declarations on questions of Scripture (with possible exceptions to come along at any time).
The New Jerome Biblical Commentary tells us that on June 27, 1971, Pope Paul VI reorganized the PBC as a body advisory to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The members would be 20 scholars, appointed by the pope for five-year terms, who are “outstanding for their learning, prudence, and Catholic regard for the Magisterium of the Church.” Incidentally, the much-abused Fr. Raymond E. Brown has been appointed to this prestigious body twice, by two different popes.
Fr. Brown had this to say about the 1955 clarification: “The somewhat embarrassing change of mind about a strongly enforced position underlines the danger of invoking Church authority to settle what are basically scientific questions — questions not about doctrine but about authorship, date and composition.” To which I add: The PBC would naturally want such an “embarrassing change of mind” to be announced as unobtrusively as possible, hence its appearance in the magazine articles referred to above.
A friend of mine, whom I admire and respect in a place where it’s almost impossible to find God, introduced me to the NOR. I was instantly intrigued.
A little over a year ago, I walked into the prison chapel where the Mass was being said. My life changed from that moment on. I was at a point in my life where I was so lost that I didn’t know what I was searching for. God led me there that day. I can’t say I was converted to Catholicism then and there because I had no real belief. I hope to be confirmed soon.
I have since read the books I can get a hold of, and the more I’ve read, the more I understand why I found a home. It makes me cry to know I’ve lost so much time fighting my soul instead of feeding it. But it is a comfort to know that the Catholic faith has been debated and developed by the best minds in mankind’s history, and here it remains, a fortress surrounded by enemies, shining bright.
Christ has come into my life and given me the peace that I have craved even when I didn’t know what it was I was craving. The Church has given me back the hope I lost and for so long never noticed was missing.
I don’t know where my life will go from this point forward. I am not sure I will ever be released from prison. But I do know that I’ve asked Christ for a few things, and all of them have been granted to me. I haven’t asked for my release; I know I’m not ready. This place allows me time to learn and pray. I work daily on brotherly love and constantly fall so short that it shames me. With all the hate and negativity that is the essence of this place, with all the broken people and lost souls that cry out in ways of violence, and the people who can’t love because they’ve never been shown how to truly love someone or something, I hope to one day make a positive difference in some of their lives, to bring some back from the despair that has taken over their lives.
I don’t have any money, but I very much want to receive the NOR. Would it be possible to supply me with a subscription? I will use the knowledge that I gain and pass it on to others. And one day I hope to understand the path that God has set me on.
This prisoner, along with many others, has been given a complimentary subscription to the NOR thanks to the generosity of our readers who have donated to our Scholarship Fund. For information on how to donate to this fund, see the notice on page 31 of the paper issue.
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