Letters to the Editor: May 1986
The well-known changes since Pius XII in the Vatican’s attitude toward scriptural scholarship described by James Hege in his March 1986 letter to the editor are somewhat irrelevant to the question of the limits of the historical-critical method used by Fr. Raymond Brown and questioned by me in my March 1985 letter to the editor entitled “The Little Ones.”
Hege is confused in recalling that I told him in conversation that “Brown ‘comes close to being a Neo-Modernist’ on the Laurentin issue.” I could not have done so, since I do not know what either Brown or Laurentin has said or what the issue is.
Hege is also very confused in saying that I think a century and a half of biblical criticism has accomplished little. Textual criticism and hermeneutics have indeed accomplished a great deal. My point in “The Little Ones” had to do with the historical-critical method. If, I said, “the object of the historical-critical method is to confirm or modify or discard the articles of faith…what, in fact has been established — proved or disproved — by it?” That is, what article of faith has been proved or disproved by that method? This is quite different to saying that all biblical scholarship has accomplished nothing.
Although Hege thus inaccurately cites what he thinks are my views, he does not touch on the great question I put to Fr. Brown: “What of the little ones?” Hege’s generous enthusiasm for Brown gives point, to me, to the question. Still, Hege concludes by quoting my words, even to the emphasis, as his own: “Christianity is a faith.” Precisely.
Regarding the Rev. Brian W. Harrison’s letter (March): In private correspondence, Harrison did indeed challenge me on certain points relevant to the moral question of nuclear deterrence; and he is certainly not defective in his moral theology or in his fidelity to the full Catholic tradition.
But his challenge was directed against two positions that were never my own! They are:
(A) “It is rigorously proved or provable that the ‘conditional intention’ to use nuclear weapons genocidally is genuine — in some quarters at least — and not merely simulated for purposes of deterrence-by-pure-bluff.” In order to prove that, one would need to search countless hearts; and only God can do that. (Harrison appears to agree that if and where that “conditional intention” is real, the formal guilt of murder is already incurred, with various consequences for “formal and material cooperation.”)
(B) “From the moral theology of this matter, one can reach firm conclusions of the political kind, about what nations and governments ‘should’ do, or about how individuals should vote.” I am far too much of a political agnostic to reach such conclusions in any matter!
If I have ever appeared to endorse either of those two positions, it was by pure inadvertence, for which I now apologize. But I don’t think I ever have.
I therefore regard Harrison as no sort of real exception to my claim (Nov.) that no competent Catholic has yet challenged the positions I have taken up in this matter.
Is It too Late?
I was greatly moved by Robert Coles’s March column, “Don’t Worry, Dad.” As a college professor researcher, I too felt over the years that teaching/research was the sine qua non of living. I was quick to anger when my oldest son sought to interrupt and hoped to be noticed. His response to my typical professorial lecture was, “Don’t worry, Dad.”
How I long to hear those very special words, “Don’t worry, Dad”! My son Michael died (age 20) after a brave fight against cancer just a year ago. In only the past year did I realize and admit how much he taught me. Is it too late to say, “I’m sorry, Mike”?
Department of Math & Applied Statistics, University of Northern Colorado
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