Our parish bulletin of St. Anthony All Saints in Canton, OH, http://www.stanthonyallsaintscanton.org/, and click on “weekly bulletin” had two sections that caught my attention. The first, entitled Waiting for Joyful Hope, was a reflection on the Sunday Scriptures. It was the very last sentence that stopped me though with this question, “What are some specific things that pull you in either direction, toward the Holy Spirit or the world?
The question assumes something that needs some clarification. Advent, the beginning of our Liturgical Year, is a celebration of God with us, Emmanuel, the Incarnation, the Word Made Flesh. There is a healthy tension in our lives as the church invites us to celebrate Advent and the “world” invites us to celebrate the Holidays: Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, etc. To be inclusive we are invited to say Happy Holidays. To keep Christ in Christmas we are invited to say, Merry Christmas. And so it is in our society … and the conflict is much deeper than our greetings. I have intentionally placed quotation marks around the word, “world”, precisely because it is an ambiguous term. For the believer, the world was created by God and is declared in the Genesis to be good. For the Christian, Christ is the Savior of the world. All of creation groans in anticipation of its fulfillment. And we are sinners who live in the world and make all that is human in the world and its impact on the rest of the world. What we do is not all good and some of what we do is evil, and the evil enters into the world, both natural and human.
So the world in its broadest sense is not all good nor all bad. To Rise to the Level of our Times is to affirm what is good in the world and to convert was is bad in it into good. This is the fundamental message of Christ who in his death and resurrection did exactly that. I think we need to use the word “world” with the greatest of care. I wish it was as easy as saying Merry Christmas or keeping Christ in Christmas or whatever but it isn’t. We are called to be the salt of the world, its light and I personally have come to believe that the only salt or light that exists in the human world is our love. We are summoned to love because we have first been loved and that is why we are asked to love our enemies because that is what God does. We are being invited to live the tension that we, if we don’t feel that tension at this time of year, is evidence enough that we are too much in the world and if the fight can be reduced to a bumper sticker or an email forwarded then we are too much not of the world. Our world deserves much more than that. More could and should be said but I leave that to any conversation that these few paragraphs may engender in those who read it.
A second bulletin section was happily entitled, Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of Vatican II; Dei Verbum – The Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation. For the sake of ease, here is the bulletin section that I discussed in our Scripture Group.
“Below are some important points made in DV [Dei Verbum] that will always remain forever.
- Scripture and Tradition make up a single deposit of the word of God. [DV 10]
- The Magesterium is not superior to the word of God, but is its servant. [DV 10]
- Revelation is not just words about God. It is a living encounter with God.
- The whole bible is without error – but with an eye to SALAVATION not with an eye to historical or scientific accuracy.
Dei Verbum presents very positive vision of the role of the Bible in the life of the Church. It has actually served to challenge traditional beliefs and practices cherished by Catholics. Bible displays of prophetic, edge as when Jesus’ attitude toward the poor and his acceptance of the sinner confront our own failings as Christians [sic]. [A Concise Guide to the Documents of Vatican II by Edward P. Hahnenberg.] ”
To read the entire document, The Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19651118_dei-verbum_en.html, is to discover that it is a mere 18 pages in length with a preface, six chapters, and twenty-six subsections, promulgated on Thursday, November 18, 1965.
I would like to elaborate on two of the bullet points noted above. The first bullet point has a tricky word in it, “deposit”. Deposit might connote some building or vault, some place where something is stored. Or we might think that that this deposit is actually something that the pope and the bishops have who then give it to us. Or maybe the word “deposit” might convey something that is whole and entire, perhaps unchanging. I would really love to hear what you think about this “deposit.”
“Deposit” is tricky because it is an incarnational reality, sharing in the divine and the human. On the human side and since we change over time in both our hearts [what we value, what is important] and in our heads [what we understand], the “deposit” changes, even though it is always the same. If we read the document, we might be really surprised to learn that the first medium in which the “deposit” changes, develops is in us, the believers. In Chap. two, subsection 8, we read, “For there is growth in the understanding of the realities and the words which have been handed down. This happens through the contemplation and study made by believers, who treasure these things in their hearts [cf. Luke 2:19, 51], through the intimate understanding of spiritual things they experience, and through the preaching of those who have received through episcopal succession the sure gift of truth.” Our study group is a living example of believers who treasure these things in their hearts [a reference to Our Lady] and are growing in their understanding of the realities and words which have been handed down. They can witness to the change that has occurred in them.
The last bullet also is worth reflecting on. Inerrancy is highly complex concept so I want to limit my reflections on the last two points of comparison, namely that the bible is not inerrant with an eye to history and science. It certainly should be clear by now that the scriptures are written by people of faith, to people of faith, for the sake of the faith. If the word “science” means our modern science, there is not a single scientific statement in the entire bible. We can date the beginning of our modern empirical science with, symbolically at least, Galileo, in the 16th century. By then the entire bible had existed for many more than 16 centuries. The understanding of science has changed our understanding of the world in the most dramatic fashion imaginable and has caused us to re-examine our understanding of the bible. But it is history not science that raises the more critical issue.
The relationship between the Bible and History is much more complicated. As literature, everything in the bible is historical, that is, it was written by someone at some time in some place. Because of that the cultures of the original writers and any revisers, redactors could not have escaped from including the cultures of their days in their writings, revisions, and redactions. The Bible can be studied to discover historical facts as well as legend but it was not written to do that. Yet the unique feature of both the Jewish and Christian scripture is its very historical nature. God entered into the life of a particular people, the Israelites, Hebrews, Jews and Jesus, the Christ, was born in time and place. He was a first century Jew, living a rather non-descript life in a little village in Galilee, Nazareth. And for roughly three actual years, lived, preached, and was crucified. Some of this is simply historical fact but the significance of Jesus’ life is what we believe about him.
The simplest example is in our Christian creed. In our creed we state that Jesus Christ suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, was buried, and rose on the third day. It simply historical fact that Jesus was a Galilean Jew who lived during the first few decades of what we term the first century; that he was crucified in Jerusalem while Pontus Pilate served as the Roman Procurator of Judea; that he died and was buried. To deny the historicity of these facts is shear silliness. But to affirm their profound and ultimate meaning is rooted in an act of faith that claims on the third day he rose from the dead. As St. Paul has written, “And if Christ has not been raised, then empty [too] is our preaching; empty, too, your faith.” 1 Cor. 15:14. Again Paul reminds us a few verses later that “If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are the most pitiable people of all.” 1 Cor. 15:19. Our faith is rooted in time and transcends time. We are more than our times allows us to be. We are more aspiration than achievement. Minimally we must rise to the level of our times. I do not think we are doing that as well as we could.
A couple of bullet points are worth more even than these few pages but it worth at least that much. This is to argue that what is worthwhile takes both time and, in my opinion, a communion of believers sharing their faith in that word. These are matters for adults to whom has been entrusted the faith which is to be handed down, untarnished, developed, risen to the level of our times.
Your comments, observations, questions are welcomed. See “comment” link below.