Bashing Sources


Perhaps it’s a timely confluence as our series on Dei Verbum comes to a conclusion. Amy opens the door to her posse’s distrust of modern biblical scholarship, hammering away at Q a bit, and the commentariat rushes into the breach. Later on, she cautions:

And please remember (because the comments down there are gettting off the rails) that my original post wasn’t a anti-scholarship post. Far from it. You should see the bookshelf behind the couch I’m sitting on to write this.

I’m sure Amy’s bookshelf is respectable, as is mine and those of many Catholics. As a former teacher, I’m sure she remains frustrated at the general level of apathy in Catholic education. I’ve been a close professional observer of Catholics schools for nearly two decades. I confess I’m unimpressed with the level at which Scripture is engaged by teachers and students.

We’ve read in Dei Verbum 12 that the Church has a generally high regard for Scripture study. It concludes:

But, since Holy Scripture must be read and interpreted in the sacred spirit in which it was written, no less serious attention must be given to the content and unity of the whole of Scripture if the meaning of the sacred texts is to be correctly worked out. The living tradition of the whole Church must be taken into account along with the harmony which exists between elements of the faith. It is the task of exegetes to work according to these rules toward a better understanding and explanation of the meaning of Sacred Scripture, so that through preparatory study the judgment of the Church may mature


In other words, there’s a point. It’s not about having more or better books on one’s shelf. It’s not about having a politically correct apologist’s view of the Catholic approach to the Bible. It’s about seeking greater understanding in the context of our relationship with God and our striving for God’s grace.

Complainers and those who mishandle otherwise good scholarship often lose track of this.

One modern fault is the sense that everything can and should be understood. A “better understanding” of the Bible does not mean a perfect one. The Q source is broadly acknowledged as one helpful to our understanding of the gospels. A minority of Biblical scholars disagrees. Fine. However you analyze it, Matthew and Luke share some bits that Mark omits. If the Q source becomes a delicious scandal or sends your parishioners off to the Holy Land to find the scrolls of Q, then the point has been missed–you probably missed square one with them. If people are simply wondering why the gospels don’t agree, it’s one explanation that might satisfy. I’m sure a Catholic trying to get his or her head around the significance of consubstantiality won’t have a problem with it. Mention it, then move on to the important stuff.

My beef with catechists rests with the enthusiastic embrace of head learning–to the exclusion of other considerations. As a liturgist and a musician, I appreciate other avenues of learning. I’d prefer an indoctrination of seminarians and potential catechists in the style of apprenticeship and (for the lack of a better term) liturgical absorption. And of course, the hope that these folks would have the faith to actually use these methods and pass them on to others.

Important information about faith isn’t intended to be lectured on, absorbed by the students (more on that in a moment), and producing a well-educated laity that avoids grave moral misconduct. Some, but hardly most folks, aren’t wired that way. Some people need a more integrated approach — traditionally godparents would be responsible, along with parents and elders. But the pre-conciliar apologetic Church wasn’t so skilled on that, especially after the general breakdown in Catholic culture before the Council.

What young and new Catholics might need more of is less book learning–including less not more Catechism, fewer textbooks, and far less of a school model approach.

Above all, Catholics need a daily and regular exposure to the Bible–in liturgy, prayer, and personal reading. Can you teach it? Maybe. But you’re better off demonstrating and doing in person, and not just yapping about it. Liturgy is the best way for a parish community to experience being saturated in the Scriptures. The Liturgy of the Word needs to be exceedingly well-modelled for the Scriptures to take full root in a faith community.

My much stronger beef is with modern neo-conservatives who have turned to criticism of the Catholic Church reforming itself as the focus for their dismay. Sorry to mention this, but Catholics are better acquainted with the Bible today than they were two generations ago. And if catechists have fumbled the ball a bit, maybe we can thank folks like the St Louis Jesuits for putting the Scriptures to music. At least many Catholics can sing the Bible, if they can’t pin down exactly where the stuff might be.

And a lot of Catholics are indeed well-acquainted with the Bible, not only as an area of personal learning, but also as a companion on the faith journey.

I’ll leave this rambling post to conclude with your comments. It’s getting a bit late here.

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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