Alternatives To Criticism

A century ago, the academic clamps came down over much of Catholicism, and in the US, notably in our seminaries. I find it curious that the pope and some bishops seem to be suggesting Scripture scholars are disengaged from the faith.

I’m more convinced the poor use of “higher criticism” is due more to the laziness of the preacher, or the lack of intellectual engagement by the catechist. In other words, it’s easier to trot out somebody else’s theory to make you look good. The parish priest who struggles with preaching has it bad: few clergy prepare homilies in groups where faith sharing and reflection can deepen the encounter with the Word. When it’s the preacher and his books and computer, it can be very easy to fall into the habit or trap of using someone else’s ideas.

Rather than lay it on “higher criticism,” I’d think the bishops and pope would do better to emphasize the best models of preaching and teaching.

I’ll admit my view on this is likely skewed. I’ve been hired by priests who value good liturgy and in turn, are likely not to be poor preachers. My grad school emphasized good scholarship goes hand in hand with spirituality and pastoral ministry. My experience with people who use modern exegetical methods has been minimally good, and frequently excellent. From my view, I don’t see the problem.

The pope took some time for a professorial talk at the synod earlier today. ZENIT paraphrases:

When biblical exegesis is divorced from the living, breathing community of faith that is in the Church, exegesis is reduced to historiography and nothing more. The hermeneutic of faith disappears.

I don’t think this is a news flash. Any religious aspect that is divorced from the “living, breathing community of faith” is reduced to a component part, be it music (to become a concert), the catechism (to become a memorization exercise), architecture (just a shell), justice activism (politics), or any human endeavor in the name of God.

As I’ve said before, scholarship is but a tool to achieve a greater end, namely the celebration of good (or better) liturgy. If somebody’s misusing the tool, hand them a different one. Criticizing the tool itself is useless. More than that, it may be dangerous. I would expect every priest and lay minister to possess an academic competence: not only the ability to think critically, but to put one’s intellect at the service of the Gospel.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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