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The Word of God in review in three parts

Today, Michael Sean Winters of National Catholic Reporter finishes his review of The Word of God at Vatican II: Exploring Dei Verbum by Fr. Ronald Witherup. You can read the book (not an overnight assignment) or you can read the review at and (please do) and then read my response.

Unlike what MSW says, Trent was not the most important council, Chalecedon was. It forever defines both what is Orthodox regarding God and what is not and put an end to people making it up as they go along (or tried to). As importantly, it established that Consensus (not really tradition - tradition proceded from Chalecedon, it did not precede it) was how we, as a Church, deal with questions of belief (it does not matter who is right, it is that we agree - because the truth is, we cannot be right). From what I understand, it did not deal with personal, especially pesonal sexual, morality - which we now know is best to deal with in natural law, but not natural law as the Curia would have us practice it. Additionally, on the subject of theolocigal revisions,

Academe did not exist in the same way at Chachedon. It exists now and its findings on those things known but not believed, mostly regarding myth that made it into the Bible to be taken as history or revelation (from Eden to Noah to the Exodus and Laws) have made the CDF's head spin for quite some time. Their condemnation of Modernism shows exactly how fallible the Magisterium can be, well as the attempts at the begining of Vatican II to ram through their view of the authority of revelation and tradition, which they claimed as much as their own as the realm of natural law. Pius XII let the floodgates on acaemic research stay open, which was probably why the CDF wanted them slammed shut at Vatican II. The Council would not let them. Indeed, if the Council wished to change any teaching on the beliefs of the Church, it is their right, not that of the CDF to stop them.

It is good that Fr. Witherup gave a paragraph by paragraph history - such a history prevents revisionism by those seeking a different ruberic than actually happened. That the document is meant to be for evangelization rather than policing theologians is a nice thought, but only experience can judge its practice.

The next chapters speak of the salvation dynamo. One wonders if the salvation history of revelation is still going on? From what I understand, there are some who think so and they may not wear Roman collars or red and purple cassocks. He then describes the types of inspriation (buy the book to read his chart), which he calls a pilgrim journey - meaning it is not static but is continuing. He also takes up the question of scripture v. tradition and the role of preservation in transmitting tradition, however there are growth in insight.

An epsitomologist would say that each generation in the Church has to own a doctrine or it dies, which means change is inevitable as well. The author goes on that God is the source of revelation (using tradition and scripture). Also interesting is the tension between scripture and tradition and the Magisterium. It is noted that the Church never says that any scripture can only mean certain things, and has only spoken to say what it cannot mean. Of course, at this very moment, new translations of scripture were taking place. The point is that the Holy Spirit is still speaking, and that we need to keep listening (to Her).

Witherup describes his theory of how the Scriptures are to be interpreted, with the Tenach as presenting salvation in a hidden matter (which is Christian arrogance, it is essentially for the Jews and those who seek their wisdom, history and myth - not necessarily in that order - Leviticus is now understood as coming from Babylonian rebi, not Moses - although the prophesies certainly did set up for the Messianic hysteria of turn of the millenium Judaism).

As for the Gospels, their source in the teaching of Jesus, the preaching of that teaching by the apostles and the storytelling of the Gospel writers essentially kills any claims that we must hang on each word in the same way forever, at the same time forever ending the practice of leaving the laity illiterate of scripture - of course, Vatican II follows previous efforts both within and without the Church to translate scripture accessibly - it could not have done otherwise. Indeed, in an about face, studying the scripture has become our new homework assignment - both for scholars and the liaty, which started much earlier with the institution of seminaries. The author highlights that study should follow historical criticism, among others, which I believe lessens the danger of proof texting - although on need only look at the work of the Organization for Marriage to know that it exists in the Catholic side as well. Fr. Ronald counsels against just that - as using the scriptures for apologetics on every point of teaching forms oppositional relationships, whichi is opposite of the goal of evangelization.

MSW wonders why an apolstolic constition that is so useful is so neglected - as the civil rights movement would say to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable (hoping that scriptural exegis should not necessarily jibe with upper west side or Georgetown cocktail parties - to which I respond - who in Georgetown is still having cocktail parties and why am I never invited!). I would suspect, however, that Curia has put this one aside because it does make so much sense and does not push their view that Catholic scholarship should be all about Catholic identity and apologetics and not a dialogue with both God and eachother. Dei Verbum is clearly not that.

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