I’ll be on Deep in Scripture on EWTN radio at 2pm EST today. We will be discussing Acts 8:26-40. I believe a video stream will also be available on their website. Be sure to tune in!
Why We Were Created
a blog by Eric Sammons
I’ll be on Deep in Scripture on EWTN radio at 2pm EST today. We will be discussing Acts 8:26-40. I believe a video stream will also be available on their website. Be sure to tune in!
Last Sunday, one of my friends, Dr. Nathan Schmiedicke, was a guest on Fr. Benedict Groeschel’s TV show and they discussed a topic dear to my heart: how Catholics read the Bible. Nathan took as his starting point a question asked by one of his former professors: When did we stop reading the Scriptures like the Fathers read them?
When you have time, watch the entire show – it is well worth it.
In honor of the 4th of July, I want to share with you an interview with a top American history scholar, Dr. Raymond Fitzmyer:
Divine Life: Happy 4th of July! What are you doing to celebrate the birthday of our country?
Raymond Fitzmyer: Well, of course nothing really happened on July 4th, 1776 – it is just a date the early American community later chose to represent their feelings of tolerance towards others.
DL: So I guess you are not doing fireworks?
RF: No, I’ll just be listening to NPR as I usually do most evenings.
DL: So you are an expert on the Declaration of Independence. What do you think is the greatest strength of Jefferson’s famous work?
RF: First of all, Thomas Jefferson didn’t write the Declaration of Independence. It was written by the Jeffersonian community over the span of about 50 years and didn’t take its final form until about 1830 CE. In fact, some of the latest critical scholarship is even questioning if there ever was such a person as “Thomas Jefferson”. Most likely, the figure of Jefferson simply represented the early American community’s desire to be tolerant of England.
DL: Well, what do you think is the greatest strength of the “Jeffersonian community’s” famous work?
RF: The Declaration of Independence was formed in an ancient culture, so of course it contains all the biases and antiquated notions of that ancient culture. For example, it talks about “truths” being “self-evident”, which we all today know is simply not true. Truths are based on our perceptions, and what is true for you might not be true for me, except of course the truth of the statement I just made, which is always true. We now understand that nothing is “self-evident” to anyone, except for the self-evidence that there is nothing self-evident. Furthermore, the Declaration speaks about a reliance on “Divine Providence”, which reflects the superstitious culture in which the early Americans lived. We know today that our only reliance is on government, not some figure in the sky looking out for us.
DL: So, is there anything you actually like about the Declaration of Independence?
RF: Of course, of course! After all, I’ve spent my whole academic career studying it! I think the Declaration of Independence is a fine example of pre-modern American literature.
DL: That’s it?
RF: Well, we must remember that humankind has advanced greatly since the time of the first Americans, and there is very little we can learn from those primitive peoples. But their writings do make for fine symposium topics as well as good subjects for journal publications.
DL: Thank you for your time, Dr. Fitzmyer. Is there anything else you’d like to add?
RF: Yes, I’d like to tell everyone that I have a new book coming out about the Constitution. In this book, I prove that the Constitution actually wasn’t completed in its final redacted form until after the Civil War and was the result of the Northern community’s desire to justify their actions towards the South. It’s sure to get me on TV…I mean, it’s sure to advance American scholarship greatly.
Today is the feast of St. Irenaeus, the 2nd century bishop of Lyons and the first great Western theologian of the Church. St. Irenaeus had to defend and explain the Faith in the face of many attacks, both internally and externally.
One of the greatest issues facing the 2nd century Church was how to unify the various apostolic traditions within the Church. There were some who felt that one or another particular apostle was the “true” apostle who was most faithful to Christ’s teachings and that only he should be followed. For example, the heretic Marcion in the middle of the 2nd century taught that only St. Paul was to be trusted, and that the other apostles had diverged from the deposit of faith. Marcion even went so far as to create a biblical canon that only included Paul’s letters and the Gospel of Luke, which of course was written by Paul’s faithful companion.
But the tension between the followers of the various apostles occurred within the Church as well. We see it in St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, when the apostle scolds the Corinthian Christians for claiming to be followers of Apollos or of Paul (1 Cor. 3:4). This continued in the 2nd century with the Quartodeciman controversy. This was the debate between the Church of Rome and the Churches in Asia Minor over the dating of Easter. The Church of Rome, following the Petrine example, always celebrated Easter on a Sunday. But in Asia Minor, Easter was celebrated according to the date of Passover on the Jewish calendar, even if it was not a Sunday, and this was a practice they inherited from John the Apostle. Each was an apostolic practice, and the debate threatened to throw the Church into its first schism.
It is in this environment that St. Irenaeus served as bishop. The saint was a firm defender of apostolic diversity – that the Church should assimilate and accept all legitimate apostolic practices and teachings. He convinced the Pope not to excommunicate the Christians in Asia Minor over the dating of Easter, arguing that it was not a matter over which the Church should be split. He also advocated the acceptance of the four Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, rather than only accepting one Gospel or attempting to harmonize the four into one single writing. As he writes in his great work, Against the Heresies,
For, after our Lord rose from the dead, [the apostles] were invested with power from on high when the Holy Spirit came down [upon them], were filled from all [His gifts], and had perfect knowledge: they departed to the ends of the earth, preaching the glad tidings of the good things [sent] from God to us, and proclaiming the peace of heaven to men, who indeed do all equally and individually possess the Gospel of God. Matthew also issued a written Gospel among the Hebrews in their own dialect, while Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome, and laying the foundations of the Church. After their departure, Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, did also hand down to us in writing what had been preached by Peter. Luke also, the companion of Paul, recorded in a book the Gospel preached by him. Afterwards, John, the disciple of the Lord, who also had leaned upon His breast, did himself publish a Gospel during his residence at Ephesus in Asia. (Against Heresies, Book III, Chapter 1)
As you can see, St. Irenaeus accepted each Gospel as apostolic and each one as a legitimate retelling of the story of Jesus. In many ways, it would be easier to only accept one apostolic strain or to harmonize them into a single composition. But this would not be faithful to the fullness of the Gospel message. Each written Gospel – and each apostolic witness – tells us something different about God’s plan of salvation in Christ, and the Church would be much poorer if not for the work of men like St. Irenaeus to preserve the totality of the apostolic preaching.
St. Irenaeus, pray for us!
Today we live in a biblically illiterate culture. Vast numbers of people think that all Jesus taught about was “tolerance” and they couldn’t tell you if Moses or David lived first. Yet at the same time our culture still highly respects the Bible. We recognize it as a holy book, and believe that it contains the answers to many of life’s most difficult questions. In many ways this is a schizophrenic attitude: if we respect the book, why don’t we read and study it more? Or, alternatively, if we can’t bother to take the time to read and study the Bible, why treat it with respect?
The most serious danger of these contradictory attitudes is the power of Biblical “experts.” Anyone who has a semblance of knowledge of the Bible is exalted as an expert and people flock to them to find out what the Bible “really says.” In today’s world, there are two extremes of these “experts”: skeptical scholars and Biblical fundamentalists.
Skeptical scholars are those who hold everything in the Bible in suspicion. Everything from who wrote the various books of the Bible to when they were written to what they contain is attacked and the assumption is that the traditional answers to these questions are most likely wrong. Skeptical scholars flaunt their knowledge of the Bible to lure unsuspecting students and readers of their books to question everything the Bible says, until finally their followers dismiss even the most basic details of the Biblical accounts.
An example of this type of scholar is Bart Ehrman, who I profiled recently on this blog. Ehrman claims that the Bible is full of errors, lies, and forgeries. Nothing in its pages can be trusted. And as a skeptical scholar, Ehrman gets plenty of air time from a fawning press. The media knows that many people are Biblically illiterate yet respect the Bible, so skeptical scholars like Ehrman are great at generating ratings.
The other extreme of Biblical “experts” are the Biblical fundamentalists. These are the Protestant Christians who can quote chapter and verse at the drop of a hat, yet have interpretations which often seriously contradict Catholic teaching. Biblical fundamentalists can amass a large following of people who are Biblically illiterate yet respect the Bible. These followers know the Bible is important, and fundamentalists give them answers that appear clear and simple.
We’ve seen an example of this type of Bible “expert” in the news recently with the failed predictions of Harold Camping, who famously thought the Rapture would happen on May 21st, 2011. Camping attracted many who realized how important the Bible is, yet didn’t know how to properly interpret it.
It is in this environment today that the Church must navigate between the Scylla of skeptical scholarship and the Charybdis of Biblical fundamentalism. On the one hand, the Church recognizes the importance of true scholarship. Pope Benedict has been leading the way for years in criticizing the skeptical presuppositions of many Biblical scholars – accepting many of the historical critical methods employed but rejecting the anthropomorphic and anti-supernatural assumptions that many scholars bring to their studies. On the other hand, the Church also recognizes and accepts the deep reverence Biblical fundamentalists have for the written Word of God, and the importance of it for leading people closer to our Lord. Yet the Church rejects the literalistic methods most fundamentalists employ.
The biggest fallacy both sets of “experts” fall into is separating the Scriptures from the context of the Church. The Bible is a book of the Church, written by the Church for the Church. When we remove it from that context, we are prone to flights of fancy, whether it be rejecting all stories of the supernatural as “myths” or forcing the text to fit our preconceived theological theories. Either way, we become our own magisterium, authoritatively determining what the Scriptures say, instead of letting Christ’s Church – which has the protection and guidance of the Holy Spirit – interpret it within the living tradition of the Church.
This past Tuesday I spoke at a Theology on Tap on the topic: “Scripture and the Liturgy: How our participation in the Liturgy deepens our knowledge of the Bible”. Below is a 4-part video of my talk (the beginning of the first video is missing a few moments where I mention earning my Master’s 17 years after starting the program):
The enfant terrible of the Biblical scholarship world, former Evangelical-turned-skeptic Bart Ehrman, is at it again. Now he is hawking a book which claims that much, if not most, of the New Testament is made up of “forgeries”:
The Bible might be the best-selling book in history, but it may also be full of lies. At least, that’s the claim being made by biblical scholar and former evangelical Christian, Bart Ehrman, in a new book titled, “Forged: Writing in the Name of God — Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are.”
According to Ehrman, at least 11 of the 27 New Testament books are forgeries, while only seven of the 13 epistles attributed to Paul were probably written by him. Moreover, none of the writings attributed to the Apostle Peter could have been written by him, and even the authenticity of the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and John can be questioned.
This is the type of claim that gets the media all in a lather, but any serious look into the claim shows it is more full of holes than Swiss cheese or the Chicago Cubs defense. Let’s take a closer look at some of Ehrman’s claims:
“The Bible not only contains untruths of accidental mistakes. It also contains what almost anyone today would call lies,” writes Ehrman, who is also currently a professor of religious studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
Okay, we already have one problem here: Ehrman says, “what almost anyone today would call lies”. But we should not judge ancient writings by today’s standards, but by the standards of the times. So if it was common for a writing to be done in someone else’s name, and everyone knew this, then that practice would not necessarily be a “lie”. This is a minor point to the overall issue, but it is an important one – we judge things based on their own context, not based on later cultural norms and practices.
Ehrman builds his case by noting scores of inconsistencies in the writing styles among authors of the New Testament. Discrepancies in the language and content among books attributed to Paul are particularly glaring. For example, Ehrman’s analysis shows that the text in the book of Ephesians, which has been attributed to Paul, is filled with long Greek sentences, which is unlike the style found in many of Paul’s confirmed writings. The content of Ephesians also doesn’t seem to jive with what is known about Paul’s own thought, says Ehrman, and sounds more like something written to conform to the Ephesians.
This is one of my pet peeves – scholars today judging whether or not Paul really wrote something based on whether the scholar thinks it jives with their conception of Paul. There are two points to Ehrman’s critique here: writing style and theological consistency. Let’s consider each one in turn:
Writing Style: Although the letters attributed to Paul make up the bulk of the New Testament, we need to remember just how little of Paul’s writings we have. All we have are a maximum of 13 short letters he wrote over a period spanning a dozen years (assuming for the moment that Paul actually wrote all the letters attributed to him). From this, we are supposed to know all the details of his writing style? Furthermore, is Paul’s writing style stagnant, or can it not evolve over time? Consider two of my own writings – a paper I wrote on Catholic Scripture Interpretation back in the mid-90′s and my book Who is Jesus Christ? I’m willing to be that some future scholar 2,000 years from now would not be able to conclusively prove that the same person wrote them.
Theological Consistency: Ehrman’s claim that the content of Ephesians “doesn’t seem to jive with what is known about Paul’s own thought” is rich. How do we know what is “Paul’s own thought”? If some of these letters could be forgeries, how do we know for sure which ones are legit and which are not? Perhaps Romans was not written by Paul but Ephesians is? Furthermore, what Ehrman really means is that Ephesians doesn’t jive with his interpretation of Paul’s thought. Considering the diversity of theories about what Paul “really meant,” it seems to me that there is more consistency between Romans and Ephesians than between the scholars who follow him. Finally, we have so little of Paul’s writings that one cannot construct his complete theology from just his letters. He was writing each letter for specific purposes, and so each one contains only parts of his overall theology. Scholars for too long have assumed they knew all of Paul’s thoughts from a very small group of letters.
Moving on, Ehrman makes a claim next that only an idiot or a PhD* could make:
Meanwhile, Ehrman claims that the authenticity of any book attributed to Peter should be doubted since Peter was, like just about every other fisherman raised in rural Palestine at the time, most certainly illiterate.
I really don’t know how he can say this with a straight face, and how a reporter can report it at face value. There are two really obvious flaws in this specious argument. First, Peter did not remain a fisherman raised in rural Palestine. As the most reliable history tells us, he became the prime spokesman for the fledgling Christian Faith and ended up traveling throughout the Empire, eventually settling in the hub of culture and learning of the time, Rome. Does Ehrman really think that over the course of forty years with such extensive contact with others, that Peter could not have learned how to read and write? Perhaps if he had a PhD that might not have been possible, but it probably would not have been too difficult for most people.
Secondly, even if Peter didn’t bother to learn to read and write, that doesn’t mean that his letters are “forgeries”. Has Ehrman never heard of dictation to a secretary? We know that at least some of Paul’s letters are dictated, so why can’t Peter’s be as well? One does not need to be literate to talk, after all. In fact, many believe that the 1st Letter of St. Peter was originally a homily of Peter’s that was turned into a letter. This of course does not make it a “forgery”.
(Also, we should not assume that a fisherman raised in rural Palestine was necessarily raised illiterate. The Jewish people highly prized literacy, so there is a decent chance that Peter in fact learned to read and write at an early age).
Ehrman’s “proofs” of forgery don’t get any better:
So the question remains: Who did write these books and why did they attempt to conceal their identities? Ehrman points out that early Christian sects, struggling to legitimize themselves, would have had plenty of motivation to fabricate their religious texts.“If your name was Jehoshaphat and no one had any idea who you were, you could not very well sign your own name to the book,” said Ehrman. “No one would take the Gospel of Jehoshaphat seriously. If you wanted someone to read it, you called yourself Peter. Or Thomas. Or James. In other words, you lied about who you really were.”
*Note: Nothing in this post is meant to denigrate PhD’s. Some of my best friends are PhD’s. Some of them even have common sense. But the evidence is clear that only PhD’s are constitutionally able to make such silly claims with a straight face. Must be something that happens to them during the dissertation process.
For everyone in the Washington, DC area, I’ll be speaking at a Theology on Tap for the Diocese of Arlington next Monday. If you’re able to stop by, I’d love to say hello! Here are the details:
Topic: Defending Catholic Biblical Hermenuetics
Date: Monday, 5/2/2011
Location: Pat Troy’s Ireland’s Own
111 N. Pitt Street
Alexandria, VA 22314
Hope to see you there!
John, a cradle Catholic, has lukewarmly practiced his faith for his whole life. However, he has begun to realize that there is more to this life than earthly things, and so he begins to re-engage in his practice of Catholicism. Perhaps he begins to watch EWTN or read a Scott Hahn book or listen to a talk by Patrick Madrid. His enthusiasm for the Church and our Lord increases and he goes out and buys a Catholic Bible so that he can draw closer to Christ in the Sacred Scriptures. He knows reading the Bible regularly is important, but because he has no real biblical training, he depends on the footnotes of his Bible to help him to understand what it means.
But then he notices that the footnotes constantly question the veracity of biblical accounts, imply that certain Catholic beliefs are not really biblical, and in general do everything they can to question the inerrancy of the Bible. At this point, John doesn’t know who to trust or what to make of the Bible.
How often has this scene, or something quite like it, played out in the past few decades?
Why is it that the footnotes in most Catholic Bibles are so bad? Instead of bolstering our love for the Scriptures, they seem to want to denigrate it. There are a variety of reasons, but I think much of the problem lies in two fundamental presuppositions most Scripture scholars (who write the footnotes) have, presuppositions that are founded on Enlightenment thinking and are rarely questioned:
1) Religious thought develops in a strictly linear fashion
One of the basic assumptions of Enlightenment thinking is that everything develops – biological life, political thought – and that this development always goes from simple to more complex. This is one of the reasons so many moderns arrogantly look down on previous generations – we are clearly more developed in every way than our forefathers, so we have little to learn from them. This strict development is also assumed for religious thought – what men and women believe today is necessarily more advanced than what they believed centuries ago.
This idea impacts biblical studies in that it is assumed that any text that appears to be more simple MUST chronologically precede a text that is more advanced. Thus the Gospel of Mark MUST come before any other Gospel, because it is supposedly more “simple”. But more importantly, this means that Paul’s writings, which came over 20 years after the death of Christ, MUST involve some advancement from the original teachings of Jesus.
But there is no evidence that religious thought develops in a strictly linear fashion, from simple to more complex. In fact, the history of religious thought shows that it is dominated by certain bright lights which are far ahead of their times and which takes many years – even decades and centuries – to process. For example, the writings of St. Paul are far more advanced than those of St. Clement of Rome, who lived after Paul, and the writings of St. John are far more advanced than those of St. Ignatius of Antioch, who lived after the beloved disciple. The same could be said in comparing Paul, Augustine and Aquinas – in different ways each of the three is more advanced than the other two – there is no strict line which advances from Paul to Augustine to Aquinas.
And of course Jesus is the brightest light of them all. Instead of seeing later religious thinkers as more advanced than Jesus, we should instead realize that he was way ahead of his time, and future thinkers had to digest what he preached and that this takes centuries (and actually will never end).
2) There is a fundamental disconnect between an event and its later presentation
Rudolf Bultmann was one of the most influential biblical scholars of the early 20th century. One of his main assumptions, which was based on Enlightenment thinking, was that historical events had to be separated from their later written presentation. Thus the event of Christ healing a sick person is fundamentally different from Matthew or Mark or Luke or John writing about it. In other words, we can’t trust that the written presentation really reflects what actually happened.
Furthermore, there is a disconnect between the written presentation and later interpretation. So the Church’s interpretation of a passage is not directly linked to the written word, but is instead something that must be disconnected from it and studied in isolation from the text itself.
This leads to setting up the Scripture scholar as the final arbiter of “what really happened”. Only they can discover what in a text is later embellishment or interpretation and what reflects the actual historical event. For some scholars, this means that we can never know what really happened, but for others it allows them to make the biblical text a playground in which they dissect the text so that it says what they want it to say.
The problem with both of these presuppositions is that they neglect the role of the Holy Spirit. As Catholics, we believe that our understanding of doctrine does develop over time, but this development is not some linear, mathematical process which is simply guided by human reason. The Holy Spirit guides the Church throughout time, and He at times inspires certain men or women with insights which defy a simple linear development. So the whole idea of “simple to complex” is not applicable to the development of Christian doctrine.
Furthermore, the Holy Spirit inspires the presentation of the events as found in the Sacred Scriptures and then later guides the Church in her interpretation of those writings. When Matthew was writing about the events of Jesus’ life in his Gospel, he was assisted by the Holy Spirit so that those events were accurately depicted (even if theologically presented). Likewise, when the Church reads Matthew’s Gospel and interprets it, the Holy Spirit ensures that the Magisterium does not err in its official interpretation.
Unfortunately, most Bible editors – and especially editors of Catholic Bibles – do not recognize the powerful role of the Holy Spirit but instead make false presuppositions which influence their understanding of the Sacred Text. If you want to see how a scholar approaches the Scriptures without these false presuppositions, and within the mind of the Church, there is no better place to start than Pope Benedict’s Jesus of Nazareth series.
I recently had two articles published on the topic of Catholics and the Bible:
From Catholic Online: Catholics and the Bible: Is the Bible the Only Source of Christian Beliefs? In which I discuss the problem of sola scriptura.
From OSV Newsweekly: A Catholic Approach to the Bible. In which I delve into Verbum Domini, the pope’s recent apostolic exhortation on the role of the Bible in the Church.
Check them out!
Update: OSV has graciously made my article available without a subscription; I have updated the link accordingly. But get a subscription to OSV Newsweekly anyway!
This past weekend I had a good friend from Ohio and his family stay at my place for the March for Life. He is Presbyterian, but they are committed pro-lifers and devout Christians. At one point we were talking about deacons in the Catholic Church and the difference between transitional deacons and permanent deacons. This then led to a discussion of the requirement of celibacy for priests and bishops (and transitional deacons) in the Catholic Church. Of course, this passage from 1 Timothy came up:
The saying is sure: If any one aspires to the office of bishop, he desires a noble task.
Now a bishop must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, sensible, dignified, hospitable, an apt teacher, no drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, and no lover of money. He must manage his own household well, keeping his children submissive and respectful in every way; for if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how can he care for God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may be puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil; moreover he must be well thought of by outsiders, or he may fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.
Deacons likewise must be serious, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for gain; they must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. And let them also be tested first; then if they prove themselves blameless let them serve as deacons. The women likewise must be serious, no slanderers, but temperate, faithful in all things. Let deacons be the husband of one wife, and let them manage their children and their households well; for those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith which is in Christ Jesus.
(1 Timothy 3:1-13 emphasis added)
My Presbyterian friend interprets this passage to mean that a pastor or other person in church leadership must have a wife and children in order to be eligible for his position. Only when a man has proven to be able to “manage his own household” can he be trusted to manage church affairs. Of course, this interpretation clashes with the Roman Catholic practice of only ordaining unmarried men to the priesthood and episcopacy. So is the Church in violation of Scripture? I thought today, the feast of Sts. Timothy and Titus, would be a good time to address this issue.
Before getting to the point at hand, note that Paul does not mention priests in this passage. Why is that? A background of the leadership structure of the 1st century Church is helpful. During Paul’s time, there were three categories of leaders in the Church – apostle, bishop (or “overseer”) and deacon.
The office of apostle was reserved only for those people who had seen the risen Lord directly and had a special mission to tell others about it. This office, by its very nature, could only exist temporarily in the Church, for once all those who had directly witnessed the Risen Christ had died, there was no pool of qualified applicants available. Paul, obviously, was an apostle.
Bishops were appointed by the apostles to lead local churches. Their primary job was to pass on the Faith handed on by the apostles and to be the head of the local church. When a bishop died, another was appointed to take his place (and was ordained by other nearby bishops).
Deacons were appointed by their local bishops to help serve their local church. These men would assist at Mass and would help the poor in the area.
Note that there are no priests in this structure. The simple reason for this is that there was no need for them yet. Local churches were small enough that one bishop could celebrate the Mass which everyone could attend. Basically a bishop was both a bishop and a pastor. Over time, the churches grew and grew and eventually (although no one knows exactly when), men were needed who were not bishops but could celebrate the Mass when a bishop was not available. Eventually these men would become vital parts of the hierarchy, although their requirement for celibacy would differ between East and West. I think everyone would agree, however, that Paul’s advice to Timothy would apply to priests as well as bishops and deacons.
But back to the point at hand. Did bishops (and deacons) have to be married, according to Paul?
First – and most important – Paul himself was not married. If a bishop was required to be married in order to be qualified for church leadership, how could an apostle like Paul – who was higher in the hierarchy than a bishop – be qualified as an unmarried man? Tradition also holds that John the apostle was unmarried (as well as many of the other apostles), so clearly being married was not a requirement for being a leader in the Church.
Secondly, very, very early in tradition (so early we don’t know when it started), bishops were assumed to be celibate. Although you find some married bishops in the 3rd and 4th centuries, most evidence suggests that they practiced complete continence after their episcopal consecration. If Paul demanded that all bishops be married, why did the Church so quickly require her bishops to be unmarried (or at least completely celibate)? We have no evidence that there was any serious debate about this issue at the time, so clearly no Christians believed Paul was making such an argument. Did they just all have a huge blind spot, or perhaps did Paul not mean that all bishops must be married?
Finally, there is the example of Jesus himself. If being married and having kids is so important to church leadership, why didn’t Jesus get married and have children? After all, he is the true head of the Church, and all church leaders are to imitate him in their ministry.
Ultimately what Paul is saying in this passage is that no one should be appointed to church leadership who has not led a publicly upstanding lifestyle up to this point. If a man being considered for the office of bishop is married, then he had better have a solid marriage and good children. If he is not married, then his life up to now must similarly be upstanding and virtuous. Picking someone who has not proven that he can manage his household – whether that household contains one member or ten – is a recipe for disaster. Let us pray that the Church continues to abide by Paul’s advice and only selects such men for the offices of bishop, priest and deacon.
Sts. Timothy and Titus, pray for us!
Over at Catholic Exchange I have a two-part article on Verbum Domini, the pope’s recent letter on the Scriptures:
Check it out!
If you want to be an informed Catholic (and why would you not?), then there are two books that must be read and understood: the Bible and the Catechism. However, neither of these books is an “easy read” – both total hundreds of pages and touch on difficult and complex subjects. Because of this intimidation factor, many people don’t know where to start and so don’t start.
Fortunately, the Coming Home Network has devised a plan to read both the Bible and the Catechism in a year. It can be found here:
As the Plan states:
The Catholic Church has always venerated the divine Scriptures, and teaches that “Sacred Scripture is the speech of God as it is put down in writing under the breath of the Holy Spirit.” She also, “forcefully and speciﬁcally exhorts all the Christian faithful to learn ‘the surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ’ (Phil. 3.8) by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures. ‘Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.’” (From the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, nos. 9, 21, and 25)
Many of us today do not know our faith well. But thanks to the loving initiative of Pope John Paul II and the Bishops of our Church, we now have a universal Catechism which explains what Catholics are to believe in a format that is easy to read and addresses current issues.
By making a commitment of only twenty to thirty minutes a day, you can prayerfully read through the entire Bible and/or Catechism in one year! Use whatever Bible translation you like that contains the entire Canon of Scripture. This guide is divided by month, but you can start at any time.
One of the greatest aspects of the Gospels is their striking realism. Reading the Evangelists’ accounts of the life of Jesus is like taking a step back in time and immersing yourself in the life of Jesus and his closest followers. One of the most striking features is how the various characters are depicted – no one is a cardboard cutout; instead each person is shown for the unique personality he or she is.
We see this especially in the depictions of the apostles: these are not cult-like drones who are identical in their reactions and personalities. They are each unique persons who follow Christ for different reasons,with different intensities and from different backgrounds. But none is more unique than the “beloved disciple” John, whose feast we celebrate today. He is unique among apostles in a variety of ways:
Each and every follower of Christ is an individual child of God who will follow the Lord in a unique way. Although there are general guidelines we all will follow (prayer, the sacraments, etc.), we must always be careful not to force other disciples of Christ into a man-made box. Instead, we should all find our own unique path to discipleship within Christ’s body, the Church.
St. John, apostle and evangelist, pray for us!
Here are some of my favorite quotes from Verbum Domini:
We can deepen our relationship with the word of God only within the “we” of the Church (VD 4).
The realist is the one who recognizes in the word of God the foundation of all things (VD 10).
Just as the word of God comes to us in the body of Christ, in his Eucharistic body and in the body of the Scriptures, through the working of the Holy Spirit, so too it can only be truly received and understood through the same Spirit (VD 16).
As the word of God became flesh by the power of the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary, so sacred Scripture is born from the womb of the Church by the power of the same Spirit (VD 19).
In the dynamic of Christian revelation, silence appears as an important expression of the word of God (VD 21).
The Bible is the Church’s book, and its essential place in the Church’s life gives rise to its genuine interpretation (VD 29).
Approaches to the sacred text that prescind from faith might suggest interesting elements on the level of textual structure and form, but would inevitably prove merely preliminary and structurally incomplete efforts (VD 30).
The person of Christ gives unity to all the “Scriptures” in relation to the one “Word” (VD 39).
The “literalism” championed by the fundamentalist approach actually represents a betrayal of both the literal and the spiritual sense, and opens the way to various forms of manipulation, as, for example, by disseminating anti-ecclesial interpretations of the Scriptures (VD 44).
The most profound interpretation of Scripture comes precisely from those who let themselves be shaped by the word of God through listening, reading and assiduous meditation (VD 48).
Holiness in the Church constitutes an interpretation of Scripture which cannot be overlooked. The Holy Spirit who inspired the sacred authors is the same Spirit who impels the saints to offer their lives for the Gospel (VD 49).
A faith-filled understanding of sacred Scripture must always refer back to the liturgy (VD 52).
Word and Eucharist are so deeply bound together that we cannot understand one without the other: the word of God sacramentally takes flesh in the event of the Eucharist (VD 55).
Ours is not an age which fosters recollection; at times one has the impression that people are afraid of detaching themselves, even for a moment, from the mass media. For this reason, it is necessary nowadays that the People of God be educated in the value of silence…Only in silence can the word of God find a home in us, as it did in Mary, woman of the word and, inseparably, woman of silence (VD 66).
Jesus of Nazareth is, so to speak, the “exegete” of the God whom “no one has ever seen” (VD 90).
[The proclamation of the word of God] is not a matter of preaching a word of consolation, but rather a word which disrupts, which calls to conversion and which opens the way to an encounter with the one through whom a new humanity flowers (VD 93).
We need to help young people to gain confidence and familiarity with sacred Scripture so it can become a compass pointing out the path to follow (VD 104).
The proclamation of the word creates communion and brings about joy (VD 123).