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kindly disregard the gospel (the homilist regrets the clarity)

By Diogenes (articles ) | Aug 15, 2006

"The bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world," says Jesus in last Sunday's Gospel (John 6:41-51), but Andrew Greeley, PhD, isn't so easily taken in. He doesn't want you to be, either:

One must not take this passage as a description of an actual dialogue between Jesus and some of those who followed him. Rather it doubtless refers to a difficulty in St. John's community over the Eucharist and the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, a difficulty which has plagued the Church through it's history, mostly because have tried to reduce mystery to prose, to explain the inexplicable.

But, Professor, why is it that we MUST NOT take this passage as a description of an actual dialogue? You may find the doubt permissible, or probable, or comforting, but why is it imperative?

In certain respects Greeley puts us in mind of the trendy vicar in the Screwtape Letters "who has been so long engaged in watering down the faith to make it easier for supposedly incredulous and hard-headed congregation that it is now he who shocks his parishioners with his unbelief, not vice versa." But Greeley's also part of a larger tradition of homiletics that seems to take a perverse delight in distancing the faithful from the sacred text. He speaks about "St. John's community" with airtight pedagogic self-assurance, as if it were a solid thing like the Parthenon instead of a provisional academic conjecture. He implies that the Gospel is a bumbling attempt at polemical catechesis. Viewed by this lens it's Jesus who fades away and biblical scholarship (to which only the experts have the magic key) that takes on solidity.

The result, in terms of the faith-lives of ordinary Christians, is "amputation without compensation": the words of Christ have been taken away from them, but they are given nothing in their place. Could anyone be nourished by the kind of explanation Greeley offers? Yet to this generation of churchman it seems strangely urgent that we not feed on the Verbum Dei: "one must not take this passage" as true.

In the aggregate, are biblical scholars more trustworthy than the text they claim to expound? One's answer to this question varies according to one's judgment about these scholars' overall grasp of reality. Adrian Green-Armytage's well known intro to his John Who Saw (London: Faber & Faber, 1952) raises some interesting doubts on the subject:

There is a world -- I do not say a world in which all scholars live but one at any rate into which all of them sometimes stray, and which some of them seem permanently to inhabit -- which is not the world in which I live.

In my world, if The Times and The Telegraph both tell one story in somewhat different terms, nobody concludes that one of them must have copied the other, nor that the variations in the story have some esoteric significance. But in that world of which I am speaking this would be taken for granted. There, no story is ever derived from the facts but always from somebody else's version of the same story.

In my world, almost every book, except some of those produced by Government departments, is written by one author. In that world almost every book is produced by a committee, and some of them by a whole series of committees.

In my world, if I read that Mr. Churchill, in 1935, said that Europe was heading for a disastrous war, I applaud his foresight. In that world no prophecy, however vaguely worded, is ever made except after the fact.

In my world we say, "The first world-war took place in 1914–1918." In that world they say, "The world-war narrative took shape in the third decade of the twentieth century."

In my world men and women live for a considerable time -- seventy, eighty, even a hundred years -- and they are equipped with a thing called memory. In that world (it would appear) they come into being, write a book, and forthwith perish, all in a flash, and it is noted of them with astonishment that they "preserve traces of primitive tradition" about things which happened well within their own adult lifetime.

In ages when self-taught exegetes were keen to identify the Whore of Babylon with the pope or the Beast of the Apocalypse with Gustavus Adolphus, the Church's admonitions against private interpretation were viewed by her adversaries as unlawful enchainment of the Word of God. Today the polemical shoe is on the other foot, and the Church stands as a vindicator of the truth of the Bible against (programmatically agnostic) critics. Thus Dei Verbum 11: "Since everything asserted by the inspired authors or sacred writers must be held to be asserted by the Holy Spirit, it follows that the books of Scripture must be acknowledged as teaching solidly, faithfully and without error that truth which God wanted put into the sacred writings for the sake of our salvation." Note where the "musts" are attached. No mention of the Johannine community.

"One must not take this passage as a description of an actual dialogue ..." Greeley's alarm (amply shared by Thomas Gumbleton), stems from uneasiness about his own compromises with orthodox belief. If one believed what Greeley or Gumbleton believe about the Eucharist, one might well feel uneasy about being placed under the judgment of the Gospel, even according to the naive reading of the ordinary faithful. Better to preach the gospel of hermeneutical discouragement. "Don't be fooled, little flock, by the one-syllable words: YOU can't understand the Bible."

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Show 15 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: - Aug. 17, 2006 9:18 AM ET USA

    Greeley the Elder is little changed from Greeley the Young. Now as then, he seeks to be a part of the 'in crowd'. Pathetic then, pathetic now.

  • Posted by: Coco - Aug. 16, 2006 5:04 PM ET USA

    This reminds me of a homily we heard a few years ago. The priest told us that Jesus was most likely a vegetarian, in fact most of the Jews were. It was the Romans who ate meat. He gave mildly convincing explanations from the Bible. I scoffed in the car on the way home and my husband noted that the Jews sure were tending their sheep for a long time, waiting to feed those Romans. These homilists lie, but they always include enough truth to make the sheep wonder.

  • Posted by: Fr. William - Aug. 16, 2006 3:54 PM ET USA

    Once again "Fr." Greeley presents himself as knowing better than Jesus & His Church. Look at Greeley's own words: that this "doubtless" refers to the difficulty in Saint John's community (read: committee) over the Eucharist; & that it's a difficulty that has "plagued" the Church through its history. One can hear Greeley saying, "follow me, not Jesus." Greeley might do well to read the Catechism (#1322-1419, on the Eucharist), as well as all of Saint John's Gospel.

  • Posted by: callistus - Aug. 16, 2006 8:28 AM ET USA

    These men and women, who pervert and twist the texts to fit their own ideas about God, man, and the world, are modern gnostics who seem to claim a privileged insight which is denied to us ordinary souls. Their primary goal seems to be to make "shipwrecks of the faith of many" and to proclaim the bad news that Jesus is not who He said He is and that He did not actually say what He actually said and that He did not really do what He actually did. Read George Kelly on Raymond Brown.

  • Posted by: - Aug. 16, 2006 7:51 AM ET USA

    How odd that a PhD shouldn't know the difference between it's and its!!

  • Posted by: - Aug. 15, 2006 11:09 PM ET USA

    A sharp & faithful-Catholic friend characterized ‘religious’ like Greeley: “they make themselves the source of truth” by opposing the Father Who said “Listen to Him” and then opposing the Son who began His endless magisterium with “he who hears you hears Me”. To help young sheep defend PLAUSIBILITY of the Real Presence before others, point out that if one credits God w making a WHOLE universe, it’s no big deal to credit God w capability to disguise Himself on earth so that faith remains a choice

  • Posted by: - Aug. 15, 2006 9:10 PM ET USA

    The arrogance of this man, Greeley, is staggering.

  • Posted by: - Aug. 15, 2006 6:00 PM ET USA

    CINO "Catholic in name only."

  • Posted by: - Aug. 15, 2006 5:36 PM ET USA

    "Rather it doubtless refers ... " The only thing Andrew Greely, Ph.D. doesn't doubt, evidently, is that the Bible is to be read as bunk. BTW, I like the "self-taught exegetes" part.

  • Posted by: 123456 - Aug. 15, 2006 4:47 PM ET USA

    CINO types?

  • Posted by: - Aug. 15, 2006 4:05 PM ET USA

    The Gospel tract I hand out to any and all Catholics is Dei Verbum - I offer to go over it small page by small page (all 16 of them). It is an amazing document - so much content so concisely said and so ignored. At the parish level, I have never seen a parish sponsored bible study that adheres to the principles of Dei Verbum. Squandered riches! I would be glad to have Father Greeley enroll in my private Dei Verbum class.

  • Posted by: - Aug. 15, 2006 3:56 PM ET USA

    Sticker, I grew up in Baltimore and I can probably name the majority of clergy and laity in the room with you when that conference took place. How much longer will we be plagued by these charlatans?

  • Posted by: Pseudodionysius - Aug. 15, 2006 3:25 PM ET USA

    "herefore, following in the footsteps of the Council of Trent and of the First Vatican Council, this present council wishes to set forth authentic doctrine on divine revelation and how it is handed on, so that by hearing the message of salvation the whole world may believe, by believing it may hope, and by hoping it may love" -- Preface to Dei Verbum. Note the key garlic for ecclesiastical vampires (who wish to drain the blood from the sacrifice): Trent; Vatican I. God is Love.

  • Posted by: Lucius - Aug. 15, 2006 3:01 PM ET USA

    Add also this from Dei Verbum: "19. Holy Mother Church has firmly and with absolute constancy held, and continues to hold, that the four Gospels just named, whose historical character the Church unhesitatingly asserts, faithfully hand on what Jesus Christ, while living among men, really did and taught for their eternal salvation until the day He was taken up into heaven." I guess Fr. Greeley no longer believes this.

  • Posted by: - Aug. 15, 2006 2:58 PM ET USA

    Back in the mid eighties, I attended a conference of laity and clerics in Baltimore. Bishops and Priests of the Gumbleton - Greeley persuason abounded. We were instructed by various group leaders to, among other things, question Catholic biblical teachings, criticize the Pope, embrace Indian spirituality and de-emphasize the Rosary. So now this ancient smut peddler re-surfaces in the role of "Devil's advocate." The sad thing is so many CINO types follow these frauds like lemmings into the abyss.

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