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Catholic Dictionary




As a broad discipline, it studies the literary structure of historical documents that preserve an earlier tradition. Its basic assumption is that the earlier, oral use of the tradition shaped the material and resulted in a variety of literary forms found in the final written record. A critical study of these forms sheds light on the life and thinking of the people who preserved the tradition. Applied to the Bible, form criticism mistakenly assumes that the native force behind Christian tradition in the early Church was not a desire to preserve the memory of what Jesus had preached and done, but was a need to serve the religious fervor of a new community. Such necessity would tend to obscure and embellish, if not distort the facts to meet the needs of an idealistic faith.