The Father William Most Collection
Getting out of the Confusion
[Published electronically for use in classes taught by Fr. Most and for private theological study.]
"What can I believe? What should I believe? How can anyone possibly know?
There is a welter of proposals today by those who have the name of great scholars, as well as by the man in the pews.
For example: Was Jesus really born in Bethlehem, or was it in Nazareth? Did He really say many if any of the words the Gospels put in His mouth?
Also: we hear Elijah was assumed into heaven. But they say Mary was assumed? Many think the Elijah story is just legend. Is that right? Then how is it different from her Assumption?
It seems as though the lid is off. Once a person knows about the different ways of writing -- literary genres and theologoumena and such.Where is anything solid?
That lets people like Dominic Crossan wonder what if anything of the words attributed to Him in the Gospels is real? Perhaps there was no resurrection: He was given a shallow burial like any other criminal, and wild dogs dug up and ate His body.
Around the turn of the past century the Modernists played these games, and were condemned. Rome became very restrictive (disciplinary decrees) on writings of that kind, for people in general did not know how to work.
But even then the much maligned Pontifical Biblical Commission, chiefly 1905-15, gave some carefully worded replies. When many tried to claim Moses wrote the Pentateuch, they said Moses could have used secretaries, and checked their work. Later hands, inspired, might have added. things.
That is very broad, if one wants to hold onto Mosaic authorship. We know that author’s rights then were loose: :a later hand might add or change, keeping the same name on it. But as long as inspiration protects the final copy, all is well.
Really, the idea that Moses wrote all is not ridiculous: The old documentary theory of several authors is losing support even among leftists. And the Technion Institute in Israel fed the Hebrew text of Genesis into a computer to check style -- it reported one author for all of Genesis!
We might add: most of the early replies of the Commission were only on authorship - a historical matter, not a matter of faith. The present Biblical Commission has lost all its authority.
Vatican II has changed deleted none of the older rules. It has reaffirmed the great principles. In DV 10 it taught :"The task of authoritatively interpreting the word of God, whether written or handed on, has been entrusted exclusively to the living Magisterium of the Church, whose authority is exercised in he name of Jesus Christ." This means: that after doing our study with all the latest techniques, especially observing literary genres, the bottom line comes from the Magisterium. However, we must look at both the explicit teaching of the Church and at things given indirectly. Pius XII in his Scripture Encyclical said that there are few texts on which the Church has made an explicit decision. DV 11-12 adds that any proposed interpretation must line up with the whole body of the Church’s teaching, and with the fact that thee is one author for all of Scripture: the Holy Spirit. So if someone says - and they do say it! -that Mark 3 contradicts Luke, the view is ruled out. One wretched writer today said that our Lady is shown by Mark 3.20-21 to be "outside the sphere of salvation" at the time.
Was Jesus really virginally conceived? Many claim this idea was only a theologoumenon - that is: she was not physically a virgin. This is just a way of expressing her holiness. But Vatican II in LG 57 says that the birth of Jesus did not diminish but consecrated her virginal integrity. We note that word integrity - it is a physical word - it does not merely express spiritual holiness.
But, it will be objected: Vatican II did not give a solemn definition on this. True, but there are 4 levels of teaching - and three out of four are infallible.
Of course the definition given solemnly with great ceremony is infallible. But yet, Our Lord did not specify such ceremonies: He said "He who hears you, hears me." So whenever the Church presents something as definitely part of the faith, that is infallible. Vatican II added (LG 25): that even though individual bishops are not infallible yeti if they all agree among themselves and agree with the Pope in teaching something is definitely part of the faith - that is infallible. Of course if the Bishops are all together in a general council it can be done - but also in the day to day teaching of the Church, scattered throughout the world it can be done equally. For then it is also true: He who hears you hears me."
Also, if we think about it, we see that since the Pope by himself can speak for the whole Church, he too can make something infallible when he is teaching in his own official journal and settles a point then being debated in theology.
This is not a burden on us, but a comfort. If Christ’s Church speaks on a point needing to be settled in theology and all the Bishops speak in unison with each other and with the Pope, we also have an infallible assurance.
For example if we ask: Are there angels? Is there a purgatory? we know the Church for centuries has been telling us: Yes, these things are definitely part of the faith. And there are so many other things of the same sort. Did Jesus really rise from the dead? Many today deny it, but the Church has taught it from the beginning.
So did the Church teach a fundamentalistic interpretation of Genesis? Far from it. Most of the Fathers most of the time used allegory - this stands for this, and that for that. Yet even Augustine wrote we must not take crudely the passage in which God took clay and formed a man. Augustine said God has no hands. Again, John Chrysostom told us not to take crudely the episode of Eve being made from the rib of Adam. Pope John Paul II suggested - without imposing the view - Adam going to sleep stood for a return to the moment before Creation, so he could reemerge in his double unity as male and female. The same Pope suggests those chapters are of mythical genre--not fairytale, but using an ancient story to bring out things that really happened, chiefly: God made all things; in some special way He made the first human pair; He gave them some sort of command, which they violated, and fell from favor.
Was Our Lady really assumed into heaven bodily? We have even a solemn definition for it. But what about Elijah being taken up? We have no explicit statement of the Church on it, but Mal 2.23-24 said: "Behold I send you Elijah the prophet before the day of the Lord comes...to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with doom." The great day of the Lord is most real. And so the coming of Elijah before it is as real .Cf. Sirach 48.10.
Is there any "Gospel-truth"? Dominic Crossan, ex-priest professor at De Paul Univerity wrote that The Gospels of Matthrew and John simply lied in painting the Jews as guilty of His death, pressuring a reluctant Pilate. Dominic says that later disputes between Jews and Christians led to this life against the Jews.
That would be "retrojection" - presenting something as happening during the earthly life of Jesus that really came later in the century? Is such a notion of retrojection permitted? Yes, IF the words and actions reported as early really happened in the earthly life of Jesus. If not, they would be simply a lie. And there would be no gospel-truth left. It is obvious the Church has always taught otherwise, and Vatican II in DV 19 insists the Gospels do report the truth.
Would Dominic agree with Lutheran Pastor T. E. Mails The Nature of Heresy in Our Time (pp. 120-21, Hayfield, 1963)? "Heresy is to seek certainties.... there is no reason to take the position that any understandings we come to are so right they cannot be questioned." Thank heavens we who are not cafeteria Catholics have the Rock on which to stand, to keep us out of the shifting mud.
In contrast, Vatican II strengthens our confidence in the Holy Spirit who kept the Church from all false teachings and reaffirmed the principles by which He leads us into all truth.