Tuesday, October 28, 2008

English Bishop urges Vatican not to fear biblical criticism

The Bishop of Durham has urged the Roman Catholic Church not to fear Biblical criticism, telling the Synod of Bishops that historical critical scholarship was a tool that, properly used, was a servant to the church’s ministry of evangelization.

Gathered by Pope Benedict XVI under the theme of “The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church,” 253 bishops along with ecumenical guests and Vatican staffers are meeting at the Vatican to explore the church’s place in the modern world.

In his Oct 5 opening homily Benedict called for a re-evangelisation of Europe. “Nations that at one time were rich with vocations are now losing their identity, under the deleterious and destructive influence of a certain modern culture,” he said.

There were those, he said, who have “decided that God is dead” and have declared themselves to be god, “taking themselves to be the singular artificers of their destiny, the absolute lord of the world.”

Yet by becoming the “sole measure of himself” and the source of his own salvation, is man “truly more happy? Does he truly become free?” the Pope asked.

The church’s duty was to proclaim “that evil and death do not have the last word, but Christ is the victor in the end. Always!”

To carry out this task, the church’s “primary and fundamental” mission was to proclaim the Gospel.

Citing Jerome, Benedict said: “Whoever does not know the Scriptures does not know the power of God nor his wisdom. Ignoring the Scriptures means ignoring Christ.”

According to reports released by the synod, the bishops offered a mixed view of the role of historical-critical scholarship in informing church teaching. Archbishop Terrence Prendergast of Ottawa suggested that a “loss of confidence among Catholics that scripture truly communicates God’s revelation” may be related to “the influence of modern Biblical scholarship on preaching.”

However, on Oct 14 Benedict urged the bishops to work upon ways of integrating Biblical scholarship with theology.

The Vatican Information Service (VIS) reported that "starting from the consideration of the work for his book Jesus of Nazareth, the Holy Father dwelt upon the fundamental criteria of Biblical exegesis, upon the dangers of a secularized and positivistic approach to the Sacred Scriptures and upon the need for a closer relationship between exegesis and theology."

In his Oct 15 intervention, the Rt Rev N.T. Wright, the Anglican observer to the synod, said the challenges of “secularism and relativism” alongside the problems raised by “postmodernity” faced by the churches had bred an “anxiety” that the “Bible might tell us unwelcome things,” and that “its message might be stifled.” He urged a “balanced” fourfold reading of scripture founded upon the heart, (Lectio Divina, liturgical reading), mind (historical/critical study), soul (church life, tradition, teaching) and strength (mission, kingdom of God).”

“In particular, we need fresh mission-oriented engagement with our own culture,” Dr Wright said, according to notes released by the VIS. As Paul confronted paganism “so must we. In particular, we must engage critically with the tools and methods of historical-critical scholarship themselves,” he said.

Dr Wright said the “climax” of the canon of Scripture “is Jesus Christ, especially his cross and resurrection. These events are not only salvific, they provide a hermeneutical principle, related to the Jewish tradition of 'critique from within'.”

Drawing upon the speech of Cardinal Ivan Dias to the Bishops at the 2008 Lambeth Conference, Dr Wright said the church should take Mary as its model and embody “fiat (mind), magnificat (strength), conservabat (heart) --- but also stabat, waiting patiently in the soul, the tradition and expectation of the church, for the new, unexpected and perhaps unwelcome, but yet saving, revelation,” he said.

Dr Wright’s comments found support from several bishops. Bishop Friedhelm Hofmann of Würzburg said the German-speaking bishops group was aware of “a certain fear about the historical-critical method.” Such fears could “endanger the merits and fruits of scientific exegesis.”

The spiritual understanding of Scripture must start with historical-critical exegesis as its “premise,” Bishop Hofmann said.

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(Source: RI)

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