All posts tagged: Bible

Reading the Writing in the Dirt

How do you read it? This question, posed to Jesus repeatedly throughout the Gospels, reminds us that interpretation of God’s Law was fundamental to Jesus’s life as a 1st century Jewish rabbi. It remains important today in the Church and no less controversial, as could be seen from the difficult questions on canon law and scriptural interpretation which have rocked the Catholic Church in the past years. Many vexed questions beat at the heart of these ecclesial disputes, but surely the question of how to interpret the Scriptures and ecclesial law in a way that respects both God’s justice and mercy reverberates beneath them all. As we turn inward for self-examination this Lent and seek to find God’s justice and mercy in our own lives too, the question of interpretation becomes personally paramount. To find our way, we can do no better in reflecting on this than to look at how Jesus himself held together the requirements for both justice and mercy in the interpretation of God’s Law. Neither can be omitted. As Pope Francis …

The Clear Message of Christus Vivit

On the feast of the Annunciation, Pope Francis signed his most recent Apostolic Exhortation, Christus Vivit, a document addressed to young people and to the entire people of God. It is a response to the recent Synod on Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment. The pope explains that he let himself “be inspired by the wealth of reflections and conversations that emerged from last year’s Synod,” (Christus Vivit, §4) and provides a summary of these proposals, but also offers a continuation of his vision for the kerygmatic[1] evangelization of the Church that he provides in his previous exhortations.[2] Particularly interesting is the title of this exhortation. While in previous exhortations Pope Francis has used the theme of joy as his starting place, in this letter, he gives the reason for our joy: “Christ is alive!” (CV, §1). With this title, he exemplifies his call for kerygmatic evangelization contained in the previous documents. The title of the document, Christus Vivit, highlights Pope Francis’s desire to have a Christocentric focus with his audience. Throughout the exhortation, …

The Gospels Manifest a Poetic Christ

Olivier-Thomas Venard, O.P. is a professor of the New Testament at the École Biblique in Jerusalem. The Dominican scholar integrates his training in post-structuralism, linguistics, and literary criticism into a “Thomasian” framework enriched by his Dominican vocation. Described as a “Toulouse Dominican with a différance,” Venard’s inquiry into the original meaning of Aquinas’s theology incorporates the best insights from a wide array of scholarly discourses (biblical studies, historical and systematic theology, philosophy and literary studies) as a means for both retrieving Aquinas’s thought and enabling it to unveil the unity of these discourses in the Word. We had the privilege of participating in a reading group dedicated to the recently translated anthology of Olivier-Thomas Venard, O.P.’s work entitled, A Poetic Christ: Thomist Reflections on Scripture, Language, and Reality (T&T Clark, 2019). A Poetic Christ was edited and translated by Notre Dame’s Francesca A. Murphy and Kenneth Oakes, drawing texts from across Venard’s vast theological trilogy: Littérature et théologie: Une saison en enfer (2002), La langue de l’ineffable: Essai sur le fondement théologique de la métaphysique (2004), …

Life, Language, and Christ Today

I. The Problem of Language Today: The Inadequacy of the Usual Philosophical Answers Language as such is a problem today. The fact that language is a problem is felt in the perpetual oscillation between overvaluing and undervaluing it within modern thought. For example, Ernst Renan—the 19th century French rationalist inventor of the “historical Jesus” fiction—deliberately identified human language with the divine Logos. For him, what previous thinkers dubbed “the divine origin” of language was merely a metaphor. Language results simply from the interplay of mankind’s natural faculties with the natural world. In this world no revelation was possible for Renan. The most divine ideas present in sacred literature are nothing but sublimations of human, all too human, thoughts. In this way, the world becomes entirely disenchanted—just as human language becomes all-powerful, the only provider of meaning in the world. Michel Henry stands at the other end of the spectrum. According to this prominent phenomenologist, since from the outset language situates thought in exteriority, because language brings about an essential division between words and things, it …

God Doesn’t Break Bad in the Old Testament

Every semester I teach the first required course in theology to our incoming students. My habit has been to use the book of Genesis as a window into the Old Testament. But as soon as we reach the story of Noah and the flood, my audience grows restless. God sees how wicked humankind has become and promptly declares: “I will blot out from the earth the human beings I have created, for I am sorry that I have made them” (Gen 6:7). “What kind of God would wipe out every living thing with one sweep of his hand?,” my students ask. Can I put my faith in such a vindictive figure? I do not need Richard Dawkins to raise the problem; students at Notre Dame see it with their own eyes. The Lenten season’s Old Testament readings ensure that the rest of you will see it too. Things do not get much easier as the story moves forward. About a dozen chapters later we come to the story of Sodom and Gomorrah and are faced …

Prisons Are a Biblical Abomination

A few weeks ago my five-year-old daughter encountered poetry for the first time. I read to her a collection that had been one of my favorites, by Shel Silverstein. She was curious, sometimes perplexed, and generally enchanted by the revelation of the musicality of words and ideas. Then, we reached one poem that grabbed her like no other. She was in equal parts attracted and repulsed. She wanted me to read it over and over again. “People Zoo.” “I’m here in a cage that is small as can be / (You can’t let wild people run around free).” The narrator was “grabbed” by animals and “locked” in a cage. Other animals walk by and stare, laugh, or harass. “Do a trick,” the animals scream, but the narrator refuses. The poem closes by extending the reader an invitation to visit this zoo—but disguised as an animal, lest the reader end up in “Cage Two.” People kept in cages represent a world turned upside down. It was plain as day to my daughter: this is an abomination. …

Benedict XVI Beyond the Liturgy Wars

Long before he assumed the Petrine Office, Benedict XVI wrote frequently on the important role occupied by music in the life of the Church. His love of music began with a childhood he himself described as “Mozartian.” Joseph Ratzinger grew up in a musical family; his father sang tenor and played the zither, and his mother frequently sang Marian hymns, often while washing dishes. Joseph himself studied piano beginning around the age of ten and counted Beethoven, Bach, and especially Mozart among his favorite composers. Although he later left the formal study of music to his older brother Georg, Joseph never lost his enthusiasm for the beauty of music, nor his reverence for its power to open a person up to an encounter with the divine. His writings speak eloquently of the connection between music and theology and the implications of this connection for the liturgical life of the Church. For many in parish music ministry today, the “style” question remains a hot-button issue: Gregorian chant, Renaissance polyphony, hymnody, and praise and worship are not simply …

Reading the News as a Spiritual Exercise

We know there is a problem with the way we disseminate, consume, and respond to the news. We also generally share some sense of where the problem lies. It has something to do with a complex interaction of factors like the structure of digital media, the industries that support those technologies, and our cultural, economic, and political climate. Somehow those factors both foster and are fostered by trends such as narrowing echo chambers, a fractured accountability to diverse publics, comments that fail to respect and engage others, decreasing attention spans, and the exhaustion and despair that fester before the parade of emergencies that counts our days and disciplines our emotions like a liturgical calendar. Something is wrong with how we pursue the truth together in a digital society. Reasonable suggestions for how to address this problem generally come in two flavors. The first approach emphasizes the structure of our news technologies and the corporations that develop and profit from them. We must fix Google, Facebook, and Twitter through legislation and consumer pressure. The second approach …

Why Is Faith Dead Without Works?

14What is the profit, my brothers, if someone claims to have faith but does not have works? Is faith able to save him? 15If a brother or a sister are [sic] naked or lacking in daily food, 16And one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warm and sated,” but you do not give them the body’s necessities, what is the profit? 17So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. 18Yet someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” You show me your faith without the works, and I will show you faith by my works. 19You have faith that God is one? You are doing well. Even the daemonic beings have that faith, and they tremble. 20But are you willing to recognize, O you inane man, that faith without works yields nothing? 21Was not our father Abraham made righteous [or: proved righteous] by works, offering up his own son Isaac on the sacrificial altar? 22You see that faith cooperated with his works, and by the …

The Roman Church as Casta Meretrix

You (=Jerusalem) committed fornication because of your renown, and you lavished your fornication on every passer-by. —Ezekiel 16:15 We should realize that everything said about Jerusalem applies to . . . the Church. —Origen, Homilies on Ezekiel Origen is speaking of the members of the church. . . The more “ecclesiastical” they are, the more he has them in mind. Above all, he is thinking of those who are the Church’s official leaders and preachers. He spares them as little as the prophet spares the whore Jerusalem. —Hans Urs von Balthasar, “Casta Meretrix” As the current wave of the clerical abuse crisis began to rush over us, I could not help but think of Hans Urs von Balthasar’s essay “Casta Meretrix [The Chaste Whore].” He opens that essay with Luther’s fiery denunciation of the Roman Church as the whore of Babylon. But then, in a surprising turn, he shows that such an identification preceded Luther by over a millennium. For nearly a hundred pages, he lays out text after text from dozens upon dozens of …