Saturday, 27 October 2012

Thoughts on the Catechism 2

AUTHORITY. So what authority does the Catechism have? It is issued in the name of the whole (Catholic) Church, under the authority of the Pope, after long consultation with all the world's bishops, and it claims no originality – but simply to be weaving together "an organic synthesis of the essential and fundamental contents of Catholic doctrine, as regards both faith and morals, in the light of the Second Vatican Council and the whole of the Church's Tradition. Its principal sources are the Sacred Scriptures, the Fathers of the Church, the liturgy, and the Church's Magisterium [authority]. It is intended to serve 'as a point of reference for the catechisms or compendia that are composed in the various countries'" [11].

It is an expression, therefore, of the "ordinary" magisterium of the Church. This is not the same as having the irreformability of a Papal "definition" of a particular dogma, since the text can be revised if better formulations are devised, or to adjust to changing circumstances and avoid ambiguities. In fact there have been several such revisions since the first English edition was published in 1994. Nor
does it have the even higher authority of one of the ancient Creeds agreed by the first ecumenical or universal Councils of the Church before the divisions of Christendom in the second millennium. Nor does it possess the even higher authority of Holy Scripture itself. But nevertheless, Catholics are supposed to receive it with all the respect that they should accord the Church as their Teacher. [84-95.]

Those levels of authority are important, because each rests on the one before, going back to the authority of Scripture, which in turn rests on that of the Holy Spirit who is the co-author along with the human writers of the whole text, and I would say its "co-editor" in the sense that he not only inspired the human authors as they wrote (though again, there are levels of inspiration even within Scripture) but selected – or guided the selection of – the various pieces and elements of which it is composed. It is a bit like building a church out of bricks and stones and mortar. The stones are the pieces that cannot be changed, the mortar the more human elements that are used to hold them in place. The Bible is a collection of very disparate materials (poetry, myth, prophecy, history, biography, etc) collected over a millennium. That it makes a coherent whole at all is not thanks simply to the human individuals and committees who decided what was to be left out and what was inspired or important enough to be left in, but to the Holy Spirit who lives in the Church and nudges her decisions in the right direction.

Of course to see that coherence, one has to be willing to read it "in the same spirit" (according to Dei Verbum, 12), looking for the harmony and unity. In other words, one has to become part of the structure, which is an organic even more than it is a structural unity, and a "personal" even more than an organic one, because the same Holy Spirit is in us who created the unity of the structure, giving us the eyes to see – the eyes of faith. This does not mean we must be uncritical or overlook any inconsistencies we might notice. In fact it is through noting and examining these that we penetrate to a deeper level of understanding. It is a bit like those "magic eye" pictures made of coloured pieces that only reveal the pattern when you focus both eyes at it were beyond the surface of the page.

The relationship between authority and faith is this. In faith we trust what we cannot (yet) see, even though every act of faith makes us vulnerable, especially if we place our trust in the wrong person. The Catholic faith is "more certain than all human knowledge because it is founded on the very word of God who cannot lie" (157). The non-believer can change "because" to "if". The authority of the Church lies in her claim to speak on behalf of that (invisible) person in whom we trust; to be filled with the invisible presence of God. Thus the Church's nature is sacramental. This is fine as long as it is all true. We are not obliged to trust or obey an authority that contradicts itself or is otherwise proved false.

The harmony of faith and reason assumed here is that we must never be afraid of asking questions. There will always be an answer, even if it does not reveal itself straight away. But it will never reveal itself if we do not ask, or if we forget to persist. And many of us get bored or blase with the faith because we have stopped asking, stopped questioning the Holy Spirit. "To get used to things means merely to rob them of their deeper meaning" (Adrienne von Speyr, Lumina, 32).

If you are reading the Catechism on the Vatican web pages, there are numerous study helps, like a sideways click that will show you all the Bible passages that underpin each section. Also helpful is Pope Benedict's Verbum Domini (2010), especially the chapter called "On the Interpretation of Sacred Scripture in the Church", which even touches on the "dark" or violent passages of Scripture and how to approach them.

THE SENSES OF SCRIPTURE. This topic (paras 115-119) has been covered in earlier posts (enter 'Senses of Scripture" in the Search Box), especially here.


  1. Benedict's chapter 42 on the dark passages is unfortunately not his best. Not only were some of the massacres of the Old Testament mandated by God as opposed to Benedict's innuendo (see sect.40 of Evangelium Vitae where John Paul makes the same innuendo about the OT death penalties), but Christ announces the worst doom (Jerusalem 70AD) as imminent because Jerusalem did not know the hour of its visitation. About 35 years after Christ rises and ascends, 1.1 million people are killed in the very fall of Jerusalem Christ predicted. Benedict is totally silent on the fact that Christ announces the worst doom in a series.

    Luke 19:41 NAB Bible
     As he drew near, he saw the city and wept over it,
    saying, “If this day you only knew what makes for peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes.
    * For the days are coming upon you when your enemies will raise a palisade against you; they will encircle you and hem you in on all sides.
    They will smash you to the ground and your children within you, and they will not leave one stone upon another within you because you did not recognize the time of your visitation.”

  2. There are several issues here. It is a fact that bad, violent, consequences follow from sin, and that in these "punishments" many of the innocent suffer. God may or may not announce these in advance. He may be "blamed" for them or not. But he takes these consequences upon himself on the Cross. Sometimes in the OT God speaks and commands massacres and so forth, but this may be an anthropomorphic way of describing the unfolding of this process of moral cause and effect, or a representation of the Jewish understanding of God's guidance to them filtered through their historical consciousness at the time. We don't have to take it literally that God said "slaughter them all", as we would if we were fundamentalists. This is why B16 is so careful to stress the need of training in careful analysis of the texts. This is all, of course, very relevant to the discussion about violence in Islam and the Koran.

  3. Stratford,
        But you switched to the OT only... just as Benedict did.  Christ, not "anthropomorphic" OT writers, connects children inter alia being killed within their mothers in Jerusalem...connects it to His people not accepting Him and to their having filled up the full measure of their sins.  
         This was bigger than the OT dooms.  It was not quintessentially Roman but Divine.  Was their mercy in it?  Yes.  Christ left a warning for 40 years to those who would believe in His advice..." those in Judea, flee to the mountains".  Was there mercy in the OT dooms.  Yes.  God punished them bit by bit for 400 hundred years and only after they did not repent did God use the Jews as His arm against them.  He tells you this in the Catholic Bible in Wisdom chapter 12:3-10 which I don't think Benedict was cognizant of:

        Wisdom 12:3-10
    ” For truly, the ancient inhabitants of your holy land,
    ...and parents who took with their own hands defenseless lives, You willed to destroy by the hands of our fathers...But condemning them bit by bit, you gave them space for repentance.”

          He gave them space for repentance for four hundred  years from the death of Abraham til the Jews leaving Egypt by punishing them lightly first so that they would repent.  Did anyone ever tell you that, Stratford?  No.  Would a primitive OT writer projecting massacres onto God's shoulders ala Freud....tell you this time sequence in Wisdom 12 along with Moses telling the four hundred years of sins becoming filled up in Gen.15:16...."In the fourth generation* your descendants will return here, for the wickedness of the Amorites is not yet 
    complete.". No... a projecting OT writer would have simply said God said to invade the promised land.
         God ordered Saul to kill the Amalekites.  Sound like a projection?  Yes until you read that Saul didn't obey and left alive Agag, their king; and Samuel, the prophet, then removed Saul from being king and Samuel the prophet killed Agag 
    himself.  Which brings us back to Benedict who knows the NT but not the OT since Benedict says in section 42 that the prophets "challenge... every form of violence".  Apparently Benedict missed Samuel killing Agag and Elijah killing 450 Baal prophets himself at the stream in Kishon in I Kings 18:40
        " Then Elijah said to them, "Seize the prophets of Baal. Let none of them escape!" They were seized, and Elijah had them brought down to the brook Kishon and there he slit their throats."
         Eliseus the prophet was told by God to kill any of the house of Ahab that escaped the sword of Jehu.  Benedict must have missed that in I Kings 19:17.
         The later prophets....were they more like what Benedict was thinking?  You tell me.  Jeremiah says the Chaldeans are to punish the Moabites for God and then he warns them:
         Jer.48:10. “Cursed are they who do the LORD’s work carelessly,
    cursed those who keep their sword from shedding blood.”
          Benedict must have missed that....along with others.  What is happening is that the Church is embarassed before secular post Christian Europe for unjust violence by the Church...the Inquisition and the Iberian murders in the name of religion as Spain and Portugal used South America for their gain as allowed by Romanus Pontifex, mid 4th large par., Pope Nicholas V.  To counter that sinful legacy which secular Europeans rigthly denounce, the last two Popes have become so against Church past violence that they are now about denouncing violence in the Bible and as I think you can see by prophet was a Ghandi.  You would actually have to remove from the canon of the OT half the OT.  Judith as a book vanishes if you remove her ruse or truck ( another OT element Benedict hates) and if you remove her beheading Holofernes ( violence) which saved her people.

  4. correction in regard to Judith: " her ruse or trick"... not truck.

  5. Let's try to move this discussion to the Forum page here: