By Oswald Sobrino, J.D.; M.A. (Econ.); M.A. (Theo.); M.L. (Master of Latin), doctoral student, University of Florida.

Friday, December 31, 2010

Pope's New Book: Liturgical "Surprise"

It will be a surprise to many who think that inflexible adherence to liturgical details is a "one-off" panacea for all ills under the sun:

I am not opposed in principle to communion in the hand; I have both administered and received communion in this way myself.

Source: Benedict XVI, Light of the World, Ch. 15, Kindle location 2030-35.

I can imagine some reactions (tongue in cheek!): "He is, after all, a modernist still mesmerized by the modernist Second Vatican Council! This confirms it! These are his true colors!" May the New Year bring liturgical serenity for all of us.


More on liturgy from the Pope's newly published book:
Concretely, the renewed liturgy of the Second Vatican Council is the valid form in which the Church celebrates liturgy today. My main reason for making the previous form more available was to preserve the internal continuity of Church history. We cannot say: Before everything was wrong, but now everything is right; for in a community in which prayer and the Eucharist are the most important thing, what was earlier supremely sacred cannot be entirely wrong. The issue was internal reconciliation with our own past, the intrinsic continuity of faith and prayer in the Church.

Benedict XVI, Ch. 10, Kindle location 1437 (emphasis added).

Some points that I find noteworthy:

1. The Pope refers to the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite as "the renewed liturgy of the Second Vatican Council." If something is "renewed," then it is obviously improved; or words mean nothing. Hence, it is clear to me that the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite is an improvement over the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite. For me, this point has always been obvious from the plain text of the Vatican II document on the liturgy (Sacrosanctum Concilium) where the Council fathers speak of the reform and restoration of the liturgy:

III. The Reform of the Sacred Liturgy
21. In order that the Christian people may more certainly derive an abundance of graces from the sacred liturgy, holy Mother Church desires to undertake with great care a general restoration of the liturgy itself. For the liturgy is made up of immutable elements divinely instituted, and of elements subject to change. These not only may but ought to be changed with the passage of time if they have suffered from the intrusion of anything out of harmony with the inner nature of the liturgy or have become unsuited to it.
In this restoration, both texts and rites should be drawn up so that they express more clearly the holy things which they signify; the Christian people, so far as possible, should be enabled to understand them with ease and to take part in them fully, actively, and as befits a community.

Source link (emphasis added).

2. Of course, the Ordinary Form is valid, contrary to the nonsense that you will find on the internet and elsewhere.

3. The Pope gives as his "main reason" for wider authorization of the Extraordinary Form the need to emphasize the continuity of the Church's liturgical tradition. The "main reason" was not to replace the Ordinary Form, contrary to the obsessions of some with that particular prospect in mind.

4. The Pope makes the point that not everything was wrong in the past (implying, as I take it, that some things connected with the Extraordinary Form did need renewal and improvement) and that not everything is right with the present (again, implying that some things in the present also need renewal and improvement).

This understanding that the Extraordinary Form did need change is demonstrated concretely by the change that this very same Pope himself instituted to the Good Friday petition concerning the Jews in the Extraordinary Form and which is also discussed in the new book: "[I]n the old liturgy this point seemed to me to require modification. The old formulation really was offensive to Jews and failed to express positively the overall intrinsic unity between the Old and New Testament" (emphasis added).

Thus, not everything was satisfactory in the old liturgy. You will come across Catholics who would take strong exception to these papal sentiments. I choose to go with the Pope.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

New Blog

Here is the link to the Christian Witness blog.

"Learn Spanish First"

His family was originally from Serantes, Ferro...Image via Wikipedia
That's the advice from N.Y. Times columnist Nicholas Kristof:
Spanish may not be as prestigious as Mandarin, but it’s an everyday presence in the United States — and will become even more so. Hispanics made up 16 percent of America’s population in 2009, but that is forecast to surge to 29 percent by 2050, according to estimates by the Pew Research Center.
As the United States increasingly integrates economically with Latin America, Spanish will become more crucial in our lives. More Americans will take vacations in Latin America, do business in Spanish, and eventually move south to retire in countries where the cost of living is far cheaper.
We’re already seeing growing numbers of Americans retire in Costa Rica, drawn by weather and lifestyle as well as low costs and good health care. We’ll also see more and more little bits of Florida that just happen to be located in Mexico, Panama or Dominican Republic.
Another reason to bet on Spanish is that Latin America is, finally, getting its act together. Of all regions of the world, it was arguably Latin America that rode the recent economic crisis most comfortably. That means that Spanish study does more than facilitate piña coladas on the beach at Cozumel. It’ll be a language of business opportunity in the coming decades. We need to turn our competitive minds not only east, but also south.
This article dovetails with my recent post concerning our Spanish sister blog (see link below).

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Dawn Treader: A Gentle Delight

Very large picture of stern of Dawn Treader, D...Image by David Jackmanson via Flickr
The recently released film version of C.S. Lewis' The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is in fact quite delightful. It is a gentle movie teaching gentle truths, as the original book does. Here are some thoughts on the movie:

1. Step back a moment and ponder this: here is a clearly Christian allegory being shown around the nation, a film that is likely to pull in many non-Christians as part of the movie-going audience. Aslan is, of course, none other than Jesus. Who else in world history could fit the bill of someone who voluntary faces execution to make up for the grave transgressions and betrayals of another and then rises from the dead? The name by which Aslan is known in our world can only be that of Jesus. No other founder or prophet of any other religious tradition fits the bill. The movie cannot pass as a non-Christian story--its Christian DNA is too obvious to any familiar with the Narnia series.

2. What struck me the most is the phantom of temptation that will always stalk each of us as long as evil exists. The movie brings that lesson out repeatedly, as I am sure many of you have already noticed. One haunting line is that of the temptation of Edmund by the ghost of the White Witch--she exists in his mind as long as evil exists. We all carry such temptations, but we need not be dominated by them. Therein lies the drama of human life--to rise above our constant temptations of various kinds and be pleasantly surprised by the fruit arising from our choice of the good.

3. Yes, we live in a highly confused Western society in which many have insanely trivialized the most intimate of physical encounters. Yes, we live in a highly confused society where many are blind to abortion as the killing of a human life and instead view the matter solely as one of "sacred" libertarian autonomy at the expense of the helpless and voiceless. Yes, we live in a highly confused society which believes that "anything goes" moral relativism poses no serious dangers.

But the human yearning for good to triumph over evil persists, for kindness to trump the frenzied will to power, exploitation, domination, and possessiveness in all its forms, whether political, ethnic, economic, or sexual. Lewis' story in both its book and film versions reenacts the reality of that yearning for sanity. The seed is there for the sanity to spread. And readers of the Gospel know that even very small seeds can surprise us.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Hitler's Plot to Kidnap Pope Pius XII

Due to the disobedience of a German general in Rome, the purported plot was never carried out; but the fact of the existence of the plan reveals Hitler's mindset about Christianity:
Hitler feared the pope would be an obstacle to his plans for global domination and . . . the dictator wanted to abolish Christianity eventually and impose national socialism as a global religion. 
Source link (Reuters story, Jan. 16, 2005).
The plan fits into the neo-pagan, Nietzchean worldview of Nazism in general, which Pope Pius XI (the immediate predecessor to Pius XII) highlighted for the world in his famous encyclical issued in the German language (Mit Brennender Sorge/"With Burning Anxiety"). The cardinal who would later become Pope Pius XII assisted in the writing of the encyclical. Here is an extended and relevant excerpt from the encyclical:
The believer in God is not he who utters the name in his speech, but he for whom this sacred word stands for a true and worthy concept of the Divinity. Whoever identifies, by pantheistic confusion, God and the universe, by either lowering God to the dimensions of the world, or raising the world to the dimensions of God, is not a believer in God. Whoever follows that so-called pre-Christian Germanic conception of substituting a dark and impersonal destiny for the personal God, denies thereby the Wisdom and Providence of God who "Reacheth from end to end mightily, and ordereth all things sweetly" (Wisdom viii. 1). Neither is he a believer in God.
8. Whoever exalts race, or the people, or the State, or a particular form of State, or the depositories of power, or any other fundamental value of the human community - however necessary and honorable be their function in worldly things - whoever raises these notions above their standard value and divinizes them to an idolatrous level, distorts and perverts an order of the world planned and created by God; he is far from the true faith in God and from the concept of life which that faith upholds.
9. Beware, Venerable Brethren, of that growing abuse, in speech as in writing, of the name of God as though it were a meaningless label, to be affixed to any creation, more or less arbitrary, of human speculation. Use your influence on the Faithful, that they refuse to yield to this aberration. Our God is the Personal God, supernatural, omnipotent, infinitely perfect, one in the Trinity of Persons, tri-personal in the unity of divine essence, the Creator of all existence. Lord, King and ultimate Consummator of the history of the world, who will not, and cannot, tolerate a rival God by His side.
10. This God, this Sovereign Master, has issued commandments whose value is independent of time and space, country and race. As God's sun shines on every human face so His law knows neither privilege nor exception. Rulers and subjects, crowned and uncrowned, rich and poor are equally subject to His word. From the fullness of the Creators' right there naturally arises the fullness of His right to be obeyed by individuals and communities, whoever they are. This obedience permeates all branches of activity in which moral values claim harmony with the law of God, and pervades all integration of the ever-changing laws of man into the immutable laws of God.
11. None but superficial minds could stumble into concepts of a national God, of a national religion; or attempt to lock within the frontiers of a single people, within the narrow limits of a single race, God, the Creator of the universe, King and Legislator of all nations before whose immensity they are "as a drop of a bucket" (Isaiah xI, 15).
12. The Bishops of the Church of Christ, "ordained in the things that appertain to God (Heb. v, 1) must watch that pernicious errors of this sort, and consequent practices more pernicious still, shall not gain a footing among their flock. It is part of their sacred obligations to do whatever is in their power to enforce respect for, and obedience to, the commandments of God, as these are the necessary foundation of all private life and public morality; to see that the rights of His Divine Majesty, His name and His word be not profaned; to put a stop to the blasphemies, which, in words and pictures, are multiplying like the sands of the desert; to encounter the obstinacy and provocations of those who deny, despise and hate God, by the never-failing reparatory prayers of the Faithful, hourly rising like incense to the All-Highest and staying His vengeance.
13. We thank you, Venerable Brethren, your priests and Faithful, who have persisted in their Christian duty and in the defense of God's rights in the teeth of an aggressive paganism. Our gratitude, warmer still and admiring, goes out to those who, in fulfillment of their duty, have been deemed worthy of sacrifice and suffering for the love of God.
Source link (full text of the Pope's 1937 encyclical that was read in Catholic pulpits in Germany; emphasis added by blogger).

I was reminded of the alleged plot by a recent obituary in the New York Times on historian Dan Kurzman who wrote " 'A Special Mission: Hitler’s Secret Plot to Seize the Vatican and Kidnap Pope Pius XII,' about an episode in which Nazi officials in Italy undermined a direct order from Hitler in 1943 to abduct the pope and loot the Vatican" (source link).

Update: A friend brought this Wikipedia link to my attention concerning the alleged plot. The link presents both the views of those who believe in the existence of the plot and those who do not. I cannot tell if the plot was real, but I do know that the existence of such a plot does match the anti-Christian, neo-pagan mentality of Hitler.

Monday, December 27, 2010

For Practice in Spanish, See Our Sister Blog

Juan Martínez de Jáuregui y Aguilar, Miguel de...Image via Wikipedia
That sister blog is "Análisis Bíblico," which obviously means "Biblical Analysis." This blog is in very simple Spanish and comments briefly on the lectionary readings in the Sunday Catholic Mass. Why practice Spanish?

1. Spanish is the third most widely spoken language in the world, after English and Chinese:

"It is estimated that the combined total number of Spanish speakers is between 470 and 500 million, making it the third most spoken language by total number of speakers (after Chinese, and English). Spanish is the second most-widely spoken language in terms of native speakers."
Source link.

2. For those who like Latin and Roman culture, the estimate is that about 75% of Spanish  is descended from the Latin brought to Hispania by Roman conquerors and settlers. Interestingly, the Roman emperors Trajan, Hadrian, Marcus Aurelius, and Theodosius (who made Catholic Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire in 380 A.D. ) were of Spanish origin. In addition, various famous Roman writers and poets were also of Spanish origin, including Seneca, MartialLucan and Quintilian.

3. For those interested in Catholic trends, as of 2007, about one third of  U.S. Catholics were Hispanic. Worldwide, about 50 % of Catholics live in Latin America [which includes the largest Catholic nation in the world  (in terms of numbers of Catholics)--Portuguese-speaking Brazil with a language very closely related to Spanish].

There are many other reasons, some more personal than others. But, if you want practice in reading Spanish, try our sister blog at this link.


Saturday, December 25, 2010

Queen's Christmas Message: 400th Anniversary of King James Bible in 2011

The title page to the 1611 first edition of th...Image via Wikipedia
Here is the BBC link. It is a fun, traditional way to gain perspective on the past year and on the upcoming year. She is an iconic figure who has been Queen since 1952. You and even those much younger than you may not see that longevity again for a long time.

She appropriately notes that 2011 will include the celebration of the 400th anniversary of the King James Version of the Bible (known in the U.K. as the "Authorized Version"). Of course, it is the grandest translation in English. But some may not realize that its translation is very close to the grammatical structure of the original languages of Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. A Hebrew professor of mine in Ann Arbor noted to us that the KJV followed the structure of the Hebrew quite closely. He was no fundamentalist. I have read that the same holds for its translation of the Greek text of the New Testament. While there are more accurate modern translations based on better manuscripts, especially for the use of scholars, the KJV is still a wonderfully useful translation for prayer, for literary study, and even for translators trying to get the right wording for a difficult or ambiguous passage in the original biblical languages. The KJV is a resource that no one should ignore or write off in any way. You do not need to be a fundamentalist to love it.

For example, there has been, in my opinion, no better English translation of the 23rd Psalm:

1: The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2: He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
3: He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
4: Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
5: Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
6: Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever. 

May our cup "runneth over" in 2011! It will--if we cooperate and trust in God's generous surprises.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Vatican Christmas Midnight Mass on CatholicTV.Com

Here is the link. The video will be available at 11 p.m. tonight and also at 6 a.m. on Christmas Day.

Pope Delivers BBC Thought of the Day

Here is the link to view the video. You will note in the accompanying BBC article harsh criticism of the BBC's choice of the Pope to deliver the "Thought of the Day" broadcast, which apparently is a regular feature at the BBC. The criticism is, ironically, a healthy sign that we do not bear a message to which people are indifferent. The truth stirs strong emotions, both supportive and antagonistic.

Merry Christmas Feliz Navidad

Grotto of the Nativity in the Church of the Na...Image via Wikipedia
Hope returns at the end of the year in the powerful commemoration of the birth of Jesus. My prayer this Christmas is that all of us, of whatever background (Christian or non-Christian), open the Gospels again and begin to encounter Jesus in the best and most reliable portraits of him that we will ever have in written form: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

We have to return to the Gospels again and again simply because we are always tempted to revise Him according to our own personal agendas, biases, ideologies, sectarian tastes, and cultural, sociological, theological, and liturgical quirks. He is beyond all of that "small stuff."

You have heard that familiarity breeds contempt. The problem for most of us Christians is not contempt but rather that familiarity breeds a self-interested, unconscious revisionism of Jesus to make him match our personal tastes--even, at times, our political tastes. We cannot box Him into our little, neat boxes. In fact, he was executed precisely by those frustrated with their inability to box Him into their preferred categories. It does not make sense to crucify Him again in our own lives.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Get Ready!

St. Peter's Basilica, RomeImage by Christopher Chan via Flickr

VATICAN CITY, 23 DEC 2010 (VIS) - The websites of Vatican Radio ( and of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, as well as the website, in close collaboration with the Vatican Television Centre (CTV) and through an agreement with Telecom Italia, will be offering a new service for the Christmas holiday period: live coverage of the liturgical celebrations presided by the Holy Father.

  The Pope's celebrations - Midnight Mass on 24 December, his Christmas Message and "Urbi et Orbi" blessing at midday on 25 December, and Mass for the World Day of Peace on 1 January - will be transmitted in live audio/video linkup with commentary in six languages: Italian, French, English, German, Spanish and Portuguese. The Midnight Mass will also have commentary in Chinese, and the Mass of 1 January in Arabic.

  The service has been made possible thanks to Telecom Italia's technology platform "Content Delivery Network", which enables rapid and effective distribution of multimedia content, making it accessible to computers and iPhones all over the world.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Abandon the Conspiracy Mania

Satellite image of the Middle EastImage via Wikipedia
I write about this topic today because of an excellent New York Times column "The Captive Arab Mind" by Roger Cohen at this link. Cohen uses the common Arab conspiratorial mindset in the Middle East as an example of the fruitless conspiracy mania that keeps so many from ever accepting the truth of many matters. His example focuses on how there is a tendency in Arab or Muslim countries to blame every mishap to some nefarious and sly Israeli or American secret plot, no matter how absurd the alleged explanation. The best example is the unbelievable opinion of some in the Arab/Muslim world that the 9/11 attack itself was carried out by Israel or the U.S. or both as an excuse to wage a war against Islam.

But certainly let me not stop there and pick on our Middle Eastern brethren only. Conspiratorial thinking is often rooted in denial of harsh truths that we do not want to face. My own tribe is quite guilty also. In the face of the horrendous sexual scandals among clergy, the initial reaction of many Catholic conservatives was that all of this was concocted and/or exaggerated by the liberal media, such as the "New York Slimes." I am sure some still hold to that opinion. Well, today we see that the scandals were worse than even the liberal media could ever have gleefully imagined. Recently, the Pope in fact labeled this ongoing humiliation of the Church as "unimaginable."

Let's be more specific. The great, celebrated "vocations" engine known as the Legionaries of Christ has been as discredited as it is possible for any religious enterprise to be discredited. I recently read that the Legion was now in the process of removing portraits of its psychopathic founder from its facilities. Good. One of the supposed Catholic heartlands of Europe--Ireland--has been shown to have been immersed in a binge of child molestation and rape for decades by many clergy. The latest disclosure is of a priest who raped a boy in the restroom of a pub. In the face of these horrendous, documented facts, the relatively new, highly courageous Archbishop Martin of Dublin still has had--unbelievably--to brave the ire of some within the Church in order to expose these long running evils that were assiduously hidden by his predecessors.

We, of course, see the same conspiratorial mania of denial in politics. Some liberals absurdly believe that George W. Bush gleefully and intentionally exacerbated the Katrina disaster out of racial bias. Some conservatives absurdly maintain that Obama was not even born in the United States, even if the evidence is lacking. Too often, we believe what we want to believe out of a knee-jerk, emotional reaction that puts the truth in second or even last place. That habit does no one any good, whether the habit is practiced by Arabs or Muslims or Catholics or American liberals and conservatives.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Let the Magisterium Take Its Course

vaticanImage via Wikipedia
I have noticed more and more how not a few of us Catholics love to play "inside baseball" that, in the end, is unintelligible to many outside the Church. The AIDS/condom controversy arising from the Pope's interview comments is a recent example. Has the Pope changed Catholic teaching on contraception? Of course not--his comments do not touch that issue at all. Has the Pope raised some questions about how we might possibly speak in the future concerning the complex issue of conduct in the age of AIDS? Maybe. Maybe not. It is just not clear at this point. Some things in life are just not instantly and definitively clear, whether we like it or not. Our impatience is irrelevant.

In the end, we must await the magisterium--the official teaching authority of the Church--as it sifts the issues and refines our moral descriptions of conduct in very complex situations. We wait for that magisterial resolution precisely because we are Catholics and are not in the business of do-it-yourself, entrepreneurial moral theology, as is common in some other traditions.

In the meantime, there is no need to try to usurp the role of the magisterium by jumping to premature conclusions. In the meantime, we have plenty of other, urgent things to talk about that are neither murky nor overly complex when it comes to human behavior. The outsiders need to see us talking more about what is already abundantly clear and not prematurely splitting hairs on points that require the ripening effect arising from patient consideration by the magisterium.

Let the magisterium do its work. Let us do ours. Certainly, professional specialists outside the magisterium need to continue the debate and contribute their views as raw material for the slow process of magisterial reflection; but even specialists must recognize that, ultimately, while they must discuss the issue, the issue is not theirs to resolve in the general public arena. That ultimate resolution does not belong to them and may take more time than some are willing to give it.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Caveat Emptor: A Highly Misleading Book on the Bible's Reliability

That highly misleading book--more a polemical tract than an informative, scholarly book--is the "popular" Misquoting Jesus by the anti-Christian writer Bart D. Ehrman. Prof. Ehrman is a biblical scholar who has squandered his undeniable talents by embracing the tawdry path of misleading the general public with his expertise. It is challenging to fight a catena, a chain, of tenuously linked misleading statements that end up deceiving the general reader.

Why is it challenging? It is challenging because of the tediously necessary task of exposing every single fallacious rhetorical sleight of hand used to create, what is in the end, a very big lie: the lie that the New Testament text is somehow an unreliable witness to Jesus. My friends, the New Testament text, especially the four canonical Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, is the most reliable source for the life and work of Jesus of Nazareth. Anyone seeking to divert anyone from that fact is playing with "smoke and mirrors," as we say in the courtroom. You may accept or reject the claims of the canonical Gospels--that is your God-given prerogative; but you cannot rewrite them capriciously to justify ex post facto (after the fact) your rejection. Be, at least, enough of an honest, mature adult to reject the claims of the canon without the smoke and mirrors that merely provide one with false, pseudo-intellectual comfort food.

I am not alone in having a very low view of this particular book by Ehrman. Let me quote from biblical scholar Craig L. Blomberg who concisely summarizes the Ehrman problem:

With Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why (2005) we come to the most misleading title [of Ehrman's books] so far. Here Ehrman focuses primarily on the most extensive and interesting of the textual variants within the New Testament and, for the most part, suggests plausible motives for those changes. [Blogger's note: "Textual variants" are alternative readings of biblical verses based on differing manuscript evidence. For the record, I have yet to find or read about any textual variant that in any way fatally undermines any orthodox Christian doctrine, such as the divinity of Christ or the Resurrection of Jesus.]  What he [Ehrman] fails to do is to put these variants in perspective by informing his readers that only two variants anywhere affect more than a couple of verses, that only eleven involve even a full verse or two, that the consensus among textual critics is that in the modern critical editions of the Greek New Testament we have, either in the text itself or the footnotes upwards of 97% of what the original authors wrote reconstructed beyond a reasonable doubt, and that no doctrine of the Christian faith depends solely on one or more texually uncertain passages.

Craig L. Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of the Gospels, 2nd ed. (IVP Academic, 2007), Appendix B, at p. 333 (emphasis added).

If your read Ehrman's book, you can even find him caught in self-contradiction as noted below.

1.) Ehrman in fact concedes the viability and usefulness of his own specialized area of study--textual criticism--in reconstructing the original text (see related Ehrman quote at the end of this blog post). In fact, any good edition of the Bible will alert its readers to textual variants where they may exist. No one is hiding anything from the general reader of the Bible. Sorry to disappoint, but there is no Da Vinci Code style conspiracy at work here.

Take a look at the newly published New Oxford Annotated Bible (fully revised 4th ed.; March 2010), whose footnotes disclose "divergent textual readings and alternate translations" ("The Editors' Preface," p. xiii). In fact, this particular edition of the Bible contains an essay on textual criticism which I recommend. The essay in the Oxford Bible states the facts without the highly polemical and misleading Ehrman touch. The editors of the New Oxford Annotated Bible wish to enlighten and educate, not to confuse the general reader into embracing a particular agenda.

The bottom line, as the Craig Blomberg quote affirms, is that the admirable work of specialists in biblical textual criticism gives us a very reliable biblical text worthy of our trust, especially when compared with other ancient documents.

2.) What is behind the Ehrman enterprise? Not surprisingly, what is behind his misleading crusade against the biblical text is, by his own admission in the introduction to his book, his personal disenchantment from an extreme form of biblical fundamentalism which views biblical inspiration as requiring some kind of exact divine dictation which is 100% precise when it comes to trivial matters that are immaterial to the theological message of the books of the Bible. That type of extreme fundamentalism has led many fundamentalist Christians to abandon the faith and to adopt a subsequent attitude of hostility to Christian doctrinal claims.

Well, Catholics and many other Christians have never shared that fundamentalism and find the logic of the Ehrman fundamentalist trauma quite unconvincing and, in fact, quite immature. The view of biblical inspiration at the root of Ehrman's personal departure from Christianity is a view more similar to that found in Islam than in mainstream, historic Christianity. The fundamentalist view of Scripture against which Ehrman reacts is for the majority of Christians worldwide (especially those who are Catholic, Orthodox, or Anglican) an absurd straw man.

Let me end with this recommendation. Be aware of this book because it is misused by many, but do not rely upon its analyses or conclusions because they are simply smoke and mirrors unscrupulously trying to divert the general reader from sensible conclusions about the reliability of the biblical text.

Related quote by Ehrman:

"I continue to think that even if we cannot be 100 percent certain about what we can attain to, we can at least be certain that all the surviving manuscripts were copied from other manuscripts, which were themselves copied from other manuscripts, and that it is at least possible to get back to the oldest and earliest stage of the manuscript tradition for each of the books of the New Testament. . . . This oldest form of the text is no doubt closely (very closely) related to what the author originally wrote, and so it is the basis for our interpretation of his teaching."

Bart D. Ehrman, in Misquoting Jesus, Chapter 2  (Kindle locations 985-96; original italics).

What you see here, between the lines, is the truth: that the biblical text is reliable. What you also see is the implanting of certain seeds of unreasonable doubt based on a paranoid approach to the text. The origin of that paranoia is, in my opinion, Ehrman's personally traumatic experience with fundamentalism, a trauma that I and many others, thankfully, do not share. I am also sure that many others have recovered from fundamentalism without ending up in the Ehrman cul-de-sac.

In another book, Ehrman concedes the following points--what lawyers would call "admissions against interest" since these points undermine his whole thesis that the New Testament text, as we now have it in our modern translations, is somehow unreliable or corrupted:

“scholars have by and large succeeded in reconstructing the New Testament”

. . .

“we can be reasonably certain of what the New Testament authors actually said, just as we can be reasonably certain of what Plato and Euripides and Josephus and Suetonius all said.”

Bart D. Ehrman,  in
The New Testament: A Historical Introduction, 3rd ed. (Oxford Univ. Press,  2004), Ch. 29, p. 487.

Ehrman's is a strange case, but I fear not a unique case: he wants so badly to justify his rejection of Christianity that he can no longer see the facts clearly, the same facts that do not lead many other as or more qualified scholars to embrace his anti-Christian "spin." Too much polemical emotion damages the reliability of his scholarly vision. From what I have seen, his books seem to present a pattern: a kernel of facts surrounded by a fog of unjustified and tendentious spin.


If you want to see a reliable scholar, Dr. Craig Evans, expose the manipulative, misleading, and demagogic exaggerations and hyperbole used by Ehrman, see this YouTube link. The debate is worth watching in its entirety; but, if you lack the time, you can jump to the last part (Part 9) and at least view the closing remarks by Ehrman and Craig Evans.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Good People

Fragment of the Gospel of John 16:22-30Image via Wikipedia
This is a very simple post with a simple (not simplistic) observation: good people exist. In fact, very good people exist. Recently, I met a volunteer who works with special needs kids and adults. She doesn't have to do it--she is not a parent of a special needs child, she does not get paid to do it. She does it because she is impelled to do it, in addition to her full-time, demanding job. Seeing such pure generosity and selfless kindness is striking, inspiring, and amazing. Yes, it renews one's faith in humanity and in the God who creates that humanity anew from generation to generation.

I have also seen that goodness in some college students who radiate an always refreshing idealism in their earnest search for truth and wisdom, an idealism that humbles those of us who are older. My impression is that these particular, very good individuals do not seem to be very conventionally and externally religious. Yet, they are indeed authentically religious and very Christian by nature because they already sense the basic truth about life (ironically, some of the more "secular" good people at times seem to have a better sense about the basic truth of life than some others who are compulsively immersed in external religious practices--the Gospel talks about that reality too when comparing the Pharisees to others who seem irreligious). If these good people come into closer contact with the Gospel, they will find confirmation of and profound insight into what God has already revealed to them about the authentic meaning of the good and fruitful life.

Related text:

19For that which is known about God is evident to them and made plain in their inner consciousness, because God [Himself] has shown it to them.

Romans 1:19 (Amplified Bible).

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

A New Cultural Fad Unmasked

President Reagan Giving a Speech at the Berlin...Image by The U.S. National Archives via Flickr
This article exposes the false myth of Islamophobia at this link. The charge of  "Islamophobia"  is the latest in the constant liberal search for trendy, derogatory labels to impose on those who do not fit their favored cosmopolitan, cultural, and social profile. It is another hammer with which to try to falsely mock those who do not share the liberal social agenda as somehow, by necessity, being benighted "hicks" clinging to God, guns, and Confederate flags in fly-over country. The problem is that this fad, like many of the other liberal fads that we have seen over the last 40 years (including fads such as the early eighties fad of "Reagan the war-monger" putting nuclear missiles in Europe or the still powerful and ongoing "Bush the dunce" fad or the never-to-be-abandoned "joy of sexual liberation" fad), is not based on facts, as the article shows.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Opus Dei Moral Theologian on AIDS/Condom Issue

Fr. Martin Rhonheimer gives a very balanced, understandable, jargon-free account in this Our Sunday Visitor interview at this link. (Thanks to our Rhode Island reader.) I like how he ends the interview:

In the meantime we should discuss these matters in a spirit of communion and mutual respect because all sides desire to serve the Church and to help all men and women living on this earth to encounter happiness, not only perfect beatitude in the next world but also authentic happiness and inner peace in this earthly life to the extent that we live according to God’s will. 

See Source link above.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Why Relationships Count

Cicero De amicitia Bibliotheca PalatinaImage via Wikipedia
I recently gave my last talk in an Adult Faith Formation program at a Catholic church as I move on to a new teaching opportunity. The experience of ending my participation after several years was bittersweet. Many of you likely have had the same experience. You slowly and gradually build relationships as you become accustomed over time to different people and their personalities. What was jolting at the very beginning is now old hat. We know each other and tolerate each other's idiosyncrasies. We give each other some slack.

From the world's point of view, what did I gain? Did I gain money or status or fame or power? None of those. But I gained what many of you also gain from getting know to people over time and persisting in fruitful relationships: the benefits of friendship and mutual comfort around one another. Can we put this gain into words? Not fully. But in our gut we know that this fruitful relating to others over time is the meat and marrow of life. It is a sign that we have indeed lived. If you are not getting that, find it. No "drug" (whether that drug is alcohol or some other chemical or any other pleasure) can substitute for it.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Blogger Aphorism of the Day

"The only worse thing than having made a mistake is failing to understand your mistake."

This thought is very useful for students and for human life in general.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Jerome Kept It Simple

St. Jerome reading in the countryside, by Giov...Image via Wikipedia
In discussing St. Jerome's Latin translation of the Bible--the famous Vulgate--with my Latin professor, I was struck at Jerome's effort to use a very simple form of Latin in the Vulgate in order to reach the masses. In contrast to that simple style, my professor noted that, when corresponding with St. Augustine of Hippo, Jerome used a decidedly more florid style.

So, in the fourth century, we see a strong concern to make the translation of the Bible usable by as many as possible. That concern is a fine example for all of us today who write on Catholic or Christian topics. That fact is also a nice counterbalance to the common view that the Catholic Church somehow wanted to keep the Bible from the masses.