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“Crises” of Modernity facing the Catholic Hierarchy?

single hand of drowning man in sea asking for help

Not drowning. Waving?

The definition of a crisis varies in sources and often the word crisis carries negative connotations. The some authors however point out that crises are very much part of the human experience (Coles & Gimpel, 2010, p. 128). In fact, a crisis is perhaps more appropriately viewed as an opportunity for growth. Robinson in fact argues that “the word crisis, frequently misused, means a turning point” and that “a crisis is an opportunity for growth” (Robinson, 2010, p. 158). Certainly, crises are, of course, not new in the history of Catholicism and from each period of crisis, the Church has grown and matured in its teachings relationships and theology.

The current crises facing the Church, in essence, stem from the hierarchical Church’s difficulty in dealing with the forces of modernity. The hierarchical Church faces the challenge of a Catholic response to Modernism. According to Robinson, the symptoms of this crisis are reflected in two areas which he refers to as “sex and power” (Robinson, 2010, p.148). These two areas reflect the Church’s current search for relevance in the lives of those living in westernised, educated and consumer oriented nations. Coles and Gimpel (2010, p.133) identify the symptoms of this crisis more specifically as (i) a shortage of priests (ii) tensions between the regional churches and Rome (iii) a diminished sense of institutional commitment and (iv) evangelisation. In the face of these symptoms, the Church has sometimes sought to emphasise the importance of the priesthood at the expense of reform or engagement with the laity, to centralise decision making structures when it should decentralise, to emphasise doctrine and orthodox in the face of declining “ecclesial loyalty”  (Rausch, 2010, p.137).

In my experience, the Church has yet to fully embrace or comprehend the sense of spiritual autonomy exercised and desired by Catholic in the developed Western world. Such a sense of autonomy has been confronting to a Church which has tended to rely on medieval based traditions and model of leadership. As the western world moves into a “post-Christian” epoch, educated modernist Catholics will expect a greater flexibility from the Church hierarchy centred in Rome and will seek to influence the running of their own smaller, local and more immediately relevant “churches”. These churches will seek to embrace the role of the laity and committed Catholics regardless of gender or sexuality. Collegiality will become a central factor in the shaping of the new Churches which will act in communion with others. Such group will emphasise the importance of inclusiveness and will focus on the core social justice mission of the Church – possibly at the expense of doctrine. Unless the hierarchical Church of Rome engages with these modernist understandings of Church, perhaps through what John Paul referred to as “re-evangelisation” (cited in Rausch, 2010, p. 138), it will risk becoming irrelevant to the lives of Catholics in the developed world.

Facing significant change in our lives takes confidence and optimism as well as the ability to let go of those parts of our lives that are lacking wholeness and embracing a new version of ourselves. Fear of the unknown can be a strong force of conservatism in a time when societies are in rapid change. For many Catholics, the known “traditional” ecclesiastic structures within the Church give stability and structure. They have provided for many a sense of certainty and security in a period of history characterised by rapid societal transformation and uncertainty. This challenge of modernity has confronted almost every institution of the modern western world since the Enlightenment. The onslaught of modernity has confronted religions, cultures and traditions across the globe. It is not surprising to note then that the hierarchical Church of Rome is confronted with substantial challenges to remain relevant and connected. The issues faced by the Catholic Church are similar to some other Christian denominations (and non-Christian faiths) but are not shared by all groups and sects in the same way. Some groups within the Church while offering security, stability and structure in an uncertain age have created what appears to be, at least in the short-term, a “laager mentality”[1] (WordSmith.org, 2010). It is this siege mentality that seems to grip the Roman curia. As with the Church of earlier eras, there is a tendency in the Church hierarchy to see the Church as a “perfect society” that does not “need outside influences or interference… This thinking came about as a form of self-preservation in the Reformation. But to continue to think like that in the twentieth” or twenty-first centuries was and is “totally inappropriate” (Coles & Gimpel, 2010, p. 132). At a time when precisely the opposite is called for, fear of the modern has led some in the Church to retreat into their known experience and to build what has become “ a fully centralised church governed by a completely sovereign papal monarchy”  (cited in Rausch, 2010, p. 136). Feeling the “threat” of rapid change and the intellectual challenes of modernity, papal conservatives and other centralising forces of the Church (such as Opus Dei) have retreated from true power sharing (utilising the principle of subsidiarity) into “the most centralised period of Church governance that has been known in history”, a period in which the worlds most economically complex and developed, democratic, dynamic and educated nations have had “ultra-conservative” clerics forced upon them  (Rausch, 2010, p. 136).

[1]  A South Africa term used to describe a way of thinking which reflects the practice of circling of wagons    in order to protect oneself from an external threat. WordSmith.org defines a laager as:“ A camp, especially one protected by a circle of wagons or armored vehicles. To enclose in a defensive encirclement… From the obsolete Afrikaans word lager (camp), from Dutch or German Lager (camp).”

Bibliography:

(2010). The Third Christian Millenium. In J. Coles, & P. Gimpel, Module 1: Foundations (An Open Learning Course from IFE) (pp. 127-131). Brisbane: Faith and Life.

Rausch, T. P. (2010). The Future of the Catholic Church. In J. Coles, & P. Gimpel, Module 1: Foundations (An Open Learning Course from IFE) (pp. 133 – 145). Brisbane: Faith and Life.

Robinson, G. (2010). Vatican II: From Pause to Forward. In J. Coles, & P. Gimpel, Module I: Foundations (An Open learning Course from IFE) (pp. 147 – 159). Brisbane: Faith and Life.

WordSmith.org. (2010). A-Word-A-Day: Laager. Retrieved August 25, 2010, from WordSmith: http://wordsmith.org/words/laager.html

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HOSEA: PROPHET OF THE BROKEN HEART AND BROKEN HOME

hosea

Hosea’s ministry appears to have taken place during the 8th century BCE and was based in the Northern Kingdom of Judah. A prophet familiar with the approaches of the emerging Elohistic tradition, Hosea is believed to have lived c.780-725BCE and is one of the twelve prophets of Judaism and considered a minor prophet in Christianity and as such reflects the Hebrew understanding of a prophet (nabi) as one who was “called by God to speak God’s own word”, someone who was activity “called out” by God or was required to “call out” and proclaim God’s word (Link, 2010, p. 94).

Little biographical information is known of Hosea, son of Beeri. While it is known that his name means “Salvation” and that he was a subject of the Ephraimite Kingdom of Israel, few specific details of his life are clear which challenges readers to reflect carefully upon Hosea’s historical and social context. For example, while Hosea makes few mentions of Judah and mentions many northern localities and at no time makes mention of Jerusalem (Cales, 1911).

According to the title of the book, Osee (Hosea) prophesied during the reign of Jeroboam II in Israel, and in the time of Ozias, Joatham, Achaz, and Ezechias, kings of Juda (sic), hence from about 750 to 725 B.C. The title, however, is not quite satisfactory and does not seem to be the original one, or, at least, to have been preserved in its primitive form. None of the historical allusions with which the prophecy is filled appears to be connected with any event later than the reign of Manahem (circa 745-735); there is nothing concerning the Syro-Ephraimite war against Juda, nor the terrible intervention of Tiglath-Pileser III (734-733). The era of the Prophet, therefore, if it is to be judged from his writings, ought to be placed about 750-735; he was perhaps contemporaneous with the closing years of Amos and certainly with the first appearance of Isaias (sic). (Cales, 1911)

According to Phillips, the years of Hosea’s life were times of social and moral decay.

 Jeroboam II, who Hosea mentions in his date mark, was a capable king…(b)ut along with all the seeming success, the forces of decay were at work, eating the heart and soul out of the nation… Loyalty to the throne soon died in the face of unblushing crime in high places. The land was filled with murder and bloodshed, adultery and sexual perversion, drunkenness was widespread, accompanied by utter indifference to God. Debauchery, lawlessness, and violence ran rampant everywhere. Adultery was consecrated as a religious rite… (2009, p.318)

It was against this context that the earlier prophet Amos has railed. The world of Hosea’s times remained one in which faithfulness to God was as absent as it had been for Amos but the responses of the two prophets were strikingly different. It has been argued that this is because the times were directly mirrored in what is reported of Hosea’s life. This may not have been, however, as purely coincidental as it sounds.

It is widely reported that Hosea, on instruction from God, was married to an adulteress[1] , Gomer, and that he had effectively adopted her numerous “children by fornication”. Through Hosea, the children would be given a new and redeemed relationship with a true and, in modern eyes, legitimate father. Link (2010) takes a literal view of this story stating:

 Hosea… was shocked at the evil in Israel and spoke out against this. His words however, had a more compassionate ring than did the words of Amos. Perhaps this is due to the tragedy he suffered in his own personal life. He married an adulteress, whom he loved deeply in spite of her sinful ways. Conditioned by this painful experience, Hosea tried to draw Israel back to God’s covenant by love rather than by threat. He compared God’s love for Israel to that of a loyal husband for his disloyal wife. (Link, 2010, p.110)

Cale builds a strong case however that a literal understanding of Hosea’s biographical detail is, in fact, limited. She argues that Hosea’s family relationships are in actuality a metaphor for the relationship between Israel and God in which Israel’s many children had been born “illegitimately” during the Baalist idolatry of the period of the prophet Elijah. To Cale, The Book of Hosea, in its early biographical accounts, was in fact metaphorically re-emphasising and reinstating the relationship of God with his people, in this case likened to that of husband and wife. In Cale’s reading of the story of Hosea, “mercy will have the last word” and Yahweh’s “unfaithful spouse” would be forgiven (Cales, 1911). Perhaps in this interpretation, modern audiences can find a powerful message as the lasting message of Hosea becomes one of mercy, forgiveness and enduring love.

Hosea speaks out strongly but with compassion against the dangers of idolatry and corruption, against immorality and faithlessness. In this book, it is argued that evil grows out of a separation from the love of God, a lack of knowledge of God and a focus on ritual without meaning, words without action. Cale quotes the Book of Hosea (Chapters 5 – 6):

Jahve has taken to Himself His spouse by redeeming her out of the bondage of Egypt. He has united Himself to her on Sinai. The bride owed fidelity and exclusive love, trust, and obedience to the spouse; but alas! how has she observed the conjugal compact?

 Fidelity.—She has prostituted herself to the Baals and Astartes, degrading herself to the level of the infamous practices of the Canaanite high places. She has worshipped the calf of Samaria and has given herself up to every superstition.

 No doubt she has also paid homage to Jahve, but a homage wholly external and carnal instead of the adoration which must be above all things internal and which He Himself exacts: “With their flocks, and with their herds they shall go to seek the Lord, and shall not find him…” (v, 6).

“For I desire mercy and not sacrifice: and the knowledge of God more than holocausts” (vi, 6)

Hosea challenges God’s people, especially those who have lost their way, to find an authentic and meaningful relationship with their creator through merciful action and faith.

In the modern world, Hosea’s compassionate reflection on the voice of God is that of a caring parent longing for the lost, the prodigal, child’s return:

 When Israel was a child, I loved him and called him out of Egypt as my son.

But the more I called to him, the more he turned away from me…

How can I give you up, Israel?

How can I abandon you?…

My heart will not let me do it!

My love for you is too strong.

 (Hosea 11: 1-2, 8 in Link, 2010, p. 111)

 

According to Phillips, Hosea is the prophet of the broken heart and the broken home, not a prophet of law (like Amos) but of love. Hosea is “the prophet of outraged love, that love that never lets us go… he tells us that in its deepest aspect sin not only breaks God’s law, it breaks His heart” (2009, p.317). Hosea argues that in our likes, like that in the life of Israel of his time, that the real source of brokenness, loss and hurt in our lives is often a deviation from the “gold standard” of faithfulness to the one true God. The path back to this relationship is paved with compassion, mercy, and a rejection of indifference to God (Phillips, 2009, p.318).

Bibliography:

Cales, J. M. (1911). Osee (Hosea). Retrieved October 16, 2010, from New Advent – Catholic Encyclopedia: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/11337a.htm

Link, M. (2010). Division. In J. Coles, & P. Gimpel, Module 2: Foundations (An Open Learning Course from IFE) (pp. 106 – 111). Brisbane: IFE.

Phillips, J. (2009). Exploring the Old Testament Book By Book: An Expository Survey. Chicago: Moody.

Witherup, R. D. (2010). The Prophets. In J. Coles, & P. Gimpel, Module 2: Foundations (An Open Learning Course from IFE) (pp. 93 – 96). Brisbane: IFE.

 


[1] Some sources such as Wikipedia say “prostitute” while the Cales in the Catholic Encyclopedia uses the quaint phrase “wife of fornifications” as in Hosea 1:2.

TOWARDS AN AWARENESS: IMAGES OF GOD

Consider and reflect upon the construction of images of God.

Consider and reflect upon the construction of images of God.

An awareness and reflection upon the images of God is essential. As our lives are inextricably caught up in our life experiences and relationships, it is impossible and undesirable for a truly meaningful image of God to be divorced or separated from the personal and “connected”. Just as life is about growth and transformation (metanoia), so too our relationship with, and formation of, an image of God in our lives will also inherently be one of growth and transformation if a sense of self-awareness and reflection characterises the process. To develop an awareness of God is a part of being fully human. To be aware that the images of God that we form are ultimately limited by social and human constructs is also, therefore, crucial.

It is important to consider that the images of God that we develop are often shaped by metaphors which seek to capture understandings of essential elements of a relationship with the Divine. These metaphors are the product of context and can be limited by traditional (or other), non-personalised, conceptualisations of the nature of the world and an individual’s place in it. The Coll article rightly points out that “whatever we say about God” cannot fully capture the nature of the Deity (Newman and  Well, cited in Coll, 2010, p. 30). At the heart of the Christian metaphors is an attempt to describe the image of a relational God. Only through reflection (in many possible forms) is an awareness of this image of a relational God possible.

The article (Coll, 2010) emphasises to me the importance of developing my own awareness of an image of this relational God; an image built upon my own deep understandings of the divine in my life. These understandings will inform and shape my image of a God who journeys with me. Coll specifically raises an image of God in spousal relationship (Coll, 2010, p. 34), a God dwelling with humanity, a God as friend and the importance of images of God which “cut-through” and create true empowered meaning. She cautions against the traps of an unreflected upon image of God in which non-inclusive imagery stunts the access of some to the liberating experience of beginning to enter into a close relationship with the Divine. Through reflection upon our image of God, we can create a more inclusive and intimate relationship with God that shape our life / spiritual journey; a relationship of true communication; a journey in which the metaphor of God as friend becomes a closer part of our experience of the Divine.

Bibliography:

Coll, R. (2010). Christianity and Feminism in Conversation. In J. Coles, & P. Gimpel, Module 1: Foundations (An Open Learning Course from IFE) (pp. 28 – 41). Brisbane: Faith and Life.

HERMENEUTICS AND INTERPRETING THE NEW TESTAMENT THROUGH EMBRACING THE HISTORICAL-CRITICAL METHOD

hermeneutics

Hermeneutics can be defined as the “science of interpretation” and especially relates to interpretations of scriptural texts (The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 2012). Coles explores the term further and argues that the terms hermeneutics covers “the broad senses of interpretive translation, verbal explanation and written commentary” on the Bible (Coles, 2009, p. 20). As such, an examination of New Testament hermeneutics is crucial to any meaningful discourse on the meaning of it.

A strong foundation in the consideration of New Testament hermeneutics is provided by Coles (2009) in readings written by American biblical scholar Russell Pregeant. Pregeant identifies four distinct types of New Testament interpretation. These are referred to as (i) The Historical-Critical Method (which includes a distinct sub-method / refinement that Pregeant refers to as the Social Scientific Method (ii) the Theological / Ideological Interpretation (iii) the Existentialist Interpretation and (iv)the Psychological Approach. While each interpretative approach provides a valid lens through which the New Testament can be studies, of these approaches, it is perhaps a combination of the Historical-Critical Method and that of Existentialists that is most appealing.

Without careful consideration of the hermeneutical approach taken when studying the New Testament (NT) scriptures, it is possible to fall into a trap of accepting all interpretations common in the community uncritically. It is in this context that one could be misled into believing that “You can make the Bible say anything you want it to say” and to believe a post-modernist argument that suggests that we can “read into the New Testament” without limitation and “make do with a Jesus of our own fashioning” (Coles, 2009, p.81). While Pregeant points out that the NT has been interpreted in “innumerable ways”, it is important to construct one’s own meaning relevant to modern living that is based in a sound understanding of the historical and social context in which the real Jesus carried out his ministry. To fail to recognise the limitations that context sets of NT hermeneutics would be tantamount to allowing a religious free-for-all on the core stories and “myths” of Christianity[1].

While debate and controversy surrounds almost all approaches, it is felt by this author that the Historical-Critical method provides a foundation for NT study and interpretation in which the “historical contexts in which they are written” is appropriately considered.

 … this approach to the Bible is now almost universally accepted as a valuable step toward objectivity.  Interpreters employing this method do not begin with such questions as “What does this mean to me?” or “What does my religion teach about what this means?” They seek first to determine when and where the work in question was written, who wrote it, for whom it was written, and for what purpose it was written. The assumption is that answers to these questions will enable us better to understand what the author meant and what the original readers would have understood  (Pregeant, 2009, p.26).

 By embracing the Historical-Critical Method as a starting point for NT study, appropriate limits on discourse can be placed. Through considering the questions above, it can soon be discerned that not only did biblical authors have “different answers” to life’s great questions at times but that they also, at times “were asking very different questions” (Pregeant, 2009, p.26). Such an approach requires the use of critical faculties in NT readers; an approach in which ideas and understandings are tested against the text for validity; where assumed understandings are questioned and dogmatic interpretations are sometimes challenged. Those who have refined the Historical-Critical Method have done so by increasing the level of attention paid to the socio-cultural aspects of NT life. Despite the obvious strong points inherent in the Historical-Critical method it is important to recognise that there is some danger in this approach ultimately becoming a bald academic exercise in which the NT is reduced to the level of “just another ancient text”. If the NT is truly the inspired “Word of God” as Catholicism dictates then it is surely more than an exercise in interpreting ancient literature. True engagement with religion demands a personal search for meaning and in this way the existentialist method of interpretation allows for this response by the readers of the NT texts.

Existentialist interpretations of the NT grow out of the works of German Theologian and biblical scholar Rudolf Bultmann. Himself a defender of Historical Criticism, Bultman proposed that the “task of the interpreter is to “strip away the mythology and look beneath the ancient world-picture that determined the authors’ language and concepts” (Pregeant, 2009, p.37).  The existentialist interpreter is called upon to identify the “self-understanding” or “authentic human” truths contained in the text as they relate to the interpreters life and world (Pregeant, 2009, p.37).

 For Bultmann, the real meaning of the New Testament has to do not with the claims it makes regarding supernatural interventions into the normal course of events but with the basic attitude toward life, or understanding of the meaning of human existence, to which it points… To have faith on the New testament’s terms does not mean accepting an ancient world-picture or believing in miracles in any literal sense; it means embracing, as one’s own, the self-understanding the new testament presents  (Pregeant, 2009, p.37).

 To Bultmann, this process of search for self-understanding is merely a modern continuance of the process commenced by the NT authors themselves who “reveal” their own “existential intention” within their text.

 Through a combination of a range of hermeneutical approaches, it is possible to explore the NT texts in a meaningful and thoughtful manner: a manner in which pre-existing assumptions and limitations are challenged and considered. While all hermeneutical methods have points to commend them, it is the historical-critical method that provides a solid intellectual framework for interpretation and the existentialist model that provides a means by which personal theological reflections on authentic living can be considered. Without careful consideration of the hermeneutical approaches taken when studying the NT, it is possible to fall into a trap of accepting all scriptural interpretations uncritically. Therefore theological discourse regarding the NT should be grounded in historical and critical interpretations of the NT and supplemented with significant personal “meaning-making”. This may reduce the risk of interpretations developing that imply one might be able to “make the Bible say anything you want it to say”. Without such critical and reflective foundations, some may suggest that it is appropriate to “read into the New Testament” without limitation and “make do with a Jesus of our own fashioning” (Coles, 2009, p.81).

 Bibliography:

 Coles, J. (2009). Foundations 2: Module 3 – Engaging the New Testament. Brisbane: Faith and Life.

 Pregeant, R. (2009). Reading 1 (Part 2): Some Ways of Reading the Bible. In J. Coles, Foundations 2: Module 3 – Engaging The Bible (pp. 34-39). Brisbane: Faith and Life.

Pregeant, R. (2009). Reading 1 (Part 3): Some Ways of Reading the Bible. In J. Coles, Foundations 2: Module 3 – Engaging the Bible (pp. 43-48). Brisbane: Faith and Life.

The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language. (2012). Hermeneutics. Retrieved April 1, 2012, from The Free Dictionary: http://www.thefreedictionary.com/hermeneutics

[1] Bultmann uses the term “myth” in this context not so as to downplay the importance of the stories and events but to find a correct word to express the religious values and understandings studied by scholars. Pregeant felt criticisms of Bultmann for the use of the term “myth” were “misdirected (Pregeant, 2009, p.38).

THE OLD TESTAMENT, REVELATION AND THE “WORD OF GOD”: A CATHOLIC PERSPECTIVE

 

When exploring the word of God in the Old Testament (OT), it is important to locate the texts into a social and historical context. It is in this context that the word of God is mediated by human expression. To deny the human expression is effectively to place a barrier between the word of God and it’s invitation to revelation. The OT can be seen as a “record of people’s experience of God’s self-revelation” (Rohr & Martos, 2011, p. 22). Thus the theology underpinning the OT meaning and understanding of the “word” is deep and rooted in “a Semitic conviction of the power of the spoken word” (Gimpel, 2011, p. 21). The OT is based upon oral tradition. In oral traditions, the reliability of a story, message or tale rested solely upon the authority of the person who uttered the words. As such, in the OT, the phrase Word of God conveys that the words shared by the authors and “sacred writers” is drawing upon the ultimate authority.

It is this context that many fundamentalist readers of the Old Testament fail to recognise. In considering the OT meaning of “the Word of God”, it is important to recognise that the voice of God found in the canon of scriptures known as the Old Testament still speaks strongly to us thousands of years after it was recorded due to deep truths embedded within them that transcend a time and place while definitively set within a distant social and historical context. These truths are revealed in a timeless and familiar human experience and calls the reader to a spiritual exchange with God. Revelation through the word of God in the OT is an invitation to humanity to enter into a relationship with God (Harrington, 2011). Rohr and Martos further point out that if the Word of God is not heard by us, “we have not yet entered into dialogue” with the Lord.

It was this “revelationary” relationship with God that was experienced by the authors of the OT as writers of sacred texts. “Somehow they were a people who learned how to listen to and hear the Word of God” (Rohr & Martos, 2011, p. 23). In this process of listening and hearing, God’s work of self-revelation became a lived experience for the Hebrew people that is reflected in the OT. As such, the OT becomes a ‘record of God’s self-revelation” (Rohr & Martos, 2011, p. 22). The bible itself is not divinely written (as it appears that some fundamentalist Christians may believe). Nor were any of its constituent parts such as the Old Testament.

It is based on experience. The book did not fall from heaven. It was written by people listening to God… The Israelites knew the power and the reality of the Word of God” (Rohr & Martos, 2011, p. 22).

The phrase “word of God” is found throughout many parts of the great narrative that is the Old Testament (OT). In fact it forms one of the great themes of the OT. This is especially true within the books of the prophets “where Yahweh’s words are communicated” (Gimpel, 2011, p. 21). The Hebrew people had a great sense of history and their place in it as God’s chosen people. In their world view, they stood between the time of God’s word of “promise and fulfilment” of this word (Rohr & Martos, 2011, p. 26). They were a people “in the middle, waiting for the Word of the Lord to be realised, to be made real” (Rohr & Martos, 2011, p. 26). In Genesis and Exodus, promises are made. In Jeremiah, Psalms and Isaiah the Word of God is received, shared and lived. In the many different genres and styles of the OT, the reader is challenged to uncover the word of God through the lived human experiences of others. The word of God becomes for the reader, in the lives of the Hebrews, a creative force that directs history and shapes the destiny of believers. Gimpel points out, therefore, that in the OT, the Word of God is seen as revealing, generative and binding.

In speaking the Word, God acts and by speaking the word the Word. God reveals. Nature and history are God’s Word, revealing God who speaks in them[1]. (Gimpel, 2011, p. 21)

The connection between the word of God and the humanity of its OT biblical expression is significant. To deny the human expression of the word of God is to deny its very nature as an expression of dialogue and of its clear invitation to a closer relationship with the Creator. Harrington points out that what becomes important is grappling with the meaning of the phrase “word of God”, comprehending the nature of revelation within the OT and essentially accepting that “revelation by word of God means divine revelation which has been given human expression by humans” (Harrington, 2011, p. 32). It is this way that modern scriptural scholars have also identified a “close connection between the Word of God and divine Wisdom” (Gimpel, 2011, p. 21).

Wisdom derives from the insightful words of wise people, but its ultimate origin is the Word of God.  (Gimpel, 2011, p. 21)

Harrington argues that “the truth of the Bible, God’s word in words of men, is human” (Harrington, 2011, p. 36) but this must be coupled with an understanding that in the “words of men” is found the Word of God and divine Wisdom. As such, in the OT to an “extraordinary extent”, it is important to acknowledge that “there is something ‘of God’ in the words” of the OT (Harrington, 2011, p. 32).

In order to unlock the true Wisdom and word of God in the OT texts, it becomes important therefore to meet the word in the text. This is to say that a modern reader must engage with the scriptural works of the “sacred writers” (as they are called by Vatican II in the document Dei Verbum[2]). Rohr and Martos highlight the importance of this need to meet the texts when they argue that we must “learn to think as Jews, as Israelites, as Hebrews” (Rohr & Martos, 2011, p. 25).

As Pope Pius X said, we are spiritual Semites. In order to hear what the Scriptures are really saying, we have to develop that Semitic attitude toward creation, that biblical vision of history, that existential outlook on life which our Hebrew ancestors had. Then in the Word of God, the universal patterns of human experience are revealed and given meaning… the great patterns, the basic patterns of life, are revealed in the Word of God (Rohr & Martos, 2011, p. 25).

Rohr and Martos (2011, p. 25) continue by arguing that modern readers of the biblical texts (especially those of the Old Testament) must “arrive at a biblical mentality” and experience the text as the Hebrews themselves did. In this way, the modern reader experiences a new dimension of faith somewhat distant and unfamiliar to many modern readers of the scripture. The scriptures are to Catholics “animated by the Spirit of God” is they choose to accept the challenge of meeting the Word in the text (Harrington W. , 2011). The Word for the Hebrews was deeply experiential as their history, recorded in the scriptures, was a place between “promise and fulfilment”. To them the Word was, at least in part, a record of their time of “waiting”. The scriptures spoke to the hearts of the Hebrews and, by meeting the Word in the text, modern Catholics are challenged to do the same. By accepting this challenge, modern Catholics and readers of the scripture can experience to a much deeper level the very human stories of fragility, longing and fear that lie at the heart of Genesis; the revolutionary nature of the Exodus stories; and the struggles of faith that lie not only in the central themes of the Prophets and other Old Testament scriptures but also at the centre of modern life.

 

Bibliography:

Gimpel, P. (2011). Introduction to the Word. In I. o. Education, Diploma of Christian Ministry and Theology (Module 2) (p. 21). Brisbane: Faith and Life.

Harrington, W. J. (2011). What is the Bible? In P. Gimpel, Module 2 – Foundations 2: An Open Learning Course from IFE (p. 32). Brisbane: Faith and Life.

Reid, A. (2004). Understanding the Catholic Liturgy since Vatican II. (Umbria Associates Pty Ltd ) Retrieved November 8, 2011, from AD2000: http://www.ad2000.com.au/articles/2003/sep2003p10_1433.html

Rohr, R., & Martos, J. (2011). The Call – Introduction to the Word. In P. Gimpel, Diploma of Christian Ministry and Theology (Module 2) (pp. 22-31). Brisbane: Faith and Life.


[1] Such power is revealed in the New Testament also, most notably in the “magnificent prologue of John’s Gospel” (Gimpel, 2011, p. 21).

[2] The term “sacred writers” is repeatedly used in the papal encyclical Dogmatic Constitution On Divine Revelation -Dei Verbum promulgated by Pope Paul VI in 1965. It does not imply that the writers themselves are sacred but rather that their writings are sacred. (Vatican Archive, 1965)

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