Friday, December 19, 2014

to the Rev KIA, "You, sir, are no scholar!"

Dear Rev. Know-it-all,

I unfortunately stumbled across your last incoherent and un-scholarly article about the reality of the Christmas story. It simply leads me to think that you are a Neanderthal with no real in-depth understanding of Scripture. I am a tenured professor of Scriptural Deconstruction at the Hackenbush Institute of Threebingen University in Verwirrt am Sumpf, Lower Lichtenstein, where we have continued to develop the work of Reformation theologian Hans Von Unmoeglich, and his theory of “Sola Scriptura, Sola Securum Stipendium.” If you ever picked up a scholarly book more involved than the Sunday Funnies, you might have the makings of a real scholar!

Professor Jurgend Von Schnickelfritz, D.Min, S.S.D., B.Y.O.B.

Dear Professor Von Schnickelfritz,

I was educated in the thought of Hans Von Unmoeglich in my seminary daze, I mean days, as were most people of our generation, but my thinking changed when I made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land to see exactly where all the things we believe in didn’t happen. There I met an Arab tour guide. Until that time I had been rather dismissive of Arab tour guides who were happy to show you the stone for want of which Jesus had no place to lay his head and the inn where the parable of the good Samaritan would have happened if it had not been a parable. 

The Arabs are not, well, Northern European. How could they be as jaded and sophisticated as are we? This guide was different. He was Catholic and his English was excellent. I discovered that he was a teacher of History and English who had graduated from the University of Albuquerque, New Mexico. He was, like most Palestinian Christians I have since met, very civilized, courteous and intelligent. Their ancestors were actually bathing regularly when our Teutonic ancestors were still painting themselves blue and running naked through the forest with pointy sticks. He completely changed my view of history. He explained oral tradition in a way that I had never heard it explained. He used a very homespun example of how oral tradition works. He recalled the time that his grandfather showed him a particular tree in a particular field where that grandfather’s grandfather had proposed to his soon to be wife. 

It became clear to me that Middle Eastern people value their families in a way that you and I in the West do not. The old stories are important to them because of the people they love. If a story was important to my grandfather, it is important to me, and if it is important to me it will be important to my grandchildren with whom I will carefully share it. 

I heard a similar story from Cardinal Francis George, who is a real scholar, and has a very precise mind. He told us about his grandmother who shared stories that her grandmother had told her about what it was like to be a Catholic on the Kentucky frontier around 1812. They had no priests, but that didn’t stop them from coming together on Sunday, reading the scriptures of the day and saying the Rosary, all this to be followed by a time of food and fellowship. That’s more than 200 years before the date of this writing. 

Accurate memories of important things can endure for centuries if they are about memories of those who are dear to us. Accurate tradition is the result of love, which is often in short supply among tenured professors. Hence, some of them fail to value or even understand tradition. Professor Martin Luther of Wittenberg University who developed the principle of “Sola Scriptura” is a fine example of the disconnect that has created modern Biblical scholarship. Martin and his parents had a rough time of it. Luther remembered that, “For the sake of stealing a nut, my mother once beat me until the blood flowed”, and “ father once whipped me so hard I ran away.” Perhaps if the Luther family had enjoyed the occasional family game night, things might have been a little more peaceful in Europe for the next five centuries.

Modern Scripture study seems sometimes to accept the “sola scriptura” principle rather uncritically.  In my education, it was an unnoticed assumption. If someone had studied in a German university they were thought automatically brilliant whether or not we could understand a thing they were saying. (An aside: One particular professor came back from Tubingen and wrote hymns embodying the latest biblical theology, things about the empty tomb and the doubts that plagued him. We were forced to learn them and sing them at Mass. We called these dreary songs the “Dead Sea Chanties.” He left the business of religion about a year after he arrived at my seminary. We were a surly and rather difficult bunch of adolescents.) 

The principle of Sola Scriptura is unworkable when it looks only at the text in order to understand the text, even if it is clothed in scholarly language.
Some scholars are fond of saying that the story of Jesus’ birth and death are just tired reworkings of old myths such as Adonis and Isis and Mithras. There is a difference. Jesus and his birth, death and resurrection are not “once upon time” or “in a land far away.” They happened in the places and times that were remembered well by their families and friends. The children of the first followers of Jesus were more than able to share the stories accurately with the first Christian scholars such as Justin Martyr.

“But when the Child was born in Bethlehem, since Joseph could not find lodging in that village, he took up his quarters in a certain cave near the village; and while they were there Mary brought forth the Christ and placed Him in a manger, and here the Magi who came from Arabia found Him… those who presided over the mysteries of Mithras were stirred up by the devil to say that in a place, called among them a cave, they were initiated by him.” (Justin. Dialogue with Trypho, Chapters LXX and LXXVIII).

 Justin Martyr is asserting quite the opposite of what some modern scholars assert. It was the pagan Mithraist myths that imitate the Gospel!

And who was Justin Martyr? He was a Greek or perhaps Roman scholar who was born about 100AD in Nablus in the Holy Land. Nablus is about 35 miles from Bethlehem.  After his conversion to Christianity from Platonism Justin set about reconciling the details of the Gospels. He did research, and remember that he lived only a strenuous day’s walk from Bethlehem and one long lifetime after the death and resurrection of Jesus. He was researching things that had happened less than a century before his time and less than a day away from where he grew up. He spoke of the Magi, the cave at Bethlehem and all these things that we associate with the Christmas story, and he was so convinced of the reality of these things that he was willing to die for them, which he ultimately did. He travelled to Rome to establish a school of philosophy and there he was beheaded in around 165 AD for refusing to deny Christ. It wasn’t only the stories of the Bible that he believed to be true.
"And this food is called among us the Eucharist ... For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Savior, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh."
He believed that the flesh born of the Virgin Mary in Bethlehem was no different than the Flesh and Blood we receive at Mass. He believed strongly enough to lose his tenured teaching position along with his head. I would say that his opinions are a bit more valuable than that of any scholars who think themselves his intellectual superior.

The Rev. Know-it-all

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