Friday, September 28, 2012

Three questions from the Rabbi -- part 2

Before I can answer your questions, I should also explain who Dr. Brown was. First a word of caution. Dr. Brown was a brilliant man and a great scholar. I am a dilettante, and something of a fool.

Rev. Dr. Raymond Brown (1928-1999) was a priest of the religious order of St. Sulpice and was one of the first American Catholic scholars to use the historical critical method in his study of the Bible. He was also a professor emeritus at the Protestant Union Theological Seminary in New York from 1971 to 1990. Yes, you read it right, Protestant Seminary! And a liberal protestant seminary at that! Those were heady days. I remember them well. Protestant scholarship was the envy of Catholic theologians. It seemed so modern and so realistic, unlike the gothic, miraculous world of CATHOLIC mumbo-jumbo. I will never forget those exciting times. Scholars were ready to throw out all the miracles of Christian Scripture, except of course, the Resurrection. If there was no Resurrection, as St. Paul said, “We are still in our sins.” (1 Corinthians 15:17) That means that all those theologians would have to go out and get jobs as plumbers or perhaps English teachers.  The only “scholar” I can think of who dumped the resurrection entirely and still prospered in the business of religion was John Dominic Crossan, once a student at the Ecole Biblique, to which you were referred. He was also a teacher at DePaul University, that beacon of Catholic higher education,  and the seminary from which I graduated. He believed that Jesus body was stolen from a shallow grave by dogs and that the post- resurrection appearance of Jesus were simply a ghost, if that. Allow me to quote Dr. Crossan’s book “Who killed Jesus
 “In conclusion, what is the historicity of the burial account? From Roman expectations, the body of Jesus and of any others crucified with him would have been left on the cross as carrion for the crows and the dogs. From Jewish expectations, would not Deuteronomy 21:22-23 have been followed? Maybe, but only the barest maybe…  But, even if it was, the soldiers who crucified Jesus probably would have done it, speedily and indifferently, in a necessary shallow and mounded grave rather than a rock-hewn tomb. That would mean lime, at best, and the dogs again, at worst.” (187, 188)

It is interesting that in Marcus Borg’s introduction to the book, Dr. Brown is mentioned. “...this book by today’s premier Jesus scholar ( by whom he means Crossan) is the primary alternative to Raymond Brown’s reading of the history behind these narratives of suffering that have caused so much suffering.”  In other words, Crossan has dumped Brown’s tortured attempts to cling to a literal resurrection despite not being prone to believe the miraculous.  Those were the times in which I was educated. All real scholarship was done by German Protestants.

Ray Brown was thoroughly immersed in the Teutonic, post Reformation, post-Enlightenment Newtonian physics approach to the Scriptures. If it can’t be read like a science book it simply isn’t true. It might be a nice myth, but it didn’t happen in the sense that there was an actual “photograph-able,” visible event. It is just asking for trouble to try to explain the most amazing miracle in history for people whose faith excludes the miraculous. The result of that time in Catholic history was a divide that is usually described in terms of liberal and conservative. It would be better described as a divide between those who believe in the supernatural and those who don’t.   

Ray Brown was loved because he was a real scholar and very good critical thinker who tried to bridge that gap. His attempt was noble, but in the end, I think it fails.  If you have never been involved in a miracle, it is hard to believe they happen. In fact it is insulting to believe they happen. I remember the story of St. Bernadette of Lourdes who had a series of visions of the Blessed Mother from which came one of the greatest pilgrimage shrines in the world. After the dust settled it was thought better that she join the convent. Her novice mistress treated her with unusual severity, and in a fictional treatment of the life of Bernadette, the novice mistress is made to say, “Why should someone like you have a vision and be the source of so many miracles when I, who have devoted my life to God, have never seen so much as the feather of an angel’s wing?” Though this conversation is certainly fictional, it has a ring of truth. Why some and not others if these things are true? Why should God appear to peasants and not to scholars who could do some good for the world?

The Catholic Church is nothing without her miracles, and the scholars who could not reconcile  the all too human stories of Christian Scripture seemed to cling to the last shred of their religion by denying and doubting all but the resurrection. I remember a professor in seminary who was the best and brightest. He was fresh from a great historical critical Protestant seminary in Germany back in 1969. He would de-mythologize everything and always say at the end of his lectures “All we really have is the empty tomb...”  He had lost his faith and soon he lost his priesthood. The fact is that we have a great deal more than the empty tomb.

Let me tell you a story, in which I was involved. I know the witnesses intimately. They have no reason to lie. I would put my life in their hands without hesitation and I am a witness to the effects of the incident. The story is almost as fantastic as a tale of resurrection, but it happened. 

I was the pastor of a poor parish that sponsored a wonderful school for poor children and a soup kitchen in the same building. At the bottom of the stairwell was a large, coffin-style freezer that hadn’t worked in years. It was 6 feet long, three feet wide and at least three feet deep. It weighed hundreds of pounds if not a thousand. I realized that it was a danger to the children who passed it everyday on their way to the school hall, so I told the director of the soup kitchen to put it out in the alley where it would  be picked up by salvagers. 

There was a large group of young volunteers coming that night to work in the soup kitchen and perhaps the thing could be moved with 10 or 12 of them. Of course, in the busy work of feeding hundreds of poor people, my orders were forgotten. 

There was, at the time, a very pious young man who helped at the soup kitchen. I have never known anyone who loves and trusts God like he did and does. We’ll call him “Roy.” He had a simple faith and an unselfish heart. When only he and the director were left locking up he realized that they had failed to carry out my orders. He said to the director “The pastor wants that thing out of here right away!” 

The director said, “Well it’s not going to happen tonight!” 

To which Roy said, “But it’s Holy Obedience! We have to do it!” 

The director became a little irritated at that and said, “Don’t worry, I’ll deal with the pastor!” And off to bed he went! 

In the morning when the director got up he saw the freezer out in the alley. He asked Roy, “Who helped you move that thing." 

And Roy told him the most amazing story. He had said to the Lord, “Well, you’re going to have to help me because the pastor wants this thing moved.” He went to one end of it, lifted and the thing came up off the ground and Roy, one man alone, guided it around the corners and up the steps to the alley where the director found it in the morning. Roy said there must have been angels lifting it. 

I have no doubt that the thing happened. I saw the “empty stairwell.” I saw no angels. The thing was gone and the only explanation was an impossible explanation. The witnesses to the miracle are unimpeachable. It could not have happened but it did. You must be thinking that I am lying or telling the story for my own purposes. God is my witness. These are things I heard from close friends and  I myself witnessed the “empty stairwell.” 

“Can I talk to Roy?  Were there photos taken? There must be a way to explain the event that reconciles with the laws of physics. THESE THINGS JUST DON’T HAPPEN!!!” 

Perhaps the same dogs that Dom Crossan thinks ate the body of Jesus managed to wrestle that freezer out into the alley.

Next week the first question, the conflicting resurrection accounts.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Three questions from the Rabbi -- part 1

Dear Rev. Know-it-all

In early December, 1995, I and some friends forwarded three questions to Pope John Paul II. We received a reply from the Vatican dated 19 December 1995, the Pope's Assessor, Monsignor L. Sandri, responded in the Pope's name. Monsignor Sandri declined to answer our questions, but informed us that the members of the French Dominican Fathers' Ecole Biblique in Jerusalem would probably provide satisfactory explanations.  They referred us to Rev. Dr. Raymond Brown who in turn referred us to his writings. Here we will summarize the answers we found there.

It is crucial to remember (a) that these words appear in an essay carrying the Church's approbation; (b) that they were written by a scholar whose works were endorsed by the Ecole Biblique; and (c) that Ecole Biblique is the institution that we were referred to by Vatican authorities.  We have three questions: 1) The resurrection accounts seem contradictory. Did Jesus appear in Galilee or Jerusalem? 2) How is it that the genealogies of Jesus don’t agree? and 3)How is Jesus a descendent of David if Joseph is not his biological father? Even were Mary descended from David, Royal Davidic descent should pass through the male line.

Your Friend,
Rabbi Yehuda ben Yiddshkeit

Dear Rabbi,

Let me deal first with the problem of authority. You say that you sent your inquiries to Pope John Paul II. He passed you off to Msgr. Sandri who fobbed you off on the Ecole Biblique who fobbed you off on Ray Brown who told you “Buy my book.”  My apologies for the run around. I can understand the Pope. Worrying about 1,200,000,000 people can be time consuming. He might have been busy that day, but by the time you got to the Ecole, perhaps someone should have invited you for tea and had a real sit down. But not to worry! Your questions have come to the attention of the Rev. Know-it-all.

First allow me to explain what you call the Church’s approbation. You doubtless are referring to the Nihil Obstat and the Imprimatur.   Nihil Obstat is Latin for “Nothing stands in the way.  After a reviewer called a “censor librorum” appointed by the local bishop has read the book and determines that it contains nothing damaging to faith or morals he give it his Nihil Obstat. Then the bishop of the author’s diocese or of the place of publication gives the book his Imprimatur, which means “let it be printed.” The Nihil Obstat doesn’t mean the censor or the bishop agree with the contents of the book, just that it contains nothing contrary to faith or morals. Nowadays you might see the following declaration printed along with an imprimatur:

 “The 'Nihil Obstat' and 'Imprimatur' are official declarations that a book or pamphlet is free of doctrinal or moral error. No implication is contained therein that those who have granted the Nihil Obstat and the Imprimatur agree with the content, opinions or statements expressed.”

An Imprimatur doesn’t mean that a book is an official text of the Church. It doesn't make the book part of the doctrinal content of the faith. This probably alarms you as it would alarm most Catholics. Think about it. A local bishop delegates someone to read a book that he hasn’t time to read and the reviewer says “Eh, it’s okay. Nothing awful.” And then the world thinks THE CATHOLIC CHURCH gives its approval and that the volume in question is THE TEACHING OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH. 

All it means is that the book isn’t going to hurt the faithful if it is read as intended. Especially with academic books, an author may be dealing with speculations and possible explanations of difficulties. The problem comes in when someone says, “This is what happened and this is what everyone should think!!!”  You’ve heard the old saw that “Two Jews; Three opinions.” There should be another old saw “1000 Catholic scholars; One opinion. Mine!”  Most people who masquerade as scholars consider themselves far more infallible than the pope ever has. People somehow want to believe that the CATHOLIC CHURCH is a monolithic authoritarian structure there is a Jesuit lurking around every corner, looking for heretics to burn, or perhaps an albino monk from the Opus Dei. (The Opus has no monks, albino or otherwise.) In fact, local bishops have a great deal of autonomy. Bishops don’t derive their authority from the pope. We believe they derive their authority from the Messiah, or Christ as we call Him. The Messiah ordained His disciples and they in turn ordained their successors, just like rabbinical s’micha and shlichim (ordination and apostles). 

Most Christians believe that the successor of the leader of the disciples has a general authority for the doctrine and practice of the Church, but this authority derives from the authority the Messiah gave one of His disciples Simon Bar Jona, to whom he gave the Aramaic title of Cepha, “Peter”, in Greek and Latin. So the current spiritual descendant of Peter has an oversight of the descendants of all the disciples, but their authority doesn’t derive from him. Thus there is a certain autonomy among these successors, the bishops. There are about 5,200 Catholic bishops in the world. And if one is bishop of a diocese where an author lives or publishes, that author may asked for an Imprimatur.  My point is this: the Catholic Church is anything but monolithic. It might alarm you to hear that an Imprimatur  does not mean those who have granted the Nihil Obstat and the Imprimatur agree with the content, opinions or statements expressed.” How can a bishop give permission to print a text with which he does not agree? The Catholic Church is actually a lot more tolerant than most people have been led to believe. Let us look at the Galileo unpleasantness.

We all know about Galileo Galilei (1564 to 1642). He is considered the father of modern physics and astronomy and was cruelly imprisoned by the pope in attempt to keep the world in intellectual thralldom to the forces of medieval religion and evil clergy. That’s history, right? Well, not exactly. Galileo insisted that the sun stood still and that the earth moved. Biblical references like Psalm 93, 96 and 1 Chronicles 16:30 have it that “the world is firmly established, it cannot be moved.” Psalm 104 says, “the Lord set the earth on its foundations; it can never be moved.” Ecclesiastes 1:5 says that “the sun rises and sets and returns to its place.” So we have a problem.  At a time when the north of Europe had erupted in religious war and the first Protestants were saying that the church was opposed to the Bible, the Church authorities had to tread lightly lest Italy and Spain break out in the same fratricidal nonsense that was tearing Germany, France and England apart. Galileo jumped into the fray insisting the Bile was wrong and he was right. The Sun stood still and the earth and the planets moved around it in an orderly circular motion. Galileo defended his observations by taking St. Augustine's position on Scripture that not every passage is to be taken literally. In the Bible there is poetry, law and history. Don’t confuse one with the other. That is in fact, the Catholic position.

Galileo was encouraged by his friend Cardinal Maffeo Barberini to publish his ideas. The same Cardinal Barberini was elected Pope Urban VIII in 1623. Galileo’s book, “Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems,” was published in 1632, with formal authorization from the Inquisition and papal permission. So what happened? Galileo assumed that he could say and publish what he wanted since Urban was his good friend. Urban, however was responsible for a lot more than Galileo’s theories. Pope Urban VIII (Maffeo Barberini) had personally asked Galileo to give the  arguments for and against his theories, but not to insist on one or the other. In short he asked that Galileo present all the theories. Galileo portrayed those who disagreed with him as idiots. Scholarly infallibility strikes again. Thus, Galileo was condemned by the Inquisition. 

Perhaps you’ve seen the Monty Python comedy sketch “No One Expects the Spanish Inquisition!”  At one point a rabid Cardinal shouts, “Show her the comfy chair!” That’s exactly what happened to Galileo. He was sent off to live in 1632 with the scholarly archbishop of Sienna in the bishop's palace where he was tortured with pleasant dinners and scholarly conversations.  In 1634 he was allowed to return to his villa near Florence under house arrest. He was ordered to read the seven penitential psalms once a week for three years. His daughter Maria Celeste asked permission to perform the penance herself and so he didn’t even have to do his own penance. During the house arrest he wrote his finest works.  He went blind in 1638 as well as having a hernia. He was allowed to go to Florence for treatment. And so he passed his life, working at home with family and visiting Florence. What unspeakable torture! He was sent home to keep him out of the fray in order not to tear up Spain and Italy with factionalism. Heck of a punishment.   

The irony of it is that Galileo was wrong after all. His theory did not answer the data. It turns out that the sun doesn’t stand still. The earth and the sun both move in relation to other bodies and which is moving around which is entirely a matter of where you are standing at that time. The planets don’t travel around the sun in circles they travel in ellipses. His theories did not match the data and the Church didn’t think that upsetting the apple cart for a possible theory was worth it, no matter how infallible Galileo claimed to be and no matter how he could drop the name of his old friend and admirer Pope Urban. 

If Galileo could have said, “Well, this is my theory, ” things would have been just fine. But he insisted that he was right and the religious opinion and the Bible wrong when there wasn’t enough data to support him. This is the way the Church works. Thinking and speculating are allowed. But when you turn speculation into private dogma, the Church and you part company. There are some cases more clear than others, but the Church isn’t the oppressor that people like to think. I often wish that the pope had the power that people claim. It would be a simpler world, but sometimes simple worlds aren’t the best. So where do you go to know what the Church teaches and believes? Easy. It’s all in a book called the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Next week: Dr. Brown

Friday, September 14, 2012

Didn't they take that out of the Bible? -- part 2

Continued form last week…

Yes, haven’t the movements of the sixties brought us great harmony and understanding? I was just listening to the news. There were only 9 murders in the African American section of Chicago last week. Way down from last year. This is the victory of the civil rights movement in which I marched as a young man? And the feminist movement for which I leafleted and protested in college has certainly improved the lot of women, hasn’t it?  Poverty and divorce, lung cancer and heart disease are rampant among women. What a great victory for feminism!

There has never been a feminist movement in America -- there has been a Masculinist movement. The pioneers of women’s liberation idealized what men did. A woman was powerless unless she did what men did. She should be a lawyer or doctor or truck driver or contractor. That’s where the power was! Women certainly can do all those things well and sometimes better than men. But there is one thing a woman can do that a man can’t do. She can create a home. 

It is not universal, but I think it is none the less true, that if a woman is removed from a family by the tragedy of death or divorce, a man can run a perfectly good household, but he can rarely create a home. Home is where you are safe. Children in our times are made to feel unsafe. “Now Bobby, put on your helmet and your knee pads and kiss your other mommy good night and go to bed.” We watch children like hawks because we feel so unsafe, so homeless. One hears regularly about some child killed by a stray bullet on Chicago’s south side as she sleeps or quietly watches television. If it is true that home is where you are safe, we have created a homeless world in which we pretend that expensive houses are homes. Mom will be late. She has a stockholders’ meeting. Who knows where Dad is? We think he is in the Bahamas with his new family. The nanny will make dinner and I’ll be home to tuck you in. Maybe. Let’s hope the nanny doesn’t beat the little dears when you aren’t looking. Better install a security camera to keep an eye on her. Little rich children who are as homeless as the children on the south side, who feel so little hope that they will grow to maturity and who dread the bullet coming through the window to kill them in their sleep. It is inexpressibly sad to watch weeping Grandmothers cry tears that absent mothers and fathers are not there to cry. Please, Lord a day when the tears will be dried!  The masculinist movement has removed the home from our experience if not our vocabulary.

“For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church." This line from St. Paul is particularly jarring to most Aquarians.  As an ex-Aquarian myself I found that line disconcerting until I heard a comment by the great Francis Cardinal George, a sharp cookie if ever there was one. He completely  befuddled an air headed member of the media when the “journalist”  asked the Cardinal, “So as leader of the Archdiocese, what are you going to do about...”  His Eminence looked at the reporter and said “I’m not the leader of the Archdiocese. I’m the head of the Archdiocese.”  The reporter whose reading probably did not extend past a teleprompter and the back of the hair spray bottle, was absolutely flummoxed by the statement. In a moment of crystal clarity I understood what the Cardinal meant. 

Leadership and headship are not the same thing. For instance, when I am hungry it is my stomach that is the leader of my body. When I stub my toe, it is my foot that is the leader of the body and so on. It is the job of the head to do what is best for the body and to get what the body needs, not necessarily what the body wants. Headship is a matter of service, not of arbitrary power. Christ is the head of the church, He is her servant. That is the nature of His Lordship. Remember that he said to His disciples as He washed their feet, “I am among you as one who serves.” (Luke 22:27) St Paul goes on to talk about the bath of water that the Lord prepares for His Bride, the Church. Gentlemen, when is the last time that you drew a bubble bath for your wife, or washed her tired feet?  

This is what the Lord is saying. The husband is the servant of the wife. His job is to create an environment in which she can be who she is. Most men think of headship and submission as “Put another log on the fire, and cook me up some bacon and some beans...”  Submission is letting the husband say, “Here, let me help you with that.” St. Paul is the one of history’s true romantics and his vision, or better, the Holy Spirit’s vision of marriage is something tender and beautiful. It is a mutual submission. But modern feminists miss that because they are to busy learning martial arts and attending consciousness-raising seminars.  So take your pick. God’s vision of the family, or the mechanized, heartless world we have chosen where motherhood is denigrated and babies are murdered in the womb, where men are idolized and woman masculinized. As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.

the Rev. Know-it-all

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Didn't they take that out of the Bible?

Dear Rev. Know it all,

Last Sunday my pastor read that awful passage from Ephesians about “wives submitting to their husbands in all things.”  I thought that had been removed from the Bible. Can you comment?

Frances X. Punge

Dear Ms. Punge,

The only people who remove things from the Bible are Martin Luther and the Jesus Seminar.  The Catholic Church does not take something out of the Scriptures because we don’t agree with it or it is not “modern.”  Let me quote the passage to which you are referring. 

 Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord.  For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word,  and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.  In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies.  (Ephesians, fifth chapter)

In the olden days, when I was a classics teacher, I  had a student who said that he never translated a word that was three letters or less. Needles to say, he didn’t learn much Latin or Greek. The smallest words in any language are the most important. Things like “yes,” “no” and “if” change things.  In the above quoted passage, the most important word is “as.”  Submit to your husband “AS” to Christ, not “as” to an owner, a ruler or a slavedriver. This passage qualifies the ancient relationship of husband and wife.  

 In a world where men owned women, this was heady stuff! To say that “the husband's body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife was inflammatory (1Cor. 7:4) As far as I know, St. Paul is the first person in human history to say that a man must, in any way, submit to a woman.  The passage that you want to expunge from the Bible is about the mutuality of the love of a man and a woman. This was a new vision in the ancient world. 

When St. Paul goes on to say, “husbands, love your wives” an ancient Greek or Roman would have asked “Why?” A woman was a kitchen appliance that could also bear children. The Arabs didn’t invent the harem, the Greeks did! (Among others.) Remember that the Roman empire was not Latin. It was culturally Greek At the time of the Apostles, there may well have been more people in Rome who spoke Greek than spoke Latin. It was a Greek, or Hellenistic world. 

A respectable, upper-class  Greek woman in the ancient world never left the house. She had slaves to do that. She stayed in the back rooms and led a life of well to do boredom. Greek men married for purposes of family alliances, money, status and so on, not for love. For love they had girl friends or boy friends. Marriage, especially among the upper classes, was an economic or political matter, and the same held true among the Romans, though they were not as prone to certain types of relationships as were the ancient Greek aristocracy.  St. Paul’s insistence on love in marriage would have seemed outlandish to his readers.

This shallow reading of Scripture, popular among feminists and the “Jesus Seminar “ people is one more example of the arrogance that passes for scholarship in the modern world. Because we cannot explain something in terms that satisfy the current age we dispose of it as being outdated. The 80 year-old young liberals who sit enthroned in universities, especially Catholic Universities, and in chancery offices, (or as we like to call it here in the diocese of Frosbite Falls, “downtown,”) are members of the age of Aquarius. (Remember? This is the Dawning of the Age of Aquarius...)  Hasn’t the age of Aquarius worked out splendidly?  Remember the song from the musical “Hair?”

This is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius
The Age of Aquarius, Aquarius! Aquarius!
Harmony and understanding
Sympathy and trust abounding
No more falsehoods or derisions
Golden living dreams of visions
Mystic crystal revelation
And the mind's true liberation
Aquarius! Aquarius!

To be continued…...