Ad Limina Apostolorum (Blog) | St. Augustine's Library
Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Catholics and the Bible 

I just came across an editorial by one J. Grant Swank, Jr., complaining about the U.S. bishops' decision last week to nix a proposed pastoral statement on the Catholic usage of the Bible. Somehow, Mr. Swank has interpreted this decision as a dismissal by the bishops of the Bible itself as a priority.

Swank's curious reading of this decision mirrors a broader misunderstanding within the American Church itself, that the importance of an issue is reflected in how many documents are published on it. In other words, if issue X is really important to us, then we ought to issue as many documents as possible on that issue, at least annually, even if we have next to nothing to say about it, and even if next to no one can be presumed to be reading our statements. It's this sort of approach to policy that weighs organizations like the USCCB down with bureaucratic paperwork, turning it into a Catholic publishinghouse for official statements which serve no purpose except to grant a self-assured satisfaction to the committees and subcommittees who write them.

Lest anyone think I'm being hard on our good bishops, this very appraisal was given by a bishops' committee during the November meeting, urging that the bishops cut down on producing redundant public statements ad nauseam and focus on the apostolic duties of governing, sanctifying and teaching. This committee's proposal was accepted nearly unanimously by the bishops.

The truth is, if you want a good statement on the Catholic reading of Scripture, it would be hard to surpass Pius XII's Divino Afflante Spiritu, which, though written sixty years ago, remains of perennial significance (I have argued that this is the greatest papal encyclical ever written, but no one believes me). Tack on Benedict XV's Spiritus Paraclitus, Leo XIII's Providentissimus Deus, and Vatican II's Dogmatic Constitution Dei Verbum (if you're into the whole 'brevity' thing), and you've got enough to satisfy anyone who's overly eager to read pastoral statements on Bible reading. Beyond this, we have the Catechism of the Catholic Church, vastly underrated as a Bible-reading tool, saturated as it is with biblical texts and references. (Bishop Earl Boyea, as mentioned in the Times article, objected to the aforementioned pastoral statement with the objection that the Catechism would make a much better tool than any such statement.)

Swank, however, waxes ecstatic on the primacy of the Bible in the evangelical churches (Swank, my research informs me, is himself a protestant minister), and what a great boon this has been to them: "The Bible is front and center in evangelical church life," etc., etc. Well, first off, the Catholic Church is not the evangelical church(es). If the holy Scriptures are 'front and center' in our Church, it is a position they must share with the holy Eucharist, the summit of our faith and worship. And the Scriptures in our Church serve not only as nourishment for the individual believer, but primarily for the common activities of "pastoral preaching, catechetics and all Christian instruction, in which the liturgical homily must hold the foremost place (Dei Verbum 24). In my view, the best way to nourish the Catholic reading of Scripture is to advance and reform these pastoral activities - i.e., preaching, catechetics, Christian instruction and liturgy. If these were carried out the way the Second Vatican Council intended them to be, Catholics would be getting fed with enough Scripture to put the most fervent evangelical to shame. But the last thing we need, to this end, is yet another pastoral statement; how about some implementation and enforcement of existing norms?
UPDATE: Christianity Today weighs in, voicing the same sentiments. (Thanks to Bill Cork.)

# posted by Jamie : 8:59 AM


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Ad Limina Apostolorum: An ecclesiastical term meaning a pilgrimage to the sepulchres of St. Peter and St. Paul at Rome, i.e., to the Basilica of the Prince of the Apostles and to the Basilica of St. Paul "outside the walls".

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