Introduction to Theology
(Notes of 2013)
theories of Religion
For Durkheim, religious belief must be
scientifically explained. If we look at religious facts we will see a sense of
“respect” given by people towards something mysterious and sacred for them.
This is why, for Durkheim, religious reality is real. It is not an illusion. Why does Durkheim say this? Religion
is really what the human has to make.
It is real in so far as it is a necessary human-cultural product. People must
create religion. It is a cultural activity that is expressed in many ways—like
statues or myths or clothes of priests, etc. It is a way by which a society puts itself in order.
Religion is a social-cultural product for the
human being. The human beig is both individual and social. To live in society
the individual needs ideas and practices. Each human being has this need to
belong to society. Here is where religion is helpful. When people of a society
follow a system of beliefs, each member of the society finds a place to belong.
Religion helps each one to say: “I belong to this social group…because we share
the same religious belief”. The different practices in the religion allow
members of the society to know what to do and what not to do. The social group
has a way of saying how to live together.
The human being, he says, is faced with many
fears and anxieties. Life is full of possible failures and hazards. So the
human being needs religion to serve needs in front of life’s uncertainties. So
what does religion offer?
Freud would say that religion offers an idea of
the world—a picture of the whole world. So the human being is not lost in this
wide world, the human has an idea of where to place himself/herself.
Freud would say that religion is useful for
giving the human being peace and calm. Life has its anguishes—like the anguish
of pain and death. So religion is helpful in giving the human being some sense
of life…an answer to the hard experiences.
Finally, Freud would say that religion offers the
human being a guide to behave in life. Religion, for example, gives moral codes
that are helpful for social living. Religion cements people together (and Freud
here sounds like Durkheim). In a way, with religion, people are able to avoid
conflicts of opinions and views. Religion gives society a sense of living
Because Freud was into psychology, he saw the
psychological use of religion. Psychologically religion gives consolation to people.
Religion for Geertz is a system of symbols. These can be pictures, objects, actions, rituals,
events, etc. (Think of Exodus as an event, the mass as a ritual, and the
crucifix as an object). The symbols have meanings about the nature of the
world. Symbols communicate something about how the world is—the reality of the
world. Symbols tell us how we should live—and just think of how the crucifix
really gives an example of this. Symbols tells us that there is a link between
how reality is and how we should live in it.
The system of symbols is powerful because it
gives moods and motivations. Symbols tell us about feelings and values. Again
look at the crucifix. Moods are associated with it. More than moods there are motivations. Symbols show us the motives
of our actions. So with the crucifix we are motivated to live as
"crucified". We “deny ourselves to live”.
Symbols therefore gives meaning to us—life makes
sense. We are encouraged to live on and not lose hope in daily life. We have
moods, emotions to help us through. Religion can have its emotions, right?
So we feel that we are living “the right way”. We
are not living in a chaos. When we fall into deep problems we have religious
symbols to help us. Look at the crucifix. Pray the rosary, etc.
The symbols do not necessarily take the pain
away; but they help us go through the pain—endure it. The trials of life are
not permanent, as religion will say. There is something ‘greater”. By looking
at the crucifix we might say that suffering has a divine purpose. So we feel ok
Important in religion, according to Geertz, is
that we must first believe. We must first accept the symbols. Then afterwards,
the symbols can help us. Before experiencing a problem, for example, it is
necessary to have a religion—a system of symbols. We are thankful for religion
and the symbols it offers because we are able to live daily life in a more
Marx has a
negative view of religion. Marx thinks that religion is a kind of drug—an
“opium”, he would call it. People create religion, he says. The human being is
“lost” in society—lost in the world. What might Marx mean by “lost”? Well, by
that he means that social relationships are marked by struggle—there are the
rich and powerful and there are the poor and exploited. The poor and exploited
are the ones “lost”. They are powerless. They work hard but they are not
So religion comes in, according to Marx. Religion
arises out of the classes of society. Religion justifies the inequality between classes. The poor and exploited
have to accept their situation as poor and exploited. Religion is created to
say that people are poor and their poverty is correct and acceptable—it is what
religion wants. People then take religion as an “opium”. By accepting what religion
says—that they are necessarily poor—they do not anymore face their real
situations. They stop looking at the social, political and economic oppression
done to them. Religion makes them accept the oppression as true and real. They
really merit their poverty, according to religion.
Notice then that for Marx religion is a helpful
tool of the elite and powerful in society. If the poor accept their
conditions…if the poor do not question why they are poor…then the powerful stop
worrying. The powerful can continue practicing exploitation and the poor accept
and believe that they merit the pain and suffering.
Marx believes that people should fight against
religion. People should open their eyes to the real causes of their poverty and
see how religion is only duping them. So a critique of religion destroys the
illusions of the poor and that the poor will open their eyes and realize how
they can be in-charge of their own destiny.
What is our faith all about? In what
is our faith rooted?
us look at the stand of the Church. In this discussion we will rely on the
document of Vatican II: Dei Verbum. Let us abbreviate it to DV. For the DV God
wants to communicate with us, humans, and God wants to do it in a friendly
way—like we are friends with God. (See DV#2). The big concern of God is to communicate with us. God wants us to
know him. God did it through Christ.
are reminded of Jesus who told his disciples, “Come and see” (Jn.1/39). So we
“come and see”. What does this imply? We participate in the life of God (see
2Pet.1/4). We become so fully human when we participate in the life of God. In
fact God wants to communicate with us so that we can have a share in divine
life. In God we find rest. In God we find the peace and repose of our lives.
This can happen when we participate in the life of God—sharing with God. The
more we participate the more fully human we become. Is this not a notion of
“vocation”? In answering our vocation we become happy and we bloom in our human
communicating with us God wants a complete sharing with us. The DV (#2) tells
us that in Christ we find the fullest communication of God. DV uses the word “revelation” to designate this
communication of God. God reveals to
us in Jesus Christ. Christ is the definite revelation of God. Christ reveals to
us what is from the Father! The face of the Father is fully manifest in Christ.
revelation in Christ did not happen in a single moment. Revelation took time. Initially the revelation of God was
“cosmic”—through the created universe. The world around us speak of God…the
world around us already reveals God.
us look at Ps.19/2-5. The heavens “declare”. The heavens speak about God. It
announces the reality of God. It makes a dialogue with us about God. So revelation
is already in the created world. There is a communication of God through the
created world. This is so universal—the created world is open to everyone. The
created world is not just given to the Chinese or the Indian.
would call this form of revelation as “natural revelation”. God reveals in nature. We can say that this is a
starting point in revelation.
there is “conscience”. God reveals not just in nature but in our very own hearts. Again theology would tend to call this
“supernatural revelation”. In our hearts
God communicates, God speaks. A lot of this comes from St. Paul. He would say
that eternal life in God is always a possibility (see Rom.2/7). God wants that
each and every person is in communication with him. God wants that we really
see the truth (see 1Tim.2/4).
God is so concerned with each person that God is, in a way, inscribed in our
hearts (see Rom.2/15). How? We have “conscience”. This is the light in each of
us. It is a kind of inner authority in
everyone that guides to lead a moral life. Conscience will be a topic
discussed a lot in another course, moral theology. But it is worth mentioning
it here, every very briefly.
idea is that God speaks in our hearts and tells us to do good and avoid evil.
It is, precisely, an inner authority that obliges us to think well about our
choices and decisions. So this conscience is a way of God’s being with us—a way
10. If God reveals in nature in our
hearts, God also reveals in history. This means, Biblically, that God started
with Abraham. We know the story. Abram—later Abraham—leaves his homeland to go
to the place that God will show (see Gen.12/1-2).
11. God reveals in concrete human life. God reveals in the situations and circumstances of human life. Note this in the
Abraham story. Remember the visit of the three men to Abraham and Sarah.
Remember the story of Sodom. In a way we can relate with the Abraham story. By
re-living it we recognize our own faith. The vocation of Abraham reflects our
12. Continuing the Biblical line we go
next to the Moses story. It is a story of liberation from slavery. The Hebrews
are delivered from the hands of the Egyptians.
13. In the Moses story we see that God’s
revelation is overwhelming. Moses himself could not look at God (see Ex.33/20).
In the Moses story we also see the installation of the Law. God who was present
in the desert leading the people now gives a Law so that the people can learn
to live socially in the land given to them. The Law has been established
through a covenant—an agreement between God and people. God who liberated the
Hebrews from slavery initiated a covenant in which rules and regulations were
14. Note that in Moses God is more actively interfering in history. The
word of God is not just speaking it is already
event-making. The Bible gives us many examples of this, especially in the
historical books like Samuel and Kings. The history of the Hebrew people is
seen as a history led by God.
15. Next God communicated through the
prophets. The prophet is someone who speaks “in the name of God”—a
“spokesperson”. The prophet transmits to the people the word of God. In history
the Hebrew nation was always tempted by injustice and idolatry. The prophet
belonged to that nation. So the prophet was torn—seeing injustice and idolatry,
yet having a deep love for the Lord God. At one point the prophet sensed his
vocation to speak to the people on behalf of God. God spoke through the
16. Let us pause for a while and observe
what we have, so far, been discussing. We discuss the idea of revelation—God’s
self-communication. This revelation, as understood by the Church, has its cosmic dimension. It has its inner dimension—inside each human. And
it has its historical dimension.
These are basic to revelation. In the historical revelation God comes really
close to the concrete lives of people. God intervenes in history. God gives
laws. God expresses his displeasure over human injustice. He has done this
initially to an elected people—the
Hebrew nation. God entered into covenant with the Hebrews. But this people had
an “international” call to spread the word of God to all nations. God’s
historical revelation was initiated through the elected people of Israel. This history was to eventually lead to the
coming of Christ. Christ is the definite revelation of God.
17. DV (#2) continues to tell us that
after a long flow of history the final word of God is given. This was Jesus. God
has been revealing all along and he was revealing through his word. His word
spoke to Abraham, Moses and the prophets. God never spoke outside human speech.
His word has always been in the core of human life.
18. But then came a point when the word of
God became flesh. The word of God
became human—incarnated. (The prologue of John’s gospel indicates this well.)
Jesus Christ is the word became flesh and dwelt among us. God’s word assumed
the human condition.
19. Jesus Christ revealed the Father and
the plan of the Father. By the words and actions of Jesus the Father was
revealed. The PERSON of Jesus was, at the same time, the revelation of the
Father. Our faith is not just a teaching. It is about a PERSON.
20. Revelation, in Christian terms, is
finally Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the summit
of God’s revelation. In the very person of Jesus we see the message of the
Father’s love and forgiveness. Both the
message and the messenger are one.
21. Now, what do you think? Has this
helped resolve the issues raised by the philosophers we discussed earlier?
Remember Kant, Spinoza and Lessing? Their ideas challenged our faith. How could
revelation be a response to their challenges?
22. Let us take a closer look at the
notion of revelation.
word “revelation” is so important for us Christians. It indicates that
what we believe in has been shown to us. It has been communicated to us.
It has been revealed to us. So it is not something we create out of our
imagination. Just look at the word “reveal”. It has root meanings: re
which means "opposite of" and velare which means "to
cover, to put a veil on". So to reveal mean “to remove the
veil” so that whatever is under it will show—it is “to unveil”.
might interest us to discuss what shows when unveiled. There is a word we
can think of: evidence. This word has roots: ex which means
"out of" and videre which means "to see". So
“evidence” is something we can see because it is out in the open. Evidence
and unveiling go well together. When we unveil, we bring something out in
the open so that we can see it.
our Christian faith, God “unveils” and shows his evidence. What is this
evidence? It is something that has been hidden and is now out in the open.
Here is one passage from as epistle of St. Paul. It might help us here.
“For he has made known to us in all wisdom and insight the mystery of his
will, according to his purpose which he set forth in Christ” (Eph. 1/9).
Notice what the verse is saying. There was, before, a mystery in veil. God
has “unveiled” it. He has made it known to us. It is now evidence for us.
What was that hidden mystery? It was God’s plan. It was his purpose. He
has made it known to us in Christ. So part of the evidence—which is
God’s plan—is Jesus.
Vatican II document Dei Verbum notes that what has been hidden has
been eventually revealed. God has made known to us something….something of
God himself. God had a plan for all of us. The Dei Verbum says:
“His will was that men should have access to the Father, through Christ, the
Word made flesh, in the Holy Spirit, and thus become sharers in the divine
nature (Eph. 2:18; 2 Pet. 1:4) ( #2). The plan of God is to make himself
known so that we can have a share in his life.
us continue with St. Paul. Here is what he has written: “Even as he chose
us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and
blameless before him. He destined us in love to be his sons through Jesus
Christ, according to the purpose of his will” (Eph. 1/4-5). What is the
verse saying. God created us—he chose us. This was the mystery that
God has unveiled. He had a plan and his plan was to make us share in his
life by making us his children through Christ.
did not seem to be in a hurry with his revelation. He took time. God
revealed in time. There were stages in the revelation—revelation
did not come “instantly”. Think of entering a movie house as we come from
the bright outdoor. When we enter we cannot see well. Our eyes need to get
used to the dark…but slowly we are able to find our seats. In way, when
God revealed, he took time so that we could be accustomed. The evidence
may be so overwhelming we might not see it at once. So God took time for
us to be accustomed.
revelation took stages—from the Old Testament to the New Testament, from
the ancient history of Israel and the prophets to Jesus and the Church.
Let us look at these stages.
us read from St. Paul. “For what can be known about God… God has shown it…
Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his
eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that
have been made” (Rom. 1/19-20). In the beginning there was the invisible
and eternal power of God. When God created the world, that invisible
and eternal power could be perceived in the created things. By looking at
the created world, God’s power—and therefore God’s presence—can be evident.
There is evidence of the hidden mystery of God—it is in the
there was a “fall”. Adam-Eve “disobeyed”. Does this mean that God stopped
being evident? Does this mean that God has gone into hiding? No. God was
just more difficult to accept—the “fall” of Adam and Eve made their eyes
confused and disturbed. But God did not withdraw his love. He continued
to be evident. This time the evidence had to come by a promise: redemption.
Here is where revelation started to take a slower pace. In the garden,
before the “fall”, there was a direct and instant connecting with the Lord
God. But with the “fall”, things slowed down. One important point is that
God never gave up.
Paul then would add: “For he will render to every man according to his
works; to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honour
and immortality, he will give eternal life” (Rom.2/6-7). St. Paul is here
talking about anyone who has the patience to live good and to live in
communion with God. God will always be evident to anyone living in
communion with him. But again, it will take time.
in mind that now the movement of revelation is in terms of God fulfilling
his promise of having us share in his life. It started with creation and
it continues with redemption.
after the Adam and Eve story, we read about the different ways by which
human sin marked human life: Cain and Abel, Noah and the flood. Then with
the Tower of Babel we read about the pride which unified people perversely.
Babel breaks down and people end with the confusion of languages.
slowly moved with humanity—as with “two dancers in the desert”. Now
that humanity is confused and scattered, it became necessary for God to
bring everyone back together again. So we read the story of the nation of
Israel starting with Abraham and the Patriarchs. Then we have the exodus
with Moses. The people become a nation. The people of God, called by the
Lord God, will be a witness to all nations. But the people still
split apart in two kingdoms. The Northern kingdom does not survive long
and falls. The Southern kingdom continues but also falls in Exile.
Jerusalem is renovated, the nation rises again…only to see itself
conquered by new empires—the Greek and the Roman empires. It would be such
a long time as God moves along the history of Israel. God’s plan—to make
us sharers of his life—continues. It is a plan that will be evident in due
Dei Verbum of Vatican II had to explain this. God, said the
document, reveals by actions and words. These actions and words are
recorded in the Old Testament (OT) and in the New Testament (NT). God
revealed Himself in early time to Abraham, to Moses and to the prophets.
God adopted Israel as his own people. God said that they can look forward
to the Messiah—the Christ—and so God prepared the way for the coming of
Jesus (Dei Verbum #3).
summit of revelation will have to come in Jesus Christ. The first two verses
of the letter to the Hebrews summarize the long process of God’s
revelation: “In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by
the prophets; but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he
appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world”
(Heb.1/1-2). In the “last days” the definite revelation of God is Christ.
It is so definite that there will be no further revelation. Following
St. Paul we see: “I charge you to keep the commandment unstained and free
from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ”
(1Tim.6/14). Again St. Paul would say: “…awaiting our blessed hope,
the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ”
(Tit.2/13). Everything else after Jesus will be a waiting for the return
of Jesus. God has made final his revelation and the most definite
evidence is Jesus Christ.
- Dei Verbum states that God sent Jesus, his
only-begotten Son. Jesus is the light of the world. Jesus has dwelt among
us. Jesus has revealed the inner life of God and God’s plan for the world.
Jesus Christ completed and perfected revelation. He revealed something
definite that there will be no new public revelation of God until the
fulfilment of time—when Christ will come again in glory (Dei Verbum
course even if the evidence in Christ is complete, we still have to
“digest” it in our lives. Things do not happen to us instantaneously too.
We need time to fully see the sense of the revelation of God. Our response
to God’s revelation, says the Dei Verbum, is faith. We
freely assent to what Jesus revealed and we commit ourselves to God (Dei
are other ways of accessing the revelation of God. Dei Verbum #6 says that
the notion of revelation can be known with certainty by the natural
light of human reason from considering the created world. This is an
interesting topic but we will not dwell on it in this course.
Church is an important avenue for revelation. This is what Dei Verbum
adds. Jesus is the fullness of the revelation of God. He taught the
Apostles all about God. He told them the plan of God. Jesus commanded them
to preach the Gospel to all nations. The Apostles did this. They spoke
about Jesus and what the message of Jesus was. As the Apostles grew old
and later died, those alive put things in writing.
according to Dei Verbum, founded the Church. He started with
Peter and the Apostles. The Apostles appointed bishops as their
successors. They gave to the Bishops their own teaching authority. So this
became the sacred Tradition. Tradition and Scriptures are “like a
mirror, in which the Church, during its pilgrim journey here on earth,
contemplates God” (Dei Verbum #7).
we have a deposit of truth—everything rooted back to the Apostles. The
teaching of the Church is based on that original preaching of the
Apostles. Of course this understanding of the faith grows. Saints and
bishops continue to reflect on God’s Word. The Church applies the insights
of the Apostles on truths to new problems and circumstances.
and Scripture come from the same divine source. The Bible is “the speech
of God as it is put down in writing under the breath of the Holy Spirit” (Dei
Verbum #9). Tradition transmits the Word of God given to the
Apostles by Jesus. The Church speaks of revealed truth both from Scripture
and from Tradition.
- In Dei
Verbum #10 we read: “Sacred Tradition and sacred Scripture make up
a single sacred deposit of the Word of God, which is entrusted to the
Church”. So the three are so closely linked—Scriptures, Tradition and the
Church (Magisterium). For us, then, revelation will have to take all three
What do you think?
This is part of the latest encyclical of Pope
Francis Lumen Fidei. The sections we read here can be very useful for our
UNLESS YOU BELIEVE,
YOU WILL NOT UNDERSTAND
(cf. Is 7:9)
Faith and truth
23. The trustworthy truth of
God is his own faithful presence
throughout history, his ability to hold together times and ages, and to
gather into one the scattered strands of our lives.
need knowledge, we need truth, because without these we cannot stand firm, we
cannot move forward. Faith without truth … is reduced to a lofty sentiment
which brings consolation and cheer, yet remains prey to the vagaries of our
spirit and the changing seasons, incapable of sustaining a steady journey
through life. Faith is … able to offer a new light… it sees further into the
distance and takes into account the hand of God, who remains faithful to his
covenant and his promises.
Truth itself, the truth which would comprehensively explain our life as
individuals and in society, is regarded with suspicion. … what we are left with
is relativism, in which the question of universal truth — … is no longer
relevant. The question of truth … deals with something prior to ourselves and can succeed in uniting us in a way that
transcends our petty and limited individual consciousness.
Faith as hearing and sight
Bible presents (faith) as a form of hearing; it is associated with the sense of
hearing. … it recognizes the voice of the one speaking, opens up to that person
in freedom and follows him or her in obedience. … Faith is also a knowledge bound to the
passage of time, for words take time
to be pronounced, and it is a knowledge assimilated only along a journey of discipleship. The experience
of hearing can thus help to bring out more clearly the bond between knowledge
… The Old
Testament combined both kinds of knowledge, … hearing God’s word is accompanied
by the desire to see his face. … Hearing emphasizes personal vocation and
obedience, and the fact that truth is revealed in time. Sight provides a vision
of the entire journey and allows it to be situated within God’s overall plan;
without this vision, we would be left only with unconnected parts of an unknown
believe is both to hear and to see. Faith… recognizes the voice of the Good
Shepherd …; it is a hearing which calls for discipleship… But faith is also
tied to sight. Seeing the signs which Jesus worked leads at times to faith…
faith itself leads to deeper vision….
one attain this synthesis between hearing and seeing? It becomes possible
through the person of Christ himself, who can be seen and heard. … This means that faith-knowledge does
not direct our gaze to a purely inward truth. The truth which faith discloses
to us is a truth centred on an encounter
with Christ. … With their own eyes they (the Apostles) saw the risen Jesus and
they believed; in a word, they were able to peer into the depths of what they
were seeing and to confess their faith in the Son of God, seated at the right
hand of the Father.
was only in this way, by taking flesh, by sharing our humanity, that the
knowledge proper to love could come to full fruition. For the light of love is
born when our hearts are touched and we open ourselves to the interior presence
of the beloved, who enables us to recognize his mystery. … (Now) together with
hearing and seeing… faith is touch. "What we have heard, what we have seen
with our eyes and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life" (1
Jn1:1). By his taking flesh and coming among us, Jesus has touched us, and
through the sacraments he continues to touch us even today; transforming our
hearts, he unceasingly enables us to acknowledge and acclaim him as the Son of
God. In faith, we can touch him and receive the power of his grace.
The dialogue between faith and reason
33. … The light becomes, so to speak, the
light of a word, because it is the light of a personal countenance, a light
which, even as it enlightens us, calls us and seeks to be reflected on our faces
and to shine from within us.
light of love proper to faith can illumine the questions of our own time about
truth. …if truth is a truth of love, if it is a truth disclosed in personal
encounter with the Other and with others, then it can be set free from its
enclosure in individuals and become part
of the common good. …
of science thus benefits from faith: faith encourages the scientist to remain
constantly open to reality in all its inexhaustible richness. Faith awakens the
critical sense by preventing research from being satisfied with its own
formulae and helps it to realize that nature is always greater. By stimulating
wonder before the profound mystery of creation, faith broadens the horizons of
reason to shed greater light on the world which discloses itself to scientific
Faith and the search for God
Religious man is a wayfarer; he must be ready to let himself be led, to come
out of himself and to find the God of perpetual surprises. …Christian faith in
Jesus, the one Saviour of the world, proclaims that all God’s light is
concentrated in him, in his "luminous life" which discloses the
origin and the end of history. There
is no human experience, no journey of man to God, which cannot be taken up,
illumined and purified by this light. The more Christians immerse themselves in
the circle of Christ’s light, the more capable they become of understanding and
accompanying the path of every man and woman towards God.
faith is a way, it also has to do with the lives of those men and women who,
though not believers, nonetheless desire to believe and continue to seek. To
the extent that they are sincerely open to love and set out with whatever light
they can find, they are already, even without knowing it, on the path leading
to faith. They strive to act as if God existed, at times because they realize
how important he is for finding a sure compass for our life in common or
because they experience a desire for light amid darkness, but also because in
perceiving life’s grandeur and beauty they intuit that the presence of God
would make it all the more beautiful.
Faith and theology
theology is more than simply an effort of human reason to analyze and
understand, along the lines of the experimental sciences. …Right faith orients
reason to open itself to the light which comes from God, so that reason, guided
by love of the truth, can come to a deeper knowledge of God. …theology, as a
science of faith, is a participation in
God’s own knowledge of himself…the acceptance and the pursuit of a deeper
understanding of the word which God speaks to us, the word which God speaks
about himself, for he is an eternal dialogue of communion, and he allows us to
enter into this dialogue.
also shares in the ecclesial form of faith; its light is the light of the
believing subject which is the Church. This implies, on the one hand, that
theology must be at the service of the faith of Christians, that it must work
humbly to protect and deepen the faith of everyone, especially ordinary
believers. On the other hand, because it draws its life from faith, theology
cannot consider the magisterium of the Pope and the bishops in communion with
him as something extrinsic, a limitation of its freedom, but rather as one of
its internal, constitutive dimensions, for the magisterium ensures our contact
with the primordial source and thus provides the certainty of attaining to the
word of Christ in all its integrity.
A Discussion about the Biblical Inspiration
Fom Marcel Domergue S.J. and Bernard Sesboüé S.J.
does not reveal in an instant. He takes time in communicating. Revelation
happens in time. So the human gets accustomed slowly—like getting accustomed to
a dark room when we enter. Revelation is gradual. We get used to the word of
God slowly, gradually. This is what the Bible
tells us. It is a long story of God interacting with humanity first through
Israel. The Old Testament shows images of God but they are still insufficient.
Slowly things become clear until we reach Jesus. The clearest moment of revelation
is in Jesus.
main access to the revelation in Christ is, of course, the Scriptures and the
gospels in particular. The Bible carries memories of Israel—memories of having
encountered God. The authors of the books of the Bible were inspired. Let us look at this idea of
We might want to look at the meaning of Creation. Creation is not an
event that happened only once. It is on-going. We are still in the process of
Creation. We are still in the process of fulfilling ourselves, moving to our
becoming fully human. Creation is on-going in our history, both social and
personal. We go through the ups and downs of life—becoming more and more images
of God. The Bible is part of our process. It is integrated to our growth as
humans. In a way we can say that the Bible is part of our creation. It is very
much part of our path to our fulfilment.
The Bible is also a “story”. The entire Bible is a result of a
“mobilization” of many authors. The entire Bible is a “great story”. It is the
great story of human fulfilment. It is a great story of God teaching the human
being how to overcome the different ways of becoming “inhuman” and how to
become “child of God”. The great story therefore moves to Christ who is the
last and definite Word of the story. The great story leads us to see how the
human person becomes conformed to Christ.
How do we interpret the notion of “inspiration”? How can we say that the
Bible is inspired? One way of replying is by seeing the great story of the
Bible as the route of God’s plan for humanity. Each part of the Bible
reveals the path of this plan—and the path is human striding towards Christ.
Each part of the Bible also reveals human deception and how the human person is
called to be free from it. Liberty is found in Christ. Each part of the entire
Bible is therefore “inspired” in the sense that it points to the route towards
The Bible is inspired when we see it as a result of the Covenant between
God and the human being. It is a common work between God and human authors. We
might be used to think that the Bible is “Word of God”. But we should not
forget that those who wrote the books contained in it were human authors (see
Dei Verbum 3). Human authors wrote with their own temperaments, cultures,
linguistic styles, literary skills, states of mind, etc. The human authors
wrote about their experiences of God within their lives. Human authors recorded
God entry into history.
We can rely on the created universe and our own hearts to discover the
revelation of God. But we cannot deny that God’s revelation has passed through
history too. It was the history of the Hebrew people in the Old Testament and
the history of the coming of Jesus Christ. God really intervened in history and
he has definitely historically revealed in the person of Jesus Christ. God’s
revelation passed through the inner lives or conscience of people—like Abraham,
Moses and the prophets. It also passed through the inner lives of the Biblical
authors. People encountered God and they responded through their actions and,
for some, through their writing down the encounter. People articulated, in
their own culture and language, their experiences of God.
God “in-forms” people and people express that “in-formation”. Revelation
is not something that falls from the sky. The Bible is not a “dictated” book
which human authors jotted down. The Bible is mediated. What the mediators (the
authors) wrote was the object of their faith. An illustration from the New
Testament can help us understand what happened to the authors. Consider the
confession of Peter. What do we read? Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do you say
that I am?” On behalf of everyone Peter gives the response, “You are the
Christ, the Son of the living God”. How does Jesus react to this? He says that
it is not by human invention that Peter is able to give his confession. It is
“by my Father who is in heaven” (see Mt.16/13-20). What do we see in this?
Jesus is saying that God makes the confession of Peter possible. God has
revealed the truth to Peter and Peter, in his faith, makes the confession.
Peter’s confession is a result of “inspiration”. Peter was “inspired”.
In the same way, Biblical authors were “inspired”. Then they wrote,
using their talents, skills, language and cultural concepts. In their own human
capacities, they mediated the message of God by putting it in writing. God
entered and revealed within human history and that revelation was recorded as
Biblical texts. We said, above, that the summit of revelation is Jesus Christ,
the Word made flesh. God’s revelation passes through the words and deeds of
Jesus. The story about Jesus, including the experience of seeing him
risen from the dead, became the “material” of the Gospel authors. They received
the definite revelation of God and in their faith they put down the experience
in writing. They were “inspired” to write.
The authors were not interested in writing a historical account of God,
not in the modern sense of history. They did not hesitate to write with
fantastic images. The truth that they wrote went beyond the exactitude of
events. Of course “something happened”. Of course events took place. If we read
the Gospels we cannot deny that the authors were going back to real historical
events of Jesus. But the written texts were interpretations of the events. So
when we say that St. Mark wrote about Jesus, we mean “the gospel according to
Mark”. The point is, there was an experience of God and this experience found
its way into written texts.
This allows us to do scientific work on the Bible. There are many fields
in Biblical study—like historical criticism, form criticism, structuralism,
semiotics, archaeology etc. They are quite scientific. They do not destroy
confidence in the Bible. In fact, scientific work can help us see better what
the human authors might have wanted to say. They can help us deepen our
understanding of the meaning that human authors have given to their writings.
10. The Bible is not God’s work alone.
It is the result of the “face-to-face” relationship between God and human
authors. It is a kind of “covenant” between God and the writers. The Bible is a
result of encounters between God and the authors. Then it was expressed in
written texts. God inspired authors to write, just as he inspired Peter to
confess that Jesus is Christ. This is what our Christianity tells us. The human
authors, such as the Gospel authors, wrote using their concepts and categories.
They used their own language, talents and resources. They took materials from
the community they lived in. They recorded the memories of those who knew
Jesus. What they wrote then became part of the community.
11. The Bible is also a community work. The
community decides which books shall be considered “inspired”. In theological
language this is called “canon”. Canon means “rule”. The community decides
which book is “canonical”—that which is accepted as inspired and guide for the
12. Christianity is not a “religion of the
book”, as some would say. It is a religion of the community. The community has
been provided with the Bible, yes. The Bible guides the community. But the
Bible is also what the community gives to itself. The Bible emerges out of the
“canonical” choice of the community. The Bible forms the community just as it
is moulded by the community.
13. Let us focus on the Gospel stories.
Jesus did not write anything. What he left behind was a community of disciples
to whom he gave his teachings and to whom he showed his way of living. The
community then gave itself the written texts. In those texts the community recognized
its faith. The written texts were expressions of their faith.
14. In a way we can say that the Bible lets
God speak! The Bible lets Jesus speak! As a community we recognize our faith in
the Bible. When we enter into studying and praying the Bible we recognize how
God speaks in and through it.
15. We need to say a word about reading the
Bible as Christians. When we read the Bible we will notice how one passage
opens up to many other passages. Just look at the Bible you use. Notice the
notes and the passages recommended in margins. Take the example of the 40-day
Temptation of Christ in the desert. The number 40 tells us about the 40 years
of the Hebrews in the desert. The hungry Jesus was tempted to doubt the word of
God. Yet Jesus did not give up. The author wanted to tell us that although
Israel failed in confidence toward God, Jesus kept that confidence. The
temptation in the desert also refers to the future—to the Passion of Jesus. In
the Passion story Jesus refused to employ power and might. Already the
Temptation in the desert “previewed” it. So reading the Bible opens up to a lot
of references and cross references. For us Christians reading the Bible, the
references and cross reference should find their centre in Christ. The Old
Testament is read beginning with Christ. Christ is the key.
16. In fact the New testament authors were
following the same path. Seeing Jesus they looked back at the Old testament.
They “retrospected”—looked back—and saw in the Old Testament references to
Christ. We do not begin with the Old Testament and see the New testament as
resulting from it. This is not how we, Christians read the Old Testament.
Christ is the key, and starting from him we move to the Old Testament .
(So do we see why the
“final” interpreter of the Bible—and the New Testament in particular—is the
Magisterium? The Magisterium has the work of preserving the faith. In the
Magisterium is the task of keeping the “deposit of faith” intact. But the
Magisterium is in continuity with the Apostolic tradition. In other words,
the Magisterium is rooted in and connected with the Apostles and the revelation
of Christ to the Apostles. The gospel texts emerged from the community—from the
Church together with the Apostles as Church leaders. So it is but
understandable that today we still give importance to the role of the
Magisterium as “final arbiter” of scriptural interpretations.)
Some reflections on the Bible
The status of the
Vatican I (1870) there was an uneasiness regarding modernity. Modernity
was too open to scientific reason and even atheism. Part of the unease was
about the protestant rejection of the magisterium of the Church. Vatican I
felt that there was an emphasis on “private religion” for protestant
reformists. Without need for the magisterium the approach to the Bible
became rational. Vatican I felt that the Bible, for modernity, was treated
as a text purely human had stopped being something from God.
so the Catholic Bishops of Vatican I took a hard stand. For them the Bible
already reveals the eternal decrees of God; the magisterium of the
Catholic Church received from God the charge of correctly interpreting
the Bible. The magisterium gives its interpretation through dogmas and
doctrines valid for all.
Vatican I gave principles of studying the Bible. Study, said the council,
is in the service of doctrine as presented by the magisterium. To read the
Bible is to first recognize what the Catholic Church already teaches.
Bible study should not submit to the hazards of research. There is already
the teaching of the Church to which the scholar must refer.
the Vatican I council, revelation in written texts (and in non-written
texts of Tradition) comes from Jesus who transmitted his communication to
the Apostles under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. There is no
distance between the written texts and the interpretation of the
was a reaction, again, to modernity. By pre-empting the understanding of
scripture, the Christian is assured. The Christian lives secured of
possessing truths already given by the Church. The Christian knows, at
once, what to believe in.
modernity became very strong way into the 20th century. Critical
researches began to question the historical elements in the Scriptures.
The faith dimension was challenged—and even battered.
came Vatican II. It gave a new start for the Catholic Church. The document
of Dei Verbum dropped this idea looking at the Bible as purely—and
“fundamentally”—from God. It dropped the idea of direct revelation in the
Scriptures. A new theme arose: encounter. Let us explain.
council followed the inspiration in John’s first letter: “…for the life
was made visible; we have seen it and testify to it and proclaim to you
the eternal life that was with the Father and was made visible to us what
we have seen and heard we proclaim now to you, so that you too may have
fellowship with us; for our fellowship is with the Father and with his
Son, Jesus Christ” (1Jn.1/2-3).
was seen and heard—this was announced—and written. The starting point
would then be the living word, the person of Jesus Christ—experienced and
received in confidence. The “good news” is not anymore something inscribed
in texts. Rather it is the person of Jesus.
Verbum would say that God revealed
as a friend. To listen to his word is to have an experience of God
communicating with us. It is to enter into friendship with the Word made
flesh. So the study of the Bible is more of encountering Christ.
The Scriptures form a dialogue between God and us. The sense of the
Scriptures is not simply what the magisterium tells us.
reading and studying the Bible, following the line of Vatican II, we see
how the disciples and the early Christians have had their encounter with
Christ. Scriptures, notably the Gospels, bear witness to an encounter with
Christ. So reading the Scriptures will mean presupposing that
encounter. Taking cue from John, the Gospels are results of having
encountered Jesus and testifying to that encounter. The texts are no
longer directly from God, they are mediated by human authors.
Our distance from the
Yet, we admit that the Bible is also distant also from. It has
its language, its cultural setting, its social influences etc. The authors had
their own styles of writing and they were writing also from their own languages
and their own personalities. The characters of the authors influenced also the
writing of the texts. The Bible is also about a past; it contains concepts and
ideas from past far from our context.
Furthermore, the texts were also written long after events they
witness to. Already there is general agreement that the gospel text of Mark was
written around 60 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus. The gospel
text of John was written a century after the Jesus-event. We cannot
pretend that we have no distance not just from the event recorded but also from
the recording itself. We cannot say that the texts open up to us completely
Already Old Testament texts are proof of this distance. The Pentateuch
was written in different periods of time. God himself was adored in many ways.
The notion of God as YHWH passed through stages—perhaps originating from the
non-Hebrew nation of Edom. The reform of Josiah reform had removed resistance
to a common trait of God and a “YHWH-alone” theology was developed.
If that happened with the Pentateuch, it also happened with the New
Testament texts. The Lutheran Bultmann already noted it. He saw that New
Testament gospel texts were written much after the Jesus-event. For Bultmann we
have no access to actual event. What we have, he said, are literary things.
They are “faith materials” applied to Jesus. Bultmann concluded that the
texts may not exactly come from Jesus but just applied to him.
Of course Bultmann exaggerated. Vatican II already said that the texts
presuppose the encounter with Jesus. Even if the texts were written by
human authors and even if the texts were “literary” and “faith” applications to
Jesus, they are still proofs of the encounter with Jesus. The encounter had
such an impact on the memories of the early Christians that the memories found
their way into the texts.
The contribution of Bultmann, however, cannot be dismissed. His insight
into the distance we have with the Bible has to be taken seriously so that we
do not just jump into any kind of interpretation we want about the texts. We
need to be prudent and see what exactly was involved in the context of the
One more element of distance is in the fact that authors wrote for their
particular readers—their communities. They did not think of many
others—centuries after—who will still read their texts. They did not think that
there will be MAPAC students one day…so they did not write for MAPAC students.
Mark may have written for the Christians in Rome. Matthew may have written for
the Christians in Antioch. Maybe Luke also wrote for those in Antioch—or maybe
not. John may have written for the Christian community in Ephesus. So in the
early years of the Church, there were separate texts. Only much later did the
Church compile them and made a definite set of texts.
We are not in the position to do high-level Biblical studies here. But
let us mention some of the approaches available—and accepted by the Church.
There is the method called “historical criticism”. It investigates the origins
of the text. What is “the social-cultural world behind the text”? The goal is
to see the text's original meaning in its original historical context. It also
seeks to see the historical situation of the author and his readers. Part of
historical criticism is “source criticism”. This approach searches for the
original sources behind a text. What were the influences of the authors? From
where did they compose their texts? For example, the study of Babylonian myths
show their influence on the authors of Genesis. For the gospel texts, possibly
they had two-sources. One source was an early version of Mark and the other
source was a set of texts by an unknown author (which Bible scholars call as
Then there is “form criticism”. Form criticism sees the Bible down as
sections (“periscopes”) which are then analyzed and categorized according to
their genres. Is the periscope a poem? Is it a fable? Is it a legal document?
Is it a hymn? Etc.). Form criticism also traces the way in which the pericopes
entered the larger units of the whole text. Was the periscope first oral and
then written? How was it used in the community of readers?
Then there is “canonical criticism”. This studies the final form of
the text as a totality. In other words, even if there were different
periods in writing the text, it has a final form now—its accepted “canonical
form”. Canonical criticism does not anymore focus on origins and genres, for
example. Instead it looks at the total text. In the Old Testament the
Pentateuch was written over many centuries. But it was assembled together at
one point—during the Persian period. So canonical criticism would ask how the
assembly was made and what could have been the motive for putting such texts
together. So too is this applied in the gospel assembly. For us there are four
gospels considered canonical. What would be the nature of this assembly of
Then there is the more recent “narrative criticism”. This is a recent
forms of criticism based on theories of literature. Narrative criticism looks
at the text as a narrative structure and composition. It has its plot
development, its characterisation, its setting, etc. It includes studying the
possible motives of the author as narrator—like why is he approaching the
narrative from the point of view of the character in the story? (This form of
criticism is very interesting and can be useful for MAPAC students).
Other criticisms are applied from time to time. One is “socio-scientific
criticism”. This too is quite new. It relies on the social sciences, especially
anthropology and sociology. Socio-scientific criticism is concerned with the
sociological and anthropological world behind the text.
Related to socio-scientific criticism is “psychological criticism”. This
is said to be more of a perspective rather than a method. It looks at the
psychological dimensions of the authors of the text. This too can be
interesting. In general then, the human sciences can be applied to studying the
Facing the conflicts
of interpretations today
Take an example. Catholic Church practices sacrament for the sick.
Recommended in James 5/14-15: “Is anyone among you sick? He should summon the
presbyters of the church, and they should pray over him and anoint [him] with
oil in the name of the Lord, and the prayer of faith will save the sick
person….”. Many might think that the “anointing” is like that done to kings or
prophets or even of the Messiah. But the text uses the verb “to anoint” for
medicine and cosmetics. The verb is used also for fasting: “But when you fast,
anoint your head and wash your face “ (Mt 6,17). The same is used when
embalming the dead: “When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary, the
mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go and anoint him”
(Mc 16,1). It would be an exaggeration to do a complicated theology on what
James is only referring to as an ordinary gesture of anointing. The question
is: might we not be sometime “over-doing” and twisting the bible in a direction
convenient for us? We want the Bible to mean something that is close to
what we want and not to what may be in the text.
Our reading of Bible often passes through habits and practices we do not
question. Comprehension is unquestioned. We do not often recognize the distance
we have with the text. What can we do? How vigilant can we get? Let us try some
Be ready to recognize the existence of our own ways of reading, our
“heritage”. What are the common approaches we do in reading and understanding
Bible texts? What weight or importance do we give to our heritage?
Be ready to confront our usual interpretations of the Bible taken in
its first sense. Can my usual way of reading the Bible merit to be nuanced
for my convenience?
Try to make the effort in examine also the meaning of the texts as intended
by the author.
Sometimes we hear one say: “no need for exegetical work—no need for high
level research. A ‘spiritual’ is enough”. Correct. But to refuse research and
exegesis has risks. Without a minimum of scientific study, text reading can
become a biased sharing about life. We use the Bible to justify our own
interests. We risk doing something wrong: instead of listening to the Spirit,
we tell the Spirit what the Spirit to say. If there is no rule of reading,
Bible reading becomes a personal-personality reading. Each will read on his/her
own disposition. This can lead to a serious problem: the most powerful
personality of the group can impose an interpretation under the guise of being
inspired. The Bible is a pretext, then, for the imposition of someone. So, we
need some level of more rigorous reading. The Church herself recognizes this
Finding again the original sense of the words is a big step. What is the
original context of the text? It is part of a history that is not ours. Give
justice to the social, cultural and religious context of the text. This helps
us to avoid making the Bible serve our conveniences.
Read a text in truth. What is the goal of the text for its
readers? Bible is a witnessing helping reader to understand his/her own life—and
restructure life in light of meaning. Bible interpolates; it is a proposition
of life. Before we use the Bible for use to our lives, see its meaning for
the author and its readers first. How did they encounter God and how did
Bible does not say all. It is not a text about society and politics. It
is not about the “substance” of God—not a philosophy. The Bible is interested
in the meaning of human life in relationship with God. How does it give
light to human existence in relation to God? It is therefore wise to recognize
the experience of those people—in the Bible—and how they responded to their
experiences of God. Then we can later appropriate. Remember what we said in the
early parts of the semester. We deal with revelation. So we assume that
God revealed to the Biblical people—and that revelation was recorded. So we
need to be vigilant about this and avoid taking the “easy” but dangerous path
A Theological reflection on the Truth of the Bible
Taking from Marcel Domergue S.J.
Bible is not an ordinary book, we agree. It is a “library” of books. It
has stories, poems, wise words, laws, spiritual meditations, etc. It
started thousands of years before Jesus and it terminated a little after
Old Testament is about the experience of the Hebrew people with their
prayers and convictions. They have the important Laws of the Hebrew
people. Christians call the Old Testament as “testament” or “covenant”.
say, as Christians, that Jesus was sent by God. The New Testament is a set
of books about Jesus Christ. They are witnesses to the revelation of God
would say that the Bible is composed of texts with authority to understand
who is God. The Bible tells us about the meaning of our life. It tells us
where we all go. The Bible, therefore, is a reflection of humans who faced
God—they have encountered God. The authors wrote the texts for their
people—their communities—so that the faith is transmitted to them too.
Biblical texts are meant to be read and received. The texts “witness” to
the faith of those who encountered God. The Bible, therefore, is “true”.
By “true” we mean that the Bible really tells us about God. It is
the result of an encounter with God “If you obey the teaching of Jesus,
you are really his disciples; so you know the truth and the truth will set
you free” (Jn 8/31)
Bible tells us the truth about God and about ourselves. The Bible tells
the truth. The Bible tells us about our reconciliation with God in Jesus Christ.
This is true and it is the truth. This truth is given in poetry, stories,
laws, etc. It is not about the exact facts, dates, names, places—it is not
like our high school books in history. The Bible is not even like the
films and DVD videos we watch—or You Tube films. It is not the BBC news on
is the truth?”, asked Pilate to Jesus. This is the question we all face…it
is given by the Bible. What do we seek? If we seek to come to God, know
God better and see how God liberated us, then the Bible shows. It is Word
really appreciate this is to make it clear that the centre of knowing and
coming to God is in Jesus Christ. The centre of liberation is in him.
Jesus—he who said “I am the truth”—holds the key to the understanding
everything else in the Bible.
What do you think?
Why the 4 Gospels?
A Historical View of Ancient times
The early Church—that is, the
first Christians—have gradually accepted the four gospels as canonical. These are the works of
Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. By “canonical” is meant that the early Christians
accepted these as defining their faith.
As we say, “canon” means “rule”. So the four gospel texts are the “rules and
regulations” of the faith.
Now we also know that there are
the other texts—like the Gospel according to Thomas, The Judas Gospel, the Mary
Gospel, etc. Church Fathers looked at their contents and said that they did not
correspond to what they saw as the teaching about Jesus nor as about Jesus
himself. So these other texts have been set aside—they were not considered
canonical. They were set aside because they were seen as not helping the faith.
Why did the early Christians
select the four gospel texts and removed the other texts? What motivated them
to do it? Let us see:
The texts of Matthew, Mark, Luke
and John were the most ancient witnesses to the teachings of Jesus and the
Apostles. They were really seen connected with the actual historical Jesus and
the Apostles. The four texts were linked with the witnessing of the Apostles.
Secondly, the four texts have
already been recognized by the majority of the ancient Christian communities. The
liturgies and other practices of those communities incorporated the four texts.
They were recognized as early as the ancient communities.
Let us try a bit of history. There
was a man named Marcion, during the first century of the Church. He made a list
of canonic texts composed of a modified version of Luke and some letters of
Paul. Now, at the same time, Justin Martyr cited certain statements taken from
memories of the Apostles (see Apologie I,
66). Justin Martyr did not specify which gospel texts he was citing but they
were found in the canonical texts. Later, some members of the Church found it
necessary to make a more recognized list (in reaction to what Marcion did).
Sometime in 170AD the Canon
of Muratori, was made. It stated that Luke, for example,
was the third gospel text, John as the “4th gospel”, etc.
Then Ireneus of Lyon (in 185AD)
made his stand:
“It is not possible that the
Gospels can be either more or fewer in number than they are. For, since there
are four zones of the world in which we live, and four principal winds, while
the Church is scattered throughout all the world, and the pillar and ground (1
Timothy 3:15) of the Church is the Gospel and the spirit of life; it is fitting
that she should have four pillars, breathing out immortality on every side, and
vivifying men afresh. From which fact, it is evident that the Word, the
Artificer of all, He that sits upon the cherubim, and contains all things, He
who was manifested to men, has given us the Gospel under four aspects, but
bound together by one Spirit” (Against
Then, at around this time too,
more or less 170’s AD) there was the Diatessaron.
It was a text written by Tatien in which he put
different parts of all the four gospel texts. The Diatessaron was taken from the four
historical stretch of time tells us how the four gospel texts were really
welcomed by the early Christians.
10. Let us go to the later
era…like the 3rd-4th centuries. That time, we note, was
also marked by the same attitude of recognizing the four gospel texts. One
man, named Origene, emphasized in his commentary to Matthew that there were
only four uncontested gospel texts:
Matthew Mark Luke and John. Another writer named Eusebius emphasized, in his
Church History, that there were only a few texts acceptable. How were they
acceptable? They were acceptable primarily because they have been recognized
already by the majority of Christians.
Those written under a pseudonym had to be rejected. Eusebius considered the
four gospel texts as the canonical texts.
In around the year 367AD, Athanasius fixed a list to be accepted and recognized
by all Christians. That list corresponded to what we have today in our Bible.
The Council of Trent
Let us look at what we call as
“deuteron-canonical” texts. The Catholic Church accepts them as inspired. In the Old Testament we have: Tobie,
Judith, Wisdom, Siracide, Baruch, Ecclesiasticus, I and II Maccabees. Then
there are the fragments of Daniel and Esther. For the New Testament there are:
Hebrews, James, 2Peter, 2John and 3John, Judas and Revelation.
The are considered canonical. The Council of Trent
established this (1545 and 1563). There were texts that were removed, like the
letter of Hermas and the epistle of Clement. Why did the Church accept certain
books as canonical and why did she reject other texts?
One reason is that a text must be
in the line of the Apostles. It must be “Apostolic”. Already this was the
criterion of the early Church, especially during the time of the Church
Fathers. “Apostolic” means that the text is really witnessing to the teaching
of Jesus and the Apostles. What is in the text has been recognized by the
Then there is the liturgical use
of the texts. The different communities have been recognize in and
incorporating the texts within their liturgies.
Then there is “orthodoxy”. This
means that some texts are “suspicious” to the communities—they do not connect
with what Jesus really said and who Jesus really was. The texts were
of suspicious” origins
The original meaning of “apocryphos” was “hidden. In general this
would imply that the authenticity of text is not established. For the Church
the texts of Apocrypha are those texts that are not found in the canon list. So
this means that the Apocrypha are considered not inspired.
Apocrypha texts are helpful in
studying the contexts in which they were written. Reading them we can see the
religious movements and tendencies of early times of Christianity. But the
Church does not consider them as “word of God”.
Actually there is no biblical
text with a signature of God. Surely, each book was written by human authors.
They were witnessing to the Word of God.
So what about the Apocrypha?
Books were selected. The selection was done judging by how they were inspired.
So we speak of “canon”—which means “measure” or “rule” (or regulation).
Biblical canon gives us a list of books that are, according to the Church, “inspired”.
They serve as regulations of our
faith. They are recognized by the community.
The community offers the Bible as
heritage of God’s word. The books have been accompanying Christians over
centuries. The books give access to the
experience of God as experienced by individuals like Moses, Paul, etc. The
books give us access to Jesus.
Jesus is the summit of God’s
revelation. He is the Word made flesh. He reveals the fullness of the Father.
So the Church takes seriously the four gospels—witnesses of who Jesus really
Rodolfo Felices Luna
Excerpts from the Vatican Document
THEOLOGY TODAY: PERSPECTIVES, PRINCIPLES AND
of the Scriptures*********
21. The ‘study of the sacred page’
should be the ‘very soul of sacred theology’. This is the Second Vatican Council’s
core affirmation with regard to theology. Pope Benedict XVI reiterates: ‘where
theology is not essentially the interpretation of the Church’s Scripture, such
a theology no longer has a foundation’. Theology in its entirety should
conform to the Scriptures, and the Scriptures should sustain and accompany all
theological work, because theology is concerned with ‘the truth of the gospel’
(Gal 2:5), and it can know that truth only if it investigates the normative
witness to it in the canon of sacred Scripture, and if, in doing so, it
relates the human words of the Bible to the living Word of God. ‘Catholic
exegetes must never forget that what they are interpreting is the word of God….
They arrive at the true goal of their work only when they have explained the
meaning of the biblical text as God’s word for today.’
23. In saying that the study of sacred
Scripture is the ‘soul’ of theology, Dei Verbum has in mind all of the
theological disciplines. This foundation in the revealed Word of God, as
testified by Scripture and Tradition, is essential for theology. Its primary
task is to interpret God’s truth as saving truth. Urged on by Vatican II,
Catholic theology seeks to attend to the Word of God and thereby to the witness
of Scripture in all its work. Thus it is that in theological expositions
‘biblical themes should have first place’, before anything else. This
approach corresponds anew to that of the Fathers of the Church, who were
‘primarily and essentially “commentators on sacred Scripture”’, and it
opens up the possibility of ecumenical collaboration: ‘shared listening to the
Scriptures … spurs us on towards the dialogue of charity and enables growth in
the dialogue of truth’.
26. Tradition: xxx What is handed on
comprises ‘everything that serves to make the People of God live their lives in
holiness and increase their faith’. The Church ‘in her doctrine, life and
worship, perpetuates and transmits to every generation all that she herself is,
all that she believes’.
28. xxx The Second Vatican Council
refers to the teaching office or magisterium of the pope and the bishops of the
Church, and states that the bishops teach infallibly when, either gathered with
the bishop of Rome in an ecumenical council or in communion with him though
dispersed throughout the world, they agree that a particular teaching
concerning faith or morals ‘is to be held definitively and absolutely’. The
pope himself, head of the college of bishops, teaches infallibly when ‘as
supreme pastor and teacher of all the faithful … he proclaims in an absolute
decision a doctrine pertaining to faith or morals’.
29. Catholic theology recognises the
teaching authority of ecumenical
councils, the ordinary and universal magisterium
of the bishops, and the papal magisterium. It acknowledges the special status of dogmas, that is, statements ‘in which
the Church proposes a revealed truth definitively, and in a way that is binding
for the universal Church, so much so that denial is rejected as heresy and
falls under an anathema’. Dogmas belong to the living and ongoing Apostolic Tradition. … Nevertheless,
dogmas are sure points of reference for the Church’s faith and are used as such
in theological reflection and argumentation.
30. In Catholic belief, Scripture,
Tradition, and the magisterium of the Church are inseparably linked. ‘Sacred
Tradition and sacred Scripture make up a single sacred deposit of the Word of
God, which is entrusted to the Church’, and ‘the task of giving an authentic
interpretation of the Word of God, whether in its written form or in the form
of Tradition, has been entrusted to the living teaching office of the Church
alone’. Sacred Scripture … Having arisen in the midst of the People of God, and
having been unified, read and interpreted by the People of God, sacred
Scripture belongs to the living Tradition
of the Church as the canonical witness to the faith for all time. Indeed,
‘Scripture is the first member in the written tradition’…. ‘Sacred Scripture is
the speech of God as it is put down in writing under the breath of the Holy
Spirit. And Tradition transmits in its
entirety the Word of God which has been entrusted to the apostles by Christ the Lord and the Holy
Spirit. It transmits it to the successors
of the apostles so that,
enlightened by the Spirit of truth, they may faithfully preserve, expound and
spread it abroad by their preaching. Thus
it comes about that the Church does not draw her certainty about all revealed
truths from the holy Scriptures alone’. She draws it also from the
Apostolic Tradition, because the latter is the living process of the Church’s
listening to the Word of God.
31. Vatican II distinguished between
Tradition and those traditions that belong to particular periods of the
Church’s history, or to particular regions and communities, such as religious
orders or specific local churches. Distinguishing between Tradition and
traditions has been one of the major tasks of Catholic theology since Vatican
II, and of theology generally in recent decades. It is a task profoundly
related to the Church’s catholicity, and with many ecumenical implications.
Numerous questions arise, for instance: ‘Is it possible to determine more
precisely what the content of the one Tradition is, and by what means? Do all
traditions which claim to be Christian contain the Tradition? How can we
distinguish between traditions embodying the true Tradition and merely human
traditions? Where do we find the genuine Tradition, and where impoverished
tradition or even distortion of tradition?’ On one hand, theology must show
that Apostolic Tradition is not something abstract, but that it exists
concretely in the different traditions that have formed within the Church. On
the other hand, theology has to consider why certain traditions are
characteristic not of the Church as a whole, but only of particular religious
orders, local churches or historical periods. While criticism is not
appropriate with reference to Apostolic Tradition itself, traditions must
always be open to critique, so that the ‘continual reformation’ of which the
Church has need can take place, and so that the Church can renew herself
permanently on her one foundation, namely Jesus Christ. Such a critique seeks
to verify whether a specific tradition does indeed express the faith of the
Church in a particular place and time, and it seeks correspondingly to
strengthen or correct it through contact with the living faith of all places
and all times.
32. Fidelity to the Apostolic Tradition is a criterion of Catholic theology.
This fidelity requires an active and discerning reception of the various
witnesses and expressions of the ongoing Apostolic Tradition. It implies study of sacred Scripture, the
liturgy, and the writings of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, and
attention to the teaching of the magisterium.
We comment on the excerpts from the
TODAY: PERSPECTIVES, PRINCIPLES AND CRITERIA
the emphases given to the texts we read:
1. In number 21 we see the importance given to the Scriptures. Note that
the FOUNDATION of Theology—and faith—is in
the Scriptures. The Scriptures should accompany all work of faith.
2. In number 23 the Word of God is the
revealed Word. This is testified by Scriptures and Tradition. Note
then that there is the Word of God who is Jesus Christ and the Scriptures testify to it…The written text tells us
about the encounter with Christ. So in theology ‘biblical themes should have
first place’, before anything else.
Let us take a side step from the
document. Let us make a reflection of our own.
3. There is also
Tradition—Church Tradition. Scriptures form one area of God’s revelation and
this cannot be set aside. But note that central is the revelation of God in
Christ. The Scriptures form a witnessing to
that revelation. This implies that:
Ø The Scriptures, for the
Catholic faith, do not have the sole
authority of faith. There is also the Tradition of the Church.
4. Please keep this in mind.
For the Catholic revelation is accessed through Scriptures AND Tradition. For a
time in the Catholic Church there was a tendency to be “fundamentalist” in
approaching the Scriptures and the gospels in particular. The Scriptures were
like a “double” of Christ. God became flesh in Christ and he became written
scripture in the Bible. The Bible therefore had no error in its contents.
Justin Martyr (sometime 100-165) said that the Holy Spirit made use of human
authors just like a music player playing chords on the instrument. Ireneus of
Lyon defended this by saying that the Bible had no error in any way—not even on
history and geography. Gregory of Naziance (sometime 330-390) would even say
that the Bible was a dictation of God.
5. Historically, an attitude
was formed with respect to the Scriptures. For example, in Vatican Council I,
the Bishops denounced the “errors” of modernity with its rationalism. Modernity
renounced the authority of the Church and the Magisterium. Modernity abandoned
things related to religion. So the Church was afraid that the Scripture lost
its respect of having a divine character. Modernity, as the Church felt, made
the Bible “mythical”. The Church—in the Council—took a stand that appeared
quite fundamentalist. The Scriptures, for the Council, had the role of
revealing the will of God. Consequently, only
the Magisterium of the Catholic Church had the authority to correctly
interpret the Bible. This role was given by God to the Magisterium in
6. But then over time—and with
the advancement in Biblical studies—the Church took a more modest stand. The
Church began to see the Scriptures as witnessing
to an encounter with God. So there is the encounter with God and there is
the written text. Vatican Council II, in the
Dei Verbum document, emphasized this. The starting point, this time, is to
say that the Bible may be a written text but there is still the encounter with
God. The written text witnesses to that encounter. So it is possible that there is another access to that encounter. This
is Tradition taking from the Apostles. Access to God’s revelation is not
exclusive of Scriptures. There is, again, Tradition.
Let us return to commenting about the
7. In number 26, we read about Tradition. Tradition is what serves to
make us holy and increase in faith. The Church continues to transmit Tradition to
8. In number 28 we read about Vatican II and the role of the Magisterium
of Bishops and of the Pope in Rome. These Bishops and Pope gather and give the
Church infallible and it is teaching concerning faith or morals. The Pope, for
example, proclaims in an absolute decision a doctrine pertaining to faith or
9. In number 29 we read that dogmas have a special status. A denial of
dogmas is heretical. Why? Dogmas belong
to the living and ongoing Apostolic Tradition. Dogmas are part of
Tradition—they too are our access to revelation. Note that when we read the
word Tradition, we see that it has a capital “T” and it is always associated
with the Apostles.
10. So in number 30 we see the strong affirmation that in Catholic belief,
Scripture, Tradition, and the Magisterium of the Church are linked inseparably.
Sacred Tradition and sacred Scripture make up a single sacred deposit of the
Word of God, it is the task of the Church Magisterium to preserve that. Note
also that for the document Scripture is
part of Tradition. (Remember what we said about the Bible as resulting from
the community.) So Scripture belongs to
the living Tradition of the Church. God as it is put down in writing under
the breath of the Holy Spirit. Tradition transmits the Word of God which has
been entrusted to the Apostles by Christ. The Apostles—and consequently the
Church Magisterium—have the task of preserving, expounding and spreading the
message of the encounter with God. So the revealed truths of the Church come
not from Scriptures alone but from Tradition too.
11. In number 31 we read about Tradition and tradition. There is a
difference—which we will discuss in another time. Let us move to number 32. Here we see a
straightforward assertion that fidelity to the Apostolic Tradition is central to
Catholic theology. This Tradition implies the study of sacred Scripture, the
liturgy, and the writings of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, and
attention to the teaching of the magisterium.
critical reading of the Bible and faith reading of the Bible?
Yes, it may be difficult to put
together faith and reason when we read the Bible. Do we not say that the
Genesis, for example, is full of myths and legends? What about the miracle
stories of Jesus? Did they really happen? Did Jesus really change water into
wine? We can look at this critically—with a scientific attitude. Must we also
For many years the Church herself
resisted accepting scientific conclusions contradicting Bible accounts—like
that of Genesis and the seven day creation. The Church would stay in an
unchallenged position defined by fixed beliefs.
Let us recall the history of
Galileo. He said that the earth revolved around the sun. That was a scientific
statement. It was contradicting the belief of many Christians at that time—that
the earth was at the centre and the sun moved around it. Well, Genesis said it
Take another example—that of
Charles Darwin. He started to explore the idea of evolution and he looked at
fossil evidences. Possibly, after the Darwin scientific conclusions, we humans
have come from more basic primate structures—and not from Adam and Eve. Again,
the Church could not accept that.
So the relationship between
Church and the Scientific community became troubled. It needed some time before
calm settled in. Slowly scientific findings became more and more accepted. A
question had to arise: how then do we situate the Bible? Christians have always
believed that the Bible is “Word of God”.
But with the advances in science, it became difficult to appreciate how the Bible
is “Word of God”.
Science has become so widely
accepted in our societies that the Bible itself was put under the scrutiny of
science. Faith had to be seen in the light of scientific Reason. So Bible
scholars started looking at the Bible from another angle. They relied on
science like history and archaeology. They relied on the science of textual
criticism to question the manuscripts and texts of the Bible. The history
written in the Bible would not exactly be the same as the history observed by
the sciences. So there is question of whether the Hebrews really conquered
Canaan or if they were already originally from Canaan! The authorship of
Biblical texts was put into a lot of scrutiny and many are discovered to be
anonymous. So it is believed by some scholars that Old Testament texts were
mostly written a long time after Solomon.
For a long time the Bible was
read “literally”. But with the growing influence of the sciences, critical
understanding came in. This had a strong influence on the mind of the Christian
believer. Without doubt, many Christians “lost” faith. So the challenge has
become this: how to reconcile faith with
Let us not dismiss science simply
because we are believers. We even owe a lot to science. Science has given us
the opportunity to read the Bible in a more critical way. We cannot just stay
naïve about the Biblical texts. How can science help us?
Take the Genesis story. There are
two creation stories—the seven-day story and the garden of Eden story. Then
after the creation stories we see the fall of Adam and Eve and the consequent
crime of Cain, the wickedness of people in the Noah story and the pride in the
Tower of Babel story. Critical reading of the texts will show apparent incoherence. How is it possible
to have two creations, for example?
and other fields of science have discovered the influence of the cultures of
other nations surrounding Canaan-Palestine. So we now know about the Babylonian
influence in Genesis chapter one. We realize that the seven-day story is not a
historical account of creation but a re-take of mythical thinking borrowed from
other cultures. The myths have been reviewed and adjusted by the authors of
Genesis chapter one. So the Bible has its
own conception of creation.
helps us, believers, read the Genesis story following the message that the
authors themselves may have wanted to transmit. Science gives us the chance to
have a new comprehension. Yes, science has its own understanding of the origins
of the world even if it does not tell us why.
But by taking from science we, believers, can construct a sense of why.
the example of the span of time from the Exodus story to the conquest of Canaan
story. Well, we read about crossing the sea and the fall of a city with the
sound of trumpets. Science has made us realize that these are literary styles of expressing experiences.
The stories were written to help a people find unity among one another. The
stories help a people make sense of their lives and their destiny.
we need not fear science and the critique of science. Yes, many aspects of the
Bible are put to question—aspects that we hold as true. But we can have a more
objective comprehension of the Biblical texts. Science has made us see that
most of the Biblical authors wrote a long
time after the events they wrote about. The final form of the Old Testament
was edited and collected centuries after the writing of the texts—around the
time of the end of the Babylonian exile. Then in around 78 AD, during an
assembly in Jamnia, rabbis fixed the texts that is what we now know as the
Biblical texts were written by human authors. There is no reason to resist a
scientific understanding of the Bible. A believer is therefore given the option
not to take the Bible as dictated by God.
The Bible is a historical text—written by human authors in history, edited
in history and assembled together in history.
so there is the critique given us by science. But this does not mean that we
throw away faith reading. We still cannot give to science all the right to tell
us what is human and how to live as persons. Science does not say the last word
about us. In fact, science has its limits too.
still have to ask as to how far we, believers and having faith, can incorporate
science? The Bible has so much to say. The gospels have a message that we have
not fully grasped—the gospels are so rich in meaning. They continue to question
us about our lives and morality. Many social and legal aspects of the world
take inspiration from the gospels. Even if we become more and more modern and
scientific, the gospels still make us re-think about our human identity. We
still face the great fact that we are humans…persons…and we have the received
the presence of a man named Jesus who has revealed to us who we are and who God
is. In the Bible we still have the chance to interpolate ourselves and our real
we might be distorting the meaning given by the Biblical authors. This can lead
to the temptation of saying that there is truth for the Biblical authors and
there is truth for us today…as if these are two
different truths. This is not so healthy.
18. One thing
is sure: there is no neutral reading of
the Bible. Interpretation requires our part too. We try to be “objective”.
Let us identify some core guides—Catholic, of course—that might help us do an
more objective reading of the Bible.
the centre of the Bible. The Bible itself tells us this. (See Jn
5/39, 20/30-31). Jesus is the ultimate sense of the Bible (see Lk 24/15-32; Mt
5/17). Everything in the Bible points to Jesus Christ who is the summit of
The Bible continues to be the written “word
of God”. We still say that the authors were inspired
by the Spirit.
Even if there are difficult passages in the
Bible they all point to the direction of
our salvation (see Lk 16/29-31).
The fact that the Church has “closed” the
canonicity of the Bible tells us that Revelation has been achieved and recorded
and we have an indication of the path to salvation (see Rev. 22/18). So we read
the Bible to enlighten us, our questions and the sense of our lives.
We must work to interpret the Bible. It is a text to be studied and interpreted. We
do not rest satisfied with just projecting in it our own sense. The Bible is a
text to be interpreted. There are scientific
ways of interpreting and we can make full use of them such as the study of
the languages, the study of the manuscripts and their transmission, the study
of history and archaeology, etc.
We must honour the whole Bible and not just parts of it (see Mt 5/19-20, 2Tim 3/16).
So we must be courageous enough to look even at the difficult passages—they are
part of the whole.
If the Bible is a whole text it is a whole composed of diverse parts.
Reading the Bible also has its spiritual way.
So we need the help of the Holy Spirit. We do not separate Bible from prayer
and spiritual life.
We still rely on the help of the Church.
Remember that the Biblical texts were written in the heart of communities for
communities. The New Testament is a clear proof. So the Bible is still a
community text. We do not start from zero regarding our faith—we have the
Church transmitting us certain truths. So when we read the Bible and interpret
the Bible we do it with the Church. In
interpreting the Bible we still recognize the Church and the tradition of the
Church. This accent on the Church serves to help us avoid a too-liberal and
too-subjective reading of the Bible.
From Verbum Domini of Pope Benedict XVI on the Church and Scriptures
#29. Another major
theme that emerged during the Synod, to which I would now like to draw
attention, is the interpretation of sacred Scripture in the Church. The
intrinsic link between the word and faith makes clear that authentic biblical
hermeneutics can only be had within the faith of the Church, which has its
paradigm in Mary’s fiat. …
Here we can point to
a fundamental criterion of biblical hermeneutics: the primary setting for
scriptural interpretation is the life of the Church. This is not to uphold the
ecclesial context as an extrinsic rule to which exegetes must submit, but
rather is something demanded by the very nature of the Scriptures and the way
they gradually came into being. “Faith traditions formed the living context for
the literary activity of the authors of sacred Scripture. Their insertion into
this context also involved a sharing in both the liturgical and external life
of the communities, in their intellectual world, in their culture and in the
ups and downs of their shared history. In like manner, the interpretation of
sacred Scripture requires full participation on the part of exegetes in the life
and faith of the believing community of their own time”. Consequently,
“since sacred Scripture must be read and interpreted in the light of the same
Spirit through whom it was written”, exegetes, theologians and the whole
people of God must approach it as what it really is, the word of God conveyed
to us through human words (cf. 1 Th 2:13). This is a constant datum implicit in
the Bible itself: “No prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own
interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by the impulse of man, but men
moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (2 Pet 1:20-21). Moreover, it is the
faith of the Church that recognizes in the Bible the word of God; as Saint
Augustine memorably put it: “I would not believe the Gospel, had not the authority
of the Catholic Church led me to do so”. The Holy Spirit, who gives life to
the Church, enables us to interpret the Scriptures authoritatively. The Bible
is the Church’s book, and its essential place in the Church’s life gives rise
to its genuine interpretation.
The Study of Scripture as the Soul of Theology
By the INTERNATIONAL THEOLOGICAL
Let me “warn” you that this is a VERY
DRY reading. The purpose of our reading these is, of course, to make us see the
role of Scriptures and Tradition. But, there is an expected consequence of EXPOSING you to “primary text” reading.
21. The ‘study of the sacred page’
should be the ‘very soul of sacred theology’. This is the Second Vatican
Council’s core affirmation with regard to theology. Pope Benedict XVI
reiterates: ‘where theology is not essentially the interpretation of the
Church’s Scripture, such a theology no longer has a foundation’. Theology
in its entirety should conform to the Scriptures, and the Scriptures should
sustain and accompany all theological work, because theology is concerned with
‘the truth of the gospel’ (Gal 2:5), and it can know that truth only if it
investigates the normative witness to it in the canon of sacred Scripture,
and if, in doing so, it relates the human words of the Bible to the living Word
of God. ‘Catholic exegetes must never forget that what they are interpreting is
the word of God…. They arrive at the true goal of their work only when they
have explained the meaning of the biblical text as God’s word for today.’
23. In saying that the study of sacred
Scripture is the ‘soul’ of theology, Dei Verbum has in mind all of the
theological disciplines. This foundation in the revealed Word of God, as
testified by Scripture and Tradition, is essential for theology. Its primary
task is to interpret God’s truth as saving truth. Urged on by Vatican II,
Catholic theology seeks to attend to the Word of God and thereby to the witness
of Scripture in all its work. Thus it is that in theological expositions
‘biblical themes should have first place’, before anything else. This
approach corresponds anew to that of the Fathers of the Church, who were
‘primarily and essentially “commentators on sacred Scripture”’, and it
opens up the possibility of ecumenical collaboration: ‘shared listening to the
Scriptures … spurs us on towards the dialogue of charity and enables growth in
the dialogue of truth’.
26. Tradition is therefore something
living and vital, an ongoing process in which the unity of faith finds
expression in the variety of languages and the diversity of cultures. It ceases
to be Tradition if it fossilises. ‘The Tradition that comes from the apostles
makes progress in the Church, with the help of the Holy Spirit. There is a
growth in insight into the realities and words that are being passed on…. Thus,
as the centuries go by, the Church is always advancing towards the plenitude of
divine truth, until eventually the words of God are fulfilled in her’.
Tradition occurs in the power of the Holy Spirit, who, as Jesus promised his
disciples, guides the Church into all the truth (cf. Jn 16:13), by firmly
establishing the memory of Jesus himself (cf. Jn 14:26), keeping the Church
faithful to her apostolic origins, enabling the secure transmission of the
Faith, and prompting the ever-new presentation of the Gospel under the
direction of pastors who are successors of the apostles. Vital components
of Tradition are therefore: a constantly renewed study of sacred Scripture, liturgical
worship, attention to what the witnesses of faith have taught through the ages,
catechesis fostering growth in faith, practical love of God and neighbour,
structured ecclesial ministry and the service given by the magisterium to the
Word of God. What is handed on comprises ‘everything that serves to make the
People of God live their lives in holiness and increase their faith’. The
Church ‘in her doctrine, life and worship, perpetuates and transmits to every
generation all that she herself is, all that she believes’.
28. Many of the Fathers were bishops
who gathered with their fellow bishops in the councils, first regional and
later worldwide or ‘ecumenical’, that mark the life of the Church from the
earliest centuries, after the example of the apostles (cf. Acts 15:6-21).
Confronted with the Christological and Trinitarian heresies that threatened the
faith and unity of the Church during the patristic period, bishops met in the
great ecumenical councils – Nicaea I, Constantinople I, Ephesus, Chalcedon,
Constantinople II, Constantinople III, and Nicaea II – to condemn error and
proclaim the orthodox faith in creeds and definitions of faith. These councils
set forth their teaching, in particular their solemn definitions, as normative
and universally binding; and these definitions express and belong to the
Apostolic Tradition and continue to serve the faith and unity of the Church.
Subsequent councils which have been recognised as ecumenical in the West
continued this practice. The Second Vatican Council refers to the teaching
office or magisterium of the pope and the bishops of the Church, and states
that the bishops teach infallibly when, either gathered with the bishop of Rome
in an ecumenical council or in communion with him though dispersed throughout
the world, they agree that a particular teaching concerning faith or morals ‘is
to be held definitively and absolutely’. The pope himself, head of the college
of bishops, teaches infallibly when ‘as supreme pastor and teacher of all the
faithful … he proclaims in an absolute decision a doctrine pertaining to faith
29. Catholic theology recognises the
teaching authority of ecumenical councils, the ordinary and universal
magisterium of the bishops, and the papal magisterium. It acknowledges the
special status of dogmas, that is, statements ‘in which the Church proposes a
revealed truth definitively, and in a way that is binding for the universal
Church, so much so that denial is rejected as heresy and falls under an
anathema’. Dogmas belong to the living and ongoing Apostolic Tradition.
Theologians are aware of the difficulties that attend their interpretation. For
example, it is necessary to understand the precise question under consideration
in light of its historical context, and to discern how a dogma’s meaning and
content are related to its formulation. Nevertheless, dogmas are sure
points of reference for the Church’s faith and are used as such in theological
reflection and argumentation.
30. In Catholic belief, Scripture, Tradition,
and the magisterium of the Church are inseparably linked. ‘Sacred Tradition and
sacred Scripture make up a single sacred deposit of the Word of God, which is
entrusted to the Church’, and ‘the task of giving an authentic interpretation
of the Word of God, whether in its written form or in the form of Tradition,
has been entrusted to the living teaching office of the Church alone’.
Sacred Scripture is not simply a text but ‘locutio Dei’ and ‘verbum
Dei’, testified initially by the prophets of the Old Testament and
ultimately by the apostles in the New Testament (cf. Rom 1:1-2). Having arisen
in the midst of the People of God, and having been unified, read and
interpreted by the People of God, sacred Scripture belongs to the living Tradition
of the Church as the canonical witness to the faith for all time. Indeed,
‘Scripture is the first member in the written tradition’. ‘Scripture is to
be proclaimed, heard, read, received and experienced as the word of God, in the
stream of the apostolic Tradition from which it is inseparable.’ This
process is sustained by the Holy Spirit, ‘through whom the living voice of the
Gospel rings out in the Church – and through her in the world’. ‘Sacred
Scripture is the speech of God as it is put down in writing under the breath of
the Holy Spirit. And Tradition transmits in its entirety the Word of God which
has been entrusted to the apostles by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit. It
transmits it to the successors of the apostles so that, enlightened by the
Spirit of truth, they may faithfully preserve, expound and spread it abroad by
their preaching. Thus it comes about that the Church does not draw her
certainty about all revealed truths from the holy Scriptures alone’. She
draws it also from the Apostolic Tradition, because the latter is the living
process of the Church’s listening to the Word of God.
With the next section, #31, we will
spend a lot of time discussing and clarifying many things that we have not paid
so much attention to in our daily Christian lives.
31. Vatican II distinguished between
Tradition and those traditions that belong to particular periods of the
Church’s history, or to particular regions and communities, such as religious
orders or specific local churches. Distinguishing between Tradition and
traditions has been one of the major tasks of Catholic theology since Vatican
II, and of theology generally in recent decades. It is a task profoundly
related to the Church’s catholicity, and with many ecumenical implications.
Numerous questions arise, for instance: ‘Is it possible to determine more
precisely what the content of the one Tradition is, and by what means? Do all
traditions which claim to be Christian contain the Tradition? How can we
distinguish between traditions embodying the true Tradition and merely human
traditions? Where do we find the genuine Tradition, and where impoverished
tradition or even distortion of tradition?’ On one hand, theology must show
that Apostolic Tradition is not something abstract, but that it exists
concretely in the different traditions that have formed within the Church. On
the other hand, theology has to consider why certain traditions are
characteristic not of the Church as a whole, but only of particular religious
orders, local churches or historical periods. While criticism is not
appropriate with reference to Apostolic Tradition itself, traditions must
always be open to critique, so that the ‘continual reformation’ of which the
Church has need can take place, and so that the Church can renew herself
permanently on her one foundation, namely Jesus Christ. Such a critique seeks
to verify whether a specific tradition does indeed express the faith of the
Church in a particular place and time, and it seeks correspondingly to
strengthen or correct it through contact with the living faith of all places
and all times.
“All scripture is inspired by God
and is useful for teaching, for refutation, for correction, and for training in
righteousness” (2Tim.3/16). Notice what Paul is saying. Scripture is useful. In what sense is it “useful”?
All the things we need to build our faith are in the Scriptures. So in this
sense Scriptures are “useful”. But Scriptures do not say all. Note: all in Scriptures does not mean that all is in Scriptures. There is a nuance.
Some elements in Scripture are implied. They are not clearly stated. Why? There
are other aspects that the Apostles encountered and knew which were not necessarily put in the Scriptures. So we say that not all are in Scriptures. There is the unwritten area that the Apostles knew—it was in their
experience of having been with Jesus. This unwritten area is what we call as “Sacred
Tradition”. The Magisterium is the “teaching authority” of both Scriptures and
So what do we notice. There are
three elements basic to our Catholic faith: Scriptures, Sacred Tradition and
Our interest now is to discuss
Sacred Tradition. First let us look at the word “tradition”. It means that
something is handed down from generation to generation. So we
can say that a society has its tradition of cooking or music or literature.
What has been practiced in the past is handed down the ages. Now we need to
make distinctions between large “T” and small “t”.
Small “t” is what is handed down
culturally. If a society likes very spicy food, it is the “traditional” cuisine
of that society. The small “t” can be very old. They can also be new. An Asian
or Oceanic country may have very old practices of people greeting each other or
feasting in the villages. But maybe it has assimilated new types of music taken
from the American rock-and-roll. Cultures change. People learn new things. In
the world today we are more and more exposed to different cultures. So we learn
from others and we transform our
traditions (in the small t).
Tradition can also be a way of
thinking—having attitudes and views about the world. A society may have a very
democratic tradition in doing politics. People there believe strongly in the
power of the ballot. They conserve and protect that practice. Remove this
practice…the people will strongly react. They cannot see their lives in the
absence of this practice. The people are willing to stand for the practice,
defend it and perhaps even die for it. Note that this is not just about
greeting and feasting. It is something more. We can accept the absence of
certain practices—like removing alcohol during feats. It’s ok. But some
practices are inalienable for the
people. They cannot anymore be removed. Here we come to the bit “T” tradition.
The big T has a strong hold on people. People cannot endure losing their big T.
We can apply this to our Catholic
faith. We also have small t and big T. There are aspects of our Catholic lives
which are handed down to us as tradition. We have things like the candles, the
incense, hymns, styles of praying, devotions to this or that saint, types of
clothes we wear, reading materials, some rituals like what we do during
November 1 or Christmas, etc. These are our cultural
expressions. None of the practices of the small t traditions is essential to our Faith. Maybe in a gather where
we want to use candles, we run out of candles. This does not mean that our
Faith is now threatened. Some people may not be practicing the rosary prayer
every night. This does not mean that they are destroying the Faith.
The elements of small t may not
be essential but they still have to contain certain inalienable truths. If they
do not have this then they violate the big T. Praying the rosary is not
necessarily an obligation. But if we do not accept that Mary is Full of Grace,
if we do not accept that she is the Mother of Jesus Christ, if we do not accept
that she prays for us, we deviate from the big T. In other words, the small t should nonetheless tell us about
the big T. They are not far from the big T. If we do small t practices and
they do not contain big T elements, then we would still fail to hand down our
(Challenge: do you see why this
is the case? Do you see why even if the small t practices are not essential
they still are obliged to contain aspects of the big T?)
In the Church, big T is “Scared
Tradition”. It cannot be neglected because it is within the real of Revelation.
Again do not forget the meaning of Revelation. We Catholics emphasize that Sacred
Tradition (together with the Scriptures) is based on Revelation and not from human cultural activities. As
Catholics we believe that Sacred Tradition is basically what the Apostles themselves have taught. The Apostles had a direct
and intimate encounter with Jesus Christ. What they transmit as Tradition—with
a big T—is rooted in that encounter with
Christ. The Apostles did not just make up their ideas. The assumption here
therefore is that whatever is from the Apostles cannot be and should not be changed.
We make no addition nor subtraction. Sacred Tradition with the Apostles deals
with Revelation and not just culture.
Ok, there are people who might
raise some questions. What about definitions like the “Immaculate Conception” and
the “Assumption of Mary”? Some doctrines have arises only recently—like in the
middle of the 1800’s. These look new—they do not look like they been declared
in the times of the Apostles. The Church will say that these continue to be
part of tradition in the big T. These are part of Sacred Tradition. If the
Church says this, the Church assumes that these doctrines have always been
present from the very beginning of Christianity. They too are part of Revealed
truth! We might not read about them in the Scriptures but they form part of
Sacred Tradition. They are inalienably inside our Catholic faith.
Some people may be “turned off”.
They might say that the Church is just producing doctrines that are not, in
fact, really from God. Some might start saying that Sacred Tradition is a
Church attempt to consolidate her powers. There were heresies and other threats
to the security of the Church so Popes and Bishops came up with all sorts of
doctrines to conserve power.
This is hard to face—it is a
challenge. Now for the Church Sacred Tradition is not a separate “revelation” imagined only
by Popes and bishops. No.
What might the Church take as a
position here? For her Sacred Tradition is what
is true about Christ. This truth is already contained in Scriptures, ok. It
is also contained in the non-written witnessing of the Apostles. What is true
about Christ is in the
teaching, life, (and worship) of the Church. The truth about Christ
is alive, vibrant, it is a truth which continues to deepen and grow over the
centuries. Jesus himself mentioned it: “He said, “To what shall we compare the
kingdom of God, or what parable can we use for it? It is like a mustard seed
that, when it is sown in the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on the
earth. But once it is sown, it springs up and becomes the largest of plants and
puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the sky can dwell in its shade”
(Mk 4/30-32). The Church might look like she is introducing new elements but
the elements are rooted in the “mustard seed”.
Look back at the early Church.
Look at what happened in the Jerusalem council. Remember it was the council
that had to look into the question of the Gentiles—did the Gentiles have to
follow the same practices of Judaism (like circumcision?). Peter and James
spoke and they introduced something new. What
they said went outside the practice of
the early Christians of Jewish roots. But the “new” practice was still rooted in the teachings of Moses and the
prophets. The “new” practice was like a new branch coming out of the
planted mustard seed.
The Apostles were all totally
Jewish. They were deep into Judaism. Jesus was a Jew too. But the Gentiles came
into the communities. The early Church had to rely on Jewish practices. The
Apostles, at that time, still relied on Jewish writings—the Hebrew Bible. What
did they do—as Peter and James showed? The asked what their Scriptures said.
They needed to start something new—as the Gentiles were a growing presence in
The Apostles looked at their
“old” Scriptures. They saw that circumcision was part of the covenant with God.
(See Gen 17/7). They knew that the Patriarchs were all circumcised. They knew
Jesus was circumcised (Lk 2/21). They
knew that circumcision was obligatory to all who became part of the covenant (see
Ex 12/48). Did not Jesus himself insisted on the solidity of the Law? (See Mt 5/18).
But then in the Jerusalem council
what happened? It was agreed that circumcision should not be obligatory to the
for Gentiles. They agreed that if it be obliged, the obligation would be against the will of the God. Oh? What was going on? That was a crucial
moment of the Sacred Apostolic Tradition. Were the Apostles violating
revelation? The answer is: No.
What exactly did the Apostles do?
They “refocused” revelation. What was
implicit and hidden in their Hebrew Scriptures and their Jewish tradition was made visible. The decision of the
Apostles was not separate from what they saw as revealed. They looked at what
they had and discerned to pronounce what
they saw as revelation. They relied on their Hebrew Scriptures and on their
experiences of Jesus Christ. They did not do anything so new and secretive and
imaginative. They were simply doing what was in their teaching, life, and worship. The teaching came from their experiences with Jesus, the command of
Christ (which at the time of the Council was still unwritten) to make sure that the gospel be preached to the
Gentiles. The life aspect came from
the concrete experience of Peter in the house of Cornelius (see Acts 10). In
that event with Cornelius Peter received a message from God telling him that it
was ok to eat even “impure” food—alluding to accepting Gentiles. Let us not
forget the life experiences of Paul
and Barnabas in their contacts with the Gentiles—a contact that stimulated the
Jerusalem Council. Remember James. He cited the Scriptures—taking from Amos. He
discerned with the Scriptures to be able to make a stand about the circumcision
issue. Note what James said: “The words of the prophets agree with this”
The Jerusalem Council is a clear
example of Church “behaviour”. There is discernment and there is
pronouncement…and all are done through Sacred Tradition (teaching of Jesus
which, at that time was mainly unwritten) and Scriptures (like the text of the
prophet Amos). The Apostles made use of the Scriptures and made use of what
went beyond Scriptures and taken from Jesus Christ. They did not violate revelation. They were rooted in revelation
while they made something “new”! So even today the Catholic Church is
consistent with this “behaviour”.
In terms of Sacred Tradition the
Tradition is always Tradition—not New Tradition.
The Church is always anchored in Revelation even if she looks like she is
making “new” pronouncements. The Sacred Apostolic Tradition is handed down…it
stays intact. The summit of Revelationis Jesus Christ. There is "no new
public revelation” (Dei Verbum #4). So the Church does not create a new
The Church reflects on the
Scriptures…she meditates on the Scriptures and then comes out with dogmas which
become part of Sacred Tradition, for example. The assumption is that the dogmas
are rooted in Revelation accessed through the Scriptures.
Let it be clear now: "Sacred
Tradition and Sacred Scripture form one sacred deposit of the word of God"
(Dei Verbum #10). The Scriptures, the Bible is part, not the whole of our basis
of faith in Revelation. There is also Sacred Tradition which is unwritten yet
from the Apotles who knew Christ intimately. For the Catholic both Scriptures
and the unwritten Sacred Tradition form a whole unity of access to Revelation.
Church life grows, develops and deepens. The Church makes dogmas and doctrines based on what was planted as “mustard seed”. The dogmas and doctrines
are not imaginative novelties of the Church.
Scriptures and Sacred Tradition
come from Jesus Christ who is the Way, the Truth, the Life. Scriptures and
Tradition both arise from the Apostolic Church. The Apostles were the main
“teachers” of the meaning of what were written and unwritten. So we cannot deny
the role of the Apostles—which today is considered to be in the Magisterium.
On the Magisterium and
Let us look at Magisterium. The
word is from the word “master”. A “master” is a “teacher”, someone who points
the way. In the Church this teacher is the whole office of the Pope and Bishops. (We can include all
the ordained priests inasmuch as they are under their Bishops). Now, there is
the “solemn” Magisterium which
exercises its function in an “extraordinary way”. There is the “ordinary” Magisterium of the ordinary
declarations during certain circumstances—such as when educating the Church
regarding the faith.
When the Magisterium has to say
something about how we Christians are to conform with our moral principles, the
declaration is “ordinary” (see CCC
2032-2034). The Magisterium can also make declarations about social justice and
other social issues. At times the Magisterium declares something about the
family or sexual life. The member of the Church receives and welcomes the
teaching of the Magisterium especially when making moral judgments. We consider
the good of all as expressed in the moral law, in Church law and in Church
teaching. The Magisterium, in an “ordinary” function does not give a solemn dogmatic definition. Bishops in
their dioceses can make such “ordinary” teachings. Popes too give teachings. Popes
write encyclicals and they do it from the position of an “ordinary”
What about “solemn” magisterium? The
Magisterium is solemn—or sometimes called “extraordinary”—when it teaches by
formal dogmatic definitions of councils or Popes. These definitions are given
"ex cathedra"—from the seat of the Magisterium. The Pope together
with the bisops—or at times the Pope alone—can give dogmatic teachings to which
we are obliged to adhere. A definitive
judgment about our faith is given. A
decision is definitively giving answers to basic questions of faith.
In a way this is inspired by what
Jesus had said: “Whoever listens to you listens to me” (Luke 10/16). So when
the Church has to give a solemn doctrine it is “final”, it is the duty of the
Magisterium to make sure that the pronouncement is solid.
Whatever the Church, through the
Magisterium, says as the doctrine of our faith, the Church assumes that the
doctrine is “without error”. It must be infallible.
The Church is the “Body of
Christ” and Christ is “the Head”. The Church is therefore infallible. She in infallible because
Christ shared to her. Christ gave her a share in his own infallibility. We, Catholics, we are guided by the Church's
Magisterium. We adhere to the faith.
The Magisterium keeps God's
people from deviating from truth. The Magisterium makes sure that professing
the faith is without error. We, of the Church, can abide in the truth because
Christ gave to the Church's shepherds
infallibility in faith and morals.
The Holy Spirit helps the
shepherds of the Church because the Holy Spirit bears witness to Christ and the
Father. The Holy Spirit also helps members of the Church to keep the faith
integral—the faith received from Christ.
The Pope, in particular, has
“primacy” over the Church. He is the successor of Peter. He is “primal
shepherd” and teacher of the faith. He proclaims by a definitive act a doctrine
pertaining to faith and morals.
This infallibility is not a
privilege. It is not a matter of power. It is not to say that the Pope is
“super-human”. It is not even a status that give him the right to say whatever
Infallibility is exercised only in specific conditions. We can
think most especially of Councils—or what are usually called as “Ecumenical
Councils”. Let us be clear with this.
Many might misunderstand infallibility. It is exercised only when it comes to
proclaiming a doctrine pertaining to faith and morals (see CCC 891,2035).
Infallibility is exercised during solemn
and public declarations destined for the whole Church. The declaration is
ex cathedra—from the “seat” or “chair”. The
solemn or extraordinary Magisterium is infallible.
What of the ordinary No, it is
not infallible. Statements of the ordinary magisterium are not ex cathedra.
We can evaluate the pronouncements; we use our intellects and reflections. We
weigh options. But the declaration does not oblige an assent of faith.
This does not always happen. It
happens in specific moments. The last time that the pope exercised his
infallibility was when the Assumption of Mary was declared. Pope Pius XII
declared Mary's Assumption: the declaration that Mary was taken up body and
soul into heavenly glory.
(There is what is called “ordinary
but universal Magisterium”. This means that there is a teaching in which there is complete agreement among all the
Catholic Bishops. They say that a particular doctrine is true. But the
pronouncement is not solemn. This is quite a complicated discussion which we
will not be able to engage in here. One example of this is the declaration
of Pope John Paul II regarding
ordination of women. For the Church, it is infallibly
true the Church cannot confer priestly ordination on women and this is to
be understood as belonging to the deposit
The Pope, also, is not alone in
making infallible declarations. The Pope is united with the other
shepherds—notably the bishops.
Faith is our response to the
revealed truth regarding God. Faith needs to be expressed—and often with words.
Dogmas are defined by the Magisterium—shepherds and Pope—to express the faith.
Dogmas are Church faith formulation in Tradition. They are living memories of
divine revelation. They show how the Holy Spirit has been helping the Church.
So when it comes to verifying
truths based on Revelation, the Magisterium will have to study the sources of that revelation. Then the
Magisterium will give the final statement. The Vatican II document Dei Verbum # 10 would emphasize:
"The task of authoritatively interpreting the word of God, whether written
or handed on [Scripture or Tradition], has been entrusted exclusively to the
living Magisterium of the Church, whose authority is exercised in the name of
Let us read a passage from
a Vatican II document, Lumen gentium
# 25. Let us quote directly:
Among the principal duties of
bishops the preaching of the Gospel occupies an eminent place.(39*) For bishops
are preachers of the faith, who lead new disciples to Christ, and they are
authentic teachers, that is, teachers endowed with the authority of Christ, who
preach to the people committed to them the faith they must believe and put into
practice, and by the light of the Holy Spirit illustrate that faith. They bring
forth from the treasury of Revelation new things and old,(164) making it bear
fruit and vigilantly warding off any errors that threaten their flock.(165)
Bishops, teaching in communion with the Roman Pontiff, are to be respected by
all as witnesses to divine and Catholic truth. In matters of faith and morals,
the bishops speak in the name of Christ and the faithful are to accept their
teaching and adhere to it with a religious assent. This religious submission of
mind and will must be shown in a special way to the authentic magisterium of
the Roman Pontiff, even when he is not speaking ex cathedra; that is, it must
be shown in such a way that his supreme magisterium is acknowledged with
reverence, the judgments made by him are sincerely adhered to, according to his
manifest mind and will. His mind and will in the matter may be known either
from the character of the documents, from his frequent repetition of the same
doctrine, or from his manner of speaking.
Although the individual bishops
do not enjoy the prerogative of infallibility, they nevertheless proclaim
Christ's doctrine infallibly whenever, even though dispersed through the world,
but still maintaining the bond of communion among themselves and with the
successor of Peter, and authentically teaching matters of faith and morals,
they are in agreement on one position as definitively to be held.(40*) This is
even more clearly verified when, gathered together in an ecumenical council,
they are teachers and judges of faith and morals for the universal Church,
whose definitions must be adhered to with the submission of faith.(41*)
And this infallibility with which
the Divine Redeemer willed His Church to be endowed in defining doctrine of
faith and morals, extends as far as the deposit of Revelation extends, which
must be religiously guarded and faithfully expounded. And this is the
infallibility which the Roman Pontiff, the head of the college of bishops,
enjoys in virtue of his office, when, as the supreme shepherd and teacher of
all the faithful, who confirms his brethren in their faith,(166) by a
definitive act he proclaims a doctrine of faith or morals.(42*) And therefore
his definitions, of themselves, and not from the consent of the Church, are
justly styled irreformable, since they are pronounced with the assistance of
the Holy Spirit, promised to him in blessed Peter, and therefore they need no
approval of others, nor do they allow an appeal to any other judgment. For then
the Roman Pontiff is not pronouncing judgment as a private person, but as the
supreme teacher of the universal Church, in whom the charism of infallibility
of the Church itself is individually present, he is expounding or defending a
doctrine of Catholic faith.(43*) The infallibility promised to the Church
resides also in the body of Bishops, when that body exercises the supreme
magisterium with the successor of Peter. To these definitions the assent of the
Church can never be wanting, on account of the activity of that same Holy
Spirit, by which the whole flock of Christ is preserved and progresses in unity
But when either the Roman Pontiff
or the Body of Bishops together with him defines a judgment, they pronounce it
in accordance with Revelation itself, which all are obliged to abide by and be
in conformity with, that is, the Revelation which as written or orally handed
down is transmitted in its entirety through the legitimate succession of
bishops and especially in care of the Roman Pontiff himself, and which under
the guiding light of the Spirit of truth is religiously preserved and
faithfully expounded in the Church.(45*) The Roman Pontiff and the bishops, in
view of their office and the importance of the matter, by fitting means
diligently strive to inquire properly into that revelation and to give apt
expression to its contents;(46*) but a new public revelation they do not accept
as pertaining to the divine deposit of faith.(47*)
Did Jesus want to start a religion?
1. If we look at the history of the Church
we will see that there was a time when Church authorities has to face the
challenges of modernity. One professor of the Bible, Alfred Loisy, made a very
challenging statement. “Christ announced the Kingdom”, he said, “but it is the
Church that came”. This statement was highly misunderstood. People started to
criticize the Church by opposing her with
the mission of Jesus. The mission of Jesus was the announcing of liberation
but what came, however, was a religion and its system—a “Church”—filled with
dogmas and practices.
2. It is true that in history many
questioned the clerical domination of the Church. Many felt that the Church was
“too churchy”…too much a society ran by priests and bishops. All authority in
society was dominated by the clerics.
3. During this time the Church herself
took a hard anti-modernist stand. Pope Pius X, for example, launched a crusad
against modernity. So during that time, the statement of Loisy was widely
accepted as a statement of criticism. Well, many in the Church began to feel
4. So, did Jesus really want to start a
religion with its systems of dogmas and practices—a system called “Church”?
5. Well, we do admit that the message of
Jesus and the way the Church has been presented look very different from each
other. Jesus spoke of the Beatitudes, the Happiness and Liberty of his
disciples. But how are the Beatitudes lived by the Church? How are they
practiced in Church history? Sad…but we do see historical facts like the
persecution of heretics, the Inquisition, the power struggle of Popes, the
corruption of priests (not to forget the sexual scandals), etc. Really we see a
sad picture. It is a picture very far from the message of Jesus.
6. Is this what Jesus wanted? Did he want
a very corrupt Church? Well, let us say “No”…not at all. Jesus never wanted the
negative things we see in the Church. So, what exactly did Jesus want? To
answer this, we need to look at the following.
7. Jesus was a Jew. He was a pious Jew and
he was following the Jewish tradition. He would regularly consult Jewish
Scriptures. He observed the Laws of Moses. He observed the Sabbath. In fact he
said it himself: “I came not to abolish the Law and the Prophets but to
accomplish them” (Mt.5/17). Jesus did not suppress the Jewish tradition. He pushed for its deepening and its
fulfilment. See Mt.5/21-48.
8. Jesus therefore did not start a second
religion. His way of speakiong and acting, however, put to question many of the
Jewish practices. Remember his opposition to Sabbath, for example. The Sabbath
is for the person and not the reverse. Jesus was so opposed to religious
hypocrisy. Because of his criticism, he was put to death.
9. Jesus gathered around him his
disciples. These disciples were awakened with hope. His Apostles became his
witnesses and they preached to the world about Jesus and the resurrection. They
preached about the love of God open to all humanity—as preached by Jesus. The book
of the Acts show how the disciples were motivated by Jesus and the preaching of
Jesus. They remembered Jesus—and they kept the memory alive. They assembles
together each week. They held fast to the teachings of he Apostles and
fraternal communion. The broke the bread and prayed together (see Act2/42).
10. That early community did not separate
from Judaism—not in the very early times. They formed a specific group and they
were like a “sect”. But then one day, in Antioche, many who were non-Jews
started joining the community. It was not easy, at first, for the early Jewish
members. It was not easy to sit at the same table with Gentiles. Quarrels
started. So it was a time to really ask: who was to be member of the community?
11. But then it was decided that really the
Church should turn to Gentiles too. In fact, the Jewish members were more
difficult to deal with. (See Act13/42-52). Slowly members came from sectors
that never knew about Judaism. Yet they adhered to the message of Jesus.
12. So we now ask: did Jesus want to start
a new religion? Well, Jesus did not strictly start a new religion. No. He
assembled around him a group of disciples who followed him and took inspiration
from his message. They kept the words of Jesus alive in them. The fruits were
alive too in those who heard the disciples. New assemblies were started. They
may have been similar to the ancient synagogue system. But slowly new rules and
liturgies were set. Remember members started coming in from non Jewish backgrounds.
13. The early communities lived their faith
in Jesus. So the communities took a
new shape—it took a new way of doing things farther and farther from the ways
of Judaism. The important element was this: faith in Jesus. Then slowly, facing
the different issues raised against this faith, the members had to form
councils and other assemblies to fix, once and for all, the basic elements of
our faith. Councils came one after the other until finally a more solid and official
presentation of our faith in Christ emerged. Today, we have this faith…and we
say that we form a “religion”.
14. The Roman Emperor in the early 300’s
AD was Constantine. He made a promulgation in Milan in the year 313. The
Emperor was a convert. He made it sure that the Christian faith be official in
all the Roman empire. Well, the Church began to be closely associated with
political powers of the empire. This was to mark the Church for centuries.
Well, Jesus did not exactly want this development in history. But Jesus must
have understood that the Incarnation had to be respected. It need not be violated. So if human history would take such a
direction, then recognize the incarnation in it. Incarnation means the whole human
body including culture—the structures and relationships in society. Incarnation
has to recognize the reality of antagonisms and change.
15. Yet we see in Church history people
who would influence history too. In their own ways that would sow the seeds of faith.
They took Jesus as their model—the Incarnation in the world.
16. There are many ways of being a
Christian—very creative ways. As one Catholic philosopher, Gabriel Marcel,
would say: we need a “creative fidelity”. We remain faithful to Christ but we
move creatively. We keep on inventing
ways to adapt our faith in the world. We adapt the faith in the world as we see Jesus wanted it. We sow the
seeds of justice and peace and dialogue, for example, just as Jesus wanted it. We may question many things in the Church—ok.
But let us not forget what God has realized in
Christ. In Christ was the definite revelation—the summit. So our task is to
constantly be vigilant about what would
Christ want during each moment of history? Something essential has been
revealed to us—in spite of the many negative things that happen. We keep our
eyes focused on the essential…and move on.
Can we state in one word the essential?
17. The essential is what is revealed. God
revealed in Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ came to preach a message: the Kingdom.
There is liberation of the captives
of sin and death. This is the core message. God so loves us all he wants us liberated from the darkness. Can we have
a word for this? Yes, the word is Resurrection.
18. Resurrection means that Jesus had
really risen from the dead. Death did not have a hold on him. The Resurrection
is victory over death and sin. It is also
victory over non-faith of the follower of Christ. We believe thanks to the Resurrection.
19. When life is ok and things are fine,
we might find it easy to talk about the Resurrection. But how easy is it when
we are in front of the pain and suffering of the world…in front of the
injustice and corruption? How do we speak of the Resurrection there? How do we
speak of liberty from death—liberty from injustice and pain and suffering?
20. Well hopefully we do not just play.
Hopefully we are serious about the Resurrection because it is what is in the
heart of our faith. The Resurrection has a message for the world: God does not
want to put us in a situation where we will simply die and there is nothing
more. God does not want that death, darkness and suffering be our destiny.
Jesus has shown the truth—that indeed we will live again…indeed, death will not
have a final hold on us. This has been
revealed to us.
21. The Resurrection opens the horizons of
life. The Resurrection is hope especially
for those who live, day in and day out, in misery and in pain. Many people
really live in very dehumanizing conditions. There are people who do not have
space and time to breathe deeply and live comfortably. There is the message of
Jesus form them—and for all who suffer deeply. There is a message for all
facing death. St. Paul wrote about it: “But if Christ is preached as raised
from the dead, how can some among you say there is no resurrection of the dead?
If there is no resurrection of the dead, then neither has Christ been raised. And
if Christ has not been raised, then empty [too] is our preaching; empty, too,
your faith” (1Cor.15/12-14).
22. St. Thomas—whom we usually call as
“the doubter”—was just like everyone. He wanted to know—really know—that the
Resurrection really happened. He wanted to know that we are not left in
absolute misery. Hope—yes, this is what St. Thomas needed. It was hope to give
23. We may also need this hope—the hope
“against all hope” (Rm 4/18). It is hope facing all obstacles to hope! Just
think how bleak it would be to say that there is absolutely no solution to our
condition of darkness—that we are absolutely stuck forever in death. No! The
Resurrection is a message against this. It
gives hope against all evidences of death!
24. Look at the despair of the disciples
to Emmaus. They gave up…they were going to Emmaus, away from Jerusalem. In a
sense, not even the deep resources that we have in facing pain and death can be
real signs of the Resurrection. The disciples to Emmaus were disappointed with
everything “cultural”…including the political hopes they put on their “leader”.
Something more had to be revealed!
Resurrection was not just a cultural event. It was not just a nice folklore story. It was a real evidence of eternal life. We assent
in faith. So we engage our lives today because we know that there is such
a reality as the Resurrection. We resist and oppose all forms of death and
darkness because we know these do not define human life. Today we live the
power of the Resurrection.
26. The Resurrection is also an “en-light-enment”. Note the “light”. “I am
the light of the world. Whoever
follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (Jn 8/12).
Following the risen Lord is staying alive and awake and in the light. “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and
Christ will give you light” (Ep 5/14). Christ who died is risen. We walk with
him—in his light—in a world of darkness. Our lives speak of truth, justice,
human dignity. “Light produces every kind of goodness and righteousness and
truth” (Ep 5/9)
Introduction to Theology (Notes of 2015)
On "Modernity and Bultmann"
- Let us not be immediately negative towards modernity and Bultmann. Let us first try to understand how modern thinkers think. So what is modernity and how is Bultmann part of it? (You are not obliged to study this article...I just wrote it to help you. This is not part of the discussions in class).
- Modernity is characterized by a refusal to be under the authority of religion and authorities of the church. For many centuries the Christian religion marked the culture of Europe. During the late 1500’s and early 1600’s, movements arose to question this influence. So what happened? During the course of time, Europeans began to see if there was a possible alternative to Christian living and if it was possible to have a substitute culture.
- What was the “substitute” culture? We can say that it was secular. By secular is meant giving up the central role of God (and religion) in saying what is a true and authentic life. Rules about good and evil had to change away from what religion would say. Be careful, modernity did not say that God did not exist. There was no need to deny the existence of God. But it became necessary to question the revelation of God. Europe continued to have Christian practices, but many people began to ask if God had to be a “Father” with a “Son” named Jesus.
- It was not necessary to be atheist. What was important was to be skeptical about the role of God in truth and human life. So to have a substitute for God’s authority, modern people started to give emphasis on reason—our human capacity to think for ourselves. Modernity would say that the human person is enough, and that the human capacity to think and decide can be enough. Notice: there is no more need for asking what God (and church) would say. Just think well, it is enough.
- What else was introduced by modernity? In modernity the “creature” status of the human being got dismissed. Because the human being can think, decide and be creative, the human being does not have to be limited by God or rules of God. What could happen next? The human being, free from God’s hold, can now be in-charge of the world by using culture, science, technology and economic exploitation. The world can be conquered by the human being. This was a new introduction of modernity. The world can be subject to the changes that the human being can impose.
- What else? In the Christian view, the human being receives the revelation of God. But modernity started to question the revelation. So modernity also started to question the ability of the human being to receive anything from God. For the modern mind, instead of revelation there is imagination or culture or ideology. In other words, every time the human being would talk about God, the human being is only doing a cultural or psychological act. There cannot be revelation—everything is “man-made”. (If you think this is strange, remember how we struggled with the idea that the gospels are not cultural but revelation. Many of you raised this question last semesters. We can be very modern if we doubt that the gospels are not cultural.)
- So we can understand why some modern thinkers would want to look at Jesus Christ as a “rational man” and not as God. The human being, for modernity, is a rational being. So why make Jesus different? We can understand why some modern thinkers would also like to be skeptical about the historicity of Jesus.
- Why would they be skeptical about the historicity of Jesus Christ? If they accept the historical reality, they will be obliged to accept that revelation happened in history. Modernity has dismissed revelation. Modernity would think that when the gospel writers wrote about the past (Jesus in Palestine) the gospel authors were interpreting the past. They were putting in their opinions about the past. They were not receiving God’s revelation. They were projecting their ideas and opinions and faith--but they did not document history. The gospels were cultural products. To think like this is to be very modern.
- Do you see how Butlmann can be very modern? Bultmann remained a Christian—a Lutheran. He continued to believe in God. But he was very modern also—he questioned the nature of God’s revelation.Bultmann did not become atheist. He said that Jesus had a nice message of trust in God. But that message do not have to be verified in history.
- Let us appreciate Bultmann first. He makes sense. But later, we will see that even his own students questioned his position. Today, we think differently from Bultmann. But we must be thankful for Bultmann--he created a problem that has helped in understanding our faith.
A case study on appreciating what it means to see the HISTORICAL reality of Jesus
Mokang and Gokong are friends and they are in a small café talking. Evaluate what they are saying.
Mokang: I am a little bit worried.
Gokong: Well, you are always worried. What is it this time?
Mokang: Did you know that Jesus died for your sins?
Gokong: Oh yeah? What do you mean?
Mokang: Well, he went up the cross, right?
Gokong: How did he climb? Was there a ladder?
Mokang: Don’t be funny…I am bloody serious.
Gokong: Ok, sorry.
Mokang: Jesus died on the cross.
Gokong: Yeah, we all know that. Look at the little crucifix you wear.
Mokang: What strikes me is that he died because of our sins. We are a very sinful humanity. We are so ungrateful to God. So, it is necessary that God be satisfied. Do you understand? God needs to be satisfied because we frustrated him, we disrespected him.
Gokong: Ok, so what are you saying?
Mokang: What I am saying is that God wanted to be paid for our sins. We had to pay him. But we could not.
Gokong: Of course we could not. Don’t be stupid. We cannot pay God. We are small creatures compared to God.
Mokang: That is my problem. If we cannot pay, who pays? Obviously it is Jesus, right? Jesus died on the cross to pay for our sins. Is that not what our Christian faith tells us? But does that not make God blood thirsty and violent? God wants his son killed in order to be satisfied? It looks very dark to me.
Gokong: Oh, yeah? Well…Let me tell you what I think. I think that it never happened.
Mokang: What never happened?
Gokong: Jesus dying on the cross, it never happened. It was just a story made up by his disciples.
Mokang: So you mean he never saved us?
Gokong: Do not be crazy. There is no salvation.
Mokang: Huh? You are saying something bad!
Gokong: I think that salvation is a message we get from Jesus. The Jesus story taught us how to be good people…how to respect others and love one another. That is nice and beautiful. Whether Jesus died on the cross or not…whether he rose from the dead or not…it makes no importance.
Mokang: So what is important?
Gokong: What is important is that Jesus can be an example for us on how to live properly in everyday life. This is salvation. I remember one man who was an artist. When he died, he gave his body parts to sick people. His eyes went to a blind lady who found vision again. His kidneys went to sick people with kidney problems. His gal bladder went to someone with stones in her gal bladder. The artist never rose to life, he never resurrected. But he was able to give new life to sick people after he died. This is how I understand the resurrection of Jesus. It is not real, it just gives us a beautiful story of what it means to live for others.
Mokang: What about dying for us for our sins?
Gokong: Listen, you owe this store money, right?
Gokong: How much?
Mokang: Twenty dollars.
Gokong: Here, I will give you twenty dollars….go pay your debt.
Mokang: What do you mean?
Gokong: I am doing exactly what the Jesus story said. Jesus paid for the sins of others. That means that the Jesus story tells us to help others pay their debts.
Mokang: Wow, you are ok, Gokong!
History and Our Christian Faith
- We say we are “Christians” and the summit of God’s revelation is in Jesus Christ. Because we call ourselves Christ-ians, we admit that Jesus Christ is central to our faith. Jesus is like the center of a wheel and everything else rays from the center. So our faith in him is really important for us. Let us reflect more on this faith in Jesus.
- “This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses... God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified" (Act2/32 and 36). The ancient Christians were saying this as a matter of faith. Notice what they say—they believed in something that happened in history. It was a confession of faith in a historical event. The event of Jesus living and then crucified was a historical event. God raised him and made him both Lord and Christ is a declaration of faith. Until today this is the Christian faith.
- Today in our Eucharistic celebration (during Mass) we pray the “I believe” after the Gospel reading and the homily, if there is one. Look at that prayer and notice how we affirm our faith. See the contents of that prayer. That prayer has come down to us over a long period of time. We are born Christian-Catholic in our families and maybe in our societies. Our confession of faith is already “ready-made”. But what about history behind it? Do we realize how historical our faith-affirmation is? Over the centuries this faith passed through many processes. Then, also, throughout history, faith faced challenges. Let us see one challenge that stems from modernity.
Very early times of the Church: everything accepted without question
- During the very early years of Church history believers had a simple approach to knowing Christ. People accepted without question the reports of the gospels. Jesus, for those people, really walked on water. He really multiplied bread. Etc. The resurrection did not have resistance—people accepted it as a fact. Jesus Christ was divine—it was not questioned. Faith accepted these as historically true. The Bible as read was accepted as an authority of faith.
At the start of modernity: rationalism and the question about authority
- Many centuries afterwards, when modernity came rising, people started to question the link between history and faith. Sometime in the 16th-17th centuries of Europe, there was a growing rejection of religious tradition and Church authority. Instead of relying on what priests and elders would say, it would be more appropriate to see what “reason” itself can say. The human person can “think on his/her own” without authorities telling what to think.
- So, if religious authority was getting rejected, it was possible to affirm reason.
Applying to knowing Jesus
- What about the way Jesus was treated? It was less acceptable to see him in the light of what the Church said. Remember that authority, especially religious, at this point, has been highly questioned. So if Church authority cannot be basis for understanding Jesus, what can be basis? The understanding of “what is human” at this point made people think that the human is a “rational” creature with the autonomy to think and decide for oneself. So this too was applied to Jesus.
- Many preferred to see Jesus as a “rational man” who can think and decide on his own. To say he was “son of God” was to accept the authority of the Church. So it was best to avoid saying Jesus was “son of God” and better to say that Jesus was a “rational man”. The study about Jesus became more of a “rational philosophy”. Jesus was seen as a good model of a moral and rational man. Remove the “superstitions” like the notion of “Son of Man” or “Savior”. Many people preferred to see Jesus as a pure rational man. Jesus was a “model” of being a rational man.
Modernity and the development of science
- Later on, at around late 1700’s and way into the 1800’s, modern science became highly successful. It had a strong influence in the minds of people. The modern natural sciences were considered the best approaches to understanding reality. All studies had to be influenced by the natural sciences and mathematics. It was really the height of modernism. So the science of history had to pattern itself from natural science.
Applied to knowing Jesus
- The growing success of modern science had an impact on understanding who is Jesus. Knowing Jesus scientifically would mean removing the aspects of faith far from science. So then the study about Jesus made some people say that historical science can prove that Jesus was a man of “vision”; he was a “rebel” from Galilee. He was controversial with the leaders of Palestine. Jesus was a “liberal man” and he had a strong influence in the social life of his time. Jesus was an “exceptional man” and he was “a great man”. Notice that nothing was said about Jesus as divine. It was not necessary. Looking at historical facts was enough.
But there came a new question: Was Jesus even historically true?
- There were people who asked about the guarantee to identify the true historical facts of Jesus. And so there were persons who said that maybe it was not even possible to know the actual historical Jesus. Maybe it was impossible to have a real, concrete and true historical account of Jesus. Historical science would not be as exact as natural science anyway.
- Some people then said that the Bible, and especially the gospel stories, were “confessions of faith”. Faith influenced the way the Bible texts were written. So all ideas about the divinity of Jesus did not have a scientific basis. All the Christians say about Jesus as “son of God”, “Christ (Messiah)” were all expressions of faith and not truly real in the concrete world.
- This had a major consequence. If the Bible—and the four gospels—only spoke of faith expressions then these texts cannot be even be considered historical texts. There is no access to the real historical Jesus because the documents about him have been marked by the imaginative affirmations of faith. We cannot know the real Jesus. We can only know what gospel authors wrote about them; and the gospel stories were not historically true they were faith expressions only.
- If nothing can said about the historical Jesus, then all that would be left is the bias of faith. Everything about Jesus could only be the “faith stories” of the ancient Christians, like the gospel authors, who wrote the New Testament.
- Notice this new element. A criticism can be put against faith. Faith can be “dogmatic”, it can be imaginative, it can be cultural but it is not scientific. Faith can be imaginative statements about Jesus but faith does not tell us the real Jesus.
Let us pause for a while: Some Catholics did not join the debate
- Well, let us note in passing that there was a big population in the Catholic Church that kept distance from all these debates. They did not want to get involved with debates with science, history and scientific study of the Bible. Many Catholics stuck it out with the old tradition with the dogmatic affirmations about Jesus. The dogmas were left unquestioned. There was no need to verify their historical roots. Just accept faith dogmatically.
- Notice that some Catholics remained in the past. They did not want to pay too much attention to the movements of modernity. They did not want to mix science, reason with faith. They felt that faith was enough and the use of rational-scientific thinking had to part in Christian life.
- We can say that this is ok…but in a limited way. We can join the population of Christians who will not dialogue with science and history. We can stay within the confines of believing in Church dogma. But we surrounded by a world that is marked by many questions. When we reach out to people and talk to them about our faith we will be getting to contact with people of many modern questions. We cannot be indifferent to their struggles.
Bultmann and the “message” of Jesus
- It seemed that science was dominating the world of knowledge. The scientific approach to history became more and more critical. It was accepted that when studying about Jesus there cannot be an accurate historical science.
- But then something new emerged. During the late 1800’s and well into the 1900’s, a strong theological school became influential in Bible studies. This was exemplified by a protestant Lutheran theologian named Bultmann. Bultmann radically separated history from faith. He agreed that it was impossible to know the real, concrete historical Jesus. So what?
- It was not necessary to worry about the real, concrete historical Jesus. What was most important, for Bultmann, was the message of Jesus in the gospels. The message, and not the historical reality, was most important.
- Think well about this position. It looks attractive. If we cannot be sure about the “real Jesus” we can still rely on the message. We can still rely on “meaning”. Maybe we are not sure about what Jesus really said; we are not sure about what Jesus really did. But if we read the gospels we can get meaning and lessons that we can apply to our lives.
- This is attractive. It is less stressful because we do not have to worry about the truth about Jesus. We already get meaningful lessons for life.
The rejection against Bultmann
- Many theologians did not agree with Bultmann. (We mention names like Kähler, Bornkamm and Pannenberg from the Protestant side and Rahner, Thüsing and Kasper from the Catholic side. But we need not go into details of their works). What was this new position?
- This new position would say that the Jesus Christ preached by faith is also the Jesus Christ of history. There is a continuity between them, they are connected and linked. Faith in Jesus Christ cannot be separated from the real history of Jesus Christ. What led the new theologians to say this?
- They would say that the gospels were written to show Jesus of Nazareth. There must have been a reason for writing the gospels. The gospels were not made simply to make an expression of faith. The gospels had something more. Ok, let agree that the gospels were written as faith expressions. But they were written because of a historical event. The ancient Christians were “triggered” by the encounter with Jesus.
- The historical event was real and it was what the gospels responded to. If we look closely at the gospels, then, we can see how the historical weight of Jesus was affecting it.
- Our Christian faith. Christianity is inscribed within history. It is not just a religion of wise ideas and moral norms. It is not just about meaningful lessons from the Bible. It is not just a product of human culture. The Christian faith is rooted in actual history—what really happened in a particular place and in a particular time: the Jesus-event.
- The presence of Jesus was a revelation to the Apostles and the early Christians. The Apostles and the early Christians said many things about Jesus but what they said were not pure fiction and imagination. They were rooted in the concrete historical experience with the man named Jesus from Nazareth. The Jesus even really happened and the gospels stories are proofs of that event. Even if they were written with some literary styles, they were written out of concrete experiences with Jesus.
- A historical event motivated the writing of the gospels. Before even preaching about Jesus and before even making faith affirmations there was the historical encounter with Jesus. The “real Jesus” of history—the Jesus-event—was the motivation for faith and the motivation for expressing in terms of faith. Before the faith that we now have was developed and before the early Christians expressed their faith there was the encounter with the man Jesus—a true historical man. The confession of faith—and the writing of the gospels—were responses to the experience of having encountered Jesus.
- There are versions about Jesus and we know of four. They are the gospels according to Mark, Matthew, Luke and John. Note that we say versions. They are “points of view” regarding the same historical man.
- So if we follow the thinking of the recent theologians we can see that we are still in the line of revelation. We are not following a faith that is merely invented by the Apostles and the early Christians. Yes, we have many cultural elements in our faith, especially the cultural elements of Judaism. Remember that the encounter with Jesus was in Palestine, in full Jewish culture. The Apostles and the early Christians were marked by their Jewish roots. So their versions and interpretations about Jesus were influenced by their Jewish culture and tradition. But the historical revelation of the actual presence of Jesus was not an invention. That revelation really happened historical—in the concrete.
- Jesus of Nazareth was Christ, Lord and Saviour. This is what the Apostles saw. Christ was this historical man Jesus. This is what the gospel authors said.
The consequence for our faith
- The gospels do not prohibit us from studying the historical Jesus. In fact, the gospels were really attempts of the early Christians to resist making Jesus a myth. They are proofs that a historical encounter happened and it was such a powerful experience that gospel writers had to mention the experience but in the language of faith. The gospel stories prove that faith begins with a historical encounter. The fact that they are written as story-telling of what happened is proof that a real historical event—the Jesus-event—really happened. The story-telling was written with certain literary styles but the styles do not stop us from seeing the historical reality.
- When we read the gospels, even if we read texts of faith, we can discern the historical content underneath. Through the gospels we can have access to the historical Jesus. The gospels are like windows opening and allowing us to view the “real Jesus” of history.
- The Jesus-event really happened, then it is bound to be in the same human conditions are we are in. In principle, therefore, faith is also open to the sciences. History, anthropology, sociology, psychology, etc. have a place in the study of our Christian faith. Theology and the Christian faith, in general, do not necessarily have to close itself from the sciences. We say that we do not exclude science from the study about Jesus Christ.
- This is a challenge to us, actually. We may be doing so many practices in Christianity—and we wonder if we are really doing something purely cultural or doing something rooted in the Jesus-event. We have practices that characterize our lives, and we might want to ask: are these practices really from Jesus Christ or are they simply the creative products of culture?
- If we read the four gospels and if we pray the “I believe” during mass, will we say that they are simply results of imaginative cultural faith confessions far from the real historical Jesus? The answer is…..WHAT DO YOU THINK?
- Faith does not stop us from looking at the historical Jesus. In fact, faith is the refusal to make imaginative stories about Jesus. It is the refusal to make a myth out of Jesus. The gospels are not mythical stories. The gospels are faith proclamations about an event—the presence of Jesus—in history. It is possible to do history through the veil of the gospels. Faith includes the courage to face the historical conditions behind what we affirm.
- We must also verify the history behind our faith. We must see how history supports our faith. If we do not do this, we will be having a “cultural” religion. (Remember what we were saying at the start of the semester about religion.) The gospels are not cultural because they suppose the revelation of God. God has entered into history. History is very relevant to faith. The Christian believes in a historical Jesus.
- Faith and reason, faith and history, are not separated. Faith needs a historical base.History and faith come together. Our affirmations of faith should not contradict the historical reality of Jesus. Our faith cannot be imaginary and cannot be a mere creative product of humans. Between the historical Jesus and our faith affirmation there is no break. We must discern the historical Jesus through our faith. We are not afraid of using science especially history science.
- Faith has a historical base and history opens up to faith. The Christian cannot understand Jesus of Nazareth outside faith—considering that the main access to Jesus are the gospel texts. Yet this faith makes no sense if it has no historical content.
The historical Jesus
- Christianity is rooted in history. We say that whatever is from God is not in an imagination. Christianity sees God as having historically engaged—in Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is a historical person for the Christian.
- Archaeology is one branch of science that helps us see the historical world during the time of Jesus. But who exactly is Jesus? What was in his thoughts, in his way of living, in his understanding about himself? Archaeology cannot help with these questions.
- We can look at documents. There are non-Christian documents. These are not plenty. Once a “Pilate Stone” was discovered with the name of Pontius Pilate in it. This stone is a block (82 cm x 65 cm) of limestone with a carved inscription. It reads: “To the Divine Augusti Tiberieum ...Pontius Pilate...prefect of Judea...has dedicated [this]”. This is proof that Julius Caesar was a true historical man.
- There is another Roman document from a historian named Publius (or Gaius) Cornelius Tacitus (AD 56 – AD 117). He was a historian (and senator) of the Roman Empire. He wrote one book, Annals. In this book (15/44), written at around 116 AD, Christ and Pontius Pilate are mentioned. There was a mass execution of Christians. Tacitus wrote: “…Nero …inflicted the most exquisite tortures on…Christians by the populace. Christus…suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus….”
- There was a Roman historian named Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus. He is more known simply as Suetonius (ca. 69/75 – after 130). He was historian and a good horse-rider. He wrote a book Life of Claudius (25/4) and there he wrote about the emperor Nero expelling Jews from Rome: "As the Jews were making constant disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he expelled them from Rome." Suetonius spelled Christ as “Chrestus”.
- And then there was another Roman historian named Gaius Plinius Caecilius Secundus (61 AD – ca. 112 AD). He is better known as “Pliny the Younger”. He was a historian and lawyer. Why was he called “the younger”? Well, someone was older: Pliny's uncle was “Pliny the Elder” who helped raise and educate him. Pliny the Younger wrote, in around 110AD, about Christians: “They were accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing responsively a hymn to Christ as to a god….” (Epistulae X.96)
- The Jews themselves had their own historians, one of which was Flavius Josephus. He wrote a text sometime in the 90-95, also very close to the time of Jesus. In his books he mentioned the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the Herodians. He mentioned Caiaphas, Pontius Pilate, John the Baptist, and of course Jesus. He mentioned “James the brother of Jesus”. He even mentioned the “Essenes” of the Qumran community. In his book Antiquities (20.200), he said that in AD 62, the high priest Ananus (or Ananias) had assembled “…the Sanhedrin. He had brought before them the brother of Jesus the so-called Christ, who was called James, and some other men, whom he accused of having broken the law, and handed them over to be stoned”. See, he mentioned Jesus Christ.
- There are a few other documents referring to the time of Jesus and the people around Jesus, but those texts were written already in the 10th century. Historians find them important for the historical studies about Jesus, but we need not mention them here.
- Let us conclude: From the non-Christian documentary point of view, there are evidence of the historical truth about Jesus Christ. But these non-Christian documents only mention Christ. They do not give more information than that. The best documents we have about Jesus Christ is the New Testament, and in particular the gospels.
- Experts note that the oral Aramaic at times found its way in the Greek writing. When gospel authors recall the words of Jesus, they would write in Greek but with the Aramaic turns of Jesus. So, this tells us how historically “near” the gospel texts are to the man himself, Jesus.
- Let us not forget that the gospel accounts were written for the communities of the evangelists. Mark had his community to write too, Matthew, Luke and John had their own communities. So when the gospel authors were writing, they had in mind the context and the needs of their communities. They organized their text according to those needs. This explains why they are versions of the same event—the Jesus event. In our synoptic class we spoke about “the Jesus for Mark”, “the Jesus for Matthew”, “the Jesus for Luke”. It is not that there were three Jesus, but it was that they showed profiles—versions—of Jesus.
- The gospel texts were primarily confessions of faith. They were expressing the faith of the authors and the communities. So, in a way, it would be difficult to see them as “historical texts”. The authors did not write the Jesus-history like modern historians. They wrote with the influence of faith. In fact, they wrote to promote and support the faith. So we cannot—and should not—read the texts as historical texts in the modern style. But through them we can discern the historical Jesus.
- Jesus had such an impact on the lives and minds of people. So when people shared their faith in Jesus, they also kept memory of his presence. Through the faith colour of the texts we therefore can see how people—the early Christians—had historical memory of Jesus. We can see the impact Jesus had on their lives—and the impact was so powerful that it left a mark on the written texts.
- The gospel texts, therefore, cannot be considered purely “non-historical”. No. In and through them the memories of the early Christians were stamped.
- Do not forget that in the early times—a little before the resurrection of Jesus—the early Christians believed in the presence of Jesus. Jesus had risen from the dead and although he was not visible he was still present. How? There was the belief in the Spirit. But then also, through the apostles and through St. Paul, the words and gestures of Jesus were still present. The activity of the Apostles, including St. Paul was preaching or proclaiming about Jesus: kerygma. There was still a strong sense of the presence of Jesus among the communities through those preaching. In fact whenever the early Christians would make major decisions, they would call for the inspiration of the Spirit and ask what would Jesus do in their situations.
- People kept memory of Jesus. They recalled the Passion and death as a Prelude to the Resurrection. The risen Lord suffered and died…and then rose again. So it was one big story: Passion-Death-Resurrection. It was a story of someone present in their lives.
- But then over time the Apostles started to die. Those who actually saw Jesus were also dying. Memory had to shift. Suddenly, the early Christians began to realize that they were having a memory of the “past”. The kerygma had to be supplemented by didache, or “teaching”. It was then from proclaiming to teaching and giving lessons. In the time of preaching there was a strong sense of Christ being present among the communities. When the time of didache came, it became important to make that sense of presence felt and accepted. This time, it was no longer the words and gestures of the Apostles that made Jesus present. It was the time of the gospel texts. They had the role of making Jesus actual in the lives of the communities.
- The communities needed a “foundation story”—the Jesus-event story. The words and deeds of Jesus were recorded so that the early communities could have reference and make Jesus actual in their lives. So the gospel texts were marked by a memory of the historical Jesus actualized in the faith of the people.
- The Jesus that the gospels were referring to was living sometime in the 1st century Palestine. There is a large agreement among experts that Jesus died under Pontius Pilate. It was perhaps in the year 30…and some would specify the date as April 7,30. This is still a matter of verification, as experts are still working out the dates. Jesus became known, and therefore started his ministry, at around the 15th year of the reign of the Roman Emperor Caesar Tiberius. As for the date of the birth of Jesus, a lot of researches are still on going. There are indications that Jesus was born a little before the death of Herod the Great.
- Let us leave the debate on details to the experts. Let our data be enough for us. The experts read the Gospel texts and try to make dates comparing with the historical dates outside the Bible. It is a technical job. One thing is for sure: Jesus was a historical man. He lived and died at the time of Pontius Pilate, at the time of Herod Antipas, and at the time of the Baptists—the Pharisees, Saducees, Zealots, Essenes etc. In other words, Jesus really lived in the 1st century Palestine.
The Gospel Accounts
1. The Gospel texts have been questioned a lot in terms of their historical credibility. They have been source of inspiration for many Christian over the centuries but still their historical credibility is more and more questioned.
2. Bible experts agree that Jesus lived sometime in the years 30’s. His mission or ministry took place mainly in Galilee. He was a son of a modest family. His parents were ordinary people. His reputation was due to his preaching and he was showing a new way to relate with the Lord God. His message gave people a different—a new—light on relationships with one another in the light of God’s relationship with all people.
3. The message of Jesus marked many people. Jesus became a curiosity for many. “Who is this man?” many asked. “From where exactly is he?” Yes, he came from a simple and modest family. He did not come from the priestly class. He did not show being a member of Rabbinical schools. He showed to be someone very concerned with the poor and the ill.
4. His popularity led him to controversies. The Jewish authorities were anxious over his popularity and that maybe his popularity might irritate the Romans. Later Jesus was condemned to death.
5. Three days after his death witnesses said that the tomb was empty. Then his disciples claimed to have seen him alive again. “Jesus is risen from the dead”, said his disciples. It was a very good news. Starting from this point, the story about Jesus became a “holy story”. Disciples started to recall the times they were with Jesus, his words and his deeds. The memory of the encounters with Jesus became the material for writing the gospel texts.
6. Thus we have the “good news”. We have the “gospel”. The word did not at first mean a book about the life of a man. The word meant the proclamation of “victory”. Good news or gospel meant that there was victory.
7. Saint Paul used the word gospel quite regularly. We read in 1 Cor 15/1 about the good news announced to others. By the word gospel, in Saint Paul, the meaning is all that God had done in Jesus. For Saint Paul the good news had something to do with the death and resurrection of Jesus. To tell others about this meant for Saint Paul to proclaim the good news, the gospel. Thus he went around on mission telling people that the man Jesus of Nazareth died and rose from the dead. This move from death to life became, for Saint Paul, the good news. It indicated the path to liberation; the path to salvation. It was a victory: that death was not the final part of humanity, that life was victorious; there was the resurrection!
8. Later on the word “gospel” became related with written texts about the life of Jesus. Gospel authors wrote the texts as invitation to faith in Jesus Christ. Note then that the gospel accounts were not written as biographical texts. They were written witnesses to the encounter with Jesus now risen from the dead. The gospel authors wrote about the “good news” regarding Jesus who showed the victory over death. Thus for those who received the gospel accounts they can be stimulated to faith and to deepen their faith and accept their salvation.
9. The account of Saint Mark was the earliest written. It was written in Rome at around the years 65 to 70. Christians in Rome were threatened by the growing prejudice of the Roman state. They were Christians far from the Jewish culture.
10. The account of Matthew may have been written a few years later. Maybe it was sometime in the year 80. Over the centuries of Church history the account of Matthew was the more often used for Church teaching about Christ. The Matthew account may have been written somewhere in Antioch. It was written for Christians coming from Judaism; they were Christians familiar with Jewish texts. Yet they were in conflict with the “official Judaism”.
11. The account of Saint Luke was written for Christians coming from pagan background, notably the Greek culture. Saint Luke may have accompanied Saint Paul on mission. The account of Luke may have been written in the year 85. It was written to comfort the faith of the Christians like “Theophilus”.
12. The so-called “fourth gospel” is that of John. It was written sometime in the year 90 maybe in Ephesus or Syria. It is quite a complex account and it may have been written for different types of persons, poor and rich, simple and highly educated. The account presents Jesus as having come from God to communicate to people the life of God.
13. The sources of the four gospels were not directly from Jesus. They were from witnesses in having encountered Jesus. They were witnesses who claimed that their lives changed upon meeting Jesus. Hence even for the gospel authors the life of Jesus is source of real life.
14. So the historical credibility of the gospel accounts cannot be denied. Although they were written with particular styles, they still presuppose an encounter with Jesus witnessed by disciples and Apostles.
How did they Remember Jesus?
1. Let us look at the Jewish mentality at the time of Jesus. The Jews always saw themselves as the “chosen people” of God. They saw themselves as living in Covenant with God. The Jews had a written tradition in their Torah and in their prophetic writings. They also had an oral tradition in the form of Rabbinical interpretations of the written texts.
2. Sometime during the Greek occupation (about the 4th century before Jesus) the Jewish culture was threatened by Greek impositions. The Jews tried their best to conserve their own written and oral traditions. At that point the Rabbis opened schools.
3. With the Rabbinical schools the commentaries of the Rabbis were taken so seriously and were studied a lot. But they remained oral. So to keep memory of oral studies, it was necessary to have a style of teaching. Memorizing needed a style.
4. Short sentences were repeated over and over again and students memorized them. The teacher mastered the memorization.
5. Experts in the Jewish tradition show that there were poetical and rhythmic styles facilitating memorization. Perhaps melodies accompanied the memorizing. Although there were no official written Rabbinical texts, students kept notes. For example then was the Talmud. These were student notes about the teachings of their Rabbis.
6. Students then learned by oral tradition and at times put things in writing. This tells us that students themselves may have added their own interpretations of what they learned.
7. Jesus himself taught his disciples, and his teachings were like those of Rabbis. He may have taught with short poetic sentences too helping the disciples remember and memorize his lessons.
8. The disciples remembered—memorized—the teachings of Jesus and they understood all that well after Easter. Jesus left and the disciples were alone. The gospel writers then had to rely on the memory of the disciples, notably the Apostles. We have an indication of this in Lk 1/2-3. From the oral form the written forms emerged.
9. Now the gospel accounts were not written for historical purposes. In John we read that they were written so that readers believe (Jn 20/31). The goal was to awaken faith. Hence the authors were not so focused on historical details. When Luke claimed that he got information (Lk1/3), that must have been the short sentences and poems.
10. Each author had to translate from the original oral (Aramean) to Greek. Hence translations can differ. That may have affected to a large extent the divergences in the gospel accounts.
11. Let us not forget too that as the authors were taking from oral accounts incorporated in those accounts were further elaborations of disciples and Apostles. These had their commentaries too.
12. The authors took from the oral traditions about Jesus. The traditions were rooted in the experiences with Christ but when they were written it was necessary to look into the conditions and needs of the readers or the communities of the authors. On one hand there was fidelity to the memories about Jesus and on the other hand there was the “catechism” for the communities.
And from Jesus, what’s next?
1. Modernity has somehow provoked Christians to ask questions about faith. For a long time Christians were accepting the dogmas given to them. But then one day, they just started to be more critical. They asked about the origins of the faith. What was the history behind the different affirmations of the Church? It was not enough to remain “naïve” about the different themes of faith.
2. There were moves, therefore, to seek from where our faith comes. Two big moves happened. First was a “return to the Bible” and the second was a return to early Church history. Bible scholarship began to have a role in studies and it relied a lot on modern sciences like archaeology and studies of manuscripts. There were those who studied the Church Fathers of the first four centuries of Church history. They looked into the struggles of the Church Fathers and how the Church Fathers, through Councils, formulated the different dogmatic affirmations we have inherited.
3. One thing is clear. The source of our faith is the Gospel in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus was the goodnews! He was encountered and he had an impact on the lives of persons, notably the Apostles. Jesus Christ was the living Gospel!
The Gospel transmitted
4. That encounter with Jesus was put to written form. The written texts witness to Jesus Christ. The assumption here is that the written texts relied on the actual and historical presence of Jesus Christ.
5. The Christians, after the Apostolic times, relied, in turn, on the written texts. They took inspiration from the gospel texts and from writings of Paul and Peter and others. Notice then that the goodnews was transmitted through the written texts of the New Testament and through the Tradition of the Apostles. Jesus Christ was the main source attested by the written texts and transmitted in a living way from generation to generation. Think of the transmission as a flow of water from a source. To make sure that no water is lost the flow had to be channeled. But the written texts and the living transmission of the Church are like that “canal”.
6. If we ask about the notion of “Church Tradition”, we can see it here in the image of the “water canal”. Church Tradition is the conservation and transmission of the faith that the Apostles had which, primarily was formulated in the written texts of the New Testament. Note that the Church took inspiration from the New Testament and formulated the insights applicable to the different historical moments. The Church continue, until today, to recapitulate the insights of the Apostles and the New Testament and applied those insights in different contexts. The work of the Church has always been that recapitulation of the Gospel message and interpreting that message in the course of history. Talk about God (theology) would then mean taking from Scriptures and communicating the gospel message through tradition.
7. We may have been used to think of separating Scriptures from Tradition. This is not accurate. Note that Tradition has always anchored itself on Scriptures. This is precisely what recapitulation means.
8. But then, let us not forget that Scriptures also is also, in a way, rooted in tradition. How? The gospels, for example, were written for the early communities. In other words, the gospel accounts were written out of the needs of the communities. There was an existing tradition already that asked for written texts.
Reading the Scriptures
9. The time of the Apostles was foundational. The Apostles came into direct contact with the source, namely Jesus Christ. Later came the Church Fathers and they formulated faith affirmations taking from the insights of the Apostolic times. The Church Fathers were not far from the source. As the Church Fathers meditated and reflected on the faith of the Apostles, the Church Fathers needed to be clear about which texts really reflected the faith. This is the reason for having texts “canonized”. From among the many emerging written texts during that time, certain texts have already been widely accepted in the Christian communities. Looking closely at those texts, the Church Fathers discerned the fidelity of the texts to the faith of the Apostles. What then were “canonized” were the four gospel accounts that we have now: the gospel accounts of Mark, Matthew, Luke and John.
10. There was also something deep in the motivation of the Church Fathers to rely on the Scriptures, including the Old Testament. They were motivated by the question of the link between the Jewish texts and the Christian texts. Did the Jewish texts—or the Old Testament—point to Jesus Christ? Was the Old Testament prophesying about Jesus? A retrospect back into the Old Testament led the Church Fathers to say yes, the Jesus-Christ-event was accomplished. The New Testament about Jesus Christ was already in the Old Testament but in a hidden way; the Old Testament was fulfilled and manifested clearly in the New Testament. Note that this was a retrospect.
11. In fact, as we read parts of the New Testament, we can see that this way of thinking was already at work in the texts. The disciples were already questioning if the man Jesus was a prophet as promised by Moses (see Dt.18/18).
12. Remember the story of “the road to Emmaus” in Luke. Notice there the strong retrospect. “Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them what referred to him in all the scriptures” (Lk.24/27).
13. The Church Fathers, now and then, were confronted by questions coming from many sides. One of the questions was about the scandal in believing in a crucified man. It was necessary for Church Fathers to reply to this question by a retrospect to the Old Testament. The suffering and death of Jesus was already announced in the Old Testament. The Church Fathers were following the same line of thinking of the New Testament authors.
14. This tells us the Christian way to reading Scriptures. We begin with Jesus Christ and we retrospect to the Old Testament. We do not start with the Old Testament and from there derive the sense of the New Testament. What is seen in the Old Testament gives light to the New Testament. It clarifies the New Testament. The retrospect is crucial. Why?
15. Take the example of the prophet Isaiah. Isaiah spoke of “Immanuel”. “Immanuel” meant “God is with us”. When Isaiah said this may have had in mind that the Lord God was with “us”, both himself and She'arjash'ub, his son. There was no direct application to the future Jesus Christ. Isaiah was speaking and acting within his historical condition. But then, later on, Christians looked back at the prophet Isaiah and what that prophet said about Immanuel. The Christians then applied that insight to Jesus. It was the retrospect of the Christians.
16. If we want to understand the mind and ideas of Isaiah we really need to see what he intended. We cannot impose on the prophet our retrospect. However, if we want to see how the early Church linked Jesus with Immanuel, we need to respect the retrospect.
17. Now, Christian retrospect into the Old Testament has led to the idea of God’s plan from the beginning. The New Testament is placed within the context of the whole Bible and it is placed within the context of the whole of God’s plan. The New Testament had been announced and prophesied in the Old Testament; the plan of God hidden in the Old Testament is now manifest in the New Testament. A whole “salvation history” picture emerges. The virginal birth of Jesus and his horrible death are now placed in a context: the context of God’s plan.
What about the Jews?
18. When we read the Bible as Christians we do not delete the Old Testament. We see a big picture with Abraham, Moses, the prophets and Jesus Christ all part of God’s plan. Remember that this is our reading. Jews may not agree with us on this. They cannot accept, for example, our view that the Old Testament is a “partial” fulfillment of God’s plan. This is why some theologians and Bible scholars prefer to call the two Testaments as “First” and “Second” Testaments. We respect Jews and their faith.
19. Yet, we are Christians and we need to be clear with our faith. We need to admit the differences between us and the Jews. Already St. Paul himself mentioned this. Referring to the people of Israel he said, “Rather, their thoughts were rendered dull, for to this present day the same veil remains unlifted when they read the old covenant, because through Christ it is taken away. To this day, in fact, whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their hearts, but whenever a person turns to the Lord the veil is removed” (2Cor.3/14-16). St. Paul was simply expressing the conviction of the early Christians regarding the link between the Old and the New Testament.
Appreciating the Bible as Revelation and yet written by human authors
1. In 1994 the Pontifical Biblical Commission gave guidelines regarding how to interpret the Bible. What does it say?
2. The Commission says that we must respect the different interpretations about the Bible. There are different methods to interpret. For example a scholar might want to look at the literary style of a text. This is one approach. Another scholar might want to study how a particular text came to be written; what was the historical condition behind its written form? Of course we need to respect the community dimension of a text. A text is written for a community of readers. This community, in turn, will interpret the text. Then we must respect the unity of all Biblical texts.
3. Now, the different sciences contribute to the understanding of the Bible. This may include linguistic science, history, psychology, anthropology and archaeology. Take the case of what is called “textual criticism”. Work here is very patient; it investigates the different manuscripts. The work is so scientific and, really, very technical. Textual criticism tries to evaluate the different manuscripts to determine their fidelity to whatever may have been the most original manuscript.
4. Look at archaeology. This field of science studies the discoveries found in the different places of Israel and surrounding regions. The discoveries collaborate at times with the Biblical texts. Sometimes however they “debunk” what are written in the Bible. Archaeology is very challenging and it stimulates lots of questions.
5. These sciences help the scholar to have a better understanding of the cultural, political and religious contexts of Biblical texts and authors. One clear example is the well-known “synoptic problem”.
6. We are simplifying, of course, the presentation about Biblical studies. But it must be clear by now that we can dare study the Bible in a scientific way. The Bible is a “library” of books also written by human authors. We can study the world—the literature and culture and even the psychology—of Biblical authors and see the meanings they wanted to put in their writings.
7. Trying to find out the possible meanings that authors give to their written texts prohibits us to do just whatever we want with the Bible. We cannot just interpret arbitrarily the Bible according to our moods and dispositions. We have to take hold of what the authors themselves may have wanted to say. Of course we also have our own interpretations but we need to be as close as possible to the authors’ minds.
8. Just a note on history: During the early times of the early Church there were persons who interpreted the gospel accounts in their own ways. Thus arose the issues of heresies. The Church had to constantly return to the intuitions of the New Testament and affirm the insights of the authors of the New Testament. If the Church stayed lax about interpreting the gospel accounts, the heresies might have dominated the Church.
9. Today we might be interpreting the Bible and saying things about Jesus. Are we really rooted in the insights of Mark, Matthew, Luke and John?
10. Now we might be afraid of losing Revelation! Might the written texts be completely cultural products of authors without Revelation? Well, the Church sees the problem this way.
11. In 1965, the Vatican II document on Revelation, Dei Verbum, was published. For Dei Verbum the truth of the Scriptures is in the saving plan of God written by Biblical authors rooted in their historical times. Revelation is not lost. It is recognized. The Bible is not a direct quotation of God’s words. God did not hesitate to allow humans to write; and humans wrote in their own languages, cultures, temperaments, moods, literary styles. This was part of the way Revelation took place. God did not delete the human condition underneath the Biblical texts.
12. We saw this in the case of Jesus Christ. We said that there was a problem about the historical reality of Jesus because the main documents, the four gospels, are faith-expressions. The gospel writers were writing to do “catechesis” for their communities. The gospel authors wrote according to their styles and according to how they responded to the need of their communities. But the historical impact of Jesus gave fruit to the written texts. The written texts therefore presuppose a historical experience of Jesus. Revelation was there, it took place historically and it was recorded and written by gospel authors rooted in their human conditions.
Bible Manuscripts are “copies of copies of copies”
The Bible that we have today relies on manuscripts that have been copied from the original manuscripts. In other words, there is no more existing original manuscript…none from the Old Testament nor from the New Testament. All existing manuscripts are old…very ancient…but they are not the original texts. They are already copies of copies of copies.
The Old Testament texts
1. The Old Testament is the Hebrew Bible. For a while the oldest available manuscripts were already translations in Greek. The Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, known as Septuagint, was written beginning 247 BC by scholars in Alexandria, Egypt. The complete translation was done in around 117 BC.
2. Then came the “Massoretic” manuscripts. The Hebrew writing had no vowels. But then Rabbis around the lake of Galilee decided to add vowels into the texts. That then became the “Masoretic Text”. They are copies of Hebrew Bible books and they are dated between AD 500-1000. Two manuscripts are known: One is the Leningrad Codex which is a complete copy of the Hebrew Old Testament, written around AD 1010. The Hebrew Bible today is based on this codex. It is found in the Public Library of Leningrad. Another set of copies is known as the Allepo Codex. It also contains the entire Hebrew Bible and it may have been written during the early tenth century AD.
3. One day, the Qumran caves in Israel were excavated and very ancient Bible texts were found. These are known as the “Dead Sea Scrolls”. They were produced by Jewish monastic Essenes, and the date of their writing may have been around 800 AD. Other experts say that the writing may have been done later. In 1947, shepherds discovered them accidentally in caves in the Qumran region. The Dead Sea Scrolls contain fragments of every book in the Hebrew Bible except the book of Esther. Scrolls were preserved including two copies of the book of Isaiah.
4. The Dead Sea Scroll copies of Isaiah prove to be identical with the standard Hebrew Bible with minor stylistic changes. The Dead Sea Scrolls collection are in the hands of different individuals. Some are owned by the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
5. The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls made scholars more confident about the accuracy of the Massoretic texts.
The New Testament texts
1. The preservation of New Testament manuscripts can be quite complicated. There are over 6,000 early manuscript copies! They are portions of the Greek New Testament that we have today. There are the manuscripts in Latin, known as Vulgate. These cover as much as 24,000 early copies or portions of the New Testament.
2. The earliest manuscripts were already copies of copies of copies. But they are old enough to be closer to the original manuscripts. Some of them date only twenty to thirty years from the original texts!
3. Scholars think that the gap between the dates of the original texts to the earliest existing manuscripts is so small that there is a very big likelihood that we are in touch with the original texts. Copies of copies of copies can still be considered authentically linked with the originals.
4. Look at the following:
· The Chester Beatty Papyrus II is the earliest manuscript containing most of St. Paul's letters. They were copied at around AD 100.
· Then there is the John Rylands Manuscript. It contains part of the Gospel of John. It was copied in AD 130. The manuscript is in England.
· There are the manuscripts known as Bodmer Papyri and Bodmer Papyri II. They may have been composed in 150 to 200 AD. They contain parts of the New Testament.
· Another collection is the Codex Alexandrinus, the Codex Ephraemi, and the Oxyrhynchus Papyri. They were composed in 450 AD in Egypt.
· There is the Codex Vaticanus. It is a Greek copy of the whole Old Testament and most of the New Testament. It may have been copied sometime in 325 to 350 AD. The Codex Vaticanus is in the Vatican's library.
· Then there is the Codex Sinaiticus. It was discovered in the Mt. Sinai Monastery in 1859. Scholars think that it was written around 375-400 AD. It contains all of the New Testament and most of the Old Testament. It is now in the British Museum in London.
· The Codex Washingtonianus may have been written in around 450 AD and it contains all four gospel accounts. It is in the Smithsonian Institution.
· Then came the Latin translations. The most famous is St. Jerome's Vulgate written in 390-404 AD.
A Synopsis of Revelation
We saw that the New Testament authors did a “retrospect” on the Hebrew scriptures to try to understand Jesus. This was done by the Apostles themselves. The Apostles looked back at their own Hebrew tradition to be able to say something about Jesus. So in the Hebrew scriptures there was mention of “prophets”, for example. Moses, before he died, said that there will a prophet like him who will return. Elijah who went up in heaven was believed to return one day. The return of a prophet like Moses and the return of Elijah would mean the complete liberation of the Jews. This was in the minds of the Apostles and the authors of the gospel accounts. They looked at their Jewish tradition and saw how it applied to their experience of Jesus. They saw the prophetic dimension of Jesus and they even saw something more than that! Jesus was just like the ancient prophets but he was even more than the prophets.
Some of the Church Fathers were also concerned with this retrospect. They were also concerned about the link between Jesus and the Old Testament texts. They sensed that the Old Testament was one big prophetic text pointing to Jesus. For the Church Fathers the coming of Jesus was already hidden or implied in the Old Testament. Now what was hidden before came out in the open with Jesus. The New Testament would be the full manifestation of what was hidden in the Old Testament.
Note the retrospect. It was in this retrospect that allowed the link between the Old and the New Testament. Of course the Jews today will not accept this. They have a different view about Jesus and for them the New Testament is not their scriptures. Still we stay in the line of how revelation took place—the historical presence of Jesus Christ. For us we see the link between the two testaments of the Bible.
This, at the same time, indicates how we can have a general perspective of the whole Bible. Already with the Apostles and the Church Fathers we can have a reading of the entire Bible. The whole Bible speaks to us about the plan of God. It is God’s plan to make us participate in his life. God wants us to be in communion with God. Although we have been marked by sin and the condition of refusing God, God did not stop from calling us in communion. So God continued with the plan by engaging with us in history, starting with Abraham and continuing with Moses and the prophets. The New Testament which focuses on Jesus Christ shows clearly the plan of God. Whatever Jesus did and happened to him are all in the plan of God. Looking back in retrospect to the Old Testament we see God’s plan in creation and God’s plan in history. The summit of that is in the historical presence of Jesus Christ. This is what the Vatican II Council itself has recognized in the document on God’s Revelation (Dei Verbum). Let us make a diagram for it:
What was that again? How did Jesus save us?
1. To discuss redemption we can look at the word “reparation”. Traditionally the Church has taught that because we have offended God we need to “repair” the broken relationship. What is broken is not just our relationship with God but also with each other. Now, can we repair the break? Not quite. St. Paul describes the predicament. We cannot always do good even if we want to. Somehow we do the things we really for not want, and do not do the things we want to do. See Rom 7/23. Through Jesus Christ we are able to manage this predicament. Rom 8/2. Jesus repaired what Adam broke, he did what Adam failed to do. See Rom 5/17-19. Our humanity was corrupted by the “sin of Adam”—which is another word for “original sin”. Jesus set things straight.
2. The incarnation is God’s supreme self-communication to the world. The act of taking human condition, suffering and dying was willed and accepted by the Word. This was his obedience by “going down” and “humbling himself”. Christ overcame darkness, what he did was accepted by God. It “satisfied” God. This is the so-called theory of satisfaction. Over the centuries this theory has been influencing the Church’s notion of redemption/salvation.
3. The theory of satisfaction took a very curious turn. Some say that the “chivalry tradition” of the Middle Ages in Europe had an influence in this theological thinking. In those times a “knight” would be willing to suffering and die for his Lord-King to satisfy the Lord-King. Could this interpretation be applied to Jesus too? The curious turn is what is now called as “vicarious satisfaction”. What does this mean? God was very frustrated with humanity, God needed some kind of “reparation”. He had to win back what was lost. The only way this could be done was by blood. But this is not just any blood.
4. Jesus was sent by God—he was God’s vicar and representative. The blood of Jesus would be the price to pay God. It was, of course, very special blood. Jesus identified with us, sinners, and took upon himself the punishment we deserve. Our blood was not good enough to satisfy God. The blood of Jesus…well, it was what God wanted. The blood of Christ on the cross satisfied God. So Jesus took our place in the suffering. This is what “vicarious” means, it is to suffer in the place of someone else. Vicarious would also mean that Jesus “substituted” for us. We ought to have been put to the cross, but Jesus took our place. And so the suffering of death of Jesus satisfied God. The satisfaction was a “vicarious satisfaction”.
How Jesus Saved Us Part II
1. Let us look closely at the idea of salvation in terms of the “sacrifice” of Jesus on the cross. We say that the death of Jesus saved us from dying eternally. Death is the contrary of life. Salvation means that our destiny is not death. We hope for eternal life. Now Jesus died. His death is our source of life. We put our hope on the death of Jesus so that we will live. We have to be grateful for his death. The plan of the Father is for us to have fullness of life and this had to pass through the death of the Son. It is necessary that Jesus be put to the cross for us to live.
2. Remember that God is hurting. There is pain in him because of human disobedience. Sin is an injustice done to God. Now this hurt must be compensated. God’s anger must be appeased. How? The compensation must be equal to the fault. For God the compensation can be given in blood but it is not just any blood, it must be the blood of the Son. This is justice. The proportion to human disobedience is the blood of Jesus. When the proportion is achieved God will then be satisfied.
3. The blood of Jesus appeases the anger of God. It also offers reconciliation between us and God. Because of the blood of Jesus we are now reconciled with the Father. It is a kind of “strategy” to satisfy the Father. Remember that the sacrifice of Jesus was willed by the Father.
4. The sacrifice was for all humanity. Hence it was a universal sacrifice.
5. Jesus sacrificed his life and blood by substituting for us. There are those who see a parallel with the sacrifice of Maximilian Kolbe. Remember that Kolbe was in Nazi prison and prisoners were to be killed by German soldiers. One of the prisoners was a father with a family. Kolbe offered himself as substitute for the father. Kolbe was killed to save the father.
6. What exactly was this substitution of Jesus? The substitution means that we are spared from the penalty of sin because instead of us taking the punishment it is Jesus wo takes the punishment. This substitution pleased the Father. Hence it is called “vicarious”, that is, something done for us. Jesus is put to the cross by the Father in substitution for us. His death is in place of our death.
7. Of course Jesus was innocent. He was without sin. He did not disobey the Father. Yet in spite of his innocence he was put to the cross. Now that he has been sacrificed in substitution for us we are somehow dispense of the charge of sin. Hence we must be thankful.
8. We can then ask what all this meant for Jesus himself. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that Jesus came for the mission of doing the will of the Father. Jesus obeyed the Father’s will by dying on the cross. “The Son of God, who came down ‘from heaven, not to do [his] own will, but the will of him who sent [him]’, said on coming into the world, ‘Lo, I have come to do your will, O God.’ ‘And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.’” (CCC#606).
9. Let us look at the Catechism of the Catholic Church (599-618) regarding all this.
599 Jesus' violent death was not the result of chance in an unfortunate coincidence of circumstances, but is part of the mystery of God's plan, as St. Peter explains to the Jews of Jerusalem in his first sermon on Pentecost: "This Jesus [was] delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God."393 This Biblical language does not mean that those who handed him over were merely passive players in a scenario written in advance by God.394
600 To God, all moments of time are present in their immediacy. When therefore he establishes his eternal plan of "predestination", he includes in it each person's free response to his grace: "In this city, in fact, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place."395 For the sake of accomplishing his plan of salvation, God permitted the acts that flowed from their blindness.396
601 The Scriptures had foretold this divine plan of salvation through the putting to death of "the righteous one, my Servant" as a mystery of universal redemption, that is, as the ransom that would free men from the slavery of sin.397 Citing a confession of faith that he himself had "received", St. Paul professes that "Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures."398 In particular Jesus' redemptive death fulfills Isaiah's prophecy of the suffering Servant.399 Indeed Jesus himself explained the meaning of his life and death in the light of God's suffering Servant.400 After his Resurrection he gave this interpretation of the Scriptures to the disciples at Emmaus, and then to the apostles.401
602 Consequently, St. Peter can formulate the apostolic faith in the divine plan of salvation in this way: "You were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your fathers. . . with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. He was destined before the foundation of the world but was made manifest at the end of the times for your sake."402 Man's sins, following on original sin, are punishable by death.403 By sending his own Son in the form of a slave, in the form of a fallen humanity, on account of sin, God "made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God."404
603 Jesus did not experience reprobation as if he himself had sinned.405 But in the redeeming love that always united him to the Father, he assumed us in the state of our waywardness of sin, to the point that he could say in our name from the cross: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"406 Having thus established him in solidarity with us sinners, God "did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all", so that we might be "reconciled to God by the death of his Son".407
604 By giving up his own Son for our sins, God manifests that his plan for us is one of benevolent love, prior to any merit on our part: "In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins."408 God "shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us."409
605 At the end of the parable of the lost sheep Jesus recalled that God's love excludes no one: "So it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish."410 He affirms that he came "to give his life as a ransom for many"; this last term is not restrictive, but contrasts the whole of humanity with the unique person of the redeemer who hands himself over to save us.411 The Church, following the apostles, teaches that Christ died for all men without exception: "There is not, never has been, and never will be a single human being for whom Christ did not suffer."412
606 The Son of God, who came down "from heaven, not to do [his] own will, but the will of him who sent [him]",413 said on coming into the world, "Lo, I have come to do your will, O God." "And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all."414 From the first moment of his Incarnation the Son embraces the Father's plan of divine salvation in his redemptive mission: "My food is to do the will of him who sent me, and to accomplish his work."415 The sacrifice of Jesus "for the sins of the whole world"416 expresses his loving communion with the Father. "The Father loves me, because I lay down my life", said the Lord, "[for] I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father."417
607 The desire to emrace his Father's plan of redeeming love inspired Jesus' whole life,<sup#418< sup=""> for his redemptive passion was the very reason for his Incarnation. And so he asked, "And what shallI say? 'Father, save me from this hour'? No, for this purpose I have come to this hour."419 And again, "Shall I not drink the cup which the Father has given me?"420 From the cross, just before "It is finished", he said, "I thirst."421</sup#418<>
60 After agreeing to baptize him along with the sinners, John the Baptist looked at Jesus and pointed him out as the "Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the wÀrld".422 By doing so, he reveals that Jesus is at the same time the suffering Servant who silently allows himself to be led to the slaughter and who bears the sin of the multitudes, and also the Paschal Lamb, the symbol of Israel's redemption at the first Passover.423 Christ's whole life expresses his mission: "to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."424
609 By embracing in his human heart the Father's love for men, Jesus "loved them to the end", for "greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends."425 In suffering and death his humanity became the free and perfect instrument of his divine love which desires the salvation of men.426 Indeed, out of love for his Father and for men, whom the Father wants to stve, Jesus freely accepted his Passion and death: "No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord."427 Hence the sovereign freedom of God's Son as he went out to his death.428
610 Jesus gave the supreme expression of his free offering of himself at the meal shared with the twelve Apostles "on the night he was betrayed".429 On the eve of his Passion, while still free, Jesus transformed this Last Supper with the apostles into the memorial of his voluntary offering to the Father for the salvation of men: "This is my body which is given for you." "This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins."430
611 The Eucharist that Christ institutes at that moment will be the memorial of his sacrifice.431 Jesus includes the apostles in his own offering and bids them perpetuate it.432 By doing so, the Lord institutes his apostles as priests of the New Covenant: "For their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth."433
612 The cup of the New Covenant, which Jesus anticipated when he offered himself at the Last Supper, is afterwards accepted by him from his Father's hands in his agony in the garden at Gethsemani,434 making himself "obedient unto death". Jesus prays: "My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me. . ."435 Thus he expresses the horror that death represented for his human nature. Like ours, his human nature is destined for eternal life; but unlike ours, it is perfectly exempt from sin, the cause of death.436 Above all, his human nature has been assumed by the divine person of the "Author of life", the "Living One".437 By accepting in his human will that the Father's will be done, he accepts his death as redemptive, for "he himself bore our sins in his body on the tree."438
613 Christ's death is both the Paschal sacrifice that accomplishes the definitive redemption of men, through "the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world",439 and the sacrifice of the New Covenant, which restores man to communion with God by reconciling him to God through the "blood of the covenant, which was poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins".440
614 This sacrifice of Christ is unique; it completes and surpasses all other sacrifices.441 First, it is a gift from God the Father himself, for the Father handed his Son over to sinners in order to reconcile us with himself. At the same time it is the offering of the Son of God made man, who in freedom and love offered his life to his Father through the Holy Spirit in reparation for our disobedience.442
615 "For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man's obedience many will be made righteous."443 By his obedience unto death, Jesus accomplished the substitution of the suffering Servant, who "makes himself an offering for sin", when "he bore the sin of many", and who "shall make many to be accounted righteous", for "he shall bear their iniquities".444 Jesus atoned for our faults and made satisfaction for our sins to the Father.445
616 It is love "to the end"446 that confers on Christ's sacrifice its value as redemption and reparation, as atonement and satisfaction. He knew and loved us all when he offered his life.447 Now "the love of Christ controls us, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died."448 No man, not even the holiest, was ever able to take on himself the sins of all men and offer himself as a sacrifice for all. The existence in Christ of the divine person of the Son, who at once surpasses and embraces all human persons, and constitutes himself as the Head of all mankind, makes possible his redemptive sacrifice for all.
617 The Council of Trent emphasizes the unique character of Christ's sacrifice as "the source of eternal salvation"449 and teaches that "his most holy Passion on the wood of the cross merited justification for us."450 And the Church venerates his cross as she sings: "Hail, O Cross, our only hope."451
618 The cross is the unique sacrifice of Christ, the "one mediator between God and men".452 But because in his incarnate divine person he has in some way united himself to every man, "the possibility of being made partners, in a way known to God, in the paschal mystery" is offered to all men.453 He calls his disciples to "take up [their] cross and follow [him]",454 for "Christ also suffered for [us], leaving [us] an example so that [we] should follow in his steps."455 In fact Jesus desires to associate with his redeeming sacrifice those who were to be its first beneficiaries.456 This is achieved supremely in the case of his mother, who was associated more intimately than any other person in the mystery of his redemptive suffering.457
Apart from the cross there is no other ladder by which we may get to heaven.458
Some Texts about Jesus Saving Us
The Protestant Side
From the Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians 3/13 by Martin Luther
All the prophets of old said that Christ should be the greatest transgressor, murderer, adulterer, thief, blasphemer that ever was or ever could be on earth. When He took the sins of the whole world upon Himself, Christ was no longer an innocent person. He was a sinner burdened with the sins of a Paul who was a blasphemer; burdened with the sins of a Peter who denied Christ; burdened with the sins of a David who committed adultery and murder, and gave the heathen occasion to laugh at the Lord. In short, Christ was charged with the sins of all men, that He should pay for them with His own blood. The curse struck Him. The Law found Him among sinners. He was not only in the company of sinners. He had gone so far as to invest Himself with the flesh and blood of sinners. So the Law judged and hanged Him for a sinner. …
Our merciful Father in heaven saw how the Law oppressed us and how impossible it was for us to get out from under the curse of the Law. He therefore sent His only Son into the world and said to Him: "You are now Peter, the liar; Paul, the persecutor; David, the adulterer; Adam, the disobedient; the thief on the cross. You, My Son, must pay the world's iniquity." The Law growls: "All right. If Your Son is taking the sin of the world, I see no sins anywhere else but in Him. He shall die on the Cross." And the Law kills Christ. But we go free. …
…because Christ is God He had an everlasting and unconquerable righteousness. These two, the sin of the world and the righteousness of God, met in a death struggle. Furiously the sin of the world assailed the righteousness of God. Righteousness is immortal and invincible. On the other hand, sin is a mighty tyrant who subdues all men. This tyrant pounces on Christ. But Christ's righteousness is unconquerable. The result is inevitable. Sin is defeated and righteousness triumphs and reigns forever.
Catholic side: Catechism of Trent
CHRIST'S PASSION, - A SATISFACTION, A SACRIFICE,
A REDEMPTION, AN EXAMPLE
Again, it (the Passion of Christ) was a sacrifice most acceptable to God, for when offered by His Son on the altar of the cross, it entirely appeased the wrath and indignation of the Father. This word (sacrifice) the Apostle uses when he says: Christ hath loved us, and hath delivered himself for us, an oblation and a sacrifice to God for an odour of sweetness.
Besides these incomparable blessings, we have also received another of the highest importance; namely, that in the Passion alone we have the most illustrious example of the exercise of every virtue. For He so displayed patience, humility, exalted charity, meekness, obedience and unshaken firmness of soul, not in suffering for justice' sake, but also in meeting death, that may truly say on the day of His Passion alone, our Saviour offered, in His own Person, a living exemplification of all the moral precepts inculcated during the entire time of His public ministry.
Satisfaction is the full payment of a debt; for that is sufficient or satisfactory to which nothing is wanting. Hence, when we speak of reconciliation to favor, to satisfy means to do what is sufficient to atone to the angered mind for an injury offered; and in this sense satisfaction is nothing more than compensation for an injury done to another. But, to come to the object that now engages us, theologians make use of the word satisfaction to signify the compensation man makes, by offering to God some reparation for the sins he has committed.
From the Catechism of Catholic Church (Today)
599 Jesus' violent death was not the result of chance in an unfortunate coincidence of circumstances, but is part of the mystery of God's plan, as St. Peter explains to the Jews of Jerusalem in his first sermon on Pentecost: "This Jesus [was] delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God."….
614 This sacrifice of Christ is unique; it completes and surpasses all other sacrifices. First, it is a gift from God the Father himself, for the Father handed his Son over to sinners in order to reconcile us with himself. At the same time it is the offering of the Son of God made man, who in freedom and love offered his life to his Father through the Holy Spirit in reparation for our disobedience.
615 "For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man's obedience many will be made righteous." By his obedience unto death, Jesus accomplished the substitution of the suffering Servant, who "makes himself an offering for sin", when "he bore the sin of many", and who "shall make many to be accounted righteous", for "he shall bear their iniquities". Jesus atoned for our faults and made satisfaction for our sins to the Father.
1459 Many sins wrong our neighbor. One must do what is possible in order to repair the harm (e.g., return stolen goods, restore the reputation of someone slandered, pay compensation for injuries). Simple justice requires as much. But sin also injures and weakens the sinner himself, as well as his relationships with God and neighbor. Absolution takes away sin, but it does not remedy all the disorders sin has caused. Raised up from sin, the sinner must still recover his full spiritual health by doing something more to make amends for the sin: he must "make satisfaction for" or "expiate" his sins. This satisfaction is also called "penance."
1460 The penance the confessor imposes must take into account the penitent's personal situation and must seek his spiritual good. It must correspond as far as possible with the gravity and nature of the sins committed. It can consist of prayer, an offering, works of mercy, service of neighbor, voluntary self-denial, sacrifices, and above all the patient acceptance of the cross we must bear. Such penances help configure us to Christ, who alone expiated our sins once for all. They allow us to become co-heirs with the risen Christ, "provided we suffer with him."
Some issues with the theology of “substitution-satisfaction”
(as reported by Bernard Sesboue S.J.):
Hans Kung (Theologian)
1. For Hans Kung he sees this approach to salvation as too “juridical”. Salvation is a matter of legal rules and the right of God to a kind of justice. God demands that his right be satisfied. He was hurt, we disobeyed, and so the solution is his justice. Jesus came to die in order to serve that justice. For Hans Kung this is a problem also. The death of Jesus is separated from the whole mission he did—life.
2. Hans Kung also wonders if today in our modern world this idea of satisfying God with the crucifixion of the Son is appealing to many people. It makes our Christian faith look like a work of satisfying God, obsessed with what will God say or do to us. The issue today is humanizing us, how can we be very human and truly people of love, justice, etc. The kind of salvation presented by Christianity does not seem to be worried about how we can be truly human. We are turned passive towards our humanizing society. We just worry about satisfying the needs of God not our growth and deepening. This is certainly not appealing in the world today.
Jacques Pohier (Theologian)
1. Pohier sees this approach to salvation as very “dolorist” (a liking for dolor or pain) and “masochist” (a liking for receiving pain).
2. Sin, according to Pohier, wants to reject Jesus, it wants Jesus to die. Disobedience, our sin, implies our rejection of God. We want God absent—so in a way it means we want God killed. So what is it that God wants to do? To balance our disobedience he wants blood, he wants our punishment. So what does the relationship look like. It looks like a murderous relationship. We want God killed and God, in return, wants our blood. What then is the solution? The solution is Jesus on the cross, again a matter of killing and murder.
3. How is this solution achieved? God and human sinners together put Jesus to the cross. With the blood of Jesus there is reconciliation. Is this not very “dolorist”? What about Jesus? He came to receive the cross. Is this not “masochist”?
Georges Morel (Philosopher)
1. In this approach to salvation God does everything. All work is his initiative. The initiative to reconcile with God is the work of God himself. What about us, humans, working for reconciliation?
2. For Morel it looks like God is manipulating the situation. He abandons us to our sin and then comes to save us. Jesus came to substitute for us. But he cannot substitute for our liberty and freedom. Why? Well, we can still continue to disobey God. By being up the cross Jesus may have taken our place but he has not removed and replaced our capacity to continue disobeying God. Jesus did not substitute for our freedom. This makes salvation a work of making us stay immature. With or without or continuing disobedience to God Jesus substitute for us. Then we call it “salvation”. But the problem remains regarding how we live out our freedom. With this type of salvation we need not be vigilant about our use of freedom. Jesus has done the work of saving us.
3. For Morel, this is strange. He says that if God really loves us he will want to make us learn to be responsible for our freedom. He would like us to live truly matured. This does not apply in the substitution-satisfaction salvation approach. In fact we are kept from really doing nothing much…just watch God do things.
Rene Girard (Philosopher)
1. For Girard the message of Jesus is to denounce sin and to denounce the mechanism of sin and death. Nothing in the New Testament, says Girard, that really says Jesus “substituted” for us. In fact even the passion-and-death of Jesus is denounced. Death, killing murder…these are foreign to Jesus and the Father. These do not form part of their desires. Murder and killing are what people do, not God. It will be very strange to think that God wants to “balance” his hurt with the death of Jesus. If we want to ask how Jesus died, we do not go to the Father…we go to people. They, the people, killed Jesus.
2. Unfortunately, adds Girard, a misunderstanding has happened in history. The notion of “sacrifice” in the ritual sense—like sacrificing an animal on the altar—has become part of understanding the death of Jesus. The death of Jesus has been translated as the sacrifice of the animal. This is called the “oblative sacrifice”.
3. For Girard this oblative sacrifice has created an anti-Christian image in the world today.
Nathan Leites (Social scientist)
1. It is embarrassing, says Leites, to say that murder is a means for salvation. It is a scandal to say that the Father authored the death of the Son. Now this is tough. What do people do to “soften” it? People say that although the Son was sent to the cross the Father also suffered. The Father suffered seeing the Son crucified. This “softens” the impact.
2. Leites sees that with this type of salvation something implied is possible. If the killing through the cross is a way to save, then it is possible that Jesus himself may have a role as author of his own death. How? He instigated his own death; he created situations that will lead him to the cross. For Leites this is an implicit and indirect suicide.
3. Ok, so Jesus substituted for us. He was innocent but he substituted. This is strange too. The innocent substitutes for the guilty! But what do people do to “soften” this? People say that the punishment done to the innocent is made to help the guilty. The guilty will now see the need to regenerate and re-integrate.
4. Leites is not a Christian. But as he looks at the way we profess our faith he feels scandalized.
Catechism for Filipino Catholics
1. This is for your research. This catechism itself has a comment on this “substitution-satisfaction” approach. See http://www.slideshare.net/AthenaCatindig/catechism-for-filipino-catholics-cfc
2. For the members of the class from other countries, please check the catechism of our local churches. What is written there? Please research too.
How did Jesus Save us: Part III
1. When we look at the notion of “salvation” we can see many ideas and words about it in the Bible. In the Old Testament we read how the Lord God was liberator of the people of Israel from the slavery in Egypt. In the course of Biblical history the Lord God has been redeeming his people from their own injustices. In the Old Testament we note that the redemption of the people was also linked with the covenant making the people God’s people. God was redeeming and making the people of Israel his people. The prophetic literature introduced the idea of an “end of time” (eschatological) promise when “all will be ok”. The whole people of Israel will be purified from their sins.
2. The people responded to the redeeming acts of God through prayer and ritual sacrifices. They celebrated the exodus from Egypt, they had different feasts of sacrifices offered to the Temple for forgiveness and reconciliation.
3. Later in the New Testament we read about Jesus Christ also understood as redeemer and savior. In fact we read there some terms about the redeeming Jesus: “Saviour”; “mediator”, “redeemer”, “forgiving and justifying”, etc.
A note on culture
1. Before we even continue, let us stop for a while and check culture. The Bible is a big “library” of books written by human authors. When they wrote about God the authors were relying a lot on their own cultural terms. Talk about God—theology—can be influenced by cultural thinking. Biblical authors—and we ourselves, included—cannot avoid culture. No human person can be stripped off of culture. Now, through cultural thinking we might “paste” unto God our own ideas and we will make God become just like us. We might make God into our own image.
2. This is a delicate situation that requires conversion. We need to be vigilant about revelation and how we can be faithful to God’s revelation even as we use our cultural ideas. The Biblical authors themselves needed their cultural formation to write about God. Yet within the Biblical texts we discern revelation—that which is not just a cultural imagination. Theology of inspiration is clear about this. The Bible may be a set of texts written by human authors but those authors were “inspired” by God to write them. The human authors wrote in their specific cultural ways but underneath the texts is something revealed by God himself.
3. The Bible offers us many ideas and categories about salvation and how Jesus saved us. Inscribed in those terms is a revelation from God. As we go to the New Testament texts and the gospel accounts we note that inscribed in them is the “impact” Jesus made on the Apostles and disciples. That “impact” found its way into the written texts. Our tendency might be to impose our cultural thinking into the revealed truth from Jesus. We might “paste” unto Jesus our own concepts about salvation. We might lose touch of the “impact” of Jesus—the revelation of Jesus inscribed in the texts. The risk then is to create our own ideas of salvation without realizing that the ideas are already far from what Jesus meant.
4. This is why it is very crucial to constantly ask: what did Jesus himself mean by our redemption? We need to discern what is there inside the Biblical texts that really tells us about what Jesus himself revealed.
A note on history (Taking cues from Bernard Sesboue S.J.)
1. In the history of the Church there were struggles with discerning the identity of Jesus. “Heresies” challenged the faith and the Church had to look back into what the New Testament really saw in Jesus in order to answer the “heresies”. But the Church was not just doing an academic work. The underlying motivation of the Church in identifying Jesus was the question of salvation. To say who really is Jesus is, at the same time, to be concerned about how he saved us. If the identity of Jesus is distorted then we cannot be sure about how we are really saved. (When you study Christology you will also see the term “soteriology” which is the “study of salvation”. Both the study about the identity of Jesus and the study of how he saved us go together.)
2. While the Church made solemn and dogmatic declarations about Jesus Christ she did not, however, make solemn and dogmatic declarations about salvation. The notion of salvation has been a constant undercurrent in the Church councils. The creeds made by the Church—such as that which we pray during mass, the “I believe” (credo)—show the underlying current of salvation. We say “I believe” dogmatically in who is Jesus and we presuppose how he saved us.
3. The council of Trent made efforts to state something about salvation. It was a council that responded to the challenges of the emerging Protestant Church and part of the challenges revolved around how we, sinners, can be “justified” in the eyes of God. So certainly the council had to tackle somehow the notion of salvation.
4. Vatican I council almost made an official solemn declaration about salvation. But the council was abruptly halted by the war at that time and so no vote was made regarding an affirmation about salvation. Vatican II could have been an occasion but the council focused a lot more on the nature of the Church.
5. From a historical point of view, then, the notion of salvation has been “lateral”. It was consistently present in council discussions but no dogmatic declarations have been made. The notion of salvation has been presupposed but not officially articulated into a dogmatic form.
6. The truth is, and we can be honest about this, that the notion of salvation is really so deep and so rich. To discern salvation, so far, we might need to also be clear about who is Jesus Christ for us.
The two movements
1. Now if we focus on what Jesus did we can note two movements. In Jesus, God went “to us” to accomplish our salvation from sin. This is the first movement. The second movement is this: thanks to Jesus we can now move up “to God”. Let us then name the two movements: from God to us and to God from us. The first movement is a movement of “going down”. The second movement is a movement of “going up”. God “goes down to us” through the incarnation of Jesus. Jesus then leads us to “go up to God”.
2. This is a very simple and rudimentary description of salvation. We will need to deepen this, of course. But for the moment let us keep the terms: from God to us and from us to God. If you are comfortable with the words “descending” and “ascending” you may use them to help you. (Actually these two movements will be technical when you start studying Christology. Although we are not studying Christology in this class, it will be helpful to inform you about technical language there. In Christology there are the two movements technically expressed as “Christology from above” and “Christology from below”.)
3. Both movements are rooted in Jesus Christ. The Church has always been keeping both movements.
An interruption (Taking cues from Bernard Sesboue S.J.)
1. However, historically, the emphasis focused now on one movement and now on the other movement. The emphasis would be either in one or the other. This shifting of emphasis was to make many difficulties.
2. In the early times of the Church, the emphasis on salvation as “God to us” was strong. Jesus came to redeem us and to deliver us from death and sin and evil. Jesus came to “combat” against sin. This was a form of salvation “from God to us” through Jesus.
3. But then later in the history of the Church—mainly during the medieval times in Europe—the emphasis shifted to salvation as coming “from us to God”. For the Christians of the medieval period, Christ died to offer a sacrifice to God. Note how this is a “going up” movement. Salvation became more of giving something up to God. An interruption happened. The movement of God to us was interrupted. Suddenly salvation became a matter of us doing something autonomously.
4. Again, we repeat, the Church has always kept both movements in unity. But the shifting in emphasis must have created some form of “forgetting”. If the medieval Christians emphasized so much the going-up form of salvation, the tendency led to a diminishing memory of the going-down form of salvation. It looked more as if salvation suddenly depended a lot on what can be done to God: What is necessary so that God will be satisfied? The theology of St. Anselm was this turning point of emphasis. It looks like the “going down” form of salvation—from God to us—was “interrupted” by the St. Anselm emphasis of a “going up” salvation.
5. Let us be careful. St. Anselm was not naïve to forget the “going down” of God to us to redeem us. But his theology created a strong influence over the thinking of many Christians. His idea of redemption—marked by the cultural practice of chivalry at that time—had an effect. The idea of redemption and liberation of God as going down to us lost “steam”. Many medieval Christians began to be impressed by the need to satisfy God—like a knight satisfying his king.
· The idea of Christ coming to give his life was translated into a form of payment to God.
· The blood of Christ became a way of paying God.
· In the “going down” movement God wanted that sinners become just. But much of medieval thinking transformed this into the problem of satisfying divine justice. The idea of justice became very juridical.
6. History took its turns. By the 1500’s the idea of satisfaction of God was complemented by a new notion: substitution. Many Christians during this time felt that Jesus Christ was “condemned” on the cross—he was abandoned. Jesus took upon himself our very own conditions; on the cross he substituted for us.
7. Slowly, towards the 1700’s this idea of substitution evolved. To satisfy God, Jesus Christ did a satisfying substitution. In other words his substitution satisfied God. It became a “vicarious satisfaction”. For many Christians after this period, “vicarious satisfaction” became a key theme on redemption.
The task today
1. Today we need to review all this. We note that the misunderstanding happens when an emphasis is made on one movement with the risk of diminishing or even forgetting the other movement. If salvation is about “from us to God” this needs to be completed by the movement of “God to us”. It must be a unity without interruption. Both movements stay together.
2. Biblically, God in his love through his Son redeems and liberates us (a “going down”) and so we, in turn, also through Christ, respond to God in love (a “going up”). The reason why we love God is because he has loved us first. The reason for our going up is because God has come down to us. If we forget his coming down, notice that our going up will entail a lot of complex issues trying to “satisfy” God. We feel that we have to use a lot of efforts on our part. If we lost touch of God’s going down then we are not always sure of how we can go up to him. We can be reminded of the old song, “I did my best but my best was not good enough”. Why say this if, from the start, God has already come to us in love. Why are we to be afraid of his temper? Why are we to feel insecure with God? (Let us check our prayer lives, for example, to see if this is happening inside of us).
3. Note then importance of both movements. The mystery of redemption and salvation is a mystery of love. It is not about revenge. It is not about God trying to recuperate self-esteem. Salvation is about love. This is important when we come to study moral theology. In moral theology we say we want to be good and lead good lives. But we need to be clear that as we live we are responding to the love of God. Our goodness is not done in order to win God’s love. Christian morality is a response to the love of God. It is not a way to win God’s love. God loved us first…we respond in thanksgiving and we share that love to society.
How did the “interruption” happen? (Taking cues from Bernard Sesboue S.J.)
1. Revelation teaches us that we must be vigilant about what God himself revealed to us. What did God communicate? In the New Testament Jesus taught us about himself, about ourselves and about our communion with the Father. So in revelation we seek for what did Jesus teach.
2. But we “paste” our cultural categories on God. We project upon God our images of ourselves on God. The task of the Church is to help us discern and be vigilant about revelation.
3. Now, culturally we live according to the practice of compensation. When hurt is done a compensation is made to repair the hurt. This is cultural. A criminal must be made to face the court and be penalized. Maybe a fine is charged. Maybe the criminal even goes to jail. A hurt was done, it must be balanced with compensation. The fine or the jail term is a way of balancing the hurt. Culturally we call this “justice”.
4. Of course society needs this. Society needs to have “controls” so that disorder and violence be avoided. Remove courts, fines and jails, we will have a chaotic society. But then, do we project the same practice to God?
5. The ways of God are not entirely our ways. God is holy and just he wants sinners to be just and share in the holiness of God. God is not a God of revenge. God deals with us not for revenge for but for our conversion. God comes to us—he goes down—so that we may turn to him—we go up. An interruption happens when God comes to us and then seeks for compensation. We return to him after the compensation. This is an interruption in the movements.
6. But in all honesty it is not easy for us to let go of the cultural practiced of compensation. Conversion is tough to do. Do we not sometimes feel uneasy when we see someone “really” being nice to us? We have ideas running in our heads, “what is the plan of this person…maybe this person wants something from me?”. Love is not always freely given and culturally we have systems of paying back love. Culture is quite wounded (and as we saw in our socio-culture class, inequality is basic to securing survival.)
7. Culture allows for vindication. Culture has place for compensation and penalty and compensating justice. The parable of the “prodigal son” is an illustration. Notice what is running in the mind of the son as he wants to turn back to his father. It is all cultural—the formation the son had about compensating the hurt he has done to the father. But in the parable the father behaved quite “out of the box”. This scandalized the elder brother who wanted to conserve the cultural practice of compensation.
8. Now when we look at the cross we might also be projecting on it something cultural in us. We see it as a compensation form of justice. When we do this we “short circuit” our faith. What is this “short circuit”? (Here we rely heavily on Sesboue S.J.)
9. Electricity runs in a current through wires in our homes. There is a protective rubber that channels the electricity. Now if we interrupt the flow by putting another charge, we get a “short circuit”. Touch the electric flow with a separate metal wire, we see a short-circuit. How is this in salvation?
10. The love of the father sending to us Jesus is a positive charge. This love is communicated to us so that we can return to the Father. Now we are sinners and we want to set ourselves apart from God. We resist and refuse the love of God. This is our own charge—a “negative charge”. Redemption happens when both God’s love and our sinfulness meet. This is made visible in the cross. On the cross the full combat is made between love and hatred, between life and death. On the cross the opposition between God’s love and our sin meet and coincide. The murder of Jesus happened there…
11. Now we have to respect the opposition between God’s love and our sinfulness. They are not the same. They are contrary to each other. Sin is not the same as love and forgiveness. Death is not the same as life. And there is where the short-circuit happens: if we do not respect the opposition we get the electric charge, we are “electrocuted”. What happens here? We confuse the opposition. We attribute to the positive charge our negative charge. We attribute to God’s love our sinfulness. We transform God’s love and make it look like basic in our sinfulness. We present the good and make it look like it is the bad we do. God is good and loving and what do we do? We make turn that love into revenge and we say it is ok. God is kind, What do we do? We transform that kindness into violence and se say it is ok. Love, kindness, concern are transformed to violence, compensation and revenge…then we conclude the transformation as redemptive.
12. But there is nothing salvific in murder. There is nothing redemptive in revenge. It is not in God’s design to want the death of anyone. We cannot say that God’s desire for the death of his Son is part of God’s plan. The passion and death of Christ—which is about the murder of Jesus—is saving because it called for a conversion for life. The death of Christ was not used to save.
13. The short-circuit happens when we make God responsible for the murder of the Son. It is to make death and killing as part of God’s plan. Why did Jesus die? He died not because God put him on the cross. Jesus died because people killed him. Sin killed him. People refused the message of Jesus. They could not accept the message of love and justice. They could not tolerate the presence of God in their lives. Death and murder were works of the people. Life—with the resurrection—was the work of the Father.
14. Keep in mind three elements in the passion and death of Jesus. There was the Father, there was Son and there were the people. If we do not recognize this we end up turning the Father into the revengeful one irritated by human disobedience. (A variant is offered: God the Father uses sinners to crucify Jesus).
15. God loved us so much that he sent us his Son. Jesus obeyed and gave himself to us. Now the cross came to threaten that love. Jesus did not turn away from the cross. The Father did not pull Jesus back. When God sent his Son God knew that the cross can be a threat and can murder Jesus. But the Father did not stop sending Jesus. Note that the cross was not used by the Father for the murder of the Son. The cross was to counter the love of the Father and yet Jesus was willing to face that. Jesus accepted the condition that he will be killed. He died through the sinful acts of people and in that death he showed how serious the Father was. Death on the cross was not going to stop the love of God. Note the two movements without interruption and without the short circuit.
16. Saint Augustine, during the early times of the Church, already rejected the idea of God wanting compensation. He rejected the idea that God wanted satisfaction from the death of his Son.
17. Biblically the gospel authors and the Apostles in Acts themselves have rejected this “short circuit”. Biblically the love of God is so strong that God did not pull away from sending his Son even if the cross was there to threaten and kill the Son. God knew that people will want to kill the Son. It was even inevitable. Sin will always want to remove the presence of God. (In Lk.17/25 and 24/26 we see the word “necessary”.) The necessity of the cross was not a “predetermined” act. It was simply the fact that sinfulness, by being what it is, will want to kill Jesus. Yet, in spite of human sinfulness, God continued his plan of sending his Son to make people know about true love.
Metaphorical Language (Taking cues from Bernard Sesboue S.J.)
1. The Bible uses a lot of literary styles mostly symbolic and metaphorical. Even today we can be metaphorical. I can say that this morning I had lots of coffee and I drank “three cups”. I did not drink cups, I drank coffee. But I spoke metaphorically.
2. To writer about Jesus and the cross, Biblical authors used metaphors. Violence may have looked like it was used to do good—a short circuit. But the expressions were metaphorical. (See Rom 5/9; Heb 9/12 and 9/14; 1Jn 1/7; 1Pet1/18-19; k22/20, etc.)
3. Blood was used to symbolize—metaphorically—the work of redemption. A translation was made in which blood was associated with the gift of self. Blood has become a symbol of love. That is metaphorical language. The literary aim to describe the sacrifice of Jesus relied on the cultural-metaphorical practice of animal sacrifices. That was a literary style of writing.
4. But a closer look at the texts will show how radically different was the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. It was not about animal sacrifices in the Temple. It was totally different. A short circuit tends to happen when this is not noticed.
5. Here is another example of literary writing. Look at Jn11/50-52. Did Caiphas prophecy? Actually Caiphas was interested in calming the nation so that the Romans will not exert more pressure. Caiphas was thinking politically. The death of Jesus will stop the agitation of the people and be reconciled with the Romans.
6. Now the evangelist John, in his faith, wrote metaphorically to point out a deeper reality. He viewed the passion as participating in God’s plan and saw how humanity’s unity is achieved in it. He saw in the statement of Caiphas the deeper reality.
How do we talk about the cross
1. We put the crucifix everywhere—in our rooms, in our schools, in our chapels and even on our clothes. The act of wearing and displaying the cross is not to glorify murder. It is not to make a spectacle out of death. It is not to tell the world about an angry God who has been so pleased to have his Son killed.
2. We contemplate the cross and we see Jesus on it, pierced (see Jn19/37). We see Jesus. We do not see anger and revenge. In the cross we see love that transforms death and violence. We see in the cross the denunciation of violence and sin even during the moment of forgiveness. The disfigured Jesus Christ reveals the seriousness of God’s love who sent his Son even at the risk of the consequence brought by the hatred of sinners. The cross is the place where the opposition between life and death, between love and hatred coincide. The cross is the meeting point between the love of God and our sinfulness. There we see how love won…how life won. The cross recapitulates the whole meaning of the passion, death and rising again of Jesus. The death on the cross brings with it the hope of the resurrection.
3. When we say we “carry the cross” we do not mean that we are so glad about the suffering we have and the suffering of people around us. God never enjoyed seeing us suffering. God never enjoyed seeing his Son on the cross.
4. We do not tell people to be glad that God gave them suffering. We do not tell the family to be glad that one child is with cancer. We do not tell the oppressed to be glad of their oppression and injustice. Let us be careful with the way we tell people about “carrying the cross”.
5. When we “carry the cross” we mean that, like Jesus, we take life, love, justice, service and truth seriously. We are so serious that we are willing to face the consequences; we “carry the cross”. We will be misunderstood, misjudged, maybe violated. But we are so serious that we will not stop from loving and doing justice. We tell people to take life seriously; to take justice seriously; to take love and service seriously. We tell them that to them the promise of the resurrection has been offered.
We refer to Bernard Sesboue SJ
Jesus Christ L’Unique Mediateur (Desclee)
Jesus Savior: How did he Save us?
1. In the ancient Greek and Roman times the notion of “savior” was applied to the emperor or national leader. The leader was seen as someone who brought peace to the nation. He was seen as someone who protected the people from harm and catastrophes. So, as for Jesus, by his death and rising again, showed that God so loved the people. God the Father sent his Son to live among people, in their midst, to love and suffer and undergo the same human conditions. Through that “solidarity” the Son introduced the people to a new life and a new way of living.
2. Maybe one would say that the Father wanted to have his own justice and be compensated from the disobedience of humanity. No matter what humanity does, humanity can never “satisfy” the hurting Father. (Imagine someone, a high government official, being a very honest person and never stealing. Suddenly, one day, that person steals and is caught. The person will argue and say, “I have always been honest and good. Only now did I do this crime. So I cannot be penalized because I have always been good and honest”. The argument does not hold. With that single crime, the government official still has to be penalized. Note that in spite of all the goodness that person has been doing the penalty will still have to apply. The amount of goodness and honesty does not remove the application of penalty.) Now, what can satisfy the Father? The Son was sent to substitute for humanity. The Son was sent by the Father to shed blood. Thanks to this mission the Father was “satisfied”.
3. Note then that salvation here, in this view, implies being freed from the penalty of God. The substitution of Jesus served to satisfy the Father. This is far from the Biblical intuition of salvation.
4. See how different it is from God the Father sending the Son so that the Son will be in solidarity with humanity. It is not substitution but solidarity.
Exodus and the Psalms
5. The project of God is a project of love and happiness for us. God has always and consistently been doing acts of liberation. In the Old Testament there is the foundation event of liberation from slavery. God redeemed the people of Israel from the misery in Egypt. God was then redeeming people from slavery—just like someone redeeming a slave. Salvation then, in this case, means liberty and life away from slavery and death.
6. The Psalms can offer another angle. The person praying, the psalmist, is facing the forces of evil and injustice. There is the threat of enemies, the threat of illness, the threat of injustice and the threat of coming death. The psalmist is assailed from all sides—including the interior self. Hence the psalmist cries to God.
7. The psalmist accepts how God is a God of love and redemption. God is a God who is really concerned with the pains and sufferings of people. The psalmists recognizes how people do not open their hearts to God. So the psalmist responds. The psalmist cries to God and asks for God’s forgiveness because of sin. Sin, in the psalms is the refusal to accept the love of God. To sin is to mistrust God and refuse communion with God. To sin is to think of God as an opponent. To sin is to pervert the design of God for happiness. The forgiveness of God can renew the relationship. It can open up again to confidence in living with God. Fraternal relationship with God is once again possible. There can be life again.
8. Renewing the relationship with God is the human response to the liberation of God. Recognizing how God loves us and is willing to reconcile always with us gives us the inner strength to return to God.
9. Notice then, Biblically, that there were “two movements” involved. One was the movement of God coming down to humanity to redeem humanity from slavery. Now that humanity realizes how God is a God of redemption humanity is able to turn to God and “move up” to God in communion and fraternity.
10. With his life, passion and death—and resurrection—we are saved from our refusal of God. We are saved from our refusal to see and treat ourselves as being in communion with God. So we have been redeemed from our sins.
11. Let us return to reflecting on God’s plan. God sent his Son Jesus on a mission. The mission was to tell us about the open heart of God. The mission was to tell us about the love of God who, like in the parable of the prodigal son, always wanted us to live in truth, happiness, peace and joy—in communion with the Father. The mission of Jesus—which Jesus emphasized as announcing the Kingdom—was a mission opposed to sin.
12. Biblically, the four gospels show how the forces of suspicion, evil, injustice, and death were opposed by Jesus. They were denounced by Jesus. Jesus denounced anything that kept people far from God the Father. Jesus, with his words and way of living, never stopped from healing, integrating, helping and caring. He always spoke of peace—that anguish and fear need not govern life. People always saw God as a severe and fearful judge. Religious authorities in Palestine held such an image of God. Jesus, however, presented an opposite image of a God of love, forgiveness and tenderness.
13. What about the cross? While Jesus was preaching the love of the Father he faced opposition. People refused to accept such a message. Jesus faced the powers of jealousy, persecution, and finally the threat of the cross. Jesus never countered these with violence. He never opted to oppose the hatred of his persecutors with hatred and violence. In fact he was praying that they be reconciled with the Father. “Forgive them”, cried Jesus on the cross.
14. Jesus went to the extreme. He showed that only love can confront violence and death. Through love death can be crossed.
15. Jesus was “ransom”. This had Biblical roots. The ancient people of Israel had a tradition in which a member of the family called the go’el was in charge of making sure that the family conserved its properties. If the family fell in a condition forcing it to give up its properties, the go’el of the family will find ways to redeem the loss. (Look at the story of Ruth and check out the role of the man named Boaz. He took the role of redeeming the lost property of the later husband of Naomi.) Of course the go’el might have to pay to the one who took over the property. By paying the price go’el can then redeem or recuperated the lost properties and bring them back to the family.
16. Biblically, in the New Testament, the word used for “ransom” would be associated with the go’el of the Old Testament. This means that humanity is a “lost property” of God. Humanity is submerged in sin and rejection of truth and love. Jesus came as “ransom” (go’el) to recuperate for the Father humanity that is lost. Jesus came and told humanity about God’s love—that there is no reason to reject God.
17. We might ask, what about the “price”? Jesus as redeemer brought the message of the Kingdom and took that mission seriously. People rejected the mission of Jesus and threatened him with the cross. Jesus did not stop from his mission. Even in front of the threat of being killed Jesus continued with his mission. He was then killed. The price of his mission was his life. Even in front of the cross and the threat of murder Jesus continued to promote the Kingdom of the Father. He was willing to die for his mission. This was the “price”. He “sacrificed” his “blood”—not by substituting for us—by showing to us that it was worth dying for the Kingdom.
18. Now we might ask, what then “satisfied” the Father? It was not the murder of Jesus that satisfied the Father. Rather, it was the obedience and seriousness of Jesus that satisfied the Father. Even in front of death Jesus was serious with his mission; he never backed out. The Father was then satisfied. In response, the Father raised the Son back to life.
19. Note then how God is a God of life and not of death.
20. Now, through the death of Jesus death itself lost its power. The meaning of death changed, in fact. The death of Jesus gave a new sense of death—death became a passage, a stage, to eternal life. Death no longer held the meaning of disintegration, despair, hopelessness. Death became a step to God who gives life.
21. Jesus saved us by being victorious over sin and death. He has shown us the path. He is the Way, the Truth and the Life (Jn14/6).
How are we associated with this form of salvation?
22. We have been reconciled with the Father. We are a family with Jesus as our “elder brother” who redeemed us from our sins and shared with us the truth about God’s love. Thus we live as brothers and sisters to one another. Our Christian life is a “fraternal” life. The Father is Our Father. Jesus taught this to us.
23. In our Christian lives, therefore, we continue with the same path of promoting the love of God—the love, peace and reconciliation with God. Christian life is not a life where we are always trying to look for “compensation” from each other. We look for fraternity. (The early Church was a “fraternitas”. The early Christians understood how Christ made us brothers and sisters to each other.)
24. God has given us life so that we, in turn, can share life. We are go’el to each other and to the world. We show the world how serious we are about the love of God for all. We are willing to die for the sake of this message.
Jesus and God, his Father
1. The God of Jesus was not an abstract God—not even God “according to the Scriptures” or “God of Creation”. The God of Jesus was someone he related to! The early Church was struck by this intimacy of Jesus with God. They saw that for Jesus, God was his God—or more precisely his Father. For the culture of that time, it would be a scandal—a heresy!
2. Jesus had the guts to call God “ABBA”. It was totally unexpected at that time. (Theologically this means something for us: By calling God as Abba, Jesus allowed us to be brothers/sisters to one another. God is “our Father” too. St. Paul saw this: Gal 4/5- Rom 8/15 2Co 11/31 Rom 15/16. That God is “Abba”, Jesus is brother to us. We all become adopted children of God).
3. Problem: How is it possible that God is “my Father” for Jesus, and yet The Lord’s Prayer states “our Father”! Remember that it is a prayer Jesus taught to the disciples. If Jesus says, “this is the way you should pray”, then clearly the prayer becomes our Father.
4. Mk 10/18 and 13/32 may be awkward. Remember Jesus was in a time of expectations and there were quite a number of people doing calculations of when the end would come. (Want to see the texts? You’re not obliged—but here are some: Apocalypse Syriac of Baruch 2Bar 21/8; Pseudo Philon LAB 19/1; IV Esdras 14/11). In front of this phenomenon—as usual—Jesus refused to play the game.
5. If Jesus was someone the disciples could recognize, he too was someone who showed marks of radical differences. He was “someone else” too. This was the mark of the religious experience of the disciples. Add to this experience was the experience of seeing Jesus so close to the Father, calling God as his Father.
God, the Father of Jesus
From Bernard Sesboüé S.J.
1. In the New Testament the image of God is a caring God towards the human person. To express this care the preferred word in the New Testament is “Father”. God is Father. There is a strong presentation of God as Father and the human person as child of the Father. The image of friend and bridegroom of the human person is given in Jesus Christ.
When Jesus speaks of God
2. What does Jesus say about God whom he calls as Father? The God that Jesus speaks of is the God of the Old Testament. He is the God Creator, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of Moses and the prophets (see Mt.12/26 Mk.1/44 7/10). This God is the “wholly Other” who is radically different from the human person. There is nothing of “flesh and blood” in this God. What God thinks and does is not what the human person thinks and does.
3. This can be a powerful God of which Jesus says, “You will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Most Powerful” (Mk.14/62). The New testament does not hesitate to give God the titles used in the Old Testament: “Master”, “Lord”, “King” and “Judge”. He sits up in heaven. He is all knowing, he even knows more than the Son (see Mk.13/32).
4. This explains why God knows what is going on inside our hearts. When we pray we do not need a lot of words because God already knows what we need (see Mt.6/7-8). God can see our secrets (see Mt.6/4.6.18). He is full of goodwill for us (see Lk.12/6-7). Remember when Jesus is called “good master”, how does he respond? “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone” (Mk.10/18). The goodness and concern of God is confirmed in the forgiveness of sins (see Lk.11/4). This God saves (see Mk.13/13). He is also the one who reveals to the little ones and not to the wise and intelligent (see Mt.11/25-26).
5. Like the God if Israel, the God of Jesus is a faithful God. But he is also disturbing. In the parable of the vineyard workers he gives the same salary to those who have worked for less than an hour and to those who have worked under the burden and heat of the whole day (see Mt.20/1-15). In the name of generosity, God does not follow the rule of “pay according to the hour”. God is a God who wants us to love our enemies (see Mt.5/44-45). This is a contradiction to the practice in the Old Testament. It is also a contradiction to the usual reaction of a person hurt by someone else. Are we not surprised by the call to love those who make us suffer and miserable? Yet this God who tells us to forgive is the one who does it.
6. This God is the God who has sent Jesus. Let us look at this.
God, the Father of Men and Women
7. When Jesus speaks, the place of God the Father has a very high value. He is God who is so related with the human person. Jesus invites his disciples to pray by calling God “Our Father” (see Mt.6 Lk11/2). Jesus speaks to his disciples by saying that “Your Father is in heaven” (Mt.5/45 Lk.6/36 & 11/13). Thus , presented through the disciples of Jesus, there is a relationship of father-child between God and the human person.
8. The paternity of God is also expressed in parables that show the relationship of father and son. The famous one is that of the so-called “parable of the prodigal son”. The younger son leaves and spends all his money in waste. Repenting, he returns to his father. His father blows a big feast. The elder son who thinks he remains faithful is disappointed. He is, in fact, always welcome to the feast. Jesus makes use of the parable to give explanation for his attitude of willing to mix with sinners. Jesus is like saying, “I do with sinners what God does with them, and it scandalizes others”.
9. There is also another parable involving two sons and a father. The father asks them to work. The first one says “yes” but does not go to work, and the second one says “no” but goes anyway. The parable is an invitation to conversion.
10. These parables show the paternal relationship of God with people in the course of the history of salvation. They are, in fact, in the line of the insights of the Old Testament. They make more concrete those insights.
11. Jesus is sent by God to show men and women about the true love of God who is Father to them.
God, the Father of Jesus
12. Jesus claims a very unique relationship with God by calling him a “my Father”. This is more than the adoption we have with God. Look at one statement that Jesus makes. “Father, Lord of heaven and earth, I praise you because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned and revealed them to simple people. Yes, Father, this is what pleased you. My Father has entrusted everything to me. No one knows the Son except the Father. No one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” (Mt.11/25-27). The statement reveals how Jesus relates to God. It is such a direct and intimate relationship. It reveals how Jesus is so familiar with God. We see here the “behavior of a son” to his father. As the saying goes, “like father, like son”. The father and the son know each other so well. It is such an intimacy that others do not share. This is why Jesus could say, “My Father and your Father” (Jn.20/17) to imply that his relationship with the Father is so different from our relationship with him.
13. Jesus calls his Father “Abba”—“papa”. At the time of agony before the crucifixion Jesus says to his Father, “Papa, everything is possible for you, take this cup away” (Mk.14/36). This way of calling God is extremely strange and new. The call “Abba” is the typical way by Jesus talks to his Father. Within the world of Judaism, Jesus is the only one who dares call God as “Abba”, showing how intimate he is with the Father.
14. All this would not make sense without the attitude of Jesus towards his Father. Jesus takes the attitude of Son towards his father. Jesus shows to us who the Father is by showing us how to be son to the Father. Jesus loves in full communion with his Father. His prayer is a breathing of a son. He loves the Father and he is willing to obey the Father in his mission all the way. He obeys not as a fearing slave but as a beloved child.
God, the Father of the Crucified
15. The mission of Jesus leads him to the cross. At the end of the route of the mission, God becomes the Father of the crucified. This is a mystery. Jesus reaches a point when he complains with a cry that his Father abandons him. Yet, his attitude as a child does not lie. In his manner of dying, Jesus shows to us how far the power of God reaches. The almighty God in the Old Testament becomes the powerless God in the New Testament. God, in the life of Jesus, is not “paternalistic”. Jesus is not a victim of paternalism. Jesus simply accomplishes his mission received from the Father. This attitude of a son to the father is so clear in Jesus, it is an attitude he brings with him all the way to the cross.
16. The notion of “Father” here takes a new meaning. Through the attitude of Jesus as Son to the Father, we discover that to see Jesus is to see the Father! “Philip asked him, ‘Lord, show us the Father and that is enough’. Jesus said to him, ‘…Philip, whoever sees me sees the Father” (Jn.14/8-9). “Like father, like son”, as the expression goes. What Jesus reveals is the humanity of God. God turns our to be the powerless one. As one Protestant Theologian (J. Moltmann) would say, God is Crucified.
17. “Who is this God for us to be his love, child of the earth? Who is this God who ties himself with love to be our equal? Who is this God who must find the heart of the poor? Who is this God, destitute, great, vulnerable? Who is this God, who comes to our side and walks with us? Who is this God whose heart never fades at our table? Who is this God who nobody can love if he does not love us? Who is this God who we hurt so much whenever we hurt our fellows? Who is this God for us to be his love?” (J. Servel)
The Holy Spirit: Scripturally
(Taking from Bernard Sesboue L’esprit sans visage et sans voix, Dedsclee de Brouwer, Paris 2009)
1. In the New Testament we see mention of the Holy Spirit among the other two—the Father and the Son. The three are mentioned (see 1Co12/4-6; 2Co13/13; Eph4/4-6;Mt28/19-20) separately to show that each has a specific way of acting in union with the others. So the Holy Spirit is independent of the two. Yet, if we look closely, the Holy Spirit is unlike the Father and the Son. The Father and the Son have “personalities”…they have “faces”. Jesus was a man of Nazareth who suffered, died and appeared to his disciples. He spoke about God as Father and showed that the Father had a kind of “personality”.
2. But what about the Holy Spirit? We do not read in the New Testament any reference to a “face” or “personality” of the Holy Spirit. In other words, the Holy Spirit is not addressed as a “you”. The Holy Spirit stays as a “he”. The Father and the Son are persons to enter into conversation with….but not the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is a person talked about and is not a partner in conversation.
3. There are symbols and images representing the Holy Spirit…”breath”, “dove”, “tongues of fire”. Aside from these symbols there is no description of the “face” of the Holy Spirit. Why? The Holy Spirit is presented, rather, as “in”….”in” the Father and the Son and “in” us. The Holy Spirit is symbol of life “in” us and beyond us. He is like an inner force who animates us.
4. So the Holy Spirit is given the image of a dove who descends on Jesus and whatever Jesus would then do will be in the power of the Holy Spirit. The Apostles received “tongues of fire” during the Pentecost and here we see the Holy Spirit described as someone with whom the Apostles will act. So we read a letter of the Apostles during the Jerusalem council: “‘It is the decision of the holy Spirit and of us not to place on you any burden beyond these necessities” (Act.15/28). The Holy Spirit is a partner in decision making…the one who acts and decides in and with the Apostles. Just as the Holy Spirit is in the Father and in the Son the Holy Spirit is also in us.
5. Furthermore, notice that the Holy Spirit does not speak. The Father has spoken…so to the Son. But the Holy Spirit seems to speak not: “the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth. He will not speak on his own” (Jn16/13).
6. The Holy Spirit does not speak on his own but makes us speak, just as he made the prophets speak (see Heb3/7 and 10/15). The Holy Spirit inspires. We see this clearly in the Pentecost when the disciples were filled with the Spirit: “And they were all filled with the holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim” (Act2/4). Thanks to the Holy Spirit we ourselves can say Abba, Father (see Rom8/15) and we can say Jesus is Lord (1Co12/3).
7. If we seek for the Holy Spirit we see him “in” us rather than in front of us.
8. Theologians talk of the “economy” of the Trinity. The Father sends…the Son is sent by the Father… the Holy Spirit is sent by the Son from the Father. Then, another element is to consider. Already in the Old Testament the Holy Spirit has prepared the path for the Son (see Is48/16 and 41/1; see Lk.4/18). It is also true that the Son was born of the Holy Spirit. So also the Father with the Spirit sent the Son and the Father with the Son sent the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit in the 4th Gospel
1. We read quite a lot about the HS in the synoptic gospels. Let us try focusing on the 4th gospel—that of John. The community of John was in persecution. That community really needed the help of the HS.
2. Certain passages in John are worth mentioning. Jn1/32-33; 3/184.108.40.206; 7/(38)-39; 19/30; 20/22. Starting with Chapter 13 we see the “book of the hour”…that is, the time of the cross and the glorification of Jesus. (See Jn 2/4 ; Jn 13/1 ; Jn 17/1). The long “speech” following the story of the washing of the feet plus the betrayal of Judas begins with 13/33 and ends in 16/33. Here Jesus is like a religious leader who says his final recommendations. It is like Moses who gives the command to Joshua and is giving “final instructions” (see Dt 32/45-47).
3. What is one theme we can note in the “goodbye” texts? One thing is that the disciple may not be able to follow Jesus up to where Jesus goes (Jn 13/36), but staying faithful to Jesus gives access to the Father. In fact this fidelity will make both Father and Son go to the disciple (Jn 14/23). In this context Jesus promises the “paraclete”—the Spirit (Jn 14/17). The HS will “interiorize” in the believer the link with the glorified Jesus.
4. Paraclete? The Spirit is the Spirit of God—the paraclete sent in the name of Christ. The readers of the 4th gospel—the members of the community of John—will see in the text an invitation to keep the faith (see Jn 14/1.11-12). Remain in faith. Persevere even if it is not easy…the HS will guide and help. In fact the HS will lead the believer to the truth (Jn 16/8-13).
5. So who is this Paraclete? The word is Greek: parakaieo which in Latin is then translated as “advocate”. Well, if it looks abstract, think of “lawyer”. Jesus says that the paraclete—the HS—is to be with us always (Jn 14/16). Jesus himself has been paraclete….someone alongside the disciples. The HS will be another paraclete who will be among the communities…the future disciples of Jesus. So in a way, the 4th gospel is hinting on an “identity” of the HS as paraclete…see 14/17. The HS will lead us to the truth about Jesus (Jn 14/6).
6. The HS acts “in” us. Jn 7/39 tells us that the Spirit receives those who believe in Jesus. In Jn 14/16-17 we see that the paraclete will achieve what the people of Israel hope for and will be with the disciples of Jesus after Jesus leaves. While with the disciples, the Spirit will teach and witness to the truth about Jesus (see Jn 14/26 ; 16/13-15). The Spirit is like a “teacher”….an “educator”. He will keep the memory about Jesus alive in the hearts of disciples. This, in fact, is the start of what we consider a Tradition. Tradition is an entering into the sense of what Jesus said and done. So when we say “Apostolic Tradition” we refer to this activity of the Spirit making the Apostles understand and appreciate the message of Jesus. The Apostles are made to keep memory of Jesus, thanks to the HS. So when teaching is passed on, the assumption is that the HS is at work in the Church and making sure that the Apostolic line teaches the truth. Memory about Jesus is sustained by the HS and this memory is re-lived each day in the Church. This is why, in 16/13-15, we see that the HS does not just repeat what has been said in the past. The HS is also “revelator” of the truth each moment. The HS leads to the truth. The memory is not just recalling and repeating the past—it is also making it alive now.
7. The, of course, the HS leads disciples to “bear witness” to the truth in the world. In front of difficulties and injustice, the HS assists the disciples to witness and tell the world about Jesus (see Jn 15/26;16/8-11). The Spirit of Truth maintains alive the message of Christ.
8. Note then that the Spirit is not a strange force out there in mystery and intimacy with God. The HS calls us to think, re-again, understand, keep memory and keep alive the Truth. This we do as a community.
9. In John’s gospel we are assured that Jesus has won over death and sin and darkness. We are assured. So we allow ourselves to be guided by the HS. The HS will always make sure that the victory of Jesus is constantly revealed. The victory has been acquired! In Jn 16/12-15 we see that the HS brings us to intimacy with the Father.
Twoquestions about the Holy Spirit
Why make the Holy Spirit “like a dove”?
1. Ok, so the Holy Spirit has many images associated with him. He is wind: Jn3/8, Act2/2…breath, Jn 20/22….flame Act2/3…living water Jn7/38/39….”lawyer” or paraclete Jn14/6-17; 16/7etc….earthquake Act4/31. What about the dove? The gospel authors say that he is like a dove. (Just as he is like a flame see Act2/3).
2. Dove awakens the idea of divinities having wings…an image typical in the old times of Canaan and neighboring nations. We find the same image frequent in the psalms: Ps 17/8; 36/8; 57/2; 61/5; 63/8;91/4/ and in Ruth 2/12. We read about God riding with wings… see 2 Sam 22/11 and Ps 18/11, Ps 104/3.
3. The dove flies with much speed and lightness. It reminds us of a kind of force or vitality that is so free to move around. Well, with flight and lightness God is presented as someone who has better management of weight and gravity…and so God can intervene more effectively with more freedom in history and creation.
4. In the creation story of Gen 1, we read about the breath of God hovering over the chaotic waters. So we see again this lightness…this freedom…just as the freedom of a dove has (see Dt32/11).
5. If we check a concordance we will notice that the Holy Spirit as dove is more typical of the New Testament. Very likely this was because of a specific way of thinking during that time in Judaism, that is, during the time of Jesus. Maybe the influence must have come from the Noah story. At the end of the flood the dove came…signifying a new creation. So we appreciate why the image of dove was placed during the baptism of Jesus. The baptism was to mark a new beginning…a new creation. In the Baptism of Jesus a new stage happens in the covenant with God. A new world is about to begin. The disciples of Jesus are about to form a community, the Church that will receive the Holy Spirit.
Sin against the Holy Spirit?
1. Three of the four Gospels talk about the “sin against the Holy Spirit” (Mk 3/29, Mt 12/32 and Lk 12/10). Let us look at Luke’s account. His Gospel story is linked with the Acts and the Acts can illuminate us. First of all in Biblical language “spirit” is ruah or “breath”.
2. There is the sin against the Son of Man…and the sin against the Spirit. Sin against the Spirit, one cannot be forgiven! Now Jesus is the Son of Man. In a sense he “belongs” to us, humanity. The Spirit belong to God. To speak of the Spirit of God—or God’s breath—is a way of speaking about his power in the world. It is symbolic language. In fact, it is through the breath of God—the Spirit—that God works in the world. God reigns through his breath. This power is symbolically personified.
3. In the Old Testament we see God respiring his breath on certain persons in view of specific actions they are to do. Let us not forget that the breath of God is attributed also to his creative work. The breath is origin of life.
4. Jesus as risen from the dead had this breath of God. Jesus has now the fullness of life and death has no hold on him. Jesus has received in permanence the force—the power—of God. Luke affirms this in Ac 2/32-33.. , The Father rose Jesus from death and made him Lord and Christ giving him the Spirit—the breath. So in the Acts, to speak of the breath—Spirit—is also to speak of Jesus-Christ. Jesus, risen, exercises the reign of the Kingdom with power.
5. For the early Christians the works of Christ were so striking that to negate them would be an act of bad faith.
6. Let us now look at Lk.12/10. Remember that the account was written after Easter. It had the marks of confession of faith. So the text of Luke contains also the belief of the community to whom he was writing. So Luke 12/10 tells us about two levels in the life of Christ. The Jesus as Son of Man may have been not so clear. While still moving about in ministry Jesus as Son of Man had to be understood slowly and it was not easy. It would be necessary to discern what the Son of Man would mean in his messages. To go against the Son of Man would still be forgiven.
7. But then Jesus as Spirit is different. Things are clear now—we are in the post-Easter dimension when the resurrection has already happened. To go against the Spirit cannot be forgiven. Jesus as Spirit works in the community, in the heart of the Church. Therefore a member of that community—the Church—would self-refuse Christ. The “sin” would be the refusal to participate in the truth at work in the community, the Church. Again, it is a “self-imposed refusal”. We can look at Ac 4/5-22 to understand better what Luke means. As we read Lk.12/10-12 we can take reference also from Act.4/5-22.
8. A final point, we can say that the gospel texts are written by authors for their communities. So the texts also had contexts to address. The communities had their problems and needed clarification. We can therefore understand why the authors wrote about the “un-forgiven sin” against the Holy Spirit. The authors were writing within specific Church contexts of their time.
Introduction to the Origin of the Church
1. Jesus came with the message of the “Kingdom”.
2. The early Christians recalled the message of the “Kingdom”. Now, the kingdom was not exactly a very new topic at that time. During the time of Jesus there was a strong sense of “expectation” for the Messiah. In fact, during the time of Jesus there were individuals who were talking about “kingdom”. Yet something was very unique and original when it came to Jesus. It was not so much the topic as the way of proclaiming it. “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mk.1/15). “Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing” (Lk.4/21).
3. Yes, Jesus proclaimed the kingdom. It was a message of fulfillment—God will reign in all. But it was not just a “discussion”. The words and actions of Jesus revealed the message. The kingdom could not be separated from the way Jesus lived. This was unique. Jesus knew the expectation going on in the hearts and minds of the people. He had to show his response in his own way—in a way that was so unexpected. He introduced something very new.
4. There were certain aspects in the kingdom proclaimed by Jesus. One aspect was, as we just said, the very strong link between the message and the person of Jesus. When Jesus called disciples he did not call them to study. He called them to follow him. This was one of the striking features of the authority of Jesus—he had the guts to call persons to follow him, “pick up the cross”.
5. Eventually, discipleship was not limited to a few. We read about Jesus taking time with a Samaritan (Jn.4). We see him appreciate the faith of the Roman centurion, and he says that many will be in the kingdom—not just people of Israel (Mt.8). We read about Jesus mixing with the publicans and sinners. We read about him forgiving sins: “Your sins are forgiven”. We read about him sending his Apostles on mission to all the ends of the earth (Mt. 28/19).
6. Then, of course, Jesus suffered and died—he did not pull back from his mission to proclaim the Reign of God. He showed the truth about the love of God and the desire of God to bring all back to the “banquet”. Jesus was so serious and sincere to his mission that, we read, the Father took him seriously too. The “yes” of Jesus to his mission was met with the “yes” of the Father in raising Jesus from the dead. The resurrection has become the seal indicating the sense of “redemption”. We are really meant to live in happiness with the Father—the Kingdom is real.
7. Now, whenever the early Christians would look at Jesus, they would associate him with his message. But because his personal life and his message were so linked, the early Christians could not separate them. The Kingdom, as they saw it, was incarnated in the person of Christ. The proclamation of Christ became Christ proclaimed! The early Christians realized that they could not proclaim the Kingdom without proclaiming Jesus Christ. Notice what Peter and Paul, for example, expressed (see Act2/22-24; 3/15; 1Col.23; Ph.2/8-11, etc.).
8. In the gospel of John, the water and blood flowing from the side of Jesus (see Jn.19/31-37) is symbolically interpreted as the Church. The Church is that which flows out of Christ. This is a deep notion. In the gospel of John, Jesus raised up on the cross will be the cause of gathering of all people: “And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself” (Jn.12/32). The sacrifice of Christ will allow him to bring everyone to the Father. Paul saw it in a different angle. Jesus was obedient even to go to the cross. Thanks to this obedience: “at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” (Ph.2/10-11). The Lord-ship has been granted to Jesus. All will bow and kneel and recognize that Jesus is Lord. He is the King of the Kingdom. He is the actual way of the Kingdom.
9. This sacrifice of Christ has a big role in the birth of the Church. Church theologians, like Ambrose and Augustine, would say that the Church is life—flowing from Jesus as Jesus sacrificed himself. The blood and water from Jesus laid the foundation for the Church. The Church is a result of the sacrifice of Christ.
10. Let us never forget that this sacrifice meant giving life as ransom for many—the go’el. The sacrifice means obedience to the Father even at the cost of dying. (We are far from the idea of “satisfaction” theology, and this is hopefully clear by now). This obedience is, however, guaranteed by rising again from the dead and from darkness and sin. Peter said it well in his speech: “But God raised him up, releasing him from the throes of death, because it was impossible for him to be held by it” (Act 2/24). It is impossible to be held by death—this is what the obedience of Jesus had revealed! We can have the guts to be faithful and obedient, knowing that there is life given. The Church is from this belief!
11. Today, with Vatican II, we still see the same idea—that the Church is founded by the sacrifice of Jesus. So Vatican II would say that the inauguration of the Church is “symbolized by the blood and water which flowed from the open side of a crucified Jesus, and are foretold in the words of the Lord referring to His death on the Cross: ‘And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all things to myself’ (LG#3).
12. Jesus gave his life to show the love of God. The Church is born from the same motif: life giving to show God’s love. Through the sacrifice of Jesus, the disciples are allowed to become Church! Know we know what to do. Now we know what to do. Now we know what we are called for. We are meant to step out of our “enclosure” and open up to the world around us—to give our lives. The saying of Fr. Arrupe, former Jesuit general, said it well: “man/woman for others”.
13. Of course, we might want to ask about specific dates about the birth of the Church. Well, traditionally it is placed in the time of the Pentecost. This was when the Holy Spirit came to the disciples and everyone spoke in “tongues”.
14. There was a Hebrew feast at that time—the harvest feast (see Ex.23/16; 34/22). In Church tradition, the Pentecost was a re-commemoration of the Covenant of Moses in Sinai. There was noise, there was a voice and there were tongues of fire (see Act.2). All the images recall the assembly in Sinai. Christians would give it a new meaning. Peter himself would express it: “God raised this Jesus; of this we are all witnesses. Exalted at the right hand of God, he received the promise of the holy Spirit from the Father and poured it forth, as you (both) see and hear” (Act.2/33-34). For Peter, the Pentecost achieved the mysterious mission of Christ. It is now time of fullness—plenty and abundance. Read the section on Pentecost and notice the words like “fulfilled”, “filled”, “united”, and of course “all of them”. All of them we so fulfilled.
15. From now on Christ would “fill up” everyone. It is the time of “filling up”. Now the Holy Spirit has his role here: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Act.1/8). The Holy Spirit will empower the disciples and make them witnesses to the world. The Spirit will help the disciples continue the work of Christ. It is for all nations (see also Mt.28/19). The Apostles would represent the achievement of the covenant of God will everyone (see Mt.19/28); they are to be witnesses of the risen Lord (see Act.1/22). Of course the Apostles themselves have the impulse inside of them, as Peter and John attest: “It is impossible for us not to speak about what we have seen and heard” (Act.4/20).
16. Now, this looks just fine and simple—very sublime and theological. But no, it is not that simple. The assembly of the disciples, notably the Apostles, would mean getting organized and structured! Already in the Last Supper we read about Jesus really wanting to have his followers to form a new people of God under a new covenant founded on his blood. He tells his Apostles to “wash each other’s feet, I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do” (Jn.13/14); he tells them to “love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another” (13/34). He tells them to “keep my commandments” (Jn.14/15); he tells them to “remain in me, as I remain in you” (Jn.15/4). He tells them to “do this in memory of me” (Lk.22/19). There is a kind of “new birth”—a new group—emerging.
17. Then of course, as a group, the Apostles are to face certain issues. As many people of Palestine reject the message of Jesus, there are also the Gentiles joining the group. It becomes important to accommodate the new comers. Let us not forget that as membership grows, it becomes important to sustain the community. How does one participate?
18. As Christ had given the foundation of the emerging group—the Church—the Apostles and other members need to make clear the organizational and structural features of the new community. We cannot avoid and we cannot deny that from the very start the Church had to be institutional. From the very start the group—the Church—had to be visible already.
19. Paul had difficulties with the community of the Corinthians. The Apostles had to know what to do with the un-circumcised; they needed a council. There were the Greek speaking members who had tensions with the Hebrew members. The early communities faced dramas and conflicts. It would be impossible to address the issues if there were no structures—if there was no institutional order.
20. Sure, we have to struggle with the visible and institutional aspect of the Church. We know the “scandals” that the Church has gone through. But we also need to be honest with history—the Church as institution has also been working on repairing her institutional faults. For example, in the past “just war” was in practice. It was a bitter phase of Church history. But recently Pope John Paul II himself condemned all forms of war: “I reaffirm…the use of violence can never claim a religious justification, nor can it foster the growth of true religious feeling…. War destroys, it does not build up; it weakens the moral foundations of society and creates further divisions and long-lasting tensions” (John Paul II, For the Celebration of the World Day of Peace, 1999, #5 and 11).
21. Keep in mind that the issue is not the existence of an institution. The issue is the relationship between institution and the work of the institution. The institution is in the service of the message of Christ for all. This requires that the Church needs to always question herself: are we faithful to our work?
22. The Church makes mistakes. She is filled with nice ideas and with wonderful motivations that are, unfortunately, often timid and fearful. Ok, we know this. Yet she was given the charge of continuing the mission of Christ. In this case, she needs to be institutional too. She has to be visible too. The tension between the Church as coming from Christ and Church as institutional is a real tension. There is a tension between the “hierarchical” aspect and the communal aspects of the Church. We cannot go for aspect against the other. Both are realities we have to recognize.
23. Jesus Christ can be made known to the world through the visible Church. He is made present in the world through the Church. We recognize that the Church is, at the same time, “sign” of the presence of Christ. The visibility of the Church is sign of the mystery of Christ in the world. This idea can help us in our struggle with the institutional side of the Church.
1. The word we use is “Church”. The word “Church” is interesting. The root word is said to come from the Greek word kyriake (oikia) or the "Lord's (house)". The word kyrios is "ruler, lord". There is a further root word here which is keue, "to swell". When a person is "swollen" that person is "strong, powerful". Strange, is it not, to see Church as “swollen”? Well, we can also think of the times of ancient wars when attacks would come from chariots and footed soldiers. So what would the threatened people do? They would “swell” the earth—raise a mound. They would put soil of many layers to protect them from the attack. People need to have some power against attacks to them. If we put together the different roots we see the Church is the Lord’s house of protection.
2. But this is not the original meaning of Church. The more appropriate word is ekklesia. It is the word used in the Bible. Its original meaning is assembly. When people are gathered together, they are an ekklesia. In the Bible the assembly has a deep meaning.
3. As we know the Hebrew Bible was translated to Greek (the Septuagint) at some point in history when the Greek language was more prevalently used. So the Hebrew word for “assembly” was translated to ekklesia. If we look at the Old Testament, which is basically the Hebrew Bible, we see the word qahal. This word is found mostly in the book of Deuteronomy. We ask: what is the religious dimension of qahal (Hebrew) or ekklesia Greek)? Assembly is not just a gathering of people but an assembly called by God. God called people together—it was God who assembled them. There was, in Deuteronomy, “the day of Assembly” (see Dt.9/10, 10/4, 18/16). At times we read “the Assembly of the Lord” (see Dt.23/2-6).
4. The Assembly at the foot of the mountain Horeb would mean the privileged moment among the people of Israel to encounter God. God has called people and the people recognize his presence. The Law was then promulgated and there was a ritual to conclude the covenant.
5. During the historical stages of Israel, there were also Assemblies. In Joshua 8, an Assembly was made and the Law was read. In 1 King 8, when the Temple was consecrated, again an assembly was held. Etc. Notice then the idea of God calling people together.
6. In the New Testament, an in particular in the Acts, we read about the martyrdom of Stephen. Just before he was stoned to death, he made a speech—a retrospect of the history of Israel. There Stephen spoke of Moses “in the assembly in the desert” (7/38). Stephen was recalling in retrospect the source of the identity of the people of Israel. It was in the assembly that the people were identified.
7. The word ekklesia appears many times in the New Testament, mostly in the writings of St. Paul and in the Acts. Slowly the word has become to mean an assembly of the communities in Judah, Galilee and Samaria (see Act9/31). Slowly the singular became plural—to mean that there were more and more assemblies (see for example Act.15/41; 16/5). What started as a small community of disciples of Jesus grew. Gentiles were accepted.
8. Welcoming Gentiles—non-Jewish people—became a major concern of the early communities. This signified that the ekklesia—the Church—was really the Church of God “acquired with his own blood” (Act20/28). It was not just an ethnic assembly. Each assembly would find its roots in the Paschal mystery of Jesus. Note then how theological it is.
9. Remember what we said about our Christian faith. It is not something that we just invented imaginatively. In Christianity we talk of revelation. The truth of our faith is revealed to us by God. So we see it in the Acts (and in letters of St. Paul) that the source of the Church is really Christ—his passion, death and rising again.
10. St. Paul uses the word ekklesia often to refer to the different communities—and they were the “local” communities mostly in major cities and provinces at that time. At times, however, St. Paul would also refer to a domestic community, or a small group of persons assembled for the Eucharist (see Rom.16/5 and 1Co.11/18-30).
11. What is crucial in St. Paul is the idea that in Christ the people of Israel and the Gentiles are together—united. The “design” of God is that all of us—Jew or gentile—are one and together as “fraternity”. In the early Church history, Christians habitually called themselves as “fraternity” brotherhood and sisterhood together). See Act 1/15; 11/1 ; 12/17; 14/2; 21/17-18; etc. Everyone is called to assemble as one ekklesia (see Ep.1/22-23).
12. Let us reflect a little more on this idea of Church as fraternity. (Sources: ideas of Michel Dujarier and Gilles Routhier). Remember what we said: it is the revelation in Christ that matters most. Very often when we think of groups, we consider the “affinity” of the members. So there is the Karate club in which members are the same in interest—karate. There is the “gardening club”. There is the “Chinese Federation of the City”. Here members are Chinese—they are united according to their ethnic belonging. A tribe is one assembly in which members belong to the same ethnic group.
13. It is a sociological fact—we group together according to where we are similar to each other. We might expect this in history too. The Jews tended to be together—as one ethnic community. In the history of the Church, it took time before the Jewish members of the Christian circles could open up to Gentiles. St. Peter needed a conversion to baptize Cornelius. A council in Jerusalem had to be convoked to discuss the circumcision of non-Jewish members.
14. Take a closer look at the Gospel. It has the power to deconstruct groups and societies. In theological terms, we can understand this with respect to critics done to the actual world in the proclamation of another world—the Kingdom. What this world tends to construct, the Gospel deconstructs. When the world tries to build enclosures, the Gospel breaks them and opens them up to something more basic and more profound. Welcoming the Gospel—like in the world of St. Paul—meant engagement and transformation into a new form of social living. This might be what ekklesia is all about.
15. In the idea of Church (as ekklesia) those who were previously divided and unable to live together New testament were together. Jews, for example, could not live with Gentiles. (Remember what we saw in Christology—the social world at the time of Jesus was marked by division between the “pure” and the “impure”). But in Church Jews were with Gentiles, the circumcised were with the uncircumcised, men were with women, the free were with the slaves (see Col 3/ 11; Ga 3/28; 1 Co 12/13 etc.
16. It was a shock and a scandal, actually. But that togetherness was exactly the sense of the “Good News”. It was “news” about reconciliation. It was a reconciliation that disturbed the existing social orders (Jewish, Greek and Roman, for example). In fact, those who were “alienated from the community of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise” became “fellow citizens with the holy ones and members of the household of God” (Ep 2/12 and 2/19). The prevailing separation among people was given up.
17. Look at the Roman world. It was suspicious of the “sect of Christians”. The Christians did not follow the sect of divinity of the Roman emperor. More than this, they also had together in their assemblies all sorts of people including slaves. In the Roam world this was a break away from tradition. Romans wanted inequality-slaves had to be set aside. But the Christians did not follow this. Slaves ate with everybody else in the same table.
18. The faith of the Christians created a fraternity in which division was reconciled. St. Paul was strong in this. In the case of Onesimus, a slave, St. Paul would emphasize that Onesimus be “no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a brother, beloved especially to me, but even more so to you, as a man and in the Lord” (Philemon 16).
19. At one point St. Paul had a disagreement with St. Peter. St. Paul had to remind St. Peter that they cannot group the communities according to ethnic differences—lie one group will be the Jewish Christians and the other will be the Gentile Christians. No, said St. Paul (see Gal. 2/11-14 and Acts 11 and 15). Doing that would contradict the meal—the Eucharistic meal. It would be an offense to the cross of Christ that has put an end division and enmity (see Ep 2/16).
20. What is the theology behind this? One way of seeing its theology is by recalling St. Paul. For him, there is the “new person” or the “new Adam”, thanks to Christ. The redemption of Christ has renewed us and has brought us back to God—back to the garden, so to speak. We are renewed!
21. The other aspect of the redemption of Jesus is that we are now brothers and sisters to each other with Jesus himself as our “elder brother”. All of us are under one and the same Father. So, we are a “fraternity”.
22. Notice that two alienations—two separations: from God and from others—are overcome by the redemption of the cross. We are all beneficiaries of a new order and we see each other as brothers and sisters to each other. “So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the holy ones and members of the household of God (Ep 2/19).
23. Reconciliation with God changes our status. We have a social fraternal status in communion with God. Redemption, even now, corresponds to a change in social status.
24. Access to God has given us reconciliation marked by peace. St. Paul would put it nicely. Jesus is “our peace, he who made both one and broke down the dividing wall of enmity…that he might create in himself one new person…establishing peace” (Ep 2/14-15).
25. Redemption—which is reconciliation with God and with others—carries with it also a new identity for us. Yes, our status is fraternal and now we are living with the identity as “being together”—or to use a term of Jean Vanier, “we belong to each other”. We have “belongingness”. This is precisely what fraternity is, right?
26. During the time of the Church Fathers, notably during the first three centuries, the Church was seen in continuity with the intuition of the New Testament. But do not forget that the Church was growing in membership. There is a temptation in numbers—it can give a sense of “ownership” and “property lines”. We are plenty, we are many, we have the power to stay here and be here. So a new emphasis had to be given: pilgrimage. The Church was on pilgrimage.
27. So there were growing communities but the Church Fathers emphasized that the assemblies were “passing by” only. The Greek often used to describe the Church was paroikein. It mean “to stay”…like when you “stay” in MAPAC for two and a half years….you are simply “staying”…passing by for a long while but will not be permanent in it. Paroikein would then mean to be here in passing. It is to be in pilgrimage. It is to live as foreigner. This is in continuity with the New Testament intuition that “here we have no lasting city” (Heb.13/14) and we are “sojourners of the dispersion” (1Pet.1/1).
28. Now, with a growing Church it also became important to emphasize that the Church had to be universal. (There is no such thing as the Church of Marikina…as if in Marikina the Church is exclusive…a club which has features that no other church has). For the Church Fathers the assembly of God is realized in each local community. The Church in its totality is in the local Church too. Both local and the universal are inseparable. So the sense of being together in a place implies that the community is also together with all the other communities of the growing Church. The whole Church is represented in the small community.
Review Questions for Intro to Theology
1. Religion is a human product; it is made by people in society. What about Christianity?
2. Is it true that we really cannot be sure about who is the historical Jesus?
3. How did the disciples of Jesus remember Jesus after his death and resurrection?
4. If the Bible is a set of books written by human authors how can we say that it is “from God”?
5. What made the Apostles and the early Christians speak about Jesus Christ as being part of “God’s plan”?
6. How is the Church part of Revelation?
Review for Intro to Theology
1. What is the view of the CCC about salvation? What is the view of the catechism of the local Philippine Church about salvation? How do you interpret the differences?
2. How does “substitution” see how Jesus saved us?
3. How does “solidarity” see how Jesus saved us?
4. Is go’el a “substitution” or a “solidarity”?
5. How does Scriptures show the Holy Spirit?
6. How is God the Father also Our Father?
7. How can we say that God the Father is the Father of Jesus?
8. How is the sacrifice of Jesus a reason for establishing the Church?
9. The Church is institutional. We admit this. There is a possible problem here because the Church might be caught in the self-serving institution. To avoid this problem we need to understand what institution means when applied to the Church. What is the nature of “institution” for Church?
 Feminists today might react to this and say that this image of Father is too sexist. God is also Mother, for the feminists. We must respect this position too. But at this point we need to be clear that Jesus called his Father “Abba”. His revelation about God is Father, therefore “masculine”. Yet, to avoid confrontation, we can also say that the characteristic of God as merciful has feminine and maternal features. The Hebrew word for God’s “mercy” is the uterus, which is very feminine.
 If today we call God “Abba”—as in Our Father—this is thanks to Jesus teaching us to call God as “Abba”.
 We can learn a lot from this be “reviewing” our own obedience to God. Are we obeying God because we are afraid of him or because we see ourselves as his children?