|The Catechism's principles are not invalidated by the genuine concerns
expressed by post-Enlightenment methodologies.
Academicians initially reacted to the 1994 appearance of the English
version of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC)
with a preponderance of negative reviews and responses. One major
focus of this criticism was the Catechism's use of Scripture and
especially its alleged failures to do justice to contemporary critical
exegesis. We would like to address criticisms of this sort especially
from two perspectives: (1) the purposes of the CCC, and
(2) the necessary actualization and canonical and dogmatic applications
of Scripture required for a contemporary synthesis of the Catholic
faith. We will apply our responses to two aspects of the CCC's
treatment of Scripture: (1) how it explains Scripture and revelation in
themselves, and (2) how it "uses" Scripture in explaining
specific credal or moral topics.
Treating these objectives requires us to deal with several
controversial issues: the alleged failure of the CCC to
incorporate contemporary exegetical perspectives, the importance but
necessary limits of the role of historical-critical exegesis in
explicating the biblically-based faith of the Catholic Church, the
meaning of interpreting the Bible "in the Spirit with which it was
written" (CCC 111, quoting the Vatican II Dogmatic
Constitution on Divine Revelation, Dei Verbum [DV]
12), the use of the Old Testament in propounding Catholic doctrine and
worldviews in view of Jewish-Christian relations, the CCC's
apparently harmonizing treatment of Gospel material under the rubric of
"mysteries of Christ's life," and the like.
Some of our responses to these charges against the Catechism will
simply be to restate the very limited purposes of the CCC: it is
an adult contemporary synthesis by the Catholic bishops of the world of
what the Catholic Church has believed, practiced, and taught in its
two-thousand-year history continuing into the present. As such, it is
not meant to be, nor can it be, an explicit treatment of the latest
approaches, discoveries, theories, and theologies in the study of
Scripture or of systematic and moral and historical theology.
More important for the purposes of this article is to surface and
address in scholarly criticisms of this sort some of their unstated
presuppositions with respect to the sufficiency for theology of
historical-critical methods alone, or to the critics' distaste for
methods that go beyond historical-critical results concerning an
original meaning or Sitz im Leben so as to actualize or apply
Scriptures to later situations and believers.
I. Purpose and criticism of the Catechism
Pope John Paul II presents the new Catechism of the Catholic
Church with a constitution entitled Fidei Depositum,
"The Deposit of Faith," thereby explicitly placing the CCC
in the context of the Church's mission to guard that deposit. He
remarks: "A catechism should faithfully and systematically present
the teaching of Sacred Scripture, the living Tradition in the Church and
the authentic Magisterium, as well as the spiritual heritage of the
Fathers, Doctors, and saints of the Church . . . " He names
Scripture as the first (and prime) component of this faith deposit. The CCC
likewise names Scripture first among the sources of Catholic doctrine (CCC
This suggestion that Scripture is somehow the first principle of
faith raises an important question. For the post-Enlightenment approach
to revelation, and a fortiori to Scripture, tends (at least when taken
to be hermeneutically self-sufficient) to undermine precisely the notion
of Scripture as a set of documents that call for a response of faith in
view of both their nature and their specific contents. Hence it comes as
no surprise that at least some instances of what we will call (by way of
probably inadequate but conventional shorthand) the CCC's
"use" of Scripture have been criticized by those concerned
that it does not take sufficient account of post-Enlightenment concerns
that the documents comprising Scripture should be interpreted by means
of historical and literary analyses.
For example, although Richard J. Clifford, S.J., defends the CCC
against more extreme criticisms and concludes in general that "the
Catechism presupposes a critical and literal reading of the Bible,"
nevertheless he contends that the CCC's "Augustinian reading
of the bible story" as centered around original sin is unwarranted.
Clifford says, "It is not the doctrine of original sin that is at
issue here but the biblical interpretation the Catechism uses to explain
it. To be frank, its interpretation of the Genesis texts is at odds with
good recent biblical scholarship." Clifford adduces the
sophisticated and formidable argument that not Genesis 1-3 but Genesis
2-11 is a literary unit, an example of the "creation-flood
genre." As such, the unit represents "philosophy and theology
in narrative form" as "explorations of culture and its
limits," concerned with "the triumph of divine intent and
blessing in human history." Therefore the CCC's statement,
"the account of the Fall in Genesis . . . affirms a
primeval event, a deed that took place at the beginning of the
history of man," along with the discussions of the serpent, the
fallen angels, and original sin that follow, "needs reexamination
and restatement" from the perspective of the material extending
through Genesis 11.
Clifford also suggests that the CCC "should be more
attentive to the portrait of Christ in the Gospels" on the matter
of the possible limitations of Jesus' knowledge in view of his human
Michael P. Horan has difficulties with the CCC on several
credal issues; to indicate the one which is central for our topic, Horan
comments that the CCC presents only "a 'high descending
Christology' or a Christology 'from above,'" uncomplemented by
"a 'low ascending Christology' or a Christology 'from below.'"
For Horan this is problematic for two reasons: it does not speak
adequately to the needs of today (especially for just Christian-Jewish
relations); and it ignores historical criticism.
Gerard S. Sloyan repeats these concerns, with special emphasis upon
what he sees as the dichotomy between historical-critical exegesis and
interpretation in faith.
As a final example, Joseph Sobb, S.J., tends to be unsympathetic to
the CCC as a whole on scriptural matters; he calls the CCC's
use of Scripture "stream of consciousness";
"piecemeal" and yet "cobbling"; and overly
literalistic. Sobb takes special issue with the CCC's use of
the OT or Hebrew Scriptures, saying, "The danger . . . to which the
Catechism does succumb, is to 'subjugate' the OT to the concerns of
Christian theology," and adding that this procedure would obviate
the value implicitly and explicitly given the OT by Jesus himself, not
to mention the early Christian communities.
It is our intention to address these specific concerns. But first we
will subsume them under the broader question of how the CCC sees
it as possible to reconcile the results of post-Enlightenment historical
and literary criticism with credal Catholicism, or, of how the CCC
effects such a reconciliation, both in its explanation of Scripture as
such, and in its "use" of Scripture in its treatment of
subsequent credal issues (such as those identified above as especially
problematic to commentators). Hence, we will begin with an analysis of
the CCC's remarks about revelation and about Scripture. We will
then turn to some of the most frequent and weighty objections about its
use of Scripture, especially in the CCC's treatment of original
sin and Christology. We will show that the CCC's principles are
not invalidated by the genuine concerns expressed by post-Enlightenment
methodologies, and that in general the CCC's use of Scripture is
fundamentally true to its valid principles.
To anticipate some aspects of the answer to the questions posed, the CCC
understands revelation as God's objective self-communication in response
to human neediness, and understands Scripture to be a privileged vehicle
for the transmission of that revelation. One can use historical and
literary criticism to establish what was, at minimum, the intention of
the human authors. The results of such criticism are not at all
inconsistent with the Church's response of faith to the Scriptures, as
expounded in the remainder of the CCC. In fact, such newer
critical categories as intertextuality provide a solid foundation for
the possibility of innerbiblical typology. More broadly, such newer
categories also pave the way for canonical approaches, in which one goes
beyond "the original sense" of a document to those senses read
by readers of the Christian canonical Scriptures of the OT and NT.
Additionally, one can note the phenomenon of actualization of earlier
texts by later scriptural texts and even later canonical readers.
II. What is Scripture?
The presuppositions of the CCC concerning the nature of
revelation, and therefore also of Sacred Scripture, differ markedly from
those of post-Enlightenment approaches. One might assert that the key
presupposition of the CCC is that revelation is "from
above" (to borrow a term frequently used in the context of
Christology, as illustrated above by Horan). That is, for the CCC,
revelation does not emanate up from the community as a part or result of
a process of wholly subjective experience. Revelation essentially comes
When we consider the special instance or expression of revelation
that is Sacred Scripture, this "from above" description is
true in two different senses. First of all, revelation in general is
revelation of God, not simply of human experience. More
specifically for Christians, it has as its center and summit the
revelation of God in the sending of the incarnate Son and Word, Jesus
Christ. (Hence, one's understanding of revelation and one's Christology
will condition each other.) Second, Scripture is believed to be a form
of transmission of revelation because written under the inspiration of
the Holy Spirit. One might adopt the expression of the
late-second-early-third-century Church Father, St. Irenaeus of Lyons, to
whom the CCC makes frequent reference, and say that just as God
made us by his two "hands," the Son and the Spirit (CCC
292), so is Scripture given us "from above," from God, by
these two hands. As will become clear when we follow the CCC's
arguments concerning Scripture in more detail, this parallel is not
Both the contextual structure and the specific formulas of the CCC's
treatment of revelation and of Scripture must be taken into account.
With regard to structure, the CCC presents Scripture in Part One,
"The Profession of Faith," Section One, "'I Believe''We Believe,"' Chapter Two,
"God Comes to Meet Man." This latter title, speaking of
God coming, already capture the "from above" character of
revelation in its essence. Furthermore, the chapter is found between
Part One, Section One, Chapter One, "Man's Capacity for God,"
and Chapter Three, "Man's Response to God." Hence, the CCC's
very structure at this point suggests that revelation comes from God in
response to a need on our part, to an openness in us to something we
cannot of ourselves attain. This giving of God's response to us then
evokes a human response.
This is a "three-step" scheme which is at odds with
"two-step" post-Enlightenment schemes, which portray
revelation as merely a sufficient human response to a human need.
Furthermore, the Catechism's scheme begins to explain why the action of
revelation should mirror in some way that of creation-revelation
represents a completion of creation. Revelation is as gratuitous as any
other "step" in the process of creation. It is actuated by the
same "hands" as the other "steps." The ultimate
foundation for the CCC's view of what revelation must be is our
creaturely dependence and the continuing neediness that accompanies this
What the CCC has already said about the human need in question
is developed in the context of Chapter Two's examination of revelation.
This chapter begins with Article 1, "The Revelation of God."
Article 1 teaches, "By revealing himself God wishes to make [his
human creatures] capable of responding to him, and of knowing him, and
of loving him far beyond their own natural capacity" (CCC
52). To emphasize that this becomes possible for us only as the result
of our being presented with something objective "from above,"
the CCC (53) adds that revelation "involves a specific
divine pedagogy: God communicates himself."
This revelation proceeds in "stages." Each corresponds to a
stage in the divinely-guided creation and formation (not spontaneous
growth) of a people (CCC 54-64). Finally, this process finds its
completion in the sending of the Son, "the Father's one, perfect,
and unsurpassable Word [not any human's]" (CCC 65), and the
Son's completing the formation of the community into one sharing his own
body-the Church (CCC 787-795). Thus, according to the CCC,
divine action among humans, culminating in the Incarnation,
fundamentally is revelation
How are we enabled by these deeds, finally by the speaking of the
Word, to know and love God? Do we enjoy a privileged access to these
objective actions, or only to the subjective experiences of those among
whom the actions were once wrought? This issue is taken up in Article 2,
on "The Transmission of Divine Revelation," which draws
heavily from DV. Having attested that Jesus is the truth,
knowledge of whom is constitutive of salvation, the CCC (74-76)
goes on to affirm that when revelation is transmitted, what is
transmitted is either from Jesus himself, or from the Holy Spirit. This
same context adds that the Holy Spirit inspired the writing of Sacred
Scripture as the written means of transmission of revelation. So
Scripture is indeed given us by God's "two hands."
As was noted above, the divine deeds among humans that constitute
revelation consist in the establishment and formation of a community:
this is the relevant context for the transmission of revelation. A
"formed" people, a Body, is by definition not amorphous; it
has a taxis, an order, with principles of order or archai.
Inasmuch as the formation of this ordered people is a divine act, we
might say that the people is "hierarchical." This formation is
not only a revelatory act, but also, especially significant for today's
controversies, it is an act for the sake of the transmission of
revelation. "'In order,"' then, "'that the full and
living Gospel might always be preserved in the Church, the apostles left
bishops as their successors. They gave them "their own position of
teaching authority""' (CCC 77, quoting DV 7.2,
quoting St. Irenaeus). This makes possible the "living
transmission" of revelation (also "accomplished in the Holy
Spirit") that is "called Tradition, since it is distinct from
Sacred Scripture" (CCC 78).
Article 3 takes up Sacred Scripture itself, developing the
implications of all of the above. One should note again the "two
hands" working "from above" in the genesis of Scripture.
First, precisely by virtue of the fact that Scripture is inspired by the
Holy Spirit, the CCC affirms that "God is the author of
Sacred Scripture" (105; the paragraph elaborates this by
quoting the passage from DV that draws the same conclusion from
the same belief). Second, the work of both the Spirit and the Son is
involved in another way in the formation of Scripture, inasmuch as this
work is the prior act of revelation itself, which it is the purpose of
Scripture to transmit. This applies especially to the Gospels, "the
heart of all the Scriptures 'because they are our principle source for
the life and teaching of the Incarnate Word, our Savior"' (CCC
125; DV 18), who represents the completion of revelation. Hence,
the importance of the first of God's "hands," the Son, for our
understanding of the "from above" character of Scripture can
most easily be appreciated by considering the CCC's account of
the "three stages in the formation of the Gospels" (126,
following DV 19). We quote the CCC in full:
1. The life and teaching of Jesus. The Church holds firmly
that the four Gospels, "whose historicity she unhesitatingly
affirms, faithfully hand on what Jesus, the Son of God, while he lived
among men, really did and taught for their eternal salvation, until the
day when he was taken up."
2. The oral tradition. "For, after the ascension of the
Lord, the apostles handed on to their hearers what he had said and done,
but with that fuller understanding which they, instructed by the
glorious events of Christ and enlightened by the Spirit of truth, now
3. The written Gospels. "The sacred authors, in writing
the four Gospels, selected certain of the many elements which had been
handed on, either orally or already in written form; others they
synthesized or explained with an eye to the situation in the churches,
while sustaining the form of preaching, but always in such a fashion
that they have told the honest truth about Jesus."
One should note that the texts that have been adduced and analyzed
resolve the ambiguities in the interpretation of the CCC (and
also of DV) in such commentaries as Horan's. Horan's
interpretation does not make clear the continuity between the first
stage and the subsequent stages (a continuity already indicated by the CCC's
remarks concerning the first stage) Hence, his paraphrase characterizes
the second stage simply as "the oral tradition of the disciples who
experienced the Lord's resurrection." This expression leaves
unclear whether the Resurrection was merely a subjective or also an
objective phenomenon whether there was an objectively real
Resurrection to give rise to the apostles' "experience" (by
definition subjective). Further, Horan's phraseology leaves open the
issue of the relationship between this "experience" and the
rest of the "tradition." Was the "tradition" about
Jesus' words and deeds something invented by the apostles, awestruck by
their "experience"? Or was the "tradition" one of clarification
of the significance of certain real words and deeds in view of
others (notably, the Resurrection)?
The formulations which the CCC takes from DV clarify
the CCC's answers to these questions about the Gospels. For the CCC,
the understanding of prior events in Jesus' life that the apostles
attained in light of the Resurrection was just that understanding, not inventive
imagination. This understanding gave rise to creativity in selection,
synthesis, and explanation, but not to invention out of whole cloth such
that we could speak of a fundamental discontinuity between their oral
and written accounts on the one hand, and Jesus' life on the other.
Moreover, the Resurrection, whose light was so important for the
apostles to make sense of Jesus' life and person, was itself real.
Indeed, the CCC goes so far as to argue that its trans-historical
character is not excluded by saying that it was also "an historical
event that could be verified by the sign of the empty tomb and by the
reality of the apostles' encounters with the risen Christ"
III. Reading Scripture
A. Critical and Spiritual Exegesis
The CCC therefore proclaims that the deeds of the Son and the
work of the Holy Spirit are fundamentally the source of revelation and
of Sacred Scripture. These "first principles" concerning
Scripture give rise to a hermeneutic.
With regard to critical study, the CCC (110) affirms that
attention to historical and literary concerns is necessary "[i]n
order to discover the sacred authors' intention." Now, this
is entirely in keeping with the description, cited above, of "stage
3"of Gospel formation: "The sacred authors . . . selected
certain of the many elements which had been handed on .. .; others they
synthesized or explained with an eye to the situation in the
churches" (CCC 126). The CCC presents no reason to
deny that such choices entered into the redaction of other biblical
documents as well.
But more broadly, both the CCC's understanding of how the
Bible was formed, and its approval of critical study, reflect its
view of the nature of Scripture. Insofar as Scripture is the Holy
Spirit-inspired account of God's work (especially in Christ), it has God
as its author; but this authorship is exercised through the medium of
human beings. Revelation and its transmission through Scripture are part
of the continuing "from above" process of creation, in
particular the formation of humans into an ordered and stable community;
but God graciously allows humans to cooperate in this process (cf. CCC
307, 37273, 1652).
This explanation of the importance of critical study, and especially
of recourse to cultural and literary history, is echoed in the 1993
document of the Pontifical Biblical Commission, The Interpretation of
the Bible in the Church (IBC). Its authors conclude (133;
cf. also 42)
that the very nature of biblical texts means that interpreting them
will require continued use of the historical-critical method, at
least in its principle procedures. The Bible, in effect, does not
present itself as a direct revelation of timeless truths but as the
written testimony to a series of interventions in which God reveals
himself in human history. In a way that differs from the tenets of other
religions, the message of the Bible is solidly grounded in history. It
follows that the biblical writings cannot be correctly understood
without an examination of the historical circumstances that shaped them.
At the same time, the CCC by no means teaches that these and
other critical procedures are sufficient for interpreting
Scripture. Scripture finally has God as its author by virtue of its
inspiration by the Holy Spirit. Nor should we expect that we will be
able to call Jesus (to whom Scripture ultimately testifies) Lord except
in the Spirit, any more than the sacred authors could. Accordingly,
"there is another and no less important principle of
interpretation, without which Scripture would remain a dead letter.
'Sacred Scripture must be read and interpreted in the light of the same
Spirit by whom it was written'" (CCC 111; DV 12.3).
To be sure, such interpretation should begin with a study of the
literal sense of Scripture as determined by critical methods. IBC
cautions that "one must reject as unauthentic every interpretation alien
to the meaning expressed by the human authors in their written text.
To admit the possibility of such alien meanings would be equivalent to
cutting off the biblical message from its root, which is the Word of God
in its historical communication" (84; emphasis added). But it is by
no means the case that all interpretations that proceed beyond
this meaning are therefore alien to it. That this is so stems
in fact from the very nature of "meaning expressed by . . . human
authors"human authors both in general and in
the specific case of inspired authorship. IBC (82-83) explains:
Does a text have only one literal sense? In general, yes; but there
is no question here of a hard and fast rule, and this for two reasons.
First, a human author can intend to refer at one and the same time to
more than one level of reality. . . . Secondly, even when a human
utterance appears to have only one meaning, divine inspiration can guide
the expression in such way as to create more than one meaning....
One should be especially attentive to the dynamic aspect of
many texts.... Historical-critical exegesis has too often tended to
limit the meaning of texts by tying it too rigidly to precise historical
circumstances. It should seek rather to determine the direction of
thought expressed by the text . . .
Hence: "Exegetes who have a narrow, 'historicist' idea about the
literal sense will judge that [interpretation in the Spirit involves] an
interpretation alien to the original" (IBC 8485), but this
is not necessarily so. Consideration of literal meaning through literaryas well as historical-critical
methodology makes possible exegesis that genuinely takes into account,
but (ultimately in light of faith) proceeds beyond, the literal sense of
a scriptural text.
The CCC gives three criteria (also from DV) for
"interpretation in the Spirit." The first and third of these
are very closely related: they require attention "to the content
and unity of the whole Scripture" (CCC 112) and "to the
analogy of faith" (114), respectively. The principle underlying
both of these is "the unity of God's plan" (CCC 112).
First, this unity gives rise to the unity of Scripture, since
Scripture is a manifestation of God's plan as worked out by the Son and
Spirit, "[d]ifferent as the books which comprise it may be" (CCC
112). More specifically, "Christ Jesus is the center and
heart" of this plan (CCC 112). Therefore attention "to
the content and unity of the whole Scripture" will often involve
attention to the relationship between a given passage and the person and
work of Christ. More broadly, "the unity of God's plan"
implies also "the coherence of the truths of faith among themselves
and within the whole plan of Revelation" (CCC 114). That is,
God's saving actions among humans are not limited to the inspiration of
Scripture or to the events recorded by inspired Scripture. There are
truths of the faith, necessary for salvation, which are preserved and
guarded by the Church but not in Scripture The revelation and
preservation of these truths is also an aspect of God's saving work. In
interpreting a passage of Scripture "in the Spirit," this
context must also be taken into account.
Moreover, insofar as the transmission of revelation takes place in
the Church, Scripture belongs fundamentally to the Church. The manner in
which the Spirit acts to preserve what has been inspired is inseparable
from the discernment accomplished, yesterday and today, by the
(hierarchical) Church. It can even be said, according to the Fathers,
that "Sacred Scripture is written principally in the Church's
heart" (CCC 113). Hence, the above criteria are inseparable
from a third criterion: to interpret Scripture "in the
Spirit," one must read it "within 'the living Tradition of the
whole Church"' (CCC 113; cf. 84-87).
However, the above understanding of the meaning of
"interpretation in the Spirit" has raised in our day a
particularly sensitive problem. For if revelation in general, and
Scripture in particular, are to be understood as the working-out of a
unified plan which is carried out in this age especially in the Church,
then certain implications follow concerning the relationship between the
The CCC makes quite clear, as has the Church ever since
Marcion first raised the issue in her early years, that the New
Testament does not render the OT void (123). Rather, the OT's
"books are divinely inspired and retain a permanent value"
(121, citing DV 14). More specifically, the events of the OT are
stages of the working-out of God's own saving planthey are God's saving works. Christians
could hardly cease to value such events! Therefore, the OT "retains
its own intrinsic value as Revelation reaffirmed by our Lord
himself" (CCC 129).
However, the Christian perspective necessarily understands that
"the economy of the OT was deliberately so oriented that it should
prepare for and declare in prophecy the coming of Christ, redeemer of
all men" (CCC 122, quoting DV 15). Thus the saving
events of the OT simultaneously save in themselves, and point beyond
themselves to the completion of God's saving plan (as a preparation for
that completion). This understanding of the OT is admittedly
distinctively Christian: not even the whole of the NT, but more narrowly
the Gospels, "are the heart of all the Scriptures" (CCC
125). The canon of Scripture presents itself to Christians as ordered in
a certain way.
Obviously, not every passage in the OT can be explicitly related to
Christ. Moreover, the NT must be read in light of the OT as much as
vice-versa. Nevertheless, for Christians the full value of the OT as
revelation derives from its continuity with the center and summit of
revelation and of Scripture, namely, Christ and the Gospels. The value
of "intermediate stages" (CCC 130) is not increased by
tearing them from the context in which they function as intermediates!
So to separate the Testaments would rather decrease for Christians the
value of the OT. Therefore, on the principles that the CCC sets
forth, the "intrinsic value" of the OT must not be set in
opposition to its value as a preparation for Christ and the Gospel.
As a presentation of the Christian faith, the CCC can therefore
be expected to "'use' the OT" in accordance with these
principles, so that its value for Christians can be seen not just
partially but wholly.
B. Literary Issues: Actualization and Intertextuality
Because Catholic life and beliefof which it is the CCC's purpose
to speakis not fully contained in the original
meanings of individual biblical passages, historical criticism needs to
be supplemented by canonical actualization and application for exegesis
to be more fully commensurate with the Church's faith outlook (cf. IBC
This problem of actualization and application of earlier Scripture to
later situations is not peculiar to the CCC. Contemporary
literary-critical studies have increasingly emphasized how Scripture
itself provides innumerable examples of earlier texts being
reinterpreted, rewritten, subsumed into later texts or interpretations.
Thus biblical actualization in the CCC (e.g., in the credal
sections on Christology) is grounded in actualization within Scripture
itself of earlier by later Scriptures, as well as in intrabiblical
typology as intrinsic and primary canonical components of both
Testaments. In fact, what the CCC has affirmed concerning the
origin and nature of Scripture, and therefore about how it is to be
read, is congruent with the most contemporary critical theory concerning
biblical intertextuality. IBC (to our knowledge, the first
Roman magisterial document to treat intertextuality and actualization
explicitly and extensively as approaches to Scripture) summarizes the
critical issues and explains their importance for exegetes (see 89-96 on
"Interpretation in the Biblical Tradition," and 117- 21 on
principles, methods, and limits of actualization).
As an example of necessary actualization for Catholics, it is
impossible to reach beyond Paul's first-century teaching for his Roman
readers all the way to beliefs about original sin as we encounter them
in the twentieth-century, unless we actualize and apply Romans 5. This
actualization and application of Romans 5 occurs within canonical,
historical, and traditional Catholic contexts. It respects both the
referent in reality to which Romans 5, the first chapters of Genesis,
and corresponding biblical passages all relate, as well as the
ever-deepening understanding throughout Church history of this mystery
of human alienation from God from the beginnings of our history until
Christians were not the first to actualize Scriptures. One of the
best-known contemporary examples of actualization within Israelite and
Jewish religion itself was that of the exodus event in the Passover
liturgy to the lives of later generations in Israel (even to the
present). Even today, worshipers in a Seder liturgical feast refer to
and relive the experience of God freeing "us" from
"slavery in Egypt." What the Israelites originally experienced
under Moses is remembered and made present in a liturgical
"anamnesis" at the Seder meal.
Another example of widespread actualizing of earlier texts for later
Israelite life settings was the application in the prophets and wisdom
literature of the Torah's exodus and creation motifs to the exile and
later events in Israel's history. For example, to throw light on the
people's sufferings in exile, some prophets reread the Exodus accounts
of the desert wanderings; they drew applications and lessons from them
as if the current generation were themselves "murmuring in the
wilderness" against God and Moses. Some psalms and wisdom texts
drew on creation motifs to find meaning in the natural world and the
non-Jewish environment of the contemporary writers and readers.
Other wisdom texts identified the serpent of the Genesis temptation
account with Satan and the origin of death with Satan's envy (Wisdom
2:23-24), as an explanation for "the problem of evil" in their
A NT example of the need for actualizing earlier texts to enable
later readers to find their own meaning in them is the now generally
forgotten problem of the "scandal of particularity" regarding
the Pauline letters. Historical criticism tends to focus exclusively
on the original meaning and context of one of Paul's letters, or even of
original fragments or traditional source materials like hymns and creeds
incorporated into what is now a canonical "letter." But
already in the late first and early second century, some Christians were
questioning the relevance for their current situations of letters which
Paul had addressed specifically to some now-past audience.
The only way Paul's original instructions to one specific local
church can be relevant in different situations of later readers is by
their actualizing and applying his instructions to analogous or
antithetical elements in their own situation. The original
historical-critical attempts at reconstructing Paul's original meaning
and situations retain a value, albeit a relativized one, as guiding the
search for appropriate similarities and differences in the contemporary
situations for which applications are sought.
Related to actualization are intersexuality and intrabiblical
typology, themselves also common in the CCC's use of Scripture,
and often labeled "precritical" in contemporary criticisms of
the CCC. A couple of brief examples will illustrate these
Contemporary literary criticism values intertextual biblical
associations such as the "new Adam" motifs from Genesis to
Paul, which form a biblical matrix from which was developed the
Christian dogma of "original sin." Paul did not create the
"new Adam" motif. The concept of a "new Adam" is so
biblically prominent that some of its initial adumbrations appear as
early as Genesis 5:3, 6: "Adam . . . begot a son in his likeness,
after his image; and he named him Seth.... Seth ... became the father of
Enosh . . . " (NAB). Allusions to this theme continue to be heard
in the often-recited Psalm 8:5, which asks, "What is man [Hebrew enosh,
LXX anthropos] that you should be mindful of him, or the son of
man [Hebrew ben-adam, LXX huios anthropou] that you should
care for him?" A whole cluster of biblical names, terms, and motifs
in both the Hebrew and Greek Bibles ranging from Adam, Seth, and Enosh
to "image and likeness" to Son of Man converge around the
Christian memory and description of Jesus. Paul then develops this
pre-existing interpretive cluster intensively in his comparison and
contrast between Christ and Adam in Romans 5.
A second very prominent example of intrabiblical typology is the
reinterpretation and typological reuse of the creating word from Genesis
1 in the notions of preexistent and creative wisdom (Proverbs 8:22-36,
Sirach 24, . . . ) and later in the preexistent and creative Logos in
John's prologue. Early on, creative reflection by readers of Genesis
1 led to asking to what other personal beings did the plural in "let
us make" refer. What the creation account portrayed as a simple
spoken command by which light and all other created beings were created
(e.g., "Let there be light"), some wisdom texts hypostasized
as Lady Wisdom, a personal being in whom God delighted "in the
beginning" and through whom God created all creatures. The change
to a masculine Logos in place of feminine Sophia was a natural enough
adjustment by which the Fourth Gospel applied to the masculine Jesus
interpretive processes similar to those which earlier Jewish and
biblical writings had used for Lady Wisdom.
In general, since innerbiblical actualization and intertextual
typology are constitutive elements even of the creation of both Jewish
and Christian biblical canons, their further use for Christian doctrine
by the CCC cannot be excluded a priori as illegitimate. As IBC
explains, contemporary actualization of Scripture can be done in
responsible ways that avoid naive and precritical pitfalls; and we
contend that the CCC is defensible from this perspective.
C. Actualization and Reading in Faith
Although the CCC's "use" of Scripture, that is, its
basic orientation and approach to actualizing Scripture to prepare and
elaborate its presentation of credal Catholicism, manages to rise above
any wholesale condemnation of it as invalid, it would be problematic to
suggest that critical exegesis can prove the CCC to be correct in
what it says about Scripture. Apart from the difficulties associated
with talk about "the" meaning of a text, there is in this case
the additional special factor that the realities about which the CCC
teaches are invisible to us. God's inspiration of Scripture, and more
generally God's self-revelatory and saving deeds among humans, are not
realities susceptible to what we ordinarily understand as human proof or
Although faith is not needed to do purely historical criticism, faith
is necessary for the study of Scripture as Catholicism understands it
and as the CCC presents it. Faith is necessary both to see
Scripture for what the CCC says it isGod's revelationand to see it as testimony to the other
realities that the Church professes, such as the Resurrection and
divinity of Christ. The CCC makes no pretensions to the contrary;
rather, it clarifies this very issue with its own treatment of faith.
The CCC explains (143), "By faith, man completely submits
his intellect and will to God." Someone might object that appeals
to faith so understood are question-begging or circular: how do we know
that what the Church believes is in fact what God wishes to communicate
to our intellects and ask of our wills? Is not faith popularly
characterized as "blind"? The CCC's rejection of this
view has as its premise that faith is a grace: "Faith is a gift
of God, a supernatural virtue infused by him" (153; CCC's
emphasis), as expressed by St. Thomas Aquinas. Our belief is not
arbitrary because it is founded upon God's movement of our souls.
"But," the CCC goes on, "it is no less true that
believing is an authentically human act" (154). It is still we
who believe with our intellects and our wills.
If this seems contradictory, that is probably because we in the
post-Enlightenment world are no longer accustomed to the notion that all
knowledge or intellection is communion with reality, that it is
fundamentally a matter of reception of a gratuitously given world. Nous
or intellectus tends to be reduced to logos or ratio.
But if we recall that all knowledge is, first, something that we
receive, something whose origin is literally independent of ourselves,
then it is easier to see how God's action in moving our souls to faith
does not render it meaningless to speak of our faith in freedom.
Therefore, what the CCC affirms is that by faith, we "share
in an interior communion with" God (154).
As a result of this communion, "faith opens 'the eyes of [our]
hearts' to a lively understanding of the contents of Revelation"
(158). Far from being "blind," faith widens and clarifies our
vision. The CCC's "use" of Scripture in its
presentation of credal doctrine is an example of this. Historical
criticism can establish what, at a minimum, the human authors of
scriptural texts wished to communicate. Literary study can show
potentialities for later believersnot discontinuous with authorial
intention, but not necessarily included explicitly in itthat lie in these texts. But it is
faith's vision, attained by our souls in communion with God, that
completes our study by further perfecting our understanding of the
interrelationships among the whole complex of meanings of a text, and by
incorporating that complex into a vision that is salvific. In
fact, "faith is already the beginning of eternal life" (163).
It is this vision that the CCC seeks to communicate.
IV. Two controversial uses of Scripture by the CCC: Original
A. Original Sin
Both Clifford and Sobb express criticisms of the CCC's
treatment of original sin, some of which overlap, and some of which have
already been introduced. The questions underlying their criticisms are
wide-ranging. (1) What is the proper division of the literary unit
(Genesis 1-3 in most church tradition beginning with the NT, vs. Genesis
2-11 in recent historical criticism)? (2) Can this Genesis 1-3 composite
be subsumed into an "Augustinian" account of "original
sin"? To what extent do the original context and function of a
narrative like Genesis 3 prohibit using that narrative within a new
interpretive grid? (3) What are the implications of the literary genre
of "figurative language" (CCC 390) or of symbolic
narrative as distinguished from history (Clifford) for whether this was
a "primeval event" (CCC 390) or merely a "primal
truth about humanity" (Sobb) or "philosophy- theology in
narrative form" (Clifford)? This last objection to calling the
fall "a primeval event" seems to be the most visceral
stumbling block for many historical critics.
Space permits only brief responses, but these presuppose our
previously stated general principles. First, although contemporary
scholars may separate Genesis 2-11 from Genesis 1 and treat the former
as a narrative philosophy-theology about sin and blessing expanding
beyond individual through family to global sin, surely the CCC is
free to follow instead the ancient lead of the book of Wisdom, many
apocalyptic writers and rabbis, Philo, Paul, and other NT writers, who
did combine the two creation accounts of Genesis 1-2 with the sin of
Adam in Genesis 3. Even the Jewish apocalypses 4 Ezra (ca. 100 A.D.) and
2 Baruch (ca. 100-125) blame Adam for the sorry plight of the human race
(4 Ezra 7:116-19; 2 Baruch 23:4, 48:42-43). The Church's doctrine of
original sin as expounded by the CCC developed from
reinterpretations especially of Genesis 1-3 that go back at least to the
first Christian century.
Next, Clifford adds further richness to the CCC's
"plotline" of original sin and redemption with his references
to Genesis 2-11 as a treatment of "sin and blessing" which
expands sin beyond personal sin (Adam and Eve), to familial and
fraternal sin (Cain and Abel), to corporate sin involving the whole
human race (Genesis 6 and 11). But why cannot "sin" and
"blessing" themselves be understood as "events,"
whether primeval (before the dawn of history as we know it) or
The Pauline interpretations of Genesis in the NT, and the Augustinian
and other Church readings of Genesis in light of Wisdom and Paul since,
insist on the comparison of the actual first man (Adam) and the
eschatological man Christ.
Christianity has always clearly held that there were no primevally
innocent human ancestors who did not themselves sin (as in ancient
"golden age" myths or Romanticism's "noble savage"
myths). From the very beginning, the human race, although created
innocent and good, sinned and rebelled against God.
In fact, the Pauline approach is explicitly the CCC's starting
point on this matter. Sin is understood only in light of a revelation
completed with the revelation of Christ. That is, the Church first
believes in the redemption Christ brought. But this redemption
presupposes sin and rebellion; and logic requires, and the Church has
always insisted, that sin and rebellion must have a history which began
with a first sin. "Original sin" is therefore introduced, as
the "reverse side" of redemption (CCC 389) and as
presupposed by redemption. Obviously the first sin antedated any
possible evidence that historians could research. But it was nonetheless
an "event," and so the CCC simply and appropriately
calls it a "primeval event."
Space again permits only brief consideration of some crucial
interrelated problems regarding the CCC's allegedly excessively
high Christology and failure to give adequate consideration to the
limits of Christ's human knowledge, and its seemingly harmonistic usage
of the four Gospels.
Horan complains that the CCC does not supplement its
"Christology from above" with a "Christology from
below." He is concerned with the results of historical-critical
exegesis of the Gospels, which results have infamously been used to
suggest that the evangelists did not understand Christ to be divine
(except perhaps in some adoptionist sense); and even that the plausible
explanation for this is that he was not. He finds a lack of
"that style of Christology which . . . begins the study of Jesus
Christ by an historical-critical examination of the human Jesus, the
person in whom the first disciples came to recognize the anointed one,
Though far more appreciative of the CCC and careful than
Horan, Clifford was also quoted above as suggesting that the CCC
"should be more attentive to the portrait of Christ in the
Gospels" regarding the possible limitations of Jesus' knowledge in
view of his human nature.
First, historical criticism can by its nature only establish the
"minimum" Christology of the evangelists. Even if it is
granted that the Gospels cannot, on the standards of historical
criticism alone, be said to present the Christ of the ecumenical
councils, this would not prove that he was not both human and divine, or
even that the evangelists did not so understand him. Given the
indisputably very high Christological reflections on Jesus in such parts
of the NT as the Christological hymns (early) and the Johannine prologue
(generally considered late), it is evident that most early Christians
viewed Jesus as more than human and very closely related to God, to whom
the scholarly consensus agrees that he referred as his Abba or Father,
however this is expressed. To argue or imply that it is improper to
read the Gospels in light of these considerations, and as further
developed by the Councils, could have the ironic result of reading
something like Nestorianism into the Gospels!
Moreover, Luke Timothy Johnson has observed that, "truth to
tell, the contributions of critical biblical scholarship either to real
history or to authentic theology have not up to now been particularly
impressive." With regard to Christology especially, there is
widespread disagreement about just how much can, on a solely
historical-critical basis, be found attributed to Christ by the Gospels.
It has been contended that historical criticism is consistent with or
even supportive of a high-Christological reading of the Gospels. In
general, the precise theologies of the evangelists, or the nature of the
distinctions among the several Gospel portraits of Jesus, remain
subjects of dispute among critics. This is all the more reason that the CCC
should not take historical-critical procedure as its standard or orient
its presentation of traditional dogmas primarily around contemporary
But the CCC is not "precritical" in its treatment of
the Gospel witnesses. Its treatment of Christ as the Word incarnate
is, rather, wholly in keeping with its nature as a presentation of the
Catholic faith. There is no reason to prescind from this faith while
reading the Gospels, especially since that faith itself makes claims
about the nature of Scripture as well, as we have seen. The CCC
does not, then, derive its Christology from a precritical use of
Scripture, but rather from a faith- or Spirit- based hermeneutic.
As a matter of fact, Clifford's remarks about the "mystery
approach" taken toward Gospel material proved very helpful to this
writer [Kurz] in overcoming an initially negative impression of the CCC's
treatment of the Gospels. The CCC's treatment of the Gospel
accounts of Jesus' life is better understood as a liturgical and
sacramental approach to occasions in his life as moments in God's saving
plan, than as a precritical "harmonizing" of the Gospels.
Since in fact most historians agree that faith elaborations or doctrines
developed principally from worship (the well known lex orandi, lex
credendi), this liturgical approach to Jesus' life as saving
mysteries does retrace some of the very steps originally taken to arrive
at Christological doctrines. This "mystery approach," as, for
example, developed in the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of
Loyola, also continues to be one of the most popular and fruitful
approaches to meditating on and applying the Gospels to one's Christian
Closely related to the issue of Christology and of the differences
among the Gospel accounts is the question of Jesus' human knowledge. One
cannot so easily separate the issues of Jesus' divinity from those of
his knowledge as is commonly done. The CCC at least implicitly
relativizes this distinction by treating Jesus' knowledge precisely in
the context of its presentation of the Church's faith, as developed by
the early Councils, concerning the relationship between humanity and
divinity in the Incarnation. As Clifford reports, the CCC (473)
teaches that the "truly human knowledge of God's Son expressed the
divine life of his person." This is simply a consequence of the
principle that Jesus' human nature belongs to, and therefore
"everything in [his] human nature is to be attributed to" a
divine person or hypostasis "as its proper subject"
(468; cf. 515). Conciliar Christology, as Constantinople II thus
clarified, is not symmetric. Persons, not natures, have life; therefore
one should speak of Jesus' divine life. Insofar as such faculties as
knowledge are expressions of life, Jesus' knowledge, including that
knowledge that was his in his human nature, is an expression of divine
It is difficult to imagine a knowledge that expresses divine life but
is deficient with regard to what "pertains to God." Thus the CCC
refers to the Son's filial, intimate knowledge of the Father himself and
of those plans of the Father which he was sent to reveal (473-74). In
short, once again, the CCC is treating this subject in the only
way it canaccounting as best it can for NT
evidence but always in the context of the Church's faith and in what
seems, especially in light of ancient heresies like Nestorianism and
adoptionism, the only manner logically allowed by that faith.
However, a significant issue remains about how well the CCC's
portrayal of Jesus' knowledge corresponds to the Gospel witness as such
(which is Clifford's primary concern). We do not read as much disparity
from the Gospels in the CCC's portrayal as do Clifford and
others. Against affirmations of the CCC, Clifford appeals to the
facts that "Jesus himself said that he did not know (Mark 13:32)
and that the apocalyptic framework that he employed was at least
partially misunderstood by the early church because Jesus did not know
the future in detail." Although this is true, the CCC
does seem to take cognizance of this matter and treat it plausibly:
"Christ enjoyed in his human knowledge the fullness of
understanding of the eternal plans he had come to reveal
[footnote refers to Mark 8:31; 9:31; 10:33-34; 14:18-20, 26-30]. What he
admitted to not knowing in this area, he elsewhere declared himself not
sent to reveal [footnote refers to Mark 13:32, cited by Clifford, and
Acts 1:7]" (474, emphasis added). This formulation seems more
nuanced than is generally acknowledged. The CCC grounds in Gospel
evidence its affirmations that explain dogmatic principles. It
acknowledges the limits of its affirmations by a further appeal to
Scripture for the precise aspect of the broader principles under
consideration with which those limits are consistent: the revelatory
purpose of Jesus' humanitynot simply the putative limitations of
a "true man's" intellect per se.
We have tried to respond to the most telling critical responses by
scholars and academicians to the CCC's "use" of the
Scripture in presenting Catholic doctrine, with particular reference to
the especially sensitive examples of original sin and Jesus' human
knowledge and Christology.
Our answers have been expressed within the two basic horizons of (1)
the limited purposes of the CCC to provide a contemporary
synthesis of the traditional Catholic teaching; and (2) the limits of
historical criticism and the need for actualization and applications
of earlier biblical material to be relevant for later situations, lest
Scripture become a "dead letter," "locked in the
past," if only historicist understandings and uses are permitted.
Moreover, because such actualizing and applications were already common
practices within both OT and NT Scriptures, it would be prejudicial to
label such practices as a priori "unbiblical."
Admittedly, only faith can perceive Scripture as God's
self-revelation to humans in need of God's initiating movement toward
us, rather than solely according to the post-Enlightenment model of
Scripture as merely human responses to human questions. Within such a
faith perspective, the CCC's use of Scripture is in general what
one would expect it to be. It acknowledges with Vatican II the human
dimensions both of the writing and of the historical interpretation of
the original senses of Scripture. But it also reads Scripture "in
the same Spirit with which it was written": interpreting Scripture
by Scripture as a canonical unity (CCC 112) and as a document of
the Church and within its living tradition (113); interpreting with the
analogy of faith (114). All this is possible because Scripture is read
within the perspective of "the unity of God's plan" (CCC
In general, there is an interchange (which is becoming ever more
appreciated in contemporary literary criticism) between text and readers
within their interpretive communities and life situations. This makes it
possible to read Scripture in the Church's faith, yet not naively or
It is important not to criticize the CCC for not doing what it
was not meant to do, nor from post-Enlightenment and even Post-Modern or
deconstructionist principles that are incompatible with the purposes
both of Scripture and of the CCC. Given the purpose of the CCC
as a synthesis of Catholic faith and doctrines, and given the need for
any contemporary use of Scripture to actualize it beyond original
meanings so as to apply it to Church life today, the CCC makes
what for the most part we judge to be appropriate uses of Scripture.
1 Trans. United States Catholic Conference, Inc.; Libreria Editrice
Vaticana, 1994; multiple publishers. References will be indicated in the
text according to paragraph numbers common to all editions.
2 In addition to those which we will treat explicitly, negative
responses to the CCC's use of Scripture include Gerard S. Sloyan,
"The Role of the Bible in Catechesis According to the
Catechism," in Introducing the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
Traditional Themes and Contemporary Issues, ed. Berard L. Marthaler
(New York: Paulist Press, 1994), 32-42. Positive treatments include
Joseph Jenson, O.S.B., "Beyond the Literal Sense: The
Interpretation of Scripture in the Catechism of the Catholic Church,"
The Living Light 29 (1993): 50-60; and, on the use of Scripture
in the CCCs Part Three on morality, which is beyond our scope,
Servais Pinckaers, O.P., "The Use of Scripture and the Renewal of
Moral Theology: The Catechism and Veritatis Splendor," The
Thomist 59 (1995): 1-19. Positive reviews of other aspects of the
<CCC can be found in Communio 21 (Fall 1994), which was
devoted to that topic.
3 For an analysis of the use of DV by the CCC, see
Ignace de la Potterie, "The Catechism of the Catholic Church:
The Section on Sacred Scripture," Communio 21 (1994):
450-60. This analysis and ours constitute also a response to the claims
of Robert Murray, S.J., that the CCC is untrue to DV in
linking its teaching on revelation with a hierarchical ecclesiology
("The human capacity for God, and God's initiative," in Commentary
on the Catechism of the Catholic Church, ed. Michael J. Walsh
[London: Geoffrey Chapman, 1994], 6-33).
4 Richard J. Clifford, S.J., "The Bible in the Catechism of the
Catholic Church" (unpublished manuscript), 16-18.
5 Clifford, "The Bible in the Catechism," 19-21.
6 Michael P. Horan, "The Profession of Faith," in Jane E.
Regan, et al., Exploring the Catechism (Collegeville: Liturgical
Press, 1995), 79-85.
7 Gerard S. Sloyan, "The Use of the Bible in a New Resource
Book," Biblical Theology Bulletin 25 (1995): 3-13.
8 Joseph Sobb, S.J., "'I did not speak in secret . . . ':
Scripture as Remembering and Revealing," in The New Catechism:
Analysis and Commentary, ed. Andrew Murray (Sidney: Catholic
Institute of Sydney, 1994), 88, 90, 92.
9 Sobb, "'I did not speak'," 91.
10 For a brief introduction to intertextuality, see M.H. Abrams, A
Glossary of Literary Terms, 5th ed. (New York: Holt, Rinehart and
Winston, 1988), 247. See among many recent studies and collections,
Craig A. Evans and James A. Sanders, eds., The Gospels and the
Scriptures of Israel, Journal for the Study of the New
Testament-Supplement Series, no. 104; Studies in Scripture in Early
Judaism and Christianity, no. 3 (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press,
1994). Particularly helpful is Robert L. Brawley, "Canon and
Community: Intertextuality, Canon, Interpretation, Christology,
Theology, and Persuasive Rhetoric in Luke 4:1-13," in Society of
Biblical Literature Seminar Papers 1992, ed. Eugene H. Lovering,
Society of Biblical Literature Seminar Papers, no. 31 (Atlanta: Scholars
Press, 1992), 419-34.
Hans-Peter Mai warns about confusing and conflicting definitions of
intertextuality, especially between its poststructural use "as a
springboard for associative speculations about semiotic and cultural
matters in general.... " and its application in traditional
literary studies to textual interrelationships ("Bypassing
Intertextuality: Hermeneutics, Textual Practice, Hypertext," in Intertextuality,
ed. Heinrich F. Plett, Research in Text Theory/Untersuchungen zur
Texttheorie, no. 15 [Berlin and New York: de Gruyter, 1991]), 30-51;
Summary, p. 51. Our use of the term intertextuality avoids the almost
nihilistic supposition of much deconstruction, see Robert Funk, The
Poetics of Biblical Narrative, Foundations & Facets; Literary
Facets (Sonoma CA: Polebridge, 1988), 293-94; and, more radically,
Stephen D. Moore, Literary Criticism and the Gospels: The Theoretical
Challenge (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989), 133-34.
11 For a brief introduction into canonical criticism, see Harry Y.
Gamble "Canon: New Testament," Anchor Bible Dictionary
(ABD), ed. David Noel Freedman, 6 vols. (New York: Doubleday,
1992), 1:852-61; Gerald T. Sheppard, "Canonical Criticism," ABD
1:861-66; James A. Sanders, Canon and Community: A Guide to Canonical
Criticism (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1984), Harry A. Gamble, The
New Testament Canon: Its Making and Meaning (Philadelphia: Fortress,
1985). Extremely helpful on many implications of canonicity for
interpretation is David G. Meade, Pseudonymity and Canon: An
Investigation into the Relationship of Authorship and Authority in
Jewish and Earliest Christian Tradition (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans,
Tubingen: Mohr [Paul Siebeck], 1987 ).
12 For actualization in Hebrew Scriptures and Jewish writings, see
Michael Fishbane, The Garments of Torah: Essays in Biblical
Hermeneutics, Indiana Studies in Biblical Literature (Bloomington
& Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1989). For examples
relating to the Synoptic Gospels, see Willard W. Swartley, Israel's
Scripture Traditions and the Synoptic Gospels: Story Shaping Story
(Peabody MA: Hendrickson, 1994); and for Paul, see James W. Aageson, Written
Also for Our Sake: Paul and the Art of Biblical Interpretation
(Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1993). Cf. also William S.
Kurz, "2 Corinthians: Implied Readers and Canonical
Implications," JSNT 62 (1996): 43-63.
13 Joseph T. Lienhard (The Bible, the Church, and Authority
[Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1995], 20-22) explains that Irenaeus's
view of creation and redemption as stages in the unfolding of one
providential plan in history has been seen by the Church as a key to the
interpretation of Scripture, specifically with regard to the problems
posed by the relationship between the Testaments.
14 In the approved English translation of the CCC,
"man" and related pronouns are frequently to be understood in
the traditional generic sense. "Man" translates the French
word with the same generic sense, I'homme, and is equivalent to
the Latin homo and the Greek ho anthropos.
15 Karl Rahner summarized the understanding of the relationship
between creation and revelation that came to inform the CCC:
"World [sic] is not simply accepted as that which is already given,
but comes to be in that God himself utters himself, and in this
self-utterance of his in the Word become flesh, imposes the finality and
unsurpassability of this self-utterance" (Theological
Investigations, vol. 13, trans. David Bourke [New York: Crossroad,
16 Horan, "The Profession of Faith," 76. Sloyan ("The
Use of the Bible," 11) seems even more clearly to postulate a
dichotomy between Jesus' words and deeds and the Gospel accounts.
17 Note the extended, lively e-mail debate on Resurrection and Gospel
historicity between Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan (Jesus Seminar
members) and Luke Timothy Johnson from February through April of 1996
(the correspondence is now available at http://www.harpercollins.com/sanfran/debate.htm).
It was prompted in good part by Luke Timothy Johnson's criticisms of the
Jesus Seminar in The Real Jesus: The Misguided Quest for the
Historical Jesus and the Truth of the Traditional Gospels (San
Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 1996), and in his article, "The
Search for (the Wrong) Jesus," in Bible Review 11 (Dec.
1995): 20-25, 44.
Aidan Nichols, O.P., contends that the post-Enlightenment approach to
the Resurrection, which has been presented as an alternative to that of
the CCC, is not anthropologically defensible. To "the
skeptical rejoinder that it must have been Easter faith which created
the experience of the resurrected Jesus, rather than the other way
around," he replies that "what . . . the disciples . . .
experienced was fear and doubt, and what awakened joy and jubilation was
something other than themselves" (The Splendour of Doctrine: The
Catechism of the Catholic Church on Christian Believing [Edinburgh:
T&T Clark, 1995], 93). To put this in the context of the
post-Enlightenment dispute, one could say that the assumption of human
self-sufficiency is least plausible when death confronts us.
Cf. also the still telling arguments of Raymond E. Brown, The
Virginal Conception and Bodily Resurrection of Jesus (New York:
Paulist, 1973), chap. 2, "The Problem of the Bodily Resurrection of
18 Cf. de la Potterie, "The Section on Sacred Scripture,"
456: "[T]he dogmatic reality of biblical inspiration is
indicated . . . clearly as the hermeneutical norm for the interpretation
19 The Pontifical Biblical Commission, The Interpretation of the
Bible in the Church, trans. John Kilgallen and Brendan Byrne
(Boston: St. Paul Books & Media, 1993).
20 That this is not a moot point is indicated by, e.g., Sloyan's
concern for "whether the Spirit of God can be deduced to have had .
. . a twofold intention, namely, one proper to the authors and one known
to them" ("The Use of the Bible," 4).
21 This should suffice as a reply to Sobb's assertion ("'I did
not speak'," 91) that in the CCC "no real attention is
paid to what [the OT] actually says."
22 One response to this inadequacy was the announcement in "The
Church's Bible," Crisis 13 (Oct. 1995): 14-16, by Robert L. Wilken
of an ecumenical series of biblical commentaries (beginning in 2000)
based on patristic commentaries, homilies, and other works.
23 Actualization is possible because writing has a "surplus of
meaning" that transcends times, cultures, and the explicit intent
of an author, which is also emphasized in contemporary semantics. See
the classic treatment by Paul Ricoeur, Interpretation Theory:
Discourse and the Surplus of Meaning (Fort Worth, TX: Texas
Christian University Press, 1976). In fact, Walter Ong notes that the
very process of writing makes the communication transcend its original
situation (or Sitz im Leben) to be open also to that of all
possible future readers and settings. See Ong, Interfaces of the
Word: Studies in the Evolution of Consciousness (Ithaca, NY: Cornell
University Press, 1977), esp. chap. 8, "A Writer's Audience is
Always a Fiction," 53-81; and Orality and Literacy: The
Technologizing of the Word (New Accents; New York: Methuen, 1982).
24 See the classic treatment of anamnesis in Nils A. Dahl,
"Anamnesis: Memory and Commemoration in Early Christianity,"
in his Jesus in the Memory of the Early Church (Minneapolis:
Augsburg, 1976), 11-29; cf. Luke Timothy Johnson, The Writings of the
New Testament: An Interpretation (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1986),
chap. 6, "Jesus in the Memory of the-Early Church," 114-41.
25 Compare to the wilderness narratives (Exod 15:22-17:15 and Num
10:33-22:1; 33:1-49) the Prophetic treatments in Jer 2:2-6; Ezek
20:10-26, Hos 2:14-15; 13:4-5; and Amos 2:10; 5:25. Cf. G.I. Davies,
"Wilderness Wanderings," ABD 6:912-14. Also, compare in
the Catholic Divine Office the antiphon for the Invitatory Psalm 95:
"If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts," and a
similar use of that Psalm in Hebrews 3:7-4:11.
26 Cf. Roland E. Murphy, "Wisdom in the OT," ABD
27 In the NT, see esp. the powerful similar portrayal of
dragon/serpent in Revelation 12.
28 See Nils A. Dahl, "The Particularity of the Pauline Epistles
as a Problem in the Ancient Church," in Neotestamentica et
Patristica: FS O. Cullman, ed. W.C. van Unnik, Novum Testamentum
Supplements, no. 6 (Leiden: Brill, 1962), 261-71. Cf. J.C. Beker's
analysis of ways of universalizing Paul in "Contingency and
Coherence in the Letters of Paul," Union Seminary Quarterly
Review 33 (1978): 141-51.
29 Cf. esp. Kurz. "2 Corinthians," passim.
30 See Larry J. Kreitzer, "Adam and Christ," Dictionary
of Paul and His Letters, Gerald F. Hawthorne and Ralph P. Martin,
eds. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1993), 9-15 with bibliography.
31 See esp. William S. Kurz, "Intertextual Permutations of the
Genesis Word in the Johannine Prologues," forthcoming in Early Christian
Interpretation of the Scriptures of Israel: Investigation and Proposals,
ed. Craig A. Evans and James A. Sanders, Journal for the Study of the
New Testament-Supplement Series/Studies in Scripture in Early Judaism
and Christianity, no. 4 (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press). Among a
series of helpful articles by Peder Borgen on this, see his
"Observations on Targumic Character of the Prologue of John," New
Testament Studies 6 (1970): 288-95; and his "Logos Was the True
Light. Contribution to the Interpretation of the Prologue of John,"
Novum Testamentum 14 (1972): 115-30. Cf. Thomas Tobin, "The
Prologue of John and Hellenistic Jewish Speculation," Catholic
Biblical Quarterly 52 (1990): 252-69; and Craig A. Evans, Word
and Glory: On the Exegetical and Theological Background of John's
Prologue, Journal for the Study of the New Testament-Supplement
Series, no. 89 (Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1993).
32 See Barnabas Lindars, The Gospel of John, New Century Bible
Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1972), 82-84; Wes
Howard-Brook, Becoming Children of God: John's Gospel and Radical
Discipleship, The Bible & Liberation (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis,
1994), 53; cf. Thomas H. Tobin, "Logos," ABD 4:348-56,
33 For further exploration of this problem see Josef Pieper, Leisure:
The Basis of Culture (New York: Random House, 1963), 24-37.
34 Sobb, "'I did not speak'," 92; Clifford, "The Bible
in the Catechism," 18.
35 Such a purely human interpretation of Christ seems to be one of
the main problems that many believers have with the media accounts of
various votes and results from the "Jesus Seminar," and with
some reconstructions of the history of Jesus and original Christianity
like those of John Dominic Crossan's The Historical Jesus: The Life
of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant (New York: HarperSanFrancisco,
1992 ) or Burton L. Mack's A Myth of Innocence: Mark and
Christian Origins (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1988), which at least
appear to be reductionistic.
36 Horan, "The Profession of Faith," 81.
37 Ben Witherington III The Jesus Quest: The Third Search for the
Jew of Nazareth [Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1995], 12) points
out that "just because one cannot establish the authenticity of
some particular saying or event with the historical-critical method does
not mean that it absolutely did not happen or was not said. In various
cases the fault may lie (1) in the limitations of the methodology
itself, (2) in the paucity of the evidence at hand, or (3) in the bias
or limited skills of the one handling the data."
38 Sloyan ("The Use of the Bible," 11) implies scholarly
agreement that Jesus' contemporaries' references to him as Messiah (and
Jesus' qualification of the title), and Jesus' references to himself as
Son of God, are inventions of later Matthean and Johannine Christians.
For a responsible scholarly dissent from these propositions, however,
see Raymond E. Brown, An Introduction to New Testament Christology
(New York: Paulist, 1994), 73-89.
39 For a much more detailed evaluation of critical procedure as such
than our scope allows, Witherington (The Jesus Quest) is very
fair. Another very recent work, Johnson's The Real Jesus, is also
equitable though more trenchant. Some caution is advisable, however,
concerning possibly misleading implications of Johnson's argument that
faith should be tied to experience over and against history, even
"history" in the sense of "what really happened" as
opposed to merely "what critical scholars can show to have
happened." Richard B. Hays (First Things 64 [June/July
1996], 44-46) provides a balanced review of both books.
40 Quoted by Avery Dulles in "The Challenge of the
Catechism," First Things 49 (Jan. 1995): 51.
41 For example, see Brown, <Introduction. Brown's analyses
of the Christologies of NT authors employs the very helpful concept of a
"'christological moment,' meaning a scene in the life of Jesus
that became the vehicle for giving expression to NT christology"
(1034; emphasis in the original). The choice of one such
"scene" (e.g., the Parousia, the Resurrection) to express
something about Jesus' identity would be compatible with (i.e.,
complemented, not contradicted, by) choices of other "scenes."
In fact, these choices reflect insights into Jesus' relationship with
the Father (the ultimate issue in "high" vs. "low"
Christologies) that are continuous with the Conciliar formulas
(102,142-48). This same relationship can be discerned through
historical-critical study of Jesus' words and deeds (67, 68-70, 87-89
A reevaluation of a text commonly considered to be low in its
Christology, Mark, as in fact manifesting a very high Christology,
chiefly on the basis of analysis of literary structure, is provided by
Earl Muller, "Compositional and Narrative Studies in Markan
Christology," (presented to the Catholic Biblical Association, San
Diego, 1995). As Witherington (The Jesus Quest, 47, also passim)
notes, it is methodologically problematic to assume (as historical
critics frequently do) "that, having stripped the sayings of Jesus
from their narrative context, we can still know what they mean . . .
" Hence, study of this sort is a necessary if usually neglected
dimension of historical-critical inquiry.
42 Cf. Clifford ("The Bible in the Catechism," 15): The CCC's
approach to the Gospels "is fully warranted."
43 Clifford, "The Bible in the Catechism," 20.