|Interview with Theologian Mary Healy
By Irene Lagan
DETROIT, Michigan, 13 NOV. 2008 (ZENIT)
Although there has been
increased interest in the Bible since the Second Vatican Council, most
Catholics are still not "drinking deeply" of the Word of God, says
theologian Mary Healy.
Healy is one of the two general editors of Catholic Commentary on Sacred
Scripture (CCSS), a series of 17 volumes of commentary on the books of
the New Testament.
An associate professor of sacred Scripture at Sacred Heart Major
Seminary in Detroit, and senior fellow at the St. Paul Center for
Biblical Theology, Healy is also the author of the first volume of the
series on the Gospel of Mark.
In this interview with ZENIT, Healy explains the genesis and development
of the series and its aim in providing ordinary Christians insights into
sacred Scripture drawn from the best of contemporary scholarship.
Q: What inspired you to write the series? What are your hopes for it?
Healy: I'm convinced that we're on the verge of a biblical renewal in
the Catholic Church, and that it will be part of the "new springtime"
prophesied by Pope John Paul II. There is a growing recognition that
Catholics need to become much more deeply rooted in the Word of God, and
that preaching and theology need to be more thoroughly biblical. The
world Synod of Bishop on the Word of God, which took place last month,
is a sign of what a high priority this is for the Church.
What inspired us to create this series was the fact that in the last
half century there have been some tremendous advances in biblical
scholarship, deepening our knowledge of the world of the Bible
its languages, customs, culture, and historical context. Yet at the same
time there have been some missteps and some dead ends. One of them is a
widening gap between exegesis and faith, due to the drastically mistaken
idea that if we want to interpret the Bible objectively, we have to
leave our faith at the door and read it like any ancient document.
There has also been a neglect of tradition: the great heritage of
biblical interpretation by church fathers, saints and scholars who have
prayed and studied the Bible and experienced its power over the last two
millennia. We have lost sight of how to read Scripture as they did
as a living word from the heart of God.
My co-editor, Peter Williamson, and I wanted to create a resource that
would integrate the best of both
sound contemporary scholarship with faith and the living tradition of
the Church. We also wanted to highlight the connections between
Scripture and Catholic doctrine, the liturgy and daily life, so that
these commentaries would be a useful resource for preaching and
catechesis. So we've incorporated frequent references to the Catechism,
fathers, saints and the lectionary.
Our hope is that the CCSS would help both priests and lay people
discover the delight of studying Scripture and experiencing their
"hearts burning within them," like the disciples who walked with Jesus
on the road to Emmaus.
Q: Is one of the goals of this program to promote "biblical literacy"
among Catholics, who have often been characterized as being "illiterate"
when it comes to Scripture?
Healy: Absolutely! Unfortunately, that description is not far off the
mark. Even though there has been a surge of interest in the Bible since
Vatican II, there are few Catholics who actually read it on a regular
basis, and even fewer who are familiar with its content. That means
there is a spiritual hunger that is not being met, a "famine for hearing
the word of the Lord" (Amos 8:11). And that situation has a dramatic
impact on catechesis, theology, evangelization, spirituality and every
aspect of the Church's life.
"Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ," as St. Jerome said.
There is a weariness and boredom with the Catholic faith that comes with
not drinking deeply of the Word on a regular basis. Our goal in the
series is to help quench people's thirst by providing a user-friendly
means of access to Scripture.
Q: Some modern Scripture scholars, such as, for example, N.T. Wright,
have been promoting the idea of the story as an interpretive principle
for understanding the message of the Gospel. How does this series
incorporate this approach, and do you view this as something that the
Church needs to recover?
Healy: Part of the crisis of our time is that people have lost a sense
of the "grand narrative," the storyline that makes sense of all history
from creation to the end of time, and into which our own life stories
For Christians, of course, the center of history is Jesus Christ.
Everything, both the past and future, finds its intelligibility in him,
in the love of God that he revealed in his own flesh. That biblical
worldview is what has shaped Christian culture for two millennia. When
people lose a biblical worldview, they become much more vulnerable to
the surrounding secular worldview, in which life is meaningless and the
most important thing is to accumulate possessions and avoid suffering.
So there is a real insight in the new methods of interpretation that
study the Bible, and especially the Gospels, as narrative with all the
elements of good narrative: plot, character, setting, point of view, and
so on. There has been a lot of good fruit from these approaches.
One danger, though, is that they can sometimes so emphasize the idea of
story that they neglect the fact that these narratives, for the most
part, intend to report historical events. Christianity is about a fact
God entering time and space
not about a "narrative world."
Another danger is that the interpreter can sometimes substitute his own
version of the storyline for the one given to us in the Bible itself. So
in the CCSS we try to avoid these pitfalls while incorporating the
insights of narrative approaches.
Q: At the other end of the spectrum is "biblical literalism." How do we
strike a balance between a rationalistic dissection of Scripture versus
fundamentalism? Does this series strike this balance?
Healy: Rather than a balance between those misguided alternatives, I
would say that what is needed is an approach that transcends both. The
mistake of many of the critical methods has been to dissect the Bible
into small pieces and analyze each one separately in terms of its
sources and historical background. But of course once you "dissect"
something it is no longer alive!
It is no wonder that people have often found the results of these
methods spiritually sterile and sometimes even damaging to faith. The
often in reaction to the first
is to treat the Bible as if there is nothing human about it and we can
understand it without any regard for the human authors and their
historical context. As Pope John Paul II once said, to do that is to
fail to take seriously the realism of the incarnation.
What we try to do in our series is take full account of the twofold
nature of Scripture as both divine and human, the Word of God in human
words. That is the basic principle that the Church gives us in "Dei
Verbum" (No. 12) and the Catechism (109-114).
Q: Catholic biblical scholarship during the last half-century has moved
at times in questionable directions. How do the principles outlined in
"Dei Verbum" help those who teach scripture steer a course of fidelity
to the "living tradition of the Church" and yet develop deeper
understandings of scripture and its relevance for Christians today?
Healy: "Dei Verbum" presents a marvelous balance: It makes very clear
that we need to take into account all the human, historical aspects of
the biblical text. "The interpreter must investigate what meaning the
sacred writer intended to express and actually expressed … in the
situation of his own time and culture" ("Dei Verbum, No. 12).
Some Catholics want to simply dispense with these methods. But the
Council fathers recognized that to do that would be unfaithful to
Scripture itself. Biblical inspiration is not dictation. In his wisdom,
God chose to use human authors
Jews of particular time periods in history
with all their own thought processes, linguistic expressions, and
cultural limitations. That is what makes interpreting the Bible so
challenging, yet so fascinating!
Yet for Scripture to be understood adequately, it also must be
"interpreted in the same spirit in which it was written." For that,
faith and prayer are necessary, and fidelity to the community of faith
in which the Scriptures were formed, the Church.
Q: What are some examples of the pastoral and theological questions that
are relevant for Christian life today?
Healy: A theological question would be, for instance, what does the
Gospel narrative of the agony in the garden reveal about Jesus' union
with the Father, both in his eternal divine Sonship and in his human
Then there are pastoral questions, for instance, what does the New
Testament teach about marriage and parenting, and how can we apply those
principles for a renewal of Catholic family life today?
There are apologetics questions, for instance, what are the biblical
roots of Catholic teachings on the Virgin Mary, the sacraments, or the
There are questions touching on the spiritual life, for instance, what
does the story of the Syrophoenician woman teach us about how to
approach Jesus in faith?
Most importantly, what does Scripture reveal about Jesus Christ -- who
he is, what he did and said, what pleases him, and how we come to know
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More information: www.catholiccommentaryonsacredscripture.com