The Use of Scripture in the Catechism of the Catholic Church

Author: William S. Kurz & Kevin E. Miller


William S. Kurz and Kevin E. Miller

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[1] (CCC) with a preponderance of negative reviews and responses.[2] 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 11).

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[3] . . . 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.[4]

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 nature.[5]

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.[6]

Gerard S. Sloyan repeats these concerns, with special emphasis upon what he sees as the dichotomy between historical-critical exegesis and interpretation in faith.[7]

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.[8] 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.[9]

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.[10] 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.[11] Additionally, one can note the phenomenon of actualization of earlier texts by later scriptural texts and even later canonical readers.[12]

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 from God.

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 accidental.[13]

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."[14] 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 (CCC 1046).

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[15]

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 enjoyed."

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."[16] 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" (647).[17]

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.[18]

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).[19] 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.[20] 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 literary—as 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 two Testaments.

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 plan—they 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.[21] 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 belief—of which it is the CCC's purpose to speak—is 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 41, 52-55,106-7).[22]

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.[23] 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 now.

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.[24]

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.[25] 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.[26] 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 own experience.[27]

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.[28] 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.[29]

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 approaches.

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.[30]

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.[31] 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.[32]

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 disproof.

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 is—God's revelation—and 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.[33] 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 believers—not discontinuous with authorial intention, but not necessarily included explicitly in it—that 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 Sin, Christology

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)?[34] 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 historical?

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."

B. Christology

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.[35] 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, the Christ."[36]

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.[37] 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.[38] 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![39]

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."[40] 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.[41] 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 biblical scholarship.

But the CCC is not "precritical" in its treatment of the Gospel witnesses.[42] 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 life today.

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 life.

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 can—accounting 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."[43] 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' humanity—not simply the putative limitations of a "true man's" intellect per se.

V. Conclusions

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 112).

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 "precritically."

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 [1986]).

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, 1975], 219).

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 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 Jesus," 69-129.

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 of Scripture."

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 6:920-31.

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, with bibliography.

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 [1991]) 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 especially).

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.

Taken from:
The Fall 1996 issue of
Communio: International Catholic Review
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