Tuesday, May 12, 2009
My lecture last Friday was the first attempt to re-express the Catholic faith in as simple way as possible to my audience. Following the format of the RCIA, we looked at the Christian revelation. The Catholic Church and the Orthodox Churches believe that revelation is expressed not only in Scripture but also and more importantly in Tradition. Tradition includes the liturgy, sacraments and unwritten doctrines of the Christian faith. The books of the Bible were not dictated by God, like some fundamentalists believe, but they were inspired by God in the community of His people. Furthermore, the sacred authors of the different books of the Bible wrote the books under God's inspiration using their own understanding, in the context of their culture at the time of writing. There are different literary forms and different styles in the books of the Bible. Look, for example, at Genesis and compare it with Song of Songs. One is a narration in figurative language about the origin of the human race and the other is poetry about God's relationship with his people. God does not force people. He always requires the cooperation of the human mind with the divine gift (grace).
To give you one example about the importance of Tradition, have a look at the last chapter of the Gospel of John. The author wrote "But there are also many other things which Jesus did; were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. " (John 21: 25). It is an expression that tells Christians two things: First, Jesus did many other things that are not written. Second, implicitly the reader needs to inquire the author about those other things. Note that the author is one of the apostles or a close companion. Note also the expression. It is not a scientific account because "the world itself could not contain the books that would be written." If the author refers the reader to the apostles, this means that he wants the reader to listen to the apostles, their close companions and successors.
How was the New Testament written? There are 3 phases. First, the disciples of Christ listened to his words and witnessed his miracles. Second, they preached what they experienced to the world around them. Third, when they were being martyred or getting older, the Christian community asked them to commit to writing what they were preaching.
Based on contemporary historical research, the first written accounts were some of the Letters of St. Paul around 49 C.A. The historical gap between the death and Resurrection of Christ around 30 C.A. and the letters of Paul is less than one generation. Many contemporary Biblical scholars and researchers using archeological evidence are boldly saying that there is very minimal chance of corruption of the text. But it is important to note that Tradition is recognized by almost all Biblical scholars to be the source of the written material in the Bible. Without the Church there is no Bible. The Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) authoritatively declares that the source of both Tradition and Scripture is God himself in his revelation (1). Since this lecture is meant to address the basic teaching of the Church, only this official reference is mentioned below.