Someone recently showed me a column written by someone which seemed to set out to “de-bunk” the Bible. The writer indicated that he first learned Scripture from his parents and other people of faith in a small rural parish. What a great gift that was!
But it seems that by the time the writer got to college there were plenty of “sophisticated” scholars out there to set him straight. When I was in seminary I recall studying different schools of Bible interpretation. One that still had a stranglehold on some Scripture professors of my day was the “demythologizing of the Bible” – especially the New Testament – proposed by protestant theologian Rudolph Bultmann, beginning in the 1940’s. The 1940’s was when a number of my teachers did their studies. Certainly those theories still held sway 40 years ago.
It seems the writer of this recent essay heard about Bultmann and his various followers too. I think he “bought” it. Somehow Bultmann decided that he could determine, about 19 centuries later, what the real history of the New Testament was. The Christmas story, according to these theories, was a nice story that was told to fit the message of the Old Testament prophets: the time, locations, and players were all adapted if not invented, to make Isaiah look good.
Such theories, since they have little scientific evidence whether to validate them or to contradict them, tend not to end there. They uncritically question the details of anything in the Gospel that would seem to require or test faith. In the end they question the reality and integrity of Mary and Joseph, the Holy Family, the apostles, even the divinity of Jesus Himself.
Happily, Scripture scholarship over the last generation has helped us see the amazing validity of Sacred Scripture, while acknowledging and honoring the place of Divine Inspiration and inerrancy, pillars of our Catholic teaching. In the more recent generation, Scripture Scholars and other theologians have re-read the Fathers of the Church, something which almost no Protestant scholars ever looked to. Popular scholars, like Scott Hahn, have helped us to see the interconnection of all Scripture, rather than a number of previous approaches which suggested that the Bible could only be understood by “taking it apart.” As amazing as it may seem to sceptics and cynics, the Old Testament prophets and other inspired authors of the Hebrew Bible were docile to the Holy Spirit. Jesus, when He appears later on the Day of Easter to the disciples on the road to Emmaus, carefully explains the Old Testament passages that relate to Him, to these men who had all but lost hope in the Messiah. “Was it not necessary that the Messiah must suffer these things and enter into His glory?” (Lk 24:26) Jesus tells us the connections and references are real, not fabricated.
In recent years Pope Benedict XVI himself has written several scholarly books on the Gospels which would seem to lend strength to the accuracy of many of those “old fashioned” realities in the Gospels. There are other worthy scholars, and there are still charlatans.
I am convinced and relieved that our seminarians, for example, are getting good preparation in their studies; studies which affirm what the Church teaches. I am likewise pleased that we have, in the Bishop Helmsing Institute, a wonderful resource for our Diocese to provide valuable formation – some of it perhaps remedial – in Scripture and the whole spectrum of Catholic studies and spiritual life. The BHI has earned its place of trust in the last 8 years. It is my most sincere hope that BHI would be accepted as the principal resource for adult faith formation in all of our parishes. It seems the debunkers and the demythologizers need some debunking and reform themselves!
As for the writer of that recent “enlightened” essay, I would say that, many times, our folks and their faith are not so far off the mark. Our rural parishes are not so backward as the writer suggests in teaching long standing and time honored truths in fidelity to the Church.
Mary, Seat of Wisdom, pray for us!