Conference explores Bible’s place in Catholic life

Dr. Mark Zia

By John Heuertz
Special to The Catholic Key

KANSAS CITY — “Like a tree planted by streams of water, the soul is irrigated by the Bible.” — St. John Damascene

Benedictine College Associate Professor of Theology Dr. Mark Zia was the keynote speaker at the annual Bishop Helmsing Institute conference last weekend at the Catholic Center in Kansas City. The conference focused on the Bible and its proper place in Catholic faith life.

Zia’s morning talk focused on Inspiration. Biblical inspiration differs from ordinary human inspiration because, in the Bible’s case, God is directly involved as the author of “every single part of the Bible.”

This authorship is also why the Church teaches that “If we grant that the Bible is inspired by God, then everything in it is without error,” Zia noted in his afternoon Inerrancy talk.

But the Bible wasn’t handed down in God’s words like the Ten Commandments. Instead, God’s direct involvement produced the Bible in a true collaboration between God and man.

“In Jesus, the Word, God condescended to bring His Word to us in our speech,” said Fr. Gregory Lockwood, pastor of Christ the King parish. “With the Bible, He’s self-communicating to us using human language.”

“We have a Bible to help us know more about Christ, to love Him better, and to enter into a deeper relationship with Him,” Zia said. “Ultimately, the Bible exists to point us to the Eucharist, the sacrament of Charity.”

Diocesan Vice-Chancellor Dr. Claude Sasso illustrated his talk on “Ten Scriptures that Point to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass” with quotes and examples from the Old Testament and the New Testament.

“Examples are the offering of bread and wine by Melchisedech in the Old Testament, and later the Passover meal. These are Biblical prototypes where we can perceive the types of the Mass to come.”

Learning to understand Biblical typology in the Scriptures enhances our Sacramental understanding. “The goal is a Christ-centered understanding of the unity of the Scriptures,” Dr. Sasso said.

In separate talks, BHI Director Scott McKellar and Associate Director Dr. Tim Brennan discussed some of the ways other Christian communions have explored the Bible’s ecclesial dimension.

Catholics include books in the Bible because they’re held to be “canonical,” meaning divinely inspired. Which books? The list, or canon, was not closed in Jesus’ day.

McKellar’s talk, “Why Catholic Bibles Are Bigger,” described how early Christians were the first to close the canon using five criteria: usage by the Church, the authority of the author, the antiquity of the book, the orthodoxy of the work and ultimately the recognition of its Divine inspiration.

In his talk “Chained up Bibles? Modern Myths about the Bible in the Middle Ages,” Dr. Brennan showed why several current propositions about the Bible’s use in Western culture are historically worthless.

Some of these propositions were first wrought by Martin Luther for reasons that God alone can judge. “We must be charitable to Luther,” cautioned BHI presenter Dino Durando.

Bibles really were chained to the walls of the Hereford Cathedral library — for the same reason that people lock their cars today.

“But they were chained open,” Brennan said, “so people could read them.”

Through the centuries, several specific Bible verses have been taken to mean that the Bible alone is the arbiter of salvation.

In his talk “The Bible Alone? Why Not?” Durando showed why the Church teaches that these verses cannot be understood that way in their context – and that some of them even contradict the “sola scriptura” ideas they are said to uphold.

“We reverence the Bible because it is inspired,” Zia said, “but we don’t worship it.”

Catherine Broderson’s talk on the “Spiritual Motherhood of Mary in Scripture” drew on Isaiah, Tobit, the Psalms, St. John’s Gospel and the Book of Revelation to trace the idea of Mary as Lady Zion – the mother of a messianic people, the mother whose offspring are those who keep God’s commandments.

Jon Schaffhausen and Chris Patterson led separate sessions for young Catholics. Schaffhausen’s “Famous Sinners of the Bible” showed how God’s liberating love and grace helped more than one seriously flawed Bible character to give up everything to gladly do His will.

“I think sometimes Catholics are afraid to read the Bible, perhaps in part because we think we shouldn’t read it without a priest,” Patterson said. “Of course, that’s not Catholic teaching at all.”

All of Saturday’s presenters stressed that charity is essential when discussing the Bible, especially with non-Catholic Christians. Durando quoted Bishop Sheen: “Win an argument, lose a soul.”

“It’s very important to be very aware of the fact that there’s a lot that connects us with other Christians, especially with the Bible,” said Durando, a former Methodist church worker.

But “We need to stand our ground and be charitable and firm. We have to be able to say, this is what the ancient Church taught and what we teach today.”

The Bishop Helmsing Institute has sponsored an annual conference each year since its establishment in 2006, and the last three years’ conferences have been devoted to apologetics.

Call the Bishop Helmsing Institute at (816) 756-1850 for information on starting an Adult Faith Formation group in your parish.


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November 29, 2020
The Diocese of Kansas City ~ St. Joseph