Friday, June 20, 2014


Dei Verbum paragraph 12

A mother, seeing her son make an ugly face at one of his friends pulled him aside and said, “Son, I want to tell you a story about a little boy who always made faces like the one you made.  One day his face froze that way and he was looked on as ugly by everybody.  Do you understand what I am trying to tell you?”
The little boy thought about it for a moment and said, “Okay, I’ll go play with him for a while if he doesn’t have any friends because of his face.”


Writings, stories, and the like are subject to interpretation and occasionally we can divine the wrong message; the author intends one thing, the listener receives another.  (Just ask a priest how often that happens with his homilies.)  Scripture is no less susceptible to this.  Though it is God speaking to us, He is speaking to us through human authors.  If we want to understand what Scripture is really saying we must first determine the medium that the author is using.  The Bible is not a book.  It is a collection of books – a small library containing books on poetry, history, stories, parables, music, and the whole lot.  A parable cannot be read in the same way that a book on history is read.  And sometimes history was recorded in a different (but no less accurate way) than modern history is recorded.
That being said, even though the Bible is many books, there must be unity among them.  The message must be consistent from beginning to end.  And interpretation of the Scripture (held firmly in check by Sacred Tradition among Catholics) must be consistent from first century to last.  This is where the Church plays a vital role in interpreting Scripture.  And by “Church” we do not mean three old men in Rome as the common fancy makes it out to be.  Chesterton would refer to it as the democracy of the dead.  It is the understood experience of the faith beginning with Apostles, the early Church Fathers, the lived faith of 2,000 years of Catholics, and how Catholics live the faith around the world.  It will not be the case that Holy Spirit will suddenly tell the pope that it’s now Okay to have same sex marriage or that baptism should only be performed on adults.  That is not the experience of the Church going back 2,000 years.  To be able to do that as many Churches do, would be to say what was truth in 1592 is not true in 2004.  It would be just as logical to say what is true at 2:00PM on Wednesday is not true on Thursday at 6:24AM.  Truth is either truth or it is not.  Modern culture says truth is subjective.  (But then is it truth?)  The Catholic Church holds that truth is always truth and it is universal (or it is not truth.)


Anonymous said...

OK, I'm confused. I would agree that truth is continual, but are you also saying that the Church has never changed or reversed a teaching? I can think of quite a few examples of that.

Fr. V said...

Baring in mind we are talking about the dogmatic truths of the Church as they concern salvation it would fun to see if you could come up with one.

Anonymous said...

I'm probably going to regret this, but let me explain my point. I wasn't aware that you were necessarily writing about "dogmatic truths of the Church as they concern salvation." If that's the case, I'll grant your premise. However you also used Chesterton's idea that we are talking about "the understood experience of the faith beginning with the Apostles..."

If that's the case, it's a different discussion. In my own life I can remember being told not to eat meat on Friday and to not eat or drink from midnight until receiving Communion. The Mass could only be said in Latin.

Then there were the big things like Galileo on the heliocentric theory which got him a lifetime of house arrest. There was burning heretics, our relations with Jews, the Crusades, etc.

I imagine that whoever made those decisions thought they were right and they were being guided by the Holy Spirit. They were also part of the "lived faith of 2000 years of Catholics."

Still, it was a good piece you wrote.


Anonymous said...

my mother told me the first part of the 'frozen face' story . . . . not the part about what the little wise guy said

Fr. V said...

Ah! The game’s afoot!

The point was not to refrain from eating meat on Friday but obedience. Christ gave to the Church the ability to bind and forgive sins. It was the same in the time of the Apostles as it is now. In fact (you probably should stop reading now) this is still in effect today in the exact example that you site. Catholics in the United States are still under obligation to do some sort of penance on Friday. We may abstain from meat but today we may choose another penance. (Few people know this and therefore are not culpable.) A discipline based on a teaching has changed, but the teaching itself has not.

It is the same thing with not eating before reception of Communion. There is no magical teaching on how it invalidates the Mass or is intrinsically evil to do this, but it is a discipline of the Church which in fact is still in effect today though reduced to only an hour (thank goodness since now we have vigil Masses!) But the teaching behind this discipline is still intact.

The Mass too was not always said in Latin. That is why we have the Kyrie. It is a holdover from when the Mass was in Greek. But even when the Roman Church became Latin only, there were still many languages spoken in the Catholic Church when one takes into account the Eastern Rites. The Mass belongs to the Church (around the world and throughout time) and is why we cannot just decide to change it. It does not belong to the individual. No matter what, the essence of the Church may never change, but its trappings and disciplines may. These latter things have nothing to do with salvific teaching – for example the type of vestment (or none) that the clergy may wear. That has changed a great deal since the time of Jesus. That he is priest or that the Eucharist is the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ has not.

The drama of Galileo is often miscast. It had nothing to do with his teachings which had been held in the Church for quite some time. A tiny bit of research will reveal it had virtually nothing to do with faith verses science. That is part of the problem when the Church is also the state. If you run a state you face problems like heretics which had much more to do with actions against the state than against faith. The two were bundled together in a way we often fail to understand today. Most of the time these were political solutions (and none the less horrifying for it.) But was really the TEACHING of the Church that heretics should be burned or Galileo jailed or was it a protection of the state?

I am part of the “lived faith of 2,000 years of Catholics but I certainly sin. That does not make it right or change the teachings of the Church. Killing heretics was not part of the early Church, it is not part of the current Church, was not part of the faith for most of its life, and when it did take place it was not even the whole Church around the world. It is part of our story, a sad and humiliating part of our story, but it is not part of the lived faith for if it was, it would have been part of our entire story to this day, not one, sad, long, misunderstood, denounced, and shameful part of it.

Anonymous said...

I'm going to concede the "game" to you, since it's not the sort of debate I like to have in front of an audience.

While we may be somewhat apart philosophically (not as much as you think), we're close geographically (about 3 blocks). If you want to talk in person sometime, let me know.

Fr. V said...

Sounds like fun.

Lets do it!