Yearly Archives: 2008

At the Synod: Tension Between Biblical Scholaship and the Catholic Faith

I found this report from CNS to be illustrative of the conversations going on at the synod:

  • During the first 10 days of the Oct. 5-26 synod on the Bible, a recurring theme in the synod hall was the tension several bishops see between some schools of biblical scholarship and the traditional faith of the church.

    The day after Cardinal Marc Ouellet of Quebec presented his summary of the synod’s initial discussions Oct. 15, several synod members met with reporters to discuss points the cardinal raised.

    U.S. Cardinal William J. Levada, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, said the tension between some schools of interpretation, or exegesis, and the traditional theology and teaching of the church was “not just one of the key — but I would say one of the most delicate — questions” for the synod.

    He said, “We might look at the tension this way: When you look at the Scriptures, oftentimes you are told, ‘Read the Scripture to look just at what this passage says to you or says in itself.’

    “That is a very important step,” he said, “but when you think of the way in which the church for 2,000 years has been reading and reflecting on the Scripture, the next question seems natural and necessary, and that is, ‘How is this passage of Scripture related to all of the Bible and how is it related to the faith of the church?'”

I’m glad that the bishops are working through some of the most difficult and admittedly delicate questions about the Bible and the Catholic faith. It will be very interesting to see what they come up with. The “tension” between biblical scholarship and the Catholic faith is clear: when scholarship definitely proves something that contradicts the way that Catholics have always thought about something…well, what do you do? John Paul II made clear that the Church is committed both to faith and to reason as ways of discovering truth. But what happens when they seem to conflict?

There are a couple basic approaches to resolving the conflict. 1.) You can reject the traditionally held view as erroneous. 2.) You can gloss over the contradiction and ignore it.

But of course, both of these approaches are problematic. The first one is a problem because people have the tendency to throw out the baby with the bath water and reject more than was proved wrong. Or people assume that because one traditionally-held view was proved wrong that all traditional views should be questioned or overthrown. The second approach is a problem because it does not give due credit to reason–a legitimate and binding way of coming to know the truth.

I grant there are other (and more complex) ways of explaining the problem, but I just wanted to break it down for you.

There are a few attempts out there trying to solve this problem, but it just hasn’t been done on a wide scale. I’m hoping that the bishops will work through the difficulty and delicacy of the whole thing, but we’ll have to wait and see.

A Third Site about the Synod

As I keep discovering more sites about the Scripture Synod, I keep giving you the links. Today, I came across the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops site about the synod. As for news, it seems to rely on the same sources as the other two sites: basically reporting from Catholic News Service. BUT the site has the added bonus of blogging by none other than Bishop Gerald Kicanas. I think it’s pretty unusual to have a bishop blogging during a synod–it may be a first. Nonetheless, I hope you enjoy it. You can even get an RSS feed of the blog.

My Introductions to the Bible

One thing I’ve been working on over the past two years is writing introductions to every book of the Bible for After lots of sweat, reading, note-taking, writing, editing and after ecclesiastical approval: here they are. Read them, let me know what you think. My hope is that these introductions will help people get quickly into reading the Bible with a basic understanding. They are purposefully short. I attempt to give the reader a handhold for basic points in every book, so that reading the Bible is not a (primarily) confusing experience. I wrote the introductions from a Catholic perspective mainly for other Catholics. But I think lots of different kinds of people will find them useful. So take a look my introductions to every book of the Bible. Oh yeah, that includes the deutero-canonical books.

US Delegates at the Synod

In a previous post, I didn’t explain the synod structure quite right. So, there are 32 members appointed by the pope (all bishops) which are part of a total 253 voting members of the synod. The other members are members of the curia, heads of religious orders and bishops voted for by their respective bishops conferences. In addition there are the experts and observers.

So, the voting members from the US are:
1. Francis Cardinal George
2. Daniel Cardinal DiNardo
3. Archbishop Donald Wuerl
4. Bishops Gerald Kicanas
5. Archbishop Basil Schott, OFM

The experts from the US are:
1. Sr. Sara Butler
2. Fr. Damian Akpunonu
3. Msgr. Timothy Verdon

The observers from the are:
1. Carl Anderson, Supreme Knight
2. Ricardo Grzona
3. Sister M. Clare Millea, A.S.C.J., Superior General, Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus

I hope that clears up any confusion about the synod’s structure and US representation there.

Synod Struggles Over Inerrancy

Hmmm…synods, I imagine, are generally rather boring. A bunch of bishops and theological experts sit around having abstruse discussions about Church life and theology. But whoa, you touch the Bible and whether it’s true–or at least, in what sense it is true–and zing! you’ve got a controversy. Thus is the case with the current Scripture Synod.

(For the record, CNS has reporter Cindy Wooton on the ground and National Catholic Reporter has John Allen Jr.)

Catholic Bible Student Notes on the Synod:
1. There’s been discussion about the correct Catholic understanding of the inerrancy of Scripture. Check out this article from NCP. Looks like theres been talk concerning the debate between “restricted inerrancy” and “unrestricted inerrancy,” a hot debate at Vatican II.

2. John Allen’s interview with Cardinal Pell. The Cardinal says: “I would say the synod is going along very sedately and securely. I’d say there’s less division in this synod than in any synod I’ve been to.” He also mentions the possibility of setting up an international Institute of Biblical Translation. He says that Cardinal George recommended that the CDF issue a statement on biblical inerrancy (in Cardinal Pell’s words) “to make clear that saying the Bible is ‘inspired’ is not necessarily the same thing as claiming that it’s universally inerrant, in every way.” The interview is long but makes for interesting reading.

3. Rabbi Shear-Yashuv Cohen addressed the synod on Monday. I’m looking for video of the address if anyone finds it, please post the URL in the comments. From what I’ve heard it was a moving speech. Unfortunately, he made some negative comments about Pope Pius XII–there’s been talk of beatifying this pope and some Jews have been upset by his supposed inaction during World War II. Other Jews like Rabbi David Dalin have defended his actions.

4. If you want to read what’s actually going on at the synod without any media filter. Check out the daily bulletins released by the Vatican which include the Holy Father’s homilies to the synod, short speeches by voting bishops and an outline of every day’s activity.
October 3
October 4
October 5 (opening day of synod)
October 6 another
October 7 another
October 8
October 9 another and another
October 10 another
October 11

Ok, these are my notes so far.

What is a Patron Saint?

Now that the saint database has launched, I’ve encountered people interested in finding what saints are patrons of what things. This led me to start searching on the internet and I found that patrons are not always official. In fact, patronage is almost always determined by what canonists like to call “popular acclamation.” That is, people in the Church say something enough that it becomes accepted as correct, even though the Church has made no official statement about it.

So from what I can tell there are three types of patrons:
1.) Unofficial patrons of occupations, activities and illnesses
2.) Official patrons of churches and other official organizations
3.) Official patrons proclaimed by the Pope

Lists of Patron Saints
Here’s some lists of Patron Saints from Wikipedia:
Patron Saints of Occupations and Activities
Patron Saints of Illnesses and Dangers
Patron Saints of Places
Patronages of Blessed Virgin Mary
And the Catholic Encyclopedia:
“Patron Saints” in Catholic Encyclopedia

So that led me to ask, “Who made Wikipedia the arbiter of truth in Patron Saints?” The answer: nobody. Since patronage is usually done by popular acclamation instead of by the official organs of the magisterium it’s anybody’s guess. Does Wikipedia get a vote in the whole popular acclamation thing? I don’t think so.

Well, are there any official patrons? Yes. For example, every Catholic place (church, monastery, college, etc.) named after a saint automatically gets the saint as an official patron. A few saints are officially proclaimed patrons of particular countries or other entities by the Pope himself. The Catholic Encyclopedia chronicles a few:

  • St. Joseph was declared patron of the universal Church by Pius X on 8 December, 1870. Leo XIII during the course of his pontificate announced the following patrons: St. Thomas Aquinas, patron of all universities, colleges, and schools (4 August, 1880); St. Vincent, patron of all charitable societies (1 May, 1885); St. Camillus of Lellis, patron of the sick and of those who attend on them (22 June, 1886); the patronal feast of Our Lady of the Congo to be the Assumption (21 July, 1891); St. Bridget, patroness of Sweden (1 October, 1861); the Holy Family, the model and help of all Christian families (14 June, 1892); St. Peter Claver, special patron of missions to the negroes (1896); St. Paschal Baylon, patron of Eucharistic congresses and all Eucharistic societies (28 November, 1897). On 25 May, 1899, he dedicated the world to the Sacred Heart, as Prince and Lord of all, Catholics and non-Catholics, Christians and non-Christians. Lourdes was dedicated to our Lady of the Rosary (8 September, 1901). Pius X declared St. Francis Xavier patron of the Propagation of the Faith (25 March, 1904).

But you’re probably thinking, like I am, ok so where’s the real list. I mean, are all patrons of various diseases and occupations just unofficial? Well, let’s parse the above list carefully:

Pope-Proclaimed Patron Saints

  • St Joseph
  • St. Thomas Aquinas
  • St. Vincent (de Paul?)
  • St. Camillus of Lellis
  • St. Bridget of Sweden
  • St. Peter Claver
  • St. Paschal Baylon
  • St. Francis Xavier

Other Pope-Proclaimed Patronages

  • Sacred Heart, as Prince and Lord of all, Catholics and non-Catholics, Christians and non-Christians
  • the patronal feast of Our Lady of the Congo to be the Assumption
  • Lourdes was dedicated to our Lady of the Rosary

I’ve been scouring Canon Law and the internet for more information that will hone in on our question, but haven’t found much. Let me know if you can find an official list of patron saints. While all the unofficial patronage things are great fun, I want to begin with the official list and then move out in a wider circle, noting the origin (and authority) of each patronage. My gut feeling is that the vast majority of patronages are unofficial and even arbitrary. Let me know what you think.

Another Synod Site

Catholic News Service has put up their own site about the Bible Synod which starts on Sunday. The site has links to several CNS stories about different aspects of the synod plus interviews and other articles with people somehow related to the synod. It looks like they’ll use this site to post news stories about the synod over the next couple weeks. Just keeping you up to speed on the resources you’ll need to follow the events…

Oh yeah, and the CNS blog has been tracking things. Here’s a post with some random items about the synod.


In reflecting on the election and on all the financial turmoil plus Washington involvement and all the doomsday language flying around Capitol Hill, I called to mind a simple verse from the King James Bible:

Put not your trust in princes,
nor in the son of man
in whom there is no help.
Psalm 146:3

New Website on the Scripture Synod

Jeff Cavins just launched a website that will be keeping track of what goes on at the synod which begins Monday. In the intro video on the site, he says the site will be posting articles, audio and video of synod events. I’m hoping it will be a valuable resource for everyone over the next couple weeks. The site is called

Why is this synod so important? Well, it’s the first time in over 40 years that the highest echelons of Church authority are officially discussing the Bible. Yes, the last major document on the Bible was Dei Verbum. A few things have been released by the Pontifical Biblical Commission and the Popes have a made a few comments, but the Magisterium has not grappled with the biblical question in a serious way since the early 1960’s. So I think the next couple weeks could be really important in Catholic biblical thought and biblical theology for the next 40 years or so. I could be wrong.

Catholic Saint Database Launch!

Edit 6/25/2013: Updated info at this post.

Okay, my friends, the database of Catholic saints which I have been working on and telling you about is finally being launched. (Hold onto your hats!) Here’s the URL: Click on “Saint A-Z” to see searchable javascript database. Like I told you before, you can search by multiple criteria for anyone listed in the Roman Martyrology–a saint or a blessed. Take a look and tell me what you think. This is a totally unique resource on the web and I think it promises to be a very useful one.