Monthly Archives: September 2008

Americans at the Synod

Vatican II
There’s an interesting CNS story about various people the Pope has invited to attend the synod next week. I thought I’d scour through the official Italian list to find the Americans (Zenit has it in English). I only came up with four:

1. Fr. Peter Damian Akpunonu, professsor of biblical exegesis at St. Mary of the Lake, Mundelein, Chicago and member of the International Theological Commission (expert consultant)
2. Sr. Sara Butler, professor of dogmatic theology at St. Joseph’s Seminary, Yonkers, NY (expert consultant)
3. Carl Anderson, supreme knight of the Knights of Columbus (official observer)
4. Ricardo Grzona, president of the Foundation Ramon Pane of Honduras and Catholic consultor to the United Bible Societies of the Americas (official observer)

According to Zenit there are 32 voting members, 41 experts and 37 observers. I thought it a bit disappointing that the US didn’t get a voting member at all, but oh well. (This is not correct, see this more recent post for correction.) I also thought the selection of these four people to represent the American perspective at the synod was a bit mercurial. I mean, these are not the names that leap to mind when I think of “American Catholic Biblical Scholarship.” But I don’t get a phone call from Rome before these things happen. If only…just kidding! Now I will say that the pool is quite small–only 32 votes–so I suppose not every country can get a seat at the table.

It is also a little odd that Fr. Akpunonu is not from the US, but from Africa. Here’s his bio at the Mundelein website:

    Professor, Department of Biblical Exegesis and Proclamation.
    S.S.L., Pontifical Biblical Institute, Rome;
    S.T.D., Pontifical Urban University, Rome.
    Former Associate Pastor 1966-67;
    taught at Bigard Memorial Seminary Enugu, Nigeria 971-1978;
    and Rector of the same 1979-1989;
    President of Catholic Institute of West Africa, Port Harcourt, Nigeria 1989-1997.
    Author of: The Vine, Israel and the Church
    and The Overture of the Book of Consolations (Isa 40: 1-11).
    Contributor to Bigard Studies and CIWA Studies.
    Member of the International Theological Commission, Vatican City.
    Member of Catholic Biblical Association of America, Conference of Catholic Theological Institutions, Ecumenical Association of Third World Theologians.

But I suppose being a member of the International Theological Commission probably puts him in good stead to be an expert consultant at the synod. Ah, yes, this must be the case. Turns out Sr. Sara Butler is also a member of the ITC. Here’s her bio from the St. Joseph Seminary website:

  • “Sister Sara teaches dogmatic theology at St. Joseph’s Seminary. She recently published The Catholic Priesthood and Women: A Guide to the Teaching of the Church (Hillenbrand Books). Her articles have appeared in Worship, The Thomist, Theological Studies, Theology Digest, Anglican Theological Review, Communio, Ephemerides Mariologicae, Chicago Studies, and the New Catholic Encyclopedia. In 2004 she was appointed to the International Theological Commission, and she has served on the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission since 1991. Sister Sara belongs to the Missionary Servants of the Most Blessed Trinity.”

At her bio page she has an interesting paper on women’s ordination.

The other thing is that the synod is not an exegetical conference, but a pastoral synod. The most important things to discuss is how the Bible functions in the life of the Church as a whole–not the intricacies of biblical scholars opinions on minute topics. So the most important members are the pastors of the Church–the cardinals, archbishops and so on. They represent the authority and pastoral intelligence of the Church. Thank God the Church is not run by Bible scholars!

Oh yes, the other two. I find the official observers less interesting to talk about because, well, I imagine them just sitting in the back of the room shaking hands with people and such–not actually participating in the work of the synod. But anyway. You probably know who Carl Anderson is. He just wrote a new best-selling book and you’ll find him wherever the Knights may go. But Ricardo Grzona…hmmm…well, I found a picture of him handing a book to the Pope. According to the American Bible Society, he’s a Spanish speaker and has been active in promoting Lectio Divina with the UBS. Unfortunately, most of the stuff about him on the web is in Spanish so I can’t do much with it.
Ricardo Grzona

A New Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture

A new project is afoot in the world of Catholic biblical scholarship. It is a new Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture. The editors are Peter Williamson, Mary Healy and Kevin Perotta. They’ve put together a great team of writers including themselves and Edward (Ted) Sri, Curtis Mitch, Tim Gray, Fr. George Montague, Fr. Francis Martin, Bill Wright, Fr. Bill Kurz, Scott Hahn, Fr. Thomas Stegman, Fr. Ronald Witherup, Fr. Dennis Hamm and Dan Keating. Williamson, Healy and Keating are professors at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit. Perotta is a Catholic writer who has authored and edited many books including a recent series of Bible studies from Loyala University Press. The editorial board includes Scott Hahn, Daniel Harrington, Frank Matera, Bill Kurz, Francis Martin, George Montague and A.Bp. Terrence Pendergast.

The editors lay out their principles for the commentary as follows:

  • Written in an engaging style that can be read for personal study and spiritual nourishment as well as referenced for exegetical information
  • Distinguished by a theological and pastoral hermeneutic rather than a focus on technical questions that legitimately interest scholars but have less relevance for Christian life
  • Interprets the canonical form of the text in light of the whole of Scripture and the Church’s faith
  • Aims to serve readers across a spectrum of Catholic opinion while remaining faithful to Church teaching
  • Employs ordinary modern English that does not require “translation” for preaching and catechesis
  • Packed with features useful to preachers and teachers of the word, lay and ordained, and other Catholics interested in deepening their faith
  • Fills a gap between substantial scholarly resources and brief popular commentaries

If the commentary fulfills all these goals, it will be well worth reading. I hope that they put out the volumes as fast as is reasonably possible. The first ones will be available in November 2008: Mary Healy’s commentary on Mark and Fr. George Montague’s work on 1 Tim, 2 Tim and Titus.

This commentary is a different animal in the world of commentaries. It reminds me a lot of the Interpretation series, which was a Protestant commentary designed for pastors and lay persons with a high level of biblical knowledge, but little familiarity with the biblical languages and the technical stuff Bible scholars get into. So, hopefully, this new commentary will provide many American Catholic priests with great homily material that is sound in terms of scholarship and yet relevant and applicable for people of faith.

Oh yeah, and they’ve cleaned up extremely positive endorsements from the likes of Cardinal Schonborn, Cardinal Vanhoye, Archbishop Chaput, Gary Anderson, Romanus Cessario, Aidan Nichols, Robert Louis Wilken, Benedict Groeschel, Ralph Martin (who can be found in my sidebar), and a host of other people.

Right now, the project is New Testament only, but if it is a success I wouldn’t be surprised to see an OT commentary too. And with little competition out there, it may happen. If you pick up a copy and read it, let me know what you think.

Catholic Saints Database To Be Released

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

On October 1, the database of Catholic saints and blesseds which I have been constructing will be launched into cyberspace by I invite you to take a look at it and let me know what you think once it gets up on the web. The database is based on the data in the 2004 Roman Martyrology which I explained in a previous post. What makes it unique and special as far as online saint databases go, is its comprehensive scope. It doesn’t leave out saints or add people who are not recognized by the Catholic Church. There are a few other saint databases online and each one has its merits and problems. But I think this new one at will really take the cake. It’s more of a reference tool, I suppose, but it provides data that no one else is providing. In that sense, I think it will be very useful for finding saints that are less well known. Right now, we’ve got 6,882 entries. Now there are still a handfull of double entries that I haven’t deleted yet. And there are some entries which include martyr groups or several people for whatever reason. This can result in double entry (when each member of the group is also listed separately) or it can result in masking the total number (for example, if there are 100 martyrs in a group, but we only have the names of three of them).

The most challenging part of putting the database together was translating Latin proper nouns which describe diocesan sees over which a saint bishop ruled or locations where martyrs were put to death. I had piles of Latin dictionaries and word lists all over my desk and I was mining the depths of the resources at Catholic University’s library trying to find various words. I got the vast majority of difficult terms and proper nouns from Latin into English, but there are still a few I left untranslated because I couldn’t find them. Hopefully, this will not bar people from figuring out who these saints are or confusing them with one another.

One of the coolest features about the database is the ability to search with multiple criteria. You can use any combination of fields to search for saints by name, title, feast day, year of death, etc. I think this should be useful for finding all saints with the name “Odo” or all saints remembers on August 24th and such like.

I really struggled over whether to uniformly translate saint names into English or vary it up a little based on common usage. For example, St. Teresa of Avila is usually spelled “Teresa” in English, but St. Therese of Lisieux is another story. Both appear as “Teresa” in Latin. Then of course, there are different spellings of Anne, Ann, Anna, Hannah and then Mary, Maria, Marie, etc. It goes on. Some saints have a Latinized “-us” on the end like “Bernardus.” In most cases, I chopped off the “-us.” The reason this is such a struggle is that many people are named after saints and take great pride in the spelling of their names because names are such an important part of our identity and self-understanding. But I judged that in the interest of saint-searchers, uniformity was the best route. I listed many saints with alternative names in the Biography field, so if people are used to calling a saint by a certain spelling or title, it still can usually be found.

I’m hoping that the database will grow over time and new saints and blesseds will keep being added. If it goes in the right direction, we may be able to set it up to take user-generated content like pictures and biographical information. Like I said, I think it will be very useful to a lot of people and it really is a one-of-a-kind thing on the Internet. Once the link is up, I’ll provide it for you here and ya’ll can have a look for yourselves.

A Synod on Scripture

Pope Benedict XVI has called a synod of bishops to meet on the theme “The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church.” For those of us not in the ecclesiastical know, this is a big deal. The synod is going to meet Oct 5-26 and talk about the Bible in Catholic life–something that has not been done in an official, serious way since the publication of Dei Verbum 40 years ago.

A little controversy was ginned up back in January when Cardinal Martini wrote a piece giving his opinion on what the synod should avoid saying.

The important thing that will come out of this is an official document penned by Benedict himself that presents the results of the synod and a way forward for the Church regarding Scripture. While I try to avoid predicting the future too much, I’ll bet some of his views from his famous Erasmus lecture in 1988 will resurface, albeit in disguised form. This lecture has guided much discussion on biblical hermeneutics in Catholic circles in the United States. I project that the document coming from this synod will be equally important for future discussions. If nothing else, the synod promises to be an important and much needed moment for reflection on Scripture by our Church’s leadership.

Here’s a couple articles on the synod:
Chinese Catholics Prepare…
From CNS

And here’s the official synod preparation document.