Tag Archives: pope

Thomas a Kempis in Dei Verbum?

One of the famous phrases of the Second Vatican Council that has always stuck in my mind is from Dei Verbum, which teaches that “Holy Scripture must be read and interpreted in the sacred spirit in which it was written” (section 12). That is the translation from the Vatican website. The Latin reads, “Sacra Scriptura eodem Spiritu quo scripta est etiam legenda et interpretanda sit.” Notably, the phrase “eodem Spiritu” means “same Spirit” not “sacred Spirit.” The old Walter Abbot translation gets this right and so does the Catechism (section 111). But the point is, where does this principle come from?

Well, if you take a look at the footnote to the line, you’ll see this:

EDIT 1/6/2014 (deleted text struck out and added text maroon):

9. cf. Pius XII, encyclical “Humani Generis,” Aug. 12, 1950: A.A.S. 42 (1950) pp. 568-69: Denzinger 2314 (3886).

9. cf. Benedict XV, encyclical “Spiritus Paraclitus” Sept. 15, 1920:EB 469. St. Jerome, “In Galatians’ 5, 19-20: PL 26, 417 A.

Great, so we have to go back and look at Humani Generis for this idea. The Denzinger reference 3886 equates to the 21st paragraph of the encyclical which talks about the value of biblical exegesis, that it renews theological inquiry, giving it a constant freshness. The paragraph does refer to Pius IX’s letter Inter gravissimas from 1870, but the funny thing is that the phrase about the “same Spirit in which it was written” does not appear anywhere in the encyclical.

I made a mistake in this original post by associating a footnote belonging to Article 11 to Article 12, as was pointed out to me by a friendly reader. The correct footnote points to Benedict XV and St. Jerome. The relevant text from Benedict XV’s encyclical is this:

35. But in a brief space Jerome became so enamored of the “folly of the Cross” that he himself serves as a proof of the extent to which a humble and devout frame of mind is conducive to the understanding of Holy Scripture. He realized that “in expounding Scripture we need God’s Holy Spirit”;[55] he saw that one cannot otherwise read or understand it “than the Holy Spirit by Whom it was written demands.”[56] Consequently, he was ever humbly praying for God’s assistance and for the light of the Holy Spirit, and asking his friends to do the same for him. We find him commending to the Divine assistance and to his brethren’s prayers his Commentaries on various books as he began them, and then rendering God due thanks when completed.

I have bolded the most important text, which is really a couple citations from St. Jerome. The two references are: “55. Id., In Mich., 1:10-15” and “56. Id., In Gal., 5:19-21.” The drafters of Dei Verbum point us to the second citation, from Jerome’s commentary on Galatians, the phrase there reads in Latin, “Quicumque igitur aliter Scripturam intelligit, quam sensus Spiritus sancti flagitat, quo conscripta est…” (Source: p. 417)This can be rendered in English, “Whoever, therefore, understands Scripture in any other way than the sense of the Holy Spirit by whom they were written…” This phrase seems to be underlying Dei Verbum‘s statement, but the wording is actually closer in yet another text.

So, here’s where Thomas a Kempis comes in. In his famous book, The Imitation of Christ, he talks about reading Scripture in Book I, chapter 5 and says that “it should be read in the same spirit with which it was made” (Harold Gardiner translation, 1955). So, is Vatican II quoting Thomas a Kempis without attribution? It’s hard to say. You can read the original Latin text online from this 1486 publication of the Imitation of Christ. Here’s an image for you:

Kempis_Chap5For those of you without a magnifying glass, the underlined text reads “Omnis Scriptura Sacra eo Spu debet legi quo facta est.” (“Spu” here is an abbreviated form of “Spiritu.”) My translation is then: “All of Sacred Scripture ought to be read in the same Spirit in which it was made.” However, a translation from 1938 that was republished in 1959 reads quite freely, “Each part of the Scripture is to be read in the same spirit in which it was written.”  I’m not suggesting that the Council Fathers were reading this translation and then formulating their Latin text, but that Thomas a Kempis was on their minds when penning this line. I would be interested to see if there is further evidence for this in some of the background documents of the Council. I just stumbled across it, and thought you would like it if I’d share it with you.


John Paul II’s Words to the Man Elected Pope

“I also ask the one who is elected not to refuse, for fear of its weight, the office to which he has been called, but to submit humbly to the design of the divine will. God who imposes the burden will sustain him with his hand, so that he will be able to bear it. In conferring the heavy task upon him, God will also help him to accomplish it and, in giving him the dignity, he will grant him the strength not to be overwhelmed by the weight of his office.”

-John Paul II, Universi Dominici Gregis, sec. 86


Why Benedict XVI Will Serve One Year Later Into Life than John Paul II

My post on the “math” behind Pope Benedict’s resignation has garnered some attention, so I wanted to speculate as to why Benedict might have set it up this way. If you haven’t read my previous post, the basic gist is that Benedict will serve the Church exactly 365 days longer than John Paul II–not that Benedict’s pontificate will be longer (JPII reigned for almost 27 years, but B16 will reign for almost 8), but that he will be exactly one year older when he abdicates than John Paul was when he died.

My speculations are as follows:

1. Benedict wants to honor the legacy of John Paul II. Many people were calling for John Paul’s resignation in the last few years of his pontificate, arguing that his ill health and frailty made him incapable of serving as pope. But John Paul stuck it out to the end and really became an example for eldercare and the morality of late-in-life health choices, namely that the dignity of the human person must be preserved and no steps should be taken to hasten death. Benedict, while having a different perspective than John Paul (see #3 below), wants to honor John Paul’s witness and serve the Church late into his life. By serving exactly 365 days longer, he nods to John Paul’s legacy and the example he gave to us.

2. John Paul II’s former personal secretary, Stanislaw Cardinal Dziwisz, has made comments criticizing Benedict XVI’s abdication as “coming down from the cross.” (Newsmax story here) I think this is exactly the kind of criticism that Benedict was hoping to circumvent (at least in the history books) by the timing of his resignation. The counter could always be: I served the Church even later into my life than John Paul–by a year!

3. Benedict wants to honor John Paul, while at the same time disagreeing with him. In 2002, he reportedly made comments that it would be “very wise” for a pope to resign if he was incapacitated by ill health.

4. Cardinal Ratzinger submitted his original resignation to John Paul II in Spring 2002 on his 75th birthday. Now, just before his 86th birthday, he’ll have served the Church 11 years past the mandatory retirement age for bishops of 75. (Just another interesting note–Benedict will not be participating in the conclave to elect the new pope, but even if he did he would be unable to vote, being past his 80th birthday.)

5. Perhaps Benedict wanted to abdicate before the canonization of John Paul II, so as not to give the impression that he was granting sainthood for the sake of an old friend. The miracle needed for John Paul II’s canonization is in the hands of the Congregation for the causes of saints (Vatican Insider).

6. Lastly, I think that Benedict wants to set a precedent for future popes. He believes the Church needs energetic leadership and that ill health late in life can preclude a man from bringing this kind of leadership to the task of governing the Church. Benedict, perhaps, is suggesting to future popes that if their old age or ill health prevents them from doing the pope’s job well that they too should abdicate and allow a younger man to fulfill the role.



Pope Benedict XVI Resigns – What does Dante have to do with it?

Pope St. Celestine V

Pope St. Celestine V

Everyone is still shocked by the announcement made by the Pope today that he will resign, effective February 28, just 17 days from now. There are many commentators opining on the why’s and wherefores, but perhaps the most interesting strain in the commentary has to do with the last pope who resigned, St. Celestine V. Scott Hahn made an interesting post in which he mentions Pope Benedict’s two trips to pray by the tomb and relics (respectively) of Celestine V–notably the Pope left his pallium on Celestine’s tomb on April 29, 2009. (Interestingly, as Rocco Palmo notes, this pallium was the one with which Benedict was originally vested. The pope “retired” it from use and went to a smaller size of pallium. More here: Fr. Z, NLM)

St. Celestine resigned the papacy in 1294 after reigning for a mere six months. (Technically, the last Pope to resign was Gregory XII in 1415, but his situation was complicated by the Avignon papacy dispute.) St. Celestine was a Benedictine monk and hermit, who actually founded an order. He was famous for his ascetical practices. He was not a cardinal at the time of his election, but did send a letter to the conclave, which upon reading it, promptly elected him, even though he was 80 years old. It reminds me of Cardinal Ratzinger’s homily at the funeral of John Paul II in which he spoke against the dictatorship of relativism and described what the new Pope should be like. Apparently, anyone who tries to tell the cardinals how to go about the business of the Conclave becomes an immediate candidate!

Now, on to Dante! In his Inferno, Canto III, lines 58-63 (in Dorothy Sayers’ translation) we read:

And when I’d noted here and there a shade
Whose face I knew, I saw and recognized
The coward spirit of the man who made

The great refusal; and that proof sufficed;
Here was that rabble, here without a doubt,
Whom God and whom His enemies despised.

Now, Celestine is found in Hell’s “vestibule” here with the futile, who run around after meaningless banners, goaded by hornets. They are at the very “top” so to speak, of Dante’s Hell. Dante’s condemnation of Celestine V was rooted in the problematic reign of his successor, Boniface VIII, who imprisoned his predecessor. Apparently, Dante felt that Celestine should have embraced the office and out of cowardice or a faint heart, he abdicated, which led to very bad things in the reign of the next pope. Celestine died in a fetid jail cell. Interestingly, later on, Pope Clement V undid Dante’s literary condemnation and officially canonized Celestine V.

Later on, in the Inferno, Canto XXVII, lines 103-105, the character Guido is recounting Pope Boniface VIII’s words thusly:

Thou knowest I have the power to open or shut
The gates of Heaven, for those High Keys are twain,
    The Keys my predecessor cherished not.

Again here, Dante is condemning Pope Celestine V for his resignation of the papacy.

So, why would Benedict XVI identify with Celestine V?

  1. Both Celestine and Benedict practice Benedictine spirituality–Celestine as a hermit/monk and Benedict as an oblate (although I have had a hard time confirming that Ratzinger/Benedict is an oblate). Also, Benedict took on the name of St. Benedict and Benedict XV.
  2. Both hoped to retire from public life–Celestine as a hermit, Benedict to a quiet retirement with his brother in Germany.
  3. Both were elected very late in life–Celestine at 80 and Benedict at 78.
  4. Both saw themselves perhaps as short-term popes–Celestine for 6 months, Benedict now for 8 years.
  5. Both resigned–Celestine in 1294, Benedict in 2013.

I am glad, though, that Benedict XVI is able to trust in the Church’s wisdom in canonizing Celestine V rather than in the literary “wisdom” of Dante. In many things, Catholic thinkers and writers have deferred to Dante, but his judgment of Celestine V proved incorrect and may be shaped more by the travails of his era than by the actual facts of Celestine’s life. At this moment, it is best for all of us to pray for the conclave and the Holy Father’s sucessor. May the Holy Spirit guide the cardinals’ votes. St. Celestine V, pray for us!

Links on this topic:
Robert Moynihan, article
Robert Moynihan, lecture
Taylor Marshall


John Paul II on the Mission of Bible Scholars

John Paul II gave an address to the Pontifical Biblical Commission upon receipt of their document, the Interpretation of the Bible in the Church. In that speech, he outlined a few points regarding the mission of biblical scholars that I found helpful and motivating. Unfotunately, it’s not in English on the Vatican website, but it is in French. There’s an English translation of some excerpts here. Here are a couple quotes:

“To this end, it is obviously necessary that the exegete himself perceive the divine Word in the texts. He can do this only if his intellectual work is sustained by a vigorous spiritual life.” (sec. 9)

“In order better to carry out this very important ecclesial task [the explanation of Scripture], exegetes will be keen to remain close to the preaching of God’s word, both by devoting part of their time to this ministry and by maintaining close relations with those who exercise it and helping them with publications of pastoral exegesis.” (sec. 11)

-John Paul II, “Address on the Interpretation of the Bible in the Church,” In  The Scripture Documents: An Anthology of Official Catholic Teachings (trans Dean P. Bechard; Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2002) 175, 177.

In the first quote, John Paul highlights the importance of arriving at the meaning of the text intended by God, the so-called “divine meaning” or the “theological meaning” (a phrase often used by Fr. Frank Matera in describing the exegete’s aim). To me, this concept is very helpful in understanding what biblical exegesis is all about. It really does have a goal that is realizable. Sometimes it seems in the face of the immense stacks of exegetical books in theological libraries that no one will ever figure out the meaning of the Bible! I mean, if people have been seriously working on it for 2,000 years and still feel the need to publish more and more books about it, where’s the hope for a resolution? But the Bible does have meaning, one that can be discovered and related and believed in. John Paul also frames the task of exegesis well as a matter of “perception,” and a kind of perception that is informed by prayer, spiritual life. So the exegete could never be replaced by a robot. Rather, his personal spiritual life is somehow involved in the act of perception of the divine meaning of the biblical text.

In the second quotation above, John Paul highlights the pastoral dimension of the exegetical task. Exegetes, he says, either ought to be preachers themselves or to help preachers in their exposition of God’s word. Lots of Bible scholars, I think, do not see themselves this way at all. But here John Paul insists that biblical scholars ought to be engaged in publishing pastoral exegesis–i.e. popular works–not just scholarly works. He adds after the sentence I quoted above, “Thus they will avoid becoming lost in the complexities of abstract scientific research, which distances them from the true meaning of the Scriptures. Indeed, this meaning is inseperable from their goal, which is to put believers into a personal relationship with God.” (sec. 11, p. 177). So, in John Paul’s mind, there is a distinct possibility of BIble scholars becoming lost! That would not be good. However, I wonder if John Paul had some biblical scholars in mind that he had met in his lifetime–ones who were obsessed with weird little details of Hebrew poetry or archaeology and unable to inspire anyone’s faith. That would be a bad place to be, a lost, uninspiring Bible scholar, trapped in the ivory tower and unable to communicate what he knows to regular people who want to be in a personal relationship with God. I’ll have to think about this one for a while.


Egyptian Keys and the Pope

Egyptian Wooden Key

Photo from globalegyptianmuseum.org

A couple days ago I learned something new which shed light on at least two Bible passages for me.

What did I learn? That keys in Ancient Egypt were made out of wood and were very large–we’re talking two feet long or so. They were so big and heavy that they often had to be carried on the shoulder. Egyptian locks had pins just like modern locks, but the pins were a lot larger and made of wood. The key hole itself would have been very large–large enough to put a hand through. (See Paul Haupt, The Book of Canticles, 37).

So, where does this shed light on the Bible? First, Song of Songs 5:4 says “My lover put his hand through the opening; my heart trembled within me, and I grew faint when he spoke” (NAB). Now, this makes no sense if the keyhole is the size of modern ones, even skeleton key size. The keyhole has to be rather big to fit a hand through it. The poetic image makes no sense if the key hole is not big enough for fingers or a hand. Now did Israelites use Egyptian locks? Maybe not, but the technology was close at hand for over a thousand years in a bordering country so they could have easily used such locks.

The second place where this Egyptian key makes a difference is Isaiah 22. Here’s how the passage reads:

20 In that day I will call my servant Eliakim the son of Hilkiah,
21 and I will clothe him with your robe, and will bind your sash on him, and will commit your authority to his hand. And he shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and to the house of Judah.
22 And I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David. He shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open.

Woman holding egyptian key

Photo from Rice University

Now, many Catholic commentators have associated this description of Eliakim as at the al-bayit (over the house) with Peter in the New Testament. Eliakim is assigned to be over David’s house, not to be king himself, but to be more a prime minister. Peter’s assignment by Jesus is very similar. And if Jesus is the legitimate heir to David’s throne, as he claims to be, then this comparison of Eliakim to Peter makes all the more sense. In Matthew 16:19, Jesus tells Peter two things that reference this passage in Isaiah 22. Matthew 16:19 – “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed1 in heaven” (ESV). First, Peter will be given the “keys of the kingdom.” This sounds a lot like Eliakim getting the key to the House of David. Second, whatever Peter binds on earth will be bound in heaven and whatever he looses on earth will be loosed in heaven. This binding/loosing power sounds a lot like Eliakim’s power to open and shut, a power which cannot be overridden. That’s where the Pope comes in. Since he’s the successor of Peter, he gets the power of the keys. And it turns out these are big old keys! Makes me feel a bit more comfortable with the huge keys Peter normally carries in icons and statues.

St. Peter Huge Keys

Photo from Capernaum, Israel

Ok, so what about the Egyptian keys? Well, in Isaiah we hear that the key will be upon Eliakim’s shoulder. Why would anyone put a key on their shoulder? I mean, it would fall off, right? It’s too small, right? Turns out though, that ancient Egyptians, who had such huge wooden keys would carry them on their shoulders. Can you imagine if your house key, barn key, office key and car key were all 20 inches long?! It’s not exactly like you could slip those into your pocket on a little metal ring. You’d have to carry them on your shoulder!

I even found a drawing of a Cairo merchant carrying some of these keys on his shoulder. Check it out!
(Image from T. K. Cheyne, The Book of the Prophet Isaiah, 160)


Sr. Lucia’s Conversation with Albino Luciani (a.k.a. Pope John Paul I)

I came across something rather interesting in a book about the Fatima apparitions by Cardinal Bertone. In it, Bertone presents the notes of Albino Luciani who met with Sr. Lucia, one of the Fatima visionaries, on July 11, 1997. Of course, Luciani soon became Pope John Paul I. The quote I am extracting from the notes deals with Sr. Lucia’s advice to theologians. Here it is:

  • “We should pray the holy Rosary. Naaman, the great Syrian general, disdained the simple bath in the Jordan suggested to him by Elisha. Some people act like Naaman: ‘I am a great theologian, a mature Christian, who breathes the Bible with both lungs and sweats liturgy from every pore–and they tell me to pray the Rosary?’ And yet the fifteen mysteries of the Rosary are biblical; the Pater, the Ave Maria, and the Gloria are Bible passages transformed into prayer, and they are good for the soul. Bible study solely for the sake of scholarship could puff up the soul and leave it in a state of sterile aridity. Bible scholars who have lost their faith are hardly are rare breed.”

-Luciani Albino, [notes], quoted in Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, The Last Secret of Fatima (New York: Doubleday, 2008) 60.

I suppose we Bible students should take these words to heart. It does seem that many lose zeal for their faith after many years of studying it intensely. I think over-studying the Faith is similar to over-studying music or butterflies or something. One can easily lose the joy of discovery, the sense of wonder when he thinks he knows something.

I am not exactly sure why this happens. I mean, why should studying give way to pride, puffing up and lack of faith? But these symptoms do seem very common. It seems to me that they derive from the basic functions of human pride. After many years of gaining knowledge through study, a person may think that he knows something–that is, that he knows more than others or is less naive than the regular Joe. Then his mind makes this false leap: “If I know about something I must have conquered it in some way.” So he forgets the fact that he must pray, do good, give alms, serve the poor and live out the basics of the Christian life. Knowledge thus leads to pride and pride leads to apathy and apathy leads to aridity.

Oddly, this process contradicts the way that knowledge should function. A person with a deeper knowledge of poetry, literature and acting should be able to put on a much more convincing performance of Shakespeare than a hormone-ridden teenager. Yet hormone-ridden teenagers often outperform aged literature professors on stage. A serious student of the Bible (or of theology in general) ought to live a more convinced and convincing spiritual life than a person who has not had the luxury of study.


Ratzinger on Classical Music

I was amused by Ratzinger’s comment on classical music and I thought you would be too:

  • “Modern so-called ‘classical music’ has maneuvered itself, with some exceptions, into an elitist ghetto, which only specialists may enter–and even they do so with what may sometimes be mixed feelings.”

-Joseph Ratzinger, The Spirit of the Liturgy (San Francisco: Ignatius, 2000) 147.

If you have ever sat through an entire performance of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring or a Bartok String Quartet (as I have) or even the ridiculous “composition” 4’33 by John Cage, you know exactly what he’s talking about.