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.

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