PART TWO (Dura Lex Sed Lex )

DEDICATION

Ang mga sumusunod na tula ay iniuukol kay

RHEA BRILLANTE

Matapang at mapagmahal.

BBD

TIKIM NG SANDALI

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Vocati a Deo: Communion and Mission

 

God calls us into three kinds of universal vocation and that is married life, single blessedness and religious life (priests and nuns).

Since then, I used to believe that priestly life and religious life are the elite and the most important of all the vocations in life viewed in a hierarchical and ecclesial way.

This is a very dangerous claim of mine – individualistic and abusive of the equality and communion of the Church because all are vocati a Deo and all are called to mission. The consequence of this individualistic claim and understanding is beyond imagination. I could not just think how the Church would suffer again because of this mindset. I have come to know how the Church of this contemporary period is in grips with the social, economic, cultural and moral phenomena that threaten to make the most formidable change that would eventually lead to disintegration and destruction of the faith that I believe in.

Hence, in treating the personal call of God to all people I wish to discuss two things – communion and mission respectively. This treatment is based in post-synodal apostolic exhortation Christifideles Laici of His Holiness John Paul II on the vocation and the mission of the lay faithful in the church and in the world.

The analogy of the late Pope John Paul II of happy memory gives us the idea about laity as the laborers in the vast vineyard of the Lord – this vast vineyard of the Lord is taken to signify the world where there is so much work to be done and so much tasks to be accomplished. The pope said in the opening words of his apostolic exhortation:

The lay members of Christ’s Faithful People…are those who form that part of the People of God which might be likened to the laborers in the vineyard mentioned in Matthew’s Gospel: “For the Kingdom of heaven is like a householder who went out early in the morning to hire labourers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard” (Mt 20:1-2).[1]

From here we can say already that all are called to be laborers of God in hhis vineyard including the lay faithful. From here we can say further the call to communio and the missio of the laity. First, the laity is in communio with all the laborers in the vineyard and secondly, his missio is to labor.

THE CALL

From that distant day the call of the Lord Jesus “You go into my vineyard too” never fails to resound in the course of history: it is addressed to every person who comes into this world.[2]

The call is a concern not only of Pastors, clergy, and men and women religious. The call is addressed to everyone: lay people as well are personally called by the Lord, from whom they receive a mission on behalf of the Church and the world.

The laity, finding themselves in the very place where the interaction between the Church and the world is most visible and concrete, are simultaneously being called upon in a special way to accept their part in the Church’s mission.[3]

The Church becomes aware of the value of the laity by looking at the great contribution that the laity has been giving to the Church. The Synod of Bishops reflecting upon the mission and vocation of the laity in the church and in the world publicly expressed its gratitude to the lay faithful. The Synod said: “We give thanks that during the course of the Synod we have not only rejoiced in the participation of the lay faithful (both men and women auditors), but even more so in that the progress of the Synodal discussions has enabled us to listen to those whom we invited, representatives of the lay faithful from all parts of the world, from different countries, and to profit from their experience, their advice and the suggestions they have offered out of love for the common cause.”

THEIR MISSIO IS TO BE IN COMMUNIO

The lay faithful today must be in communio with the life and mission of the Church. Many lay faithful have to become aware of the Church’s responsibility to the world. The faithful should also be formed about this responsibility. That is why in chapter five of the apostolic exhortation the Holy Father teaches that the faithful must also be formed that you bear much fruit. The Pontiff said that the gospel image of the vine and the branches reveals to us another fundamental aspect of the lay faithful’s life and mission: the call to growth and a continual process of maturation, of always bearing much fruit.

The lay must be in communio with the Church’s responsibility in the world because through them the Church has the opportunity of making her present in the real life situations of human existence. Their utmost response to this communio would mean a maturation of the Church’s effectiveness in her mission.

What can their communio in the Church imply? Well, we can reflect from here that by their communio they can bear witness to the timeliness of the Redemption of Jesus Christ in building a more just world to live in. Their participation in the communio can combat the mentality of secularism that is very much present in the world today depriving human existence of its authentic meaning. Not only that, the laity in communio can also lessen the serious phenomenon of disintegration brought by secularism in the world. Further, their communio can lead the laity into a social awareness regarding the problem in the world like hunger, poverty, moral corruption and a bunch of many other serious problems. In being a communio, they cannot but be disturb with a creative disturbance by giving and offering solutions to these problems and not just by being indifferent towards those pressing problems.

To conclude, Christians are called by God to a personal relationship with Him in love. And from this call also comes the personal dignity of the laity – the thought and the fact that each one of them has been called by God himself and invited to a personal relationship with Him. This communio of love must be manifested in concrete aspect on the part of the one called. Hence, their mission is to participate in the communio as concrete as it can be in the love and charity patterned before God and patterned according to the mind of the Church.

 


[1] Christifideles Laici on the Vocation and Mission of the Lay Faithful in the Church and in the World (John Paul II) no. 1. Henceforward CL.

[2] CL  2.

[3] Instrumentum Laboris on the Vocation and mission of the Laity in the Church and the World Twenty Years after the Second Vatican Council (Synod of Bishops) 1.

THE ROMAN EMPIRE: THE WOMB OF CHRISTIANITY

Introduction

The Roman Empire, when studied superficially, can be seen as the greatest enemy of this radically new religion, Christianity.

We see for instance in the gospel that at the outset of the birth of the founder of Christianity, Jesus Christ, had been haunted down to be destroyed. The Gospel of Matthew[1] says: “Herod is going to search for the child (Jesus) to destroy him.”

The Church in its infancy had also been persecuted[2]. We also know Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, persecuted the Christians. In Galatians, Paul tells us, “For you heard of my former way of life in Judaism, how I persecuted the Church of God beyond all measure and tried to destroy it…[3]” Another instance in Acts[4] tells us of the murderous threats of Saul against the disciples of the Lord.

The list can go on. Accounts of persecutions in Eusebius’ works[5] and in the works of Josephus[6] are so many. Even modern authors in Ancient Church History write and focus more on the persecutions brought by the Roman Empire for more than 250 years and little about the preparations and contributions of the empire to the Christians.

If we try to ask the question, “Why did it appear in the Roman Empire?” we can surmise that the empire where Christianity was to make its appearance was also prepared like that of the womb of the blessed Mother of Jesus where He also made his first appearance. It is very likely possible to call the Roman Empire as the best ally of Christianity. And this is what I intend to present here in this work. How did the empire prepare for Christianity? How did the empire usher to the growth, triumph and spread of Christianity?

  1. Pax Romana and the Unification of the World

The first universal blessing conferred by the empire was the famous pax Romana (“Roman peace”). Rome was the universal state to which all were subject[7]. The Roman Empire…”and the peace it offered made it truly the ‘Fatherland of Christianity’.”

The world had not been at peace since the days of Alexander the Great. In Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History, he cited the work of Josephus[8] in these words: “A sedition having also arisen between the Jews dwelling at Alexandria and the Greeks.[9]” There was also quarrels between the Jews and the Romans, Arabs against the Romans and many other coups even within the city of Rome i.e. Romans against Romans[10]. The aggression of the Roman republic had kept the nations in a state of constant turmoil.

A universal peace was first established with the beginning of the reign of Augustus. “The reign of the Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus is usually dated from 27 BC to his death in 14 AD. According to Greek inscriptions, Augustus…was credited with establishing a time of peace throughout the Roman world during his long reign”[11].

In all the countries round the Mediterranean and from distant Britain to the Euphrates the world was at rest[12]. Rome had made an end of her own civil wars and had put a stop to wars among the nations. Though her wars were often iniquitous and unjustifiable, and she conquered like a barbarian, she ruled her conquests like a humane statesman. The quarrels of the Diadochi which caused so much turmoil in the East were ended, the territory of the Lagids; Attalids, Seleucids and Antigonids having passed under the sway of Rome. The empire united Greeks, Romans and Jews all under one government. St. Melito of Sardes poited out about 175 AD that Christianity and the imperial rule entered the world about the same time and grew up together[13].  Rome thus blended the nations and prepared them for Christianity. Now for the first time we may speak of the world as universal humanity, the orbis terrarum, he oikoumene[14], the genus humanum. These terms represented humanity as living under a uniform system of government. All were members of one earthly state; the Roman Empire was their communis omnium patria.

  1. Cosmopolitanism[15]

This state of affairs contributed largely to the spread of cosmopolitanism which had set in with the Macedonia conqueror. Under the Roman Empire all national barriers were removed; the great cities–Rome, Alexandria, Antioch, etc.–became meeting-places of all races and languages. “The disciples carried their message to the numerous Jewish communities scattered along the Mediterranean coast.[16]” We also find in the Acts that Paul traveled to those centers of Roman civilizations. Bokenkotter remarked that “Paul now sets his sights on Spain, the oldest Roman province, and the main center of Roman civilization in the Western Mediterranean.[17]

The Romans were everywhere carrying their laws and civilization; Greeks settled in thousands at all important centers as professors, merchants, physicians, or acrobats; Orientals were to be found in large numbers with their gods and mysteries in Rome, “the epitome of the world.” “The Romans promoted the spread of common culture… This meant that the missionaries could preach the gospel in Greek in almost all the large cities and be understood.[18]

  1. Eclecticism [19]

This cosmopolitanism gave great impetus to a corresponding eclecticism of thought. Nothing could have been more favorable to Christianity than this intermixture of all races and mutual exchange of thought. Each people discovered how much it had in common with its neighbors.

Philosophy which had replaced religion in the case of many educated persons, was itself in a state of decay. The profound speculation of Plato and Aristotle had given way to other more eclectic systems. Epicureanism rejected speculation and taught a materialistic hedonism. Many surrendered to Skepticism and gave up all hope of ever having knowledge of truth. The Cynics subjected all religion to frivolous criticism.[20]

Stoicism did a noble service in preparation for Christianity by preaching universalism along the path of individualism[21]. It also furnished comfort and strength to countless thousands of weary human lives and ministered spiritual support and calm resignation at many a heathen deathbed. It may be declared to be the first system of religious thought–for it was a religion more than a philosophy–which made a serious study of the diseases of the human soul. We know of course its weakness and imperfections, that it was an aristocratic creed appealing only to the elect of mortals, that it had little message for the fallen and lower classes, that it was cold and stern. But with all its failures it proved a worthy pedagogue to a religion which brought a larger message than that of Greece. It afforded the spiritual and moral counterpart to the larger human society of which the Roman Empire was the political and visible symbol.

“But equally sublime and significant are the intellectual…victories of the church in this period over the art and science of heathenism.[22]

  1. Protection for Greek Culture

Another inestimable service rendered to humanity and Christianity was the protection which the Roman power afforded the Greek civilization. According to Schaff, one of the particular favorable outward circumstances was the prevalence of Greek language and culture.[23]

We must remember that the Romans were at first only conquering barbarians who had little respect for culture, but idealized power. It is hard to conceive what a scourge Rome would have proved to the world had she not fallen under the influence of the superior culture and philosophy of Greece. Had the Roman Mars not been educated by Pallas Athene the Romans would have proved Vandals and Tartars in blotting out civilization and arresting human progress. The Greeks, on the other hand, could conquer more by their preeminence in everything that pertains to the intellectual life of man than they could hold by the sword. A practical and political power was needed to protect Greek speculation. But the Romans after causing much devastation were gradually educated and civilized and have contributed to the uplifting and enlightenment of subsequent civilizations by both preserving and opening to the world the spiritual qualities of Greece. The kinship of man with the divine, learned from Socrates and Plato, went forth on its wide evangel. This Greek civilization, philosophy and theology trained many of the great theologians and leaders of the Christian church, so that Clement of Alexandria said that Greek philosophy and Jewish law had proved schoolmasters to bring the world to Christ. Paul, who prevented Christianity from remaining a Jewish sect and proclaimed its universalism, learned much from Greek–especially from Stoic–thought. It is also significant that the early Christian missionaries apparently went only where the Greek language was known, which was the case in all centers of Roman administration.

  1. Linguistically

The state of the Roman empire linguistically was in the highest degree favorable to the spread of Christianity[24].  The Greek republics by their enterprise, superior genius and commercial abilities extended their dialects over the Aegean Islands, the coasts of Asia Minor, Sicily and Magna Graecia.  The preeminence of Attic culture and literature favored by the short-lived Athenian empire raised this dialect to a standard among the Greek peoples.  But the other dialects long persisted.  Out of this babel of Greek dialects there finally arose a normal Grk: koine or “common language.”  By the conquests of Alexander and the Hellenistic sympathies of the Diadochi this common Greek language became the lingua franca of antiquity.  The history of the Maccabean struggle affords ample evidence of the extent to which Greek culture, and with it the Greek language, were familiar to the Jews[25].  There were in later days Hellenistic bodies of devout Jews in Jerusalem itself.  Greek was recognized by the Jews as the universal language: the inscription on the wall of the outer temple court forbidding Gentiles under pain of death to enter was in Greek.  The Greek koine became the language even of religion–where a foreign tongue is least likely to be used–of the large Jewish Diaspora.  They perceived the advantages of Greek as the language of commerce. They threw open their sacred Scriptures in the Septuagint and other versions to the Greek-Roman world, adapting the translation in many respects to the requirements of Greek readers. When the Romans came upon the scene, they found this language so widely known and so deeply rooted they could not hope to supplant it.  Indeed they did not try to suppress Greek, but rather gladly accepted it as the one common means of intercourse among the peoples of their eastern dominions.

That Rome respected Greek is greatly to her credit and much to the advantage of Christianity. For Christianity, when it began to aim at universalism, dropped its native Aramaic. The gospel in order to become a world-evangel was translated into Greek. The early Christian missionaries did not learn the languages of the Roman empire, but confined themselves to centers of Greek culture. Paul wrote in Greek to the church in Rome itself, of which Greek was the language. And while Christianity was spreading through the Greek East under the unification of Roman administration, the Romans were Romanizing and leveling the West for Latin Christianity. In the West it may be noted that the first foothold of the Christian religion was in Greek–witness the church in Gaul[26].

  1. Materially[27]

In material ways too Rome opened the way for Christianity by building the great highways for the gospel. “A vast system of roads bound together the different parts of the empire. The Mediterranean itself formed a great water way, where traveling was safe and rapid; intercourse between the various parts of the empire, being made easy became incessant[28].”

The great system of roads that knit the civilized world together served not only the legions and the imperial escorts, but was of equal service to the early missionaries[29], and when churches began to spring up over the empire; these roads greatly facilitated that church organization and brotherhood which strengthened the church to overcome the empire. With the dawn of the pax Romana it “afforded security to travelers[30]” all these roads became alive once more with a galaxy of caravans and traders. Commerce revived and was carried on under circumstances more favorable than any that obtained till the past century. Men exchanged not only material things, but also spiritual things[31]. Many of these early traders and artisans were Christians, and while they bought and sold the things that perish, they did not lose an opportunity of spreading the gospel. For an empire which embraced the Mediterranean shores, the sea was an important means of intercommunication; and the Mediterranean routes were safer for commerce and travel at that period than during any previous one. The ships which plied in countless numbers from point to point of this great inland sea offered splendid advantages and opportunity for early Christian missionary enthusiasm especially that of St. Paul.

 

  1. Tolerance

The large measure of freedom permitted by Roman authorities to the religions of all nations greatly favored the growth of infant Christianity.[32]  The Roman Empire was never in principle a persecutor with a permanent court of inquisition. Strange cults from the East and Egypt flourished in the capital, and except when they became a danger to public morality or to the peace of society they were allowed to spread unchecked under the eyes of the police.

 

Conclusion

To cap it all, it is clear that Christianity found facilities in the Roman Empire. Foremost among the facilities come Pax Romana, uniformity of culture language and ideas, and the rapid and safe communication by land or by sea. All these facilities ushered to the growth, spread and triumph of Christianity. The Roman Empire then can be considered the best ally of Christianity; its Fatherland was the Roman soil.

“The church of this period appears poor in earthly possessions and honors, but rich in heavenly grace, in world-conquering faith, love and hope; unpopular, even outlawed, hated and persecuted, yet far more vigorous and expansive than the philosophies of Greece or the Empire of Rome; composed chiefly of persons of the lower social ranks, yet attracting the noblest and deepest minds of the age, and bearing in her bosom the hope of the world; as unknown yet well-known, as dying, and behold it lives; conquering by apparent defeat, and growing on the blood of her martyrs; great in deeds, greater in sufferings, greatest in death for the honor of Christ and the benefit of generations to come.”[33]

And the brilliant Origen writing about 248 (contra Cels. II, 30), said: “God prepared the nations and disposed things so that the Roman Emperor ruled the whole world…for the existence of many kingdoms would have proved a hindrance to the spread of Christ’s doctrine.”[34]

 

Bibliography

  • Bedouelle, Guy. The History of the Church. London: Continuum International Publishing Group Inc., 2003.
  • Bihlmeyer, Karl. Church History, translated by Victor E. Mills. Westminster: The Newman Press, 1968.
  • Bokenkotter, Thomas. A Concise History of the Catholic Church. Garden City, New York: Image Books, 1979.
  • Duchesne, Louis. The Early History of the Church, From Its foundation to the End of the Fifth Century, vol. 1. London: Hunt, Barnard and Co. Ltd., 1950.
  • Duchesne, Abbe. The Early History of the Church. Aylesbury, Bucks: Hunt, Bernard and Co., 1950.
  • Eusebius. Ecclesiastical History, translated by C.F. Cruse. Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 2004.
  • Josephus, Flavius. The Jewish War, translated by William Whiston. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1999.
  • Laux, John. Church History, A Complete History of the Catholic Church to the Present Day. Rockford, Illinois: Tan Books and Publishers, Inc, 1989.
  • Neill, Thomas and Schmandt, Raymond. History of the Catholic Church. Milwaukee: The Bruce Publishing Company, 1957.
  • Schaff, Philip. History of the Christian Church, Ante-Nicene Christianity from the Death of John the Apostle to Constantine the Great A.D. 100-325, vol. 2. Massachusettes: HendricksonPublishers, 2002.
  • First Year Latin. United States of America: Allyn and Bacon, Inc. 1975.

 


[1] Mt. 2:13

[2] Acts of the Apostles 8:1-

[3] Galatians 2:

[4] Acts of the Apostles 9:

[5]  Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, trans. C.F. Cruse. (Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 2004), 179-

[6] Flavius Josephus, The Jewish War, trans. William Whiston. (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1999), 667-909. take note here how the Romans persecuted the Jews including the Jewish Christians especially in Book 5, Chapter 11, §  1-6.

[7] Thomas Neill and Raymond Schmandt, History of the Catholic Church (Milwaukee: The Bruce Publishing Company, 1957), 4.

[8] Josephus, Jewish Antiquities,  Bk.18

[9] Eusebius, Bk.2, 5, 41.

[10] Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, Bk. 18, § 108.

[11] See footnote on Luke 2:1

[12] See, Abbe Duchesne, The Early History of the Church (Aylesbury, Bucks: Hunt, Bernard and Co., 1950), 1.

[13] Eusebius, Ecclesiatical History, Bk IV, § 26.

[14] Luke 2:1

[15] See: Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Ante-Nicene Christianity from the Death of John the Apostle to Constantine the Great A.D. 100-325, vol. 2 (Massachusettes: HendricksonPublishers, 2002), 7-33.

[16] Thomas Bokenkotter, A Concise History of the Catholic Church, (Garden City, New York: Image Books, 1979), 27.

[17] Bokenkotter, A Concise History of the Catholic Church, 31.

[18] Bokenkotter, A Concise History of the Catholic Church, 35.

[19] Karl Bihlmeyer, Church History, trans. Victor E. Mills. (Westminster: The Newman Press, 1968), 33-36;

[20] Karl Bihlmeyer, Church History, 36.

[21] Bokenkotter, A Concise History of the Catholic Church, 35.

[22] Schaff,  History of the Christian Church, 8.

[23] Schaff, History of the Christian Church, 16.

[24] Schaff, History of the Christian Church, 16.

[25] See, Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, Bk.12, 7, 3.

[26] For detailed account regarding this topic, see Thomas Neill and Raymond Schmandt, History of the Catholic Church (Milwaukee: The Bruce Publishing Company, 1957), 5-8.

[27] See, First Year Latin (United States of America: Allyn and Bacon, Inc. 1975), 433-435.

[28] Louis Duchesne, The Early History of the Church, From Its foundation to the End of the Fifth Century, vol. 1. (London: Hunt, Barnard and Co. Ltd.,1950), 5.

[29] Schaff, History of the Christian Church, 20.

[30] Bokenkotter, A Concise History of the Catholic Church, 34.

[31] Bihlmeyer, Church History, 39.

[32] See for example the epistle of Emperor Hadrian, forbidding the Christians to be punished without trial. Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, Bk. 4, § 9.

[33] Schaff,  History of the Christian Church, 8-9.

[34] Bihlmeyer, Church History, 39.

The Challenge of Justice

 

There is near total agreement on the need for justice, but there has never been an agreement on the basis on which we should decide what belongs to a person by right. There is a consensus that issues of justice and rights should be evaluated objectively and impartially, but there has been no consensus on the basis of such objectivity and impartiality. As a consequence, justice is often an elusive ideal rather than a clear, knowable and agreed goal.

 

The above excerpt is from Bishop Geoffrey Robinson. This statement is a very brave and bold one and I wish to start my reflection from here. There are indeed difficulties inherent in the very idea of justice. And my own judgment tells me to agree that there are difficulties and problems in the way we take and exercise justice. What are we going to do then? Justice is one of the very important things that we should understand very well. But here we are, faced with so many ideals and beliefs about this ill-fated thing. How can we have a genuine interpretation of justice? Or simply put it this way, what is justice?

Well, with all these elusive ideals, as described by the author, we can arrive at so many different meanings and understanding of what justice is all about. In order to find what we are searching for, Bishop Robinson suggests that we must first and foremost look for a firm and reliable basis of justice.

 

The Uncertain and Unreliable Bases of Justice

Textbooks

This basis of justice may be unsatisfactory, uncertain and unreliable because (1) textbooks may often times be short of inspiration because the authors are prone to separate morality from spirituality and they would speak of what one should do but without relating it firmly to the true growth towards God; (2) textbooks were frequently too certain in their conclusions to the detriment of moral theology which must be approached with humility and (3) textbooks use or mention very infrequently about Scriptures as a source of justice.

Society

This basis is also uncertain and unreliable. In a certain society we cannot say that justice is similar to what other societies have when it comes to the idea of justice. Certain values like philosophical, religious, ethical, political and social ones will for sure determine what kind of rights will be and should be recognized and so justice will also depend on such values a society has.

Church

Nowadays, the church has been a church which is a pluralist. We cannot say for sure that everybody in the church holds the same opinion regarding matters even that of faith. This is also due to the variety of values that influence the church and those are almost the same values that influence the society i.e. philosophical, religious, ethical, political and social values. Hence, this church cannot be the firm basis of justice simply because of its pluralist character.

Where then shall we look for the firm bases of justice that we may know it better so that in knowing we may act and do justly? The author suggests six bases of justice. And for him (1) we must first analyze the situation so that in analyzing we may have a profound knowledge of the situation and so we can make valid and right moral judgments; and in carrying out this analysis of many different situations, there must be an atmosphere of dialogue. (2) we can also base our idea of what knowledge is if we based it in the Scriptures it is because the very origins of the religion of Israel are to be found in the idea of justice, the thirst for justice informs the whole of the Scriptures and so there is a great treasure in the Scripture that can be used as our basis in our search for justice; (3) the natural law is another firm basis of justice because this natural law will tell us that we human beings have certain inalienable rights even before the State gave us some other rights; (4) the virtue of justice is another firm basis i.e. if we constantly act justly towards others and ourselves. A person who has a virtue of justice will instinctively react justly when faced with a new situation. What makes this a good basis is that, virtue does not come in an instance, it requires constancy. (5) The argument from needs to rights is one that most people will accept, at least in theory. It can at times be a good basis on which to arrive at an agreed basis of justice but the author stresses that there are also difficulties in this argument because people have needs different and important from others’ needs, and so there can also be tension e.g. needs of an individual against the needs of the group. There is difficulty here but we must take note that we have to understand the needs of other groups and recognize this as a duty that is owed in justice and then distinguish the essential and important needs from the less ones and (6) is the doing or putting in concrete actions what true justice is all about.

After knowing what justice is all about, this very same justice will demand a certain action. Right from this very act of doing justice is the CHALLENGE made so arduous, complicated and very demanding and borrowing the words of William Shakespeare to make it more poetic and dramatic, we can say: If to know (what justice is all about) is as easy to do (acts of justice)…

Scripture: Soul of Theology (A Summary)

As believers, our Christian faith is nourished by the Word of God.   According to Fitzmyer and borrowing from St. Anselm we also seek to understand the faith we profess and this is doing strictly speaking theology (fides quarens intellectum). Consequently, that which nourishes faith ought to be understood also. Hence we also seek to understand this Word of God if we wish to understand our faith. But if we try to consider the phrase Word of God we can say that only humans can communicate in words in that respect.

But the answer to this is to admit the divine communication on the part of God, and so we can say two things here: first , that God does truly communicate with humankind and second, divine revelation is given human expression i.e. Scripture and Tradition (the written and oral accounts of human regarding divine revelation).

And so the Vatican II Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation (Dei Verbum) said, that the “Sacred Page” (sacra pagina) should be the “soul of sacred theology” (anima sacrae theologiae).

The same constitution clearly stipulated that Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture are bound closely together and communicate one with the other. For both of them, flowing from the same divine well-spring, come together in some fashion to form one thing, and move towards the same goal (DV 19). Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture make up a single deposit of the word of God that is entrusted to the Church (DV 10). This unity is the way through which Scripture serves as the soul of theology, the pure and lasting fount of spiritual life (DV 21).

The Scripture that we discuss above is understood as Scripture interpreted. For if we try to know and understand the faith that we profess, then the Scripture as the rule of faith and the soul of theology ought to be interpreted in order for us to be able to know our own faith.

Such a consideration would lead us to at least three topics:

  1. Scripture: Interpreted in a Literal Sense
  2. Scripture: Interpreted in a Spiritual Sense
  3. Scripture: As related to Theology within the Church

 

I) Scripture: Interpreted in a Literal Sense

There is agreement on the priority of the literal sense. The term is taken to indicate that meaning of the words of the Scripture intended by the biblical author. This meaning is determined by the historical-critical method of exegesis, complemented by literary criticism. In this sense God’s word has been couched in human language. This means that divine revelation in the sacred scripture has been given human expression by humans.

To grasp then the meaning of the word of God we must discern the meaning of the text in and through which the word of God is conveyed (in this literal sense it is in human expression). So it is obviously necessary to establish the literal meaning  – the basic sense of the Scripture. But the question remains: Does Scripture convey meaning or meanings beyond the literal?

According to Fitzmyer, the modern study of language and hermeneutics has made us aware in new ways of a multivalence of human discourse and consequently of human writing. Just as secular poetry and other literary forms can often express things on different levels or with a double sense, so too does the bible on occasion. Hence the Scripture can carry at times a dynamic dimension surpassing the level of the literal sense.

The canonical sense makes its contribution to a meaning that surpasses the literal meaning attained by the historical-critical method rightly used. For example in The Canticles of Canticles, mutual human love between man and woman was quickly understood in Judaism as a relationship of Israel and God. This was the reason of its canonicity in the Jewish bible. Yet when the Christian canon adopted that part of the Hebrew Scriptures, Canticles took on still another canonical sense, considering it as an expression of the relationship between Christ and the Church.

To admit this more-than-literal sense does not mean that one can find such multivalence of the meaning everywhere in the Bible. On the contrary it is very limited in the Bible.

The admittance of a positive answer to the above question leads us to the second topic of this summary, Scripture: Interpreted in a Spiritual Sense.

 II) Scripture: Interpreted in a Spiritual Sense

  • Literal Equals Spiritual Sense

The contention is that, in the Scripture, beyond the literal sense, there is present – to an extent not easily determined – a spiritual sense intended and ordained by God. Hence the properly oriented use of the historical-critical method should bring to light within the Church the literal sense precisely as the spiritual sense of the Word of God. In reality, the spiritual sense of the Scripture is the same as the literal sense intended by the human author.

  • Patristic Usage of the Spiritual Sense

Some authors would term this as typical sense. This typical sense arises when the persons, things and events designated in the primary sense typify persons, events and things of a higher order and when this significance is divinely intended (cf. W Harrington, Senses of Scripture). For example, Melchizedek is a type of Christ (Heb 7:1-3).

This is clearly understood to mean that the reading of the Old Testament must be in a christological sense. This is what St. Augustine wrote: in the Old the New lies hidden, and in the New the Old is unfolded.

The spiritual sense of the OT as considered in the light of Christ would make the Christian understanding of OT from the Jewish understanding different. And the prime mover of this spiritual interpretation is Origen. He maintained that the difficulties of the literal text were intended by God to spur the reader on to seek their spiritual meaning. In using both allegory and typology and in focusing his interpretation of the OT christologically, he discovered meanings that went far beyond the literal sense.

  • Spiritual Sense in the Middle Ages

In the Middle Ages, the spiritual sense was not only distinguished from the literal sense but subdivided into three forms: the allegorical, the moral and the anagogic. This was summed up in the famous distich of the late thirteenth century theologian Augustine of Dacia: The letter teaches facts; allegory, what you are to believe; moral, what you are to do; and anagogic, what you are to hope for.

The patristic contribution to the interpretation of the Bible sought to treat it above all as the Word of God read and savored in the Christian community and its liturgy. That emphasis was not only right, but such interpretation, consequently had much to do with the formation of the Christian canon (one example of Christian canon is the liturgical use of the text in certain community), with the shaping of the dogmatic Tradition of the Church in its basic christological and Trinitarian orientations, and with the developing liturgy. In these ways the patristic interpretation was only bringing to the fore in an explicit fashion what was often only implicit or latent in Scripture.

Such patristic interpretation may well be regarded as the sensus plenior of NT passages, for within the dogmatic Tradition of the Church it has supplied in given cases the sense that God, the primary author of Scripture, intended over and above that envisaged by the human author. The patristic interpretation of the Scripture, supplying the sensus plenior of biblical passages, has thus added to the literal sense of Scripture a sense important for the Christian Church and Christian theology. But not every passage in Scripture enjoys such a fuller sense (sensus plenior). There must be some control of this sort; otherwise Scripture itself would be open to widespread and subjective fuller senses.

III) Scripture: As related to Theology within the Church

The different senses of the Scripture have influenced the relation of Scripture and Tradition, which together as a unit pass on to us the Word of God, the object of theological inquiry and study, hence we proceed to the last part of this summary.

Scripture interpreted is the primary object of theological study. Indeed if Scripture is to function as the soul of sacred Theology, then one has to reckon with Scripture with its own formulation and its own theology. Scripture has to exercise a normative role, indeed, the normative role theology as well as in the life of the Church.

1) The Relation Between Tradition and Scripture

When one looks at the Scripture itself for the idea of Tradition, there is little to be mentioned. Both in the OT and NT there are very little things mentioned regarding the relation of the two. Yet such little traces can instruct us that both Scripture and Tradition were regarded as normative for the teaching of the primitive Christian community. The relationship between these two is one that intimately affects the study of theology.

      2) The Relationship Between Theology and Scripture

Fitzmyer took Karl Rahner to explain this relationship. For K. Rahner the scholars in the bible and in theology should work to understand not only the bible for the exegetes  nor the dogmatic and any of that sort of theologians to concentrate only to their own fields.

Rahner said to the exegetes:

you must pay attention to the Catholic principles governing the relationship between exegesis and dogmatic theology and that you must learn to build a bridge from you interpretations to the rest of theology.

Similar advice K. Rahner gave to dogmatic and systematic theologians.

The point here is not to separate the relation that is indispensable in the community of faith i.e. Scripture and Theology.