5028Two burial stories
- Sep 13, 2004Ramsey Michaels wrote on September 12:
To me as a Protestant, "revealed truth" is in the text of the Gospels,
in my subjective "faith" about it. If that is the case, Gospel
obviously has a bearing on it, even if it does not by itself define it.
suspect many Catholics feel that way as well, and isn't that why Gospel
scholarship is so controversial?
Even on your own terms, your previous comment made it sound as if the
of the Novena ladies did not quite rise to the level of the "revealed
which we professionals discover in our scholarly discussions. It
little patronizing, which I'm sure was not your intent. Can't we benefit
from their faith and they from the fruits of our scholarship?
+ + +
In my first answer to your question I avoided being personal. But my
impersonal answer did not satisfy you. I welcome the new way in which
you have asked your question. I see in it an invitation to be more
Let me begin with the following statement:
"It sounded a little patronizing, which I'm sure was not your intent."
I think you are right. There is here an implied criticism of the "novena
ladies", not because they are ladies, but because they are at a
spiritual level I have left behind me. A simple analogy will help
explain this point.
We all go through stages in life: from infancy to childhood,
adolescence, young adulthood, more mature adulthood and so on to old
age. What an adult knows, a child ignores. What is moral for an adult
can be seen as immoral for a teenager. It is not because we become more
mature that we despise all the children, who by definition are less
mature. I would not go preaching to children: "Repent. Grow mature
We are conditioned by our biological development, which is mostly beyond
our control. It is not moral to be old and immoral to be young. What
would be abnormal is for someone to reach an advanced age and remain
relatively underdeveloped. But this would not engage the moral
responsibility of the individual.
Our spiritual development follows a similar evolution. Instead of
depending on our biological growth, it is depending on our sociological
conditioning. The spiritual world in which we live has the tendency to
overwhelm us and impose on us its own traditional definitions of
spiritual maturity. As a result, we stop evolving and growing in certain
specific areas. The "novena ladies" of my example are in this situation.
Their intention is perfect and their fervor genuine. They find in a
novena, in lighting a candle or in the recitation of the rosary the
nourishment they need. I could have spoken instead of a saintly local
monk who has been recently canonized by Rome. His faith and piety would
be very similar to the faith and piety of my "novena ladies". (In this
part of the world, there are religious devotions that are for ladies.
Novenas fall in this category. I do not set the socio-religious rules.)
Would I be contemptuous of a saintly man or pious ladies? Certainly not,
simply because I was once like them, with the exception of sainthood, I
assume. Besides, my own mother was one of them. Many of the people who
are dear to me are like that. It is much harder for them to understand
my views than for me to understand theirs. So I feel it is up to me to
adjust to them and to blend with the crowd when a baby is baptized, a
young couple is married, or an old person is buried. Paul said he was a
Jew with the Jews and a gentile with the gentiles. I do the same thing,
when I adjust to different forms of spirituality.
Even in a discussion group like ours, there is room for different
spiritualities. Leonard Maluf is entitled to his as you are entitled to
yours. But to the extent you wish to share in our discussions, you
cannot afford to remain under-developed in certain areas. I know I am
dealing here with a very delicate question. I do not want to sound
condescending or patronizing. My intention is to invite you to take a
step in the direction of greater human and spiritual maturity. I know
from the way you speak that you are "an Israelite in whom there is no
fallacy", so I trust the day will come when you will understand what I
am trying to explain to you today.
When you say that for you "revealed truth" is in the text of the
Gospels, you are seeing only one side of the coin. The other side sees
in the gospels a human discourse. It is very difficult to reconcile
those two statements. So let's deal first with what is easier, the
duality of the word. I am speaking here of the word as scripture and of
the Word as the Logos made man. In both cases, the word is 100% divine
and 100% human. This is what the Christian logic requires.
As gospel scholars, we study the gospels not as divine word, but as
human discourse. We leave it to theologians to study the gospels as
divine word. I know that this specialization is far from being
satisfactory to the religious mind, who insists on the inseparability of
the duality: divine-human. But unless we "separate what God has united",
no scholarship would be possible.
This has an immediate consequence on what we do. We deal with the
gospels as if we were not Christian believers. In other words, there is
room in our midst for unbelievers, whose contribution can be just as
valuable as anyone else's. We do not offer spiritual guidance to people
who wish to deepen their understanding of the Christian faith and
progress in the way they live it. We are not pastors. The evangelists,
however, were interested in conveying to their readers their
understanding of the Christian event. So there is in the gospels a
discourse that can be spiritual nourishment as well as confirmation of
the faith. But let us be realistic. It makes no sense to ask or expect
from gospel scholarship what it cannot give.
I will move now to a more critical approach.
It is pious to believe that the scripture and the gospels in particular
are a divine discourse, in which God's words are consigned. The problem
with this view is that we end up attributing to God all the
contradictions that are found in the gospels. This is a formidable
The need for the believers to understand their faith (fides quearens
intellctum) implies that there are difficult problems, which need to be
resolved. It is because there are serious problems that gospel
scholarship is needed.
So we have no choice but to raise questions. The great weakness of
modern scholarship has been its inability to produce new knowledge
related to the way the Christian faith was born. We have been circling
around the puzzle. But so far we have not discovered the key to its
As a believer, you are entitled to your faith. Your desire to seek in
the gospel a confirmation for your faith is legitimate. But do not
expect modern scholarship to help you in this regard. Scholarship
implies a more mature approach to the Christian faith. Because this
approach is in and of itself critical, it falls in the via negativa. In
relation to the via negativa, the faith of the Lenanese saint or of the
"novena ladies" or for that matter of the Muslim fundamentalist is too
immediate, too naïve, too simplistic. The need to go beyond it is
therefore felt by some of us. This creates serious tensions between us.
Our exchanges show what I am talking about.
Please understand that this is quite normal. Life is far from being a
routine in which everything remains the same. Every stage we go through
has its challenges. No spiritual initiation is ever final. The quest
takes different forms, because it is conducted on different levels. In a
world where everything is put into question, the faith of our childhood
can easily become inadequate. A new assessment becomes then necessary.
Clearly you feel the need to investigate certain questions. This means
that you are in movement. Every movement is continuity and
discontinuity. We tend to assign to continuity a positive sign and to
discontinuity a negative sign. This is ok. But we go wrong when we
associate the positive sign with morality and the negative sign with
immorality. The ancient made a similar mistake when they gave to right
and left moral connotations. A left-handed child is no longer considered
as possessed by the devil.
Without negativity there is no maturity. Sometimes I think my elders
were happy, because they could live their entire life without ever
having to rethink the faith of their childhood. Today life has become
So far there is a big gap between us. You think the gospel is the word
of God and I think it is a human discourse. I cannot bridge that gap for
you. You must do it yourself. But how can you do it if all you can see
is one side of the coin? The challenge for you is to start recognizing
the other side, even though this might seem to you as a negative, wrong
and morally reprehensible step.
One last remark:
You speak of <the level of the "revealed truth" which we professionals
discover in our scholarly discussions>.
Do you mean to say that the more we disagree on important questions, the
closer we get to the "revealed truth"?
Luke could confirm with his gospel the teachings Theophilus had
received. Modern scholarship, on the other hand, does the exact
opposite. It questions every word of the gospel.
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