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5028Two burial stories

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  • Joseph Codsi
    Sep 13, 2004
      Ramsey 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
      sounded a
      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?

      + + +

      Dear Ramsey,

      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
      more complicated.

      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.


      Joseph Codsi
      P.O. Box 116-2088
      Beirut, Lebanon
      Telephone (961) 1 423 145
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