St. Edith Stein 5
“When a person lacking faith reads Holy Scripture—for example for the purposes of philology or religious studies—he does not come to know God. he only learns how God is conceived in the Bible and by those who accept the Bible in faith…”
Here is the story of what has gone wrong in the study—and, far worse, in the teaching—of scripture in our time. How many scholars does this describe, and how many of them are teaching in the name of the Church?
There is a place for philology and for objective methods in history, but they have become like so many other modern enterprises, very effective as to means but futile or harmful as to ends. One sees, over and over again, the turning of scripture against faith, with scholarship used not to explain but to explain away. Often a perverse sort of selective fundamentalism appears, in which one scripture passage is taken as an absolute and used to negate some teaching of the Church. How often is Micah 6:8 used to assert that God intends that we should have no specific and fixed doctrines? (“…what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?”)
And how often is the later date assigned to John’s Gospel put forward as proof that its teaching is not that of Jesus but something invented after the fact by his followers, as if an idea could not have existed unless it was written down? Or, if necessary, the proof is turned around, so that the complexity of thought is held to prove the lateness of composition. This narrow-minded skepticism, which reaches the average Christian as a scientifically-sanctioned radical disjuncture between faith and fact, has had an incalculably corrosive effect on faith. More than a few times I’ve heard a parish priest say, in response to a question about the factuality of some incident in Scripture, that “it doesn’t matter whether it actually happened or not,” leaving open—in fact inviting—the questioner to apply the same logic to everything else in Scripture.
Worse, when the “person lacking faith” is not a simple unbeliever exercising scientific detachment, but a former or perhaps just unhappy believer, the power denied to God and to the Church is assumed by the skeptic. Since he and his scholarly peers alone can determine which texts are authentic, they are the only authentic interpreters. Now what is learned is not even “how God is conceived in the Bible” and in faith, but what the scholar himself thinks; hence such aberrations as The Jesus Seminar and the arrogance of the title of Garry Wills’ new book, What Jesus Meant. And we are supposed to receive this state of affairs as a liberation.
I grew up taking the Bible for granted as the only source of religious authority, and as is often the case with things we take for granted I didn’t really see it, certainly not as a whole. I had to leave it aside for some years in order “to return to the place and know it as if for the first time,” to have the experience which Edith Stein describes here:
“…a word of Scripture may so touch me in my innermost being that in this word I feel God himself speaking to me and sense his presence. The book and the sacred writer…have vanished—God himself is speaking, and he is speaking to me.”
If we follow the skeptical scholars, this experience is closed to us, or at least is avoidable. Why would we want to avoid it? To spare ourselves pain. As often as not when God speaks to us through Scripture it is to offer us some challenge or correction. And it stings; it touches us at a sensitive place. A dentist can dig and probe my teeth with a wire hook and I will feel no great discomfort until he hits a weakened or decayed spot, and then I may try to jump out of the chair. When God probes those spots of decay in our souls he seems our enemy. This is at least part of the answer to the question posed by Walker Percy: “If the Good News is true, why is one not pleased to hear it?”