The Pope’s Book

I am no great fan of Catholicism.  I think Paul would LOL at the idea of papal infallibility.  I think apostolic succession is proven silly by a quick game of Telephone.  I think that the doctrine of transubstantiation is unnecessary and weird.  However, Catholicism is still a powerful force for good in the world, I know many wonderful Catholics, and I love their Orders, their love for education and the arts; I also love the informed thoughtfulness of Pope Benedict the XVI.  Last week, I had said that I started reading Jesus of Nazareth by the Pope.  Actually, that’s what I was listening to when I heard the screams when Wes fell in.  Alicia and I tried to read it together about a year ago and petered off about 3 chapters in.  This time, I didn’t get much further.

It’s not because it’s a bad book.  It’s good.  It’s thoughtful, maybe too thoughtful.  Once the novelty of reading the Pope wears off, it gets a little boring, especially when you are having a tough time concentrating anyway.  The voice they got for the audiobook sounds like a deep and grandfatherly God the Father, and it makes me sleepy.

In the intro, he does a great job at providing a synthesis for two ideas in tension.  In fact, it’s a tension the Clifton family has been feeling as I have become more theologically liberal in some ways.  The first idea is that we should be concerned with nothing but the facts of history and should use any means, especially the historical method, to find them.  In the second idea, we recognize that the Bible was written by a single author for all time, including ours.  I tend to find myself gravitating to the first idea, which the Pope agrees is very important.

“The historical-critical method–specifically because of the intrinsic nature of theology and faith–is and remains an indispensable dimension of exegetical work.  For it is of the very essence of biblical faith to be about real historical events.  It [the Bible] does not tell stories symbolizing suprahistorical truths, but is based on history, history that took place here on this earth.  The factum historicum (historical fact) is not an interchangeable symbolic cipher for biblical faith, but the foundation on which it stands:  Et incarnatus est–when we say these words we acknowledge God’s actual entry into real history.”

I resonate with this.  In concert with what he says, I have observed that my faith itself is what motivates my skepticism for such a notion as timeless, perfect, words.  But he wants to thoughtfully incorporate both ideas, and I find that laudable.  He seemed to succeed in the first few chapters.  I am so happy that the Catholics have such an intelligent person as their leader.

I think my favorite quote comes at the end of the intro, “I would only ask my readers for that initial goodwill without which there can be no understanding.”  I should start all my books with that quote.

In the meantime, I need something a bit more entertaining.  I think I’ll start listening to Don’t Get Too Comfortable: The Indignities of Coach Class, the Torments of Low Thread Count, the Never-Ending Quest for Artisanal Olive Oil, and Other First World Problems by David Rakoff.

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About Jer Clifton

Look up, friend. The world is too beautiful for my eyes alone. View all posts by Jer Clifton

17 responses to “The Pope’s Book

  • Luke Foley

    Jer. I enjoyed this post. I’ve never read his book, but I’ve read others describing and analysing the methods that need to be used to undertake study of the Bible and the principles expounded from it.

    On another note, if you want some interesting books on application of theology and biblical teachings through the community I’d recommend ‘Ancient Future Faith’ by Weber and ‘The Politics of Jesus’ by Yoder. Yoder’s not an easy read, but still very good.

    Hope you’re well

    • Alicia

      Yes, I’ve read Yoder; he’s very interesting. Though I don’t agree with everything he says, I was glad I read it; it gave me a different perspective.

    • JDW Clifton

      Luke, Good to hear from you. I read some of Weber’s book in college, but not Yoder (but apparently my wife has?). Thanks for these recommendations.

  • Anna

    Jer! Come on, man. Don’t be a hater. Don’t be jealz at how awesome the Catholics are. It’s not your fault your great-great-great-something wanted to jump ship!

    All kidding aside, what’s unnecessary is to bother disproving things that are ultimately a matter of faith. Many of my Jewish friends would bet Abraham was LOLz about some teenage girl claiming the Lord got her pregnant, American society LOLz about an elephant with an odd number of appendages upholding the spirits of a billion Hindus, and oh the LOLability of the latter day saints, the buddhists, the muslim… It goes on and on, really. I was once told by a Scientologist that Christianity was good in that it ‘held the line’ for humanity’s morality until Hubbard could come along and take it to the next / final level. Can you believe that? How does that make you feel? That’s how it makes me feel when people say Catholicism is ridiculous but it’s “still a powerful force of good in the world” or whatever banana you want to throw us.

    I’m Catholic, clearly, but I disagree with the Pope in this one idea (well actually in many of my ideas) – sticking with historical fact. I’ve seen compelling evidence that Jesus took off for the South of France with Mary Magdalene after being entombed. The Books of the New Testament were not written in the lifetimes of the apostles who were supposed to have written them, although plagarism was even more harshly condemned in those times than it is now. Those are just two examples, but where do those facts get us? How do they affect your Christianity? I’m not saying that there’s not value in the search for truth, of course that’s always a noble pursuit. What I am saying is this: When my sons and I were in the hospital, dying, there was something there, in my heart and mind, that held me and sustained me, that brought me from my knees to my feet, and into the next moment in time. When you felt that surge of electricity enter your body and for a split second thought that it would be your last, there was something there to sustain you as well. When my dear friend’s wife was murdered and 3600 Muslims showed up to watch him carry her body in his hands from the chapel to the grave, there was something there with him, moving one foot in front of the other. He asked me later what had enabled me to keep going through my difficult times, and I said simply that it was my faith. He shared that it was the same for him. I’m willing to bet my faith looks a lot different than his, and I’m absolutely certain it was derived in a completely different manner. The same is true of me and you, or me and my Mom, or maybe any two people on earth. The good thing is that it’s there. I’m not sure that there’s any value to disproving any part of anyone’s theology.

    (also “Catholic” = universal)

    Sorry to counter-blog. I don’t usually share so much with my PE coach. See ya tomorrow.

    • JDW Clifton

      Anna, looking forward to talking about this. Sounds like I pushed some buttons.

      This post was not really about Catholicism. It was about the Pope’s book. The stuff at the beginning was mainly just to give folks some context as to my own thoughts about the Catholic church, which is that there are things I like and there are things I do not. It sounds like it is the same for you. From what you wrote, sounds like you don’t believe in papal infallibility or apostolic succession either. What about transubstantiation?

      I don’t see what Americans laughing at Hindus or vice versa has to do with the “LOLing” of Paul that I mention. The authority of Paul as an apostle matters to Catholics, and that is the authority to which I appeal. Hindus aren’t hindus because of what Americans think about hinduism. From what I understand of Paul’s beliefs and personality from his writings, it seems to me that Paul would balk at the idea of papal infallibility. If true, that would of course matter to Catholics.

      Now, I have not set about proving or disproving Paul’s opinions, but I might sometime. If I do, I am comforted by the fact that Paul was a real person with definite opinions. You say that you are not sure if there is any value to disproving any part of anyone’s theology. I agree with you, but it depends on the type of belief we are talking about. If that belief is being claimed as deriving from Paul for instance, I think we should be made to make a strong case for our beliefs. To do otherwise is risk putting words in Paul’s mouth, or God’s for that matter.

    • Jesse T

      Anna —

      I don’t know you so I tried not to comment on your comment … but I’m a historian and I couldn’t leave it. Please forgive.

      I would simply like to say: don’t give critical inquiry such a quick pass. Mary Magdalene in Southern France is not totally disprovable (because almost no idea is, thus the popular success of Dan Brown, etc.), but it is a very bad idea with essentially zero backing outside of sources from the Carolingian period (8th, 9th centuries) who took it upon themselves to lie all the time if it could establish a good relic cult. The authorship of the gospels does not make them unsound sources: at the very least they represent the teaching attributed to those who are called authors (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John) and preserved by their communities; it is not that “plaigerism” was more harshly punished, rather conceived of completely differently.

      Peace.

      • JDW Clifton

        Good post Jesse, and I agree.

      • Anna

        Yeah, sorry, I sounded completely anti-intellectual there for a sec, which is not my usual MO. Must be working out too much… 😉

        I think I was going somewhere with that, somewhere along the lines of there being so much conflicting data for the non-historian lay person to try and take a literal approach to spiritual matters. At what point does an intellectual endeavor affect one’s spirituality at its core? For a long time I piled up facts that suited me and rejected those that do not, but then i realized that it’s — unnecessary. What nourishes me spiritually is for me to determine. But then I realized that what nourishes you or Jer might include critical inquiry, which for me ends at intellectual exercise, so I will stop talking now.

      • Jesse T

        I think of “critical inquiry” as a spectrum, or a continuum: not something that you either do or you do not do, but something that you engage in to a greater or lesser degree. Wherever anyone “taps out” along that spectrum (i.e., “ok, that’s enough”), you do so by trusting in something/someone, and thus obeying/submitting to them/it. Really then, it always comes down to who/what you have deemed worthy of trust (i.e. someone with a lot of credentials, a really persuasive idea, a really inspiring idea, your own experience, your own reason, etc.); BUT, who/what you decide to locate that trust in must also be the result of a “critical inquiry”, right? Thus something/one becomes trustWORTHY (the result of an evaluation). I guess I’m saying, you can’t avoid it; it’s the way we humans are! 🙂

  • Anna

    Oh hey, did you see this in the news today?

    Last Supper Actually a Day Earlier, Researchers Claim

    Oh shit, I guess I’ll have to go Unitarian now.

    I know your post wasn’t about Catholicism. I wouldn’t say you pushed some buttons, but rather made me want to share my viewpoint and to exchange ideas on specific topics therein. Too much info to write here and now, of course. I think also you would have the oxygen advantage if we were to take it up during the workout… Drinks o’clock? Middle supper?

  • Jesse T

    If anyone would be in theory LOLing it should probably be Peter, since the ecclesiology of what apostolic succession means for the Roman Bishop is derived from Christ’s specific comments to Peter. Though you could of course posit that Paul might LOL too. They probably hang out.

    Thanks for pointing out this text by Ben16. I think I would summarize the two “ideas in tension” a little differently — between a God who reveals himself progressively and in different (at times apparently contradictory) ways, and the unifying monotheism insistence that God is One and there is One God. It seems B16 locates this in his intro example of prophecy: a prophet apart from monotheism is a soothsayer, simply “predictor of the future”; a prophet of a monotheistic God is a unfolder of community through time. But this is to set up his eventual and more lengthy discussion of what it means for Christ to “bring the Kingdom”. This seems to actually be the thrust of the book as he is seeking to engage with trends in Christian thought to either historicize (make God only a historically, thus temporally located phenomenon), or universalize (it is only belief or faith in *something* Jesus-ish that matters); he suggests that the point is a real experience of the real historical Jesus that is universally available and recognizable as particularly Jesus because Jesus’s particularity can be determined through historical study.

    How ’bout them circles?

    But it is necessary and intentional that he expresses this in a devotional manner to emphasize and demonstrate that central point: you must both experience Jesus, and Jesus experience.

    • JDW Clifton

      I think both Peter and Paul would LOL about it. : )

      You are running circles around me on this post. I don’t really get it. I thought B16 was talking about approaches to biblical interpretation primarily.

      • Jesse T

        Sorry that was me being a blasted ass and opaque.

        More clearly: I think he’s writing about the interesction of 1) interpretation through textual criticism, and 2) experience (what he calls “intimate friendship with Jesus” in the fwd). He mostly does interpretation because he wants to show how you can engage critically with the sources and still really see Jesus, but the point is experiencing, seeing, knowing Jesus. A parallel project to my undergrad advisor’s new book: The Deep Things of God (Fred Sanders) where delving into the complexities of trinitarian theology will “help Christians read their bible better”.

  • JDW Clifton

    Ok. that totally makes sense to me. Clearly you have read it. what do you think of it and B16?

    • Jesse T

      I didn’t finish it either; I think I got halfway, and then skimmed; basically I liked what he was trying to do but I didn’t think he pulled it off since it required a certain prose; could have been better in German. Um … don’t have a real strong opinion on the Pope personally; he gets a lot of bad press for being an orthodoxy monger, but I especially distrust the press to tell me what to think about religious figures and their motivations.

      • Lorena

        ඕක පටන් අරන් තියෙන්නෙ මෙහෙමයි..In Chaucer\’s Canterbury Tales (1392), the \”Nun\’s Priest\’s Tale\” is set Syn March bigan thritty dayes and two. Chaucer prbalboy meant 32 days after March, i.e. May 2, the anniversary of the engagement of King Richard II of England to Anne of Bohemia, which took place in 1381. However, readers apparently misunderstood this line to mean \”March 32,\” i.e April 1. In Chaucer\’s tale, the vain cock Chauntecler is tricked by a fox.In 1508, a French poet referred to a poisson d’avril (April fool, literally \”April fish\”), a possible reference to the holiday. In 1539, Flemish poet Eduard de Dene wrote of a nobleman who sent his servants on foolish errands on April 1. In 1686, John Aubrey referred to the holiday as \”Fooles holy day\”, the first British reference. On April 1, 1698, several people were tricked into going to the Tower of London to \”see the Lions washed.\” The name \”April Fools\” echoes that of the Feast of Fools, a Medieval holiday held on December 28.In the Middle Ages, New Year\’s Day was celebrated on March 25 in most European towns. In some areas of France, New Year\’s was a week-long holiday ending on April 1. So it is possible that April Fools originated because those who celebrated on January 1 made fun of those who celebrated on other dates. The use of January 1 as New Year\’s Day was common in France by the mid-sixteenth century, and this date was adopted officially in 1564 by the Edict of Roussillon.In the eighteenth century the festival was often posited as going back to the time of Noah. According to an English newspaper article published in 1789, the day had its origin when Noah sent his dove off too early, before the waters had receded; he did this on the first day of the Hebrew month that corresponds with April.ඔය මගුල ලංකාවට ගැලපෙනවද නම් මම දන්නෙ නෑ. ඒ උනාට ඔය දවස මහ කරදර දවසක්.මේ අවුරුද්දෙ නම් කවුරුත් මාව රවට්ටන්න ආවෙ නෑ. ඒ උනාට ඔය දවසට කාටවත් ආරංචියක් කියන්නත් බෑ. පලයන් යන්න බොරු කියන් නැතුව කියනවා. අන්තිමට දිවුරන්නත් වෙනව ඒක ඇත්තක් කියල ඔප්පු කරන්න. ඇත්තක් කිව්වත් කවුරුවත් විශ්වාස කරන්නෙ නෑ. අපේ ගමේ ඉස්සර මලගෙයක් වෙලා තියෙනව අප්‍රියෙල් 1 වෙනිද දවසක, අන්තිමට මල ගේ ඇහැට දැක්ක ගමේ මිනිස්සු විතරයි ඇවිල්ල තියෙන්නෙ මල ගෙදර. ඇයි පනිවිඩේ කියන කවුරුවත් විශ්වාස කරල නෑ. බොරුවක් කියල හිතල තියෙන්නෙ. ඔය වගේ බහුබූත දවස් තව තියෙනවනෙ.. වැලන්ටයින්, හැලොවීන් වගේ. ඕව ඉතින් නවත්වන්න බෑ. අනුගත වෙනව මිසක්. 0 likes

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