Tag Archives: Biblical Interpretation

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.