Monday, August 27, 2007

The Four Senses of Scripture

In creating Venn Diagrams to compare Sacred Scripture with a Newspaper one of the key observations was that both of these collections of documents are made up of different sections, and that interpreting each section accurately requires considering the context.

Now we will turn to four distinct ways of interpreting scripture – methods the Church has used for centuries. The Catechism outlines these four “senses” of scripture in paragraphs 115 – 118. (You have to scroll down quite a bit.)

1. Literal – the literal sense of scripture based on what the words of the text say. This is essentially taking the text at face value. It means what it says.

The remaining senses are divisions of what is called the Spiritual Sense of Scripture.

2. Allegorical – the allegorical sense treats the passage as an allegory, that is to say a story with a deeper meaning, often one that can use symbolism to convey truth.

3. Moral – the moral sense instructs us as to what is right (good) and what is wrong (evil). It then prompts us to Act in a Just manner. A moral interpretation of a passage usually contains the words “should” or “ought”.

4. Anagogical – the anagogical sense leads us to an understanding of the eternal meaning of the passage, that is, what bearing it has on our eternal destiny. This sense deals with Eschatology – the study of the last things, of which there are four. I call these the “Final 4”:
1. Death – we all die. Yes, all of us.
2. Judgment – we will all be judged by God
3. Heaven – the eternal communion with God enjoyed by those judged faithful and virtuous.
4. Hell – the eternal separation from God suffered by those judged to have rejected God’s mercy and love.

* Note – Purgatory is not included in this list because purgatory is not a final place, but a temporary one that precedes entrance into heaven.

Until next time,
Ad Jesum Per Mariam.
Mr. B.

Made in the Image & Likeness of God

Today in class we played with Play-Doh, and by doing so we learned about how humanity mirrors God, our Creator.

First, you were given the opportunity to select which color of Play-Doh you would like. Second you were given five minutes in which to create something with that Play-Doh. Finally, you were allowed to talk with your friends while making your creation.

The two Creation accounts in Genesis reveal to us that God Created mankind in His own Image & Likeness. This means that humanity resembles God in some way (though imperfectly, for only God is perfect).
1. We have Free Will: our days are full of choices. Some are monumental (where do I want to go to college?), some are trivial (which color of Play-Doh do I want?). Even when limits are placed on our choices, we still retain the freedom to choose how we react to those restrictions.
2. We are Creative: One has only to look at the skyline of a city or open the cover of a literature book, even take a stroll through an art museum to see that humanity is creative. We are even given the ability to bring forth new life, though this power is to be used in the proper context of a committed and sanctified love (marriage).
3. We are Social / Relational: whether it be talking to our friends while sculpting with Play-Doh or engaging in deep conversations that last into the wee hours of the morning, our lives are a giant web of relationships. God is also, in one sense, a relationship. Rather than a single being, God exists as a community of persons held together in a perfect bond of love – the Trinity. We exist in a “trinity” as well, of relationships with God and with others, as well as our relationship with ourselves.

The movie Castaway, starring Tom Hanks, features a great illustration of our innate desire to exist in community. After securing the necessities of food, shelter, and safety, Hanks creates a “companion”, Wilson. The connection is so strong that one of the most emotionally intense scenes in the film is when Hanks loses Wilson at sea.

Unfortunately, our relationships are not held together by the perfect Divine Love, but rather by fragile human love. When we stop loving appropriately or even altogether (which we call Sin), we break our relationships. And to break our relationship with God, the source of all life, is to place ourselves on the path of Death.

The consequences of Sin are:
1. Separation / Alienation from God and from our Neighbor
2. Death (physical death, which is a consequence of Original Sin and spiritual death which is a consequence of personal sin).

Christ tells us He is the Vine and we are the branches. If we are to have life in us we must stay connected to him. And to stay connected to him is to Love God and Love our Neighbors.
Ad Jesum Per Mariam,
Mr. B

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Divine Revelation

Revelation: this is to reveal or make clear something that is hidden from view or not obvious. When we are talking about Divine Revelation, it is God and His Will that are “hidden” from us.

God has revealed Himself to humanity in a number of ways. However, there are two types that stand as the Pillars of Divine Revelation:

1. Magisterium: the Teaching Authority of the Church, also called Tradition. This is the authority given by Christ to his Apostles, and then passed on to their successors, the bishops. The bishops are guided by the Holy Spirit in their actions and decisions.

2. Sacred Scripture: The combination of the Hebrew Bible (which we call the Old Testament) and the Christian Scriptures (the New Testament). The Bible is actually a library of books: there are 46 in the Old Testament & 27 in the New Testament. They cover many different literary genres: history, poetry, letters, and wisdom.

The Development of Sacred Scripture:
The Christian Faith sees itself as the fulfillment of the Salvation God began with the Hebrews. As such, the Church adopted the Hebrew Bible in its entirety as its “Old Testament”. (Note that a Protestant Bible has seven fewer books in its Old Testament based on different original manuscripts.)

The New Testament, however, was “built from scratch”. The following Five Stages apply generally to the New Testament writings.
1. Event or Objective Reality: An event happens or an objective reality is observed. (Ex. Jesus walks on water; Paul hears of abuses at the Church at Corinth, etc.)
2. Oral Tradition: The message regarding the reality is passed on by word of mouth from one generation to another. Though in our modern literate society we do not trust word of mouth as credible, this was not the case in the ancient world, which was far more accustomed to relying on the spoken word to transmit information. (Note: most of Paul’s letters were written by him or dictated to a scribe, and therefore do not have an “oral tradition” to speak of.)
3. Writing: the oral tradition is committed to writing. Early Christians did not see the need to record their oral tradition. First, they saw the Gospel as intended only for the Jews. They did not anticipate a need to spread the written Gospel beyond Israel. Secondly, the early Christians expected the return of Christ to take place very soon. They did not think it necessary to write down the Gospel for future generations. It soon became clear that the Gospel was indeed a universal message, intended for all people, and that the Gospel was timeless, intended for all generations.
4. Editing: since the Gospels and other texts were handwritten and copied by hand, there were inevitable errors that crept in. None of these errors altered the meaning of the text in any substantial way, but they did result in minor changes from one ancient text to another.
5. Canon: The word canon means “list”, and in this case it refers to a list of Divinely Inspired books. There were many writings that were called “gospels”, but only four that were considered by the Magisterium to be canonical. They had to meet some general criteria:
A. First there needed to be an established authenticity. This is to say that the Gospel traces its existence back to the apostolic communities where they originated.
B. Secondly, the Gospels need a certain degree of consistency. If a gospel differs widely from other accounts of the same passage, then their canonical status was questionable.
C. Finally, if a writing was not universally used by all churches, then its inspiration was held in doubt.

The first known official efforts to create a Canon of Scripture were by synods (meetings of bishops) in Rome in 382 and in Hippo (Northern Africa) in 393, nearly 400 years after Christ’s death.

It should be noted then, that between Scripture & Tradition, it was Tradition that came first and helped in the development of Scripture.

Until next time,
Ad Jesum Per Mariam
Mr. B.