Catholics sometimes confuse God’s Word (Christ) with the “Word of the Lord” they hear proclaimed at Mass. Because the latter comes to us through human intermediaries, interpreting the scriptures quickly gets messy! Some Catholics take literally the Roman Catholic Catechism’s suggestion that “sacred scripture is the speech of God, as it is put down in writing under the breath of the Holy Spirit” (CCC 81). Others recognize that the Bible is a book of theology, not a book of history or science. In this episode, Father Jayme notes the complicated history of the Bible, which didn’t come down from heaven complete, hardbound, and to the singing of angels. No scribes were present in the Garden of Eden or at the birth or crucifixion of Jesus. Instead, human beings penned stories decades—and sometimes centuries—after purported events, employing the limited vocabularies of their ancient languages and worldviews, and sometimes recording errors and contradictions. Other human beings later decided which works to include or exclude in their canons of inspired texts. Inclusive Catholics recognize that human beings interpret everything, often from very diverse perspectives, and they attempt to understand what the ancient authors of inspired scriptures were attempting to communicate about their God, their world, and their beliefs. In contrast to ordinary Catholics and rigid, judgmental Pharisees, Extraordinary Catholics seek to follow in the footsteps of Jesus of Nazareth, a loving, merciful, forgiving and inclusive revolutionary who dined with…sinners!
Have you seen the latest issue of Extraordinary Catholics magazine?
Check out Episode 87 of the Sonic Boomers podcast!
Learn more about the Independent Sacramental Movement (ISM), of which Inclusive Catholicism is part, through Sacramental Whine podcast, and check out Sacramental Whine: Chronicling the Independent Sacramental Movement, Volume 1 & Volume 2!
[Becky & Terry Ann 0:03]
Welcome to “Extraordinary Catholics,” a podcast for—you guessed it—extraordinary Catholics! In a world with over a billion ordinary Catholics, the Good Samaritans of Vatican-free Catholicism are truly extraordinary, seeking to model Jesus’ inclusive spirit and his discipleship of equals. Like Roman Catholicism, Inclusive Catholicism possesses valid lines of apostolic succession and shares valid sacraments. One in every ten adult Americans self-identifies as a former Roman Catholic. If we were to band together, we would form the second-largest religion in America. In Mexico, over 1,000 Roman Catholics leave the church every single day. To learn more about Inclusive Catholicism, please visit www.ExtraordinaryCatholics.faith, and join our Extraordinary Catholics Facebook group. And now, meet the host of Extraordinary Catholics, the pastor of Holy Family Catholic Church, the only inclusive Catholic community in Austin, Texas: Father Jayme Mathias!
[Father Jayme Mathias 1:19]
Welcome, extraordinary Catholics! I am Father Jayme Mathias, pastor of Holy Family Catholic Church in Austin, Texas.
We thank the special saints who helped make this episode possible:
* Bishop Kenny Von Folmar of Solomon’s Porch in Phoenix, Arizona, part of the Convergent Christian Communion;
* Corey Hurt Montiel of Holy Family Catholic Church in Austin, Texas;
* Bishop Jerry Brohl of the Independent Roman Catholic Church in Wyandotte, Michigan;
* Bishop Theodore Feldman of the Sanctuary of Divine Providence in Birmingham, Alabama;
* Very Reverend Ben Jansen of the Congregation of the Servants Minor in San Diego, California, part of the Progressive Catholic Church International; and
* Archbishop Richard Roy of the National Catholic Church of American in Albany, New York.
* We also thank Marguerite & Paul Foster and Mary Alice Jaimez of Holy Family Catholic Church in Austin, Texas;
* Bishop Michael Leavitt of the Apostolic Marian Independent Catholic Church in New Ipswich, New Hampshire;
* Archbishop Alan Kemp of the Ascension Alliance in Gig Harbor, Washington;
* Bishop Ken Corbin of St. Francis Community of Faith for All People in Plainville, New York, part of the Catholic Diocese of One Spirit;
* Father Scott Carter of the Pilgrim Chapel of Contemplative Conscience in Ashland, Oregon, part of the Catholic Apostolic Church of Antioch;
* Michael Stroder of Holy Family Catholic Church in Austin, Texas;
* Dr. Lawrence Lewis of the Order of St. George Grand Priory of the Americas in New Orleans, Louisiana;
* Bishop William Cavins of Abiding Presence Ministries in Winter Park, Florida, part of the Reformed Catholic Church;
* Bishop Tony Green of St. John of God Parish in Schenectady, New York, part of CACINA, the Catholic Apostolic Church in North America;
* Father Frank Bellino of St. Michael’s Catholic Parish in San Antonio, Texas, part of the Unified Old Catholic Church;
* Father Chad Shaw of the Hermitage of the Holy Cross & St. Benedict Anglo-Catholic Chapel in Marshall, Texas; and
* Reverend Beau Minson of Divine Mercy Ministries in Richmond, Missouri.
Looking to earn your wings? Visit dwy.io/podcast to join the list of saints who are stepping up to sponsor future episodes.
And now, let’s continue our exploration of the theological foundations of Inclusive Catholicism!
God's Word & "The Word of the Lord"
As odd as it sounds, we begin with the distinction between God’s Word and the Word of the Lord: God’s Word, the Logos, the second person of the Trinity, and the Word of the Lord, the canonical scriptures that we hear proclaimed when we gather to break bread together.
The gospel attributed to John begins, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (Jn. 1:1). What is the Johannine author talking about? The author makes this clear in verse 14: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” In Johannine theology, the person of Jesus of Nazareth was the Word made flesh, who dwelt among us. “In the beginning was…the Word”! For the Johannine evangelist, Christ existed from the beginning of time. Christ was with God, and Christ was God. How do we know this? We read it in the Word of the Lord, in the Bible.
To be clear, Christ—God’s Word—is not the Bible, the Word of the Lord that we hear proclaimed at mass, but the Word of the Lord—the scriptures—does tell us about God’s Word, Christ.
Why would we even make such a distinction? Because so many people hold up the Bible and say, “This is God’s word!” as if the words contained in it were spoken directly by God in the same way that God’s Word, Christ, was spoken by God without the need of human intermediaries. The Word of the Lord—scripture—comes to us through human beings like us, and that’s where it gets messy.
God is Holy Mystery
In contemporary parlance, God is the infinite Horizon of Being, the holy and transcendent Mystery that can never be grasped in its entirety, and which can only be approached asymptotically this side of the beatific vision. For a contemporary notion of God, I recommend the works of Karl Rahner, one of the greatest Catholic theologians of the 20th century. Rahner states that God is Holy Mystery. “Mystery”: from the Greek root mystērion, which means “to shut the mouth.” Mystery is that which eludes words. When we think we’ve boxed God in with our words and ideas, what we find in our “box” is not God. God remains transcendent, eluding our grasp! We paint God as a white man with a crown and a white beard, on a white cloud: That is not God. That is an image or an idea of God that comes to us from some of our ancient ancestors who lived in a hierarchical, patriarchal and androcentric (or male-centered) world. God is mystērion, mystery. Some suggests that it’s better for us to “shut our mouths” and to allow God to remain God, rather than to attempt to box up God’s mystery, because, if you think that what you hold in your hand is God—if you think that you grasp God—God is not that thing.
God Communicates God's Self in the Economy of Salvation
So, if we believe in God, this God cannot exist solely in God’s self. If God existed only in God’s self, and if God did not communicate God’s self, we would know nothing of God. Hence, the second-century distinction by Irenaeus of Lyons and by Tertullian between the immanent Trinity and the economic Trinity. The immanent Trinity is God in God’s self. The economic Trinity is how God expresses God’s self in history, in the “economy” of salvation.
In the economy of salvation, God communicates God’s self in myriad ways. For centuries, mystics have said, “Look at creation: If God created creation, then creation must tell us something about God!” The book tells us something about the author, the painting tells us something about the painter, the podcast tells us something about the host. At the beginning of the 13th century, Saint Francis of Assisi did not speculate on the nature of God in God’s self (the immanent Trinity). Instead, as Sister Ilia Delio, says, “Francis focused on the presence of God in the economic trinity, in the three great acts of salvation history: in creation, in redemption, and in the final consummation.” In his regula non bullata, Francis wrote, “Let us desire nothing else, let us wish for nothing else, let nothing else please us and delight us, except our Creator and Redeemer and Savior, alone true God, who is the full good, the whole good, the total good, the true and highest good.
Because God is entirely transcendent, there is no direct contact with God, except through God’s Son, Christ, whom Francis called the Word of the Father. Christ became the center, the medium, the hinge that joins God to creation and creation to God. One of Saint Francis’ followers, Saint Bonaventure, was very influenced by this vision, influenced by the Greek idea of the Trinity as a self-diffusive Fountain of Goodness. Bonum est diffusivum sui: The good naturally gives of itself! When God gave of God’s self, when the “fountain” of God’s goodness overflowed, what resulted was God’s Word—Christ—and all of creation. That was God’s self-communication, God’s utterance, which resulted in two things distinct from God: God’s utterance—God’s Word in Christ—and the external objectification of God’s Word in creation. 800 years after Bonaventure, Karl Rahner shared a similar vision of God as self-communicative Love.
But step with me back in time. 2,000 years before Saint Francis and Saint Bonaventure, our ancient ancestors struggled to articulate their notion of God in the limited words of their limited languages, and within the context of their limited understanding of God and of science and of the world. What resulted is the Word of the Lord, the scriptures.
God is Revealed in Sacred Scriptures
Don’t get me wrong: As Catholics, we believe that God is revealed in sacred scriptures. As the Roman Catholic Catechism suggests, the scriptures “make present and fruitful in the Church the mystery of Christ” (CCC, 80). But let’s be careful about taking too literally its suggestions that “sacred scripture is the speech of God as it is put down in writing under the breath of the Holy Spirit” (CCC, 81).
Sometimes we interpret human words as more than human: We interpret them as being inspired, as being filled with the Spirit, or as flowing from the Spirit. Saint Paul writes of this in his First Letter to the Thessalonians, when he says, “When you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word, but as it actually is: the word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe” (1Thes. 2:13). Saint Paul essentially says: You heard the word, and you believed that it was inspired—that it came from God!
Think, though, for a moment of the power dynamic that’s within those words, when we suggest that human words are no longer human words, but that they’re now God’s words—that I can speak on behalf of God. And let me tell you what God thinks! Hubris. No one knows the mind of God.
I’m rather fond of the words of the Roman Catholic Catechism, paragraph 106, where it says: “God inspired the human authors of the sacred books. To compose the sacred books, God chose certain people who, all the while God employed them in this task, made full use of their own faculties and powers.” But now it gets messy. It continues, “Those authors, consigned to writing whatever God wanted written, and no more.”
The Catechism continues: “the Christian faith is not a religion of the book. Christianity is the religion of the Word of God” (CCC, 108). On that we can agree: that our religion is about the Word of God, the Logos, Christ, the second person of the Trinity.
Paragraph 109: “To interpret scripture correctly, the reader must be attentive to what the human authors truly wanted to affirm and to what God wanted to reveal to us by their words.”
Paragraph 110: “In order to discover the sacred author’s intention, the reader must take into account the conditions of their time and culture, the literary genres in use at that time, and the modes of feeling speaking and narrating then current. That is, we need to understand their world and the way that they saw it, in order to understand and to more correctly interpret their words.”
The Bible Didn't Come Down from Heaven Bound in Hardcover
We hear, as children, that the Bible is “God’s word,” and we tend to take that literally. We’re left with a mistaken notion—as if the Bible came down from heaven, with the angels singing as it descended from heaven to earth. That it was whole and complete, bound in hardcover, containing stories written by people who were present in the Garden of Eden, and during the time of the flood, and who were present at Jesus’s birth and crucifixion.
Only later do we learn that the Bible is comprised of several documents, written by several people over several centuries, expressing several perspectives on God and on the world. Only later do we learn of the struggle by human beings like us to decide which books to approve as part of this compilation.
During the first four centuries of the Church, there was no definitive list of books in the Bible. Then, eleven centuries later, at the Council of Trent, we would add seven more books—the “apocrypha”—resulting in 46 books in the Hebrew scriptures and 27 books in the Christian scriptures.
Scripture scholars are now able to parse and study those documents which were brought together to form the Bible, the Word of the Lord. They’re able to see the different voices within a single book: like the Yahwist, Elohist and Priestly voices in the Pentateuch, or the voices of Proto Isaiah (ch. 1-39), Deutero Isaiah (ch. 40-55) and Trito Isaiah (ch. 56-66)—at least three different voices whose writings were combined in what today is known as the Book of the Prophet Isaiah.
God Didn't Pen the Bible
As Catholics, we learned that the Bible is “God’s word," so it’s natural for us to take that phrase literally, to believe that God penned the Bible, God’s self. We imagine God putting a person in a trance, then using his or her or their hand to write the book.
In the second century, Justin Martyr insisted that “the scriptures are completely free of errors,” whereas Marcion detailed the contradictions between the Hebrew scriptures and the Christian scriptures in the second century, in a now-lost work, the Antithesis.
The medieval philosophers, borrowing vocabulary from Aristotle, said that the human beings were the “instrumental causes,” the instruments that God used to write the scriptures. Thomas Aquinas clearly stated: “The author of holy scripture is God.” And 250 years after him, Martin Luther insisted, “God cannot lie.”
We hear how the scriptures of other faith traditions were written. The prophet Muhammad received revelations from the archangel Gabriel, resulting in the Quran. Joseph Smith translated the golden plates pointed out to him by the angel Moroni, resulting in the Book of Mormon. But somehow, our scriptures are more divinely inspired than theirs. Their stories are mere stories, but our scriptures come from God, right?
We Gloss Over the Errors in Scriptures
And so, we tend to gloss over the errors in our scriptures.
* The two genealogies of Jesus, for instance, are different (Mt. 1:1-16 & Lk. 3:23-38): Did God get one or both genealogies wrong?
* In Mark 16:1, there are three women at the tomb; in Matthew 28:1, there are two women at the tomb; in Luke 23:55—24:10, there are more than three women. In Mark and Luke, they come with spices to anoint Jesus (Mk. 16:1, Lk. 24:1), but, in the fourth gospel (Jn. 19:39-40), this has already been done. Which one is correct?
* The mistakes in geography and the poor Greek of the gospel of Mark: Did God get these wrong?
* Jesus died at the sixth hour in John 19:14, and at the third hour in Mark 15:25: Which was it?
* Matthew attributes a quote in Matthew 27:9 to Jeremiah, when it actually comes from Zechariah 11:12. Did God get that wrong?
There were many inconsistencies pointed out by the likes of Spinoza, Voltaire, Diderot and Paine, and Spinoza concluded that the Bible is “a book rich in contradictions.” In fact, William Henry Burr formulated a list of 144 contradictions—a symbolic number—in the scriptures. Even in the fifth century, Augustine was aware of scriptural inconsistencies that might “rob the evangelists of credit as voracious historians.” More recently, Raymond Brown noted inconsistencies in the gospels, including in the infancy narratives. William David Davies and Ed Parish Sanders, both of Duke University, write, “On many points, especially about Jesus’s early life, the evangelists were ignorant. They simply did not know, and, guided by rumor, hope or supposition, they did the best they could” (“Jesus from a Jewish Point of View”).
Hence, the drawn-out process of discerning which books to include in the Word of the Lord, in scripture, and hence the exclusion of so many non-canonical gospels and works from the Bible.
Interpreting "the Word of the Lord"
Before we step too deeply into the theological foundations of Independent Catholicism found in scripture, let’s talk about how Inclusive Catholics interpret the Word of God.
As human beings, we’re always interpreting all that comes to us through our senses. We interpret the actions we see. We interpret the words that we hear and read. Think about the text messages and social media posts you haven’t known how to interpret: You see the punctuation, the capitalized letters, the emojis, and you wonder what the person really wanted to communicate. You don’t see the person’s face, you don’t hear his or her or their tone of voice, but you immediately begin interpreting. The same is true of the “text messages” that we now find translated into English in the scriptures. The scriptures were not written in English, so we’re left with multiple translations of translations that trace back to the ancient languages of ancient peoples. How are we to interpret those texts?
Interestingly, we don’t take everything that we see or hear literally. And yet, when it comes to the Word of the Lord, its status as the Word of the Lord and our own lack of imagination keep us from interpreting it in other-than-literal ways. If your child says, “There’s a monster in my room,” you don’t shudder in fear. You don’t take his or her or their words literally. Red Bull claims to give you wings, but you don’t take that literally. “These heels are killing me.” “I’m drowning in paperwork.” “I have to do a million things today.” “They’re as light as a feather.” “He is as slow as a turtle.” “Her purse weighs a ton.” We don’t take any of these things literally. That’s how human beings talk—and Jesus talked in equally hyperbolic ways! Yet we don’t see people gouging out their eyes or cutting off their hands, as Jesus instructed (Mt. 5:29-30). Why not?
Hermeneutics is the discipline that examines how we interpret sacred texts. It examines the meaning that we get out of scriptures—how we determine what they mean. You can’t read the Bible without interpreting it, and much of that interpretation comes from our understanding of the translated words, as well as our understanding of the world and the experiences through which we read those scriptures.
Many of our words may vary radically from the ways in which those same words were used in ancient languages and were understood by ancient people.
For instance, we read, “Blessed are the poor in spirit” (Mt. 5:3). What did those words mean to the ancient people who wrote them and who read them, who spoke them or heard them in their ancient languages?
We read, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I” (Mt. 18:20). What did those words in another language mean to our ancient ancestors? That’s hermeneutics!
Some of the fundamental questions of hermeneutics include: How were the sacred scriptures written? How was the Word of God recorded? Were those words written directly by God, or were they written through the “instrumental causes” that are human beings? What role did human beings have in writing those words? Were the writers of scriptures in some hypnotic trance, or were they attempting to articulate their theology (their view of God), their cosmology (their view of the world), and their morality (their view of right and wrong) in the limited ideas and with the limited vocabulary of the ancient languages of their ancient world?
Do we espouse interpretations that appeal to miracles and other things outside our personal experience? We say “nothing is impossible for God,” right (Lk. 1:37)? God can suspend the laws of the universe, making the sun to stop in the sky (Jos. 10:13), pulling a camel through the eye of a needle (Mk. 10:25, Mt. 19:24, Lk. 18:25), or are there other ways of interpreting various texts?
Inclusive Catholics Don't Interpret the Bible Literally
Inclusive Catholics tend to believe that there are various ways of interpreting sacred texts. There were no hypnotic trances. The Word of God was written by people like you and me, and their words were later deemed inspired by others. They were interpreted to be divinely inspired.
And so, Inclusive Catholics don’t tend to read the Bible literally. In fact, we recognize that no one—no one!—reads the Bible, literally. Yes, there are people who would lead us to believe that they take the Bible literally. They don’t. Sure, they’ll understand some verses literally. But, if they have two eyes and two hands, that is, if they haven’t gouged out an eye or cut off a hand, they’re not literally interpreting scripture (Mt. 5:29-30). Nor should we encouraged them to.
Humans Create Arguments to Justify Their Views
Human beings are fascinating creatures, choosing how to interpret everything they take in through their senses, and we create all sorts of arguments to justify our stances. We insist, “When a man lies with a man, it’s an abomination before God” (Lev. 20:13). Then we go off and we eat pork (Lev. 11:7), or we eat catfish and shrimp (Lev. 11:10), while wearing our cotton-poly blends (Lev. 19:19), before playing American football (Lev. 11:7-8)—all sinful actions prohibited by the Bible! Of course, we make all sorts of arguments to justify our views. “Those are dietary laws, not moral laws,” we say.
The Shammaiite Pharisees Understood the Scriptures Literally
In the Christian scriptures, the [Shamaiite] Pharisees are the ones who took things literally. They were fixated on the letter of the law. But what did Jesus focus on? The spirit of the law! What’s the difference? The letter of the law states, “Thou shalt not drive faster than 55 miles per hour. If you drive 56 miles per hour, you are breaking the law!” The spirit of the law, however, is “Thou shalt drive safely.” Imagine for a moment if police officers interpreted the law literally and pulled over every single driver who drove one mile above the speed limit! Rather, they follow the spirit of the law: “If you’re driving more than 10% over the speed limit, you may be endangering yourself and or others, and so, I will pull you over.”
Jesus always chose the spirit of the law over the letter of the law. He always focused on loving God and others, over the following of outdated rules. That helps us to understand the biblical prohibition against eating pork: In an age before we made a causal link between trichinosis—tapeworms—and raw pork, it was easier to prohibit the eating of pork for the safety of all people (Lev. 11:7-8). In an age before we understood shellfish allergies, it was easier to prohibit the eating of shrimp for the safety of all people (Lev. 11:10). To paraphrase the words of the Marcan Jesus—words edited out by Matthew and Luke—we weren’t created for the law; the law was created for us (Mk. 2:27).
Inclusive Catholics Are Not Fundamentalists
Inclusive Catholics are not fundamentalists. We don’t say, “The scriptures mean what they mean to me!” We don’t believe in the strict, literal interpretation of scriptures in a religion. We don’t subscribe to myopic understandings of scripture. We don’t believe in a strict division between righteous people and evil doers. In many ways, we seek to overcome dichotomies. We believe that God is trying to communicate something much more sublime, something much more profound than merely the literal meaning of translated words as we understand them.
And so, even if God didn’t create the universe in 144 hours (Gen. 1:1-30), we live in a world that is marvelously made. Even if the soles of Jesus’ feet couldn’t displace enough water for the principle of buoyancy to lift him above the Sea of Galilee (Mt. 14:22-33, Mk. 6:45-52, Jn. 6:16-21), Jesus was still a remarkable guy.
We All See the Scriptures from Different Perspectives
When I teach about interpreting the Bible, I like to hold up a book—a Bible, if I have one—and note how that book looks different from different perspectives. Some see the front cover, some see the back cover, some see the spine, and others see the pages. We all see that book from different perspectives!
For far too long, the hierarchy of the Roman Church has insisted that we see the world as it sees it—that it sees things the way they truly are, or that they alone possess the Truth. Hogwash!
The Bible is a Book of Theology, Not a Book of History
There are various perspectives, various interpretations of any given thing, including any given verse of scripture. As I’m fond of saying: “The Bible is a book of theology, not a book of history.” It wasn’t written as events were taking place. There was no scribe in the Garden of Eden, or sitting in Sarah and Abraham’s tent, or crossing the Sea of Reeds with the Israelites, recording the events as they happened. Our ancestors were writing down stories that purportedly took place centuries before them. Even toward the end of the Bible, in times closer to us, Paul’s letters were written some 25+ years after Jesus walked this earth. The gospels were written 30 to 60 years after Jesus’ death.
Instead, in the view of many Independent Catholics, the scriptures are an attempt by ancient peoples to express their understanding of themselves, of their world, and of their gods, within the limits of their ancient languages and the understandings that they had of the ancient world in which they lived.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not trying to change any hearts or minds here. If you’re bent on translating certain biblical phrases in certain ways, I ain’t got time to convince you otherwise. If you’re bent on using “clobber passages” to put others down or to make yourself feel superior, that’s not my business.
Divino Afflante Spiritu (1943)
As inclusive Catholics, we look to the wisdom of Vatican II, but we have to make a short stop in 1943, with the papal encyclical Divino Afflante Spiritu (“Inspired by the Divine Spirit") by Pius XII, which promoted biblical studies. Fifty years after Leo XIII tried to curtail the study of the Bible by those who are not clergy of the church [in Providentissimus Deus], Pius XII highlighted the historical and textual criticism which helps to discover and expound the genuine meaning of the sacred books. He wrote, “Textual criticism…which is used with great and praiseworthy results in the editions of profane writings, is also quite rightly employed in the case of the sacred books” [DAS, 17]. It was radical for the Roman Catholic Church to say this in 1943!
Dei Verbum (1965)
22 years later, at the Second Vatican Council, the document Dei Verbum ("The Word of God") states, “Since God speaks in sacred scriptures, through people and in human fashion, the interpreter of Sacred Scripture, in order to see clearly what God wanted to communicate to us, should carefully investigate what meaning the sacred writers really intended, and what God wanted to manifest by means of their words” (DV, 12). The two key questions: What did those sacred writers really want to communicate to us, and what does God want us to understand from these words?
Dei Verbum 23: “Catholic exegetes then, and other students of sacred theology, working diligently and using appropriate means, should devote their energies, under the watchful care of the sacred teaching office of the Church, to an exploration and exposition of the divine writings.”
And so, far from discouraging Catholics to read the Bible [something which was forbidden by the Roman Catholic Church at the Council of Toulouse in 1229], Vatican II encouraged us to get to know the scriptures, since, as Saint Jerome said, “Ignorance of the scriptures is ignorance of Christ.”
Father Daniel Helminiak: Literal Reading v. Historical-critical Readings
As inclusive Catholics, we also look to guiding lights, like Father Daniel Helminiak, who served as an associate pastor at Cristo Rey Catholic Church here in Austin 25 years before I served as pastor there. He was studying for his Ph.D. at The University of Texas at Austin, and, in his work, What the Bible Really Says about Homosexuality, he writes, “Had I not escaped the literalism of my Christian fundamentalist upbringing, I would have either dismissed the Bible as a hopelessly ignorant and prejudiced ancient religious document, or I would have denied reality and become myself a small-minded bigot, using literal scriptures to justify my prejudices.”
Helminiak focuses on the two approaches to hermeneutics: the literal reading of a text versus the historical-critical reading of a text. Helminiak points out that the single rule of biblical fundamentalism is this: that the text means what it means to the person reading it. It’s a sort of relativism, which has no place within the Catholic world. (As Catholics, we rely on common wisdom. We are a religion that prays in the form of we, not me.) And so, we should strive for a Catholic hermeneutic, a way of being able to agree on what it is that various texts mean for us, for all of us.
Helminiak explains that the historical-critical method then explores what the text meant for the person who wrote that text. What did it mean to that person? How did that person understand his or her or their words within his or her or their context? Helminiak writes, “According to the historical-critical method, the Bible writers were not entranced secretaries, taking dictation like robots or channeling messages as in a seance. Rather, the biblical authors were well aware of what they were writing. They were intelligent, free, creative, culture-bound human beings, and God respected that. God used all that their humanity and their culture to express divine wisdom in a particular human form. Thus, what they wrote is not only their words, but also the Word of God.”
So, “the Bible is a book of theology, and not a book of history,” not a book of science lessons, and there’s no conflict between the biblical story of the world being created in six days, even if we understand the universe as having evolved over 15 plus or minus five billion years. We don’t encourage people to gouge out their eyes or cut off their hands (Mt. 5:29-30). We don’t advocate for slavery (Eph. 6:5-9, Col. 3:22, 1Tim. 6:1, 1Pet. 2:18). We allow women to teach Sunday school and to preach (1Tim. 2:11-14). We allow them to wear expensive clothing and gold jewelry and pearls (1Tim. 2:9-10, 1Cor. 11:1-16).
It was the [Shammaiite] Pharisees who were the rigid rule keepers, observing every jot and tittle that suited them (Mt. 5:18). Jesus was not rigid. Jesus was loving and merciful and forgiving.
So, if you are rigid, if you are judgmental, you might do well to ask yourself whether you’re really a Christian—whether you’re really living the inclusive spirit of Jesus of Nazareth, who dined with sinners, rather than judge and exclude them. Jesus reached out to the impure, the unclean, the marginalized. He engaged the woman at the well (Jn. 4:1-42). He spoke of good Samaritans (Lk. 10:25-37). He even changed his view on the Syrophoenician woman (Mk. 7:24-30). How are you following in his footsteps? And how are you interpreting the scriptures, the Word of the Lord, in his Spirit?
Why interpret scriptures in such a rigid way, so as to exclude others? Why prooftext to exclude women or to condemn members of the LGBTQIA+ community, or to instill guilt in the divorced or in those who believed that they were making a responsible decision in their lives?
Don’t be ordinary Catholics, using the word of the Lord to judge and exclude others. Be…extraordinary Catholics!
[Terry Ann & Becky]
Thank you for joining us for Extraordinary Catholics podcast with Father Jayme Mathias! Check out our directory of over 2,000 Inclusive Catholic clergy at www.ExtraordinaryCatholics.faith. Have an extraordinary day!