Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Ascensiontide readings....

I thought I'd continue my little series looking at some of the traditional patristic readings that used to be used during the old Octave of the Ascension in order to help unconfuse those infected by too much reading of Raymond Brown, N T Wright and other such creative exegetes of our modernist era, or those influenced by them!

History and transcendence

So just by of a little more context.  Some assert that we shouldn't take the Ascension literally.  The Creed asserts that we should!

The Church has always held that the Ascension is a real historical event.  It also has a particularly important universal, or transcendent dimension from the point of view of salvation history.

Some care is needed though - one of the errors of our time, in my view, is to see 'ordinary' history as somehow altogether detached from God (the Pope's book Principles of Catholic Theology has a particularly good treatment of this subject).  It is important to remember that all history is guided by God; it is part of the modernist heresy, I would suggest, to make an artificial distinction between the 'merely' historical and transcendent events.  The distinction between the Ascension and a turning point in history due to the assassination of a political leader for example is not necessarily about transcendence or universality, because in fact that assassination may have been a crucially necessary event for the unfolding of God's providential plan for the world!  Rather, the distinction is about ongoing relevance to our salvation.

Pope St Leo the Great on the Ascension

So today I want to go back to the sermon of Pope St Leo the Great that was traditionally used on the feast day itself:

"After the blessed and glorious resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ (wherein was raised up in three days that true Temple of God which had been destroyed by the ímpiety of Jewry), there came by God's providential ordering a season of forty days, the annual commemoration of which ends on this day. The original great forty days, dearly beloved, were spent by the Lord in profitable instruction for our benefit. On this wise, his bodily presence was still given to the earth during all these forty days, that our faith in his resurrection might be armed with all needful proofs. For the death of Christ had troubled the hearts of many of his disciples ; their thoughts were sad when they remembered his agony upon the cross, his giving up of the Ghost, and the burial in the grave of his lifeless body: and so a sort of hesitation had begun to weigh on them.

Hence the most blessed Apostles and all the disciples who had been fearful concerning the death on the cross, and doubtful of the trustworthiness of the report of Christ's resurrection, were so strengthened by the clear demonstration of the truth, that, when they saw the Lord going up into the heights of heaven, they sorrowed not; nay, they were even filled with great joy. And, in all truth, it was a mighty and unspeakable cause of rejoicing for all the holy multitude of believers, when they perceived that the nature of mankind was thus exalted above all creatures, even the heavenly spirits, so as to pass above the ranks of the Angels, and be raised beyond the heights of the Archangels. For on this wise they perceived that no limit was set upon the uplifting of that nature short of the right hand of the Eternal Father, where it was to be Sharer of his throne, and Partaker of his glory ; and nevertheless it was still nothing more than that nature of man, which the Son hath taken upon him.

Therefore, dearly beloved, let us also rejoice with fitting joy. For the Ascension of Christ is exaltation for us. And whither the glory of the Head of the Church is passed in, thither is the hope of the body of the Church called on to follow. Let us rejoice with exceeding great joy, and give God glad thanks. This day is not only the possession of paradise made sure unto us, but in Christ our Head we are actually entering into the heavenly mansions above. Through the unspeakable goodness of Christ we have gained more than ever we lost by the envy of the devil. For those whom our venomous enemy cast down from the happiness of their first estate, those same hath the Son of God made to be of one body with himself, and hath given them a place at the right hand of the Father : with whom he lives and reigns, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.


R J said...

Didn't know that N. T. Wright was bad news. I keep coming across conservative evangelical types (e.g. Bill Muehlenberg) who seem, broadly, to approve of him.

Kate said...

Wright is certainly better than some on many topics.

But he tends to caricature (and ridicule) the catholic position on many subjects, particularly our proper eschatological focus and doctrine on purgatory and the nature of heaven.

And he is also one of the many preoccupied with the search for criteria for 'historicity' of Scripture - any criteria that is, apart from what the Church has always and everywhere believed, and what the Magisterium actually teaches!

Schütz said...

in order to help unconfuse those infected by too much reading of Raymond Brown, N T Wright and other such creative exegetes of our modernist era, or those influenced by them!

That would be me, then, eh Kate? :-)

Honestly, I have learnt a lot from both Raymond Brown and N.T. Wright. And from many other exegetes both Catholic and Protestant. But scholarship requires the reading of many books, and the ability to make judgements about the author's premises and stated conclusions. In reading these (and other) exegetes, I have learned a lot about the scriptural texts that I otherwise would not have noticed. But as to their premises and conclusions, well, that's what a scholar is called to judge. I recognise, for instance, that Tom Wright is an evangelical, Calvinist Anglican, who knows a lot about the 2nd Temple Period of Jewish History, and much more about Calvin than I do. I also recognise that he has barely a grasp of patristic or medieval history and theology, that he knows Calvin better than Luther and both better than Aquinas. I recognise that he has an inbuilt bias to actually understanding what Pope John Paul II or Pope Benedict XVI have said on matters that touch his areas of expertise simply because they are Catholic popes. I recognise all this, but that doesn't prevent me recognising that, in the area of his specific expertise, there is a lot - a very big lot - that he has taught me and still has to teach me.

I would recommend that one day you actually just sit yourself down and read, for instance, the New Testament and the People of God. Or Jesus and the Victory of God. Or the Resurreciton of the Son of God. Or even What Saint Paul Really Said. Do that, then come back to me and tell me that you haven't learned anything valuable.

As for Raymond Brown, his two volumes on the Death of the Messiah, or his other volume on the Birth of the Messiah, or his commentary on St John, or his little books on the Virginity of Mary or the Priesthood... again, he may not have been the most magisterial Catholic around, but these books certainly helped me as a Protestant understand that there were biblical supports for many Catholic doctrines, and laid the foundations for my eventual reception of the Catholic faith.

They aren't all bad, you know.

Kate said...

You are far from the only catholic enamoured of protestant and modernist catholic exegetes David. I've seen Raymond Brown's praises sung on Cath Blog over the last week or so, and NT Wright elsewhere!

And I have in fact I have read a selection of them, thanks to the coercion of my Scripture professors!

Can one learn something from them? Sure. The question is whether it is worth the effort - and risk to one's faith - when as you admit, their central premises are so far off base.

Because if their assumptions and starting points are wrong, they will interpret the evidence in the light of those false paradigms, and their conclusions inevitably will be skewed.

The Holy Father's latest book has been criticized by some for not engaging with these very same exegetes amongst others. But I think the reasons he didn't bother are perfectly clear from his general comments about the dead end that current methods have reached.

For Catholics, a Scriptural approach that is not well-grounded in the Fathers and Theologians is, in my view, pretty much by definition going to be at best problematic and most likely at odds with our faith.

The prime example for me is the New Jerome Commenary edited by Brown et al - look at the commentary on the psalms. The Christological dimension of interpretation of them is entirely absent!

The point is that catholics do not believe in sola scriptura or variants thereof. We believe in Scripture as a product of and interpreted in the light of the Tradition and Magisterium.

There are some (few) catholic exegetes out there who are attempting to recover the Tradition, urged on by the Holy Father's instruction and example, and coming up with exciting new insights. That is where we should be looking for our enlightenment, not at books with a hefty admixture of error.

Schütz said...

But Kate, but Kate... Do you think that the Holy Father has not read the "Protestant and modernist" exegetes you warn us not to bother with? In fact he has-he cites them on his own works! I mean, he quotes Bultmann for goodness sake! If he can find profit - not uncritical of course - in Bultmann, then surely there is profit in Brown and Wright! You won't learn anything just by reading the works of the people you agree with!

Kate said...

But David, but David! He cites some of the older exegetes of this school in the main precisely to tell us what is wrong with their approach!

And he completely ignores the more recent ones.

I'd also suggest that the Holy Father is an elite theologian with considerable training in seeing the limits of what is and isn't legitimate discussion. Most of the rest of us don't have that level of training, experience and judgment!

I'm not suggesting at all ignoring the work of those I disagree with either in methods or conclusions.

I disagree with the take that many perfectly orthodox theologians (including the Pope in his theological writings) have on some subjects. Of course there is room for legitimate disagreement and debate.

There is a big difference between that though, and failing to accept dogma and treat the teachings of the Magisterium as the corrective and guarantee of truth.