Saturday, 27 October 2012
Thoughts on the Catechism 2
It is an expression, therefore, of the "ordinary" magisterium of the Church. This is not the same as having the irreformability of a Papal "definition" of a particular dogma, since the text can be revised if better formulations are devised, or to adjust to changing circumstances and avoid ambiguities. In fact there have been several such revisions since the first English edition was published in 1994. Nor
does it have the even higher authority of one of the ancient Creeds agreed by the first ecumenical or universal Councils of the Church before the divisions of Christendom in the second millennium. Nor does it possess the even higher authority of Holy Scripture itself. But nevertheless, Catholics are supposed to receive it with all the respect that they should accord the Church as their Teacher. [84-95.]
Those levels of authority are important, because each rests on the one before, going back to the authority of Scripture, which in turn rests on that of the Holy Spirit who is the co-author along with the human writers of the whole text, and I would say its "co-editor" in the sense that he not only inspired the human authors as they wrote (though again, there are levels of inspiration even within Scripture) but selected – or guided the selection of – the various pieces and elements of which it is composed. It is a bit like building a church out of bricks and stones and mortar. The stones are the pieces that cannot be changed, the mortar the more human elements that are used to hold them in place. The Bible is a collection of very disparate materials (poetry, myth, prophecy, history, biography, etc) collected over a millennium. That it makes a coherent whole at all is not thanks simply to the human individuals and committees who decided what was to be left out and what was inspired or important enough to be left in, but to the Holy Spirit who lives in the Church and nudges her decisions in the right direction.
Of course to see that coherence, one has to be willing to read it "in the same spirit" (according to Dei Verbum, 12), looking for the harmony and unity. In other words, one has to become part of the structure, which is an organic even more than it is a structural unity, and a "personal" even more than an organic one, because the same Holy Spirit is in us who created the unity of the structure, giving us the eyes to see – the eyes of faith. This does not mean we must be uncritical or overlook any inconsistencies we might notice. In fact it is through noting and examining these that we penetrate to a deeper level of understanding. It is a bit like those "magic eye" pictures made of coloured pieces that only reveal the pattern when you focus both eyes at it were beyond the surface of the page.
The relationship between authority and faith is this. In faith we trust what we cannot (yet) see, even though every act of faith makes us vulnerable, especially if we place our trust in the wrong person. The Catholic faith is "more certain than all human knowledge because it is founded on the very word of God who cannot lie" (157). The non-believer can change "because" to "if". The authority of the Church lies in her claim to speak on behalf of that (invisible) person in whom we trust; to be filled with the invisible presence of God. Thus the Church's nature is sacramental. This is fine as long as it is all true. We are not obliged to trust or obey an authority that contradicts itself or is otherwise proved false.
The harmony of faith and reason assumed here is that we must never be afraid of asking questions. There will always be an answer, even if it does not reveal itself straight away. But it will never reveal itself if we do not ask, or if we forget to persist. And many of us get bored or blase with the faith because we have stopped asking, stopped questioning the Holy Spirit. "To get used to things means merely to rob them of their deeper meaning" (Adrienne von Speyr, Lumina, 32).
If you are reading the Catechism on the Vatican web pages, there are numerous study helps, like a sideways click that will show you all the Bible passages that underpin each section. Also helpful is Pope Benedict's Verbum Domini (2010), especially the chapter called "On the Interpretation of Sacred Scripture in the Church", which even touches on the "dark" or violent passages of Scripture and how to approach them.
THE SENSES OF SCRIPTURE. This topic (paras 115-119) has been covered in earlier posts (enter 'Senses of Scripture" in the Search Box), especially here.
Posted by Stratford Caldecott at 17:50