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Sunday, September 07, 2003

Exe-Gene-sis, Catholic style.

Tenuous Anglican Christopher Johnson reports on the latest cloud of theological CO emitted by Episcopal Bishop Frank Griswold. The Grizz (as he is formally known) defends the ECUSA's election of V. Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire as "an act of God." This strikes me as especially appropriate, given that the phrase "act of God" in popular usage tends to be associated with such things as avalanches and tornadoes. Moving on, he explains through clenched teeth that what he regards as the bone-through-the-nose contingent of Anglicanism simply fails to understand that the Bible has an expiration date:

In his letter to the Primates, Bishop Griswold acknowledged that the ratification of Canon Gene Robinson, a non-celibate homosexual, as Bishop of New Hampshire would be received with displeasure in certain quarters.

“I am keenly aware that for many of you this is clearly contrary to a plain reading of Scripture, and in the contexts in which you live, it is unthinkable”, Bishop Griswold noted.

* * *

In his letter, Bishop Griswold affirmed a general belief in Scripture. “You know I firmly believe … that the Holy Scriptures are the Word of God and contain all things necessary to salvation.” The problem facing the Church was not one of belief in Scripture but in its interpretation.

Interpretation was a function of culture and history, explained Bishop Griswold. There were no right nor wrong interpretations of Scripture, Bishop Griswold explained to the Primates. “There is no such thing as a neutral reading of Scripture. While we all accept the authority of Scripture, we interpret various passages in different ways. It is extremely dishonouring of the faith of another to dismiss them as not taking the Bible seriously.”

Translation: "Listen up, wogs, we've gotten over the phase of regarding Scripture as binding. Come on, you really expect 21st Century Moderns like ourselves to be governed by the recorded pathologies of Bronze Age herdsmen? Heh, heh, heh. Windowdressing for tendentious political and legislative statements, yes. Inerrant guide to personal behavior, no. You'll get over it, too, once you get the Spice Channel. [Biting lip] I feel your pain. But, if you still are having trouble understanding me, allow me on behalf of the ECUSA to extend The Tall Finger of Fellowship."

Alas, exe-gene-sis isn't the sole possession of the Episcopal wacky wing. For far better motives (but employing no better reasoning) some Catholics, too, are more than willing to play the Bible Discard. Behold Sr. Mary Boys, Fr. John Pawlikowski, and Philip Cunningham, who have determined that Hebrews and Romans are best used as birdcage liner:

Much of Cardinal Dulles’ critique of these concepts in "Reflections" flows from his reading of the New Testament. It is not enough, however, to cite Scripture without recognizing that the Bible is the church’s book and that, therefore, it continuously interprets those texts. In the words of the Pontifical Biblical Commission, " . . .[I]nterpretation of Scripture involves a work of sifting and setting aside; it stands in continuity with earlier exegetical traditions, many elements of which it preserves and makes its own; but in other matters it will go its own way, seeking to make further progress" (The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church, 1993).

Thus, we are troubled by Cardinal Dulles’ assertion that the Letter to the Hebrews offers "the most formal statement of the status of the Sinai Covenant under Christianity." Without further analysis, he quotes Hebrews: The "first covenant is ‘obsolete’ and ‘ready to vanish away’ (Heb. 8:13)." Christ "‘abolishes the first [covenant] in order to establish the second’ (Heb. 10:9)." Cardinal Dulles implies that Catholics believe that God’s covenant with the people of Israel is obsolete.

In contrast, we argue that official Catholic teaching today has, in the 1993 PBC formulation, "gone its own way" and "set aside" the opinion of the author of Hebrews about Israel’s covenant. As "Reflections" notes, Pope John Paul II has on many occasions declared that Jews are "the people of God of the Old Covenant, never revoked by God," "the present-day people of the covenant concluded with Moses," and "partners in a covenant of eternal love which was never revoked."

The magisterium can explicitly contradict an idea of an individual New Testament author because the Catholic tradition is one of commentary, not sola scriptura. The author of Hebrews, convinced that he was living in the final stages of human history, could argue that the Old Covenant had yielded to the New. Two millennia later, however, in a church whose pope has prayed for God’s forgiveness for the sins of Christians against Jews, such an assertion is unacceptable. The constant disparagement of post-biblical Judaism through the ages, and general ignorance of it, encouraged European Christians to marginalize and even at times demonize Jews, thus providing a fertile seedbed for the Shoah.

Similarly, Paul’s words in Romans 11 cannot be actualized today without considering his conviction that Christ would quickly return to judge the living and the dead. He considered Jews who did not recognize Christ to be branches temporarily broken off to make room for the Gentile branches (11:17-24). Paul believed these broken branches were irrevocably (11:29) destined to be regrafted because "all Israel will be saved" (11:25-26). Until that eschatological day dawned, however, Jews who did not accept Jesus’ Lordship were dead branches, detached from God’s unfolding plans.

Paul could have imagined this temporary state of affairs in his eschatological enthusiasm. But another understanding of Judaism has developed in our time.

Reread that and back away from the computer for a moment. Ponder the enormity of it, the staggering arrogance and the fact these folks are considered "go-to" guys by the USCCB. Savor the irony of using supercessionism to defeat supercessionism. Imagine the use that will be made of it in evangelical circles--in many cases, rightly so.

OK, stop beating your head against the monitor.

It's the exact same approach as The Grizz, albeit for nobler reasons than affirming someone's right to dump his spouse and get his smack on with whomever he wants. Inconvenient verses--even books, in the case of Hebrews--get chucked. It's just as unprincipled and limitless in scope.

They can't even get their own sources right. Consider the horrible prooftexting from the PBC document, which is clearly referring to the sifting of exegetical traditions, not the Bible itself. Apparently an inability to read closely is a job requirement for deep "ecumenism". I imagine the following quote from the same document had the vampire vs. crucifix effect on Boys and the Boys: "The events of salvation and their accomplishment in the person of Jesus Christ give meaning to all human history." Eek! I'll save for another day the heavy reliance on the un-magisterial theological stylings of Walter Cardinal Kasper, that veritable typhoon of giddy compromise.

But the real problem is obvious: if you can redline scripture on the basis of "cultural conditioning" because of the pain its misuse has caused, where does it stop? V. Gene, his partner and the Dignity wing have some obvious suggestions for an expansion of the principle. But it can't be stopped there, either--inconvenience is inconvenience. Hardcore libertarians could just as easily tell the Peace & Justice types to stuff the rhetoric about helping the poor, crippled and other less fortunates: "Jesus' and James' comments were conditioned by the fact 1st Century Palestine didn't have AFDC, Medicaid, food stamps, Social Security--the whole safety net. Screw that, I already pay taxes and I'm buying an RX-8 instead." The possibilities are limitless.

Who's supposed to be watching the henhouse again?

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