QUESTIONS IN VOLUME 5
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1. Can the existence of God be proved beyond a shadow of doubt?
Reasons sufficient to exclude any need of doubting God's existence are available, although they do not exclude the possibility of doubting if people want to doubt. Speaking of unbelievers, Scripture tells us, in Romans 1:20, that "what can be known of God lies plain before their eyes; indeed God himself has disclosed it to them; his invisible attributes, that is to say, his everlasting power and deity, ever since the world began, to the eye of reason, in the things he has made." In other words, man can find in the material universe around him sufficient basis for reasoning to the existence of God as the Creator of it. However, as Cardinal Newman maintained, intellectual reasons in favour of God's existence do not of themselves give anyone an inner awareness of relationships with him. This awareness arises from one's conscience which recognises an obligation to do what is right rather than what is wrong – an obligation conscience did not impose upon itself and which it cannot abolish. Reason confirms the fact of God's existence; conscience is the inward experience of responsibility to him which brings home to us the reality of the relationships between him and ourselves. It has been said that God is "intellectually superfluous, emotionally dispensable, and morally intolerable." But he is not that to the man who is willing to let both his intelligence and his conscience speak, who loves truth and virtue, and has the will to do what is right regardless of worldly expediency or of his own personal comfort and pleasure.
2. Is it not an unjustifiable assumption that if something exists, there must be a reason for its doing so?
Not unless it is an unjustifiable assumption to say that man is endowed with reason and that it is natural for him to exercise it. In studying the universe physical science in its own sphere seeks the reasons why things are as they are. "How did this come to be?" and "What causes it to behave as it does?" are the most natural questions in the world. Moreover, by formulating its laws, physical science expresses in an intelligible way the phenomena of the universe which must therefore have "intelligibility" as one of its characteristics; that is, it must have a rational basis or we ourselves would not be able to think or speak intelligently about it. Now it is certain that not a single thing can be the cause of its own existence, or it would have to exist before itself in order to cause itself. This applies even to God. He could not be the cause of his own existence. He can only be self-existent or uncaused. All else, however, is caused. Our reason, devoting itself to finding explanations of all in this universe, justifiably seeks to account for the existence and intelligibility of the universe as a whole thing or "cosmos." Existence and intelligibility cannot belong to it for no reason whatsoever; and since it is not self-explanatory, we rightly seek the reason for both.
3. You do not even consider whether why the universe exists is a valid question to ask!
There is no need to do so. The wrong suggestion would be that reason is not entitled to ask it. Of course, once we ask about the cause of the universe itself, distinct from it or transcendent and beyond the reach of our physical sciences, we must be prepared for a different kind of proof than that which is possible for physical science to provide. We must seek a purely rational explanation supplied by philosophical reasons. So Mr. W. H. V. Reade rightly says: "It makes not the slightest difference whether matter is as hard as adamant, as stodgy as suet, as volatile as gas, as agile as electricity, or as naked as a mathematical formula. The only relevant question is whether it is self-sufficient or created by God; and this, as we cannot too often remind ourselves, is a question on which natural science has nothing to say."
4. If you undertake to prove God's existence, you cannot assume his existence even as a reason for the existence of the universe.
Our reasoning process does not begin by assuming God's existence. We begin with the observed fact of the visible universe we know. We say there is a reason for its existence either because it must of its very nature exist, that is, because it is self-existent, or because it is caused by some reality other than itself. But this material universe does not contain in itself the reason why it should exist rather than not exist, nor why it should be this kind of universe rather than some other kind. Denial of God as its Creator wipes off an intelligible universe as unintelligible in regard to its most basic requirement, that of its very being or existence. Reason rebels against this and affirms, not assumes without any factual basis, the existence of God as its Supreme Maker or Cause.
5. I believe science will eventually be able to explain everything in this universe to our complete satisfaction.
Science has a vast field for progress in its study of the whole world system of interdependent and interwoven processes of change; but the whole system points beyond itself to God as the absolute and transcendent source of its existence. Even within this universe, however, there is much which the physical sciences cannot hope to explain. They cannot tell us the purpose of our lives, nor what constitutes a good life as opposed to an evil one. They cannot tell us what becomes of us when death cuts us off from this world. These are important problems we need to solve. The unbeliever in God is not made by asking too many questions, but by not questioning sufficiently and deeply enough. Bacon's words are still true: "A little philosophy inclines man's mind to atheism, but depth in philosophy brings men's minds about to religion."
6. In his book "Why I Am Not a Christian" the philosopher Bertrand Russell said: "If everything must have a cause, then God must have a cause."
Russell there fell back on a misrepresentation. We do not say that everything must have a cause. We say that everything which does not contain within itself sufficient reason to account for its own existence must have a cause apart from itself. The material universe confronting us is a collection of finite, dependent, ever-changing elements. It is not selfexplanatory; but it is there and reason cannot find within it the explanation of why it is there. So the mind of man reaches out beyond it to the existence of One who is different in kind from the things around us - One who owes nothing, not even the fact that He exists - to anything else. The universe must owe its existence to a self-existent Being whom we called God, who is the Cause of all things other than himself, He himself being the Uncaused Creator of them. Bertrand Russell suffered from a mental blockage where religion was concerned. In a TV interview in 1958 he told his listeners that he thought his unbelief went back to a nightmare he had during a dream when he was a child only six years of age. Apparently all his philosophy had never emancipated him from the resultant obsession.
7. Einstein has suggested that it is possible to have an "oscillating universe" of alternating expansions and contractions going on indefinitely through nuclear reactions.
That conjecture would bring us no nearer to a solution of the real problem. God, as the supremely intelligent Creator, if he arranged things in that way, would still be necessary. Einstein himself did not think his suggestion did away with the need of God. In a lecture in Amsterdam in 1934 on "The World as I See It", he said that to the scientist "the harmony of natural law reveals an intelligence of such superiority that, compared with it, all the systematic thinking and acting of human beings is an utterly insignificant reflection."
8. Faced with the opinions of eminent unbelieving intellectuals, I find it increasingly difficult to accept the existence of God as an obvious fact.
No one claims the existence of God to be an obvious fact like the material things around us of which we have sense-experience. That God exists is a judgment of man's intelligence based on the existence of the things obvious to our senses. People do not need to be deeply versed in philosophy to make that judgment. There are millions of human beings who cannot follow abstruse philosophical discussions, yet whose natural and spontaneous judgment that there is a God is quite sound. Nor is there any reason apart from your will to do so why you should have confidence in unbelieving intellectuals who say they do not find arguments for God's existence convincing rather than in believing intellectuals who insist that reason rightly demands our admission that He does exist. For the rest, the debates of philosophers have no effect on God himself. He remains as the Maker and Final Judge of all mankind including, the wrangling philosophers who, just as any other human beings, will have to answer to Him in the end for the use they have made of their lives.
9. Apart from knowing God exists, can we form any reliable ideas as to what He is like?
To some extent, yes. I leave aside for the moment what He has told us of himself by divine revelation. We rightly conclude that He must possess in some way proper to himself all the good qualities He has bestowed upon creatures, although such qualities are given in varying degrees and are necessarily as finite or limited as creatures themselves. We, on our level, seeing only created and limited qualities, are compelled by reason to affirm what is good in them of God, denying that the limitations can apply to Him, and also insisting that He must possess them in a far higher way proper to his own infinite Being. Since we ourselves are persons, that is, possessing intelligence, freewill, and individual responsibility for our own deliberately chosen actions, God himself cannot be inferior to us in this respect and less than personal. He must be intelligent, free, and personal in an infinitely higher degree than ourselves. Naturally, if we are to talk about God at all, we can do so only in human terms on our own level, realising that our ideas in the way we think them are not strictly applicable to God in that same way. Our ideas are bound to be inadequate, only to some extent true, but there is something in God which corresponds to what we are trying to say of him. Our common sense should tell us that in order to understand God fully one would have to be God. We must resign ourselves to the fact that we are not God, that while we know something of him we cannot know all, and that He must remain for the human mind the Unique, Uncreated and Mysterious Reality that He alone can be.
10. If God is so mysterious, what hope could men, above all primitive and uneducated peoples, have as regards developing any clear ideas of him at ail?
They could grasp the fact of a Supreme Maker and Ruler of this visible universe. St. Paul's words were as true of them as of ourselves, namely, that the existence of God is manifested by visible creation in "the things that are made, his everlasting power also, and deity." Rom., 1:20. A comparative study of primitive religions shows that all peoples had the idea of a Supreme God above and beyond all lesser gods they had imagined for themselves, and they preserved both the sense of religion and of the duties of religion however misdirected their efforts to express religion in practice. St. Paul says of pagans who have lacked the knowledge of revealed truth that at least they have not outgrown a conscience within themselves, its approval or condemnation of their conduct remaining to serve as a witness on the day when God judges the secrets of mankind (Rom., 2:14-16). It should be noted that only intelligent human beings have ever had a religion. The phenomenon is not to be found among irrational animals. To have no religion is not a sign of intelligence. The Second Vatican Council, in its Decree on "The Church in the Modern World", n.19, admits that in our sophisticated civilisation there are atheists who regard the idea of God as simply meaningless, but it denies that such unbelief is based on sound reasoning. Rather it is due to men so exalting their own scientific achievements, or to their being so engrossed in earthly affairs, that they exclude from their attention any thought of God. And the Council adds: "Undeniably those who wilfully shut God out from their hearts and try to evade the question of religion are not following the dictates of their conscience. Hence they are not free from blame."
11. Religion tells us that we must pray to God.
It is true that religion, if one is genuinely religious no matter in what way, expresses itself in prayer, whether spoken or unspoken. Prayer may take many forms. It may consist simply of an act of recognition and appreciation of God, or of gratitude to him, or apology for our own misdeeds, or of petition for his protection and assistance. Prayer is not only asking for things, although many in their thinking do not go beyond that aspect of it. That prompts their question as to why should we have to ask for anything. The answer is that, although God has given us many things without our having to pray for them, there are also many things He wills to give us provided we do pray for them. We must here allow for all the secondary causes and influences which are part of God's providential plan for the universe as a whole and for man in particular. Man, endowed with intelligence, is meant to be his own providence in many things, depending on his own initiative; but also man is dependent on the power of prayer as a safeguard against his own deficiencies, physical, mental or moral. No one can deny the uncertainty of our own human providence for ourselves. We do not always know what is really in our own best interests where the choosing rests with ourselves; and, in any case, there are many factors in life which are simply beyond our control. Such considerations should make second nature to us prayer to the God who made us; and millions have experienced the efficacy of such prayer. The truth remains, as Tennyson expressed it, that "More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of."
12. I cannot see how there can be a God at all when I think of all the suffering in this world.
Here we must keep in mind that God is a fact, or nothing would exist at all; and suffering is also a fact. Difficulty in reconciling these two facts proves, not that there is no God, but only what we all ought to know, namely, that our small human minds cannot fully understand everything. Unless we are very foolish, we are well aware of the limitations of our human reason both as regards the number of things we can know and the degree of understanding we can develop concerning them.
13. You will probably play as your trump card the idea of mystery.
There is bound to be some element of mystery. We have just got to accept that and make the best of things. One thing is certain. If there be no God, the mystery of the world without a Creator of it is a much greater mystery than any confronting the believer in God. Atheists try to do away with the problem by saying that there are sufferings and evils in this world and that therefore there is no God. At the other extreme there are religious people who say that there is an infinitely good God and that therefore there are no sufferings or evils. These latter, they say, we only imagine. They are illusions. But that, too, is to take refuge in unreality, evading the problem. The truly reasonable person admits that God is a fact and that the sufferings and evils are a fact. He refuses to go back on his tracks and deny either of the things he does know because of what he does not know and cannot expect to know. If the two facts conflict with our ideas of what ought or ought not to be, then we had better readjust our ideas. We cannot alter the facts.
14. Why does nature itself inflict such appalling sufferings upon humanity?
Nature itself, as far as this material universe is concerned, is governed by physical laws which operate mechanically. At times, the interplay of secondary physical laws can result in disasters for vegetation, animals and human beings. Earthquakes and floods can wreck the countryside; fires can destroy vast areas of vegetation; carnivorous animals devour other animals; human beings have been struck dead by lightning. Changes of weather alone can be uncomfortable for creatures endowed with the power of sensation. Even God could not make a sensitive being not capable of feelings of any kind. Incidentally, sensation makes much pleasure possible if, at times, pain also. One could go on almost endlessly with the list of possible physical ills in this world. But they are off-set by the far greater physical benefits; so much so that the predominant desire to continue living in order to enjoy them rather than die and lose them is general among all living things. If we really thought the possible evils of this life outweighed the good we would pity, not the mouse just devoured by a cat and liberated from it all, but the cat for having to go on with its miserable existence!
15. Is it by such unnecessary sufferings that God manifests his power and wisdom and goodness?
We must take total and not partial views. By the creation of this whole universe God manifests his infinite power. Man can engage in processes of transforming things; but he could not create an acorn. God's wisdom is manifested by the laws appointed for the development of the universe leading to such an astounding variety, beauty, and opportunities of enjoyment that multitudes give little thought to anything else despite the hazards you mention. And He manifested his goodness by not denying existence to the universe and all in it, including ourselves, because of such occasional hazards. As for these hazards, they are necessary only in the sense of being an inevitable consequence of the kind of world we inhabit. All that we can say is that, viewing the world as a whole, reason itself cannot object to lesser disadvantages when they are outweighed by a greater total good. All finite realities, of course, are subject to some deficiencies by the mere fact of their being finite or limited in their degree of being and of the qualities they possess.
16. How can one reconcile the crimes due to the moral depravity of men with the goodness and mercy of God?
Here we enter upon a different field. God is in no way responsible for the moral evils which he forbids, which no human being need commit, and which are due to a guilty misuse of freewill. Men, and not God, are responsible for those. What must be said is that it would not be good, owing to possible moral lapses, to deprive man of his true dignity as a free and responsible person, turning him into an automaton or robot, as incapable of virtue as he would be incapable of vice. Here again, we must take complete and not incomplete views. We must not forget the solidarity of the human race. God had not to choose between creating this or that individual, but between creating or not creating a race propagating its kind. Since the general good of humanity outweighs the evil individuals do, it was better to create than not to create humanity. Also, the more one magnifies the evils resulting from abuses of freewill, the more in a way one pays tribute to the mercy of God who, in his patience, refrains from blotting the human race out of existence. Finally, this life is not all. Beyond our few short years in this world there is another life for mankind in which all injustices will be rectified. A merciful God can certainly tolerate trials and sufferings caused by evil men and endured with resignation and often with heroic constancy by men of goodwill, who can attain to greater eternal happiness as a result. It would not be more merciful to deprive all men of their opportunities of salvation by not granting any of us existence because some evil individuals choose to misuse the gift of freewill, causing such temporary distress to others.
17. Sufferings and miseries do not seem to fit in with a just and merciful God. Even religion does not preserve people from them.
We must not expect religion to do what it is not supposed to do. All human beings, religious or irreligious, while in this world are subject to its prevailing conditions; and these alternate between the comfortable and the uncomfortable. Speaking of temporal blessings, Christ said that "God makes his sun to rise upon the good and the bad, and his rain to fall upon the just and the unjust." Matt., 5:45. Equally, on the other hand, both the just and the unjust are subject to the ordinary trials of life. Meantime, the denial of God remedies nothing. The unbeliever still has to endure his share of inevitable sufferings. Others, who believe in God, at least find in their religious convictions a reason for patience in bearing with such trials as God chooses to permit. The Old Testament tells us of Job, whose religious fidelity no disasters could shake. The New Testament tells us of the teachings of Christ and of the way in which he himself faced the worst that this world could do to him. You may say that the appeal there is not to philosophical reasoning but to a religious faith. It is, however, to a faith supported by the evidence of historical events very much down to earth and on our own level which cannot be explained except by the direct intervention of God in human affairs. For the rest, while unbelievers voice their protests against particular evils as if there were nothing else in the universe, a Father Damien, who believed in a God of mercy, devoted himself uncomplainingly to manifesting God's mercy by caring for the lepers of Molokai until the dread disease of leprosy claimed his own life. The ultimate truth is that this world is not enough for man, who is made for far more than it can offer; and it is religion, as revealed by God, which alone can provide a satisfactory answer to the whole problem of life. That is why Pascal jotted in his personal notes that he believed in "the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob; not of the philosophers and scholars." Pascal regarded the abstract speculations about God, which was all that the philosophers and scholars had to offer, as scarcely worth the paper on which they were written. Very different, however, were his reactions to the revelation God had made of Himself to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; to the way in which God had acted both upon them and within them - they in turn judging all things in the light of their relationships with Him.
18. What is meant by calling the Bible the inspired Word of God?
By biblical inspiration we mean that God so positively influenced the human authors of the different books in the Bible as to make those authors His instruments for committing to writing, each in his own contemporary style, precisely what God wanted to be written. God, therefore, is the principal Author of the books, the human agents only the secondary and instrumental authors. Of each of the books we can say: "Thus saith the Lord", knowing it to contain the Word of God.
19. Are inspiration and revelation one and the same thing?
Not necessarily; for a biblical writer may have been inspired by God to commit to writing things naturally known to him and not needing to be revealed to him. On the other hand, it could be that here and there in an author's inspired writings events may be described which could be due only to God's direct intervention or doctrines may be taught which could have been made known to him only by divine revelation. The Second Vatican Council, in its "Constitution on Divine Revelation", n.II (Nov. 18, 1965) said: "Since everything asserted by the inspired authors must be held to be asserted by the Holy Spirit, it follows that the books of Holy Scripture must be acknowledged as teaching firmly, faithfully and without error that truth which God wanted put into the sacred writings for the sake of our salvation." We have to ask ourselves, therefore, what each of the inspired human authors intended to assert for the sake of our religious welfare, whatever the literary forms he might use in which to do so; and, above all, where the Old Testament is concerned, we must remember that God manifested His plan for us only partially and progressively as a preparation for the coming of the fulness of the truth in Christ, the very Word of God made flesh in the Incarnation and put before us in the writings of the New Testament.
20. Why have Catholics 46 books in their Old Testament, whereas only 39 appear in Protestant editions?
Over a century before the appearance of Christianity the Jews had two forms of the Old Testament. One consisted of 39 books written in Hebrew and used mainly in Palestine. The other consisted of 46 books written in Greek by the Greek-speaking Jews of Alexandria in Egypt. This included the 39 Hebrew books translated into Greek, with seven other books added which were also regarded as divinely-inspired. This Alexandrian Old Testament, known as the Septuagint, was produced by Jews for Jews and was accepted by all Greek-speaking Jews even in Palestine. Christians from the very beginning adopted it, the New Testament authors who wrote in Greek basing some 300 of their references out of 350 on the Greek Septuagint version of the Old Testament. In the 16th century A.D. the Protestant reformers decided to make their own translations from the Palestinian Hebrew text and this disposed them to limit themselves to the 39 books it contained. Many of their presentday scholars regret the omissions of the additional Greek Septuagint books and urge the restoration of them to their English versions of the Old Testament.
21. What was the historical origin of the Jews?
They trace themselves back to Abraham. Thus St. John the Baptist warned the Jews of his own day not to boast: "We have Abraham for our father" (Matt., 3:9), as if that provided themselves with a security of inherited blessings which could not be forfeited by any infidelity on their part. The word "Jew", however, comes from Juda, a great-grandson of Abraham, and meant originally a member of the tribe of Juda. Abraham had a son named Isaac, who in turn had a son named Jacob. Jacob's name was changed to "Israel" which can be interpreted as "God Rules" - and his twelve sons, one of them named Juda, became the founders or patriarchs of the twelve tribes of Israel. Today all are called Jews who are derived from any of the twelve tribes of Israel and the term is not restricted to those who are descendants of the tribe of Juda only.
22. Do not the Jews look to Moses as their Lawgiver and Prophet?
Yes; but he too was a descendant of Abraham. As a matter of fact, the Jews see themselves as a people brought into existence by a whole series of extraordinary Acts of God. These began about 2000 B.C. in Mesopotamia with the conversion of Abraham from paganism and God's bidding him to migrate southwards, promising by a special covenant blessings upon both himself and his posterity, blessings to be mediated through that posterity to all nations. God's initial interventions reached their climax about 1300 B.C. when He commissioned Moses, who had been born of Israelite parents in Egypt, to liberate the children of Abraham from slavery under an oppressive Pharaoh there. Moses organised their exodus from Egypt across the Red Sea, reconstituted them as the "People of God" under the covenant of Mt. Sinai, and led them through the deserts of Arabia to a homeland of their own in Canaan. These events remained an indelible memory among the Israelites, a basic principle of cohesion as a people chosen by God to be recipients of His messages at the hands of their succession of prophets. In fact, they attained to a knowledge of God far superior to anything found among the Indians, Persians and Greeks, who were culturally much more gifted peoples. All this is a startling phenomenon of history, not only presupposing God's existence but indicating a revelation of His purposes for mankind. Benjamin Disraeli, England's Prime Minister 1874-1880, asked once for a proof of God's existence, replied simply: "The Jews". No other people, dispersed among the nations, has so preserved its identity and character as a nation through more than 4000 years. There is nothing in history like this single people held together by its succession of Old Testament prophets proclaiming God and the truth of His covenant with Abraham. Despite their rejection of the fulfilment of God's promises in Christianity, the Jews still have a unique mission as witnesses to the reality of God's covenant with Abraham.
23. Who wrote the biblical account of mankind's origin?
That account occurs in the book of Genesis which introduces the Pentateuch or first five books of the Old Testament. It was the general belief of the Jews and of Christians also for many centuries that Moses himself wrote the Pentateuch. From about the 17th century onwards, however, biblical scholars, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, questioned this assumption owing to a critical analysis of both the contents and the style of the books. It is now accepted that the books of the Pentateuch are composite works based on documents written by different inspired authors between the 9th and 5th centuries B.C., with various adjustments according to the religious conditions of their own times, but substantially embodying ancient oral traditions which went back to the time when Israel became a distinct people, that is, to the time of Moses. In that sense the Pentateuch can be called Mosaic in origin. This academic problem in no way, of course, affects its divine inspiration; nor does it hinder our popularly ascribing to Moses the teachings the books contain.
24. According to some recently discovered human fossils, man has existed on earth for some millions of years.
It has been reported that in 1959, Dr. Leakey, a British anthropologist, found a human skull at Olduvai, East Africa, which the potassium argon dating process showed to be 1,750,000 years old, nearly a million and a half years older than the fossil remains of Peking man who lived a mere 300,000 years ago. The item was of scientific interest, but not of any great importance in the light of modern biblical studies.
25. Whence came the idea that man was created only about 4,000 B.C.?
Jewish scholars of old thought they could calculate the age of mankind by adding up the ages of the generations mentioned in the book of Genesis between Adam and Abraham. In 1650 A.D. the Anglican Archbishop Ussher, working on similar lines, concluded that creation occurred on Saturday, October 22, 4004 B.C. The Masonic Calendar, adding 4000 to 1965, makes this the year 5965 after creation. But all biblical scholars today, Jewish, Christian and Masonic, admit that, in view of modern scientific discoveries, it was a mistake to imagine that the age of mankind could be calculated from the pages of the Bible.
26. Did not the writers of Genesis intend to give the history of mankind from Adam to Abraham?
Not precisely as we understand history. For Moses, who lived about 1300 B.C., the history of Israel as the Chosen People of God began with Abraham, who lived about 2000 B.C. That history commences in the twelfth chapter of Genesis. But God had revealed certain religious truths to Abraham, to Isaac, to Jacob, to Jacob's descendants and above all to Moses himself progressively explaining that the particular calling of Israel was not for Israel's own sake but in order that they might hold a central place in God's plan for the salvation of all humanity. These religious truths included the fact that the God of Israel was the sole Creator of the whole universe and of the human race; that the first representatives of the human race had sinned by rebellion against Him but that He had promised a Redeemer to come; and that this Redeemer would arise from among the descendants of Abraham. The writers of Genesis, inspired to teach these religious truths, composed a kind of preface to history showing how the way was prepared for God's covenant with Abraham and for the emergence of Israel. This preface, given in the first eleven chapters of Genesis, was written in the largely symbolical style of those times, its main purpose being to embody in it an account of God's dealings with men and the continuity of His plan of salvation for them from the very beginning. To bridge the interval back from Abraham to Adam - Moses had no idea of how long that was - a custom of the Israelites was followed, namely, that of giving the genealogies of clans or tribes by listing prominent patriarchal names and assigning long eras to them without mentioning intermediate names. The arbitrary rather than the strictly historical nature of the lists given in Genesis is evident from the symmetrical division of ten generations between Adam and Noah, and another ten between Shem and Abraham. What was obviously intended was to bring out the connection of the whole human race with the first man, Adam. It should be noted that, although the first eleven chapters of Genesis are often spoken of as pre-historical, we are not justified in going to the extreme of dismissing them as simply unhistorical. The religious truths they contain are associated with God's intervention at various stages of mankind's development on the level of human historical experience. Naturally we cannot expect the account in Genesis to conform to our modern concept of "scientific history" with its demand for accurate documentation, exact chronologies and statistical detailed analysis, requirements dating only from Renaissance times in the 15th century A.D.
27. It seems that the biblical account leaves unsolved many problems about the creation of the universe and of man.
The realisation of that has long been overdue. The Bible was never intended to be a textbook of the natural sciences. We are left to our own resources where they are concerned. The writers of Genesis, in their day, had not our knowledge of the sciences of geology, archaeology, palaeontology and anthropology. They had no idea of how vast the period was that had elapsed between the first human beings and Abraham, and no merely historical kind of interest in that problem. Their interest was in declaring the religious inclusion of all humanity, reaching right back to the beginning, in the need of redemption from sin and God's plans for it.
28. Genesis tells us that all in this universe is due to creation by God, whereas science says all is due to evolution which is not mentioned in the Bible.
Evolution is a term indicating a process, which in turn supposes something evolving. To account for the "something" which has the innate power of developing in various ways we have to say that God created it. Charles Darwin, who popularised the theory of evolution in his book "The Origin of Species", published in 1859, concluded it by attributing the whole evolutionary process to God, saying: "There is a grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or one . . . endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful being evolved." Going far beyond Darwin's intentions, however, atheistic materialists exaggerated his theories and used them in their efforts to discredit the Bible and undermine religion altogether. Christian defenders of religion reacted by upholding a far too literal interpretation of Genesis which their own later biblical studies have shown to have been quite unwarranted. But anything like that 19th century's head-on conflict between science and religion is a thing of the past. Science, philosophy and religion are better aware of their respective fields of work. As for evolution, Pope Pius XII said in his Encyclical "Humani Generis", 1950, that the Church leaves even the development of the human body from lower forms of life an open question provided one admits at least the direct creation of each human soul by God.
29. Were not the books of Father Teilhard de Chardin, S.J. forbidden by the Church in 1957,1962,1965 and 1967 because he made man the product of an evolutionary process?
The Church has never issued a general prohibition of any of Teilhard de Chardin's published writings. The dates mentioned refer to a series of warnings to teachers to safeguard their students against grave philosophical and theological errors in his books. Teilhard de Chardin had the best of intentions. Where men had claimed that there was an antithesis or conflict between science and religion, he claimed that a total view of all reality could result in a single synthesis of both science and religion. So he attempted to blend a scientific evolutionary philosophy with a Christ-centred doctrine of man and man's eternal destiny. His main work in this regard was his book "The Phenomenon of Man." Close examination of the book, however, reveals many ambiguities and many positive difficulties, scientific, philosophical and theological. Teilhard himself realised that he sometimes gave rein to a fertile and unbridled imagination. "People", he wrote, "will wonder whether I have led them on a conducted tour through facts, metaphysics or dreams." He had good grounds for such misgivings. This is not to say that his general idea of a magnificent synthesis of the whole cosmic phenomenon does not open up new lines of thought; but his suggestions need to be worked out and corrected at almost every step along the way, as he himself often admitted.
30. Are we to believe we are members of a fallen human race owing to a sin committed by our first parents, Adam and Eve?
The words "Adam" and "Eve" as first used in Scripture meant simply "the man" and "the woman", only later being regarded as proper names. We have to believe in a first couple from whom all later human beings have descended. Moses knew by divine revelation at least the facts that God had created all things good and that the first man's initial good relationships with God had been disrupted by a sin affecting not only himself but all his posterity. However, he also knew that, on the occasion of that first sin, God in His mercy had promised a future Redeemer. In order to perpetuate this information he embodied it in the vivid and really wonderful story of Adam and Eve, a skilful and dramatic narrative a child could understand and which so catches the imagination of men that once heard it becomes unforgettable. In the form in which the story is told it can be likened to a parable, not all the details of which are to be taken literally.
31. Where was the Garden of Eden?
In the imagination of the writer of Genesis, just as "Utopia" was in the imagination of St. Thomas More as a name for the ideal country he wanted to portray. Genesis tried to illustrate in a concrete and picturesque way the conditions of perfect earthly well-being God had provided for man before sin disrupted relationships with Him.
32. What was the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, of which Adam and Eve were forbidden to eat?
As no tree can literally convey knowledge, the tree in question was obviously symbolical imagery, intended to signify that the first sin was some kind of rebellion against a commandment given by God. As long as they were obedient to God our first parents would know only what was good; but revolt would bring with it the bitter experience of evil also.
33. Were Adam and Eve themselves actual persons?
There are some biblical scholars who profess to believe in original sin and in mankind's fallen state, yet think these need not be anchored to any first two actual persons. But Pope Pius XII, in his Encyclical "Humani Generis", 1950, declared the only authorised Catholic position to be that "original sin proceeds from a sin actually committed by an individual Adam." St. Paul, taking the biblical account for granted, wrote to the Romans: "As by one man sin entered into the world and through sin death, so death passed on to all men . . . by the disobedience of one man, many were made sinners." Rom., 5:12, 19. Scholars proposing the new theory of polygenism (that is, the evolutionary emergence of primitive groups of human beings) instead of monogenism (that is, the creation of a primitive couple, Adam and Eve) admit their theory to be no more than a possibility only and one involving many difficulties, apart from the fact that, owing to the immense expanse of time, it can in no way be verified by scientific investigation. Father A. M. Dubarle, O.P., who favours the polygenist theory, says in his book "The Biblical Doctrine of Original Sin" that further study may show the fall of two actual first parents and humanity's strict unity of descent from them to be so bound up with biblical teachings and the doctrine of the Church taken as a whole that the new theories will have to be rejected, however plausible supporters thought them to be.
34. Were Cain and Abel genuinely historical figures?
There would be no good reason for doubting that. But here we must recall the nature of the book of Genesis. It is a kind of anthology of the religious traditions of Israel which reached its final form about the 5th century B.C. Some of these traditions had been committed to writing probably as early as the reign of David, about 1000 B.C.; but the different inspired writers based their work substantially on oral traditions and possibly surviving written fragments handed down from Moses who lived about 1300 B.C. and who, as did Abraham (2000 B.C.), belonged to the Neolithic or Later Stone Age in which pastoral and agricultural pursuits were predominant. Such pursuits were quite a late development in human history. Moses himself, as we know, was a shepherd and was in fact tending a flock of sheep when the voice of the Lord called to him from the burning bush, telling him he was to lead the people of Israel out of their captivity in Egypt. Significantly, Moses described Abel as a shepherd and Cain as a tiller of the soil, occupations proper to his own period in history, yet transferred his references to both of them for his own purposes back into prehistoric times.
35. If Cain and Abel were the only children of Adam and Eve, and Cain killed Abel, where did Cain get his wife?
Gallons of ink have been wasted on that imagined problem. The account in Genesis as it stands makes it clear that Cain and Abel are not even depicted as Adam and Eve's only children. It goes on to say that there were other "sons and daughters". Moreover, that the account takes for granted an already populated world is clear from Cain's fear of death at the hands of his fellow men. In any case, although for the sake of the story, Cain and Abel are described as being the immediate sons of Adam and Eve, in reality such could not have been the case.
36. Why did Cain murder Abel?
Probably, at the time of Moses, there was current among the Israelites a traditional account of a particularly shocking murder within their own remembered past history. An evil-living farmer named Cain felt as a reproach of his own perverse ways the good life of a shepherd named Abel. Yielding to resentment and hatred, he ended by murdering Abel. This would mean that Cain and Abel were at least within the range of the accessible annals of human history, as Adam and Eve were not. No human being was present when God created the world and when our first parents came into existence. There were no natural means of bridging the enormous gap of millions of years between those first events and the earliest periods of human history as we, understand it. This does not mean that Adam and Eve were not actual and real people; it means only that the account of them shows that they belonged to pre-historical times and that the reference to them and to their significance was in order to teach the divinely-revealed truth of mankind's original lapse into sin and of God's promise of a Redeemer to come.
37. Why did Genesis introduce such a story of bloodshed?
Moses was dealing with a primitive Semitic people who, not historically- minded as we are, asked of any story told to them: "What does it mean?" If he linked the story of Cain and Abel with that of our first parents, it was not in order to teach any immediate blood-relationship with our first parents, which would be an anachronism; not that that would trouble people then. Knowing their love for vivid and concrete imagery, he used the Cain and Abel incident as an artificial and literary device, after having described the fall of our first parents, to show the connection of their first and original sin with the sins of all later generations of men, its inherited contagion poisoning, not only men's relationships with God, but their relationships with one another as well. That religious lesson and the explanation of the historical condition in which humanity found itself the people of the time found it easy to grasp. They were just not interested in dissecting the story as regards its various details. The central truth put before them was enough for them. We, of a later age and brought up with a very different mentality, do not see things as they did; but also, very often, we do not see the wood for the trees, nor the real lesson being put before us.
38. Was there any factual basis for the story of the Flood and of Noah and the Ark?
Very similar stories to that contained in Genesis existed in the ancient East, inscribed on tablets much older than the biblical writings. In one of the accounts, the Babylonian "Gilgamesh Epic", an individual who survived a great flood in a vessel of some kind is called "Utnapishtim". The Babylonians dressed up their story with many fanciful details, explaining the flood as due to a mere whim of one of their mythological gods who chose "Utnapishtim" for survival, no longer as a mere man, but as one of the gods like themselves. Disregarding these embellishments, there is little doubt that in the far remote past an immense flood had happened which an individual family had survived, multiplying after the floodwaters had receded. Abraham probably brought the story with him from Mesopotamia, enabling it to be told and re-told among his descendants. Moses, 700 years after Abraham's time, made use of the story for his own religious purposes, eliminating all elements in it unworthy of the true God and emphasising the evil of sin, the divine judgment on corrupt humanity, and the covenanted mercies of God upon which we should still rely with confidence.
39. Could Moses have thought of the Flood merely as one of the dreadful consequences of the Ice Age?
Moses (and later editors of Genesis) had nothing to work on except the various Mesopotamian traditions of an immense flood in the remote past. Modern scientists have argued that if such a flood occurred in fact archaeology should be able to find geological traces of it. Sir Leonard Woolley, about 1930, found in the region of the Euphrates deposits of clay about eleven feet thick, with evidences of habitation beneath them. These clay deposits proved that a great flood must have occurred about 3000 B.C., long before the time of Moses who lived about 1300 B.C. At first Sir Leonard Woolley's find was hailed as evidence of the biblical flood; but it was not ancient nor widespread enough to fit in with Babylonian, Sumerian and Accadian traditions which dated from a much earlier period. Professor W. F. Albright, in his book "History, Archaeology and Christian Humanism" (1965) says on p. 95 that the flood story "is being connected more and more with the floods which devastated south-western Asia about the end of the last Glacial Age, about 9000 B.C. (radiocarbon dating)." The liquidation of vast masses of ice at the end of the last Glacial Period, therefore, could account for the flood around which the various traditions had been built. But a knowledge of the ending of an Ice Age about 9000 B.C. would not be possible in the pre-scientific times of the biblical writers who were not geological experts and knew nothing of radiocarbon dating!
40. Is it true that the remains of Noah's Ark have in fact been found on Mt. Ararat, in Armenia?
During the past 200 years rumours have spread from the small Armenian village of Bayzit, at the foot of Mt. Ararat that something like part of a ship has been seen projecting from one of the glaciers near the mountain top. In 1892 an Armenian explorer, Dr. Nouri, claimed to have inspected it and said that it was a boat-shaped object, covered with a thin layer of lava. After World War II, Russian and American fliers, as a result of aerial observations, said there was "something there" which might be the remains of a ship. In 1960, an American scientific team found the object at an altitude of 6000 feet and discovered from blasting tests that there was nothing under the lava-coating except solid rock. What was supposed to be "Noah's Ark" was only a boat-shaped projection of mountain-side which appeared from time to time as the snow and ice receded and which from a distance impressed people predisposed by persistent rumours to believe it possible that the remains of the Ark were still there. The very idea that there might be surviving relics of the Ark is based on an over-literal interpretation of Genesis. There was a flood. But the "Noah's Ark" story in Genesis was based on lingering traditions of that flood thousands of years afterwards and was intended, not as literal history, but as a kind of religious parable to stress the corruption of men and the justice and mercy of God. No relies of the "Ark" exist anywhere.
41. Is there any truth in the story of the Tower of Babel?
All that we can say is that it illustrates a profound truth. The author of the story took as a symbol of men's ambition and pride one of the huge stepped towers or "ziggurats" - we would call them "skyscrapers" - which were a feature of many Mesopotamian cities. He described those building them as saying to one another: "Let us make a name for ourselves." The lesson is that the efforts of men to build a civilisation without reference to God, one in which they themselves will be supreme and independent of God, are doomed to failure owing to their own inherent sinfulness and perversity. What men need is a salvation from themselves, a salvation of which they are incapable. We must keep in mind that the first eleven chapters of Genesis constituted a prologue to the definite history of Israel. It is in the twelfth chapter that we read of the call of Abraham to be the father and founder of a chosen people of God who were to be privileged and burdened with so leading a part in God's plan of salvation. The prologue had dwelt on the persistence and growth of evil, ruling out hopes of mankind's improvement by its own unaided efforts. What more fitting conclusion of it could there be than the magnificent parable of the Tower of Babel as an introduction to God's historical choice of a people who would provide, not only a long series of prophets to prepare the way of the Lord, but to supply the very lineage from which would be derived mankind's promised Redeemer Himself.
42. Whose leadership do the Jews regard as the more important, that of Abraham or that of Moses?
Undoubtedly, as regards leadership, that of Moses. But the Israelites knew that the leadership itself of Moses was one of the covenanted blessings God had promised to the descendants of Abraham whom they revered as their father and patriarch. Certain it is that the Jews have always regarded their exodus or liberation from captivity in Egypt as one of the most important events in their history, enabling them to survive as a nation instead of being submerged among the Egyptians. Like a refrain remembered ever afterwards, their very definition of God was of the One who had brought them "out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage." God chose them, a weak and dispirited people in a condition of slavery, to confound the strong and mighty rulers of Egypt; and they never tired of recalling the power He had exercised on their behalf and the goodness and mercy He had shown them.
43. Was the passage of the Israelites through the Red Sea when escaping from the Egyptians miraculous or due to natural agencies?
The Israelites did not cross the present-day Red Sea. At the head of the Gulf of Suez there were fairly shallow reaches of water leading up to the Bitter Lakes. The Hebrew word for these shallow reaches meant the "Sea of Reeds", because of the Papyrus reeds which were plentiful there. Exodus 14:21 tells us that when the Israelites arrived on the scene a "strong wind" drove the waters back, probably towards the Lakes. An out-sized ebb-tide could also have drained other waters south towards the Gulf of Suez. The Israelites were able to cross on the exposed land; but the Egyptians following them were trapped as the waters returned, deep enough to drown them. The Israelites certainly saw in this a manifestation of God's special providence on their behalf. The call of Moses, his commission to lead the people of Israel out of captivity, and the drastic way in which Pharaoh was compelled to let them go - these elements were not natural events; and the Jews have ever since rightly celebrated their exodus or deliverance as miraculous. They would be quite unmoved by any references to the partial intervention of merely natural factors and would simply ask why these should have become operative at that particular time, in that particular way, and with such results.
44. Why did not Moses lead the Israelites by the shorter coastal route to Palestine instead of taking them southwards into the deserts of Arabia?
Egyptian forts and garrisons would be an obstacle to following the shorter route, usually taken by traders. But God had a purpose in directing them by the longer route. It was to be more than a way to the Promised Land. It was to be a sojourn in the wilderness for forty years. Often, of course, they were in waterless deserts. Exodus 17:6 tells us of Moses providing water from a rock to avert danger of dying from thirst. It has ever been Israelite conviction that God's providence led their forefathers through the long desert journey in order to form them into the "People of God". There they were trained to look to Him as their Ruler and Provider. The Covenant He made with them on Mt. Sinai gave them a sense of special relationship with Him, of love and adoption on His side; of trust, obedience and loyalty on theirs.
45. It has been denied that there is any foundation for the Old Testament story that Moses received the Ten Commandments from God.
There is no sound basis for such a denial. The Israelites knew their own history and that their liberation from Egypt was that they might be formed into a holy "People of God." They knew that God had made a special Covenant with them through Moses on Mt. Sinai and that He also gave them the Ten Commandments through Moses, telling them how they should live as God's people. They thought of themselves as the "People of the Covenant", with which the Commandments given by God through Moses were always associated. There is no room for reasonable doubt that Moses had a tremendous religious experience on Mt. Sinai, and that the Commandments he taught the people gave them a consciousness of a new kind of obligation quite different from anything similar to be found among other peoples outside Israel.
46. The Babylonian Hammurabi formulated a similar code of ethical laws three centuries before Moses was born.
There are some similarities between the two codes, but the differences are far more striking than the likenesses. The similarities are restricted to those basic and natural ethical principles most human beings could be expected to discover for themselves. The Babylonian Code of Hammurabi was discovered in 1901. In 1916, the Sumerian Code, containing the same basic principles, but dating from some six centuries before Hammurabi's time, was brought to light by archaeologists. When we put aside the common inheritance of natural ethnical principles and turn to the contrasts between the Code of Hammurabi and that of Moses we find immense differences in religion, spirit and character. The Hebrews were strict monotheists, believing in one supreme and Personal God, Creator of all things. The Babylonians were Polytheists, with a whole galaxy of humanly-invented gods and goddesses. The force of law in the Ten Commandments as given through Moses derives from the fact that they are grounded in the Will of the Supreme and Personal God; and they begin expressly with man's religious duties towards God. The peremptory form "Thou shalt not", occurring throughout the Commandments, is absolutely unique. Moreover, God imposed the obligation of observing the Ten Commandments upon the Jews under threat of cancelling the Divine Covenant with them. In other words, there was no necessary connection between God and Israel as His chosen people. If they abandoned the Commandments, He would abandon them. There is nothing like this in Hammurabi's "Babylonian Code". Divergencies in the subject-matter, and divergencies in detail where there do appear to be similarities, exclude the theory of any direct borrowing by Moses from the Babylonian Code of Hammurabi.
47. Was the manna provided by God as food for the Israelites in the wilderness miraculously produced by God, or was it some natural fruit or vegetable?
The only conclusion that fully accords with the account in the Bible is that God created a special kind of food, the nature of which is unknown to us. Some biblical scholars have thought to identify the manna with a natural and nourishing substance which falls to the ground from tamarisk trees in parts of Arabia during the months of May, June and July. But difficulties arise at once. Firstly, the quantity would have to be miraculously multiplied since there would certainly not be enough of this material to provide for all the migrants. Secondly, the biblical account does not limit the supply of manna to the months of May, June and July; and it declares that a double supply was provided on the eve of each Sabbath so that none would have to be gathered on the Sabbath Day itself. Moreover, if the manna had been a natural product the Israelites would have been familiar with it; yet Israel is told, in Deut., 8:3, that God "gave you manna for your food which neither you nor your fathers knew."
48. What part of Palestine today represents the Promised Land at the time of Moses?
Practically all of it, from the valley of the River Jordan in the east down to the Mediterranean coast in the west; from the Lebanese Mountains in the north to a southern boundary between the lower end of the Dead Sea to the shores of the Mediterranean. In all, there were about 10,000 square miles of land which Joshua divided by lot between the federated tribes of Israel, two of them, Reuben and Gad, preferring Transjordan land east of the River, the other ten tribes balloting for selections of Canaanite territory. Moses himself did not enter the Promised Land. He had led the Israelites during their forty years of pilgrimage through the wilderness. Throughout those forty years he had instructed them and formed them as the "People of God", becoming their unique law-giver and building up for them a religion the characteristic features of which persisted throughout all their later history - a religion which in fact became known after him as the "Mosaic Dispensation". But Moses had completed the work assigned to him by God with the end of the journeyings of the Israelites. They arrived at Mt. Nebo, 2600 feet high and some fifteen miles east of the river Jordan, from the summit of which the Promised Land of Canaan could be seen. They ascended the mountain and there on the mountain-top, after having gazed upon the inheritance awaiting his people, Moses died. (It should be noted that in the New Testament account of the Transfiguration of Christ, Moses and Elias - representing the "Law" and the "Prophets" - appeared with Him, Moses having had his share in preparing the way for the coming and ultimate triumph of the Redeemer of all mankind.)
49. The Book of Joshua tells us that, when he led the Israelites into Canaan, the "sun stood still" in order to give him extra time to defeat the Amorites.
Few texts from the Old Testament are more frequently quoted than that one! As regards its interpretation, there are some modern biblical scholars who, without believing that the sun moves round the earth or that the earth's rotation could have been halted for twenty-four hours, think that the biblical account implies a great and unique nature miracle of some kind. So they suggest such possibilities as that of a miraculous refraction of the sun's rays through the earth's atmosphere producing the phenomenon of continued daylight, which gave the Israelites the impression that the sun stood still. It should be noted, however, that Joshua 10:13 introduces into the account a quotation from the "Book of Jashar", which was a collection of epic poems describing the exploits of Israel's early heroes. This book was compiled long before our present biblical writings. A second quotation from it occurs in David's lamentation for Jonathan, in 2 Samuel, l:17f. In such epic compositions we allow for poetic licence or highly imaginative imagery. A modern poet has written: "Stars climb the darkening blue", meaning that night is setting in. No sensible person objects that stars don't climb! There are times when an excessive literalism can lead only to absurdity. What the biblical writers did was to attribute to Joshua the highly figurative and poetical passage they remembered from the Book of Jashar and which they thought to be a most apt illustration of God's protection of Israel's cause. In Joshua 10:14 they give a more prosaic summary of what they wanted to stress: "There has been no day like it before or since, when the Lord hearkened to the voice of a man; for the Lord fought for Israel." In other words, Joshua prayed for victory and, as a religious man, credited God with having enabled him to achieve it. Efforts to preserve a literal interpretation of "the sun stood still" are not only unnecessary, but also are insufficiently in accordance with our knowledge of the sources and structure of the Book of Joshua, and of the sublimity of the poetry in which the ancient Hebrews felt that the more striking interventions of God could alone be worthily recorded.
50. When one thinks of the atrocities during the settlement of the Israelites in Canaan, the God of the Old Testament seems very different from the loving, merciful God manifested by Jesus in the New Testament.
Jesus himself did not think so; for it was the God of the Old Testament, the God of Abraham, whom He had come to manifest. "It is my Father who glorifies me", He told the Jews, "of whom you say that He is your God. . . . Your father Abraham rejoiced that he was to see my day; he saw it and was glad." Jn., 8:54-56. Also St. James, in the New Testament, tells us that in God "there is no change nor shadow of alteration." Ja., 1:17. God, however, changeless in Himself, can will changes among men according to their slowly changing and developing cultural stages. God had promised His people a land of their own and chose Canaan for them, a land in the midst of warring nations, Assyrians, Persians and marauding lesser tribes of the ancient East. The inhabitants of Canaan at the time were particularly corrupt, both religiously and morally. There can be no doubt that in the sight of God they deserved to forfeit their territory and have it assigned to others who were prepared to serve God as they should. The Israelites were told that this was the reason for the bestowal of the land upon them. Exodus 12:25, after saying: "When you come to the land which the Lord your God will give you as He has promised", goes on to explain that it is in order that they may serve Him there, establishing Him as their Ruler. To occupy the land the Israelites had to invade it and overcome the resistance of the previous inhabitants. They were, of course, only too human and liable to the temptation of interpreting their own self-interest as God's cause justifying almost anything they did, with innumerable resultant abuses. Of such abuses we are not called upon to approve; but the lessons of history right down to our own times should give us some understanding of them.
51. The difficulty is to associate such things with a "Chosen People of God".
The Israelites never proved really worthy of the mission for which God had chosen them although, despite their infidelities, the essential purpose for which He chose them was duly fulfilled. That purpose was the fulfilment through them of God's promise to Abraham that through him all the nations of the earth would be blessed. For from among the descendants of Abraham, that is, from among the people of Israel, the Messiah and Redeemer was to emerge who was to be the one hope of salvation for all mankind, not only of Israel but of the Gentiles as well. That mysterious fulfilment, of course, lay in the very remote future as Moses led his woebegone fugitives from their slavery under the Egyptians and, during their forty years' trek through the wilderness, tried to correct the wrong ideas and bad habits they had learned from their pagan oppressors; to instil a collective consciousness of a Covenant relationship with the true God — the God of Abraham, of Isaac and of Jacob; to awaken an idea of themselves as a nation "holy to the Lord"; and to teach them rules for prayer and public worship together with laws regulating their moral conduct. After their settlement in Canaan, and building on this Mosaic basis, a long series of prophets taught the people gradually and progressively ever higher spiritual ideals. The eighthcentury prophet Micah wrote movingly: "He hath shown thee, O man, what is good; what doth the Lord require of thee but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?" Micah, 6:8. At all stages of their history there were outstanding individual examples of virtue among the Israelites. As a nation, however, Israel in general failed to fulfil her obligations and her prophets repeatedly denounced her infidelities and open rebellions against God's will, her alliances with heathen nations, and the toleration of idolatrous practices within her own ranks. Israel's history, at times, seems as much one of punishments and disasters inflicted upon her by God as of anything else; and Isaiah, a contemporary of Micah, saw no hope of averting utter ruin except in a surviving faithful remnant from which the promised Messiah would eventually emerge. A century after the time of Isaiah another prophet, Jeremiah, declared: "Behold the days are coming, saith the Lord, when I will make a new Covenant with the house of Israel, not like the Covenant I made with their fathers when I brought them out of the land of Egypt, my Covenant which they broke." Jer., 31:31. Christ, the Incarnate Word of God, Himself of the house of Israel, established that New Covenant. He declared that (as far as His personal missionary work on earth was concerned) He was not sent but to the house of Israel (Matt., 15:24). His twelve apostles and His first disciples were all of the house of Israel. They were the "faithful remnant" of Isaiah's Israel to whom the fulfilment of God's plan should be offered for prior acceptance; and it was only after Christ's death and resurrection, the official leaders of Israel of old having had their opportunity and rejected it, that He gave the apostles their great and universal commission: "Go; make disciples of all nations." (Matt., 28:19). Israel of old, according to St. Paul (Romans, 11:28-31), beloved for the sake of their forefathers, will eventually also in God's mercy find their way to inclusion among the new People of God.
52. Are we to believe the Bible when it tells us that the prophet Jonah was swallowed by a whale?
Neither the Jonah nor the whale mentioned in the Book of Jonah ever existed. About 400 B.C. an author whose name is not known to us was inspired by God to impress upon his fellow Israelites that in Abraham not only they themselves but all nations were to be blessed, and that any exclusiveness which tended to regard the heathen as outside the pale of God's love and mercy was quite wrong. That was the lesson the author had to teach and he did so in his own way by writing a parable, wrapping the story around the name of a prophet called Jonah whom he recalled as having lived over three centuries earlier. With his vivid imagination he drove home the lesson he had to convey by constructing a series of striking and fantastic incidents, a form of teaching in which people of those times delighted and the point of which they quite easily grasped.
53. The whole account seems very far-fetched to me.
The whole account seems very far-fetched to me. The Book of Jonah is a sermon in story form. The details of the story are not important; the lesson is. We know how Christ taught charity towards a stranger in distress by His detailed parable of the Good Samaritan. In a similar way, our Old Testament author puts before us a fictitious character whom he called the prophet Jonah for no particular reason except that he happened to recall the name. Jonah is told by God - in the story - to preach repentance to the heathens of Nineveh, notorious for their wickedness, under pain of utter destruction. Jonah was shocked, for he did not think the Gentiles of Nineveh were entitled to God's forgiveness, whether they repented or not. Afraid they might repent and that God in a weak moment might spare them, Jonah ran away to sea. A violent storm arose. Jonah was thrown overboard. The Lord sent a great fish to swallow him, rush him back to land and disgorge him there so that he could carry out the mission given him. Jonah preached to the pagan Ninevites. They repented, and to Jonah's disgust God spared them. The story ends with the Lord rebuking Jonah's anger, pointing out that the poor pagans of Nineveh scarcely knew right from wrong, and that in any case He does not reserve His mercy for Jonah's people, inflicting only judgments without mercy on others. This story made a profound impression which has lasted to our own times, although not always for the right reasons; but it does illustrate an important aspect of religious truth for both Jews and Christians.
54. An item entitled "Like Jonah", in an Australian newspaper last January (1965), said that in 1891 an English sailor named James Bartley fell overboard from a whaling ship and was swallowed by a whale which was later caught and cut open, James Bartley being released after twelve hours in the whale's stomach.
Those given to an extreme literalism in their interpretation of the Bible have frequently published that story; but it is not authentic. The incident is said to have occurred in February, 1891, when the English whaler "Star of the East", under Captain Killam, was near the Falkland Islands, off the coast of South America. The story was first published in the following October by the English newspaper "Great Yarmouth Mercury". It created a sensation and was reprinted in many other papers and magazines. In 1906 an Anglican clergyman named Canon Williams wrote to Captain Killam for confirmation of it, but received a letter from the Captain's wife, dated November 24, 1906, saying: "There is not one word of truth in the whole story. I was with my husband all the years he was in the "Star of the East". There was never a man lost overboard while my husband was in her. The sailor has told a great sea yarn." Unaware of that denial, Sir Francis Fox, in 1924, included the story in his book: "Sixty-three Years of Engineering, Scientific and Social Work". In 1927, the U.S.A. "Princeton Theological Review" retold it. The London Jesuit periodical "The Month", February, 1929, in an effort to prevent further diffusion of such fiction as fact, republished Mrs. Killam's letter to Canon Williams. The "James Bartley" story will continue to be repeated by people who have never heard of its refutation; which makes it useful from time to time for the refutation itself to be repeated.
55. Were the Jews off old aware that their real prophets spoke in the name of God, not only to denounce current abuses, but also to predict the future?
The Book of Jonah, although written in the form of a parable, was a genuinely prophetic book foreshadowing the application of the promises to Abraham to all nations, although the Jews, interpreting them in a narrow nationalistic sense, thought foreigners excluded from them. So Pope Pius XI, denouncing anti-semitism, reminded Christians that "Abraham is our father also". But you have in mind such prophets as Isaiah, Jeremiah and others who actually lived and who claimed that God was proclaiming His message to the people through their lips. Now it has been the fashion with many modern biblical scholars to play down the predictive role of the Old Testament prophets and to suggest that their God-given task was not so much to foretell anything in the future as to tell forth in the here and now God's will for His people. It would be quite wrong, however, to limit the utterances of the prophets to a kind of forth-telling preaching, with the element of fore-telling excluded altogether. At times the prophets devoted themselves to enkindling the highest ideals and urging fidelity to them. At other times their discourses were definitely predictive. For example, when with one and the same "Thus saith the Lord" they condemned the nation's misconduct and declared the punishment God authorised them to proclaim as its inevitable consequence if it did not cease, they were truly foretelling what would be the result of such continued perversity; and only too often, after the event, the people who had not heeded their prophets realised how right their predictions had been. As a matter of fact, in the predictive sense of the word, there is a prophetic strain throughout the whole of the Old Testament like an underground stream which intermittently breaks through to the surface, and which shows that the concept of a Messiah or Redeemer to come was central to the thought of Judaism. This theme of expectation pervades the recently discovered Dead Sea Scrolls which belonged to a Jewish sect at Qumran, near Jerusalem, in pre-Christian times. And the Rabbi Brasch, of Sydney, N.S.W., says in his book "The Eternal Flame" (1958), p. 14: "Looking forward is the Jew's mainspring of life. To him there exists a Golden Age, not in the far distant past, but only in the days to come . . . his thoughts do not centre on a 'Paradise Lost' but on the Messianic Age. His innate optimism makes the Jew feel that the future is always something worth waiting for, working for, and even suffering for." What the Jews do not realise is that the Messiah for whom they are still waiting came in the Person of Christ in whom we Christians believe.
56. If, as Christians say, the Old Testament prophecies of Christ were so clear, why had the Jews themselves so little understanding of them?
The prophetic nature of their religion in general was clear enough for the Jews to realise that it was essentially messianic; that is, just as they had been delivered from slavery at the time of their exodus from Egypt and from captivity in Babylon when in 536 B.C. Cyrus the Persian allowed them to return to Palestine, so a future messiah or deliverer would arise who would permanently provide a "Golden Age" for them. But when we turn from the general trend of the prophecies to particular applications of each taken singly, we do not hold that the individual predictions are so clear as to leave no room for misunderstanding. From this aspect much in them is admittedly obscure. There are many reasons for this. Firstly, God gave His revelation gradually and progressively, the Jews having to live by faith in His promises as they were given by different prophets at different times, and to the extent in which they were given. We must not be surprised if earlier prophecies seem less meaningful than later ones. Secondly, the prophets often saw in a complex single vision both present and future things, describing the whole vision in a highly symbolical and poetical language, making it difficult to discern the strictly predictive elements. St. Ambrose said that "Christ is the solution of the enigmas of the prophets." In other words, seeing what has actually been fulfilled in Him, we know what was in fact predicted of Him. It is much easier to be wise after a predicted event than before it. This means that the prophecies, while a help towards faith in Christ, cannot of themselves give it. It was after His disciples had attained to faith in Him that Christ said to them: "These are my words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms must be fulfilled." Then, St. Luke 24:45 tells us: "He opened their minds to understand the scriptures." It is evident that the prophecies in question concerned the Person of Christ Himself, those, namely, which answered the inquiry addressed to Him on a former occasion by the followers of John the Baptist: "Are you he who is to come, or are we to look for another?" Lk., 7:20. That the disciples of Christ, despite their faith in Him and the interpretations of some prophecies which He personally had given them, were still in need of instructions concerning the nature of the messianic kingdom is clear from the question they put to Him on the very eve of the ascension: "Lord", they said to Him, "will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?" His reply was: "It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has fixed by His own authority. But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witness in Jerusalem . . . and to the end of the earth." Acts, 1:6-9. He thus rebuked their impatience, by-passed their inadequate ideas of an earthly messianic kingdom limited to Israel, and bade them wait until Pentecost when the Holy Spirit would bestow upon them the power to fulfil a new mission on His behalf, a mission universal in its scope, extending to all mankind even to the very ends of the earth.
57. Why, in your opinion, have the Jews returned to their ancient homeland in Palestine as an independent nation?
It cannot be said without qualification that the Jews have returned to Palestine. The total world-Jewish population is about sixteen millions. Over six millions of these live in the United States of America and prefer to retain their American nationality. No doubt some American Jews have migrated to Palestine, but far more Jews there have been drawn from other countries. The history of the origin of the new and independent State of Israel needs keeping in mind. A Hungarian Jew named Theodor Herzl (1860-1904), distressed by the sad lot of Jewish minorities hounded into ghettos in European countries such as Russia, Germany, France, Austria and elsewhere, began to urge publicly that Jews should be given a country of their own where they could lead their lives peacefully in their own way. Herzl was not a religious man. He was actuated solely by humanitarian motives; and when, in 1903, England offered ample healthy and fertile territory for a Jewish State in British East Africa, he was eager to accept it. He felt no religious ties with Palestine. But the Zionist Committee rejected the offer. Herzl died in 1904, carrying with him to the grave a deep sense of frustration. In 1917, however, Palestine having been wrested from the Turks by the British armies, the country was entrusted to Great Britain as mandated territory. The British Government, in the "Balfour Declaration", announced that a future national home for Jewish people could be established there. Jewish refugees flocked in. On May 14, 1948, the British Mandate ended and the Independent State of Israel was proclaimed as a Jewish Republic.
58. Is there any biblical significance in the return of the Jews to Palestine?
The vast majority of Jews have not returned to Palestine and have no wish to do so. Those settled there are mostly Jewish refugees from countries where they were oppressed who have found freedom in a land of their own. Some people have imagined the new Jewish State to be a fulfilment of an Old Testament prophecy that a remnant of the Jewish people would return with joy to the Holy Land. But that prophecy was concerned with and fulfilled by the return of the Jews to Jerusalem from their captivity in Babylon, about 536 B.C. As earlier stated, Theodor Herzl himself attached no religious significance to the establishing of a politically-free Jewish State. In Israel today only about 20% are orthodox practising Jews; the other 80% are more or less religiously indifferent. As the Jewish writer Ascher Ginzberg has said, what is needed is not a return to any promised land, but a return to Judaism. For him, the important thing is to get Jews to take their religion seriously, wherever they may be. But that is a matter for the Jews themselves. The establishing of the Jewish State of Israel in Palestine itself certainly has no biblical significance.
59. Psalm 8:4-6 says: "What is man, that thou art mindful of him? For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with honour and glory. Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet." Was belief in angels part of the religion of the Israelites from the very beginning?
An integral part of the divine revelation contained in the Bible from the beginning to the end, including both the Old and New Testaments, concerned the existence of a multitude of celestial beings referred to as angels who were intermediate between God and the whole of material creation. Scripture says little about their nature. The ancient Hebrews, unable to form concepts of purely spiritual realities, thought of the angels in human terms, but as heavenly beings different from men. We owe to later theologians the idea of an order in creation sweeping through from blind inorganic matter to living vegetation, then on to sensitive animal life, then on again to man endowed with reason and nobler spiritual affinities, and finally on to purely spiritual and intelligent creatures called angels. But the ancient Hebrews, thinking of their functions as God's messengers rather than of their nature, undoubtedly regarded them as having personal characteristics and as being deeply involved by their ministry in the history of God's plan for the salvation of mankind. The Authorised Hebrew Daily Prayer Book, in use among Jews today, p. 297, lists among its prayers before retiring to rest at night: "In the name of the Lord, the God of Israel, may Michael be at my right hand; Gabriel at my left; before me, Uriel; behind me, Raphael; and above my head the Divine Presence of God."
60. Are Christians definitely committed to a belief in the existence of angels?
Anyone who believes in the Bible as the Word of God is committed to a belief in the existence of angels. In the New Testament many cases of angelic activities are recorded. The angel Gabriel announced the Incarnation to the Blessed Virgin Mary (Lk., 1:26); angels notified the shepherds of the birth of Christ (Lk., 2:9); strengthened our Lord during His passion (Lk., 22:43); and appeared at His tomb on the resurretion morning to declare the glad news (Matt., 28:2). Probably one of the most graphic and detailed accounts of an angel's intervention is that connected with the deliverance of St. Peter from prison by an angel "in very deed sent by the Lord" in answer to the unceasing prayers of the Church on his behalf (Acts 12:3-11). Peter, in his prison cell, chained and asleep between two soldiers, was not even thinking of escaping. Other sentries made entry into the prison from outside impossible. Yet suddenly a radiant heavenly being "materialised" within that prison cell and took complete charge of everything, giving orders which Peter had merely to obey. The end result, his actual freedom, alone convinced him that the whole thing had not been a dream! If we turn to the various teachings of Christ we cannot reject belief in angels without repudiating Him as a Teacher of divinely-revealed truth. He spoke of angels as personal spirit-beings belonging to an invisible world with which He was quite familiar. In Matt., 26:53, He said He could if He wished call upon "more than twelve legions of angels"; in Mk., 12:25, stressing the completely different condition of human beings after the general resurrection, He said "they will be like the angels in heaven"; and He demanded special reverence for little children because, He said, in Matt., 18:10, "their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven." He was obviously speaking as one with a first-hand knowledge of heaven and of the legions of angels He knew to be there.
61. The famous "Dutch Catechism" (1967) suggests that biblical references to the existence of angels may not be part of God's revelation, but only human suppositions personifying God's own activities
That must be ranked as one of the lapses of the authors of the Catechism you mention, all the more inexplicable in view of the fact that Pope Pius XII, in his Encyclical "Humani Generis" (1950) had expressly warned Catholic theologians against writing in a way opposed to the mind of the Church. He said that some sow doubts, giving as an example: "They even ask: 'Are the angels personal beings?'" A special Commission of Cardinals appointed by Pope Paul VI to examine the "Dutch Catechism" published its findings on October 15, 1968, listing among the corrections required in the book: "It is necessary that the Catechism teach that God, besides this sensible world in which we live, had created also a realm of pure spirits whom we call Angels."
62. Has the Church ever defined infallibility as an article of Faith that personal beings called angels do exist?
Implicitly, yes. In 1215 A.D. the Fourth Lateran Council had to deal with the doctrine of the Albigensian heretics who held that men's material bodies were evil of their very nature and were in fact created by the devil. In condemning that doctrine, the Council combined in one Definition of Faith that God is the Author of "both orders of creation, the spiritual and the material, that is, the angelic order and the earthly; and then the order of humanity, as it were common to both, being composed of both of a spiritual and of a bodily nature." But even apart from this official declaration, the doctrine of the existence of the angels is so clearly contained in the Bible, in the writings of the Fathers, in the liturgical rites of the Church, and in the ordinary and universal convictions of the faithful through all the centuries, that no Catholic could claim to be speaking as a Catholic if he denied angels to exist and to be personal on their own purely spiritual level, even as we are existent persons on our own human level.
63. Do angel visitations occur in our own lives? If so, in what way?
In the lives of the Saints there are some instances recorded of visible manifestations of angels to them, Saints who have been far too matter-of-fact and well-balanced for us to rank them as victims of illusion or hallucination. But such cases are comparatively rare, for it is much more in accordance with the invisible spirit-nature of an angel to act upon us invisibly, inspiring new ideals, awakening conscience by interior warnings, and stimulating impulses towards fulfilling what God wants us to do. These angelic visitations may come to us in our waking moments or when we are asleep. During the trial of Jesus, Pilate's wife, Claudia Procula, sent him a message even as he was sitting in judgment: "Have nothing to do with this just man, for I have suffered many things this day in a dream because of him" (Matt., 27:19). She knew that her uneasy premonitions were not of her own making. We are told also in the Gospel that the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in his sleep and that Joseph "rising up from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him." (Matt., 1:20, 24). We must not, of course, be too ready to attribute all good thoughts or impulses that we experience to angelic visitations. The action of God's grace within us can quite well be without the ministry of angels. But if the poet Thomas Campbell speaks of "angel visits few and far between", it can be that their visits are not so rare as we might think. George Eliot was probably nearer the truth in saying: "The golden moments in the stream of life rush past and we see nothing but sand; the angels come to visit us, and we only know them when they are gone."
64. Genesis 1:26 tells us that God made man in His own image and likeness. But would not that apply rather to the angels who existed as purely spirit-beings and exercised various ministries among men on God's behalf?
Were the writer of Genesis discussing the nature of men as contrasted with the nature of angels, his words would apply rather to angels than to men. But he was not concerned with making such a comparison. He was intent of stressing the dignity of man as contrasted with all other living things on this earth. Man was indeed a living being like other animals, but he differed from them by having something of the divine within himself which enabled him to have personal relationships with God by conscious reliance upon Him and by being called by Him to a life of righteousness. Secondly, man had a dominion conferred upon him over all lesser things on earth, being made God's partner as it were in ruling over them even as God Himself has dominion over the whole universe. So Psalm 8:6 says: "Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet." They are in these two senses that Genesis depicts man as made in God's image and likeness. According to later biblical writings and in our modern way of thinking man consists of both a material body and a spiritual soul, this latter giving a resemblance to the spiritual nature of God. But one cannot find that idea clearly expressed in the Book of Genesis which provided only initial and rudimentary steps in the progressive development of revealed truth.
65. Did not Moses himself know that a human being consists of both a material body and of a spiritual and immortal soul?
Genesis 2:7 shows that Moses was at least aware that man's formation differed from that of merely animal creatures, being due to a twofold action on God's part, man's body being formed first and then the breath of life being breathed into that body so that man became a "living soul". Our English translations however, can mislead us here, for the Hebrew word "nephesh", translated as "soul", does not really mean what we understand by the word "soul". No single English word can translate the Hebrew word "nephesh". It could refer to so many different aspects of a living human being that it can best be summed up as denoting a man's psycho-physical totality - the whole living man. Whatever happened to a man was thought of as happening to his "nephesh". His "nephesh" suffered and was distressed; his "nephesh" prospered and was overjoyed. What of death? Here we have a paradox. At death, the whole living man died; and yet he did not wholly die. The ancient Hebrews did not think of death as total extinction, a notion found nowhere in the Old Testament or in the New Testament. They thought of the dead as gone from this life but as continuing to exist in "sheol", or the netherworld of half-material shades or replicas of the living people who had previously existed on earth. At the time of Moses, for example, Abraham had been dead for some seven centuries. But not for a moment did the Israelites think of him as simply non-existent. Genesis 25:8 says of his death that he was "gathered to his people". This did not mean merely that his body was buried in a kind of common family grave. His people were buried in far-off Mesopotamia; his own body at Mambre, near Hebron, in Palestine. In some way, his conscious personality was reunited with his ancestors, still existing in "sheol". Jacob, Genesis 37:35, thinking his son Joseph had been killed, said: "I shall go down mourning to my son in sheol". Deeply mysterious as this doctrine was, the ancient Hebrews firmly believed in the fact of such a survival after death; and Moses, who lived about 1300 B.C., shared their conviction.
66. Is it not true that the ancient Hebrews had no idea of departed human souls as disembodied spirits?
Such an idea would have been quite foreign to their ways of thinking. Necromancy, or seeking knowledge from the dead, was condemned as offensive in God's sight (Deut., 18:10), but this was not on the ground that the dead no longer existed. In 1 Samuel, 28:15, we have the instance of the apparition of the deceased Samuel in the form of an old man wrapped in a cloak, called up by the witch of Endor in defiance of God's law to confront Saul. The eighth-century prophet Isaiah (14:9-12) describes the shades of the departed in sheol as taunting the king of Babylon whom death had thrust into their midst. Psalm 149:8 speaks of the impossibility of escaping God's presence and power whether one ascends into heaven or descends into the depths of sheol. The thought was always that after death man continues to exist in sheol or the netherworld, the abode of the departed, much as he was known in this life, still as a single living being but in an ethereal state which was only a shadowy and pale reflection of earthly conditions; a kind of half-life scarcely worth calling a life, although not to be equated with non-existence or annihilation.
67. Was not the idea of man as consisting of two parts, body and soul, the soul at death leaving the body and living on in a disembodied state, a Greek, and not a Hebrew idea?
An acknowledged outstanding Old Testament biblical scholar, the Baptist Professor H. H. Rowley, writes in his book "The Faith of Israel", p. 155: "It is sometimes maintained that a belief in the immortality of the soul reflects Greek thought and that it is alien to the thought of the Hebrews. While there are important differences between Greek and Hebrew thought, a belief in immortality is to be found in the Old Testament." Naturally if, as the ancient Hebrews believed, the whole man as such survived death (in however mysterious a way), then the soul necessarily survived although not as disembodied. But we need to study the inevitable influence of Greek philosophy upon writers of the later Old Testament books in their way of putting things. The philosophical schools among the pagan Greeks began to develop about the time of the eighth-century prophets of Israel, such as Isaiah. Unaided by any divine revelation, they constructed a purely rational psychology based on considerations of man's intelligence and moral aspirations. Their highest and most influential representatives were Plato (427-347 B.C.) and Aristotle (384-322 B.C.). The way was prepared for the diffusion of the teachings of these two outstanding thinkers by Alexander the Great, who had been a pupil of Aristotle. Alexander conquered nearly the whole of the Near East, ranging from Persia to Egypt. In 331 B.C. he founded the city of Alexandria which became a centre of Greek language and civilisation. Thousands of dispersed Jewish colonists settled there, as in many other Greek centres, and their descendants grew up without a knowledge of Hebrew, but speaking only Greek. It became necessary to provide for them a Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament and, about the third century B.C., the work was undertaken by Jewish scholars in Alexandria. In this translation, called the Septuagint, the Hebrew word "nephesh", meaning the whole man as a "living being" or "animated body", was rendered by the Greek word "psyche" or "soul" - which the Greeks thought of as having a distinct existence of its own and as able to survive the death of the body. Plato had thought of it as an immortal spirit imprisoned in a material body as a kind of punishment, from which death would provide it with a merciful escape. Aristotle improved on Plato as regards the reciprocal relationship of body and soul. Where Plato held that a spiritual soul ought not to be in a material body, Aristotle said that it ought to be; that body and soul are made for each other to form a single body-soul unify; and that the embodied soul should not be thought of as in an alien environment. Still, according to Aristotle, the soul has powers of intelligence which go beyond the range of all sense-perceptions and on the death of the body these powers of intelligence must live on imperishably in what seems to us as a curious kind of impersonal immortality. Now the ancient Hebrews had not been philosophically-minded. They took man as they saw him, without any profund psychological analysis of his nature. Later Hebrew writers, to whom the body-soul unity idea was already familiar, saw grounds for the distinction by the Greek philosophers between the perishable material body and the imperishable spiritual soul, and they adopted it. This did not mean a departure from divinely-revealed truth, which logically claimed all fundamental truth. After all, the Greek philosophers, despite their ignorance of divinely-revealed truth, said much that is profoundly true of our human nature. Not all their teachings can be dismissed as undiluted error. St. Augustine, in his book "On Christian Doctrine", says that Moses was willingly taught by Jethro, the Midianite (Exodus 18:24) and explains: "Moses, to whom God Himself had spoken, knew that a wise idea, in whatever mind it might originate, was to be Itself, the unchangeable God." So earlier Old Testament teachings became more explicit, under Greek influences, in later Old Testament books. Ecclesiastes, written in Hebrew in the 3rd century B.C., says of man's death, in 12:7: "Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was, and the spirit to God who gave it." The still later Old Testament book Wisdom, written in Greek in the 2nd century B.C., also made use of Greek philosophical ideas (but only to the extent in which they were true and excluding all erroneous elements) saying, in 3:1-4: "The souls of the just . . . in the eyes of the unwise seemed to die . . . but their hope was rich with immortality."
68. If the idea of the soul's essential immortality is derived from Greek philosophy, then surely it cannot be regarded as biblical teaching?
The more fully developed doctrine of later Old Testament books, safeguarded by Hebrew religious convictions and divine guidance, had long been prevalent among the Jews at the time of Christ. They accepted as divinely-inspired, not only the Palestinian Hebrew text of the Old Testament, but also the Alexandrian Greek Septuagint version of it. St. Paul, born and brought up at Tarsus in Cilicia, spoke both Hebrew and Greek, was familiar with both the Hebrew and Greek texts of the Old Testament, and to the exent in which the Septuagint had made Greek thought-forms its own these for him had by the very fact become biblical. The idea of the survival of the soul after the death of the body was certainly not foreign to him before his conversion when, as Saul, he stood watching Stephen being stoned to death and heard his dying prayer: "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." Acts, 7:58. He well understood the significance of that. And after his conversion he spoke in the same terms of himself when he said that he would rather be absent from the body and present with Christ (2 Cor. 5:8); and, again, that he desired to be dissolved and to be with Christ, a thing by far the better (Phil., 1:23). Nor can there be any reasonable doubt that when Christ Himself said: "Fear not them that kill the body and are not able to kill the soul" (Matt., 10:28), His reference was to the soul as imperishable or immortal. Some scripture scholars have said that such a contrast between the body and the soul was impossible to a semite; but they themselves fail to distinguish between earlier and later Judaism, to allow for the progressive development of Jewish doctrines, and to pay sufficient attention to the three highly significant centuries immediately preceding the Christian era.
69. Does not the new Christian thinking begin by rejecting the Greek dualism of body and soul?
The famous "Dutch Catechism" claims to represent the new Christian thinking, but on this subject its thinking doesn't happen to be Christian. It calmly says, on p. 470: "The whole earthly man dies. Here the deniers of immortality are right." What of the Saints? It suggests that they live on in the good influence of their example which lives after them on earth. It says, on p. 475, that when "St. Therese of Lisieux said her heaven would be to let a rain of roses fall upon earth, she spoke in the sentimental terms of the nineteenth century." No wonder the Commission of Cardinals appointed by Pope Paul VI to examine the "Dutch Catechism" insisted that "Open reference be made to the souls of the just which, having been thoroughly purified, already rejoice in the immediate vision of God!" What Christian thinking has always rejected is the dualism taught by the Greek philosopher Plato, namely, that man's soul and body are alien to one another, the imprisoned immortal soul seeking to escape from the material body and to discard it forever. But Christians have always accepted dualism in the sense that man consists of two principal elements, a material mortal body and a spiritual immortal soul. The problem concerns the essential relationship of these two elements to each other. The Greek philosophers Plato and Aristotle had no idea of the Christian doctrine of the resurrection of the body and of the soul's eventual reunion with it to form man's complete human nature and personality once more. Christians hold that neither the soul alone nor the body alone constitutes man's full "self" or "personality". While the disembodied soul continues to exist after the death of the material body, it lacks that fulness of "humanity" to which it was ordained in the first place and retains an innate tendency towards reunion with the body in the resurrection. Ultimately, man in his totality, the complete man in his body-soul unity, will inherit his eternal destiny; and this will be true of good and evil people alike. So Christ said: "The hour comes when all in the graves shall hear the voice of the Son of God; and they that have done good things shall come forth to the resurrection of life; but they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of judgment." Jn., 5:28.
70. When Paul preached in Athens (Acts, 17) he made no mention of the immortality of the soul, but spoke of the resurrection of the body.
To speak to the Greeks in Athens of the immortality of the soul would be carrying coals to Newcastle. They were quite familiar with that idea. The outcry came when the preposterous thought of their perishable bodies being restored to life was put before them. St. Paul told them that he spoke to them in the name of One whom they themselves called "the unknown God". He said that a one and only true God really existed, who had appointed a day for the judgment of all mankind by a man of His own choosing (Christ), whom as a guarantee to us all He had already raised bodily from the dead. This idea of bodily resurrection was greeted by many of the Athenians with mockery, although some were hesitant and a few converted (Acts, 17:32-34).
71. The Apostles' Creed itself does not teach the immortality of the soul, but makes us say: "I believe in the resurrection of the body."
The striking thing to be included in the Apostles' Creed as an Article of Faith was belief in the resurrection of the body, the perishable part of our being which with the immortal soul formed our complete human personality. Resurrection would in fact be meaningless if at death we go completely out of existence, both body and soul. If nothing of one's "self" continued to exist after death, but both body and soul lapsed into complete non-existence, there could be no resurrection of one's "self". At most there could be merely the creation of somebody else resembling one's "self"; another body with another soul altogether; certainly not a personality continuous with one's present personality, nor responsible in any way for the kind of life one happened to have lived in this world. The judgment of the new human being could not possibly be based on any conduct on the part of some other human being than one now happens to be!
72. Does not the Bible say that immortality is the gift of God, not the survival of our old nature whether in whole or in part?
The Bible speaks of two kinds of immortality, one of which is the inevitable consequence of the natural immortality of the soul and which will mean a continued and endless existence for the body when reunited with it in the general resurrection of the dead on the last day. The immortality which is the gift of God, however, although presupposing the natural immortality of the soul, is based on the grace of Christ which enables us to participate in His risen life, sharing as complete human beings, body and soul, in His own eternal glory and heavenly happiness, rather than encounter the "living death" which mere survival without Him will mean. So our Lord spoke of the "resurrection of life" and also of the "resurrection of judgment." We'll be saved or lost ultimately in the way God made us, as complete human beings consisting of both body and soul; the body necessarily being raised from the dead, as St. Paul pointed out in 1 Cor., 15:35-44, with different qualities adapting it to new conditions of an incorruptible existence.
73. Concerning the creation of the human soul, an article in "Majellan" magazine, July, 1967, referring to abortion, said: "The truth is, no one can say exactly when human life begins."
Equally, no one can say that human life is not present from the first moment of conception. There are two possibilities. The human soul may be created the moment conception occurs, the soul's latent higher powers becoming operative gradually as the embryo develops into a distinctively human organism. On the other hand, since soul and body form the one human composite, the soul may not be created until a recognisably human embryonic body had been formed, fit to receive it - requiring anything up to about three months. There is no way of settling this speculative problem. Much is made of the genetic uniqueness of the fertilised human ovum, the characteristics of which are said to distinguish it from any other. But it is not distinguished by any genetic factor which makes it actually rational. It is a potentially rational being, but there is no genetic evidence that a fertilised ovum is immediately endowed with a rational soul. One big problem is that if the soul is created at the moment of conception, that is, with the fusion of chromosomes belonging to the male and female germ-cells, what happens to an already created soul in the case of identical twins which result from a fertilised cell dividing later into two foetuses? No difficulty arises in this case if the creation of souls is reserved for later stages of development. But if a soul was created at the very first moment of conception, another soul would have to be created for one of the twins after the originally fertilised ovum had divided into two sections. No satisfactory solution of this problem has been devised.
74. In the "Reader's Digest", for the same month of July, 1967, the Rev. Dr. Murray, of the Catholic Information Bureau, said definitely that human life must be regarded as beginning at the moment of conception.
From a practical point of view that is the only position which may lawfully be adopted, and the Church insists upon this. Since all theorists admit that there is no absolute certainty that the human soul is not created at the first moment of conception, the deliberate destruction of a human embryo at any stage manifests the will to destroy a living human being even should the soul be present. One might argue theoretically that if the soul had not yet been created, no human being would in fact be killed and that, objectively, the abortion could not technically be ranked as homicide. But even in that case there would still be a serious violation of God's right to the future human being who would otherwise result from the ordinary laws of nature appointed by Him. Tertullian called abortion in such a case an "anticipated homicide". However, as already mentioned, a truly human life must in practice be presumed to begin at the moment of conception.
75. Can you tell me what the human soul is like, since, being immaterial, it cannot resemble anything we have ever set eyes upon?
We are compelled here to fall back on imagery drawn from things within this material world which are somewhat like, yet radically different from what we are discussing. Take, for example, electricity coming to a house through a solid copper wire. When the current is switched on, we call it a "live" wire. The electricity itself is invisible. Its effects, however, are well known to us, by the lights glowing within the house, or by the shock from touching an exposed wire. Electricity, however, although invisible, is a physical force belonging to the material order of things. Here the soul differs. It is a spiritual reality of which we have experience, not as it is in itself, but only from its effects. It makes the difference between a "live" body and a "dead" body. It is that in us which can think and will, be happy or miserable. A dead body is not capable of such experiences. A human soul can be described, then, as a reality within us which, because it is spiritual, cannot disintegrate or fall to pieces as material things do; and which, on separation from the body, carries with it its own powers of thinking things and willing things, and of being happy or miserable. Whether, when beyond the limits of its union with the body in this world, it will be happy or miserable, will depend on whether within the great Ocean of Being we call God it is in harmony or discord with Him. From all this it should be clear that we can form only a mental concept of the spiritual soul, not a sense-image of the kind possible in picturing the material things around us. We have all heard of the agnostic surgeon who said that, in his many surgical operations, he had never yet with his scalpel or surgical knife come across a human soul. But if he ever did happen to come across anything new in his anatomical explorations, whatever else it might be, it would not be a human soul; for the soul as a spiritual entity does not belong to the material order of reality.
76. Why is the soul called the life-principle of a human being?
Man's material body, as we know, is made up by a multitude of cells which are obviously not just a bundle thrown together anyhow. They are co-ordinated to form the tissues, organs and nervous system; and these latter in turn are directed towards the welfare of the whole organism by an inherent power or vital principle or force. This principle, which we call the human soul, cannot be a mere peculiarity of material structure, for it has power proper to itself, intelligence, and will or the capacity for self-management based on rational decisions which no merely material thing can possess. In its relations with the bodily organism, however, the soul as the vital principle is able to direct its activities only to the extent in which the bodily organism itself is able to function. Now there are three essential physical functions required for bodily survival; that of the heart for the circulation of the blood providing food for the cells; that of the lungs which by respiration provide oxygen for the blood; and that of the brain as the centre of the whole nervous system. Serious injury to any one, or to all three of these, heart, lungs or brain, may render the body wholly unable to fulfil its part in responding to the life-principle within it. Death then occurs. From this angle, Dr. Hans Driesch, in his book "The Science and Philosophy of the Organism", p. 334, points out that death means a change in the very matter of an organic body. By death, what was a living body becomes a corpse. It is no longer an "organism" capable of living behaviour but just a collection of chemical substances subject to merely mechanical laws of change and disintegration. Something, he says, has disappeared which was present and active before, and working with the matter of the body in question. This something, the non-material entity we call the soul, animated the material body as its life-giving principle.
77. In his inaugural lecture at Sydney University on "The Nature of Mind", May 11, 1965, Dr. D. M. Armstrong, Professor of Philosophy, said he favoured the "materialist" or "physicalist" account of man's mind.
A rather strange thing confronts us here. In London, during a B.B.C. talk in 1950 on "The Physical Basis of Mind", the philosophers who spoke assumed that the mind and the physical brain are one and the same thing. On the other hand, the physiologist who spoke denied this and insisted that scientifically a real problem arises concerning the relations between these two very different things. Dr. Armstrong apparently chooses to put his faith in the ability of physical science sooner or later to cover the whole field of the intellectually knowable, an attitude quite popular a century ago, but one not shared by at least the most highly qualified scientists of today. On May 7, 1965, just four days before Professor Armstrong's lecture, "Time" magazine carried an article entitled "The Limitations of Science". In it, Dr. Vannevar Bush, a Director of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said it was a crass misconception to think "scientists can establish a complete set of facts and relations, all neatly proved, and that on this firm foundation men can securely establish their personal philosophy." He said this faith in science is a residue of the naive 18th century belief in man as "merely an automaton." Science, he agreed, has pried into the mechanism which becomes operative in the brain when man thinks, but beyond this science cannot go. It produces no evidence on the two vital realities of man's being, consciousness and freewill. "One who thinks it can," he said, "has simply not understood science properly."
78. "It is the scientific vision of man," Professor Armstrong declared, "and not the philosophical or religious or artistic or moral vision of man, that is the best clue we have to the nature of man. The mental states are, in fact, nothing but physical states of the central nervous system."
There are no scientific grounds for Professor Armstrong's conclusion. It is the verdict of a materialistic philosophy. The scientific vision of man is limited to the physical bodily nature of man as if, to quote John Grayson in his recent book "Nerves, Brain and Mind", each of us is nothing ultimately except "a mobile, meaningless hunk of assorted chemicals with an inexplicably intelligent radio-valve for a brain." To bypass man's specifically human characteristics, whether philosophical, religious, artistic or moral, is to offer no clue to human nature as it really is. In his lecture in Canberra last year (1964) to a Science Teachers' Conference on this very subject, Sir John Eccles, Professor of Physiology at the Australian National University and thoroughly familiar with the scientific vision of man, described materialist and behaviourist philosophies, which pride themselves on keeping within the framework of empirical science, as leading to "a caricature of man, to robot-man or cybernetic man, not the spiritual being or self that I apprehend myself to be. To many, such philosophies provide satisfactory explanation of man as viewed from the outside, but they fail abysmally when applied to man from the inside." The same Professor Eccles, as Waynflete Lecturer at Oxford in 1952, took as his subject "The Neurophysiological Basis of Mind." He reasonably maintained that to do full justice to man's nature, conscious mental experiences must be regarded as just as valid as any of our physical experiences. Physical science can do no more than study the physical side of things, showing that in the nervous system the cerebral cortex has the key role, directing our bodily movements. But our consciousness makes us aware that many of these are due to decisions of our will to act in one way rather than another. This demands highly sensitive elements in the cortex of the brain which react to meaning or intention rather than to mechanical stimulation, and that the incorporeal energy of mind and will can change physical processes in the brain, shutting one synaptic or connecting outlet from a cortex circuit and opening another. Our infinite variety of willed actions are, therefore, psycho-physical, not merely physical events. To wipe off quite arbitrarily whole areas of conscious mental experience and assume that all man's activities are physical and mechanical only is quite unjustified; and it betokens a philosophy which wrongly ascribes to physical science more than physical science claims to be able to do besides failing to cover all aspects of the problem confronting us. In simple terms, the ordinary person says: "I think" — not "My brain thinks." If the wouldbe mechanist replies: "Yes; but strictly speaking I mean that my brain thinks", we are entitled to ask what is meant by "my"? To the question: "Who is it that possesses and uses the brain you call your own?" the physical sciences have no answer.
79. Are there any grounds for believing in the theory of Reincarnation?
One can see how men came to fall back upon that theory for the solution of a problem for which they could find no alternative explanation. The theory is based on the existence of moral evil in this world with all its consequences and man's innate sense of justice. From the principle that all misdeeds will have to be expiated and from the fact that the wicked do not always meet with retribution in this life, the idea arose that the souls of men have to return to further lives in this world in order to expiate bad conduct in previous lives. The Greek philosophers Pythagoras in the 6th century B.C. and Plato in the 5th century B.C. held this idea, possibly deriving it from India where it was already current among the Hindus. It is, of course, a reasonable conviction that men cannot do evil with impunity and that they will eventually have to answer for the way in which they have lived in this life. But the reincarnation theory must be ruled out in the name of science, philosophy and the Judaeo-Christian religion. Scientifically there are no observed facts providing any evidence of a reincarnation ever having occurred. Philosophically, it is against the essential unity of the human person to suppose one and the same soul to be subject to a succession of migrations through different bodies, and it remains quite unexplained how the imagined cycle of re-births began at all, our first life on earth not having been preceded by one the evils of which we are called upon to expiate. Also, the system would be useless since we could not learn from experience, having no recollection of what it is that we are supposed to be expiating from our previous lives. Religiously, the theory is quite irreconcilable with the biblical teaching expressed in Hebrews 9:27 that "it is appointed unto man once to die, and after that the judgment"; which obviously excludes our having to die over and over again after each of a series of lives on this earth.
80. When the Dead Sea Scrolls were first discovered in 1947 did not Christian Church leaders think it incredible that there should be any writings more ancient than the Bible?
The Dead Sea Scrolls are not more ancient writings than those of the Bible. The Scrolls, besides containing several non-biblical documents, contained also manuscript copies of parts of the Old Testament much older than any manuscript copies already possessed. Biblical scholars did not find it incredible that such copies should exist. Origen (185-254 A.D.) had made use of some ancient Greek manuscripts found near the Dead Sea in 217 A.D. In the 9th century other finds had been made in the ruins of an old Greek monastery which had been built in 492 A.D. It was not, then, unthinkable that other manuscripts might be discovered although, naturally, biblical scholars did not know of the Dead Sea Scrolls until they were discovered in 1947.
81. Do not the Dead Sea Scrolls date from several centuries before Christ?
It would be too much to speak of several centuries. The Scrolls belonged to the library of a group belonging to a Jewish sect called the Essenes by Josephus, the Jewish historian. This sect arose during the Maccabean Wars about the middle of the second century B.C. Under a leader described in the Scrolls as "Teacher of Righteousness" some members of the sect went to live in solitude at Qumran, about fifteen miles east of Jerusalem, near the shores of the Dead Sea. There they built a large monastery in 134 B.C., in which they lived a strictly-disciplined community life. They regarded themselves as the only true disciples of Moses and the Prophets, claiming to be the "Children of Light" as opposed to all other Jews and, of course, to the Gentiles. At Qumran they made their own copies of the Hebrew Scriptures - among those discovered in 1947 a complete copy in Hebrew of the Book of Isaiah was found as well as fragments of all other Old Testament books except that of Esther - and they also composed other documents containing accounts of their own distinctive beliefs and practices, such as a "Commentary on Habakuk", "Hymns", a "Manual of Discipline", and a kind of prophecy of "The War of the Children of Light against the Children of Darkness". When the Roman armies under Titus were advancing upon Jerusalem in 70 A.D. and the Community at Qumran realised that the destruction of their monastery was likely, the monks packed their manuscripts in jars and hid them in the caves from which they were recovered over eighteen centuries later.
82. When the Dead Sea Scrolls were found in 1947, did not the Church leaders at first panic and denounce them as forgeries?
There are no grounds for thinking in such a way. When three Bedouins brought the first finds to the Syrian monastery of St. Mark in Jerusalem they were turned away by the doorkeeper. Efforts by beggars to sell archaeological fakes are an everyday occurrence in the Middle East. The Superior of the monastery, Athanasius, however, hearing of the incident, sent for the Bedouins and bought the articles from two of them. The third sold his to the Hebrew University. Athanasius consulted competent authorities, including an official of the Department of Antiquities, and was told the items did not seem to be of any real value. He then consulted the Director of the American School of Oriental Research, Professor John Trever, who recognised one scroll as an ancient copy - apparently dating from about 100 B.C. - of the Book of Isaiah. Controversy ensued. Scholars were divided and thrashed the matter out in technical journals until general agreement was reached. That was all to the good. There would not have been wanting critics ready to condemn over-hasty acceptance of the documents as genuine.
83. Did they not boycott the Scrolls as a threat to the established Churches?
That charge was based on suggestions made by popularisers such as the American journalist Edmund Wilson in his book "The Scrolls from the Dead Sea", and even direct accusations by A. Powell Davies in "The Meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls". Both were proved guilty of misrepresentation by German, Swiss, French, Belgian, English and even Jewish scholars actually working on the Scrolls in Jerusalem. Of Powell Davies' book the "Times Literary Supplement", August 16, 1957, said it was a case of "the blind leading the blind"; that his book was full of "inaccurate statements, throwing dust in the eyes of his readers"; and that a picture of the Hebrew Isaiah Scroll printed upside down was "a parable of the book itself". In other words, the book is a topsy-turvy and quite unreliable source of information, despite its appeal to so-called rationalists.
84. Have not scientific methods proved the antiquity of the Scrolls and that they are not forgeries of later ages?
No responsible writers have ever accused others of having declared the Scrolls to be forgeries. All that the evidence shows is that scholars took every precaution in advance to make sure that they were not forgeries. For the rest, scientific methods have proved their second-century B.C. origin and we owe that to the very ones who were charged with boycotting them, namely, to the work mainly of Christian scholars drawn from different Churches which financed their efforts. Archaeological research has shown that the Qumran monastery was built about 134 B.C. and destroyed in 70 A.D. by the Roman armies under Titus. Roman coins found in the ruins date from between the time of the Emperor Caesar Augustus (27 B.C.-14 A.D.) and 70 A.D. Moreover, Carbon 14 tests applied to the wrapping material around the Scrolls confirm the conclusion that they date from that period and could not have been forgeries of a later period.
85. Do not the Scroll contents without doubt "challenge a variety of our rooted traditions and religious ideas about the origins of Christianity?"
To that quotation - with no indication of the author of it - Dr. H. H. Rowley, Professor of Hebrew at Manchester University, has sufficiently replied. "The more sensational statements about the Scrolls and the New Testament", he wrote, "have been made by writers, not one of whom has the slightest reputation as New Testament scholars." The men who have really worked on the Scrolls would almost to a man repudiate the suggestion you quote. Among these would be De Vaux, Gaster, Millar Burrows, Rowley himself, Milik, Cross, Vincent, Van de Ploeg, Skehan, Albright, and Vermes, to mention only some of the more prominent names. Professor Rowley, in a B.B.C. Third Program talk entitled "The Dead Sea Scrolls and their Significance", declared that there is "a total difference between the place of Jesus in Christianity and that of the 'Teacher of Righteousness' in the Qumran faith", and that "the chief value of the Dead Sea Scrolls consists in the light they throw on Judaism between the Old and the New Testaments." In the year following upon this talk, 1956, John Allegro, who had studied Hebrew under Professor Rowley, published his "Pelican" book: "The Dead Sea Scrolls." Taken to task by Professor Rowley not only for its fanciful conjectures but also for its positive mishandling of the evidence, Allegro admitted that his book was a mixture of fact and imagination written for popular appeal. Two years later, in a B.B.C. talk, Allegro was much more restrained than in his science-fiction effort. In 1957 Professor Rowley summed up his own views in a booklet entitled "The Dead Sea Scrolls and the New Testament" in which he concluded: "A vast gulf separates the New Testament from the Scrolls in thought. Their teachings are poles asunder." From across the Atlantic came a similar verdict. book "More Light on the Dead Sea Scrolls", reiterated with greater insistence his own earlier statement that the Scrolls "do not substantially affect the New Testament."
86. Do we not know a lot more about the life of Christ from the age of twelve onwards by means of the Scrolls, in which the monks recorded all they observed of him in the Qumran Community?
The Scrolls give no biographical information about Christ at all. Nowhere do they mention Him. Professor Millar Burrows, of Yale University writes on p. 77 of his already mentioned book: "Much has been made of the hidden years of Jesus' youth. They have always afforded a fertile soil for the growth of legends. That as a young man Jesus was initiated into the secrets of the Essenes Cullmann rightly pronounces a 'pure and groundless speculation'." Even J. M. Allegro, given as he is to rash conjectures, says in his Pelican book "The Dead Sea Scrolls", p. 160: "There is no evidence that He was ever a member of this body." The New Testament itself excludes the possibility. Until Jesus began His public ministry, He lived at Nazareth during his boyhood days and later worked there as a carpenter. This was well known to his Jewish neighbours. Amazed by his teaching they exclaimed: "Where did he get all this? Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary?" Mk., 6:3. St. John also records in his gospel the surprise of the Jews: "We know where this man comes from . . . how is it that this man has learning, when he has never studied?" Jn., 7:27, 15. Moreover, Josephus tells us that the Essenes, as a heretical sect, had broken off all relations with the official cult of Judaism. They refused to so much as set foot inside the Temple in Jerusalem, having their own rites among themselves elsewhere. Both the Pharisees and the Sadducees detested the Essenes with whom the Qumran group was affiliated, and had Jesus been a member or an initiate of the Community at Qumran the Pharisees and Sadducees would not have failed to bring this up in public in order to discredit him. But while they sneered at his Galilean origin and charged him with breaking the Law of Moses, they made no mention of his having been associated with the Essenes.
87. Do not the Scrolls at any rate prove that the New Testament books are full of plagiarisms borrowed from them?
Nothing like proof is available for that extravagant supposition. At most, the Dead Sea Scrolls provide a greater knowledge than previously possessed of the Jewish background prevailing when Christianity appeared on the scene. Scholars have found resemblances between passages in the Qumran documents and in the New Testament; but this proves only that the Jewish sect of the Essenes and the New Testament writers were equally familiar with the Old Testament and common ways of thinking current at the time in Jewish circles. As Professor Rowley points out, however, where similar expressions occur in the New Testament they are invested with a new meaning not to be found in the Scrolls, while there are other basic differences so notable and so opposed to the teachings of the Scrolls that derivation of the New Testament from them is not possible. Even Theodor Gaster, a Jewish scholar, says in his book "The Dead Sea Scriptures", p. 12, that there is "no trace in the Scrolls of the cardinal theological concepts which make Christianity a distinctive faith."
88. Is not the Christian religion founded on the New Testament and these plagiarisms?
We can forget about the imagined plagiarisms. For the rest, the Christian religion could not have been founded on the books of the New Testament. It existed before any of them was written. Some twenty years after the death of Christ St. Paul wrote the first of his Epistles, the forerunner of several others, to already existent Christian communities. The Gospels came later, the last, that of St. John, dating from about 100 A.D. The complete collection of the Epistles, Gospels, Acts of the Apostles and the Apocalypse, in all 27 books, was listed by St. Athanasius in 367 A.D. and formally approved by the Church as a whole in the following century. Nearly four centuries elapsed, therefore, before all Christians had the complete New Testament as we know it. But the Christian religion had existed through all those centuries as founded by Christ and the Apostles. Of course, granted official acceptance by the Church of the complete New Testament as the inspired Word of God, it naturally became an authentic source of Christian information for later generations and has ever since been quoted as such. But it should be clear that the Christian religion itself was not founded on the books of the New Testament. It gave rise to them; and this fact, little as many people realise it, gives rise in turn to one of the greatest problems confronting Christian scholars today, namely, that of the relationship between the Christ of faith and the Jesus of history.
89. Is it not true that no originals of any of the New Testament books still exist?
In all cases the originals have long since perished and we have copies only. On this subject there is scarcely a better authority than Sir Frederic Kenyon, who was for over twenty years Director and Principal Librarian of the British Museum. In his book "The Story of the Bible" (1936) p. 33, he says that for all the works of classical antiquity we have to depend on manuscript copies made long after the original writings. He says that the best case is that of Virgil, yet between the earliest manuscript of his works and Virgil himself is a gap of some 350 years. With Livy the Roman historian the gap is one of about 500 years, and with Horace the Roman poet about 900 years. For the New Testament books we have papyrus manuscripts due to recent discoveries much older than the 3rd and 4th century Vellum Codices. The new discoveries take us back to within two generations of the original documents. Moreover, where there are only a few manuscripts of works by any classical author - that is, copies of their writings - manuscript copies of the New Testament books are reckoned in thousands. In a later book, "The Bible and Modern Scholarship" (1948) p. 20, Sir Frederic Kenyon sums things up by saying: "No other ancient book has anything like such early and plentiful testimony to its text, and no unbiased scholar would deny that the text that has come down to us is substantially sound." There can be no room for reasonable doubt, then, that from major manuscript copies, thousands of minor ones, and from quotations in the writings of the early Fathers, textual experts have been able to duplicate what was written in the first place. In fact, we would be no better off from a textual point of view if we had the originals. The real problems begin further along the line.
90. Are there any references to Christ apart from the New Testament in Jewish literature or in Roman records?
The Jewish historian Josephus, who was born in 37 A.D., but four or five years after the death of Christ, records in his book "Jewish Antiquities", written about 94 A.D., the fact of the existence of Christ and of his death at the hands of Pilate. He also makes mention by name of St. James as being one of his followers. Among Roman writers, Pliny the Younger (62-114 A.D.) wrote to the Emperor Trajan about the members of a sect originated by Christ; the Roman historian Tacitus (55-120 A.D.) records in his "Annals" that Christ was put to death by Pontius Pilate; another Roman historian, Suetonius (75-160 A.D.) in his "Life of Claudius" speaks of that Emperor's banishment from Rome of those Jews who were followers of Christ a decree mentioned in Acts 18:2 and which was issued about 50 A.D., within 17 years of the death of Christ. The Roman secular historians, however, although they indicate their awareness of the many religions which flourished as an important feature of social life, were not sufficiently interested in them to pay much attention to them. But these various religions had their own writings, and there was a wide circulation of Iranian, Babylonian, Egyptian, Jewish, and later Christian and Gnostic literature which provided historical documentary evidence of their existence and claims. The historian interested in religion turns to these, and not to the uninterested Roman secular historians, for information about them. For example, the first Epistle of St. Paul to the Thessalonians is undoubtedly a historical document written in 51 A.D., only eighteen years after the death of Christ. We are told, in Acts 18:11, that Paul was accused before Gallio at Corinth. This Gallio held office as provincial governor, according to an inscription at Delphi, in the eleventh year of the Emperor Claudius, that is, in 51 A.D. It was, then, from Corinth that St. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, presupposing in them a knowledge of the life and teachings of Christ although this was some ten years before the earliest of the Gospels had been put into writing.
91. Have any early inscriptions as on walls or monuments been found, referring to Christ?
Many have been found in the Roman catacombs. When St. Paul wrote his letter to the Romans in 56 A.D., he was addressing an already well-established Christian community in Rome. Smith and Cheetham, in their "Dictionary of Christian Antiquities", give many examples of such inscriptions, saying that the most ancient dated one belonged to the third year of the Emperor Vespasian, 72 A.D. That was over twenty years before St. John wrote the fourth Gospel, of which naturally those early Christians had no knowledge at all. Certainly no subject as that of Christian origins has ever been so closely investigated over so long a period of time by so many scholars, with every historical, geographical and archaeological aspect taken into consideration. And still more certainly Christianity as a visible institutional religion in this world naming Christ as its Founder does not owe its existence to a mythical being who never lived at all. The astonishing thing would be that anyone would need reassuring about that. Christianity is well and truly anchored in history.
92. Are the Gospels themselves historical books or not?
They were written primarily to proclaim a religious message of salvation wrought by Christ. But this does not mean that they are religious treatises only and not also historical documents. They are both, and one must keep both aspects in mind. The mistake has often been made of approaching the Gospels as one approaches ordinary secular history books, expecting a disinterested factual account of persons and events as a neutral observer would have described them. But none of the Gospels was written in such a way. St. Mark's opening words are: "The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God." Clearly, he was setting down in writing an account of how the Church presented Christ in her public proclamation of the Christian faith. In writing the fourth gospel St. John declared his purpose to be "that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that through this faith you may have eternal life." Jn., 20:31. Secular historians do not write for such purposes which, in fact, go far beyond the motives of those intent only on the writings of plain, unvarnished, academic history as such. In reality, all four evangelists were immersed in the very life of the Church and were recording direct and first-hand evidence of the faith of the primitive Christian community, saying practically to their readers: This is what we Christians believe and what you should believe also.
93. How do you escape the charge that the "Christ of Faith" has eclipsed the "Jesus of History"?
Simply by saying that the "Jesus of History" is the one to whom must be attributed all that our faith declares Him to have been. The "Christ of Faith" and the "Jesus of History" are one and the same Person. It was the "Jesus of History" who said to Peter: "Who do you say that I am?" And when Peter replied: "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God", Jesus told him: "Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven." Matt., 16:15-17. The light of faith supplied an interpretative element inseparably linked with the real personality of Jesus in a known place and period, and in the midst of a definitely historical people. On the interpretative level where Jesus is concerned we find many different estimates. Take the ordinary historical fact of his death. The neutral Roman historian Tacitus states simply that he was executed by Pontius Pilate. The hostile Jewish Talmud says he was guilty of sorcery and of subverting Israel and so was put to death. A second-century Syrian philosopher, saying that all philosophers are persecuted, held that the Jews had killed their "wise man" Christ as the Greeks had killed Socrates. The Gospels record the same occurrence, but with the entirely different significance of a Saviour promised by God and dying for the redemption of mankind. That is the verdict of Christian faith. In the Gospels the "Christ of Faith" is the "Jesus of History" in the sense that the historical reality of the facts and teachings of Jesus provide the basis for the meaning which faith perceives in them. From this point of view, the Gospels are essentially religious books calling for a religious response from those who read them; and they awaken that response in those who do read them with proper dispositions. The Second Vatican Council, in its Decree of Divine Revelation, n.19 (November, 1965) insisted on the historical character of the Gospels, declaring that "the Church has firmly and with absolute constancy held, and continues to hold, that the four gospels, whose historical character the Church unhesitatingly asserts, faithfully hand on what Jesus Christ, while living among men, really did and taught for their salvation."
94. I have read that the Christ depicted in the Gospels is an idealisation over thirty years remote from the Jesus of Nazareth who is supposed to have walked upon the same ground-levels of history as ourselves.
An unbeliever in Christ may be tempted to speak like that. But while the Gospels do indeed put before us the "Christ of Faith", it is not at the expense of history. A remarkable feature of the Gospels is the objectivity of the evangelists who could so abstract from their own personal beliefs and feelings in stating down-to-earth facts where their narratives required no more than that. Quite simply they tell the most astonishing things without pausing to make capital out of them or to comment upon them as one would expect of those so personally involved, either directly or indirectly, in the events they were describing. They tell of the insults and brutalities heaped on Christ, but give way to no expressions of indignation. The treason of Judas and the cowardice of Pilate earn no word of reproach. Things discreditable to the apostles themselves are narrated, their presumption, jealousies and self-seeking ambitions, with no attempt to water them down or excuse them. No one can say that the evangelists did not get back thoroughly into the atmosphere of the actual time when Christ lived and of which they were writing. This is particularly noticeable in St. Luke's case. When St. Luke wrote his Gospel, St. Paul had already written the two Epistles to the Corinthians, the two to the Thessalonians, and those to the Galatians and the Romans. Now St. Luke had been St. Paul's disciple and companion, and one would think this would be recognised at once on reading his Gospel. But not so. St. Luke's mind went back to the time of which he was writing. He ignored the intervening years, and no direct influence of St. Paul was allowed to intrude itself into his account of the life and teachings of Christ. Critics, while noting that some traces of apparently Pauline influence appear in St. Luke's Gospel, agree that these could be due to St. Luke's own written sources having coincided in such cases with sources St. Paul had also happened to use. Quite recently Professor David Flusser, of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, has published a book entitled simply "Jesus". In it, he claims to give the life of the historical Jesus on the ground levels of experience accessible to ordinary historians and isolated from supernatural claims and the insights of faith. He has no doubts about the historical reality of Jesus. But he can put before us one who was no more than just a good man; and to do that is not to offer us the Jesus of the Gospels whose earthly history is so interwoven with the supernatural truth concerning Him that, without a kind of vivisection, these two aspects, the divine and the human, cannot be separated.
95. Taking the Gospels as a whole and regarding them as a kind of historical religious romance, I would be willing to rank the evangelists among the greatest novelists of all time.
The evangelists were in no sense writing a kind of religious romance. They were setting down two kinds of facts; ordinary historical facts, although they were not interested in producing a strictly historical biography of Christ for the benefit of future historians; then religious facts, making clear what their faith was about the Person of Christ and what was the significance of the divine revelation He gave to mankind. From both points of view the Gospels are factual. They cannot be ranked as what we would call works of historical fiction; that is, as works of imagination built upon a historical basis. Even if we took such a point of view, I doubt whether they could be called great novelists, considering the material they had for their story. Alexander Dumas was a great novelist. In "The Count of Monte Cristo", he made Edmond Dantes, imprisoned for life on false evidence by his enemies in the dungeons of the Chateau d'lf, escape and return to the old scenes as a powerful and mysterious figure, there to confront dramatically and exact a fearful revenge from all who had wronged him. Readers followed with bated breath every move of the Count of Monte Cristo as he pursued his relentless way, wondering where he would strike next. Had the evangelists been novelists, they would have made Christ return after His resurrection to confront Annas, Caiaphas, Pilate and others, saying: "Now what about it?" Instead, with no such dramatic confrontation, but almost as an anti-climax, they set down the simple truth that He appeared to no one except disciples who had already believed in Him. From another point of view, however, that of characterisation, you would be right. For in the writings of the Rabbis there is ample material to construct the model Jewish teacher; yet the character of Christ does not fit in with that at all. How did the evangelists think of one at variance with all those features which custom, education, patriotism, religion and nature alike seemed to consecrate as the ideal? Only an actual living model could account for that. Even Rousseau was constrained to admit that the character of Christ is so sublime that a man who could invent it would be more astounding than the reality itself. But the evangelists had no need to invent anything. The Jesus of Nazareth on the level of natural experience, and the Christ of faith on the level of supernatural experience gave rise to the message the Church proclaimed from the very beginning; and the four evangelists, each with his own individual personality, scope and style, had but to record it.
96. When speaking of the Old Testament you have frequently said that one cannot regard the Bible as literally true, word for word. Surely that applies also to the Gospels.
A sheer and literal verbalism which takes words at their face value regardless of their setting or context, the theme of the writer, and the literary forms he employed, inevitably leads to many misunderstandings. As the Word of God in the words of men whose times and cultural standards were very different from our own, the Bible, including both the Old and the New Testaments, necessarily contains many obscurities and difficulties for us. In interpreting Scripture, ah instructed Catholic at least knows that, since truth cannot contradict truth, any meaning he might imagine to be that of Scripture but which is opposed to a defined Article of the Catholic Faith is certainly a mistaken one. Problems, however, remain; and the Chuch urges upon her biblical scholars and theologians a continued and deeper study of the Scriptures that by their work everybody may arrive at a better understanding of them, and especially of difficult passages in them. We have not got all the answers to everything yet, and from this point of view there will always be room for progress. Nothing in all this alters the fact that the Bible is indeed the inspired Word of God, that all should reverence and read it as such, and that by far the greater part of it, and above all its basic message, can be understood by and be most helpful to any ordinary, intelligent and well-disposed reader of it.
97. Do not Catholic biblical scholars today admit that the Gospel accounts of Christ's infancy, given by Matthew and Luke, are mythological?
Such a suggestion, taken as it stands, would be quite misleading. Critical opponents of Christianity, with a preconceived prejudice against anything supernatural or miraculous, would like to hold that St. Matthew and St. Luke invented a marvellous origin for their hero, just as pagans of old did for their heroes in the ancient mythologies. But that is ruled out by the description of a Christ born in poverty and living in obscurity a very ordinary and unremarkable kind of life as the son of a carpenter at Nazareth for thirty years. The suggestion is also against the declared intention of the evangelists. St. Luke expressly presents his version as a reliable account based on the reminiscences of eyewitnesses (Lk., 1:1-4), whilst St. Matthew constantly refers to Old Testament prophecies anticipating the material contents of his account. Nor, so deeply reverencing the Gospel tradition, would these two evangelists preface their written records of it with blatantly fictitious introductions. We can, therefore, dismiss the extravagances of critics who are openly hostile to Christianity. If we turn to Christian scholars, we hear much of those who want to "demythologize" the Gospels, especially the infancy narratives given by Matthew and Luke. The main advocate here is the German Lutheran biblical scholar, Dr. Rudolf Bultmann. But in speaking of him we must be careful, for he has been greatly misunderstood. To most people the word "myth" means false or unreal. To say that the gospel story is mythical would mean to them that it is sheer fiction. But Bultmann's idea of the word "myth" was an entirely technical one, employed by biblical scholars for a symbolical expression of a truth so profound that it leaves us at a loss for words. When the Gospels were written, they say, patterns of imagery were employed to convey the truth, patterns which are not customary among us today. The same basic truth must be re-stated in modern existentialist terms, only the literary forms the evangelists used being discarded. This process Bultmann called "demythologizing" the Gospels, leaving himself open to the charge of undermining belief in them, the last thing he wanted to do. His theories have, as usual in such cases, led extremists to denials of the truth of the Gospels; but also, in more balanced followers, to deeper insights, to modifications of Bultmann's theory, and to what they believe to be a more intelligent acceptance of the substantial truth the evangelists wanted to put before us. Catholic biblical scholars willingly credit Bultmann with good intentions, appreciate his scholarly labours, and admit - some in a greater degree, others in a lesser degree - that the basically historical infancy narratives are described in a literary form which allows for imaginative illustration in keeping with the mentality of the times. But they hold that, where the Gospels of St. Mark and St. John began with the public ministry of Jesus, St. Matthew and St. Luke for their infancy narratives had access to an earlier cycle of particular traditions which probably had only a limited circulation. That these traditions were very old is clear from the fact that both are outspokenly Jewish, a noteworthy feature in St. Luke's case since he was a Gentile writing for the Gentiles. But his cycle of traditions from primitive witnesses had to do with the revival of the prophetic spirit in Israel, culminating in its last and greatest prophet John the Baptist as immediate precursor of Christ, sent as Saviour of all mankind, Jews and Gentiles alike. The incidents in St. Matthew's narrative have little in common with those in that of St. Luke; but they were genuine traditions which prompted him to quote appropriate references derived from the Old Testament for his Jewish readers. Some critics too easily and unjustifiably say that St. Matthew first chose an Old Testament text and then built upon it a pious story or, as the Jews would call it, a "midrash", entirely the product of his own imagination, to serve as an interpretation of his chosen text. No one denies the difficulty of sorting out the purely literary from the genuinely historical elements in writings dating from nearly 2000 years ago; but Catholic biblical scholars have never doubted the substantial authenticity of the Gospel accounts of Christ's birth, infancy and initial years, as given both by St. Matthew and by St. Luke.
98. I've always wanted more light on Christ's hidden years. Why did not the evangelists give detailed information of His life between the ages of twelve and thirty?
St. Luke, 2:51, tells us that after the visit to Jerusalem when Jesus was twelve He went down to Nazareth with Joseph and Mary and was subject to them. The Greek expression used means that He "was being subject" to them; that is, He continued there, fulfilling the boyhood duties expected of Him. Later, in 4:16, St. Luke declares that Nazareth was the place where "he was brought up", regarding that as sufficiently covering the period before He began His public mission. It must ever be remembered that none of the evangelists set out to write a formal biography of Christ. Their purpose was essentially a religious one, to proclaim the fact that the Messianic promises of a Saviour were fulfilled in Christ and that He was the Redeemer of mankind for whose coming the Jews had long looked forward. The evangelists showed no interest, as they would have done had they been simply biographers, in any merely natural characteristics of Christ. They give us no description of His features and make no reference to His physical build and appearance. As He was content to wait until it was time for Him to begin His ministry in public, so the evangelists were content to wait until then (except for the brief infancy items mentioned by St. Matthew and St. Luke) in order to begin their record of the work He accomplished publicly in word and deed for our salvation. That was the all-important information they had to convey to their readers and preserve for posterity.
99. Apparently the people of His home town knew He had been abroad between the ages of twelve and thirty for purposes of study, for they said: "How does this man know letters, never having learned" (Jn., 7:15). There were no schools in Nazareth!
Not those in His home town at Nazareth said that, but those listening to Him in the Temple at Jerusalem; and they were referring to the fact that He had never attended the Rabbinical Schools there for higher learning as, for instance, Saul of Tarsus had done, studying under one of their greatest teachers, Gamaliel (Acts 22:3). In His home town Nazareth, the boys of the village attended the local Synagogue school. Judaism alone among the ancient religions of the East set out to educate the laity; and in hundreds of small villages throughout Palestine the Synagogues had schoolrooms attached to them in which the "hazzan", a paid official, taught the children reading and writing, together with a religious knowledge of the Law and the Prophets. The three Synoptic Gospels make it clear that the local people of Nazareth marvelled, not that Jesus was able to read and write, but at the wisdom He manifested in explaining the Scriptures.
100. The Rosicrucian H. Spencer Lewis says in his book "The Mystical Life of Jesus" that between the ages of twelve and thirty Jesus went abroad to study in India and Persia.
There is not a trace of evidence for that fantasy. Rosicrucian accounts of Christ are but revived forms of ancient Gnosticism. When Christ began to preach publicly, the people of Nazareth made it clear that they had known Him all along as having lived in their midst. St. Mark, 6:3, records their astonished exclamation: "Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary?" They knew quite well that He had never gone abroad for higher studies. Moreover, His teachings show not a trace of foreign influences. They were based exclusively on the Jewish Scriptures and He presented Himself to the Jews as the Messiah predicted by those Scriptures in the only terms which would make any appeal to them. In His first discourse in the Synagogue at Nazareth He began reading the Scroll of Isaiah at our chapter 60, containing the words: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has annointed me to preach good news to the poor"; and told the people: "Today, this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." Lk., 4:18-21.
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