Choose a topic from Vol 5:

Awareness of God

Awareness of God

The Faith of Israel

The Faith of Israel

The Importance of Man

The Importance of Man

Origin of the Gospels

Origin of the Gospels

The Divine Redeemer

The Divine Redeemer

The Catholic Church

The Catholic Church

The Papacy

The Papacy

The Biblical Tradition

The Biblical Tradition

The Blessed Virgin Mary

The Blessed Virgin Mary

Liturgy and Sacraments

Liturgy and Sacraments

Moral Problems

Moral Problems

Final Realities

Final Realities

The Ecumenical Movement

The Problem of Disunity
Reactions Among Non-Catholics
Bewildered Catholics
Combined Unity Services
Mutual Bible Study
Prospects of Reunion

Mutual Bible Study

826. It appears that, as a help towards unity, all professing Christians as the "People of God," including Catholics, are now allowed to form groups for Bible-study in common.

No one says that all professing Christians yet constitute the one "People of God" in the biblical sense of the term. The hope is to bring that about. Again, granted ecumenical discussions of any kind, one form may well concern how Scripture itself is to be understood; for all professing Christians are committed to the one Christ and what He said and did. But it should be noted that the Vatican Council in its Decree on Ecumenism, while declaring mutual study of the Bible to be of great ecumenical value, limited this to groups of those competent enough to undertake it. Catholic participants should have the consent of their bishops and act under their guidance or of those appointed by their bishops. We now have available a Catholic edition of the Protestant "Revised Standard Version" of the Bible which will be acceptable to all as a basis for such study in common, which means that attention can be devoted wholly to its teachings without time being given to discussing textual differences. It is of course true that we Catholics hold that Scripture is not the only source of Christian doctrine and that Christian tradition must also be taken into account; but all agree that at least the major truths are to be found in Scripture and we can begin with Christ and His teachings as there put before us, clearing up misunderstandings on both sides concerning our respective positions, and doing our best to arrive at as many agreed conclusions as possible.

827. Is it not a shame that the Bible, as manifesting the Divine Will, should be the cause, not of unity, but of further divisions?

We must not minimise the difficulty here. Despite our having an agreed text, the problem remains that the written Word of God is God's Word only according to its true meaning; and different readers even of the authentic text can still read different meanings into it. In its introductory article on the authority of the Bible, the Protestant revised "Peake's Commentary" (1962) p. 7, says that "the reader of the Bible has the Church to guide him" in the interpretation of it; but then it adds that "the relation of the authority of the Bible to the authority of the Church is a subject treated differently by different theological traditions within the history of Christendom." It leaves things at that, and therefore leaves us with the problem of reducing to unity, not discordant versions of the Bible, but discordant teachings of the different Churches concerning its interpretation and meaning.

828. Individual solving of biblical problems seems to provide no answer to disunity.

Ultimately it will be found that there is no complete answer apart from everybody accepting the teaching-authority of one and the same Church. Then reunion will be an accomplished fact. But, although private and individual interpretation of the Bible cannot be the remedy for the divisions it caused in the first place, this does not mean that the Bible itself, read in the right spirit and in the right way is not a source of light and grace; nor does it mean that common biblical study undertaken by Christians at present separated cannot be a help towards mutual agreement and eventual reunion.

829. Can Catholics agree with the idea that the Holy Spirit within each sincere believer will solve all biblical problems for him?

There is no guarantee that the Holy Spirit will clear up all difficulties for any individual reader in particular passages of Scripture, or prevent such a reader from falling into error. That would require the endowment of each reader with the gift of infallibility as an interpreter of the Bible! God had made other provision for our guidance where the basic truths we are to believe and the precepts we are to observe are concerned. St. Paul tells that here it is the Church which is "the pillar and mainstay of truth" (I Tim., 3:15). Moreover, since the Bible is not the only source of Christian doctrine, it must be understood in the light of what is made known to us in other ways. So the Vatican Council, in its "Constitution on Divine Revelation," declared: "It is not from Sacred Scripture alone that the Church draws her certainty about everything which has been revealed. Both Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture are to be accepted and venerated with the same loyalty and reverence . . . Sacred Scripture and the teaching-authority of the Church are so linked together that one cannot stand without the other."

830. Many Protestants believe that the Book of Revelation's references to the "Beast" and the "Antichrist" refer to the Papacy.

Those who think in such a way are not likely to become members of any ecumenical study groups. In any case, the vast majority of outstanding non-Catholic biblical scholars declare such an interpretation preposterous. So, in the "Cambridge Bible Commentary," an Anglican scholar, the Rev. W. H. Simcox, M.A., writes on p. 57: "It is most unjust and unreasonable, in fact hardly less than blasphemy, to treat the Papacy as the champion and representative of Antichrist. Indeed this admits of direct refutation. 'He is antichrist,' says St. John, 'who confesses not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh.' Now, whatever the errors of the Papacy and the Roman Church, it is certain that no Pope has ever denied the truth of the doctrine of the Incarnation." That quotation from an Anglican biblical scholar who obviously has no leanings towards Rome, yet who absolutely rejects charges prompted by unthinking prejudice, should suffice for any thinking person.

831. 1 have listened to Bible exponents on the radio who seem bent on separating instead of uniting Christians.

It would be unfair to accuse them of intending that. Different people can read different meanings into the Bible and zeal for the propagation of their own views, really sincerely held, can give the impression that their aim is simply to perpetuate divisions. If it cannot be said of all, it must be said of most of such speakers that they mistakenly believe in the often fantastic personal opinions they advocate and want all to unite in accepting them. An unhappy consequence is, of course, a continuance and even an increase of divisions except among those who, by the grace of God, see their way through the confusion of voices and remain in, or arrive at that unity within the "one fold under one shepherd" (Jn., 10:16) which our Lord intended and for which He prayed. There is no other solution to the problem, and that is why the ecumenical dialogue remains still a very important issue.

832. The true meaning of Scripture surely should be clear to all men of goodwill, especially to those endowed with biblical scholarship.

Here we must face facts. Professor C. H. Dodd, a Congregationalism Professor H. H. Rowley, a Baptist, Professor W. F. Albright, a Methodist, and the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Ramsey, are all first-rate Scripture scholars and of undoubted sincerity; yet the claims of the Catholic Church as we see them are not clear to them, and they have not arrived at unity even among themselves. As for ourselves as Catholics, no matter how sure we may be of the truth of the Catholic Church, we cannot say that others must act on our convictions and not on their own. At most we can explain ours and answer difficulties they may have concerning them. Only should they attain to belief in the claims of the Catholic Church will the question arise for them as to what they must do about it. In a remarkable passage in the Gospel of St. Mark, 12:34, our Lord said to a Jewish scribe who praised His teaching: "You are not far from the kingdom of God." Taking the account as it stands, we wonder why our Lord apparently made no effort to bring him the rest of the way. One of the most baffling mysteries is that of divine grace, in the presence of which our last resort can only be prayer for ourselves and for others.

833. I am left wondering of what possible use Bible study can be.

Bible reading, in a right spirit, can be immensely helpful to one's Christian life. The Bible, as the Word of God, can be said both to contain grace and to give it almost sacramentally to the soul of one who reads it with faith and piety. Our Lord Himself said: "The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life;" Jn., 6:63. St. Paul told Timothy that the words of Scripture are living words "able to instruct you unto salvation", 2 Tim., 3:15. Meditation upon them enlightens the mind, gives experience of divine realities, inspires religious devotion, impels to moral conduct and helps one to follow Christ in a life of holiness. No comments I have made or ever will make are meant to unsay any of that.

834. To my mind, the common study programme will result in such further divisions as originally occurred through each person reading the Word of God according to his own presuppositions.

The circumstances are entirely different when a truly ecumenical common study is substituted for an isolated individualism. The interested and well-prepared groups that meet for Bible study in common do so on the understanding that they want to attain to unity although, not yet having attained it, they are likely to have different views. You send me a press-clipping which says that, at such meetings, the modern "Exegesis Exposition Application" Bible study method will be used. "Exegesis" means getting the exact meaning of a biblical passage; "Exposition" discusses its significance in Christian doctrine; "Application" asks what this demands of us in practice. There will be no initial request that anyone should deny what he has previously believed, although views hitherto taken for granted will inevitably find expression during the course of discussion. This will make great patience necessary on everybody's part. The main purpose of the proceedings, however, is that each should deepen his appreciation of such truth as he already possesses and advert as far as may be to aspects of the truth previously overlooked or to actual misunderstandings of it.

835. What kind of practical programme would be possible?

First and foremost the spirit must be one of zeal for each one's own sanctification and for the cause of Christ in this world. All believers in Christ are involved in a common warfare, not so much against flesh and blood as against the powers of darkness, as St. Paul puts it. This means not only against irreligion, materialism and false values generally, but against moral evils of all kinds in individual, domestic and social spheres. For this warfare, St. Paul tells us, our weapons are truth; holiness; the gospel of peace; the "helmet of salvation," or living as one who has been redeemed; and the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God (Eph., 6:14-17). Bible study in common should increase the efficiency of all participants in the use of all these weapons, intensify the sense of Christian obligation, and promote a spiritual rather than a materialistic outlook which is so easy to develop in the corrosive atmosphere of secularism surrounding us in this modern world. But what of reunion among ourselves? For this, the Vatican Council, in its Decree on Ecumenism, urges that attention be given, not only to principles of moral conduct, but also and particularly to the New Testament doctrines on the nature of the Church willed by Christ, the type of ministry He appointed, the Sacraments He instituted, especially the Eucharist or Lord's Supper; and what Christian forms of worship should be. Always, however, the basic principle is that it is Christ who makes us one with Himself and, as our Mediator, with His Father. Growth in the knowledge of Christ and in union with Him through the influence of God's Word can be expected to result in divisive factors gradually losing their power and in progress being made towards all becoming one in that "Messianic Society", or "New Israel", or "People of God", which Jesus called His Church the one Church which as we know in virtue of His promises has existed through all the centuries, still exists in this world, and will continue to exist till the end of time.

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