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The Bible Gap: Spanning the Distance Between Scripture
and Theology | Fr. Benedict Ashley, O.P.
Vatican II urged theologians to root their theological systems more firmly
in the Bible. This effort would favor ecumenical dialogue with sola
Scriptura Protestants and make for a sounder, richer understanding
of the Faith. "Sacred theology rests on the written word of God,
together with sacred tradition, as its primary and perpetual foundation"
(Dei Verbum, afterwards DV, n. 24). This challenge was received
enthusiastically by most theologians. Today, thirty years after the Council,
it has not yet been met.
This failure is particularly obvious in my own field of moral theology.
The mainstream opinion seems to be that there is no such thing as a specifically
Christian ethics. The Bible, it is said, can furnish moral theology with
only the most general of moral norms - the Love Commandment or the call
to liberation from every form of oppression. But what is "love"?
What is "oppression"?
Somewhat less obviously, but even more dangerously, a similar gap is opening
between the Bible and systematic theology. The dominant theological systems
today rest on principles largely independent of biblical revelation. Rahner
makes his transcendental deductions from a priori intuitions of
the thinking, willing subject. Lonergan proceeds from cognitive theory.
Schillebeeckx from religious experience. Gutierrez from the consciousness
of the oppressed poor and Rosemary Radford Ruether from that of oppressed
women. These theologians may select biblical themes that seem to support
these extra-biblical agenda, but they hardly do more than "proof-text."
Current human projects, not God's Word, furnish the principles of such
theologies. Theology can, of course profit much from sound philosophy,
but the truth of philosophy must be tested by theological truth before
it can become theology's profitable servant.
Recently the Pontifical Biblical Commission has instructed us on the strengths
and weaknesses of various methods of modern biblical exegesis. Yet when
it was consulted by the Holy See on what the Bible might have to say about
the ordination of women to the Christian priesthood its own performance
was ambiguous. It lamely concluded:
It does not seem that the New Testament by itself alone will permit
us to settle in a clear way and once and for all the problem of the possible
accession of women to the presbyterate. However, some think that in the
scripture there are sufficient indications to exclude this possibility,
considering that the sacraments of eucharist and reconciliation have a
special link with the person of Christ and therefore with the male hierarchy,
as borne out by the New Testament. Others, on the contrary, wonder if
the church hierarchy, entrusted with the sacramental economy, would be
able to entrust the ministries of eucharist and reconciliation to women
in light of circumstances, without going against Christ's original intentions.
That the Bible actually contributes more to solving this question than
the Biblical Commission was able to uncover is well argued by Francis
Martin, The Feminist Question (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1994).
Other biblical data is cited in my own article, "Gender and the Priesthood
of Christ" (The Thomist, 57, 343-379). Thus John Paul II,
with so little help from his Biblical Commission, was forced to appeal
to Tradition rather than to Scripture when he firmly declared "the
church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women
and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the faithful"
("Apostolic Letter on Ordination and Women," 1994).
Vatican II emphasized the intimate relation of Scripture and Tradition
as "one sacred deposit of the Word of God" (DV, nos. 9-10).
Has this unity been severed, so that the Magisterium, is forced to base
its decisions on Tradition alone? Does this justify theologians in seeking
some more credible basis than Scripture or Tradition on which to construct
their systems? From the view point of faith, the Bible is an absolutely
unique book because it is the Word of God.
Therefore, since everything asserted by the inspired authors or sacred
writers must be held to be asserted by the Holy Spirit, it follows that
the books of Scripture must be acknowledged as teaching, firmly, faithfully,
and without error that truth which God wanted to put into the sacred
writings for the sake of our salvation (DV no. 11).
The phrase I have italicized saves us from any temptation to slip back
into fundamentalism, but it does not nullify what precedes. Thus the Bible
has many fallible human authors, but only one inerrant principal author,
the Holy Spirit. Hence, by the witness to Sacred Tradition given by the
Church under the Holy Spirit's guidance, the Bible forms a canonical unity.
Its definitive interpretation, therefore, rests primarily on two
grounds: (1) its canonical consistency ("Scripture is its own interpreter"
as Protestants say); (2) its interpretation by the Church through its
Magisterium, i.e. by living Sacred Tradition.
Thus for faith, both the work of biblical and of systematic theological
scholarship are secondary and subject to ultimate judgment by the Magisterium
as to the truth of their results. What then does this secondary role of
biblical scholarship as practiced today amount to? It certainly is of
great service to the Church, but this service is chiefly apologetic,
and negatively so. The present historical-critical method was developed
by Protestant and Catholic scholars to answer nineteenth-century skeptics
who denied the credibility of the Bible. For example, by this method believing
scholars can reply to skeptics that the Genesis creation narratives read
in historical context do not contradict Darwin, nor did St. Paul create
Christianity. It is too much to expect of the historical-critical method
to do much more.
More recently, there has been a shift of interest in exegesis from the
historical-critical method, which for lack of new data seems largely to
have done its work, to a literary-critical method. This approach abstracts
from the diachronic methods of historical criticism and takes the canonical
text synchronically as it is. Yet this newer method (at least as usually
practiced) is also hardly more than a negative apologetic. It abstracts
from whether what the text asserts is true or false, and asks only whether
it has a coherent meaning. Thus it is able to answer those non-believers
who say the Bible is a mass of contradictions or meaningless God-talk
or that today it is irrelevant. Literary criticism is able to show that
the Bible is as meaningful in our times as are other great literary classics,
but it cannot read the Bible as in fact the Word of God. Hence, we ought
not look to either the historical-critical or the literary-critical method
to contribute directly to faith or to expect them to secure a foundation
This does not mean, of course, that a negative apologetics for the Bible
is without real value. Apologetics is one of the difficult but necessary
secondary tasks of Catholic theology. But since apologetics is addressed
to those without faith, it cannot be the basis of theology's essential
work, which is "Faith seeking understanding." Yet apologetics
does also have a certain positive role in arguing for the credibility
of biblical inspiration. While it cannot demonstrate the Bible to be the
Word of God, since that fact is accessible only to faith, it can and should
point out the extrinsic signs that reasonably oblige us to believe
the Bible to be divinely inspired.
Catholics do not accept the notion of the Protestant Reformers that the
Bible is self-evidently God's Word. Surely modern biblical scholarship
has shown how incredible that notion is! Hence the mainline Protestant
churches no longer unequivocally accept biblical inspiration, while Evangelical
and Fundamentalist Protestants do so because of a Reformation tradition
that ultimately has no other grounds than the Sacred Tradition of the
That Sacred Tradition is guaranteed by the witness of the living Church,
which as Vatican I solemnly defined, remains a sign, a "moral miracle"
accessible to all to whom that Catholic Church is able to preach. Thus
it is the Church as a living miraculous sign that obliges us to believe
the Word of God on God's own word, just as the earthly Jesus, still present
in his Church, once obliged his hearers to believe him on his own word
made credible by his miraculous life and deeds.
While theology must be based on faith, modern biblical scholarship, for
all its apologetic success, can only be based on reason in the form of
historical arguments or literary hermeneutics. Even some of our best exegetes
find themselves writing books in which their methodology forces them to
frankly admit that certain Church doctrines cannot be established from
the Bible as they read it. For example John Meier finds the "brothers"
of Jesus more probably to be blood brothers inspite of the Sacred Tradition
of the perpetual virginity of Mary. Raymond Brown finds it not possible
to support the Sacred Tradition of the apostolic succession by evidence
of the universality of episcopal polity in the New Testament church. And,
as we have seen, the Biblical Commission finds no clear warrant for the
Tradition's restriction of priestly ordination to men. As faithful Catholics
these exegetes can only add footnotes to say that of course they do not
mean to contradict the Church's teaching.
In my opinion, as one who is not a biblical scholar but is fascinated
by their work, the results they have come up with are often, even on their
own terms, both tenuous and tendentious. For that reason alone they can
hardly serve as a secure basis of theology - but that is not here my point.
What is really wrong in our present situation is that exegetes have confined
themselves to secondary, although important, apologetics tasks. Instead
one would think they should be busy with their main job of reading the
Bible as the Fathers of the Church read it, on the basis of faith in its
inspiration. Hence biblical research has ceased to be theology proper
and become simply historical and literary scholarship.
On the other hand, theologians err if they conclude that since biblical
exegetes contribute little to establishing a unified and consistent basis
for theology, this frees theologians to construct their own systems on
some other basis than what God says in the Bible. They have moved very
far from the patristic and medieval theologians who like St. Thomas Aquinas,
called theology Sacra Doctrina and chiefly meant by this doctrina
simply the Bible.
Let me give two examples of what I am talking about. She Who Is
(1993), the well-reviewed work of the feminist theologian, Elizabeth Johnson,
reworks the major dogmas of Catholicism with many references to current
biblical scholarship. Johnson then concludes that to avoid the sin of
sexism it is necessary to revise the Church's teaching that the order
of procession of the Divine Persons in the Holy Trinity is first, second
and third. Such an ordering at least suggests subordination, and subordination
is necessarily oppressive and evil.
How did Johnson arrive at this odd view, contradictory to the solemn definitions
of the Magisterium and the practice of the liturgy, and certainly alien
to the New Testament? Following the feminist exegete Elisabeth Schussler
Fiorenza, Johnson begins with the assumption that the political agenda
of radical feminism is unquestionably correct. Hence if she is to remain
a Catholic (which, thank God, she wants to do!) she must, with the aid
of a "hermeneutic of suspicion," recast the Scriptures to support
women's liberation as radical feminism defines it.
Johnson's program, which she grounds only by occasional appeals to "women's
experience," turns out on closer examination to be a kind of Christian
anarchism. Johnson seems to believe that the essential Gospel message
is the abolition of all "hierarchy" so that someday we can live
in an egalitarian community where all decisions are made by consensus
only. In such a community no one need obey anybody else, since obedience
implies subordination and subordination is always oppressive. She makes
no attempt to prove that God created a non-hierarchical cosmos or promised
us the oxymoron of an Anarchic Kingdom of God. Yet her unargued assumption
that such an egalitarian community is the Gospel message is the basic
hermeneutic principle on which her whole reconstruction of Catholic theology
What enables Elizabeth Johnson to proceed in this arbitrary fashion is
that she has first proposed an apophatic view of God as the "Incomprehensible
Mystery" on which as on a blank screen it becomes possible for her
to project her own program. The Bible's claim that God, Mystery that He
is, has definitively revealed that Mystery to us in Jesus Christ, the
Bible, and the Church is set aside. For "God" with its patriarchal
symbolism, she substitutes the feminine sounding "Sophia," ignoring
the fact that in the Bible "Sophia" is chiefly used not to name
the Creator but the Law by which the Creator has established an hierarchical
order in creation and human society. "She is the book of the precepts
of God, the law that endures forever; all who cling to her will live,
but those will die who forsake her" (Bar 4:1). Thus the androcentric
Bible names not God but itself, God's self-revelation, "Sophia."
The Ignatius Study Bible series
provide Commentary, Notes, and Study Questions by Dr.
Scott Hahn and Curtis Mitch. Also included are an Introductory Essay,
Topical Essays, Word Studies and Charts. The Introductory Essay covers
questions of authorship, date, destination, structure and themes. The
Topical Essays explore the major themes of the book, often relating them
to the doctrines of the Church. The Word Studies explain the background
to important Bible terms, while the Charts summarize crucial biblical
information "at a glance".
Published so far: Gospel
of Matthew, Gospel
of Mark, Gospel
of Luke, Gospel
of John, Acts
of the Apostles, Romans,
and 2 Corinthians,
A second example of the Bible gap is the conception
of moral theology which our most renowned American moral theologian, Richard
A. McCormick, proposes. It has even led him to dissent on certain issues
from the teaching of the Magisterium and to denounce John Paul II's Veritatis
splendor for misrepresenting the current mainstream of moral theology.
In the voluminous and highly influential writings of McCormick, along
with his sometime collaborator Charles E. Curran, we find a specious argument
to the effect that moral theology needs to free itself from a too close
reliance on specific moral norms found in the Bible. According to this
view, modern biblical scholarship has demonstrated that these concrete
biblical norms are so historically conditioned that they are of little
help in solving modern moral problems. Moreover, insofar as some still
relevant content can be salvaged from these obsolescent biblical norms
it turns out to add little to what is common to most ethical systems independent
of Christian faith.
Hence there really is no such thing as a specifically Christian ethics.
At most the Bible supplies us with the motivation of Christian love and
with homiletic exhortations to do good and avoid evil. The definition
of what is good and what is evil in today's world, therefore, is not to
be sought in proof-texting or fundamentalist biblical literalism, but
in arguments based on philosophy and modern science.
Many other examples could be cited both in the fields of dogma and of
moral theology to show this widening gap between theology and the Bible.
This is not the place to try to show in detail how this gap might be narrowed
so as once more to ground theology in the Word of God, making use of the
more secure results of current biblical scholarship but not asking of
it what it cannot supply. In a very modest, text-book way I have attempted
to do this for moral theology in a work Living the Truth in Love
to be published soon by Alba House. Here, I want only to raise the problem
and to point out the direction in which I believe we must search for answers.
We must begin not with history, nor literary criticism, nor human reason,
nor religious experience, nor philosophy (Kantian or Aristotelian), nor
a political program however admirable. As Vatican II urged, we must begin
from divine faith that the Bible as understood in the Sacred Tradition
of the Church is God's Word guiding us to union with him. This does not
mean, of course, reading the Bible as fundamentalists do in an anachronistic
and literalistic way, but as God intended his message to be conveyed through
human authors writing in human ways in particular historical contexts.
Nor does it mean that the Scriptures substitute for the rational pursuit
of scientific truth or give us all the data and analysis that we need
to live in our contemporary world. What it does mean is that God in his
wisdom and mercy has, with a certainty far surpassing any human research,
given us in the Bible read in its proper context of Sacred Tradition,
the fundamental truths of faith and morals that alone can securely direct
Hence we must take with utmost seriousness, as did the Fathers of the
Church, every thing relevant to our salvation asserted in the Scriptures.
Thus, for example, we must avoid the current superficial "explaining
away" of such biblical assertions as St. Paul's condemnation of sexual
relations between same-sex partners (Rom 1: 26-27). To say, as some do,
that Paul was only talking about child abuse, or that the reasons he gives
do not apply to constitutional homosexuals is to stop our ears and close
our minds to God speaking through Paul. It also ignores Paul when he says
that the Scriptures "were written for our instruction that by endurance
and by the encouragement of the Scripture we might have hope" (Rom
What every verse of the Bible means for our salvation may not be clear,
but it is clear that it means something, and it is the task of the exegete
to try to find that meaning. It is also the responsibility of theologians
to base their reasoning upon the rock of biblical teaching not on some
foundation of sand. We must take the canon as it is and not reduce it
to a "canon within the canon" by a "hermeneutic of suspicion"
that exorcises whatever in the text might expose the falsity of our own
Second, the fundamental hermeneutic clue for all exegesis is, as DV said,
what God wanted to put into the sacred writings for the sake of our
salvation. What we need for our salvation is to know God as He reveals
himself to be and how we are to respond to him in our own lives, not merely
as individuals but as a Church which he has chosen in Christ and called
to be his witness to the world. The Bible cannot be read, therefore, simply
as a collection of documents with a variety of sources written on the
different occasions and expressing the authors' contrasting insights.
It must be read as ultimately a unified revelation of who God is and a
consistent and sufficient guide for Christian living. This is not to deny
the polyphony of biblical voices, but to show that they form a harmonious
composition not a cacophony.
Third, since the Word of God is voiced by the Holy Spirit not only in
the Bible, but also through Sacred Tradition, and since, as DV says, these
are not two disconnected sources of revelation, but unified in their witness,
they are joined in a hermeneutical circle. Sacred Tradition is expressed
in a privileged way in the Bible, but the Bible cannot be understood except
in the context of the living faith of the Christian community as it exists
through time down to the present moment. Yet at the same time the good
wheat of Sacred Tradition must be winnowed from the chaff of human traditions
by its consistency with the Bible. The teaching authority of the Church
has the final judgment on what is authentic tradition and what is not.
Yet it too, as our Protestant brethren remind us, "stands under the
Bible's judgment." The Catholic exegete's task, therefore, is not
completed until this hermeneutic circle is closed and Scripture and Tradition
confirm each other.
Fourth, this means that the development of doctrine in the Church, though
it is the work of the Holy Spirit, must constantly submit itself to judgment
by the Bible. We cannot begin with some intellectual, moral, or political
program, no matter how true or just it may seem to us, and use it as the
criterion of what we accept or do not accept in the Scriptures. We come
to the Scriptures to be judged, corrected, enlightened, and to repent,
not to rewrite the Bible, nor to cleanse it of its supposed defects. One
can admit that the Bible is androcentric in that it was written principally
by men not women, but that does not and cannot mean that it fails to tell
us what God meant the relation of men and women to be when he created
them "in his own image, male and female: (Gn 1:27). If God does not
instruct us on this fundamental problem of human life, we men and women,
mutual enemies that we often are, are never going to find reconciliation
Fifth, the inevitable historical conditioning of every part of the Bible
cannot be understood to render any part of it obsolete. Whatever the value
of the current fashion for "narrative theology," the history
of God's work for our salvation from creation to the eschaton is certainly
the chief mode in which he has chosen to reveal himself, and is the Way
which we are called to journey. Historico-critical scholarship contributes
much to understanding this history, but its results are in large part
controversial and constantly shifting. It has not, for example, been able
to establish as historic fact so fundamental a part of the Biblical narrative
as the Exodus, on which, by the way, liberation theology is based. Literary
criticism abstracts from this historicity, but theology cannot be content
simply to accept it as a meaningful myth. Of course, we theologians should
be grateful when such fundamental data receives apologetic support from
archaeology and biblical criticism. Moreover we should never on supposed
biblical grounds claim as historic fact what has been certainly proved
by rational methods to be false. Nevertheless, neither ought we be ashamed
to claim as historical fact what seems to be well attested in biblical
revelation even when it has not been proved to be such by purely historical
Sixth, the Word of God is found principally neither in Scripture or Sacred
Tradition but in Jesus Christ, who is that Word (Jn 1:1-14). He is both
the revelation of the Father, "Whoever has seen me has seen the Father"
(Jn 14:10) and, in the power of the Holy Spirit, the way to the Father.
"I am the way, the truth, and the life" (Jn 14:6). But Jesus
remains palpably present and visible to us only in his yet imperfect Church,
"Teach them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold,
I am with you always, until the end of the ages" (Mt 28:20). This
is why the theologian and exegete must submit their conclusions to the
judgment of the those in the Church commissioned by Christ to speak in
his name, as he said to the seventy-two disciples when he sent them out
as his authorized representatives, "Whoever listens to you listens
to me. Whoever rejects you rejects me. And whoever rejects me rejects
the one who sent me" (Lk 10:16).
To return to the two examples of the Bible gap I gave earlier: if we do
not project feminist anarchism on to the cipher of The Mystery, but listen
to that Mystery reveal itself in the Bible, what do we hear? Jesus calls
the Mystery, "Abba, Father" (Mk 14:6; cf. Gal 4:6; Rm 8:15),
himself "The Son" (Mt 11:27; Lk 10:21-22). and declares, "Whoever
has seen me has seen the Father" (Jn 14:9).
When Jesus named the Mystery "Father" not "Mother,"
he was not teaching male dominance, but was selecting the analogy from
common human experience which best reveals the true relation of the Mystery
to us all. This relation differs from the one we as children have to our
mothers which tends to simple identification with her from whom our bodies
are drawn and nursed. That analogy would favor - as feminists themselves
admit - a pantheistic or panentheistic understanding of God, as have the
mother goddesses of many religions, like those that tempted Israel to
idolatry. Instead, the one God is revealed through his Son Jesus as the
wholly Other transcendently free Creator, infinite in power yet infinitely
tender in his love for all his creatures. This Father puts aside his otherness
so as to share without Oedipal rivalry all that he has with his Son. "All
things have been handed over to me by my Father" (Lk 10:22). The
paradox of God's transcendent immanence can be communicated to us by no
truer name than "Abba."
Does this biblical symbol marginalize woman? At a marriage banquet do
all eyes turn toward the bridegroom or to the bride? She is the center
of attention, as her groom, like Adam when he first saw Eve (Gn 2:23),
exclaims, "Ah, you are beautiful, my beloved, ah, you are beautiful!
Your eyes are doves behind your veil" (Sg 4:1). The Old Testament
uses the symbol of Wisdom (Sophia) not for the Holy Spirit himself
(who as the mutual paternal-filial love between Father and Son is masculine),
but for the Bride of God, the Creation, the Law, and the Chosen People,
united to Him in the covenant partnership of mutual love (Hos 1-3, etc.)
The New Testament speaks even more clearly of the Church as the bride
of Jesus (Rv 21:2). He is her head, but she is his body (Eph 5:23), "bone
of my bones, flesh of my flesh" (Gn 2:23), on which St. Paul comments,
"For just as woman came from man, so man is born of woman; but all
things are from God" (I Cor 11:12).
To read these texts as if they aim to exalt God as superior to his creation,
the male as superior to the female, is to miss their point. What they
aim to express is that our relation to God ought and can be that of true
lovers whose difference is complementary and whose union is not for domination
but for true self-donation. Johnson, somewhat reluctantly, admits as much
when she grants that a male Incarnation at least is the kenosis
or emptying of male pride, since Jesus by his pacificism and virginity
rebukes male violence and sexual exploitation. The maleness of Jesus,
she says, "proceeds under the negating sign of analogy, more dissimilar
than similar to any maleness known in history" (p. 163). If men were
to follow the Pauline exhortation to sacrifice themselves for their wives
as Jesus did for his people (Eph 5:25) what would remain of male tyranny?
The second of my examples was taken from McCormick's notion that the moral
teachings of the Scripture should be read today as motivational rather
than as strictly obligatory. I believe that this opinion originated in
the laudable effort after Vatican II to correct the legalism of post-Tridentine
moral manuals by centering moral theology in the Great Commandment of
Love (Mt 22:40). It is true that the New Testament, rather than supply
a detailed code of morals, motivates and transforms moral life through
the work of the Holy Spirit and his gift of the Christian virtues. But
it also shows us Jesus not as one who abrogates the Law but as one who
interprets and completes it in the true sense intended from the beginning
of creation by the Father. "Do not think I have come to abolish the
law or the prophets. I have come not abolish but to fulfill" (Mt
Thus when we read the Bible as a canonical whole it will be found to instruct
Christians in concrete detail how to live in the world but not of it (Jn
17:15-16; Jas 1:27). Yet, as the prophets of the Old Testament had already
shown, the purpose of the Law is not that hypocrisy of mere external conformity
which Jesus rebuked in some of the Pharisees. It is our transformation
into the image of Jesus who is the image of the Father (Col 1:15). By
the transforming power of God's grace in the baptized this divine image
is to be found first of all in the theological virtues of faith, hope,
and charity (I Cor 13:13) and their actions by which the Trinity dwells
in us and works through us.
In scholastic theology these theological virtues were thought to be supported
by the four cardinal or moral virtues: prudence, justice, fortitude and
temperance. Yet these were borrowed from Greek philosophy and are listed
only once in the Bible and then only in the Old Testament (Wis 8:27).
Yet these four virtues are by no means absent from the New Testament,
since "prudence" is another name for the practical aspect of
faith which is that same "wisdom" that is so prominent throughout
the whole Bible. "Justice" is the "righteousness"
of meeting our obligations to God and neighbor without which the Commandment
of Love cannot be genuinely fulfilled. "Fortitude" is the courage
and patience of the Cross and of martyrdom, while "temperance"
is that control of bodily desires by which the chaste Christian becomes
a "temple of the Holy Spirit" (I Cor 6:19). Together fortitude
and temperance constitute Christian asceticism motivated by the theological
virtue of hope, since hope for eternal life leads us to "live temperately,
justly, and devoutly in this age" (Tit 2:12; cf. Rom 8:1-13).
These Christian virtues are not mere formal "values" to be approximated
in action in ways of our own choosing, as some moralists think, but are
defined by concrete norms of action, such as the Ten Commandments. Such
concrete norms, as John Paul II teaches in Veritatis Splendor,
set absolute limits to what we may and may not do, whatever the circumstances
of our lives, if we are to keep our feet on what Jesus called "the
narrow road that leads to life" (Mt 7:14). How then does moral truth
set us free (Jn 8:32)? St. Paul answers, "You were called for freedom,
brothers. But do not use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh;
rather serve one another through love" (Gal 5:13). We are freed by
the Holy Spirit not to wander into sin, but to walk straight in Jesus'
footsteps as he calls, "Come, follow me!" (Mk 10:21).
Thus the Bible shows us how we are to be transformed into the likeness
of Jesus and through him of the Father by faith joined to prudence, love
to justice, and hope to fortitude and temperance. The measure of each
of these virtues is not conformity to the world but to Christ, because,
as St. Paul asks, "Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this
age? Has God not made the wisdom of the world foolish?" (1 Cor 1:20).
It should be evident, therefore, that a Christian ethics differs in many
specific ways from those not guided simply by human reason.
Thus the abyss today opening between the Bible and theology must be overcome
by a type of exegesis that does not stop with historical and literary
criticism but interprets the biblical text precisely as the Word of God
redeeming our theological systems, not as re-written to conform to them.
We must be instructed by God, not instruct him. "For who has known
the mind of the Lord or who has been his counselor? (Rm 11:34 quoting
[This article originally appeared in the March/April 1996 issue of
The Catholic Dossier.]
Related IgnatiusInsight.com Articles:
How To Read
The Bible | By Peter Kreeft
Sacred Scriptures | Scott Hahn and Curtis Mitch
Authority of Scripture vs. the "Hermeneutic of Suspicion"
| James Hitchcock
to The Meaning of Tradition | Yves Congar, O.P.
M. Ashley, OP, is a priest of the Dominican Order, Chicago Province.
He is a graduate of the University of Chicago and the University of Notre
Dame and has doctorates in philosophy and political science, and the post-doctoral
decree of Master of Sacred Theology conferred by an international committee
of the Order of Preachers. He was formerly President of Aquinas Institute
of Theology, St.Louis, Professor of Theology at the Institute of Religion
and Human Development, Houston, TX, and Professor of Theology at the Pontifical
John Paul II Institute for Studies in Marriage and Family, Washington, D.C,
and Visiting Lecturer in Humanities at the University of Chicago (1999).
At present he is Emeritus Professor of Moral Theology at Aquinas Institute
of Theology, St. Louis and Adjunct Professor at the Center for Health Care
Ethics, Saint Louis University. He is a Senior Fellow of the Pope John Center
of Medical Ethics, Boston. He is the author of numerous books and articles.
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