The Reception of St. Paul in the Works of Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI

I have recently published an article entitled “The Reception of St. Paul in the Works of Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI” in the journal Letter and Spirit edited by Scott Hahn. My piece explores how Pope Benedict has instantiated his exegetical project specifically in reference to the Pauline corpus.

In his homily for the opening of the Pauline Year in 2008, Pope Benedict XVI offered a powerful summary of how the theology of St. Paul ought to be received in the Church today.  Commenting on 1 Tim 2:7, the emeritus pontiff explained:

5172fcraw4l-_sx331_bo1204203200_

“A teacher of the Gentiles”—these words open to the future, to all peoples and all generations. For us Paul is not a figure of the past whom we remember with veneration. He is also our teacher, an Apostle and herald of Jesus Christ for us too. Thus we are not gathered to reflect on past history, irrevocably behind us. Paul wants to speak to us—today. That is why I chose to establish this special “Pauline Year”: in order to listen to him and learn today from him, as our teacher…Thus, we are gathered here to question ourselves on the great Apostle to the Gentiles. Let us not ask ourselves only: who was Paul? Let us ask ourselves above all: who is Paul? What does he say to me?

I think that this short text cited above captures well the broad strokes Benedict XVI’s approach to Scripture in general and to the letters of St. Paul in particular. Especially germane in this regard are the emeritus pontiff’s Pauline Year homilies and catecheses, but the synthesis attempted in my article draws also on other works that, taken cumulatively, give a vivid sense of what Benedict considers vital in St. Paul for the life of the Church.

In this link to Letter and Spirit, Vol. 11 on Amazon you can find my full article along with a number of other excellent pieces dedicated to the theme “Our Beloved Brother Paul — Reception History of Paul in Catholic Tradition.”   Enjoy!

Wisdom and the Renewal of Catholic Theology

Just this month a new book has been published entitled Wisdom and the Renewal of Catholic Theology: Essays in Honor of Matthew L. Lamb.  I have contributed a chapter to this volume, whose description is below.  My chapter is entitled “Biblical Inspiration in the Theology of St. Thomas Aquinas and Fr. Matthew Lamb.”

9781498278416

A brief description of my chapter

A biblical scholar combing through the corpus St. Thomas Aquinas might be disappointed to learn that the saint whom we call Universal Doctor never wrote a distinct treatise on biblical inspiration.  However, this was a conscious move on the part of Thomas which, if properly understood, could have important implications for Catholic biblical exegesis today.  In his erudite translation and commentary on Aquinas’s Commentary on Ephesians, Fr. Matthew Lamb discusses this decision and the distinctive features of Thomas’ theology of biblical inspiration which flow from it. The goal of this paper is to draw out these characteristics and, in so doing, to suggest that a genuine appropriation of Thomas’ exegetical principles could be a fecund source of renewal with Catholic biblical theology today.

Description of the book from Amazon:

For more than fifty years, Fr. Matthew L. Lamb has been one of the major figures in American Catholic theology through his writing, teaching, and involvement in scholarly societies. Over a decade ago, Fr. Lamb moved from the Department of Theology at Boston College to develop the graduate programs in theology at Ave Maria University in response to what he identified as the widespread decline in theological education. Twelve years into their operation, the graduate programs in theology have begun to produce junior scholars who have attained appointments in universities and seminaries across the United States. In Wisdom and the Renewal of Catholic Theology, Thomas P. Harmon and Roger W. Nutt have brought together some of this first generation of Ave Maria graduates to produce a collection of essays to honor their teacher and the architect of their theological education.

The book is available for purchase here on Amazon.

“Let Justice Roll down like Waters”

The Fellowship of Catholic Scholars puts out a wonderful monthly publication called Teaching the Faith. This is a great resource for homilists and faithful alike who wish to enter more deeply into the liturgical readings.  The following link is to my essay which appears in the publication for the upcoming 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time on September 18.  It ties together the first reading (Amos 8.4-7) and gospel (Luke 16.1-13) for the day, reflecting especially on Jesus’ strange exhortation to “friends for yourselves with dishonest wealth.”

This is the website where you can download my essay and other other new meditations every month.

Benedict XVI’s Hermeneutic of Reform: Towards a Rapprochement of the Magisterium and Modern Biblical Criticism

Even a cursory overview of Benedict XVI’s exegetical approach reveals dramatic contrasts with magisterial teaching of previous epochs.  With appropriate reservations and criticisms, Benedict strongly advocates the use of modern scholarly methods to help Christians better discern the face of Christ revealed in Scripture.  In adopting many of these modern findings, however, it almost seems as if Benedict has forgotten or neglected principles enforced by the magisterium no less than a century earlier.

Though one may argue that the Church’s stance on modern biblical scholarship only indirectly bears upon faith and morals, the issue remains timely today insofar as a divide persists in the Church concerning the extent to which it is appropriate to incorporate the tools and findings of modern exegesis in Catholic theology.  Aside from Benedict’s own comments on his project, it is difficult still today to find an adequate account of how exegesis under his pontificate is reconcilable with many of the venerable traditions which preceded it and, in particular, with a magisterial approach which generally viewed modern scholarship with skepticism.

The lack of such an account is what prompted me to author an article in Nova et Vetera which addresses this very topic.  In the piece I endeavor to face head-on patent discrepancies in the Church’s approach to the Bible over the past century and, so doing, offer the principles needed for a robust apologia of Catholicism in its relationship with modern biblical scholarship. You can download and read the article here!

The Salvation of Atheists and Catholic Dogmatic Theology

My review of Stephen Bullivant’s outstanding volume The Salvation of Atheists and Catholic Dogmatic Theology came out in this quarter’s edition of Nova et Vetera.  If you wonder about the question of how to reconcile Vatican II’s teaching on the possibility of salvation for non-believers with traditional Catholic doctrine, this is the book for you.  Immediately below is my condensed review I posted on Amazon, followed by a link where you can download my full review to learn more about Bullivant’s book.

9780199652563 (1)

Stephen Bullivant’s monograph offers a welcome contribution to an area in the theology of Vatican II that continues to require clarification fifty years after the Council. The aim of this work is to elucidate “how, within the parameters of Catholic theology, it is possible for an atheist to be saved.” While not intended as an apologetic response to the New Atheism, Bullivant is correct in observing that his work will challenge one item in the New Atheist arsenal, namely the assumption that individuals who happen to lack certain “religious information” are thereby automatically assumed to be damned. The primary focus of this study consists in elucidating two poignant sentences of Lumen Gentium 16: “Those also can attain to salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, yet sincerely seek God and moved by grace strive by their deeds to do His will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience. Nor does Divine Providence deny the helps necessary for salvation to those who, without blame on their part, have not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God and with His grace strive to live a good life.”

Bullivant’s post-mortem solution to the problem of how atheists might be saved is plausible and well-argued. In brief, Bullivant proposes that atheists can be saved in accordance with what they have done to Christ’s “least ones.” In a move all-too rarely made in contemporary theology, Bullivant offers hagiographical evidence to corroborate his claim. After a delightful analysis of how his paradigm is reflected in the lives of St. Benedict and St. Martin de Tours , the author dwells at greater length on the theology of Bl. Mother Teresa, who taught that Christ is present “in his distressing disguise” in the poor themselves. If this presence is as the saints describe it, then moral atheists not only act under the influence of grace but also have an objective encounter with Christ himself when performing corporal works of mercy for his “least ones.” Echoing D’Costa, Bullivant thus argues that the atheist already in this life has an “ontological relationship” with Christ, whereas the requisite “epistemological relationship” with him will only be rectified post-mortem. None of this, he argues, requires that we attribute to the atheist implicit or anonymous faith; rather, in this case it is Christ who is anonymous. Briefly stated, “Anonymous Christs do not entail anonymous Christians.”

For this reader, a significant remaining objection concerns how Bullivant seems to imply the presence of charity in an atheist while denying that this virtue is accompanied by at least implicit faith. It is difficult to see how the salvific grace an atheist receives in his encounter with Christ’s “least ones” is not accompanied by some noetic content.

Read the full review here!

Jesus, Interpreted: My Forthcoming Sequel to “Dark Passages of the Bible”

The Fall/Winter catalog of CUA Press just came in my mail the other day, and I’m excited to announce that I have a new book coming out shortly (shortly in academic publishing–January 2, 2017)!  The book’s title is Jesus, Interpreted: Benedict XVI, Bart Ehrman, and the Historical Truth of the Gospels.  Here’s the description and link to the book that was recently put up on Amazon:

51lYjB8+gAL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_

In this sequel volume to his Dark Passages of the Bible (CUA Press, 2013), author Matthew Ramage turns his attention from the Old to the New Testament, now tackling truth claims bearing directly on the heart of the Christian faith cast into doubt by contemporary New Testament scholarship: Did God become man in Jesus, or did the first Christians make Jesus into God? Was Jesus’ resurrection a historical event, or rather a myth fabricated by the early Church? Will Jesus indeed return to earth on the last day, or was this merely the naïve expectation of ancient believers that reasonable people today ought to abandon?

In addition to examining the exegetical merits of rival answers to these questions, Ramage considers also the philosophical first principles of the exegetes who set out to answer them. This, according to Joseph Ratzinger, is the debate behind the debate in exegesis: whose presuppositions best position us for an accurate understanding of the nature of things in general and of the person of Jesus in particular?

Insisting upon the exegetical vision of Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI as a privileged avenue by which to address the thorniest issues in contemporary biblical exegesis, Ramage puts the emeritus pontiff’s hermeneutic of faith into dialogue with contemporary exponents of the historical-critical school. Carrying forth the “critique of the critique” called for by Joseph Ratzinger, Ramage offers the emeritus pontiff’s exegesis of the gospels as a plausible and attractive alternative to the mainstream agnostic approach exemplified in the work of Bart Ehrman.

As in the case of Benedict’s Jesus trilogy upon which he draws extensively, Ramage’s quest in this book is not merely academic but also existential in nature. Benedict’s scholarship represents the fruit of his personal quest for the face of Christ, a quest which involves the commitment to engage, critique, and learn from the most serious challenges posed by modern biblical criticism while arming the foundations of the Christian faith.

Dark Passages Reviewed in Nova et Vetera!

Well, it’s been some time since I’ve posted any scholarship on here.  Alot has happened in the last six months: I had open-heart surgery, a total hip replacement, and my dad died unexpectedly of a heart attack.  It has been a trying period, but I am returning to health.  And so many prayers and masses have been offered for my dad that–when combined with his holy life and death–it’s difficult to see how he could not be presently beholding the Lord face to face!

Over the coming months I should have several items to share on this blog, but for now the most recent publication is actually a book review of my Dark Passages of the Bible that appeared in the most recent edition of the international theological journal Nova et Vetera, which is quite possibly my favorite journal. You can download and read the review here!  My thanks to Christopher Baglow for his kind words!

Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus & the Substance of Catholic Doctrine: Towards a Realization of Benedict XVI’s “Hermeneutic of Reform”

Over the past fifty years, there have been dissenting Catholics of various stripes who based their rejection of the Magisterium on the seeming contradiction between what Vatican II taught regarding who is able to be saved over and against the ancient doctrine extra ecclesiam nulla salus (outside the church there is no salvation).  I have just published a paper in the journal Nova et Vetera which takes up the thorny question of whether salvation is possible for those outside of the visible Catholic Church and, further, whether the teaching of Vatican II may be reconciled with the magisterial teaching ecclesiam nulla salus that preceded it. You can read the full article Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus & the Substance of Catholic Doctrine: Towards a Realization of Benedict XVI’s “Hermeneutic of Reform” here.  If you are into theology and want a serious quarterly journal that seeks to wed the new and the old within the Christian tradition, I highly recommend subscribing to Nova et Vetera.

Integral Ecology and the Ecological Virtues in Pope Francis’s Laudato Si’

Over the past couple years of Francis’s pontificate, I have had fielded innumerable questions from college students, colleagues, and parishioners who are confused by our reigning pope’s approach in general and his views expressed in Laudato Si’ in particular.  Actually, I think that the pontiff’s recent encyclical ought to be applauded by all Catholics, and this is what I have taken up in my recent article published in Homiletic and Pastoral Review.

Contrary to the perception of many who have not read the document, it turns out that the question of climate change holds only a minor place within the scope of the encyclical, and it is largely irrelevant to Francis’s overarching message. In other words, the text is not “an encyclical on climate change,” as some have called it. It treats a number of other scientific issues and much, much more besides that. In this piece, what I do here is to offer a reflection on what I take to constitute the heart of Francis’s vision for an “integral ecology” and the “ecological virtues” demanded by it.  In so doing, I assuredly touch on certain themes that others have treated, but I also hope to add some nuances that have not been addressed in the various commentaries currently circulating in the blogosphere.  You can read the entire article here.

Benedict XVI, Catholic Doctrine and the Problem of an Imminent Parousia

Look up the following texts and ask yourself whether they ring true:

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
1 Corinthians 7:29 and 15:51-52
Mark 13:26-33

Today I am excited to share an article of mine that will be published in the forthcoming issue of the Josephinum Journal of Theology.  It is on the fascinating but very thorny topic addressed in these biblical texts: the New Testament’s ostensibly failed expectation that Christ’s second coming would occur within the first Christian generation.  I thought about this topic for years and never found a really compelling answer to until I read what Benedict XVI had to say on it.  Thus the point of my article is to tease out Benedict’s thought and draw it all together in one accessible piece. The article abstract can be found below:

In the effort to advance a more biblically sound theology within the Church, this paper shows how the theological principles and exegetical practice of Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI provide an outstanding example of how to implement the above mandate of Dei Verbum as highlighted in the International Theological Commission’s recent work. The paper applies Ratzinger’s thought to concrete biblical texts involving the New Testament’s ostensibly failed expectation that Christ’s parousia would occur within the apostolic period.  The question that arises from a reading of these texts is quite simple: Why has Christ not come back yet like he seemed to say he would?  By searching out the intention of Scripture’s sacred authors in relation to the expectation of an imminent parousia, Ratzinger offers a compelling apology for the existence of thorny biblical texts and dogmatic formulas within the Catholic tradition.

If you wish to read the entire article, you can download it here.

How to Read the Bible and Still Be a Christian

If God exists, he is not the God of the Christian Bible.

At least this is the conclusion drawn by many prominent authors and cultural commentators in our society today.

The rise of agnosticism and atheism in contemporary culture cannot be traced merely to a single cause, but, certainly, one significant factor lies in a recent increase of interest in the Bible. Mind you, what I am talking about here is, not popular devotion, but, rather, the fashionable trend of calling attention to the deep discord that seems to exist between the God Christians preach and the God casual readers find, when they actually explore the Bible. Pick up Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion, Christopher Hitchens’s God Is Not Great, Bart Ehrman’s God’s Problem, or any number of similar titles, and there you will find the same basic conviction: you cannot read the Bible seriously and still be a Christian.

The recent barrage of attacks on the Bible in the media has elicited a series of responses from the Catholic Church, most recently, in the form of documents from the International Theological Commission (ITC) and Pontifical Biblical Commission (PBC). Although I have authored a book-length treatment of this subject, I have not yet had the occasion to comment on these particular texts which were published just last year. Seeing that neither I, nor hardly anyone else, has commented on these texts, I thought it appropriate to offer a survey of their principles. You can find my recently published article “How to Read the Bible and Still Be a Christian: The Problem of Divine Violence as Considered in Recent Curial Documents” this month in Homiletic and Pastoral Review.

In the Beginning: Reading Genesis with Benedict XVI and Thomas Aquinas

Today our outstanding Benedictine College class of 2015 graduated, and with that summer begins for us here in Atchison, KS.

Just in time for summer, I have a new piece of scholarship to share.  The file I’m attaching here is a chapter I wrote for a book entitled Reading Scripture with Thomas Aquinas, forthcoming later this year.

cover pic

The chapter explores the respective exegetical methods and practices of Thomas Aquinas and Ratzinger/Benedict XVI as applied within the account of primeval history narrated in Genesis 1-3.  Before treating commonalities between Aquinas and Ratzinger, I address the latter’s critiques of neo-scholasticism first so as to make it clear that Ratzinger is not strictly speaking a Thomist.  With this initial caveat in place, there follows an overview of principles illustrating key points of contact in which Ratzinger implicitly (and explicitly at points) connects his exegetical programme with that of Aquinas.  Finally, the core of the chapter consists in illustrating how the shared principles of Aquinas and Ratzinger are applied to specific realities within the biblical text.

In sum, I aim to show that Ratzinger conducts his exegesis of Genesis in a way that is much in the spirit of Thomas and indeed shares many parallels with Thomas’ exegesis of the same texts.  At the same time, I endeavor to make it clear that Ratzinger makes significant advances beyond Aquinas with the help of the modern scholarly tools to which he is privy.  Thus I hope the reader will see that Aquinas’ exegesis continues today to exert its influence and to remain profitable even as it needs to be supplemented by the best scholarship currently available—precisely the view advanced by a leading biblical scholar who was to become bishop of Rome.

Download the chapter here!

Purchase the book here!

Christian Discernment of Divine Revelation: Benedict XVI and the International Theological Commission on the Dark Passages of the Old Testament

“Violence is incompatible with the nature of God.”  In his 2006 Regensburg Address, Pope Benedict XVI penned this line as part of his ongoing effort to disentangle theology from ideologies which “might even lead to the image of a capricious God, who is not even bound to truth and goodness.” Although Benedict had Islam in his sights in making this particular point, the same warning equally applies to Christian theology and Scripture.

In its recent document God the Trinity and the Unity of Humanity, the International Theological Commission offers important principles to reconcile the many Old Testament texts in which God ostensibly acts against his own nature by commanding deeds such as the slaughter of men, women, and children.  I am publishing a piece on this subject in the upcoming volume of Scripta Theologica, which is published by the University of Navarra in Spain.  Since most of you probably don’t have access to this journal, I’ve attached the pre-publication version of the article here. Basically, it summarizes key hermeneutical principles from my book Dark Passages of the Bible, adds several helpful cues from the International Theological Commission’s recent work, and applies them to Psalm 137, one of the most beautiful and yet disturbing texts of the Old Testament.

The Bible and the Question of Miracles: Towards a Christian Response

My previous post at Strange Notions underscored the often-unacknowledged philosophical premises at work when believers and non-believers sit down to debate about things biblical. In the course of my argument, I pointed to a possible area of common ground for Catholics and agnostics/atheists. A survey of statements by thinkers as different as Benedict XVI and Bart Ehrman reveals an important agreement upon the reality that everyone carries their own philosophical presuppositions and that a purely objective consideration of Jesus’ miracles is therefore impossible.

Today I carry forward this discussion. By way of doing this, I first briefly summarize Bart Ehrman’s position on Jesus’ divinity and resurrection. Then I critique what I consider to be an insufficient (but very common) Christian response to the skeptic’s position. Finally, I dwell upon a couple keys given by C.S. Lewis and Pope Benedict XVI which point out from a Christian perspective the direction a philosophical dialogue about miracles needs to head.  Find the article here at Strange Notions.

Bart Ehrman, Benedict XVI, and the Bible on the Question of Miracles

At its core, the debate about modern exegesis is not a dispute among historians: it is rather a philosophical debate.” – Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI)

Today at Strange Notions I published a reflection revolving around this poignant line from Joseph Ratzinger’s 1988 Erasmus Lecture in which he famously called for a “criticism of criticism.” In penning these words, the German cardinal was looking for a self-criticism of the modern, historical-critical method of biblical interpretation. On the part of those involved in the craft of exegesis today, this would entail the effort to identify the philosophical presuppositions we bring to our reading of the biblical text and to consider honestly the degree of certainty warranted for the conclusions we draw when it comes to things biblical.  Check out the article here.