Very excited to be able to share this episode I recently recorded with John DeRosa for his great podcast Classical Theism, wherein we talk belief, doubt, my decades-long struggle of suffering with lupus, and how to live Christianity in our postmodern world…
Looking forward to speaking at a great Christology conference here in a couple of weeks, cosponsored by the Thomistic Institute and Ave Maria University. Click here for more information my talk and the conference!
Does God really exist? How can we be sure of it? Is Jesus Christ divine? How do we know he is not just another legend like myriad other figures throughout history? What about the Church’s moral teachings? Are those truly grounded in reality, or are they just artifacts of a bygone age that we aren’t bound by anymore? Friedrich Nietzsche was one of history’s greatest critics of Christianity who insisted that the Church’s teachings were fundamentally a power play with no objective truth behind them. For this reason, he wrote to his sister, “If you wish to strive for peace of soul and happiness, then believe; if you wish to be a disciple of truth, then inquire.” So do the Church’s teachings really give us knowledge, or is Nietzsche right and they just give us comfort?
If my experience is any indication, one of the most oft-recurring questions in the minds of college-aged Christians concerns the relationship of faith and doubt that I have just identified. Believers often tend to think that their faith is supposed to be absolutely certain. The reality is, though, that belief experienced in the actual lives of people today often appears more along the lines I’ve just described than by Thomas Aquinas, for whom doubt is incompatible with faith. Check out this talk that I recently gave at the University of Kansas in which I show that the Catholic Church, especially as enshrined in the towering theological figures of Thomas Aquinas and Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI, has something profound to say to those of us today who find ourselves caught in the situation of believing while doubting, of being a new apostle Thomas.
It’s been a really long time since I’ve posted here. There are really two reasons for this. First, over the past year I’ve had to deal with rapid kidney failure as a result of my lupus and then the aftermath of a kidney transplant. Thanks be to God for my friend who gave me his kidney and thus the gift of life. And thanks be to God that, after an incredibly challenging recovery process, I’ve now mostly healed and am back in action.
The other reason I haven’t posted here is that I’ve had no new publications to share. Rather than writing shorter pieces, this year I was busy with alot of speaking engagements and completing 2 books which have now been accepted for publication. I’ll share more on those another time. For now, I’d simply like to share what I’m up to in the immediate future.
Next weekend, I’m giving a paper at the conference Aquinas the Biblical Theologian, co-sponsored by the Aquinas Center for Theological Renewal and the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology, hosted by Ave Maria University. The title of my talk is “Unless You Believe, You Will Not Understand: Biblical Faith according to Benedict XVI and Thomas Aquinas.” For this talk, I’ll be distilling a longer paper that I wrote into a reflection on how Aquinas and Benedict interpret Isaiah 7:9 according to the Hebrew and Greek. The two are actually very different: the forrmer reads, “Unless you believe, you will not be established,” while the latter changes “be established” to “understand.” I’ll be discussing the implications of this change for how these authors understand what faith is, how much certitude it enjoys, and whether one needs to profess the whole Catholic faith in order to have faith at all.
I am so excited to speak at this conference next weekend and get out of town in the midst of a long physical and spiritual winter. Initially, I thought I wasn’t going to be able to accept the invitation to speak at this conference because we were supposed to be teaching again for Benedictine College’s study abroad in Florence this semester. But then I had this kidney transplant in December. Well, now I’ve mostly healed from it and am ready to escape Midwest winter for a few days. Southwest Florida, I love you–here we come!
Find out more about the upcoming conference here on Ave Maria University’s website.
I am ecstatic to announce the publication of my new book Jesus, Interpreted: Benedict XVI, Bart Ehrman, and the Historical Truth of the Gospels. It is available now on Amazon.com. This one was a work of love, and I am grateful to the many people– especially my family and the staff at CUA Press–for making it happen.
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.
This book, building on his previous work, secures Matthew Ramage’s place among the most important theologians of our day. Through his balanced and brilliant readings of Ehrman and Ratzinger/Benedict, Ramage boldly addresses precisely the exegetical questions that are causing many laypeople, influenced by Ehrman and others, to lose their faith in Christ. Ramage’s solutions, rooted in Benedict’s but ably supplementing them, deserve the widest attention. I simply cannot praise this book highly enough.
– Matthew Levering, James N. and Mary Dr. Perry Jr. Chair ofTheology, Mundelein Seminary
Two of the best-selling authors on Jesus that are alive today are the agnostic New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman and the emeritus Pope Benedict XVI. In this thought-provoking new study, Matthew Ramage puts these two seemingly diametrically opposed figures–Ehrman and Benedict–into extensive conversation with one another. The result is an in-depth exploration that should be required reading for any scholar interested in the historical Jesus and the truth of the Gospels.
– Brant Pitre, Notre Dame Seminary, New Orleans
“A timely and important book. For those tapped into religious discourse in popular culture today, Bart Ehrman is a household name, and his work has caused much confusion. Catholics very much need an approach to Scripture that is both faithful to the magisterium of the Church and at the same time honest about the difficulties found in the Bible. Ramage’s work does a great service.”
– Issac Morales, OP, Dominican House of Studies, Washington, DC
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.”
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.
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.
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.
I was happy to find out this week that my forthcoming book is in the Fall catalog of Catholic University of America Press and set to be in print by September. It is already available for pre-order on Amazon. A more extended blurb can be found on the CUA Press website.
The cover we decided on (above) is a Rembrandt sketch of the scene from Gen 22 when Abraham is called by God to slaughter Isaac–a dark passage indeed! Of course, Abraham did not have to go through with the physical action, but it still stands out as a particularly evocative “dark passage” and one that is well represented in the Church’s artistic tradition.