He stopped off in Aquila, Italy, and visited the tomb of an obscure medieval Pope named St. Celestine V (1215-1296). After a brief prayer, he left his pallium, the symbol of his own episcopal authority as Bishop of Rome, on top of Celestine’s tomb!
This is the third and final installment of my series of posts on the Catholic Bible Dictionary edited by Scott Hahn from Doubleday Religion. I discussed the author and contents. I have noted throughout that this dictionary potentially fills a gap in Catholic Biblical resources. However, this would mean little if the quality was poor. Here I will give my reaction.
Perhaps the best thing that I can say from the outset is this is a book I will recommend to my students. I currently teach seminarians, those preparing for the diaconate and interested lay people. This is a book that I believe will be beneficial for them in parish ministry contexts.
The articles on the Biblical books are expertly written and helpful. They include all the information that one expects in these kinds of articles – author, date, outline, etc. The articles focused on issues related specifically to Catholicism present the Biblical material without being apologetic in tone – the article on the Eucharist is an excellent example. The topical entries also present the Biblical material in its complexity. For instance, the articles on women and slavery in the Bible do not gloss over the fact that these texts come from a different time and culture and may present difficulties from a modern perspective.
The selection of articles seems fair. Of course, anyone who studies the Bible academically may think that articles related to their area of research may be lacking in a general resource like this. But, I think this would be nit-picking. Decisions must be made about what belongs in and what belongs out. The Catholic Bible Dictionary does a fair job with these decisions.
The only down side that I would note is that, though the dictionary does not come across as apologetic in most places, the scholarship does seem overly conservative in a few spots where I believe more latitude exists. As an example, the article on inspiration deals with “verbal plenary inspiration”, giving arguments for this view without noting arguments to the contrary (i.e. if God was that concerned about exact words why do we end up with significant text critical issues in place like Jeremiah and Job? – among a couple other arguments). I am no theological liberal, but I think the treatment in the dictionary could present more fully the other side of an issue like this one.
This critique is not fatal to the dictionary. Considering the breadth of material in a dictionary of this kind, I would be very surprised if there was nothing to say in critique. I might even be a little suspicious of someone who had nothing to say in critique. As I stated from the outset, I plan to recommend this book to my students. I also recommend it to those readers of this blog looking for a good general dictionary of the Bible. It would likely be better received by Catholic readers, but I think there is plenty there for readers of a variety of different backgrounds to benefit from.
I’ve agreed with his view of sola scriptura, sola fide, and covenant theology (at least mostly for the latter). I am wrestling with his typological argument on Matthew 16.17-19. I like the fact that he is clear about his struggles and honest about his positions. He knew that he could no longer pastor a church feeling the way he did. That is admirable. It is also admirable that he didn’t stop when he realized that his questioning may in fact lead to a lot of heartache.
I don’t agree with him about everything though.
There has been a lot of discussion lately on this blog about Mary, which I appreciate. Let us dialogue, if nothing else.
There was a time in which I denigrated her, claiming that the Catholics worshiped her. She was, after all, just a woman.
No, actually, she was a young teen, dirt poor, oppressed and pregnant. She was a Jew too.
But Luke says that she was the most blessed of all women, for all generations. I understand then, the adoration, but not the veneration – which is not worship – of Mary. I am going to call it a big difference to make sure I remain safely Protestant though. But, I understand Scott’s explanation of it on p67-69.
I like the fact that he is grounding his exploration in the Text. I don’t agree, completely, with his dates on the assembling of the Canon. We did have a New Testament before the late 4th century, although the Councils did ‘approve’ it. This is something which Protestants need to understand, of course. There was a time when we didn’t have a Canon – no inspired text, no infallible text. No Chicago Statement either.
And, I will have to investigate this notion of sola dei verbum. Scripture is prime, always, but by itself it is not the Word of God. The issue, however, is that we do have an anarchy of beliefs. There is no central authority to establish doctrine. That is, I do agree, that we have thousands of denominations, sects, and cults because no one council remains to guide the faithful. Do we let the magisterium of scholasticism decide? Think about about many sects broke off of John Wesley’s initial group (from the Methodists, to the Wesleyans, to the Pentecostals)… or how many Baptist sects we have… This is where Scott and I might find the most common ground. Sola (and the more so, solo) Scriptura is illogical and must itself be proved from outside the Scriptures. Therefore, there must be something – right? – that guides the interpretation of Scripture…
Of course, the question remains – is a central authority needed in determining everything? Yes, Jeremy, the Church is described as a Kingdom, but it is described in other ways as well. What if the centralized authority wasn’t really needed? Can we find, in Scripture, the idea of a centralized authority being developed for the ‘New Testament Church?’
Scott, you are giving me a headache. Of course, it sounds like that he was busy giving his friends and mentors – and his wife – headaches as well.
As an overarching statement, the Catholic Bible Dictionary is a general Bible dictionary. So, if you are looking for a comparison, think New Bible Dictionary or Harpercollins Bible Dictionary in terms of length and types of articles. Don’t think Anchor Bible Dictionary or IVP Bible dictionary series. It contains general articles about the Bible (i.e. introductions to Biblical books) and topics related to the Bible (i.e. the Dead Sea Scrolls).
Against this background, there are a couple more things that can be said about the contents. First, this Bible dictionary is geared toward Catholics, so, for example, in addition to articles giving general introductions to Biblical books, the dictionary has a number of articles about scriptural matters that are of particular interest to Catholics. There is an article of substantive length on the Eucharist. I haven’t surveyed a wide number of other general Bible dictionaries, but it is difficult for me to imagine them giving that much space to the Eucharist. Second, in the articles that deal with other topics related to the Bible, such as inspiration, there are abundant references to Catholic documents, like encyclicals and statements written by the Pontifical Biblical Commission.
Now, this type of Bible dictionary has its pros and cons. Since it is a general dictionary it is going to be most advantageous for the general reader. In fact, when I received this book, I had in mind my seminary students, who are not specializing in Biblical Studies, and undergraduates, who might be discerning the diaconate or might be catechists in church parishes. The articles in this dictionary seem to be geared toward this audience. If a priest is preparing a brief homily for weekday mass or an RCIA catechist is preparing a short scripture reflection for their group’s dismissal, this dictionary will provide good general background for the scripture passages in question and help them to ground their homily or lesson contextually.
The down side is obviously the flip side of this general focus. If you are an expert in Biblical Studies, you might appreciate a general dictionary as a starting point. But, most likely, it is going to leave you somewhat wanting, as it will not go into the level of detail that you would like in a dictionary article. Thus, these are the kinds of resources that you might like to have on your shelf to recommend to students or members of your church; however, for more substantive treatments, you are going to look elsewhere.
To conclude, I would reiterate something that I have said from the outset. This dictionary really does fill a gap among Catholic resources on the Bible. To date, I don’t know of any other modern Bible dictionary that does in a Catholic context what seems quite common in Protestant contexts – New Bible Dictionary, Holman Bible Dictionary, New International Bible Dictionary, etc. So, this dictionary continues to look like it would be at the top of my list of resources that I might recommend to Catholics who have a general interest in the Bible.
I will post the final installment of this review shortly, where I will give my evaluation of the contents …