This morning I was reading in Three Views on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament. I read Kaiser’s chapter on the single referent view. It seemed that part of his problem with the sensus plenior approach was that it was formulated by Catholic scholars and that it only would only work within a Catholic context. He states:
Since (Raymond) Brown takes it (meaning) out of the hands of the human authors who stood in the counsel of God, the question is: In whose hands now does the final court of appeal rest for discovering the authoritative meaning of a biblical text? Roman Catholic scholars, of course, can fall back on the magisterium of the church, to the ecclesial tradition. But to what can Protestants appeal that matches such additional grounds of appeal?
I wondered if maybe I was reading a bit much into this to take offense, but it’s almost as if he’s saying that something like the sensus plenior approach couldn’t possibly be correct because it emerged in a Catholic context and could only work in a Catholic context. But, I was glad to see I was not alone because Peter Enns calls him out for this in his response to Kaiser’s essay. He states:
Kaiser’s discussion of sensus plenior is likewise problematic. By citing Roman Catholic scholar Raymond Brown, Kaiser seems to be using guilt by association to undermine sensus plenior. Brown is able to take meaning “out of the hands of human authors who stood in the counsel of God” because Brown’s Catholicism has an ecclesiastical tradition that allows him to treat scripture so shabbily. I am no Catholic, but I was a bit offended by such a caricature, since Protestant scholarship owes so much to the careful nuanced work of Roman Catholic scholars. Moreover, it is somewhat beside the point to portray Roman Catholics as manipulating the meaning of scripture so casually. The real hermeneutical issues before, generated as they are by the NT evidence itself, will not be settled by such rhetoric.
Kudos to Peter Enns (who actually has an excerpt from Divino Afflante Spiritu on his blog). I’m quite certain I could not have said that better myself. I have appreciated the work of Enns for quite some time on account of this kind of clarity of thought. I’m not saying that I personally agree with the sensus plenior approach, but it really doesn’t matter one way or another where it came from or in what context it might work. What matters is how the NT authors themselves actually treated the Old Testament. In fact, I think this is the gist of Enns’ critique of Kaiser, namely he doesn’t really deal with the raw data of the New Testament.
The book is a basic encyclopedia. So rather than chapters it has entries, arranged for the most part in alphabetical order. There are some sub-entries for martyrs in certain areas and some other topics that don’t necessarily fit within the alphabetical layout. But, for “major” saints one would locate them alphabetically. The entries range from the names of saints to important sets of relics like the Aachen relics.
In addition to the the entries, there is also a helpful introduction that gives some background on relics as well as a bibliography for those who want to learn more. The introduction covers the reasoning behind relics as well as covering the classifications of relics (i.e. first class, second class and third class). For example, Craughwell notes Biblical background for relics like the story in 2 Kings where a man comes back to life after touching the bones of Elisha 13. He also notes the caution that St. Jerome gives regarding the use of relics.
The entries on saints generally contain two different kinds of information. They first contain information on the life of the saint in question. Often this consists of giving some particulars of the saint’s life, such as when they lived, where they were from or where they ministered, worked, etc. In addition, there is often information concerning why a particular person was considered a saint.
Second, the entries discuss the relics associated with the saint. One can find out what the relics are and where they are kept, so that an interested person might visit them if they so had the inclination. The matter of of piety aside, many of these relics I find entertaining just as a sheer matter of interest.
Below, I’ve excerpted from the entry on St. Dominic (not least because I belong to Dominican parish) to give a feel for what the entries look like:
Saint Dominic (1170-1221). On August 6, 1221, Dominic died in the Dominican priory of San Nicolo delle Vigne in Blogna, Italy; he was buried behind the high altar of the priory church. In 1228 San Nicolo was greatly expanded and rededicated as San Domenico. At that time the saint’s relics were moved to a marble sarcophagus in the main body of the church where pilgrims would have access to it. In 1264 the Dominicans wanted a more impressive monument for their founder. Work on this shrine, known as the Arca di San Domenico, took nearly three centuries and involved some of the greatest artists of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, including Nicola Pisano and Michelangelo. The saint’s bones rest inside a marble sarcophagus carved by Pisano. Behind the tomb, in a golden octagonal reliquary, is the skull of the saint.
It was a crisis in the Catholic Church that set the direction of Dominic’s life. In 1203 he accompanied his bishop on a journey from their home in Osma, Spain, to southern France. There he witnessed the animosity between Catholics and Cathars, who were confusing many of the Catholic faithful and tearing the Church apart.
To read more, you’ll have to buy the book. But, stay tuned as I post my own personal reflections later in the week ….
I would like to once again thank Image Catholic Books (an imprint of Random House) for sending along a copy of Saints Preserved: An Encyclopedia of Relics by Thomas J. Craughwell. As per my normal format for book reviews, I will be posting on the author and contents then end with my personal thoughts. Yet this go round I have the privilege of posting a blog interview with the author for the first part of the review.
Thomas Craughwell has written a considerable number of books on a variety of topics. The interview questions deal more with Saints Preserved. Yet if you would like to learn more about Tom, you can check out his personal webpage: http://tomcraughwell.com/
I would like to personally thank Tom for being so generous with his time in answering my questions.
1. In reviewing your publication record, I noticed that you have published on a pretty wide variety of topics, ranging from Abraham Lincoln to topics related to the Bible. How do you choose the projects that you are going to work on at any given time? Is it just what interests you at the moment? Or, do you get requests from your publisher, etc.?
I’ve been self-employed as a writer for 19 years, and if there is anything I’ve learned it’s that specialization is the high road to bankruptcy. If it’s not immoral or illegal, I’ll write about it. In many cases publishers have come to me with a book idea and asked me to write it. But there are also cases when I’ve approached publishers, either directly or through my agent. My favorite book, Stealing Lincoln’s Body, is an example of a book I shopped around. It was published by Harvard University Press.
2. In a similar vein, why relics? I know that you have written for a number of Catholic outlets. Do relics play a significant role in your personal piety? Or was this more of a matter of interest?
It’s both. Since I was a kid I’ve loved the stories of the saints. For the last 30 years or so I’ve been studying the saints and the history of devotion to the saints, which leads to studying shrines and relics. It’s not just an academic interest—I like visiting shrines. I’ve prayed at some of the major shrines here in the United States, and when I’ve been in Europe I’ve made a point of going to pray at the tombs of some of my favorite saints, such as St. Thomas More in London and St. Aloysius Gonzaga in Rome.
3. What are two or three of the most interesting things that you personally learned about relics in writing this book?
I had heard of the Spanish nun Egeria, who about the year 382 made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and wrote an account of it. I looked up her work and found that she described in detail how the relics of True Cross and the Titulus (the board on which Pontius Pilate had written “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews”) were brought out for veneration on Good Friday in Jerusalem.
Related to this was my discovery of a Frenchman, Rohault de Fleury, who was independently wealthy and had lots of time on his hands. In the 1860s he set about tracking down every fragment of the True Cross he could find and measuring it, or having it measured for him. His purpose was to discover if the old punch line was true, that there are enough purported fragments of the Cross to build a battleship. Once he had all his data, he estimated the number up by a factor of ten to account for lost or destroyed fragments. Fleury found that taken together, there were not enough fragments to build a cross large enough to crucify a man.
By the way, I also tracked down who was the first to make that claim about enough relics to build a boat—it was Erasmus.
4. This blog probably has more Protestant readers than Catholic ones. How would you briefly explain to someone from a Protestant tradition the Catholic practice of venerating relics?
Reverence for the remains and belongings of saints is rooted in Sacred Scripture, which records the wonders God wrought through relics. In 2 Kings 13:20-21 we read of a dead man being restored to life after his corpse touched the bones of the prophet Elisha. In Mark’s gospel we find the story of a woman who suffered from a hemorrhage for twelve years and was cured when she touched the hem of Christ’s garment (Mark 5:25-34). And the Acts of the Apostles recounts how Christians touched handkerchiefs and other cloths to the body of St. Paul; when these cloths were given to the sick or the possessed, “diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them” (Acts 19:11-12).
Even in times of persecution the early Christians made an earnest effort to recover the remains of the martyrs so they could be given a proper burial and their martyrdom commemorated annually with Mass celebrated at their tombs. A letter from about the year 156 A.D. describes the martyrdom of the elderly bishop of Smyrna, St. Polycarp. His body had been burned, but the Christians of Smyrna searched among the ashes for any trace of the saint that had not been consumed by the flames. “We took up his bones,” the anonymous author of the letter wrote, “which are more valuable than precious stones and finer than refined gold, and laid them in a suitable place, where the Lord will permit us to gather ourselves together, as we are able, in gladness and joy, and to celebrate the birthday of his martyrdom.”
In the fourth century St. Jerome, in his letter to Riparius, explained the proper veneration of saints and relics, “We do not worship, we do not adore [saints], for fear that we should bow down to the creature rather than to the Creator, but we venerate the relics of the martyrs in order the better to adore Him whose martyrs they are.”
The Catholic and Orthodox Churches are careful to preserve the relics of the saints in the same way that museum curators take care to preserve Abraham Lincoln’s top hat, or George Washington’s sword. These are physical links to people we admire and revere, perhaps even love.
The Catholic and Orthodox Churches teach that no one should feel uneasy visiting a shrine or venerating a relic. In many respects it is similar to visiting the grave of a beloved member of the family, or cherishing a family heirloom—but on a much higher level. The shrine or relic is a physical link with someone who was so faithful to God in this life that he or she is now glorified in the Kingdom of God forever and offered to the faithful here on earth as a model of holiness.
5. Do you have any other writing projects currently in the works?
Yes. Harvard has given me a contract for another book, this time on the first plot to assassinate Lincoln in 1861, as he passed through Baltimore en route to his first inauguration. And down the road I’ll publish a book on the rediscovery of St. Peter’s bones and tomb in 1939.
Since I have returned to the Catholic Church I have remained relatively Baptist in my day to day piety. I read a lot of scripture in my devotional time. A book on saints and relics should then prove an interesting experience for me. At any rate here’s a short review from the front matter of the book that I thought was interesting:
Relics are an often misunderstood part of the Catholic devotional life. Derided as either superstitious or just plain ‘gross,’ they are in fact an important reminder of the physicality of the saints. The saints were not mythical creatures or legendary personages, but flesh-and-blood men and women who walked the earth, ate and drank, wore clothes, wrote letters, and lived entirely human lives. Thomas Craughwell’s new book provides readers with a comprehensive guide to the most important relics in the church and where they can be found, and venerated. His book is simply one of a kind.” —James Martin, SJ, author of My Life with the Saints and The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything.
Personally, I enjoyed reading Paradoxes of Faith. However, I will say that this is the kind of book that you will either enjoy thoroughly or put aside before you finish reading it. I think it would work best as devotional reading.
In my last post, I noted the book is a little bit like the Book of Proverbs. The paradoxes are arranged topically, but somewhat disconnected from each other. This disjunctiveness means that this book is not one that you will sit down and read through all at one time. You will read a paradox, and you will need to take some time to stop and think. This will be very appealing to more contemplative readers; however, for those readers looking for a thread of narrative, you will be a bit discouraged.
The disjunctive presentation also means that there is nothing trite about the book. There is no: “I know this looks like a paradox, but it’s really not. Let me explain this to you. There – you see. Now, you understand.” Rather paradoxes are presented and the reader is left to wrestle with them.
In this way, I felt like de Lubac was a kindred spirit. In the Christian tradition I belonged to at one time, an overzealousness for the doctrine of perspicuity sometimes lead to a tendency to try to resolve paradoxes that really were in no need of resolving. I tired of hearing sermons that could be summarized as “Here’s why this passage can’t mean what it sounds like it means. This passage over here says this, and there can’t possibly be a contradiction.” Well, maybe the “contradiction” was just a paradox. And perhaps we weren’t meant to solve it, but rather wrestle with it. De Lubac captures the essence of paradoxes quite well because he doesn’t seek to resolve them.
Sometimes the paradoxes challenged me personally. For instance, de Lubac share this gem:
Professors of religion are always liable to transform Christianity into a religion of professors. The Church is not a school. It is not an elementary school.
I find it easy to fall into this trap sometimes. At the end of the day, if the parishioners that I instruct know the Bible and know their catechism, but it doesn’t effect the way they live, I have failed.
With that said, I would recommend this book more for contemplative readers looking for something that they can read devotionally that isn’t trite or overly didactic. If you struggle with paradoxes and are looking for a book to try to help you resolve some of them, this book really isn’t for you.
This is the first main installment in a series of posts on Paradoxes of Faith by Henri de Lubac published by Ignatius Press. Here I will give some background on the author, then I will cover the contents and last provide my own personal thoughts.
After returning to the Catholic Church, I first heard of de Lubac in connection with Benedict XVI. Any treatment of Pope Benedict’s theology usually mentions that two theologians who influenced him significantly were: Hans Urs von Balthasar and Henri de Lubac. After recently reading de Lubac’s Catholicism (another Ignatius Press book that I would recommend), I could see his influence on the pope’s theology very clearly. In fact, de Lubac not only had an influence on Pope Benedict’s theology, but on the theology of Vatican II.
Against this background, I could hardly do better than the Ignatius Press author page on Henri de Lubac. Here is an excerpt:
Henri de Lubac, S.J. (1896-1991) was a French Jesuit and one of the greatest theologians of the twentieth century. Born in Cambrai, France on February 20, 1896, he joined the Society of Jesus in Lyon on October 9, 1913. He served in the French army during the First World War, suffering severe wounds in combat. He was educated at the Jesuit Houses of study at Jersey and Fourvière, and then earned his doctorate in theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome.
De Lubac was ordained a priest on August 22, 1927, pursued further studies in Rome until 1929, and then became a faculty member at Catholic Faculties of Theology of Lyons, where he taught history of religions until 1961. His pupils included Jean Daniélou and Hans Urs von Balthasar.
In 1942 he co-founded, with Daniélou, Sources chrétiennes, a series of patristic texts with translations. During the Second World War he fought against Naziism and anti-Semiticism through his writings; he would recount those efforts and the efforts of the Church at large in Christian Resistance to Anti-Semitism: Memories from 1940-1944. He was finally forced to leave Lyon because of his involvement in the Resistance; he took refuge in Vals, near Puy.
During the 1950s de Lubac came under suspicion from the Vatican for his teachings about the supernatural and grace. He was eventually obligated to stop publication of his works because of doctrinal objections against his controversial book, Surnaturel. However, he continued his prolific output of other work, including studies on atheism, Buddhism, medieval biblical exegesis, ecclesiology, and the sacramental nature of Catholicism. … (READ MORE)