Tag Archives: catholicism

Misunderstanding Roman Catholicism … Again

Well apparently someone else thinks he understands Roman Catholicism without reading Church documents. If he had taken time to read even this one document, he wouldn’t sound so off-base. It is on the Vatican website, no less. For another helpful interaction with this issue, see Raymond Brown’s (a pope appointed member of the Pontifical Biblical Commission more than once) wonderful book The Critical Meaning of the Bible. The document explains how theologians should handle matters in which they disagree with the Magisterium. For those who might not like to read the whole thing, I’ll summarize a few points:

1. Theologians who disagree with the Magisterium should not present their views as unarguable conclusions. In other words, they admit to the fact that they could possibly be wrong and the Magisterium right.

2. Disagreements must be based on argumentation that seems well-founded to the theologian. In other words, theologians cannot reject the teaching of the Magisterium simply because it doesn’t suit them.

3. Theologians should make sure that they truly understand the teaching of the Magisterium. In other words, they are not disagreeing with a misunderstanding of the teachings of the Magisterium.

4. Theologians should address disagreements in the proper context, i.e. within the Church and not within the mass media.

5. If the disagreement persists (and yes, the document does allow for the fact that a disagreement can genuinely persist), the theologian remains open to the teaching of the Magisterium, though they may not accept it.

Perhaps this is not pure unbridled freedom of Protestant scholarship (*chortle*), but at least for me as a Roman Catholic, I find it helpful that there is official Church teaching on how to handle disagreements, rather than approach I’ve seen some Protestants in my area use of simply starting a new church. There are other important points in this document. But, this may suffice to show that the person who wrote the post I linked to has a very weak and inaccurate understanding of the function of the Magisterium – “For example, if a Roman Catholic is interpreting the Scriptures, he must come to conclusions that are in line with what Rome has already said about the subject.” Well, not according to this document on the Vatican website (overseen by Joseph Ratzinger back in the 1990s).

PS – This is not even to mention the fact that the Church doesn’t emphatically define every single solitary doctrinal issue, e.g. priestly celibacy in the Latin Rite and married priests at the parish level in the Eastern Rite.

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Saints Preserved – Personal Thoughts

This is the third and final installment of my review of Saints Preserved: An Encyclopedia of Relics by Thomas J. Craughwell from Image Catholic Books (an imprint of Random House).  In this post, I’ll include some of my personal thoughts.

First, I can see how this book may prove very beneficial for me in the parish setting in which I work.  One of my responsibilities in my parish is to help with the RCIA program.  RCIA is the process through which either an unbaptized person or person baptized in another Christian tradition becomes Catholic.  Both of these groups of people must receive the sacrament of confirmation.  As a part of that sacrament they choose saint names as confirmation names.  Saints Preserved is a book that I know I can provide as a resource for those choosing their saint names in this process because it contains large quantities of valuable information about the saints.

Second, I think Saints Preserved may prove a valuable resource for Catholic travelers.  The book points out important shrines and relics in different areas of the globe.  These might be places that Catholic travelers would like to visit if they are on vacation or even can squeeze in on a business trip.  One addition that might have been helpful in this regard would have been an index by regions in the back of the book.  However, I think it would be easy enough to Google “Catholic Saints Region-X” and look in this encyclopedia to see if there might be shrines in a particular place.

Third, from a brief Amazon search and a perusal of some of the reviews at the beginning of the book, this text does appear to be one of a kind.  If you have an interest in relics, this is the book for you, not least of all because there are no other comprehensive encyclopedic or dictionary type resources you can consult.  That’s not to say that the author didn’t do an excellent job, only to say, even if he didn’t you’d still need to buy this book.

Finally, I’ll close with my one qualm with the book.  The text lacks some details in terms of controversies surrounding relics.  I realize that relics are a mostly part of the personal piety of a lot of Catholics.  But, from my own standpoint, I’m very interested in some of the information regarding those controversies.  The easiest example would be the entry on the Shroud of Turin.  Craughwell does make mention of the controversies surrounding the shroud, but states “The tests, results, and debate are too lengthy and complex to summarize here.”  I would have appreciated even a footnote/endnote leading to said tests, results, and debates.  As it stands, there is a bibliography at the end but not much notation throughout.

All in all, my main criticism doesn’t detract from the fact that I would recommend the book.  I realize that the things I’m interested in may not have been within the scope of the book and may not interest most people who would potentially buy this book.  Overall, it’s a great resource for Catholics and non-Catholics alike who want to learn about relics.

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Fear of Catholicism and the New Testament Use of the Old Testament

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.

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Saints Preserved – Contents

This is the second installment of my review of Saints Preserved: An Encyclopedia of Relics by Thomas J. Craughwell from Image Catholic Books (an imprint of Random House).  Here I will give an overview of the contents.

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 ….

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Saints Preserved Author Interview – Thomas Craughwell

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.

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