The Old Testament in the Heart of the Catholic Church
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An interesting feature of being in a free relationship with God is that the relationship with him is then not entirely under your control. If you could 'make' God give himself to you, then God would no longer be free. Thus, the only time your relationship with God is completely under your control is when you reject him. If you want the only kind of relationship with him that he offers, a free relationship, then he will freely give himself as a gift that you can not control in any way, but only receive.

Along with everything else, Adam and Eve decided that they were tired of 'receiving' from God. To receive meant that there were things that God had and they didn't, things that were not under their control. The devil convinced them that receiving was unnecessary for their happiness - in fact, he convinced them that 'receiving' (far from being part of the joy of relationships that really are free on both sides) was just another name for 'submitting,' that it got in the way of their happiness, and that what would make them happy was grabbing and taking, not 'receiving.'

So, it is not that the Catholic Church is 'not allowing' man to find the real, full truth of the Bible on his own. It's simply that, whenever man pretends that all things are (or at least will eventually be) under his control and subject to his power, then nobody, not even God himself, can freely give man a gift.

It sounds illogical to accept our entire existence as a gift from God, and to accept the Bible as a further gift from him, but then to say that we will just grab and take the meaning of the Bible on our own. It sounds illogical, because it is illogical. Receiving gifts from God is how we begin to have the freedom and the power to love him back.

Receiving gifts from God is always and everywhere the beginning of our own freedom and power. Adam and Eve were wrong. Receiving from God is a good thing, not a bad thing. Refusing to receive from God is the beginning of walking away from him. Walking away from him does not give us more freedom, but only sin, death, and loneliness. >>


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So, receiving gifts from God enables man to use his own freedom and powers to study the meaning of the Bible, and thus to come closer to Christ of man's own free will. At this point, you need to have it clear in your mind that the Catholic Church professes that the Pope and bishops in communion with him do indeed give man what he needs to study and further understand the real, full truth of the Bible. Thus, with all her heart, the Catholic Church professes that the Pope and bishops in communion with him are doing something that is IMPOSSIBLE for them to do!

It is just as impossible for them to give man what he needs to study the truth of the Bible as it is for them to change ordinary bread and wine into our Lord's Body and Blood.

The sacraments accomplish what ONLY our Lord can do, by the power of the Holy Spirit whom he sent. In and through his one-and-only Bride and Body, the Catholic Church, the sacraments extend the salvific work of the risen Lord to all times and places, including our own. [compare CCC 1368]

The sacraments are our Lord's gifts to us. We are in a free relationship with him. Thus, although he is completely faithful to us, the relationship is completely free on his side, too. That means that there is absolutely nothing we can do about his completely free gifts to us. Although of course we can refuse them, we can't stop him from trying to give them to us. And absolutely nothing we do can ever explain them, control them, or 'make' him give them to us. >>

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No matter how smart and holy we become, we can never 'make' our Lord give himself, or control his gift in any way. We can only receive him, as the sheer gift he is, as humbly and as fully as we can. He is free. He is the Lord.

Since the Pope and bishops, no matter how smart or holy they become, can NEVER 'make' Christ give us the gift of himself, or control his gift of himself in any way, it is not surprising that Christ still accomplishes his work of giving us what we need to study the real, full truth of the Bible, even during times when the Pope and bishops in communion with him do not seem (at least to us) to be very smart or very holy at all. >>

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Once you start imagining that the Pope and bishops in communion with him give us what we need to study the real, full meaning of the Bible because they are smart, or because they are holy, you are instantly looking at the wrong thing - you are looking at them.

The Catholic Church instead looks at her Lord. She sees how close he is to her, how much he loves her, how complete and forever his union with her is. This perfect bond of love is the New Covenant that Christ accomplished by his death and resurrection, and it is so permanent, and so intimate, that the Church is called the Bride of Christ [CCC 796], and Christ called himself the Bridegroom.

The Church looks only at her Lord, and asks herself, how could he ever fail to protect his Bride, no matter how foolish or sinful his Church's ministers are?

He never fails her. He never will. His love for her and his bond with her are stronger than death, infinitely more powerful than the foolishness or even the sins of the worst pope or bishop who will ever live. He is the Lord; there is absolutely nothing - not us, not the devil, not anything or anyone - that can stop him from giving the gift of himself to his one-and-only Bride and Body, the Catholic Church. >>

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By the power of the Holy Spirit, our Lord turned death itself into the means of our salvation. If our Lord can make even death do his bidding, then surely, by the power of the same Holy Spirit, he can take the goodness and intelligence of his chosen ministers, and also their weakness and even their sins, and make it into judgments about the Bible that are pure, holy, and completely reliable.

Our Lord will NEVER fail his one-and-only Bride, the Catholic Church. Yet he accomplishes this perfect protection of his Bride and Body in and through ordinary men who are perfect only in the sense that they are perfectly ordinary - just like you and me.

However, although they are just like you and me in every way, they are also unique among all the human beings in the world. For our Lord calls them - only them - to take his place as teacher, shepherd and priest, and gives the Holy Spirit to guide them. [CCC 1555-1558]

St. Peter was just like you and me. St. James was just like you and me. The successors of Peter and James and the other apostles (the Pope and bishops of today) are definitely just like you and me. Yet our Lord calls and anoints them - only them - for a special mission.

There is only one reason that the Pope and bishops in communion with him reliably and forever give men in every age what they need to draw near to the real, full, true meaning of the Bible: Jesus Christ, the Son of God and the Son of Mary, calls them - only them - and gives them the Holy Spirit, to do in his person and with his authority what only our Lord can do.

The judgments of the Holy Father and bishops in communion with him do not end man's study of the Bible. They only begin it, because those judgments give us the ability to use the freedom and powers with which we are created, to draw nearer to him, Christ, the Lord, as we read the Sacred Scriptures. >>

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"Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word, and I shall be healed." Just before receiving Holy Communion, you say those words, but notice: you must come to the altar yourself, under your own power, of your own free will, to say them. You are created to be in a genuinely free relationship, not a slavery, so you are created with, and must use, your own freedom and power, too.

We arrive at the altar by using the powers and the free will we were given at our creation, but even at the moment of Holy Communion, even then, we need our Lord's active help to receive him - that about sums it up!

So, just as we need our Lord's help to receive him in Holy Communion, we also need his help to receive him as we hear the Sacred Scriptures, even though we are given, and must use, our own freedom, determination, and intelligence, as well. After all, we exist within a free relationship, and free gifts must be given and received on both sides, even though everything that we have to give, we have only through him.

By the power of the Holy Spirit, just as the word we ask of him before Holy Communion heals us and enables us to receive him, the word he speaks through the solemn judgments of the Holy Father and bishops in communion with him also heals us, and gives us just what we need to use our own real freedom and our own real powers to draw near to the real, full truth of the Bible. >>

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Although the ministry of the Holy Father and bishops in communion with him is special, that is because the Most Holy Trinity is special, not because a human being becomes better than the rest of us after he is ordained. Ordination does not make a bishop even one percentage point smarter, nor does it give him special knowledge that other people can't possess.

Further, although the ministry that bishops have is truly and really holy, their holy mission does not make the bishops themselves holy; a bishop, even a pope, can commit a mortal sin, just like anyone else. A bishop's ordination merely means that our Lord, victor over all sin and all death, will truly work through that bishop. Through that bishop, our Lord will truly give himself to believers, no matter what! Our Lord is special, as is his relationship with his Catholic Church, but bishops themselves are not necessarily special in any way.

Still, the ministry of bishops (and of the bishop of Rome, the Pope) is a special and unique ministry, which our Lord gives only to them, of all the perfectly ordinary human beings in the whole world. They and they alone are called by Jesus and inspired by the Holy Spirit whom Jesus sent to give us what we need to use our own freedom and our own powers to study the real, full meaning of the Bible.

So, don't look at bishops and ask how they could do the impossible. Look at him, and his love, and believe. <<

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People often seem to look back in history at the ''obvious'' mistakes that have been made, and conclude that we could never make such silly, dangerous, or horrible errors. We're too intelligent. We're too moral. We're too sincere. We're not naïve, the way ''they'' were. In a way, that's right - there's not much chance that we would burn St. Joan of Arc at the stake.

Of course, we know something that no one at the time knew - that she's ''St. Joan of Arc'' - which gives us an enormous advantage no one at the time possessed. So (just to remind you again), when it comes to what the Bible ''really'' means, what seems very, very ''reasonable'' - even to you - can still be a very dangerous heresy that can lead people away from Christ. Heresies, ideas that clearly conflict with what the Catholic Church solemnly teaches, are typically

a.   ideas that a fair number of people (at times, even a large number of people) think are more true and more reasonable.
b.   ideas that are thought up exclusively by wicked, evil people whose sole intention is to harm the Catholic Church.
c.   ideas which are so obviously ridiculous, that no one, except perhaps a few crazies, ever takes them seriously.

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People have ideas about what the Bible means all the time, and that's actually a good thing. Part of man's job in life is to figure things out, which definitely includes figuring out, more and more deeply, what the Bible means. Quite often, though, different people can have different ideas. These disagreements

a.   are always a threat to the ability of God's people to profess the true faith without error.
b.   are never a threat to the ability of God's people to profess the true faith without error.
c.   may be a threat to the ability of God's people to profess the true faith without error.

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When there are two different ideas about what the Bible means, the Holy Father, and/or Catholic bishops who are united with him, step in and decide the true meaning of the Bible

a.   always.
b.   at times.
c.   never.

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Suppose someone today began to teach that the Old Testament does not belong in the ''real'' Bible. You now know that someone (Marcion) taught this same idea long ago, and you also know that the bishops of Marcion's time, in union with the bishop of Rome (the Pope), made a definitive decision that Marcion's ideas were not true.

Now suppose that you're a Catholic bishop, and the guy who's teaching this new ''Marcionism'' lives in your diocese and is (or at least used to be) a Catholic. As the bishop, you have a sacramental responsibility to defend the faith. So, you call him up on the telephone and tell him that he's teaching an idea that is contrary to faith and to the true meaning of the Bible.

The guy says to you, ''Well, I never heard of this person Marcion. Besides, times have changed. We now know that the Old Testament is the product of an oppressive, patriarchal, warlike, sexist, homophobic culture, and its message simply doesn't fit with Jesus's message of love! On top of that, you personally have no right to tell me what to do. I would be proved wrong only if all the Catholic bishops in the world got together in a special meeting, and together with the Pope, they all agreed that I'm wrong.''

After hearing this, you as the bishop could legitimately say, ''Look. It's not 'my opinion' that the Old Testament belongs in the Bible. I'm simply handing on to the people in my diocese what the Catholic Church solemnly teaches.''

You could also say, ''I freely admit that, if Holy Orders is not a sacrament, then, when the bishops of Marcion's time in union with the bishop of Rome decided that Marcion's ideas were wrong, then they could have been making a mistake. But Holy Orders is a sacrament, they were acting in the person of Christ himself when they made that decision, and so - unless you want to say that Christ himself, the Way, the Truth, and the Life, can make a mistake about the true way to the Father - they didn't make a mistake, the Old Testament is a true part of the true Word of God, and that's that.''

If you were this guy's bishop, you could say that to him. Or could you?

a.   No, you could correct him only after you had asked the Pope's permission.
b.   No, only all the bishops working together can say that an idea is untrue.
c.   Yes, any Catholic bishop can freely hand on settled Catholic doctrine.

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You're the bishop, and the guy you've telephoned is still arguing with you. He says, ''But I have new, better reasons for saying that the Old Testament doesn't belong in the 'real' Bible. For example, it's sexist. Marcion never said that.''

The guy is basically telling you that if somebody - in any generation - comes up with some new reason that the Old Testament doesn't belong in the ''real'' Bible, then that opens up the whole question again. Which of the following is something that you, as the bishop, could say to him in reply?

a.   ''Bishops are only human - maybe we made a mistake the first time.''
b.   ''I guess you're right - we should take a look at this again.''
c.   ''Maybe you'd be right - if Holy Orders weren't a sacrament.''

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So, you're the bishop in the previous questions, and the guy you telephoned replies, ''Well, bishop, that's your opinion, and I have mine,'' and hangs up on you.

In certain historical periods, there were very dramatic punishments for heresy. This is not one of those periods. Nowadays, very little happens even to Catholics who teach, believe, and act on obvious heresy. At most, the worst material punishment they can suffer is, they might lose their jobs, but only if they work directly for the Church. Theoretically, they can be expelled from the Church, as Marcion was, but this is very, very rare.

Punishments for heresy certainly don't seem as ''serious'' now. But does that mean that heresies themselves should no longer be taken seriously? Nowadays, deliberately teaching, believing, or acting on a heresy

a.   is still a very serious matter.
b.   matters, but not that much.
c.   no longer matters at all.

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We have seen that people can disagree. Catholic bishops can also disagree. For instance, in 1990, the vast majority of American bishops voted for a document which said that, somewhere around the year 1970, we all forgot that the English word ''man'' could mean ''generic human being.'' A few American bishops disagreed, and did not vote for that document.

Bishops can also disagree about some very serious things. In fact, some scholars estimate that, around 350 AD, the majority of Catholic bishops in the whole world believed and taught the heresy known as Arianism.

Just imagine: at that time, if you were a Catholic, the chances may have been better than fifty-fifty that your own bishop was telling you that all sensible people, and all faithful Catholics, knew that Jesus Christ was not actually God! This historical fact means that

a.   Holy Orders is not really a sacrament. Bishops are not protected from error, even when they decide something important.
b.   the Catholic Church became corrupt a long time ago, and has failed to preserve the true meaning of Christianity.
c.   we have to pay close attention to whether particular bishops are teaching in union with the bishop of Rome, the Pope.

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Marcion wanted to throw out parts of the Bible because

a.   he hated all Christians, and wanted to tell them something that would lead them away from Christ.
b.   he was poorly educated, insane, and had lost the ability to distinguish between right and wrong.
c.   those parts of the Bible contradicted what he considered to be the true message of Christianity.

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''Christ is everywhere'' means that

a.   Christ is equally available to us in every single situation and in every single idea.
b.   in this life, there is no place we can go, from which Christ can not call us to him.
c.   whatever we think or do, Christ will not allow us to turn away from him.

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We can move our thoughts and actions closer to an idea. For instance, we can say that we believe it. We can act differently because of it. We can try to persuade others to think the same way. We can move our thoughts and actions closer to the idea that the Old Testament doesn't belong in the ''real'' Bible. If we do that, then

a.   Christ will keep us close to him.
b.   we are moving closer to Christ.
c.   we are moving farther from Christ.

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Historically, disagreements about religious ideas have

a.   had little effect on world affairs, but have sometimes torn families apart.
b.   prompted men to persecute, torture, kill, and make war on other men.
c.   quickly led to productive dialogue and greater harmony among all men.

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Over the last few centuries, people in many countries (such as the United States) have finally agreed that

a.   a religious difference is not a valid reason to injure someone.
b.   religious differences should be ignored at all times.
c.   there are no real religious differences among men of good will.

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In many countries today, if (for example) you think that the Old Testament doesn't belong in the ''real'' Bible, that's ''fine,'' in the sense that

a.   everyone agrees that the Old Testament doesn't belong in the Bible.
b.   it doesn't really matter whether the Old Testament belongs in the Bible.
c.   no one is going to put you in jail, or injure you, if you think and say that.

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copyright (c) 2001 John Kelleher. All rights reserved.