The Old Testament in the Heart of the Catholic Church
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Man can come to understand the reality of sin clearly [CCC 387]

a.   by his unaided reason.
b.   only with God's help.
c.   with very little problem.


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One way that the Catholic Church reads the Old Testament is as a long, slow story of the people chosen by God, seeing the true nature of sin more plainly.

Here is the nature of sin: Sin is real. It is the rejection of God, holiness himself. Sin is universal. All men are afflicted by sin. Only God, holiness himself, can restore man's lost holiness. Only by invoking God's holy name can man be saved from sin.

Only the Jewish people could discover the reality of sin; for man can not see it clearly on his own. [CCC 387] There is a certain irony in the fact that it is God's revelation of himself to the Jewish people that gradually intensifies their sense of sin. By the overwhelming light of his perfect holiness, they came to see their sin more clearly.

As God came closer and closer to the people of Israel, they saw his holiness. As he revealed his holiness, he also revealed that he wanted them to be holy. Read Leviticus, Lev 19:1-2. And yet, as they increasingly desired to be holy, they began to see the mystery of sin: that man seemingly can not resist rejecting and opposing God in ways both large and small. >>

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Read Ps 51:1-12. The psalmist has learned that sin is always an offense against God: ''against thee, thee only have I sinned.'' Thus only God can forgive sin. Furthermore, only God, holiness himself, can restore holiness in man, holiness that man rejected, refused, and abandoned by sin. Sin kills something in man that man can not bring back to life. Only the Creator God can ''create in me a clean heart'' and ''restore to me the joy of thy salvation.''

In the Catechism the Catholic Church professes that the Law given Moses on Mount Sinai (Ex 20-24) is a principal means by which, over the centuries, God gradually makes the people of Israel more aware of his great holiness, and thus, of their sins. The God who alone saved the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt also desires to save them from a far greater evil: their sin. In this way Israel gradually learned to invoke God's name as Redeemer [CCC 431], and began to hope for the Messiah [CCC 708].

For the Catholic Church, here is the surprising and unprecedented fulfillment of these long yearnings: the Messiah is the Redeemer God. The presence of the Redeemer God (''God saves'') among men is also the very person of the Messiah, who perfectly accomplishes the mission for which the Father sends him.

For Catholics, the entire Old Testament can be read as a slow unfolding of man's longing for Jesus, a deepening longing, by means of an ever greater awareness of the horror of sin, for the name of ''God saves'' to become flesh and dwell among us. <<

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This is a question about the Law given Moses on Mount Sinai by which the people of Israel keep covenant with God. By the time of Jesus many in Israel had been led by devout Pharisees to believe [CCC 579] that

a.   fulfilling the letter of the Law would truly keep covenant with God.
b.   keeping the Law as best as you possibly could would keep covenant with God.
c.   only a perfect keeping of the Law would truly keep covenant with God.

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This is a question about the Law given Moses on Mount Sinai by which the people of Israel keep covenant with God. By the time of Jesus many in Israel believed, and the Jews still believe [CCC 578], that

a.   it has been impossible for Jews to avoid all sin and fulfill the Law perfectly.
b.   it is has not been necessary for Jews to avoid all sin and fulfill the Law perfectly.
c.   it has been possible for Jews to avoid all sin and fulfill the Law perfectly.

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This is a question about the Law given Moses on Mount Sinai by which the people of Israel keep covenant with God. Jesus [CCC 577]

a.   abolished it.
b.   did not abolish it.
c.   ignored it.

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This is a question about the Law given Moses on Mount Sinai by which the people of Israel keep covenant with God. Jesus [CCC 581]

a.   finds a way to ignore it while partially satisfying it.
b.   fulfilled it with such perfection that he revealed its ultimate meaning.
c.   left its fulfillment to the last day when he returns in judgment.

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This is a question about the Law given Moses on Mount Sinai by which the people of Israel keep covenant with God. Jesus [CCC 580-582]

a.   because he was God, did not subject himself to the Law.
b.   by his perfect observance redeemed the transgressions against it.
c.   obeyed the Law about as well as any good man can.

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Genesis Exodus Leviticus Numbers Deuteronomy || Joshua Judges Ruth 1 Samuel 2 Samuel 1 Kings 2 Kings || 1 Chronicles 2 Chronicles Ezra Nehemiah || Tobit* Judith* Esther 1 Maccabees* 2 Maccabees* Job


Proverbs Ecclesiastes Song of Songs Wisdom* Sirach* || Isaiah >> Jeremiah << Lamentations Baruch* Ezekiel Daniel || Hosea Joel Amos Obadiah Jonah Micah Nahum Habakkuk Zephaniah Haggai Zechariah Malachi

The Old Testament books with a star * are not any more or less important than the others. The star indicates that the Catholic Church definitively professes and knows these books to be part of the sacred writings, the inspired Word of God [cf. CCC 120], but that they are specifically rejected by the Jewish people, and called ''apocryphal'' (of doubtful inspiration) by Protestants.

Read the prophet Jeremiah's call from God, Jer 1:4-19. Now read Jer 15:10-18. From these passages it is apparent that Jeremiah

a.   answered God's call reluctantly and felt fierce opposition to his message.
b.   did not hear God's call until late in life and his message was well-received.
c.   found it very difficult to be eloquent and never spoke about his own fate.

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Jeremiah lived during the time that Jerusalem was invaded and destroyed by the Babylonians in 587 BC. Read Jer 7, one of the most famous of Jeremiah's sermons, which outlines his basic message. It is:

a.   God is pleased with moderation and prudence in worldly affairs.
b.   Reform your lives and believe, or even the Temple will be destroyed.
c.   The Temple can not be destroyed, but God is greatly displeased.

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Read Jer 36:1-8. Jeremiah had a secretary who wrote down many of his prophecies. These became the foundation of the book of Jeremiah. Jeremiah's secretary was

a.   Baruch.
b.   Josiah.
c.   Neriah.

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Jeremiah had prophesied that Jerusalem and the Temple would be destroyed, and it happened as Jeremiah had foretold, but there are passages in Jeremiah that are prophesies of great hope, especially chapters 30-31. The people will return from their exile. Read Jer 30:1-22.

However, the most famous and important prophecy from Jeremiah from the point of view of the Catholic Church is contained in Jer 31:31-34, the prophecy of the new covenant. A new covenant is coming in which the law will be kept because of God's intervention. He himself will give men the power to respond to his holiness.

Catholics call this power to keep covenant with God and be in intimate union with him, brought about by the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross, grace. Read Jer 31:31-34. St. Paul in 2 Cor 3-5 and the author of the letter to the Hebrews in Heb 8:6-9:15 explicitly use Jeremiah's prophecy of the new covenant to develop central doctrines of the Catholic faith.

(For additional context, you may read these chapters from second Corinthians and Hebrews now, if you like).

Many details of Jeremiah's life are included in the book of Jeremiah - even many details of his feelings, as in the passage Jer 15:10-18. He was eloquent, sensitive, and did not want to be a prophet, but he was called by God to criticize kings, excoriate the morals and the worship of both people and priests, and prophesy doom and destruction for both the nation and the Temple.

He was absolutely right, but his reward during his lifetime (as the book of Jeremiah records) was that his own relatives plotted his death, and that he was nearly executed for blasphemy against the Temple. He had to be in hiding for years at a time, and legend has it that he was killed by his own people while living in hiding in Egypt. <<

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The Old Testament is more like a library than a book. The Old Testament is actually a collection of separate books, all written before the time of Christ. Almost certainly, these books were not written by only one human author or at the same time. In fact, the books in the Old Testament were probably written over hundreds of years.

In all, 46 specific books make up the Old Testament - no more, no less. Out of all the writings ever written, these specific 46 books, and these alone, all belong together in the Old Testament. We know that these specific 46 books are the only and exact ones that belong in the Old Testament because

a.   over a long period of time, Catholic bishops in union with the Pope gradually came to agree about which books truly belong in the Old Testament.
b.   there is a special book in the very back of the Bible that tells us which books are absolutely supposed to be in the Old Testament, and which are optional.
c.   two great saints, St. Jerome and St. Augustine, agreed about exactly which books belonged in the Old Testament, and which did not.

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Since you know that all questions in this text have only one best answer (and therefore, that the other two possible answers are definitely wrong), you now know that St. Jerome (who prepared the standard Latin version of the Bible used by the Church for many centuries) and St. Augustine (a brilliant scholar himself, and a bishop) disagreed about which books really belonged in the Old Testament and were the true, inspired Word of God. (Yes, until the Church makes a firm decision, even saints can, and sometimes do, disagree).

In 382 AD, St. Jerome's boss, Pope Damasus I, published a list of the books in the Bible that included 46 inspired books in the Old Testament. St. Augustine and his brother bishops in Africa also decided to use the same version. This was the version of the Old Testament gradually accepted by all Catholic bishops of the world. <<

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Note: Do NOT restate the incorrect answers to this question. Only the correct answer has meaningful content.

The Catholic Church has used the Old Testament for many, many centuries with exactly the same books it uses today, no more and no less. However, so that no doubt would arise in anyone's mind, the bishops in union with the Holy Father solemnly and definitively affirmed those 46 books, no more and no less, to be the true and inspired Old Testament in the year

a.   746 AD.
b.   1146 AD.
c.   1546 AD.

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For a long time it hardly seemed necessary to solemnly list which books were in the Bible, since there they all were, in the Bible that was being used every day by the Church. Then the Council of Florence (1438-1445) repeated Pope Damasus's list verbatim. However, the early Protestant reformers argued (in effect) that the Church had for centuries been including some books that did not belong in the ''real'' Old Testament. So, in 1546, the Council of Trent (the Catholic bishops of the world in union with the Holy Father, meeting at Trent, Italy) definitively taught that the 46 books - no more and no less - which the Church had been reading from for generations, make up the true and inspired Old Testament, and they listed them. The bishops and the Holy Father reaffirmed this definitive judgment during the First Vatican Council (1870), and do so again in the Catechism [CCC 120]. <<

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How do we find out whether the 46 books in the Old Testament - no more and no less - really are the inspired Word of God?

a.   We look deep within ourselves, make certain that our hearts are pure, then pray for guidance from the Holy Spirit, who will inform us by giving us a special feeling for the correct answer.
b.   We study the tradition of the Catholic Church's judgment on the matter, and if the Church has at some point in her history come to a firm judgment, we can trust the judgment as that of Christ himself.
c.   We study the works of the most distinguished scholars in the most reputable universities, carefully examine the evidence pro and con, and form a mature judgment based on the facts.

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How can we be certain that we are not moving away from Christ when we choose between various ideas about which books ''really'' belong in the Old Testament?

a.   Due to the fact that all truly intelligent people agree about which books belong in the Old Testament, we know that a committee of very smart people with university degrees will find the books that really belong.
b.   Even though history shows that we do not necessarily find the ''real'' contents of the Bible on our own, Christ himself continues to protect the true contents of the Bible through the sacrament of Holy Orders.
c.   Since even great saints have disagreed about exactly which books belong in the Old Testament, we can't ever really be certain who is right when people disagree about which books belong in the Old Testament.

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If you think that the Catholic faith is owned by whoever happens to be the Holy Father and bishops in communion with him at any given time, and so therefore they can say anything they want and that would make it real, then you are very seriously mistaken.

The Catholic faith is a specific reality, not an idea. It is the New Covenant, the actual, specific union of Christ with his one and only Bride and Body, the Catholic Church, and through her, Christ's actual, specific union with all men and with the whole world. Mere men can not bring that reality into being, nor change it in any way.

That is a lucky thing for us. Fallen man apart from Christ, not only weak but also sinful, turns from God at almost every opportunity. If the reality of the New Covenant, Christ's union with his Church, depended on us and on what we do, then the New Covenant would have disintegrated a long time ago.

All men always have the freedom to turn away from the reality of the New Covenant. Still, it is a very good thing that no power in heaven or on earth, and certainly no man, can EVER destroy the reality of the New Covenant. >>

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The pope, a mere man, and bishops in communion with him, can protect the meaning of the Bible not because they have the power to make up the New Covenant as they go along, but because they participate, by their sacramental ordination, in that New Covenant, the highly specific reality of intimate union that Christ has made with his Catholic Church.

Holy Orders is a sacrament, a work of Christ himself. To draw all men closer to him, Christ speaks the 'name' of things, by the power of the Holy Spirit, in and through the judgments of the pope, and bishops in communion with him. Absolutely nothing about them qualifies them for this task. It is a task that is IMPOSSIBLE for them to do, but only Christ.

When Christ, the New Adam, spouse of his beloved Bride and Body, the Catholic Church, acting in and through the solemn judgments of the pope and bishops in communion with him, speaks the 'name' of something, then ''that is its name.''

A genuine physical and spiritual reality now exists, and that reality is eternally part of the union of Christ and his Bride. From then on, nothing can change that reality, ever, not even another pope. >>

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