Saturday, July 24, 2010

Page Turner

I have at times come across people who rankle at reading the Bible because it 'jumps around'.

A non-Christian I know will not read Scripture until someone comes up with a version that has no repetition and is chronological.

I suspect the  problem these people have is with the Gospels, which do have topics repeated.

Thing is...we can't remove the repetition in the Gospels, and then provide a totally chronological rendering of the writings therein, and still refer to it as the Bible.

And why can't we?

The New Testament was written by several different authors (as was Hebrew Scripture) and is actually a collection of books.  The Gospel writers, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John each wrote the events in Jesus' life slightly differently, in ways which seemed to target different audiences.

The Gospel of John is actually very different from the other three Gospels in its approach to the events and teachings of Christ.  It is not one of the 'synoptic' (same eye) Gospels.

To try to make the four Gospels into one book, would be something like taking four different biographies of one famous person and forcing them together into one, chronologically laid-out book.

Imagine if four biographies of, say, Martin Luther King Junior, variously written by an African American man, a British man, a member of the Ku Klux Klan, and another Christian clergyman, existed.  Would they tell the same story?  Hardly likely.  Putting them together into one tale would create an entirely new book.

So it is with the Gospels.  Each writer had a different background.  They wrote explained and emphasised the Gospel events according to their backgrounds the backgrounds of those they were addressing...Jews, gentiles, pagans, etc.

The bible as we know it was originally written as separate books.  We still refer to the sections of the bible as 'books'.  There was much discussion, in the early Church, as to which of these many many books were actually intended by God ('inspired') to be in a collected bible. 

Depending on where you were, the canon of Hebrew Scripture varied.  Christians had to figure out which of their books were intended for Christians.  The New Testament also had to be chosen from a variety of books in circulation.

The Christian canon of Scripture in use since the fourth century, experienced a serious challenge in the West when Martin Luther spurred a revolt against the Church and its teaching.  He removed seven books, or parts of books, from what had come to be called the Old Testament.  He was acting on his own will with this one.  He also wanted to remove some books out of the New Testament.  Apparently even other Protestants didn't agree with him on that one...

Both Catholics and Protestants have the same New Testament.  We accept the same Gospels and Epistles (letters) although there is a wild divergence on what these writings mean.

And I am not aware of any scholarly effort to meld these books into one continuous book.

Great Big C

Hi Folks

A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending a concert by Great Big Sea,  who hails from Eastern Canada.

I wouldn't call myself a huge fan, but I did enjoy their music a few years back.  This concert was good.

It would seem that their songwriters have some issues with Catholic upbringing.

"Consequence Free" states:
"I could really stand to lose my Catholic conscience.  'Cuz I'm getting sick of feeling guilty all the time"

"When I am King" says this:

"Wake up, without a care. Your head's not heavy, conscience clear
Sins are all forgiven here, yours and mine
Fear has gone without a trace
It's the perfect time, it's the perfect place
Nothing hurting. Nothing sore. No one suffers anymore,
The doctor's found a simple cure.
Just in time"

To me, the aforementioned verse, up until the mention of 'the doctor' sounds like someone is describing Heaven.  Nah.

While the lyrics are about the same things that most popular music sings about, I find the mention of conscience and forgiven sin interesting.  It's a bit difficult to find mention of sin anywhere else in popular culture!

So, what is the 'Catholic conscience' that GBS is singing about?

 It sounds like what we hear so often...big Church inflicting guilt on its pathetic group of adherents by making everything fun a sin.

A few years back my daughter and I were a captive audience to a local merchant.  Finding out that my children had gone to the local Catholic high school, the merchant bluntly stated "I used to be Catholic, but I  left.  Too much guilt!"

My daughter later quipped to me that he really should just stop doing things that make him guilty!

That's my girl.

Guilt isn't what the Church teaches.  We do guilt to ourselves.

[As to using guilt as an excuse to leave the Church, please see here]

Catholics are expected to have a well-formed conscience.  Forming one's conscience is not an easy task!  The Church takes it way beyond the little voice in the head going "unh-uh".

To form ones conscience, one is required to learn what the Church teaches on moral matters.  Ideally, this begins in infancy in the Domestic Church...the home.  This is where we begin to learn right from wrong.

We often hear, sometimes even from within the Church, that we are to follow our consciences in all matters.  This would be fine, if we had well-formed consciences.  We are, however, a fallen people.  Left to our own devices, we incline toward sin. 

When we aren't sure, we have the Church to guide us.  That is the Catholic conscience.  If your conscience is giving you permission to act against Church teaching, you have work to do.  You're part of all humanity on that one.

Guilt is a way of knowing that we're messing up.  Getting rid of that involves correcting what we're doing wrong, and confessing our sins.

So where are sins forgiven?  Some can be forgiven through prayer, attending Mass, blessing oneself with Holy Water.  The mortal, or serious sins require confession to a Priest, who acts in Christ's place to absolve us (assuming we're of the correct disposition...feeling genuinely sorry for what we have done and wishing not to sin again).  Sins are all forgiven here.

Whether or not the Church makes everything fun a sin...that is for another day.