Contemplata aliis Tradere

A meagre contribution to the mission and work of the Order of Preachers: my reflections, thoughts, ideas and the occasional rant on matters mainly theological, philosophical and ecclesiastical, drawn primarily from my reading and experience of life and the world. Striving to be always Catholic, firmly Christian and essentially Dominican, flavoured with dashes of Von Balthasar.

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Location: Oxford, United Kingdom

A son of the English Province of the Order of Friars Preachers (Dominicans); born in Malaysia but have lived in the USA, Singapore, the UK & the Philippines for varying durations. A pilgrim and way-farer, a searcher for Truth on the journey of Life... "Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine, There’s always laughter and good red wine. At least I’ve always found it so. Benedicamus Domino!" - Hilaire Belloc

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Scripture and Tradition

I've just started reading 'Jesus Through the Centuries: His Place in the History of Culture' by Jaroslav Pelikan. The writer is not a theologian but a pre-eminent historian at Yale University. His opus magnus is definitely his masterly 5-volume 'The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine'. Both are excellent surveys of historical Christianity.

In the past few days, I have been engaged in ecumenical dialogue with evangelical Christians of various traditions. In the course of my discussions with them, I have been struck by a certain lack of historicity with regard to the Faith coupled with a general aversion to philosophy that pervades evangelical Christianity. In my mind, this weakens the credibility and strength of their position.

Strangely, they seem to assume that the Scriptures simply exist, as if they were literally dictated by God, and then the doctrines of the faith were simply extrapolated from the Scriptures by direct divine inspiration or intervention. This concept has often struck me as having more resonances with the Muslim viewpoint of their Scriptures and dogmas.

In contrast, Professor Pelikan offers the catholic understanding of the position of the Scriptures with relation to Tradition and its place in history, taken from p10 of his book, which is as follows:

"Everyone must acknowledge, therefore, that Christian tradition had precedence, chronologically and even logically, over Christian Scripture; for there was a tradition of the church before there was ever a New Testament, or any individual book of the New Testament. By the time the materials of the oral tradition found their way into written form, they had passed through the life and experience of the church, which laid claim to the presence of the Holy Spirit of God, the selfsame Spirit that the disciples had seen descending upon Jesus at his baptism and upon the earliest believers on the fiftieth day after Easter, in the miracle of Pentecost. It was to the action of that Spirit that Christians attributed the composition of the books of the 'new testament', as they began to call it, and before that of the 'old testament', as they referred to the Hebrew Bible. Because the narrative of the sayings of Jesus and the events of his life and ministry had come down to the evangelists and compilers in this context, anyone who seeks to interpret one or another saying or story from the narrative must always ask not only about its place in the life and teachings of Jesus, but also about its function within the remembering community."

This understanding, which is the faith and teaching of the Church, strikes me as such common sense as to need no elaboration... and yet, I know that when it is encountered by some Protestants, it is a revelation or a shock to their world view and Christian belief. Why is there this lacuna in the understanding of otherwise intelligent and thinking people?

This is an issue which has perplexed me for some years now. Similarly, last night I accompanied my grandfather to an evangelical dinner, at which the UK-based speaker was a renowned scientist who professed Christianity. He explained why faith in God was perfectly reasonable and scientific and utilised Aquinas' First Proof which is an argument from design and intelligence in creation. The talk was well illustrated with simple scientific ideas and examples and I thought it was excellent but my grandfather (who is an educated and intelligent man) thought it was too difficult to understand. Moreover, he felt the approach was strange and it was entirely novel for him to hear the "Gospel preached in this way".

The way he spoke of, utilised philosophy and reason. It seemed most natural and indeed, the most convincing way to preach the Gospel to me... but to my evangelically minded grandfather, this was most unusual and perhaps even anathema! Without reason or history which underlies so much of Catholic theology, the path for dialogue with evangelicals is that bit more challenging.


Blogger Julie D. said...

Fantastic post ... and yet another book to add to my growing list.

6:52 pm  
Blogger Paul, just this guy, you know? said...

Me, too, Julie.

Paul, I've had the same experience conversing with evangelicals. I asked one once, "what do 'Bible Christians' believe?"

"The Bible," he said.

"Why?" I asked.

"Because it's inspired by God."

"Why do you believe that?"

"Because it says so in the Bible."

This was a database programmer, and he couldn't understand that this was a circular argument.

We cerainly have our work cut out for us.

9:50 pm  

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