Friday, November 23, 2012



[From an as-yet unpublished dissertation by a reader]:
A stubborn dissent from popular scriptural theories was evident in annotations Sheed appended to a letter on the same subject from Bruce Vawter, a scholar Sheed & Ward had actually previously published:
Vawter: [Mary] was given some information and some choice in the matter of her pregnancy: how that came about we don’t know, and Luke isn’t telling us: what he is doing is presenting that information in such a way as to get across also all sorts of theological points about the divinity of Our Lord ...

Sheed: What about history?

Vawter: The whole point is in those words “historical narrative”: all that the scholars are doing is trying to decide when a narrative is a historical one ...

Sheed: How? Re Annunciation? No parallels.


Vawter: I can only say that I find it very difficult to reconcile with God’s normal way of dealing with us.

Sheed: What is God’s normal dealing in this situation?1
Sheed was willing to admit that differences of cultures and literary genres meant that Scriptures written centuries ago must be read carefully and with scholarly awareness. But he was unwilling to discard what he read as the intentional meaning of the text in acquiescence to tenuous interpretive grids. After receiving a scholarly critique of
To Know Christ Jesus from Charles Davis, he told Maisie,
“I read it comfortably. Some of what he wants, I’ve already attended to… On some I just disagree but I can take the poison out of the disagreement.” Underscoring the depth of deeper disagreement, however, he capped his conciliatory comments with the complaint: “...[W]hat the devil gets into them about the Magnificat?”2

...“Certainly I do not press the historical truth of every word or deed,” Sheed would explain to Edward Watkin. “The only thing I am sure of is that the evangelists did not invent thoughts Our Lord never uttered or deeds he never did.”3
Davis later wrapped up his dialog with Sheed with some polite condescension that vividly highlighted the widening chasm, between an increasingly-accepted liberal scholarship and its dwindling conservative counterpart, that would increasingly plague the post-Conciliar Church.
I am afraid there is a very great difference between us over the interpretation of the gospels. I don’t think that it would be helpful to minimize the difference… Presumably what is wanted is an account of what the gospels give and not an account of what it thought they ought to give. Popular books always lag behind the work of scholarship… but they must keep pace to some extent, if they are to be genuinely helpful. I grant, then, as I said before, that you know what at present would help your audience, but you must pardon me if I would welcome even more a book in line with recent trends...4
Four years after writing these telling lines, the editor of England’s esteemed Catholic periodical Clergy Review disavowed his priesthood and left the Catholic Church.5

Sandro Magister reports, in "The Child Jesus Recounted by Joseph" (www.chiesa, November 20, 2012):
ROME, November 20, 2012 – "The childhood of Jesus" by Joseph Ratzinger-Benedict XVI goes on sale tomorrow in the original German and in eight other languages: Italian, English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Brazilian Portuguese, Polish, Croatian. In all, the first printing exceeds one million copies. Over the next few months, the book will be translated into another eleven languages and released in 72 countries.

It is a short book, written in a simple and linear form. Easier to read than the two larger volumes of "Jesus of Nazareth." And it is the last to be released, but in the declared intention of the author "it is a sort of little 'entrance room' for the two previous volumes on the figure and message of Jesus of Nazareth."

Before the book was released, the biggest question was about how Benedict XVI would reply to the question of whether the virgin birth, the adoration of the Magi, and the other accounts of the childhood of Jesus, in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, are "history that really happened" or instead "only a theological meditation expressed in the form of stories."

The author inclines decisively toward the first of the two answers. But without denying citizenship in the Church for the second position.

At the end of the chapter on the Magi, Benedict XVI agrees with what Jean Daniélou wrote in "Les Évangiles de l'Enfance":

"Unlike the account of the annunciation to Mary, the adoration on the part of the Magi does not touch upon any essential aspect of the faith. It could be a creation of Matthew, inspired by a theological idea: in this case, nothing would fall apart.

"Daniélou himself, however," Pope Ratzinger continues, "arrives at the conviction that these are historical events whose significance has been interpreted theologically by the Judeo-Christian community and by Matthew."

And he continues:

"To put it simply: this is also my conviction."
  1. Leonard Johnston, Upshaw College, Durham England, to Frank Sheed, n.a., 1ALS, 16 Oct. 1961, UNDA, CSWD 003/13. [back]
  2. Frank Sheed, New York, to Maisie Ward, London, England, 24 May 1962, UNDA, CSWD 001/13. [back]
  3. Frank Sheed, London, England, to Edward I. Watkin, Torquay, England, ALS, 3 Jul. 1962. UNDA, CSWD 001/13. [back]
  4. Charles Davis, ST. Edmund’s College, Ware, England, to Frank Sheed, London, England, ALS, n.d., TL, 20 Jun. 1962, UNDA, CSWD 001/13. [back]
  5. James MacLucas, Frank Sheed: Apologist, 1991, Dissertatio ad Lauream in Facultate S. Theologiae apud Pontificiam Universitatem S. Thomae in Urb. [back]
Related: Andrea Tornielli on Benedict XVI's new book on Jesus' birth (Vatican Insider, November 23, 2012).

[Hat tip to J.M. for dissertation extract and Magister link]


I am not Spartacus said...

Excellent. One can accept the historicity of The New Testament; or not.

Did Saint Matthew just make-uo some stuff?

Who knows; who cares?

Whatever would we do without such guidance?

John S. said...

This strikes deep into the weak underbelly of contemporary Catholic theological scholarship: the historical-critical approach to Scripture. With rare exceptions, there is not more confused group of academics than Catholic Bible scholars. Sheed was on to something, apparently. Pope Benedict is on to something too, though I wish he were a bit more decisive. Perhaps he spent too much time with Rahner in his early years?