Monday, June 02, 2008

GREAT question...

Moonshadow asked this question in the comments:

My argument hangs on the authority of the episcopal signatures that Brown's books carry. That authority is meaningless to traditionalists in an unexpected way.

Then, it seems to me that neither liberals nor traditionalists trust our Catholic bishops. I don't get that. How can both sides feel that way?

And what's wrong with me that I should think a book with a nihil obstat / imprimatur is OK to read? Golly.

I really would appreciate your opinion on how this works, I'm not being rhetorical here. I really am concerned about how a Catholic decides which books are OK to read.

What a great question! I'll do my best to answer the traditionalist perspective. I run with this crowd and they love God and his Church with all their heart. Granted, there are always people who refuse to listen to authority no matter what. For those Catholics on either side who don't accept Church teaching, it appears that "primacy of conscience" is the sole rule of faith.

But generally speaking the following is how traditionalists, at least the ones I have experience with, pick their reading material:

  • Recommendations of like-minded Traditionalists.
  • They ask their priest if a book or its author is doctrinally sound.
  • If a book has schmushy language in it, or doctrinally squirmish text then they let their friends know and the book becomes a taboo real quick.
  • Anything by TAN books is believed to be absolutely doctrinally sound on its face. And actually, its true. TAN books is the standard-bearer for doctrinally sound publications.
  • Imprimaturs are taken seriously but don't carry the same weight as an endorsement. Nor does it mean everything in the book is edifying or valuable to the faith. It just means on a basic level the book doesn't contain error. Ironically, the Bishop himself can be in error. Therefore Imprimaturs can be dismissed by the most ardent Traditionalists. I know several people who won't even touch the new Catechism, which I find a bit disturbing.
  • Imprimaturs pre-Vatican II are a-ok.
  • Ignatius Press can go either way. I personally haven't come across anything squishy but I've heard a few (very few) negative comments. Most people have no quams about Ignatius.
  • Books by Pre-Vatican II Saints.
  • If the book is time tested and generally known to be doctrinally sound and well respected, it is ok.

The general rule seems to be an appropriate level of caution. But like anything it can be taken too far.

As for the Index of Forbidden Books, I once had a priest tell me that the Index really hinged on the notion of Temporal power. In other words, the Index was enforceable because the Monarchy was Catholic. It was against the Law of the land to read books on the Index. Once Catholicism was no longer part of civic law the Index had little place in society.

I've not read any of Fr. Brown's books. But consider why they might not be acceptable in Traditionalist circles no matter the Nihil Obstat or Imprimatur.

1) Does Brown seek from the outset to prove or uphold, or even does he hold to, orthodox Catholic teaching?
2) Does Brown use as his standard the traditional Bible text (Clemtine Vulgate) of the Church?

In either case, the issue is not the episcopal approval but their personal approval with respect to the teachings of the Church. Putting themselves into an occasion to doubt their faith is a dent on their conscience, since formal doubt is sinful. Remember, the Index was put in place to protect the faithful from falling away or falling into heresy. The Index was a good act by the Church. In fact, in my Baronius missal the helps for examination of conscience include "Did you doubt on matters of faith?". Add to the fact that they certainly don't want their kids anywhere near moderism. "If any of you causes one of these little ones..."

But not everything modern is Modernism. I think many Traditionalists do themselves an injustice by immediately dismissing anything post-Vatican II. Ironically I was just speaking with someone from my parish the other day (nobody else around) about how unfortunate it is that some won't even touch the new Catechism or the documents of Vatican II... especially because when you look at the footnotes of either you can see tons of quotes from people like Leo XIII, Saints, and Popes, or any of the other councils (such as and especially Trent). One of these days I want to write up a post about how I use both the Catechism of Trent and the Catechism of the Catholic Church as a single unit that compliment each other very nicely.

As for Liberals, I cannot answer. My only guess is that instead of traditional Church teaching as their guide they use the collective conscience of modern society in its place...

For my part I stick with the Church. I tend to trust the Imprimaturs. I stay in the Ark to avoid being drowned in the raging flood. Traditionalists do all they can to make sure they are in the center of that boat, already in the life raft, wearing a life preserver and floaty water wings. It is possible however to fall off the boat on either side.


Moonshadow said...

I took a common recognition of censor-type authority for granted.

But, see, I'm not in the habit of assuming that my Catholic conversation partner is of any particular stripe.

Recommendations of like-minded Traditionalists.

The inclination, then, is to judge a book by its readership.

Censors may err but the Raymond-Brown-endorsing-heretic down the street is infallible? That's what I hear traditionalists saying.

I've just had an epiphany in writing this comment: 20 & 30 -something Catholics cannot relate to Brown, for a variety of (admit it) cultural reasons. I'll spare you what I think those reasons are.

That's fine, I get that now. But I am concerned because I don't see anyone taking Brown's place.


Brown's "translation" would be his own, throughout his books, from the original languages, as working from the originals was advocated by Pius XII's Divino Afflante Spiritu. Brown takes for granted that both he and his Roman Catholic readers assent wholly to Church teaching. He doesn't set out to prove or uphold orthodox Catholic teaching because, quite simply, dissent is never on the table.

As an aside, I see that Fr. Fitzmyer has a new book out, Interpretation of Scripture: In Defense of the Historical-Critical Method". Fitzmyer, one of the "Big Three" of the New Jerome Biblical Commentary, the sole survivor.

Matt said...

Hey Moonshadow,

I've never read Fr. Brown, though you have piqued my interest I must say. And I don't know what you meant by the heretic comment but certainly I have never called him such.

When I say recommendations of like minded traditionalists, I'm not saying there is a book club per say. All that means is one person says "Hey, have you read this?" That type of thing. I think the reason trads know who they are talking to is, unfortunately at least in my experience, traditionalists seem not to socialize Catholicly (sp?) outside of the traditional parish. This isn't EVERYONE btw.

But you bring up a good point. And maybe this is sort of an American thing to distrust authority so much. Who knows.

I appreciate your explanation of Brown's translation and how he assumes readers' assent to Church teaching. It makes me more comfortable to check out one of his books.

Moonshadow said...

I don't know what you meant by the heretic comment but certainly I have never called him such.

No, no, you didn't.

I've encountered this logic elsewhere: heretics read and endorse Brown. Therefore, Brown's writings must be the cause of their heresy. Whether or not Brown himself is a heretic matters not.

I was looking over Brown's wiki entry last night and noted a forgotten personal distinction: his long career at a liberal, Protestant seminary. That probably sends a message.

I suppose what I have trouble with is, if a traditionalist doesn't "get it," he/she trashes it. The fault is with the author or with the book, rather than with the reader. And, heck, if I had that same attitude, - that I'm right and they're wrong - well, I wouldn't still be Catholic, that's for sure. Thank God He's given me just barely enough humility to distrust myself ... at least on the important issues.

Matt said...

Reading heresy doesn't make you a heretic. I have no idea if Fr. Brown was one. Last night I was reading Jesus of Nazareth (BXVI) and he used the Gospel of Thomas to make a point. Does that make him a heretic? Nah.

And just because someone teaches at a protestant seminary, it doesn't make them immediately suspect. There are some Protestant and Catholic seminaries who do a sort of "exchange" program with their students. For instance, they may learn Biblical Greek at the Protestant Seminary and Church History over at the Catholic one down the street. Although, I don't think the Catholic seminarians attend the protestant seminary. Its a one way "trade".

People fall into heresy I think in a couple ways:
pride (I know better),
temptation (but I WANT that to be true),
ignorance (Oh, I didn't know that!)

The Church gives us a lot of liberty in many things. After all, theological pursuits are part of the history of the Church.

"The whole truth is generally the ally of virtue; a half-truth is always the ally of some vice." - G.K. Chesterton