This post is going to move around a lot. I just have some ideas I want to throw out and get some feedback about. My reflections are prompted by the reappearance of an article about Tom Rausch, SJ, professor of theology at LMU, in the news as of late. Because he has played a prominent role in the recent dialogue with the Anglican Community, an old speech he gave in 1997 has been dug up. Or rather an article written about the speech in the San Diego News. The first line of the article:
These are the men most dangerous to authentic Catholicism today: Karl Keating, Scott Hahn, Peter Kreeft, Dale Vree, and Thomas Howard.
According to the article, it is Rausch’s claim that Catholic converts have entered the Church without ever fully giving up their protestant way of thinking about theology. In his opinion, this has caused great damage to the Church and to theology. Some examples he notes:
The “new apologists,” said Fr. Rausch, are out of touch with “contemporary Catholic theology,” influenced as they are by Protestantism (many of them are converts), and are unable to “reconcile faith with critical reason.” They seek to convert those of other faiths to the Catholic Church, he said, and are therefore in violation of the Church’s new spirit of ecumenism. They must be excluded from dialogue and development within Catholicism because they are “unable to enter into a real dialogue with modernity and with the critical questions it raises for faith.”
This group of Catholic “fundamentalists” (he also used the term “integralists”) are not authentically Catholic, said Rausch, because they “interpret Gospel sayings attributed to Jesus historically rather than theologically,” and are not able to discern “the historical context of a doctrinal statement, its degrees of authority and the possibility of doctrinal development or even of change.”
Said Rausch: “One wonders if any of them have read and assimilated documents such as the Pontifical Biblical Commission’s 1964 Instruction on the Historical Truth of the Gospels or its 1994 Interpretation of the Bible in the Church.”
Well, putting aside all of the claims that Fr. Rausch makes, he asks good questions. For example, recently I had a discussion with a friend who was given a document of the PBC from 1909 on the question of the historicity of Genesis 1-11. The man who gave it to my friend was himself a friend and disciple of sorts of Dr. Brant Pitre, a biblical scholar at Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans. Dr. Pitre is widely held to think that the earth is approximately 6,000 years old and to hold that Genesis 1-11 is primarily historical. Apparently, his beliefs are based on the PBC’s “authoritative document” of 1909. In this document, the following are some of the claims made:
- Genesis 1-3 is not mythological in genre
- Is not a redaction of pagan creation myths
- Eve was actually created from Adam
Needless to say, such positions are no longer held to be the case. On the other hand, at the time, the PBC held a certain authority in teaching that was not removed until 1968 when Paul VI took away its special magisterial authority. So does that mean that whatever was said before must be held as binding? So hold scholars such as Pitre. And it is such a position that causes him and others to defend Matthew as the first gospel written (taught by the PBC in 1933) and that Hebrews was written by Paul (PBC – 1914). Yet virtually no one else thinks that these positions must be held. What is going on?
In his Theology of the Body, John Paul II calls Genesis 2 a myth. Is he thereby rejecting the authority of the Church? Well, I don’t think so. As far as I can tell, he is allowing that the ordinary magisterium of the Church is not infallible and undergoes development as scholarship moves forward. These statements were historically conditioned and doctrine has developed. But Rausch has laid a finger on a problem: many of the protestant converts that have come into the Church bring with them the same fundamentalist reading of Church documents that they moved away from (somewhat) in the reading of scripture. Such a tendency must be carefully avoided so as to allow for the proper development to take place within Church teaching.
That being said, converts have also brought tremendous vitality to the Church. While Keating may display uncomfortable tendencies, Chesterton’s writings have richly enhanced Catholic intellectual discourse — whatever you think of his sometimes pompous English prose style. So while Fr. Rausch has manifested a characteristic Jesuit tendency to overstate his case, I think he has laid a finger on a new tendency in Catholic biblical scholarship on which we must keep a watchful eye.