Friday, November 24, 2006

Bible translation #4: Protecting the masses (??)

I all but concluded my last post with a lengthy quote from Henry G. Graham's Where We Got the Bible: Our Debt to the Catholic Church.

I stopped quoting where I did not only because Graham was virtually finished with the primary topic at hand, but because the next words--a continued quotation on Graham's part of Karl Pearson's article from the August 1885 edition of Academy--brought up a related (but very separate) subject.

According to Graham, Pearson continued: "Indeed, we are inclined to think [the Catholic Church] made a mistake in allowing the masses such ready access to the Bible. It ought to have recognized the Bible once for all as a work absolutely unintelligible without a long course of historical study, and, so far as it was supposed to be inspired, very dangerous in the hands of the ignorant."

"We do not know what Mr. Pearson’s religious standpoint may have been," Graham continues, "but he goes too far in blaming the Church for throwing the Bible open to the people in the 15th century, or indeed in any previous age.
No evil results whatsoever followed the reading of that precious volume in any century preceding the 16th, because the people had the Catholic Church to lead them and guide them and teach them the meaning of it. It was only when the principle of ‘Private Judgment’ was proclaimed that the Book became ‘dangerous’ and ‘unintelligible’, as it is still to the multitudes who will not receive the true interpretation of it at the hands of the Catholic Church, and who are about as competent to understand and explain it by themselves as they are to explain or prophesy the movements of the heavenly bodies.
Having created a course on the history of the church (or, as I call it, "God's Kingdom") from Christ to the present, and having attempted to permit qualified spokespeople for the various factions to speak for themselves (rather than permitting opponents or non-members to speak for them!), I believe I am somewhat sensitive to the points that Mr. Graham is here attempting to make.

For example, I am sympathetic to the criticism of the Protestant movement as a Protestant Revolution rather than Protestant Reformation. As many have argued, and I am inclined to agree, the Protestant movement created a thoroughgoing social revolution, but (sad to say, from my perspective at this time!) it failed to create a true reformation of the Western church as a whole.

[Off topic a bit, but I should include this note: If you're interested in pursuing the theme of social revolutions, I heartily recommend Harold J. Berman's Law and Revolution: The Formation of the Western Legal Tradition. It outlines the several social/legal revolutions that shaped Western civilization through the mid-20th Century . . . beginning with what Berman calls the "Papal Revolution" of Pope Gregory VII, what is otherwise often known as the Gregorian Reform.]
So. I see the validity of the charge that the Protestant "Reformation" was, in fact, a thoroughgoing--and largely successful--attempt at social revolution. And it dislocated a lot of people. And dislocated them dramatically.

And as long as we look at the discomfort and upset and, sadly, the destruction and murder and despicable failure to protect the innocent that resulted from the Protestant movement, then we can speak of the movement's "evil results," as Graham refers to them.
[NOTE, however: We can refer to the movement's evil results in the same way we refer to the "evil results" that have occurred as a result of the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the destruction of Saddam Hussein's government in Iraq. There have been evil results, no doubt. The question is: Were the evil results of these shifts in power, these social (and, in the case of the Protestant Revolution, spiritual) dislocations . . . --Did these dislocations issue in greater evils than were present before? Or did they--or do we have reason to expect that they will yet--issue forth in reduced evil, long term?]
I am sensitive, too, to the complaint about the multitudes "who are about as competent to understand and explain it by themselves as they are to explain or prophesy the movements of the heavenly bodies." --Graham is spot-on in his criticism! We have far too many people who claim to be expert about things concerning which they know almost nothing.

(I am reminded of a story my brother, who used to work in a Christian bookstore, told me. A pastor encouraged his congregation that they, too, could do miracles like that which King David achieved when he made the Sun to stand still so he could read the Bible. --The pastor's exhortation resulting from a very bad misreading of the King James English in Psalm 119:148 where David says, "Mine eyes prevent the night watches, that I might meditate in thy word.")

So, too, I am sensitive to the criticism of the Protestant movement having issued forth in multiple tens of thousands of "denominations" around the world. --Clearly, there is something seriously amiss when we must all prove the validity of our unique (mis)readings of Scripture by, each one of us, forming a separate denomination!

Yet, withall, I wonder: is the world worse off today than it would have been had we remained subject to the uncriticizeable official pronouncements and explanations of the Roman Catholic hierarchy? Should we really and truly be subject--as The New Saint Joseph Baltimore Catechism, Official [Confraternity] Revised Edition, No. 2 (Copyright 1969-1962 [sic] Catholic Book Publishing Co., N.Y.) declares we should be--to a power that, by way of a side note, claims (op. cit., p. 12):

At the end of each lesson, readings will be suggested from the Bible. These are not given to "prove" the teachings of the catechism. We "prove" things from the teaching of the Church. . . . The Bible was given by God to the Church to help in the explanation of its teachings.
I think of what I wrote in my post on Illiteracy = Slavery. If and when a human power ("John! No! The Pope is no human power! He has been established by God to serve as His vicegerent (vice regent, or vicar) on earth! How dare you suggest the Pope is merely a 'human' power!?!" . . . Hmmmm. . . . What can I say in reply? . . . I think I will say the following. . . . )

If and when a power placed over us cannot be judged or evaluated by us; if and when we are told we have no right to use our God-given powers of discernment to evaluate the claims of the power over us: then we are slaves, indeed.

If, as The New Saint Joseph Baltimore Catechism, Official [Confraternity] Revised Edition, No. 2 claims, we are to take all things from the hand of the Church, and view the Bible only or merely as a potentially helpful explanatory tool for use by the Church as the Church hierarchy sees fit: then we, the servants of the Church, have been effectively cut off from any standard by which to counter potential abuses.
  • If our local priest fails to teach what his superiors (all the way up to the Pope) may have declared as truth: we have no means of discerning his failures. After all, he speaks "officially" for the Church, doesn't he? . . . And unless and until he is removed from office, how are we, his subordinates, supposed to judge him? We can't. Because "the Church" will teach us whatever it will and there is no external court of appeal.

  • If our local priest's superiors (all the way up to the Pope) have failed to declare the truth: we have no means of discerning their failures.
We are left completely at their mercy, without recourse to discern or object to their perfidy or deception.

I do not need to touch on the most serious matters of knowing the truth concerning eternal rewards and punishments, the means by which we humans may have reason to expect God's blessing and grace or punishment and curse. I need merely note that--as too many cases have shown--the priesthood can (and does!) readily "circle its wagons" to "protect its own." --Consider the numerous cases having come to light in the last 10 years or so of immoral priests having been permitted to continue their depredations upon young children because no one within the Church hierarchy was willing to take on "the system."

Without recourse to a higher authority, the Church is left free to declare as "Truth" whatever it wants. . . . --Why, not even the Israelites were left without a means to judge those who came among them and claimed to be prophets of God. No. God gave them very specific instructions concerning how to discern false prophets. And it had nothing to do with their association with a certain institution (like having been granted authority as an officer of the government of Israel, or, in the case of the Roman Catholic Church, having received recognized credentials from someone higher in the institutional structure). No. It had to do with their fidelity to YHWH and the discernible truth of their messages (Deuteronomy 13; 18:20-22; etc.).
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