Saturday, July 09, 2011

Son of death

I always tell my students that it is very helpful to read a bible passage in a number of different translations. If you can read it in a foreign language, that is even better. Of course, reading it in the original languages is best, but not many of us can do that.

The other day I noticed a neat thing in the Latin Vulgate. In II Sam. 12, when Nathan confronts David about his sin with Bathsheba, by telling him the story of the man who stole the lamb from a poor man, David says, "Vivit Dominus, quoniam filius mortis est vir, qui fecit hoc." The RNAB translates it: "As the LORD lives, the man who has done this merits death!" The literal Latin for "merits death," however, is "is a son of death." That is a much more colorful phrase, but does it reflect the Hebrew? I looked it up. Sure enough, the Hebrew says bn-muth, which seems to mean "son of death."

The other thing I noticed about II Sam. 12 was that in the RNAB, it doesn't tell you that in vs. 25 when Nathan names Solomon "Jedidiah," it means "Beloved of God." In fact, the Vulgate of Jerome doesn't say Jedidiah at all, but simply, vocavit nomen eius Amabilis Domino. The Nova-Vulgata of the Vatican has the name and the explanation: vocavit nomen eius Iedidia (id est Amabilis Domino). Now, I know that the Hebrew just gives the name, assuming that the reader will understand its meaning, but I wonder why the RNAB leaves the explanation out or doesn't simply translate it into English, like Jerome translated it into Latin? It sure helps us understand things better.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

"I don't get anything out of Mass"

Some sage words from St. Francis de Sales for those who complain they don't get anything out of Mass (Introduction to the Devout Life, Bk 2, Ch. 9). He's speaking of meditation, but it certainly also applied to Mass in spades:

But if, after all this, you are still unrelieved, do not be disturbed at your dryness, however great it be, but continue striving after a devout attitude in God’s Sight. What numbers of courtiers appear a hundred times at court without any hope of a word from their king, but merely to pay their homage and be seen of him. Just so, my daughter, we ought to enter upon mental prayer purely to fulfil our duty and testify our loyalty. If it pleases God’s Divine Majesty to speak to us, and discourse in our hearts by His Holy Inspirations and inward consolations, it is doubtless a great honour, and very sweet to our soul; but if He does not vouchsafe such favours, but makes as though He saw us not,—as though we were not in His Presence,—nevertheless we must not quit it, but on the contrary we must remain calmly and devoutly before Him, and He is certain to accept our patient waiting, and give heed to our assiduity and perseverance; so that another time He will impart to us His consolations, and let us taste all the sweetness of holy meditation. But even were it not so, let us, my child, be satisfied with the privilege of being in His Presence and seen of Him.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Jesus and women

I think we tend to draw stark contrasts when they aren't there. Some scholars give the impresseion that women were just "cattle" in Judaism. This is belied throughout the OT, such as in the stories of Ruth, Judith, Esther, Rahab, Hannah, etc. Women play a prominent role in the Old Testament, and not just as servants of men.

There is no doubt that sometimes men in the OT treat women awfully, but when men treat women as property to be used or worse, they are always punished (David and Bathsheba comes to mind).

I'm not saying that Jesus did not go much further in acknowledging women's value, but I think what he was doing was bringing forth in its fulness something that was already present in the Old Testament, but somewhat obscured and incomplete. He came to fulfill the Law, not abolish it.

In the history of the Church, women did not lose their original place as disciples. As the centuries have gone by, women's leadership has been consistently increased. I think it is true that there has always been pressure to allow the worldly attitude towards women to have sway in the Church (to their detriment), so the record isn't perfect (Christians remain sinners), but one can't argue that women weren't valued or weren't leaders.

Part of the problem is that we use worldly standards to assess what is "valuable," "important," "leader." For instance, the "leadership" of mothers is not considered as important as the leadership of men in public life or ecclesiastical life. This does not represent a Gospel hierarchy of values.

Liturgy was an exception for a very important reason; it is seen as a symbol of the marriage between the Bridegroom and the bride. The priest represents the Bridegroom. In the marriage of Heaven and Earth, heaven, represented by the sanctuary, was the domain of the Bridegroom, and the nave was the domain of the bride, represented by the congregation. That is why only Bridegroom/symbols were allowed in the sanctuary during the liturgy. This imagery and symbolism is so deeply rooted in the liturgy, that there has to be a very good pastoral reason to change it. Lots of people resisted because, although they couldn't explain it rationally (we often can't explain our symbols rationally), they understood it emotionally.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Catholics and the Bible

In my mind, we Catholics are overly defensive about our supposed deficiency in knowledge of scripture. Granted, we don't know chapter and verse very well (and that we should know it better), we have to keep two things in mind:

1) The dogmatic structure of Catholicism is biblical. It was developed by the Church Fathers and the magisterium as a systematic intellectual support for and expression of biblical Christianity. There is not an opposition between the two, but rather a complementarity. Anyone who knows Catholic dogma knows the deep structure of the biblical message.

2) The Catholic life, especially the sacramental life, is deeply biblical. The Mass (including the Extraordinary Form) is saturated with Scripture through and through. The Rosary is a biblical prayer par excellence. Even the two mysteries that aren't technically biblical flow from the an authentically biblical doctrine about our Lady. The art and architecture of the Catholic cultural heritage screams Scripture. Those who live the Catholic life don't just know a book, we live in the world of the book.