Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Exhaustive Catholic Bible commentary?

Question: "Why doesn't the Catholic Church publish an official, exhaustive Bible commentary so we can know what each passage of Scripture really means according to the Church?"


Firstly, the intent of the Sacred Author was not that Holy Writ should be taught in bits and pieces as you imply. The Bible should be understood as a whole, in the context of all the other passages of Sacred Scripture, and also in the context of the tradition (Gk "paradosis") of Christ's Church. Thus, any "official commentary" on the deposit of faith should attempt to describe what Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition teach as a whole. The Catechism of the Catholic Church is that kind of commentary. You can read it online here: Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Secondly, the Catholic Church does not view Scripture passages as having one and only one definitive meaning. The revelation of God, both in the things He has made, and in his sacred deposit of faith, is often ambiguous and difficult to understand. I believe this ambiguity is purposeful, so that we will never presume to have exhausted the grand fountain of God's holy Revelation. With every fresh discovery, new questions arise.

The view of the Catholic Church is better expressed by St. Ephraim the Syriac, a deacon from the 4th century...

St. Ephraim the Syriac, 4th century:
Lord, who can grasp all the wealth of just one of your words. What we understand is much less than what we leave behind. Like thirsty people who drink from a fountain, for your word, Lord, has many shades of meaning, just as those who study it have many points of view. The Lord has colored his word with many hues, so that each person who studies it can see in it what he loves. He has hidden many treasures in his word, so that each of us is enriched as we meditate on it. The word of God is a tree of life that from all its parts offers you fruit that is blessed. It is like that rock that is open in the desert, which from all its parts gave forth a spiritual drink. He, who comes into contact with some share of its treasure, should not think that the only thing contained in the word is what he himself has found. He should realize that he has only been able to find that one thing from among many others. Nor, because only that one part has become his should he say that the word is void, empty, and look down on it. Because he could not exhaust it, he should give thanks for its riches. Be glad that you are overcome and do not be sad that it overcame you. The thirsty man rejoices when he drinks, he is not downcast because he cannot empty the fountain. Rather let the fountain quench your thirst, than have your thirst quench the fountain. Because if your thirst is quenched and the fountain is not exhausted, you can drink from it again whenever you are thirsty. But if, when your thirst is quenched, the fountain also is dried up, your victory will bode evil for you. So be grateful for what you have recieved and don't grumble about the abundance left behind. What you have received and what you have reached is your share. What remains is your heritage. What at one time you are unable to receive, because of your weakness, you will be able to receive at other times, if you persevere. Do not have the presumption to try to take in one draft what cannot be taken in one draft. And do not abandon out of laziness what you may only consume little by little.

[St. Ephraim, cited by Dr. Scott Hahn, The End: A Study of the Book of Revelation, (St. Joseph Communications, audio series)]
With that said, Catholic Bible commentaries can be purchased and read online which provide the student of Sacred Scripture with the result of study by many Catholic Bible scholars. They are not issued officially by the Holy See, but by other scholars and publishers, so they are not "official" in the former sense. Some Catholic Bible commentaries are better than others.

I recommend:

Basic Scripture, by Fr. William Most
Other Commentaries by Fr. William Most:
Haydock's Douay-Rheims Catholic Bible, by Fr. Geo. Leo Haydock
A Catholic Commentary of Holy Scripture, Fr. Dom Bernard Orchard, et. al., Ed.
Inside The Bible, Fr. Kenneth Baker, S.J.
St. John's Gospel: A Bible Study Guide And Commentary, Stephen K. Ray
Navarre Bible & Commentary

Ignatius Study Bible Series:
I also recommend the following articles and texts, which warn against the "new" Biblical theorists...

Biblical Interpretation in Crisis by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
A Wayward Turn in Biblical Theory by Msgr. George Kelly
The New Biblical Theorists by Msgr. George Kelly
Crisis in Scripture Studies by Fr. William Most
Critique of the Documentary Theory by Fr. William Most
Traditional Catholic Scholars Long Opposed Fr. Brown's Theories, by Henry King
The Modernist, Secularist Historicism of Raymond Brown and Brian Tierney, by Dave Armstrong
Historicity of Gospels by Fr. William Most
Modern Theology and Biblical Criticism by C.S. Lewis

God bless,