Immediately after I began visiting the Eucharist on a regular basis, my understanding of sacred scripture changed. Scripture opened itself to me and took on a new light. Scripture reading before was usually a very laborious and unfruitful task, one that left me quite in the fog. However, now I began to sense a mystical family of vibrant souls walking through the mist with me. They were from the kingdom, and they brought me light, that special light of Christ that allows us to experience this beautiful kingdom. “I am the light of the world; anyone who follows me will not be walking in the dark but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)
I must take a moment here to discuss how this light coming from the kingdom overcame a very serious dead-end I formerly reached with scripture. In so doing, I will make a very important point about the dangers of that damnable spirit of intellectual skepticism that finds its way into scriptural scholarship. This skepticism demonstrates itself in a treacherously subtle way by elevating the role of man’s intellect to an inauthentic hierarchical position as it relates to God and his revelation.
There are intellectuals who seem to believe that the only valid interpretation of scripture is that from the natural world using only man’s natural reasoning. By their standards, they have “unlocked” the mysteries of the Bible by explaining everything in it as if it had no supernatural essence of its own. In an arrogance of the mind that is wholly typical of the modern mentality, they lead us to believe that the ancient people were unable to grasp the material reality we so wisely discovered through the true gods of the modern mind, empirical science and materialism. In short, according to the intellectual elite, miracles do not and did not happen; natural reasoning and modern science explain supernatural phenomenon. For example, angels were mythological literary devices used to explain mere natural physical and psychological forces the ancients could not comprehend.
If we leave scriptural interpretation in the hands of these intellectuals who elevate the historical-critical method over the authority of the Spirit that is imbued in those scriptures, we will all become atheists and skeptics. You should understand that I do not condemn intellectual scholarship or the historical method itself. I condemn its elevation as the supreme method of interpretation, above that of the Spirit of God as reflected through the Sacred Traditions of the Church and the teachings of the Magisterium.
In discussing this very topic, Pope Benedict XVI, in his book, Jesus of Nazareth, uses, in turn, the inspiration of Russian writer Vladimir Soloviev’s book The Antichrist to explain the dangers of misguided scholarly biblical exegesis:
“The fact is that scriptural exegesis can become a tool of the Antichrist. Soloviev is not the first person to tell us that; it is the deeper point of the temptation story itself (author’s note: this refers to Mathew 4: 1-11). The alleged findings of scholarly exegesis have been used to put together the most dreadful books that destroy the figure of Jesus and dismantle the faith.
The common practice today is to measure the Bible against the so called modern world view, whose fundamental dogma is that God cannot act in history-that everything to do with God is to be relegated to the domain of subjectivity. And so the Bible no longer speaks of God, the living God; no, now we alone speak and decide what God can do and what we will and should do. And the Antichrist, with an air of scholarly excellence, tells us that any exegesis that reads the Bible from the perspective of faith in the living God, in order to listen to what God has to say, is fundamentalism; he wants to convince us that only his kind of exegesis, the supposedly scientific kind, in which God says nothing and has nothing to say, is able to keep abreast of the times.” (Ratzinger, Jesus of Nazareth, 2007)
What a relevant warning from the Holy Father! If the scholars do not take heed, then at the very least let the faithful do so to save their souls.
This misguided elevation of the scientific method led me to a dead-end in my scripture study and meditations. Following the intellectual elite, I reached a wall where I did not see any reason even to read the scriptures. I always had a predilection for logic, and, as I read the mighty scientific exegeses of these modern scholars, I decided that the only truly logical thing to do was to forget about the Bible itself and read only the scholarly explanations. Since, according to the scientific view, one cannot understand the Bible without keen intellectual acumen in the historical method combined with years of Doctoral scholarship, why even venture into scripture? Would it not be wiser simply to let the erudite and learned academics explain it all to us as it “really happened” rather than attempting to interpret for ourselves all of these literary devices for beings and events that could not really exist?
I really did reach this point, and I knew it was absurd; it was a dead-end. However, it was quite logical, given the cracked foundation on which the logic stood, and therein was the problem. Logic must be grounded in authentic premises or it will lead you not to truth but to insanity. This is what the modern materialists and rationalists, so impressed with their own intellectual acumen, really do not understand; that is, the misuse of their methodology by ignoring the voice of God in favor of a first philosophy of “natural reason only” (i.e., there was no real resurrection, no miracles…etc.) leads not to a better understanding of the world and the teachings of Christ but to pure insanity. The result is not at all reasonable. G.K Chesterton poignantly explains this matter in a way that applies to many modern Bible scholars:
“The madman’s explanation of a thing is always complete, and, often in a purely rational sense, satisfactory. Or, to speak more strictly, the insane explanation, if not conclusive, is at least unanswerable; this may be observed especially in the two or three commonest kinds of madness. If a man says (for instance) that men have a conspiracy against him, you cannot dispute it except by saying that all men deny that they are conspirators, which is exactly what conspirators would do. His explanation covers the facts as much as yours.
Now speaking quite externally and empirically, we may say that the strongest and most unmistakable mark of madness is this combination between logical completeness and a spiritual contraction. The lunatic’s theory explains a large number of things, but it does not explain them in a large way.” (Chesterton 2002)
For example, Jesus, in the modern rationalist view, did not rise from the dead, he merely rose “in the hearts” of his disciples. Jesus did not multiply the loaves and fish to feed thousands, he simply opened the hearts of those present to share what they might have with their neighbor, and so on and so forth. This is the kind of rubbish the skeptical scholars will serve for you. They have no scientific data demonstrating that Jesus did not rise from the dead or did not multiply the food. They merely assume he did not as their first philosophy, that is, as the premise of their commentary. They begin with the notion that no one can do these things truly supernaturally; therefore, they must explain the scriptures accordingly and attribute these supernatural claims to superstition or ignorance. Yet, to challenge these premises and their academic atheism makes the rest us appear as mere fundamentalists.
Does this strike a familiar note as you reflect back on the Holy Father’s comments above? This is a subtle but important point of clarity. This is very important for the average lay Catholic, that one does not need to be a scholar to judge the authenticity of a scholar’s work as it relates to the magisterial teachings of the Church! Do not be intimidated, dear non-scholar. When the academic tells you that angels or hell do not exist except as literary devices for the unsophisticated ancients, you may take your sword and run that heretic out of the room with all the enthusiasm of an eleventh century Crusader. You might feel progressive and erudite with that kind of teaching, but you will never get to heaven following it. “The existence of the spiritual, non-corporal beings that Sacred Scripture usually calls ‘angels’ is a truth of the faith. The witness of scripture is as clear as the unanimity of Tradition.” (CCC 328) “The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity.” (CCC 1035) These quotations from the catechism of the Catholic Church, outlining the two-thousand-year Tradition of the Church on those matters, are all you need to unsheathe that sword. In the authentic order of truth, Church doctrine and dogma trumps the unproven first-philosophies of the “progressive” rationalist every time.
Intellectual pursuit of truth in the natural sciences obviously is a good thing. The Catholic Church founded the university system in Europe. Catholic clergy developed the early intellectual disciplines in the field of economics. The Catholic Church held fast to whatever arts, letters, and ancient learning remained accessible during the Dark Ages. (Belloc 1920) A Catholic Jesuit priest convinced Einstein to throw out his “cosmological constant” and accept the Big Bang as the natural conclusion to his own theory. The Vatican has the oldest functioning scientific institute in the Western world. The Church does not stifle intellectual thought. The Church promotes it.
However, elevating rationalism to the point of curious skepticism over divinely revealed truths of dogma is diabolical. Send the modern rationalist packing who does so. This is one advantage to a divinely founded institutional Church. She holds firm like a rock as the world spins into lunacy with its “progress.”
Skeptics, despite their claim to progress through academic erudition and clever alternative interpretations of scripture, do not and even cannot make true progress. They forever debate and intellectualize; they rarely are bold enough actually to believe something and to act on that belief. Skepticism creates a spiritual prison. Conversely, the surety of truth handed to us on the trail of the Dogmatic Creed makes us bold and proactive. It fills us with hope.
The example of Joan of Arc applies remarkably to the problem of skepticism about revealed truths. Joan of Arc never would have saved France and Western Civilization with it had she succumbed to the skeptical indecision and tepidity of her captains. Joan of Arc’s Voices from heaven told her what to do and guaranteed her success. This was no time for rationalistic battle strategies. With the certainty of heaven’s guidance, Joan stormed the walls of Les Tourelles. Her disdain for her weak and skeptical leadership circle should be our own disdain for the academic skeptics who insist that nothing really can be believed, implying, of course, that no religious truth therefore may be dogmatically defended. Conversely, the solid doctrine and Sacred Tradition of the Church on the trail of the Dogmatic Creed gives us the courage to storm the bastille walls against evil. In summary, intellectual pursuit of the truth is a good and necessary thing; the prideful elevation of that pursuit to intellectual skepticism about revealed truth is playing with the devil himself.
I will give you an example that might seem to be very simple, but it will serve my purpose.
I reference here a New American Catholic Study Bible, one of the newest versions in the English-speaking world. Keep in mind that I am not a scholar, and, therefore, will never challenge the academics in their own field. I am not qualified to do that. Nothing I am saying here is an attack on their scholarship; it is an attack only on their elevation of the rationalist historical method over that of the Spirit of the Bible.
The New American Catholic Study Bible has a preface to each of the gospels. The preface to the Gospel of Matthew gives the date of authorship as post-A.D. 70. Furthermore, it asserts that “The post-A.D. 70 date is confirmed within the text by 22, 7, which refers to the destruction of Jerusalem.” (Catholic Study Bible 1990) The verse to which this quotation refers, Matthew 22:7, is:
“The king was enraged and sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city.”
The conclusion is that only a writer who already knew about the destruction of Jerusalem could have written that verse. This “confirmation” is mystifying to anyone who accepts the supernatural nature of the scriptures.
The Romans destroyed Jerusalem in A.D. 70 in a manner not unlike the description given by Jesus. However, it is mystifying why this verse “confirms” the dating of the text as being after A.D. 70. Why not accept that Jesus said this approximately thirty-seven years prior to the event? Of course, he would have to have supernatural powers of prophecy to do that. The commentator assumes this not to be the case.
The commentator subtly makes the case that Jesus really could not prophesy such a thing. For, if you believe he really could, then you would not be able to “confirm” the dating as post A.D. 70 based on that verse. If, on the other hand, you believe that this verse does confirm the dating, then you are saying necessarily that Jesus could not really have said it. It is merely a story made up later by someone who already had knowledge of the destruction of Jerusalem.
The damnable spirit lurking underneath all this is that there is no supernatural explanation for the Bible. Natural scientific reasoning explains everything. However, if Jesus truly is prophetic, the verse could originate well before the suggested date. You could not possibly use the verse as proof in the manner the commentator uses it.
When I run into these disconnects in reasoning caused by the dark smoke of materialism and skepticism, I must run and hide in the bosom of the Church’s doctrine from the lunatics, even lunatics with Catholic credentials. What I am protesting, and have every right to protest as a baptized member of the Roman Catholic Church, is the usurpation by the scholar of that Church doctrine that clearly holds to the supernatural character and capabilities of Jesus. The only thing the skeptic offers is an unproven, misguided first-philosophy that neither Jesus nor anyone else can produce supernatural outcomes.
This is the dead-end to which I came many years ago with regard to studying the Bible, this place that was part of the Dark Forest I described in my book Journey to Christendom. Initially, I found the erudite arguments of the skeptics alluring; for, they appealed to my intellectual pride. Thank God that the Virgin Mary ultimately used my search for rationality and logic to bring me back into the fold of the Church.
The Bible is a book inspired by God in a language that cannot be interpreted in its fullness and with true authenticity other than through the language of the Spirit Christ gave to us in the Traditions and magisterial teachings of the Church. Once we understand that language, the Bible opens up in its rationality as well as its spiritual strength. This is a most important point here. The Bible might inspire anyone personally in any context, but I discovered only through the living Spirit of the Church the key to both inspiration and rationality. In other words, entry into the Spirit of the land of Catholicism was the key by which I became a total person in Christ, intellect and all, not just a spiritual nomad without a rational point of reference.
What I describe above is one of the immediate changes that came over me after I began to visit Jesus Christ in the Eucharist under the consecrated guidance of the Virgin Mary. I recovered my enthusiasm for the sacred scriptures and saw them in a new light. One of the first things I did on my new journey was to read the entire New Testament and the Pentateuch with a fresh set of spiritual eyes.
Before moving to the next section on the March of Hope, I must conclude this one by telling you how this new scriptural understanding built the foundation for where my saintly friends Joan of Arc and Thérèse were leading me next.