Telling stories

How much of scripture is true? That question can only be answered by respecting the difference between pre- and post-scientific understandings of truth. Thus we avoid The New Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture’s stricture of “bad science and bad exegesis”. Since the Enlightenment we have sought knowledge through factual evidence, but our forefathers used stories to explain phenomena. Such stories may often have a proximate or remote origin in history, or perhaps a deduction from human observation and experience.

A prominent example is the six days of creation. Faced with the existing world, the ancients developed a story which explained it in terms of the immediate action of God. No doubt they believed it to be factual, but it went beyond observable fact, while conveying the underlying truth. The scientist, by contrast, explores the procedure of creation through observable fact, and throws light on everything except the underlying truth.

The story of the Tower of Babel may well have been based on a historical incident. Ziggurats, or great towers, were common in Babylonian cities – and we can easily imagine the quarrels between the different teams of builders (were there trade unions then?) leading to abandonment of a project. But the author is inspired to present us with the conflicts that arise when men go beyond their brief and attempt to make progress without reference to God. If you want to check the underlying truth of this warning, watch the news on television tonight.

Where Noah’s flood is concerned there is an embarras des richesses. There are 10 separate Babylonian sources for this fable – including the Gilgamesh epic, which shares the same Mesopotamian tradition and is uncannily similar to Genesis. There is no archaeological record of a flood as extensive as Noah’s, but we may assume that memories of widespread disasters were the basis. Again the writer conveys the lesson: where the other sources refer to the gods acting out of pique, we are presented in Genesis with God as saviour, and a foreshadowing of his covenant with Israel. There are several other elements significant in the history of salvation.

These stories share a common feature. Ultimately, the accuracy of the account matters less than the underlying truth being proclaimed. I do not need to see the story of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son as a literal account for my focus to be on the faith, obedience and prefiguring of the Incarnation which the account presents.

Since the dawn of our species was about 200,000 years ago, and may well have been preceded by strains which are now extinct, the Fall of Man can only be inferred as a possible historical incident because we are all related through common ancestry. So here we must reconstruct the evidence provided through the inspired writer’s experience of human nature. He would have recognised the tension between our created spiritual nature and our inherited animal nature. He knew our aspiration to the good and our failure to achieve it. It should not surprise us if he presented this graphically by a story in which our parents initially live a kind of ideal human life, governed by right reason and directed towards God. The Fall illustrates dramatically how, in rejecting God’s call, we inevitably – as if by gravity – fall back into our native sin.

In the absence of evidence we cannot exclude the literal account in Genesis, but to recognise it as a story, and not history, does not threaten the essence of the course of salvation. Original sin is built into our human nature, and so is universal. In essence, it is not personal guilt; it becomes so when we embrace it. Our aspiration to the good finds its source in the goodness of God; we call it grace. And this gift comes to us through redemption, whose effect is not bounded by time. We do not have to accept the original story as history in order to grasp its meaning.

In this context our native tendency to lapse into sin is displayed by Christ’s temptations in the desert. If he were not attracted to power, represented through Lucifer’s suggestions, it would not have been temptation – because attraction is what temptation means. But his rejection is complete. The process is more explicit in the Agony in the Garden. Here his human fear leads him momentarily to pray to be spared. But the grace from his Father enables him to accept the divine will. He is like us in all things except sin.

Nevertheless, we must always be cautious in judging between story and history. The Incarnation and the events that brought about our redemption are incidents in history, and so is the broad account of the Old Covenant. There may be argument about detail – but we must heed expert authority.

About Quentin

Portrait © Jacqueline Alma
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113 Responses to Telling stories

  1. John L says:

    Folk memories last for a huge amount of time, and ultimately become indistinguishable from myths or stories. There is neither time nor space here to go into the archaeology involved, but the state of the waters of the Black Sea have led to the suggestion that The Black Sea basin was once a fertile land containing a freshwater lake fed by the rivers which still flow into the basin. Owing to geological shifts in the land masses, the present entrance to the Black Sea fell below the sea level of the Mediterranean and the basin was flooded to its present state. Anyone living in the basin previously would have a startling experience and the tale would spread among many adjacent societies.
    If one goes back further, the same suggestion has been made of the Mediterranean basin itself being flooded from the Atlantic as the Atlantic rose after an ice age.
    Did the escape of Israel from Egypt coincide with the eruption of Thera in the Greek Islands? One can see sundry plagues arising from a massive ash cloud. Even though over the horizon, a pillar of smoke by day and fire by night would be manifested. The final explosion and flooding of the crater would have created a tsunami as evidenced in Crete, and would have hit the Nile Delta and the Sea of Reeds (not the Red Sea) with the appearance of a wall of water.
    All of this is speculation, but the events would be imprinted on the minds of the survivors who experienced it, and the tales would be old for generations.

    • John L says:

      Told, not old, for generations. I don’t know, though …

    • Ignatius says:

      John L, yes but its all still in the realms of someone’s nice little Phd thesis story isn’t it?

    • John L says:

      Yes, but feasible nonetheless. I think God usually acts through natural events, and the events of Genesis and Exodus are so far back in time that it is not unreasonable that known physical events be associated with “myths” that have become embedded in folk memory. If the eruption of Thera was, actually, an influencing event in Exodus, it would have been beyond the previous experience of the Israelites who would have attributed it to the direct miraculous intervention of God. I do not doubt that the spiritual effects are as described in Exodus, but I don’t think, necessarily, that God caused an eruption by miraculous means.
      Unless I misread Quentin, I think we have room to speculate as to what actually happened behind Biblical stories. God is capable of miraculous events, but seldom finds them necessary.

  2. St.Joseph says:

    Watching the news tonight as you suggested. were your thoughts in reference to the first female ‘Bishop’ of Gloucester.

    • Quentin says:

      St Joseph — my reference was more general. But the Arab Spring, whose dire outcomes appear regularly, provides a good example of what happens when men want to improve their lot but end up in internal strife, so that the last state is worse than the first. They were seeking power rather than justice. And there are those who argue that the British and French betrayal of the Arab tribes during WWI was the triggering injustice. God was not there.

  3. Nektarios says:

    Confessions, and the catechisms are nothing but a statement of biblical doctrines, so that people within the church might know exactly what to believe and what not to believe and the reasons for this belief. They were all designed to build us up in the faith and to enable us to know exactly where we stand.
    Now if all that was necessary in the early days of the church, if it was necessary at the time of the Reformation and in the seventeenth century, surely it is something that is urgently needed at this present hour. Today the church is surrounded by cults; these people come to your doors speaking, as they say, “from the Scriptures.” They say they believe the Bible that we teach. The moment they make a statement you feel instinctively that there is something wrong with it, but you cannot answer them. Now one of the purposes of studying biblical doctrines is to enable us to discover together the error in such teachings.
    Not only are there all these errors and cults around the church, but even in the church herself there is terrible confusion. There is an absence of doctrine; there is a lack of clear definition and a readiness to allow anybody to say anything they like. And this means there was never a time when it was more urgently necessary that Christian people should consider together the doctrines of the Bible. We must know the ground on which we stand and be able to withstand every enemy that comes to attack us, every subtle foe, every ploy used by the devil who comes disguised as an “angel of light” to ruin our souls. But I have a higher reason for considering these doctrines with you. Ultimately it is the only way truly to know God, to come into his glorious presence, and to learn something of the wonders of his ways with respect to us. Yes, let us go on reading our Bibles and studying them, but let us not get lost in the detail.
    Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones- from Preaching and Preachers

  4. Nektarios says:

    I have a high regard for the late Dr. Martyn Lloyd- Jones, arguably the greatest bible expositor of the 20th Century. Reading your preamble, I thought these words from the great preacher may be helpful to you.

    Prejudice is displayed by rejection of the gospel simply because it is old, we turn to science, a realm of which the modern man thinks most highly and that is most popular at the present time. Much of the case against religion and the Bible claims that it has arrived at its position through the employment of the scientific method of inquiry. It tells us that religion belongs to the realm of the imagination and of fancy, the world of romance and of make-believe. Religion, it affirms, must be put into the category of folklore or fairy tales, into the whole world of unreality created by fear and fancy. Utterly opposed to this, they tell us, is the scientific method, which is concerned only with facts.
    The truly scientific spirit is always careful to differentiate between theory and fact, between supposition and truth, between hypothesis and that which can be proved and demonstrated. The true realm of science is that of phenomena which can be seen and touched, felt and handled; and the moment the scientist moves out of the realm of the tangible, he becomes a philosopher with no more authority than any other thinker. Now one of the greatest tragedies in the world today is the way in which theories are being equated with facts, and mere hypotheses are being accepted as truths. Many who disbelieve in the very being of God and who deny the deity of Christ, the miraculous, and the supernatural do so on the word of certain well-known scientists who refuse to believe such truths. The dogmatic assertions of such scientists are being accepted as solid facts, though in reality they are nothing but theory.
    The Bible is a book that has a very definite objective. All its teaching is designed to a certain end; it is concerned with putting before us its doctrines, the particular truths that it wants to emphasize and to impress upon the minds of all of us. Let me put that more clearly in the form of a negative. The Bible is not, for instance, a general history of the world. We do not always remember that, but notice how it crowds two thousand years into just eleven chapters in Genesis. The Bible is not primarily interested in world history; it has another object. -Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones.

    • Alan says:

      I wonder what someone means when they say “nothing but” or “only” a theory in this context. It strikes me as a bit like saying “it’s only the by far the best treatment that medical experts have to offer” as if that should dent your confidence in their view. It doesn’t seem to make any sense. Is it just a reminder that nothing is certain? Always a possibility when something remains falsifiable, but that’s no reason at all to reject or even doubt the theory.
      I also disagree with the doctor’s suggestion that science is confined to that which can be seen and touched. As mentioned in another discussion here recently about tectonic plate movement, it extends our understanding into a past we never witnessed and I would suggest that it does so with more authority that any other approach in examples such as this. Nor is the unseen and untouched future beyond its purview. Gravitational theory helps predict where a planet will be when your space ship is due to meet with it. It might be wrong, but the astronomer’s thoughts on this still have much to recommend them over those of the astrologer – for both a successful orbit and what sort of day you will probably be having.

      • Nektarios says:

        You miss the point entirely, it is not a book about science. There are many things God has done that is way beyond science and not mentioned in the Bible, that is not its purpose.
        Yes, science may discover many things, but they did not invent or create any of it.

      • Alan says:

        My reply was was about some of the comments made by Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Specifically where and why I thought he was mistaken about or misrepresenting science. That the Bible is not a book about science is not where I disagreed with him.

  5. Brendan says:

    I’ve always been fascinated by ‘ time .’ ; God’s time , and our time. We call things ‘ miraculous ‘ because science, groping for explanation has no other word for it in ‘ our time ‘. Of course God does not think in time – He just ‘ IS ‘. ….. ” I Am who Am “. He may use our time to explain ancient Biblical stories ( His Story ) by use of our limited material understanding – such as ‘ flood ‘ epics in the ancient world to make His point; and on the other hand to drive home the ultimate importance His Story ( our Salvation Story ) – the Historical Incarnation . Therefore to God the miraculous and the rational explanation mean the same thing. As Saint Paul alludes to us ‘ we will know when we get there ‘ ( paraphrase, Cor 1, CH. 13 )
    Some years ago, an Irish nun came to our Cathedral parish to talk about how we discern God acting through Old and New Testaments ; what would now involve exegesis. She went through all the Old Testament stories ( the prophets etc. ) describing how they all pointed to one thing. Some of the stories seemed miraculous . others having rational explanation. They all pointed to one historical , evidentially based happening ; God made Incarnate and what was prophesied from that historical event. I suddeny saw The Bible as one piece . The pieces of the jigsaw fitted perfectly and only one picture began to appear…. Jesus Christ .!
    I went to a very absorbing lecture ( on the very question Quentin has asked us here to address ) given the well-known materials scientist Sir Colin Humphreys, FRS. In the Q&A’s he adressed a question on something he had encountered which seemed to defy natural Laws of Science. In turning his attention to the ‘ spoon bending ‘ technique ( the Uri Geller thing ) he discussed this with his mathematician colleagues etc .and proposed an experiment to try an emulate this phenomenon. They all crowded together in tense expectation…… nothing happened !
    The two stories tell me that in Gods world everything and nothing happens… .. so everything is miraculous … we just wait for the grace of discernment .

  6. Brendan says:

    Yes Quentin , I see what you mean in answer to St. Joseph. Recalling the film ” Lawrence of Arabia ” , and the aftermath where the British and French reneged on an earlier deal with the Arabs in agreeing the Sykes-Picot Treaty among’st themselves – complicating the issue by the Balfour Declaration providing for a a Jewish homeland ; today we have the result . Indeed, where was God in all this ?

  7. Brendan says:

    ” How much of scripture is true ? ” Plainly the jury is still out , and it is difficult to see if ever when it will be recalled , in this world . So we are left with the gift of faith.
    This is not an area I am particularly familiar with – probably for fear of ‘ muddying the waters ‘ – but it is always a moment of quiet satisfaction in knowing that the Canon of Holy Scripture has been settled long ago, before science developed. Clearly, The Spirit of God alive in The Church , clearly in keeping His children on track ; also saved us the embarrassment it would cause a later scientific age , in debunking all those ‘ stories ‘ and ‘ pseudo- gospels ‘ that mans pre-scientific mind could conjure. This process , to me speaks volumes for Gods Church being with us ’til the end of time.

  8. Ignatius says:

    There is something of interest in all this. The truth as I understand it is that there is almost no ‘evidence’ for anything in either the New or the Old Testaments though the very existence of the letters of Paul does say something about the early church I guess. I find it fascinating that, by and large, scripture seems to be used in the church uncritically in the sense that whole chunks of it are storied as if fact quite regardless of historicity and criticism; the acceptance of the Genesis story as myth for example does, like it or not have huge implications for theology, yet we just carry on storying gamely away with our homilies and our fabling of Mary. Basing our morality and ethics on the suppose behaviour of quasi mythical persons seems to me a very strange way of going about ones business….yet I do it myself… quite happily too!!

    • Nektarios says:

      The Bible does not prove the existence of God – it declares Him.
      When we read in the Sermon on the Mount for example, the people said of Jesus, He spoke as one having authority, and not like the scribes.
      We, on reading this part of Scripture need to remind ourselves who is the speaker. None other than the Son of God.
      Read through it and see how Jesus refers to Himself and mankind’s relationship to Him.

      Who is the jury that is out is Brenden refering to? I was not aware God was, or His Word were on trial. But the One who is the speaker on the Sermon on the Mount will be our Judge.
      I would aslo like to ask Brenden, what sort of faith is it that does not require Scripture, and without Scripture what is that faith based on?

      • Brendan says:

        Nektarios – Please accept I use metaphor very liberally because I find it useful to, shed light on a current situation I see around me ; not to judge personally. You are banging against an open door in attempting to insinuate that I do not recognise The Christ in Holy Scripture . Read my earlier post.
        As for the Beatitudes , I have in mind Isaiah to be more appropriate here : “… he does not break the crushed reed or snuff the faltering wick. ” ( Ch. 42; 3 ) .. not judgement on the World.

      • milliganp says:

        A counter question might be “do we promote an authentic faith by presenting scripture uncritically?” How can we talk of the truth of scripture without acknowledging and comprehending the types of truth present in scripture? Most churches still feed baby food to adults in this regard. Is it any wonder Christianity is in decline in our society when we presume uncritical acceptance and expect people to hold true to a faith based on positions which do not stand up to critical scrutiny?

    • Brendan says:

      Welcome to the Kingdom of God, Ignatius . Feels like having a Pentecost everyday…. mad isn’t it !

      • Nektarios says:

        I was not making any insinuations about you, or what you believe about anything.

    • Quentin says:

      An inevitable drawback of a necessarily short column is that there are so many refinements for which there is no space. For example, when I try to understand the story of the Fall I look to the inspired account, and find it rich in almost every phrase. Take the mention of Adam and Eve’s realisation of their nakedness. What am I to make of this? Are we being told that sexual temptation is the primary wound in our nature or does it merely stand for all the passions to which we are vulnerable? Is Eve created from Adam as a help meet for him – putting the feminine into a permanently secondary position? Why does Adam refrain from “knowing” Eve until after the Fall. And why is the word “knowing” appropriate here? Why is the knowledge of good and evil forbidden to them, when it sounds like an advantage?

      I suggest that working hard to understand these significances can lead us into deep places. The benefit to us lies not in finding answers (we won’t), but in the exploration itself.

      • St.Joseph says:

        I am beginning to understand the reason why, I was never taught the OT except Genesis. at the catholic school or the non catholic schools I attended. I know there is beauty in it also violance, corruption etc.
        The New Testament was sufficient for me to know Jesus.
        Although I do love the Psalms.

    • Martha says:

      Ignatius, I wonder what you have in mind regarding “the fabling of Mary”?

    • Alasdair says:

      The statement that “there is almost no ‘evidence’ for anything in the New Testament” is quite extraordinary. It ignores centuries of academia, some very recent and authoritative – yes I’m talking about “historicity and criticism”. The existance of large number of gospel manuscripts dated to within a few short years of the events described, make Jesus the the best evidenced character in the ancient world – much more so than for example, Julius Caesar, about whom only a handful of manuscripts exist, most written centuries after his life. It also ignores the writings of near-contemporary anti-christian historians such as the Pliny the Younger. Yes indeed the letters of Paul do say “something” about the ancient church, as does Luke’s Acts of the Apostles and the other letters.
      Could it be that Catholics have fallen far behind broader christianity in terms of uncovering the factual basis on which we base our common faith?
      I could recommend dozens of sources but will confine myself to “Why Trust the Bible” by Amy Orr-Ewing of the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics. This author is also a very engaging speaker and has many talks availible online.

      • Ignatius says:

        “Could it be that Catholics have fallen far behind broader christianity in terms of uncovering the factual basis on which we base our common faith?..”
        You can probably can’t say that about me since I spent around 15 years in the mid eighties/early nineties as a keenly committed evangelical Christian and perused the stuff you are talking about avidly. I’ve also spent months digging up stuff in Israel on archeological digs so have a keen interest in the subject. The fact that Jesus is probably evidenced as a historical figure by Josephus and others doesn’t make the link into the myth of his divinity though does it? The fact that there are many early gospel fragments doesn’t prove much beyond the fact that the story was of avid interest then and has remained so ever since. Do you believe on the basis of your ‘historicity’ or is there something else that calls ?

      • Alasdair says:

        Ignatius, as I understand it, myths and legends about historical figures typically appear generations after all the eyewitnesses have departed the scene. This is not the case for the Jesus story. Claims about his divinity existed from the start, and were strenuously maintained, to the point of torture and death by men who, only a short time before the resurrection, had denied Jesus and acted in a fairly cowardly fashion.
        Moreover the non-christian historians were aware of the claims of the early christians and marvelled at the strength of their convictions. These early christians were people of the land, and sea, and streetwise people, likely no more inclined to believe in magic and fairies than such people are today.
        The point about “historicity” is that it dispels secular myths (of which there are many), such as those about Jesus being merely a mythical figure or a pastiche of previous actual and legendary figures. It allows us to clear away much of the dross that blocks the way between us and a belief in the divinity of Jesus. Regarding the divinity of Jesus – for me, the evidence exists, at least to the extent that I am able to take a step of faith rather than an impossible leap.

  9. John Nolan says:

    I have no experience in Biblical exegesis, but regarding the New Testament I have always been struck by the following:
    1. Luke 3:1-6 (the Gospel for the fourth Sunday of Advent) is at pains to place the coming of the Messiah in a precise historical context: ‘Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judaea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and Philip his brother tetrarch of Iturea and the country of Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilina, under the high-priests Annas and Caiphas … ‘
    2. The Gospels were written a relatively short time after the events they describe, and at a time when oral tradition was more reliable than it is now. To give an example from later centuries, the entire corpus of Gregorian Chant was memorized since when it was composed musical notation was 300 years in the future – yet it achieved a remarkable consistency.
    3. If the Gospels are a fable, why are they so unlike anything else in Classical literature? The Aeneid of Virgil is a magnificent poem but it is based on a myth and legend going back the best part of a millennium.

    • Nektarios says:

      John Nolan
      The main reason was as you point out to not specifically speak of the Roman govenors
      or Herod in a historical context, but Christ. Christ was a real person, born of a virgin and so on. In otherwords, Christ was not a ghost, nor an apparition but lived, taught, was crucified, died, and praise God, rose again from the dead. All this takes place in the real world at a specific time.
      There have been those who read Scripture as literature, but short of the Holy Ghost intervening to enlighten them, it will profit them nothing.
      The whole of Scripture is God in action revealling something of Himself to us. He declares Himself – he does not try to prove to us His existence.
      It speaks about many things, the Fall of Adam and Eve, and also the restoration of Man through the Salvation Christ brings.
      The Bible is like any other book, for it is God who is speaking, the Word of God – Jesus who walked among us who teaches and who tells us He is God and He will be our Judge.
      When speaking of God, it answers questions like, well what sort of a God is He?

      The Bible is a book about our Salvation to everyone that believes in Christ, His message to mankind, and to follow Him and doing His will.
      He taught us what it meant to truly love one another. He taught us of his relationship with males and females.
      He taught us what it costs to truly follow Him.
      The uniquieness of the Bible, and it is a sombre one – it is God’s last word to man.
      I am sure you have a thousand plus other questions you could ask.

      • Quentin says:

        I understand the gospels to have been factual accounts. but we should not think of them as modern biographies. The evangelists presumably did not know that they were being inspired. But their concern was to record just those aspects of Christ’s life which it was important for the early Church to know. So, for instance, Matthew intended his account primarily for those of a Jewish background, and was concerned to make links with the prophecies of Christ in Scripture, John was the fruit of a lifetime of meditation, and his account was both deep and sublime. If I were to doubt the inspiration of the gospels, a verse or two of John would be enough to convince me. Incidentally the experts think that John was written towards the end of the 1st century, and fragments had got as far as Egypt early in the second century.

        So I see the gospels as partial, sometimes inconsistent, and fundamentally historical. (Note, as an exception, Matthew’s account of the veil in the Temple being rent in two at the crucifixion, and the dead coming out of their tombs — possibly symbolic rather than literal?)

      • milliganp says:

        I think it is important to recognise that the “meaning” of scripture depends deeply on the disposition of the recipient. The best example of this is the fragmentation of the followers of Christ into churches with highly diverging interpretations of scripture and differences in worship. What is certain to one is not to another; Jesus constantly scolded his immediate circle for failing to understand, how much more true is that for those of us 2000 years later.

  10. Nektarios says:

    it should have read: The Bible is unlike any other book, for it is God who is speaking.

    • Quentin says:

      Strictly, God is only speaking when he is quoted. (Unlike the Koran which is dictated by God.). The gospel writers composed the gospels in terms of their time and culture. For this reason too much dependence on literal phrases can sometimes be misleading. We depend on the understanding of the Church — assisted of course by the experts.

      For instance, when we read that actual baptism is necessary for salvation, we remember that the Church interprets this to cover a number of situations which are in the spirit but not in the letter of baptism. It is this which enables us (under the Spirit) to deepen our understanding, where the Muslim is, presumably, locked in to a literal text — so literal that it has to be in the original Arabic to be pukka..

  11. Ignatius says:

    Martha and St Joseph,
    I have spent the last 4 years at Oscott seminary, St Mary’s college in Birmingham. It is hard to escape the conclusion that the religious tendency to embellish, enhance, crown, adore, lionise and in some cases exalt our hero’s applies strongly to Mary mother of God. In fact we know little of her actual person or her life, we know nothing of their family unit beyond a couple of lines in the Gospels here and there, we know all our church stories of her and that’s about all.

    • Martha says:

      The most important fact we know about Mary is that she was chosen to be the mother of God made man, by God Himself, and had such love and trust that she always did His will, and was completely sinless. On the cross, in His final death throes, her son gave her to us as our mother also. There is no embellishment or enhancement in these facts, and it is more than fitting that through the ages great devotion has arisen, which can take many forms according to circumstances and different cultures. We do not need to know too many details of her life, though some of them can be inferred from the gospels and our knowledge of customs of the time. One which appeals to me is Our Lord’s robe which His mother had woven for Him in one piece and the soldiers cast lots for it.

      • St.Joseph says:

        .I believe just because the Bible ends with the Book of Revelation,Life in Christ goes on in Holy Mother Church.
        Our Blessed Mother surely will be looking over us.

        Brendan yes I do not see any thing in what you say applicable to,RC teaching.
        I have come across what you say..

        This is why I think since Vat 2 no proper teaching has been on marriage councilling .it is not surprising marriages have broken down.
        Marriages are made in heaven they say..How many are valid .when contraception is being used before and after..and taught in schools..
        Holy Communion for divorced and remarried is not black or white.
        I think the Holy Father realises that what would Jesus say if He was here now.
        Looking at His Church over the last forty or so years.

    • St.Joseph says:

      Can you tell me what the fables you think are not likely to be true of Our Blessed Mother…it will help to understand your thinking and of the Oscot Seminary.

  12. Brendan says:

    As I understand it, the point about the modern twin method of studying Holy Scripture – historical/ critical ( exegesis ) method and hermeneutics ( interpretation ) – must go hand in hand with a personal faith . What little information garnered from The Bible and elsewhere plus its significance for Salvation history for that information ,is a revelation from God to His Church through faith. This theme runs through Pope Benedict’s ” Jesus of Nazareth ” trilogy.
    If we take Mary , the Mother of God ; it is self – evident through this process over 2,000 years, that her significance as a channel of Gods grace in directing us to her Son , merits great attention from Christians surely as an act arising from this ‘ faith ‘. In 1950 , Pope Pius xii , made The Assumption of Our Lady ( Dormition , in the Eastern Church ) a dogma of Catholic Truth. The belief itself had been around since about 500 A.D.
    Sure, there is always the danger of false piety or sentimentalising practical devotions to the saints principally through poor catechesis ; but history has shown that for the countless times people of faith have called on Our Lady to intercede for them before God, this has not been in vain. In this secular age we need all the help we can get , put at our disposal by Holy Mother Church.

    • St.Joseph says:

      You are iright
      However Holy Mother Church is. Built on the Holy Family.
      If the Seminaries had given more
      Devotion to the Mother of God since VTican 2 perhaps there would not be a shortage of priests.
      This is not just my opinion..

      • Brendan says:

        Alasdair – I attended a lecture of hers at Swansea University earlier this year. She is indeed a very engaging young Christian evangelist.

      • Brendan says:

        I agree Saint Joseph. A personal story is called for here – no names, no pack-drill !
        Consider a parish over a period of fifteen years having five successive priests in charge; the last priest finding himself running two parishes. Plainly, the parish community – whatever good foundations had been laid in the past – had not the time to develop and secure in the faithful an organic cycle of worship ; commensurate with the prayer life necessary for the well- being of any Catholic community. Two priests , one missionary, the other diocesan had there own ideas about Catholic worship and practice without recourse to their parishioners views ; both were converts to the Faith. To the parish , the Rosary was a distant memory, Benediction was non-existent , Exposition, First Fridays, novenas, etc. were a thing of the past. and the the confessional with its door ajar and inviting seemed an empty room in the corner. Homilies were sterile and never inviting. Come Lent , on one occasion The Stations were replaced by the congregation sitting in the pews discussing a ‘theme ‘ reflecting various social ills in the world and how best to deal with them , followed by a prayer of petition. At least the parish priest had the courtesy and good sense to consult parishioners on this new ‘ arrangement ‘. As a result of one persons strong disagreement this innovation was dropped ! The people of this parish were good people with a history of quiet cohesion to the Faith and somewhat resigned to the ‘ status quo ‘ as it was – crying out for leadership. They made the best of of it and made sure the parish had a good social life One parishioner making numerous overtures to his parish priests at different times to introduce more ‘ Catholic ‘ practice in the parish, found them falling on deaf years; and even making the Bishop aware of the parishes ‘ shortcomings ‘ produced no change .
        After much prayer and heart- searching I finally approached my last parish priest explaining my own personal ‘ needs ‘ as a Catholic and my misgivings about parish life . We parted amicably – and with a heavy heart took my leave for another parish community.

  13. John Nolan says:


    Am I right in inferring that the further you progress in your theological studies the less Catholic you are becoming? The two Oscott seminarians I have spoken to recently (and who are presumably now ordained) were sound both doctrinally and liturgically. You seem to be reverting to a protestant ‘sola Scriptura’ interpretation. Correct me if I am wrong.

  14. Ignatius says:

    “Sure, there is always the danger of false piety or sentimentalising practical devotions to the saints principally through poor catechesis ; but history has shown that for the countless times people of faith have called on Our Lady to intercede for them before God, this has not been in vain. In this secular age we need all the help we can get , put at our disposal by Holy Mother Church…”

    Sure Brendan, but what are you actually saying here? What does “this has not been in vain”
    mean? I say my rosary, go on pilgrimage to Walsingham, venerate and talk with Mary myself, but what does that prove?

    • Brendan says:

      Ignatius – Thank you for picking up on that point. Prayers to the Saints themselves do not ‘ prove ‘ anything. What am I actually saying ?
      Briefly, we give thanks first and foremost to God directly and ‘ glory ‘ ( give praise ) to His name indirectly through his favoured ones , the Saints in Heaven ; whom the Church tells us intercede for us by our prayers of petition. Our Lady of course is a ‘special case ‘ in point, in that being the ” highly – favoured one ” , she is first designated in future as someone ” all nations will call blessed ” , by giving us God Incarnate…. the rest really is world history.
      These revelations are not something , as Saint Paul says we can ” boast about ” , But, following divine revelation and trusting in His Providence through His Holy Apostolic Church , natural reason and our faith comprehends the sometimes visible but always palpable results. .. ” I will be with you always , even to the end of time “. As a Catholic my informed conscience directs me unequivocally to that belief.
      Quentin says – ” There may be argument about detail – but we must heed expert authority. ” This for me hinges on one thing. Our Protestant brothers and sisters are right to believe we are justified by faith.. ..but alone it is presumptious to prempt Gods mercy and Justice – to us remaining inscrutable – in the same way as we preemt answers to our prayers to God or through the saints. You recall the Epistle of Saint James’ .. ” faith without good works [ intent ] ” .. for me qualifies that controversial point in St. Paul’s Romans. Ch.5.

  15. Nektarios says:

    Excuse me for interjecting re – sola scriptura interpretation etc.
    I find many a fine Christian have entered a seminary, and come out with hardly any faith at all.
    I hear many speak of Christianity in terms of love, or doing good works. We have reached a day, sadly where we speak of Christianity without even mentioning God.
    There are books galore on liturgics, on confessions on rituals, on observances on fasts and so on, and little or nothing about God.
    Let us remind ourselves it is God who is sovereign, it is God the Father that sent the Son.
    Salvation for the world is God’s plan not ours, but to see the tone some books are written in, are man-centered, ego-centred, not the Gospel and the whole counsel of God once delivered.

    Go, read prayerfully and carefully, the Book of Ephesians for example, this is probably one of the sublimest book of the Bible as it opens up, defines our Salvation in Christ Jesus our Lord.

    I disagree with Quentin profoundly with some of his ideas of Scripture and how it was written and what it conveys and what the Apostles understanding actually was.
    If we forsake Scripture, dilute Scripture, see it in purely social and cultural terms, as some would suggest, is not to have real or a true understanding of the Scriptures and what they convey.
    Before we belittle ones attachment to Holy Scriptures in what ever form it takes, remember that
    what it teaches is our eternal happiness and Salvation. Anything taught that detracts from that is at best subiduary, or simply leading people up down the road to a lost unhappy life and eternity,
    denying them God’s Salvation, filling their minds with with religious and man-centred rubbish.
    Scripture is God’s word to ourselves/humanity and what it tells us about our Salvation, is God’s last word.

    • Quentin says:

      Thank you Nektarios for disagreeing with me ‘profoundly’. I learn less from those who agree with me than I do from those who disagree. In this case I believe we are after the same thing: understanding what truth God wishes to convey. My view, and it remains, is that our concern is with the underlying truth. In many instances, as I show, this is presented to us vividly as a story — which displays the truth through a literary method which was natural for the inspired writer at the time. In the twenty first century we need, temporarily, to set aside our ‘scientific’ mode of thinking and understand the text in terms of the mindset of the primitive writer. To be over concerned with literal history is a distraction from God’s message.

      • RAHNER says:

        Quentin, I agree with much of what you say on the need to discover the underlying truth of, for example, the Genesis account of the Fall. But we should acknowledge that this does involve a significant moving away from much of the traditional understanding of the text. As recently as 1909 the Church ( the Pontifical Biblical Commission) was insisting on the formation of Eve from the body of Adam. Only a crude fundamentalist would defend this position today. Many would now prefer to interpret this claim as being some sort of expression of a belief in the unity and interdependence etc of human beings.

      • Quentin says:

        Yes, this was a time when the Church was faced with the Modernist movement when many things were being questioned as a result of scientific study and professional exegesis. There was even a (anti) modernist oath which had to be taken by clergy. But the hare had got away. While Catholic exegesis was stalled for many years it was eventually revived. I am glad to see my father’s biography of Baron Von Hugel is still quoted in this context. I am sure that much of the Church’s intention was to protect the vulnerable faithful from scientific ideas which were far from certain at the time. But my father’s scholarship has left me wary of assuming that the Church must be right simply because it says so.

      • St.Joseph says:

        Thank you I appreciate your comment.
        I know your love for Our Lady and She intercedes for you.
        If it was any different, I would not be on SS.

      • Nektarios says:

        I am glad we at least agree about somethings.
        I am concerned that, sad to say, in many Churches the quality of preaching today is at a very low ebb. For many, the idea that the business of Christian preaching is just to make topical references to contemporary events is indeed, in a sense, to depart from the Christian message altogether. I would go so far as to say that there is nothing that really does deal with the contemporary situation save Holy Scripture, when its doctrines are understood, believed, and applied.

      • Quentin says:

        I hope you have studied Pope Francis’ document Evangelii Gaudium (internet) which addresses the question of preaching (para 145 ff.). I whet your appetite with an early sentence “The first step, after calling upon the Holy Spirit in prayer, is to give our entire attention to the biblical text, which needs to be the basis of our preaching.”

  16. RAHNER says:

    The reality is that the excesses of Marian devotion often appeal to those with a defective Christology and an infantile faith…,……

    • St.Joseph says:

      That is very offensive!!
      Perhaps you ought to try it sometime.
      These sort of imature remarks usually come from males who have egoistic opinions of themselves and feel challenged from females!!

      • Brendan says:

        There’s a challenge for you , Rahner !

      • milliganp says:

        Rahner said both “excesses” and “often appeal” which I believe to be true. In my teens I knew a devout Irish Catholic lady who was utterly ignorant of anything other than the supremacy of Mary. She was deeply anti-Semitic and, in a conversation with our convert Jewish parish priest, when he pointed out that Mary was a Jew received the reply “no Father, she was a Catholic”.
        When I used to go to Mass in Ireland as a child I couldn’t believe that large sections of the congregation recited sodality prayers throughout Mass as if what was happening at the altar was nothing to do with them.
        It is very easy to have an unbalanced faith and I think it is deeply wrong to suggest that those who are unbalanced in favour of popular devotions are better than those unbalance towards liturgy or unbalanced towards scripture.

      • St.Joseph says:

        Dont forget, Ireland had its fair share of having to defend the faith, mothers mostly for their children.That is why there were many vocations to the priesthood and religious life.
        As far as reciting the Rosary during Mass,remember a lot of the problem being the :Latin was not always understood but they knew what was going on at Mass, their mind could be on two things at once.
        You as a child would not have understood how much mothers and grandmothers trusted in Our Lady’s help and consolation.
        I think it is bit unkind to draw the conclusion that they did not know Our Lord or their faith.
        BTW my brother in his late seventies always holds my mothers Rosary Beads in his hand during Mass, given to him by Pope Paul 6th, he gave them to her and .he has them since she died,
        Perhaps these ‘theologians’ in our midst will not understand simple faith.
        The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.

      • Quentin says:

        St Joseph, one of the great gifts of the religion we share is that God invites us to approach him in many different ways. From the wisest theologian to the simplest soul we are able to choose. For my part, I find the natural way is to approach Our Lady for most of my prayers. My wife says that that is because when I need something I always go to a woman first!

        However that may be – I cannot believe that Our Lady is a barrier between me and Christ. On the contrary I believe that Our Lady’s help will get me an immediate hearing.

  17. Ignatius says:

    Please everyone, let us remember what this thread is about…Telling stories is the title and we are in fact talking about ‘myth’ as opposed to ‘rationalism’. We are discussing the way that, for example, we use the Genesis story to develop our theology of sin and salvation despite the fact that we agree the genesis account is a story.The way our faith works on a day to day basis is, technically speaking, through mythical transmission. We absorb stories told to us and we believe these stories and then go on to act according to them. Please can people not begin to accuse me of being more or less Catholic simply because I wish to talk about the subject of this thread in this way, telling me I’m more or less Catholic simply because I want to talk about this issue is, frankly speaking, both presumptuous and rude.

    “..Our Lady of course is a ‘special case ‘ in point, in that being the ” highly – favoured one ” , she is first designated in future as someone ” all nations will call blessed ” , by giving us God Incarnate…. the rest really is world history….”

    Yes of course. But the point lies in your last six words. ‘The rest’ as you call it has become ‘world history’ because of the Church existing as a physical entity on the earth. Our actions have themselves ‘made history’ in the same way that governments, nations, technologies, ideologies and doctrines make history; ideas, beliefs and structures are intertwined. At some point the Christian faith took hold and grew as the hardy perennial shrub she is. Able to endure, as she does, in the most harsh of climates and flourishing under adversity. (When I worked in NW China as a teacher just after Tiannmen Square for example, there were churches springing up everywhere. Whole communities were evangelised by Far East Broadcasting radio networks, meeting to listen to their ‘cupboard pastor’ who was a radio! These were times when you could still wind up being exiled to the back end of beyond for your religious beliefs, or dragged off to prison on a whim if you were suspected of being a pastor- it was frankly speaking, astonishing)

    If we take our catechism for example we will find that much of it rests, admirably, on a scriptural basis. Yet we know that scripture is rarely, anywhere, a literal account. We know the Gospels, for example, are essentially notes written by the early church for the purposes of teaching. We wonder about the Exodus and the fact that we can’t find any archaeology for it…I could go on. The same could be said for many of our current devotions, I’m a great fan of the Divine Mercy chaplet for example and have deeply venerated the Divine Mercy image for years….Do I think that God is going to judge me on the basis of how many times have I recited the chaplet.. well, probably not.

    • St.Joseph says:

      You say ‘Do I think that God is going to judge me on the basis of how many times I have recited the chaplet.. well,probably not.

      You are quite right there,but He will judge us ALL on the basis of how many times we judge others as to how many times they recite devotions.

  18. Ignatius says:

    St Joseph,
    Yes but if you read the chaplet leaflet in full and closely you will see that, apparently, according to Fatima, we are to be judged this way. The Divine Mercy chaplet is promulgated as being the last hope for the world:
    “When the last day comes, you shall be judged on this, and on this basis, you shall receive the eternal verdict from God”
    Most likely, in my view, an embellishment, an adornment of devotional faith and I will not despair because of it. Similarly I will not despair if I do not adhere to every embellishment and adornment that devoted people apply to their peons for Mary.

    • St.Joseph says:

      Why do you say it then.?
      We all have free will. To believe what we can accept.
      We know they are all answered not, always as we want. The Lord hears them all.

  19. Ignatius says:

    I say it because the prayer and the picture provide a method of meditating on one of the most profoundly moving aspects of the nature of God. That mercy triumphs over judgement and that mercy is prized by God higher than sacrifice. I say it because it is a great help to prayer, I say it for the men I visit in prison, I say it because it moves me to pray, I say it because it touches my heart, I say it because it helps me battle temptation, I say it because it reminds me of the truth…is that good enough St Joseph?

    • St.Joseph says:

      Well then he who knows his own mind knows his own mind.!

    • St.Joseph says:

      Just to let you know, the Rosary is a bibical prayer.More about Jesus’s life than Our Blessed Mother.
      The last 2 Glorious Mysteries tells us what the Lord does for those that love Him.
      Not just peons that devoted people apply to Mary!

  20. Brendan says:

    Ignatius – It helps that you give autobigraphical hints about yourself before becoming a Catholic. For me I see that your Protestant Evangelical background has obviously influenced your thinking while still remaining open to the ‘ Catholic ‘ world. I see that this background has placed great
    emphasis on establishing ‘ historicity ‘ of the Christ of Holy Scripture , perhaps , and I say tentatively ( NOT IN A DEROGATORY SENSE , ON YOU PERSONALLY ) at the cost of overshadowing ‘ faith ‘. All I can say is that Christ is the Lord Of History , and even if we had no knowledge or access to things ‘ Catholic ‘ in our lives in a worshiping framework .. ” where two or three are gathered , there am I”
    I am struck by the story of 19th century Catholic missionaries who arriving in Japan, found after 250 years the remnants of underground Japanese Catholics ( the ‘ Kirishitan ‘ ) kept alive after persecution by following the devotions and ‘ rubrics ‘ of the Catholic Faith… baptism , rosaries etc.
    It is touching and very telling that they were very intent on receiving and seeing a statue of Our Lady from the missionary priests. Whatever we may deduce from their Catholic belief vis a vis Catholic orthodoxy…. they must have had real ‘ faith ‘ in the Lord of History.
    Ignatius , I am not knowledgeable enough to enter into cogent discussion about whether ” Catholics have fallen far behind broader Chistianity …. ” in finding out the factual basis on which we uncover .. ” our common faith .” However on reading Emeritus Pope Benedict’s ” Jesus of Nazareth “, a personal view in which he sought ” the face of the Lord “, I quote some of the Foreword to the first book.
    ” … the situation started to change in the 1950’s. The gap between the ” historical Jesus ” and the ” Christ of faith ” fell apart. He goes on to sum up that section by concluding that.. ” This impression has by now penetrated deeply into the minds of the Christian people at large. ”
    Briefly, Benedict for Catholics, proposes a work by Rudolf Schnackenburg , to re- balance the .. ” inadequacy of all the portrayals of the ” historical Jesus ” offered by recent exegesis.”
    It is titled, ” Jesus in the Gospels : A biblical Christology ” . The Emeritus Pope describes it as ..
    ” intended to help believing Christians ” who today have been made insecure by scientific research and critical discussion , so that they may hold fast to faith in the person of Jesus Christ as the bringer of salvation and Saviour of the world. ” ( p.x.).

  21. Alan says:

    If I understand Quentin correctly, for the story of the Tower of Babel we find the underlying truth by observation of its fact and expression in current events. Whether it really happened exactly as told is a different matter.

    What is it that identifies an “underlying truth” (and I’m not sure I know what truth is being referred to exactly) in something like the stories of Genesis or the Flood?

    • Quentin says:

      The story of the Tower of Babel has traditionally been interpreted as the folly of man attempting in his pride to make himself like God — but without reference to God. Such ambition is doomed to break down into confusion and conflict. So, as my example suggested, the Arab Spring, understandable in its gestation, has quickly abandoned the concept of justice and has become a conflict of power. Ironically, it has often claimed to be fulfilling the will of Allah, which adds blasphemy to its barbarism.

      At the other end of the scale there have been circumstances when some of those given authority in the Church have not used that authority as a vocation of service as God requires but as an opportunity of control. Sometimes this has been expressed through violence, more often it has been used more insidiously for the glory of man rather than the glory of God. Jesus reserved a special level of condemnation for such hypocrisy — and Pope Francis has done some plain speaking too.

      Man has always been prone to build Nirvana on his own. Marxist Communism has been a recent example. Another example, still at the foundation level, is the belief that Nirvana can be achieved through secular knowledge alone. Even at this early stage it has arrived at the idea that separating sexual expression from marriage will lead to a good society despite all the growing evidence that this endangers the happiness and the lives of many people and particularly the children who are the victims of this folly. And grotesquely, even at UN level, it is now argued that in the name of human rights (can you believe it?) one human being is entitled to take the life of another.

      The lesson of Babel is very far from being learnt.

      • Alan says:

        Quentin – “despite all the growing evidence that this endangers the happiness and the lives of many people and particularly the children who are the victims of this folly.”

        So we have observable evidence for the underlying truth as well as for the parts of such stories that are less than true. The lack of reference to God’s guidance coincides with an impact on our happiness and security. If this is a sound case for the tradition of marriage then doesn’t it work just as well from a secular point of view? If we are finding that Nirvana is moving further away when it was argued that it would improve society then it is a failure of that rationalisation too. The lesson isn’t lost.

      • Quentin says:

        It is certainly true that moral issues can be argued in rational terms. Thus, in the market place, I would mount a case on the basis of available statistics — but my ultimate foundation would be my belief that God intended marriage and the family to be the unit of a loving heterosexual relationship providing for the reproduction of society. That, by its nature, is a permanent foundation. Secular attempts to benefit society are good in themselves but, having no stable foundations, they are liable to vary and fall into error. You may remember Santayana’s dictum: “those who cannot remember the past are destined to repeat it.”

      • Martha says:

        Quentin, 10.23, to go off at a tangent, how would you respond to the comparison of marriage vows with the vows made by consecrated monks and nuns, who make temporary vows only, several times, before a permanent commitment? For marriage vows to be permanent immediately, could seem very severe in comparison, and certainly makes full and deep preparation even more essential.

      • Alan says:

        “It is certainly true that moral issues can be argued in rational terms.”

        Is this ever not so? When might you, if asked how you identify the underlying truth of a moral Biblical story, point to an example of deviation from that advice that clearly increased the happiness and security of families and children? Without the evidence and the rational argument the case for the truth of the message is not made. With the evidence and the rational argument the case is made anyway.

        As it is here too ….

        “Secular attempts to benefit society are good in themselves but, having no stable foundations, they are liable to vary and fall into error. You may remember Santayana’s dictum: “those who cannot remember the past are destined to repeat it.””

        If repeating our mistakes sometimes benefited society the dictum no longer makes sense. If, as we imagine, repeating our mistakes does the opposite of benefiting society then the secular variation fails its own rational test. I see no alternative. It appears as solid and stable a base as can possibly be. Where is there any departure from this measure?

        Certainly we might not learn the lesson well, but that’s a failure regardless of the foundation.

  22. Brendan says:

    Ignatius – ” The way our faith works on a day to day basis is technically, through mythical transmission. ” I see that our ‘ belief ‘ may be derived somehow through mythical transmission, but
    where does that leave the Spirit of God , His advocate for us to the father, and the child ‘saints ‘ who seemly new very little of ‘ myths ‘ of their Faith ; and superseded the gap between the gap between ‘ the historical Christ ‘ and the Christ of Faith ?

    • Nektarios says:

      Sorry Brendan, our faith does not work , `on a day to day basis technically through mythical transmission’.
      Are you saying that the Bible is merely a series of myths? Surely not?
      The Bible says, faith is a gift of God that comes with the hearing of the Word of God.
      Then it works like this: We receive it in our thoughts, our thinking or the mind. Then it enters the heart, the seat of our emotions. Then the will either goes along with it or it does not. It is always in that order.
      If we receive whatever stimulus, it is received by our mind then bypass the heart, and demand the will to go along with whatever, it won’t work.
      Similarly, if we feel something intensely in our heart, but bypass the mind and directly assault the will, we will well be led into delusion.
      If we assert the will, assaulting the heart and the mind, we will live in constant conflict with the mind and heart.
      So you see,the mythical transmission as you call it where one doesn’t start with the mind but the heart, assaulting both the mind and the will. One is then not talking truth, but the world of images and myth, of stories, of feelings, nothing spiritual of God.
      I assert, Truth first comes to the mind, reaches the heart,and then the will, and should always be in that order.
      We should never approach the heart or will directly, but always through the mind.

      • Brendan says:

        This is not my statement Nektarios. It was belongs to Igntiius with whom I was taking issue. But thank you for answering his premise.

  23. Ignatius says:

    Brendan, I’ve read Benedict and am familiar with the chapter!
    But we have finally come down to the nub of the issue. After quite an exhilarating interchange we arrive at the whole point of the matter:

    Quentins opinion: ”
    ” My view, and it remains, is that our concern is with the underlying truth. In many instances, as I show, this is presented to us vividly as a story — which displays the truth through a literary method which was natural for the inspired writer at the time. In the twenty first century we need, temporarily, to set aside our ‘scientific’ mode of thinking and understand the text in terms of the mindset of the primitive writer. To be over concerned with literal history is a distraction from God’s message.”
    Your point:” I see that our ‘ belief ‘ may be derived somehow through mythical transmission, but
    where does that leave the Spirit of God , His advocate for us to the father, and the child ‘saints ‘ who seemly new very little of ‘ myths ‘ of their Faith ; and superseded the gap between the gap between ‘ the historical Christ ‘ and the Christ of Faith ?”
    Rahners point:
    “I agree with much of what you say on the need to discover the underlying truth of, for example, the Genesis account of the Fall. But we should acknowledge that this does involve a significant moving away from much of the traditional understanding of the text.”
    Put all this together and we begin to see that it is GOD and not our ‘belief’ that counts. We see as through a glass darkly and so construct all kinds of idols and images which gradually acquire a kind of mythological status and get passed down as ‘belief’. These things change but the eternal God does not. In the case of the Divine Mercy chaplet I was speaking earlier about we see a myth in the making -a method of transmitting the content of Matthews great discourse on mercy where Jesus speaks of the Last judgement being made on the basis of whether we have shown mercy or not Matt 25.31-46
    This is what is meant by the words of the chaplet which say:
    “When the last day comes, you shall be judged on this, and on this basis, you shall receive the eternal verdict from God”
    However, what happens is that the chaplet ITSELF becomes seen as having ‘magical’ properties if said often enough and in a certain manner. It is in this way that, as Quentin cogently observes an over concern with literalism obscures the message.
    So yes the Spirit of God is the glue, the one who makes up the ground between ‘belief’ and ‘faith’. (Your distinction here is really helpful by the way.) In the end we can read ‘about the truth’ in lots of our magisterial places but this is not the same as inhabiting the truth or having it inhabit us. I will leave the last word to Thomas Merton:

    My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.
    I do not see the road ahead of me.
    Nor do I really know myself.
    And the fact that I think I am following your will
    Does not mean that I am actually doing so.

    But I believe that the desire to please you
    Does in fact please you.
    And I hope that I will never do anything
    apart from that desire.
    And I know that if I do this
    You will lead me by the right road
    Though I may know nothing about it.
    Therefore I will trust you always
    Though I may seem to be lost and
    in the shadow of death
    I will not fear for you are ever with me
    And you will never leave me
    to face my struggles alone

    • St.Joseph says:

      Do have the devotion to the Divine Mercy Sunday in your parish.
      I have organised it for years unfortunatey not the last two.
      My son made a bautiful large frame for the pictute in a local parish .
      My grandson when at 5 painted the continuation of the steps which were too short for the frame a remarkable likeness.
      Parishes I find are not having it any more. It doe bring people back to confession

    • St.Joseph says:

      I pray that prayer every day it is in the St Peregrine Devotion book, the cancer Saint,also with his blessed oil..
      It gives me a lot of peace.
      I did not know it wasThomas Merton ‘
      Thank you.

  24. Ignatius says:

    St Joseph,
    I plan on starting it in the prison very soon, to run concurrently with a rosary group you will be pleased to know!

  25. Iona says:

    Ignatius – thank you for that quote from Thomas Merton. I think Cardinal Newman said something very similar – but can’t lay my hands on it at the moment.

    • Martha says:

      Iona, I think the underlying thought of Newman’s hymn is similar, but you might recall a more specific prayer,
      Lead kindly light amid the encircling gloom
      The night is dark and I am far from home
      Lead Thou me on

  26. Brendan says:

    Ignatius- 30th,6.53pm.

    Do I detect a time of ‘ grace’ for you through your piece ? I rejoice with you as we prepare this week for the resolution ,of the greatest drama the world will ever ‘ know .’ The coming together of ‘ faith ‘ and ‘ belief ‘ or should I say the counter – poise of the two is central to a healthy perspective on Christianity. I Thank Emeritus Pope Benedict for this , not myself . His whole pontificate was about the dynamic between ‘ faith ‘ and reason ‘ . I am scarcely able to distill the theology – so inevitably , and thankfully we all turn to ” expert authority “.
    Arising from this , I see your phrase….” Put all this together and I see that it is GOD and not our belief that counts .” as painfully out of kilter with the fine balance I have posited.
    I need the restraint of the Church to keep my unruly passions in check and to KNOW with that certainty that Christ gives us through His Church, in entering into the mind of God – or as Benedict might put it , seeing ….” the face of the Lord “.
    Quentin’s lesson from history – The Tower of Babel – looms ominously large in the present. God bless you , as likes us all you tread your path in this Holy Week.

  27. St.Joseph says:

    An interesting thought from watching a DVD lent to me ‘ Science Tests Faith’ by Ron Tesoriero, can also be seen on You Tube.
    He was speaking about the Host and Eucharist Miracles. One in particular, he said that
    if God can change a piece of bread into the Body and Blood of Jesus, surely He can change humans from nothing.
    We need not have evolved from whatever.
    Which means that Genesis is a fact.and not a myth..( Me thinks)

    • St.Joseph says:

      I think maybe a better word would be ‘create’ not change.!!!

    • milliganp says:

      St. Joseph, there is no doubt God can do anything but there is also no doubt God would not lie. Creation speaks to us about God and if there are galaxies 1 billion light years away then creation can’t have happened 6,000 years ago (adding up all the years in the Bible).Similarly, if we find 200,000 year old human skeletons, is God deceiving us? The standard responses by young earth creationists are either “time was different in the past” or Satan created all the fossils to confuse us. Both answers insult God. The universe is 13.82 Billion years old, get over it and praise God for such an amazing achievment.

      • St.Joseph says:

        I understand what you are saying.
        What I dont understand and that is ‘who said that creation of humans. came the way ‘time’ Genesis said,
        I just use my imagination.
        God could have taken billions of years creating everything before man, and man as we are now called human,God made from dust as Genesis reads
        Do the scientists know when.we evolved?.They dont know more than God. or His mind.Is He testing our faith?

      • St.Joseph says:

        Oh and BTW, I dont need to get over it.
        It concerns me where I am going,not where I came from!
        A comment of my mother was.(as someone who could always quote Scripture and as far as we as children knew never read the Bible) ‘never lose sight or go beyond yourself,
        come back down to earth,because if you dont you will lose sight of God’!

      • milliganp says:

        St Joseph, one of the arguments that Richard Dawkins uses against religion is that the vast majority of people hold the faith of their grandparents. Thus if you’re born into Hinduism you’re a Hindu, if your born into Islam your a Muslim and if you’re born into Catholicism you grow up a Catholic. We shouldn’t be canonising the ignorance of our grandparents and the accidents of our birth as a defence of faith. If your mother had the accident of being born Indian you’d be on a Hindu faith blog defending Vishnu. This blog is supposed to be about faith and rationalism.

      • St.Joseph says:

        Well I wasn’t I was baptized a catholic

      • St.Joseph says:

        You say this blog is supposed to be aboiut faith and rationilism.

        What would you say to a ‘Strange’ priest who gave a homily (which I have) saying that Jesus did not change water into wine, . Those who drank it were drunk,so did not know the differnce.
        Would you have defended that at the time, as people like Daphne Mcleod did.!!!!

  28. Ignatius says:

    ” Put all this together and I see that it is GOD and not our belief that counts .” as painfully out of kilter with the fine balance I have posited…”
    Not so much out of kilter, as clumsier expressed. We ‘believe’ all kinds of things about all kinds of things but then we act, our actions may bolster our beliefs or betray them when we discover the lack of faith within us. The apostle Peter and his denial are also looming large right now and we see in his fall the result of ‘faith’ being separate from ‘belief’ I see this fracture in myself. Teresa of Avilla had an interesting and illuminating take on this problem when she said that people cannot surrender what they do not possess. Implied there is the thought that faith comes from God, grace is from God …we could say that it is the presence of GOD in our lives , the real presence if you like, that is faith; the extent to which we are ‘God’s’ Our expressed beliefs are usually by no means as solid as we would like…this was what I meant.

    “I need the restraint of the Church to keep my unruly passions in check and to KNOW with that certainty that Christ gives us through His Church, in entering into the mind of God – or as Benedict might put it , seeing ….” the face of the Lord ”

    I would like to see this above thought of yours expressed clearly in simple terms. What do you mean by “KNOW with that certainty…..the face of the Lord” ? How, do you think, the church keeps your unruly passions in check?

    • Brendan says:

      Ignatius – God has not been like a ‘ thunderbolt ‘ in my life; something like a Pauline experience ,or even made clear through His heavenly messenger (s ). Broken, in need of constant attention ( healing ), I started to find God not in my world but in His world gradually and sometimes as was necessary , painfully ( to conquer my passions ) as by what Saint Paul would say … ” do not conform to this world but be reformed in the newness of your mind .”
      ‘ Feeling ‘ is not like ‘ knowing ‘, so my early years from baptism to receiving the Eucharist to Confirmation – the feeling the Church gave me unknowingly by the ‘ supernatural grace ‘ to be one of ‘ them ‘ , ( but not yet one of US ) – His Church carried me in a subconscious way , within my biological Catholic family and my larger ‘ Catholic ‘ world for a long time through my obedient complicity. Sacramental Marriage was a turning point in my life ( and I hope my wife’s ) ; without being able to articulate at the time ,it reinforced ( like all supernatural grace does ) even without ‘ knowing ‘ it the way God wanted me ( and the woman I loved ) to find our place in His world ( Kingdom / Church ). As I see it Ignatius, the way God wants YOU to live in HIS Kingdom ! But for me , as I say, this ‘ knowledge ‘ came later.
      As I said earlier we need constant healing , not only of our obviously sinful ways but of the imperfections which a fallen, imperfect world has left one scarred in ones person , mind and body. To this end and by use of this world – mental health counseling and frequenting the Sacrament of Reconciliation – by now through God-given faith and reasoning , little by little , that for me what had brought me to this present state and kept me from the ravages of this world was my being within His ‘ Church ‘ and no other : One , Holy, Catholic and Apostolic – passed on to me , as I hope to pass it on to others… ” I am the Way, The Truth and the life …….”
      That is my ‘ faith ‘ which I live by ,expressed in my own words as best I can at this time; and as faltering as it is within the barque of Peter.

      • Brendan says:

        P.s. To Paraphrase Romans 5:20 > ” Where sin abounds, grace is in superabundance ! “

  29. Iona says:

    Martha – there’s a specific prayer that I have in mind; but I agree, the feeling behind “Lead, kindly light” is very similar.

  30. ignatius says:

    Ok, I understand now…singing from the same hymn sheet after all. Good to put the flesh on the bones sometimes, words are tricky little beasts..Happy Easter to you.


  31. overload says:

    Considering your discussion about Mary, I have found this to be a matter of confusion and suspicion, such that—despite my belief in Jesus—it was a barrier to me in getting confirmed in the RCC. Perhaps I also speak on behalf of many non-RC Christians; and what message are unbelievers hearing?
    I have recently started reading Catholic for a Reason: Scripture and the Mystery of the Family of God. Some thoughts/questions here referencing what I have read so far in the book about Mary…

    p.17 “The Church is Christ’s bride, the heavenly Jerusalem, and also our mother. Even more, Jesus gave us His mother, the Virgin Mary to be our mother.”
    Some questions I have for you…
    1) We have two separate mothers, or are they united as one and the same?
    2) Jesus is married to His ascended earthly mother Mary?
    3) The Church is merely a metaphorical (?not a real metaphysical) mother, whereas Jesus’ ascended mother Mary is our mother in physical reality—more so than the Church?
    4) We have one mother—the RCC—who is a sinner, and another mother—the heavenly Jerusalem (?fellowship of the Holy Spirit both in the heavens and in the world)—who is sinless?
    5) The ascended Mary is Queen of Heaven and is our mother, and the other saints—ie. Mary Magdalene, Peter, Paul, John, etc.—are not Queen(s) of Heaven, and are not our mother?

    Some other bits to give more context to the above…

    p.26 “she is clearly the mother of the members of Christ… since she has by her charity joined in bringing about the birth of believers in the Church, who are members of its head.” (Quote from Pope John Paul II)
    Clearly the mother, why? Is she not more clearly a mother?

    p.37 Mary has a unique role as one who stands between the Testaments. As Cardinal Ratzinger points out, Mary “binds together, in a living and indissoluble way, the old and the new People of God…in her, instead [of forsaking the OT or forsaking the NT], we can live the unity of sacred Scripture in its entirety.”
    How can one explain that it is Mary who has this role—is it not the RCC he speaks of?

    (BTW, I have yet to read the chapter on Mary!)

  32. overload says:


    Regarding your comment about Scripture:
    “Strictly, God is only speaking when he is quoted. (Unlike the Koran which is dictated by God.)”
    If this is so, then how do you know that when He is quoted it is not an interpretation, imagination or reconstruction of what He said (rather: says, since He speaks to us in the present)?
    What do you make of this passage from Scripture?:—
    “Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Peter 1:21)

    Another example relating to the above is the oft quoted by Protestants:
    “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16)
    I read in Catholic for a Reason: Scripture and the Mystery of the Family of God:
    “the term translated ‘inspired of God’ (Gk. theopneustos) means ‘breathed of God’ and is linked with God’s Spirit and speech.”

    • Quentin says:

      Overload, having read your questions on Mary and the inspiration of Scripture, I am sure that what you need is the help of a knowledgeable Catholic friend to discuss these matters. This blog sadly cannot be the place for catechetics. Perhaps your parish priest could suggest someone.

      Meanwhile, the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains its teaching on these matters, and will give you a sound basis for asking questions. You can read a copy on the internet at or — which has a convenient search system for words like ‘Mary’ or ‘scripture’.

      • overload says:

        Quentin, thanks, I may try to talk to someone in my parish.
        However, I am asking you for apologetics / analysis / constructive discussion, not for catechetics—the book I am reading is currently providing catechetics, and I have already read the CCC compendium. I thought my questions relevant to this blog (as I understand the purpose of this blog). Is this not so?
        For instance, I am not yet confirmed as a RC, but I am considering the righteousness of taking such a step. I am someone who is rigorously analytical and critical with regards to ‘truth’. What can you say to me on the topic of Mary—considering my questions—to encourage me to put my faith in the RCC?

      • John L says:

        If you don’t consider this response trivial, Overload, try talking to Mary herself about it as well. She is a great help in ways that are not always obvious. At least, I find it so. Prayers like the Rosary are useful, but never forget she is a real mother, a Jewish one at that. “Have I got a Son for you!” are the words put into her mouth by a Jewish mother converted to Catholicism, who pointed out that to a Jewish mother the sun shines out of her son.

      • overload says:

        John L,
        I assume you mean to say that Mary is Christ centred, so we can trust Her. I don’t argue with this, since if She is the spouse of Christ then She is one being with Him.
        I am however weary that knowing Mary our Blessed Mother in our hearts and appealing to Her in prayer (this I believe is good) could be mistranslated and used to offensively, arrogantly and evasively justify a half-truth identity in Her name.

      • Alasdair says:

        Regarding beliefs which are distictively Catholic: You Catholics should have more confidence in arguing for beliefs – especially when they are scripturally-based (which is the only way to make headway with protestants!).
        For example, exactly who do (we) protestants believe the “woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars” actually is? The same woman whose children are later described as those who “keep the commandments of God and hold the testimony of Jesus” ie all Christians?

      • overload says:

        Alasdair, if I qualify as a protestant, I would say that she is the Church, the crown presumably being the twelve tribes of Israel; or twelve angels, or the twelve months of the year—ruling the twelve ‘signs of the zodiac’?
        (She may ALSO refer to an individual woman, as a particular personification and representative of the Church. I imagined something like this when I first read this.)
        Note she is already crowned (and in Heaven?), and she is already in pain, before her Son, and sons, are born. What does this mean?

        A question for Roman Catholics: do you/we believe that the Church was conceived immaculately, and if so, when was she conceived?

  33. RAHNER says:

    “I am someone who is rigorously analytical and critical with regards to ‘truth’


    • overload says:

      Talking now about myself, I would probably not say “rigorously”, but rather “hyper sensitively”.

      • milliganp says:

        Overlord, this is not a criticism, but you seem to set yourself up as the ultimate arbiter of the truths you will accept. This is not how faith works – faith starts with believing something before we understand it – that’s what makes is the joyous leap into the unknown.
        However, on the subject of Mary there are three critical dogmas; she is the mother of God (as Jesus was fully Divine as well as fully human). She was bodily assumed into heaven without knowing the decay of death, and, in order to be perfectly free in her response to the Angel at the annunciation she was conceived without sin. There is no obligation on a Catholic to say the rosary or litanies or any particular devotion but these devotions arrise in the church so people can respond humanly to the many mysteries of God.

  34. overload says:

    Following on from Alisdair’s comments about ‘evidence’, there are at least a couple of prophesies in the NT which stand out to me (putting aside for the moment the End Times, and the signs of the times leading upto this).

    First is Paul’s prophesy about the nation of Israel in Romans 11; that they will (apparently as a nation) be brought to repentance and belief in Jesus as their Christ. This is an amazing thought, if we consider that the Jews have survived, plodding along, for around 2000 years, beside Christians, in denial that they have murdered their Lord and Messiah. And, having been ousted from Jerusalem in the 1st century CE (might the prophesies about the temple being knocked down in the gospels have been written after this happened?), they have now (?miraculously) been brought back to the ‘homeland’ with nationhood (I am not suggesting that they are more entitled to this than the Palestinians), apparently in preparation for their expected repentance and the End Times.

    Second is Peter’s prophesy filling 2 Peter 2. This speaks to me subtly and powerfully of the history of the Christianised word — presaging the circumstances which forced the Reformation, and then presaging the Enlightenment. Furthermore it seems that a ghost of the festival of ‘Christmas’ hangs over this whole chapter.

  35. Ignatius says:

    First of all let me make one thing clear. I am a follower of Jesus. I have followed him over the face of the earth and risked my physical life for him.

    Having said that:
    “The point about “historicity” is that it dispels secular myths (of which there are many), such as those about Jesus being merely a mythical figure or a pastiche of previous actual and legendary figures. It allows us to clear away much of the dross that blocks the way between us and a belief in the divinity of Jesus. Regarding the divinity of Jesus – for me, the evidence exists, at least to the extent that I am able to take a step of faith rather than an impossible leap…”

    You know the ‘Search for the historical Jesus’ promulgated by Albert Schweitzer and others, in the end vanished into the hinterland. It is not much spoken of these days as far as I know. Yes its possible to pull up ideas, hints, allegations from the past , but it cannot be done about Jesus and cannot be much done about the first 30 years or so of the Church. The gospels you speak of are heavily redacted so that probably the best that can be drawn from them is that there was a man of that name and his followers believed he rose from the dead they taught about him and it is said they did wonders in his name…….much the same as can be said about his followers today; we believe but we do not see. You will search in vain for an eyewitness account of the lady who touched the hem of his garment or those who were healed by touching Peters hanky.
    Man is a myth making animal, of course he is that is the way he works and it is very often impossible for him to separate ‘truth’ from ‘wishful thinking’ You will see clear evidence of this in your own life if you care to take a look.

    Today, Good Friday, I was in a local prison with 70 odd prisoners, all singing lustily about wanting to follow Jesus and not denying him etc. Clearly they, and I with them, were indulging in a degree of wishful thinking. I do think that much of our elaborations and embellishments are simply part of our own human nature. This process is simply part of our nature, if you don’t believe me then read your way through Bernard of Clairvaux’s “Advice to a Pope” particularly the section where he attempts to justify preaching the failed crusades.
    We see through a glass darkly and we erect false images, I have noted at Seminary that it is mainly priests who are happy to accept this and to see that though truth does subsist within the Catholic Church, it is not always clear where. I do not find this statement contentious in any way at all.
    May I make so bold as to suggest that your step of faith IS in fact an impossible leap, the impossible mystery of the leap you have been helped by grace to make, is celebrated precisely this weekend by the utter wonder and mystery of: the incarnation, the crucifixion and resurrection of divinity.

  36. Ignatius says:

    PS None of the foregoing means that the gospel accounts are anything other than what they are, a collection of accounts of what was and still is believed about the life, death and resurrection of Christ. When I have been speaking about our tendency to mythologise on this thread I have been in the main referring to the devotional aspect of faith; for example is it really the case that Mary right now sits in heaven wearing a golden crown? We do not know but the statues depicting this are a help to devotions.
    When it comes to scripture we are on slightly different ground I think. By and large I think the events of the gospels did indeed take place in some shape or form. I also think that the bible evidences itself. Nonetheless I think you will search in vain for ‘outside confirmation’ and am not even sure what that evidence would look like . There is, as far as I am aware no signed affidavit from the centurion at the foot of the cross and we do not have the DNA of the blind beggar; neither will any advance in genetics ever explain the resurrection from the dead. Just as myth making has its limits so does rationalising, when we look for the roots of our believing they are to be found in faith. This is the whole point of discussing the thread, that we come to realise our faith is intangible, based on a peculiar trust in a God we cannot see.

    • St.Joseph says:

      Yes Faith is a wonderful Gift from God..
      But when Thomas refused to believe in the Resurrection of Jesus, He asked Him to put his fingers in His wounds.
      It says to me that God will show us some proof .
      Our Blessed Mother told us in one of Her apparations that there will a sign,then all will believe
      I feel that the Bleeding Statue and tears ,in America’ Bolivia and a Host that has been tested by scientists as I mentioned before seen in a Video by Ron Tesortero Lawyer and author and Michael Willesee an investigative journalist, build a fact based case for the belief in the Eucharist.
      We can say we do not need proof we have faith, but millions who have no faith’ and do need help like St Thomas..

      • overload says:

        St Joseph, “We can say we do not need proof we have faith, but millions who have no faith’ and do need help like St Thomas..”
        I had to grow in faith, starting with atheism (I think with a un-nurtured and barely voiced inner spirituality); Buddhist teaching, scriptures and meditation were for me a necessary bridge to build up both faith and experience of ‘proof’, such as to begin to believe and trust in Jesus. I cannot see how I could have made this impossible leap without such a bridge, although with God all things are possible.

      • St.Joseph says:

        With His Grace-with His Grace.

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