Why I Wrote Reading the New Testament in the Church
Francis J. Moloney, SDB
The development of the Catholic Church as a dominant political power among the European Princes in the eleventh century, and the Reform initiated by Martin Luther in the sixteenth, distanced the Roman Catholic Tradition from a use of the Bible in its life and practice. Always regarded as “sacred” and a Word of God, kept alive in the contemplative tradition, it was nevertheless supplanted by a powerful teaching office that came to be known as the Magisterium and the enthusiastic practice of the Church’s sacramental life.
Pope Leo XIII recognized that such a situation was unacceptable, betraying authentic Christian Tradition. In 1893, in his Encyclical Providentissimus Deus, he asked for a return to the Scriptures. Fear of heresy and possible abuses, coupled with two World Wars in which Christianity showed its worst face, saw to it that this return never took place. Pius XII came back to this crucial question in an even more radical call to the Catholic Church in 1943 in his Divino Afflante Spiritu, written to commemorate the centenary of Providentissimus Deus.
This appeal to return the Word of God to its rightful place at the heart of the life and practice of the Church has been regularly repeated since then, especially in Vatican II’s document on Divine Revelation (Dei Verbum), the Synod of Bishops on the Word of God in the life of the Church in 2008, and the subsequent post-Synodal Exhortation of Benedict XVI, Verbum Domini (2010).
These appeals, however, continue to fall upon deaf ears. Many contemporary Bishops, Pastors, Religious Educators, and Believers find the New Testament too difficult and too foreign. My most recent book, Reading the New Testament in the Church: A Primer for Pastors, Religious Educators, and Believers, attempts to bridge those gaps. After indicating the life-giving value of a critical reading of the New Testament, I show that everything one finds within the covers of the New Testament was produced by the faith of the Church in order to further nourish and encourage the faith of the Church.
This is a book that I hope will challenge all Christians and Christian communities to accept that their Sacred Scriptures make God, and God’s design, known to them. It attempts to overcome the impoverishment of any Christian tradition that results from an ignorance of God’s Word. As St. Jerome (347–420 CE) once said, “Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.”