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The Real Bible Church

The Real Bible Church

How did the Bible come to be? Why does it have the books it has and not others? What about the books in the Catholic Bible which aren’t in the Protestant Bible? Is the Catholic Church really the enemy of Scripture? 

These questions and many more are answered in Henry G. Graham’s classic Where We Got the Bible. Originally published in 1911 but recently reprinted, this book is a gold mine of information on the Bible and the Catholic Church, written for a popular audience. Here all the myths are exploded. 

Many people, especially Fundamentalists, claim the Catholic Church added the deuterocanonical books of Tobit, Judith, 1 & 2 Maccabees, Baruch, Wisdom, and Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) to the Old Testament canon at the Council of Trent. Graham shows how the reverse is true: Disputes about the deuterocanonical books (as with some of the New Testament books) were mostly resolved by end of the fourth century, only to be revived by the Protestant Reformers over a thousand years later. 

Graham also challenges the myth that the Church translated the Bible into Latin to keep it from the laity. The purpose of the Vulgate (Jerome’s reworking of Old Latin translations) was to increase biblical literacy by circulating Scripture in the language of the Roman Empire. Latin was a living language at the time and continued to be among the educated for another thousand years. People who read and spoke Latin had no trouble understanding the Vulgate. 

With the fall of Rome and the advent of the “Dark Ages,” the division wasn’t between those who could read Latin and those who couldn’t, but between those who could read Latin and those who couldn’t read at all. 

As a result of widespread illiteracy, the masses had to learn biblical truths in other ways, and these were richly provided by the Church. Monks and priests taught Bible stories. Sacred dramas, paintings, statues, frescoes, and stained glass windows were employed to provided biblical instruction to those incapable of plumbing the depths of the written Word. 

The Church also made use of vernacular translations of Scripture. Graham refutes the popular notion that John Wyclif was the first to translate the Bible into English. He traces the history of vernacular translations in England prior to Wyclif and even cites the preface of the 1611 Authorized Version (the King James Version), which says that “to have the Scriptures in the mother tongue is not a quaint conceit lately taken up, either by the Lord Cromwell in England [or others] . . . but hath been thought upon, and put in practice of old, even from the first times of the conversion of any nation.” 

Far from trying to keep the Bible from the laity, the Catholic Church adopted every means at its disposal to educate the faithful in the truths of Holy Writ. To make this point, Graham cites something usually taken as proof of medieval Catholicism’s hostility to the Scripture: the chaining of the Bible in churches. 

Graham notes how Bibles were chained, not to deprive people of Scripture, but to make it available to those who couldn’t afford Bibles of their own (which was just about everyone). Before the printing press, books had to be painstakingly copied by hand. Bibles were chained up to prevent theft, not to prevent their being read. (Besides, if the Church wanted to suppress the Bible, why did it have it copied at all?) 

Graham’s discussion of the Bible is predicated on two truths: (1) the Bible is the written Word of God and (2) the Catholic Church has the authority to mediate this written Word to us. For Graham, the first truth is vouchsafed by the second: 

“The Church existed before the Bible; she made the Bible; she selected its books, and she preserved it. She handed it down; through her we know what is the word of God, and what is the word of man; and hence to try at this time of day, as many do, to overthrow the Church by means of this very Bible, and to put it above the Church, and to revile her for destroying it and corrupting it–what is this but to strike the mother that reared them; to curse the hand that fed them; to turn against their best friend and benefactor; and to repay with ingratitude and slander the very guide and protector who has led them to drink of the water out of the Saviour’s fountain?” 

To this, people sometimes object that the early Church didn’t bestow inspiration on the biblical books, but merely witnessed to it. Thus, the Bible has a primacy of authority and the Church does not. 

However this may be, it’s an irrelevant point since the Church has never claimed to bestow inspiration on the Bible, nor does it claim its teachings–even its most binding ones–are inspired, but merely infallible. The real question is, “How binding and certain is the Church’s witness to the biblical canon?” 

A final question: Does the Church merely recommend the Bible, or can it demand the assent of faith to Scripture’s divine inspiration–to its authority as the very Word of God? The latter answer is correct, although this reply, which alone upholds true biblical authority, rests upon the Church’s infallible teaching authority and, as such, is one only a Catholic has the right to give. 
— Mark Brumley 

Where We Got the Bible
By Henry G. Graham
Rockford, Illinois: TAN Books, [1911] 1977
154 pages
$4.95
Available through the Mini-Catalogue.


 

Aquinas for Folks on a Diet 

 

It was the express wish of Pope Leo XIII, in his 1879 encyclical Aeterni Patris, “to restore the golden wisdom of St. Thomas and to spread it far and wide for the defense and beauty of the Catholic faith, for the good of society, and for the advantage of all the sciences.” This encyclical began a Thomistic revival that was carried into the twentieth century by writers such as Etienne Gilson and Jacques Maritain. But Aquinas’s work did not reach such lofty heights easily. 

In his own lifetime and for a long time afterward, Thomas and his work were attacked as heterodox–even heretical. His writings won gradual acceptance until, almost 300 years after his death, the fathers of the Council of Trent relied heavily on them to refute the arguments of the Reformers and to explain orthodox Catholic teaching. 

By the time of this century’s Thomistic revival, Thomas’s chief work, the Summa Theologiae, and its literary conventions were so far removed from most people’s understanding that the work was consulted chiefly by scholars. Since the Summa had been decreed the basis of Catholic teaching, many priests and seminarians, unable to deal with the text itself, fell back on commentaries such as Walter Farrell’s four-volume Companion to the Summa

Part of the difficulty was the format the Summa was written in. As Timothy McDermott, editor and translator of this new edition, explains: 

“The original work has a format shaped by the conventions of medieval debate: The text divides into hundreds of topics called questions, each topic consisting of a sequence of dilemmas called articles, each dilemma posed by three short arguments called objections against some traditional position called the sed contra, and resolved by an argued point of view called the response applied to each objection in answers to the objections.” 

Not only is the format daunting; so is the size. The standard Latin edition (the Leonine edition) runs to 22 volumes. A Latin-English edition done by Dominicans (the Blackfriars’ edition) is in 60 volumes. The most commonly available English edition, printing on large pages and lacking the scholarly apparati of the others, is in five volumes. And that is why we have this superb new edition, which is actually the complete Summa in “concise form.” What does this mean? Again McDermott explains: 

“The concision has been achieved not by selecting out parts, but by compressing and distilling the whole. My aim was to try and say all that Thomas wanted to say, in his own words, but in a text condensed to about one-sixth of its length. Of course, there are omissions: passages discussing the details of Old Testament ritual and law, expositions of ancient biology of the embryo or physiology of the emotions which are now mainly of historical interest . . . [M]any passages–such as Thomas’s proofs for the existence of God, his discussion of the nature of the human soul, his analysis of moral actions . . . are already so concise that the only feasible compression is that achieved by adopting a modern format. . . . [M]y attempt has been to express the whole sense of Thomas’s arguments in as few words as possible: those words being Thomas’s own, readily but faithfully translated into modern English.” 

McDermott has arranged the text in modern paragraph format, “with paragraphs grouped in titled sections, and sections gathered into chapters.” For those who wish to compare the concise version with the original, the numbering of the original is indicated in the columns. 

This new edition of the Summa comes at a propitious moment. Many scholars, laying claim to the spirit of the Second Vatican Council, have attempted to replace Thomas with the theologian of the moment. This practice has been seen particularly in what is called “transcendental Thomism” (which Gilson considered a false Thomism). It’s a welcome relief to have an accessible edition of real Thomism again. 

As Leo XIII put it, “Lest the false for the true or the corrupt for the pure be drunk in, be watchful that the doctrine of Thomas be drawn from his own fountains or at least from those rivulets which, derived from the very fount, have thus far flowed, according to the established agreement of learned men, pure and clear; be careful to guard the minds of youth from those who are said to flow thence, but in reality are gathered from strange and unwholesome streams.” 
— Thomas W. Shaw, Jr. 

Summa Theologiae: A Concise Translation
By St. Thomas Aquinas
Timothy McDermott, ed.
Westminster, Maryland: Christian Classics, 1989
651 pages
$78.00
Available through the Mini-Catalogue.

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