Friday, July 1, 2011

A Reconsideration of the CTS Catholic Bible

Reader Geoff provided a guest review of the CTS Bible a few weeks back. Since then, he has reconsidered some of his comments, so he asked that I allow him to post this follow-up:

In my recent review of the CTS edition of the Jerusalem Bible, I was very negative about the commentaries contained therein. After receiving criticism for this, I decided to conduct more research into acceptable Catholic views on Holy Scripture. I've learned so much over the past month on this subject, and while the historical opinions expressed in the CTS Bible may not be to everyone's personal liking, there is nothing in them contrary to the Catholic Faith.

Fr. Henry Wansbrough, the man responsible for the commentaries, was kind enough to correspond with me by email and clear up some of my confusion. He is a very good and holy priest. I therefore retract my criticism of his historical commentaries. While I do not agree with everything he says, I cannot deny that his work is insightful, even masterful, and certainly orthodox by the judgment of the Church.

Moreover, I must amend my recommendations. The people I've begun teaching in an introductory Bible class love the CTS Bible! Contrary to my previous judgment, it appears to work great for catechesis and evangelism. I kindly ask Tim's readers to forgive my rash assessment of this fine Bible.

Below is a sample of Geoff's correspondence with Fr. Wansbrough, printed with permission fom Geoff:


Dear Fr . Henry,

Thank you so much for editing such a wonderful Bible! I have a question concerning the footnote for Luke 2:2. I've heard a lot of different theories about the census, such as maybe it took place over a period of years and ended once Quirinius became governor of Syria . But the issue ties into a larger inquiry of mine. What is the historical character of the infancy narratives, are they reliable, and is the Church's belief in events such as Jesus' virgin birth and the perpetual virginity of Mary well-founded? Or should there be discussion on re-evaluating our stance on these matters?

Thank you once again for your time and generosity!

Pax Christi,


Dear Geoffrey,

Thank you for your message. Do you expect me to answer all those questions in a quick email?

Briefly, I personally go for the literary solution. Lk wanted to integrate Jesus into contempoarary history, or rather the history of a couple of generations ago, but was not to clear about the details. Pretty good, knowing about the census under Quirinius; he used this to get the holy family to Bethlehem , but got it slightly wrong. Perhaps he confused it with a census when King Herod had blotted his Roman copybook and was no longer exempted from Roman taxes.

It is the firm tradition of the Church that Mary was a virgin and that Jesus had no human father, and that I accept because it is the tradition, going right back behind Mt and Lk. But I do not see that being ‘son of God’ in the biblical sense would be incompatible with having a human father. Furthermore, I think that the important sign value of Mary’s virginity is her total dedication to her Son and to the Lord.

I hope that helps.



Anonymous said...

The problem with this kind of thinking of priest is that he toes the line with his liberal views to the point of not being heretical yet. I have encountered this kind of thinking in the classroom where the professor states something that makes a person think "Did he just say something heretical?" Yet, all that was said was just something that toes the line of being heretical.

Here the priest does it by saying Luke erred in his history. We as Catholics know that the Bible doesn't contain error. But here this priest is saying that Luke erred. How is this compatible? It's because the priest didn't say the Holy Spirit erred.

To me this is an attempt to work around their liberal views while not being declared a heretic at the same time.

Anonymous said...

The above comment was written by phone somehow didn't ask for my sign on info.

Diakonos said...

Nice to see such a gentlemanly exchange, but the way the good Father speaks brings to mind the extremely confusing "not heretical but spreading lots of doubt" ways of the late Fr. Raymond Brown. When puch came to shove the declared teaching was upheld but in the meantime...

Leonardo said...


I believe that we all know that the Bible is not a book of plain history, but if someone is trying to study history in order to know more about it, then is respectable to have different views according with the historic points of view, and later discoveries.

I believe also that if some priests are devoted to the study of the Bible, some of them, as historians, would have points of view as any other historian would have.

(sorry for my English).

Jonny said...

There is a much better explaination of the Census in question in the Ignatuis Catholic Study Bible New Testament.

I am rather, more concerned with the shameful accusation against our Blessed Mother and against chastity in general.

I sure everyone would believe in Catholic doctrine given the liberty to redefine the terminology to his or her own liking.

Theophrastus said...

It seems that Tim's posting of the Verbum Domini has been in vain, because the comments above seem to ignore it. Here is part of what the Pope said:

Before all else, we need to acknowledge the benefits that historical-critical exegesis and other recently-developed methods of textual analysis have brought to the life of the Church.[97] For the Catholic understanding of sacred Scripture, attention to such methods is indispensable, linked as it is to the realism of the Incarnation: “This necessity is a consequence of the Christian principle formulated in the Gospel of John 1:14: Verbum caro factum est. The historical fact is a constitutive dimension of the Christian faith. The history of salvation is not mythology, but a true history, and it should thus be studied with the methods of serious historical research”.

Now it is true, the Pope later equally stresses the importance of the spiritual dimension of Scripture. But that does not negate the statement above.

In that same quote, the Pope cites to a fundamental work of the Pontifical Biblical Commission, The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church. The work of Wansbrough and Raymond Brown are well within the spirit of the PBC's Interpretation.

I previously pointed out that Ratzinger cites to Brown in both of his Jesus of Nazareth books and has said "I would be very happy if we had many exegetes like Father Brown."

There is no "slippery slope" here. You may disagree with Wansbrough's theories, but Wansbrough has not gone beyond the bounds of orthodoxy. It is not true that they are heretical. In fact, his work has received the imprimatur.

Johnny's claim of a "shameful accusation" seems unfair. Wansbrough clearly states: "It is the firm tradition of the Church that Mary was a virgin and that Jesus had no human father, and that I accept because it is the tradition, going right back behind Mt and Lk."

Diakonos said...

Some points well taken, others very debatable but most of all anyone who is familiar with church history since the 60's knows that an imprimatur is, in actuality if not theory, no guarantee of orthodoxy of content. The notorious catechisms, "Christ Among Us" and the "Dutch Catechism" being just two well-known examples, both of which had the imrimaturs revoked many years after publication.

Anonymous said...

Reply to Theophrastus:

No doubt the Historical-Critical Method can be a good...I dont think any one of the above comments talk negatively about it. This methdod of study is a legitimate means to understand the culture and context of the time the Scriptures were written - understanding the histories. The problem lies in when a scholar presents something that is a matter of faith, most times it is something that is required of us as an assent of faith that is called into question. Liberal scholars tend to use this free method of study too loosely and then forget Pope Benedict's words, from which you quoted, from Verbum Domini, "For the Catholic understanding of sacred Scripture, attention to such methods is indispensable, linked as it is to the realism of the Incarnation"

Just as real as the Incarnation is, we too must not call this into question as it is a matter of faith...liberal scholars call this belief and others into question by using their ideas of the Historical-Critical Method. They have now separated any beliefs from the texts. They do great damage when they do this because the texts were first and foremost written for us to believe.

And regarding the question of Mary's Virginity another problem lies in liberal scholars when they equate certain teachings to only certain men in if they weren't on par with others(Apostles). I have seen this all over in the classroom...the problem behind Fr. Wansbrough's words of the belief of her virginity make it seem, or appear, that only Matthew and Luke believed in her virginity(or even just a Virgin Birth for that matter)...yeah he is not a heretic, because he doesnt deny it, but he only points to these two because they only mention it as if others were saying something different.
I say this ask that same scholar if St. Paul believed in the Virgin Birth, I guarantee there would be an unorthodox answer....based on a liberal's use of the Historical-Critical Method.

Jonny said...

I have no problem with Fr. Wansbrough's initial statement regarding Mary and the Incarnation: "It is the firm tradition of the Church that Mary was a virgin and that Jesus had no human father, and that I accept because it is the tradition, going right back behind Mt and Lk."

But then Fr. Wansbrough forthwith contradicts himself by saying "But I do not see that being ‘son of God’ in the biblical sense would be incompatible with having a human father. Furthermore, I think that the important sign value of Mary’s virginity is her total dedication to her Son and to the Lord."

Is he not basically saying that he is open to the possibility that the terms "son of God", "virginity", and "no human father", in regards to the Incarnation of Christ are simply religious code words used in a "biblical sense?" This would be a false teaching. My criticism is not unfounded. from the Roman Catechism Article III:

"We believe and confess that the same Jesus Christ, our only Lord, the Son of God, when He assumed human flesh for us in the womb of the Virgin, was not conceived like other men, from the seed of man, but in a manner transcending the order of nature, that is, by the power of the Holy Ghost."

Further emphasizing the literal reality of our Blessed Mother's perpetual virginity the Roman Catechism states thus:

"He is born of His Mother without any diminution of her maternal virginity, just as He afterwards went forth from the sepulchre while it was closed and sealed...just as the rays of the sun penetrate without breaking or injuring in the least the solid substance of glass, so after a like but more exalted manner did Jesus Christ come forth from His mother's womb without injury to her maternal virginity."

Diakonos said...

Victor, that's exactly what I had in mind when mentioning the late Fr. Raymond Brown. Thank you for putting it into succint word form. Its not so much the method in and of itself of course, but the way it is used and the way it seems by many shcolars to be granted an infallibility on par with that of the Church...and for some greater than that of the Church. Along with this is the tendency to teach the findings of the method as if they were fact and not their true nature of theory. One example: the synoptic problem. The Ray brown school promotes the Q Theory as fact wioth Mark as the oldest gospel. Scholars of equal prestige (such as the late Dom Orchard and Davoid Alan Black)can give just as academically convincing reasons why Q is fantasy and that Matthew remains the oldest Gospel.

Leonardo said...


I agree with Jonny when he mentions what the Catechism says. Because if the Church wants to be a community of believers, then is important what the Church says.

Theophrastus said...

Diakonis -- I hear what you are saying, but there seems to me to be something distinctly strange about this entire issue.

First, a private e-mail from Wansbrough was quoted -- with Geoffrey's permission (but not necessarily with Wansbrough's permission.)

Second, Wasbrough began his message by complaining about the large number of questions posed with him, and pointing out that he only had time for a quick e-mail. It seems to me that we should to turn to Wansbrough's full works to find elucidation of his views.

Third, I have to say that I do not understand what Wansbrough means when he says "But I do not see that being ‘son of God’ in the biblical sense would be incompatible with having a human father." It seems to me that this is part of a larger dialogue which has not been included. As Wansbrough notes Matthew and Luke clearly point out that Jesus had no human father, so "Biblical sense" does not apparently mean "New Testament sense." Thus, I can only infer that Wansbrough is arguing that references to the "son of God" in the OT do not preclude having a human father. This is clearly true in some usages in the New Testament (see, for example Exodus 4:22, 4:23; Deuteronomy 14:1; Jeremiah 31:9; Hosea 11:1 -- recall that Israel was both a man (Jacob) with a human father (Isaac) and the people who are his ancestors).

Have you found any references in Henry Wansbrough's published works claiming that he rejects the incarnation?

It seems to me that there is a certain eagerness on the part of some to claim Wansbrough, Brown, and other Roman Catholic historical-critical clergy-scholars are heretics. However, it seems that we should make an effort first to fully understand their views, and we should not necessarily choose the least favorable interpretations of ambiguous assertions. If nothing else, their position as priests in good standing would seem to require that we give them the benefit of the doubt with regard to unclear statements.

Diakonos said...

Theophrastus: I did not call Brown (or others in general) a formal heretic but I assert that the way he and others have used the h-c method breed seeds of doubt among many who read/hear it. I think a huge part of this problem is that the musings and theories of scholars are bandied about among those who are not scholars such as in parish bible study groups and in books intended for the general public and this casues great confusion. It's the same when legitimate theological speculation occurs among theologians. They may be legitimately discussuing (not dissenting from) a controversial topic in order to arrive at a better undretsanding of it. then their words get picked up by the general press and s_ _ _ hits the fan because the average guy or gal in the pew does not distinquish between legit speculation and the deposit of faith.