Tuesday, September 9, 2014

7 Questions: Fr. Michael Patella OSB

I would like to thank Fr. Michael for participating in this edition of "7 Questions." Fr. Michael Patella, OSB, SSD, is a professor of New Testament at the School of Theology/Seminary of Saint John's University, Collegeville, where he also serves as seminary rector. He is the author of The Death of Jesus: the Diabolical Force and the Ministering Angel (Paris: Gabalda, 1999), The Gospel according to Luke of the New Collegeville Bible Commentary Series (Liturgical Press, 2005), The Lord of the Cosmos: Mithras, Paul, and the Gospel of Mark (T&T Clark, 2006), and Word and Image: The Hermeneutics of the Saint John's Bible (Liturgical Press, 2013). He has been a frequent contributor to The Bible Today and also served as chair of the Committee on Illumination and Text for The Saint John's Bible. He is a member of the Catholic Biblical Association.

1) Not only are you a Benedictine, an order so intimately connected to the reading of Sacred Scripture, but you have also studied at Rome's Pontifical Biblical Institute and the École biblique et archéologique française de Jerusalem.  What inspired you to focus your education on the study of the Bible?  
The Bible is so much a part of Benedictine spirituality in particular and the Church’s Tradition in general.  I concluded, with Saint Jerome that “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ”.  Graduate school is a long and arduous process, and I figured early on that if I were to spend any time in earning a doctorate, it would have to be worth my while on every front, professionally and spiritually.  Only then would I have something worthwhile to give my students.

2) What are your thoughts about Catholic biblical literacy today, particularly here in the USA? 
 I think things have improved over the last 50 years in some areas, for example, the lectionary cycle. Consequently, homilies have improved as well.  I wonder why more young Catholics are not interested in pursuing degrees in Scripture, however.  I fear that it is because younger people feel that to study theology or Scripture is to become a fundamentalist and intolerant.  Consequently, either they walk away from the faith and thus theBible entirelyor the few who want to study turn to fundamentalism. Too few see critical thinking as an inherent part of biblical study.  Interestingly, one reason Saint John’s undertook the writing of the Bible was to generate excitement for Sacred Scripture among Catholics by using the medium that had been so much a part of Catholic tradition.  The fact that you have this blog is indicative that our intuition was correct.

3) Are there any particular resources you think are most helpful for the average Catholic in learning what the Catholic approach is to studying the Bible?  
I would direct them to any good Catholic Bible commentaries such as, the New Jerome Biblical Commentary and the New Collegeville Bible Commentary.  Also good (and the best place to start!) are any of the annotated editions of the New Jerusalem Bible, the NRSV, and the RNAB.  Catholics should always read a Bible with good notes and commentary by reputable scholars.  Biblical criticism reflects our Catholic heritage of faith and reason.  And it is enjoyable!

4) Could you talk a little bit about your role in the creation of the majestic Saint John's Bible?  
I was the chair of the Committee on Illumination and Text (=CIT) and the New Testament scholar on the committee.  Other members included an Old Testament scholar, a Systematician, a Church historian, an art historian, a Patristics scholar, a professor of Asian artist, a designer, and a media artist.  We met about every two weeks during the academic year from fall 1999 until spring 2011.  We selected all the images for artistic treatment and then provided the briefs that supplied the theology for the artists.  Each brief for each image was divided into exegesis, scriptural cross-references, local associations, and free associations.  We never told the artists what to do; we only sent them our thoughts and discussions to engender their own thoughts and creativity.  Sketches and drafts would come back to us from Wales, and in the end, we would sign off on them.

5) In your most recent book "Word and Image: The Hermeneutics of the Saint John's Bible" you devote an entire chapter to explaining why the NRSV was chosen as the English translation used for the SJB.  Could you explain to my readers the process and reasoning behind choosing the NRSV?  
The NRSV is a revision of the RSV, which is descended from the King James.  So, for English speakers, it has a great pedigree.  Also, as a translation, it is truly an ecumenical effort with nearly every major Christian denomination represented among the translators, including Roman Catholic.  We wanted this project to look to the future, not the past; hence, any biblical translation that used antique language was not even considered. It also uses inclusive language, which was the CIT’s requirement from the very beginning.  These factors made the NRSV the best translation for 21st century readers.

6) Ultimately, what do you think will be the lasting legacy of the SJB project? 
I think the lasting legacy will be a realization of the role of art in faith and theology.  Scripture is more than a text.  Truth is more than a treatise or essay.  Some things can only be expressed with color, design, and image.  The Saint John’s Bible will probably be cited as that work which reopened the door to the world in which scholarship, faith, and art worked in tandem.  That door had been firmly closed and locked in so many places since the Enlightenment, much to the detriment of our theology and expression of faith.

7) Finally, while I am sure there were more than a few, I am interested to know, from you, what particular illumination from the SJB that helped you to see a passage of scripture differently?  
The Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes in Mark and Romans 8.


Jonny said...
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Luke said...

" Also good (and the best place to start!) are any of the annotated editions of the New Jerusalem Bible, the NRSV, and the RNAB. Catholics should always read a Bible with good notes and commentary by reputable scholars. Biblical criticism reflects our Catholic heritage of faith and reason"

From my own initial experience starting with the NAB and modern biblical criticism convinced me that the Bible wasn't trustworthy or true. I disagree that those are the best resources to start with. I think one of the "big picture" books by authors like Jeff Cavins, Tim Gray, Edward Sri are the best place to start in addition to reading the Gospels start to finish.

I agree with Pope Benedict's view of historical criticism. It is necessary but insufficient, particularly for someone new to the Bible.

Jonny said...

The NRSV translation was in consideration recently to be an important part of 21st Century Catholic liturgy and devotion. Its Protestant copyright holders refused to let the Church make the necessary modifications to the translation for that to be possible, hence the idea was dropped. I may sound dogmatic in saying this, but if a Bible translation is unsuitable for public liturgy, it is also unsuitable for devotion in my family, the domestic Church.

It is too bad the St. John’s Bible is not available in a single-volume artwork-only edition, without the Bible text. This would make it much more accessible, not only to those who prefer older or newer translations, but also those with financial limitations as well!

Has anyone considered the potential for a single volume edition of the St. John’s Bible for small group use at the Parish level? There could even be instructions for guiding lectio divina and reflection questions, without endorsing any particular translation. That would be a more timeless and overall useful product for the universal Church.

Timothy said...


Let us not forget that in Canada, the official translation for the lectionary is indeed an adapted form of the NRSV. While I know that there are suggestions as to why the NRSV was ultimately dropped for the other lectionaries, like Australia, which then dropped using the ESV as well, I am not sure we are certain as to what the real reasons behind it.

In regards to a one volume NRSV Saint John's Bible, I wholeheartedly agree. See this: http://www.catholicbiblesblog.com/2013/12/what-catholic-bible-edition-would-you.html

Unknown said...

My Collins NSRV has an Imprimatur. Should that not be sufficient in using it for devotional/personal use?

Jonny said...

I didn't mean to post my above comment twice... Blogger was acting a little quirky for me this morning!

Yes, I am aware Canada uses a modified NRSV for their lectionary. I actually have a copy of that from Novalis Publishers. The current NRSV lectionary they use is a modified form of their 1992 lectionary which is a modified form of the NRSV. The use of inclusive language is partially corrected, for instance, Genesis 1:26 now reads “…Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness….” This revision was an effort to make the previously unapproved Canadian lectionary (that they were already using!) more acceptable, and should not be viewed as Rome approving the NRSV for use in the liturgy.

Part of the vision of the Church in approving a NEW lectionary, after the document Liturgiam Authenitcam was released, was to have the same wording proclaimed in the liturgy available to read in an actual approved Catholic Bible. Is it not one and the same Sacred Scripture that we read at home, that we proclaim in Mass? It is commonly known that the reason why the ESV was pursued for use in the liturgy is because the copyright holders of the NRSV were not even on board for allowing the full extent of the necessary changes to be made to the NRSV to be published as part of the liturgy, let alone an entire Bible. Now why the ESV was dropped, remains a mystery to me! Perhaps there is divine providence at work here? Or am I the only one who thinks it a bit strange for the Catholic Church to subject herself to the whims of Protestant Bible publishers? What if the next edition of the ESV or NRSV contains blatant theological errors? I think the RSV-2CE is an overall better choice for the liturgy than either the ESV or NRSV anyway, but that is another topic altogether.

Timothy said...


It is interesting looking at the NRSV up in Canada. I would argue, however, that it is approved particularly since this occurred in 2007 (if I remember correctly). Thus it would be after the publication of Liturgiam Authenticam and during the pontificate of B16.

As for the ESV, I agree that I think it was divine providence that it was ultimately dropped. I don't think it is superior to the RSV-2CE or the NRSV for that matter. And to be honest, I am not comfortable using a translation that seems to be the preferred translation of a particular set of evangelicals who don't even consider Catholic's Christians. But, that's just me.

Timothy said...

Going back to something Fr. Michael responded to, I do think the only translation that fit the SJB was the NRSV. The wanted a modern, ecumenical translation. That rules out the archaic RSV, since there was no RSV-2CE at that point. (Although I doubt it would have been considered even if it had been around.) The NAB was going through, and still is, revision, so that doesn't seem like a good fit. One could make a case for the New Jerusalem, but perhaps it was too idiomatic. So, the NRSV seems like the only viable choice.

Jonny said...

Tim, you are right in saying the Canadian Lectionary is approved, but it is approved for Canada only, as an improvement on the unapproved Lectionary they were previously using. It is not approved as a new Lectionary in accordance with Liturgiam Authenticam, which is why it is limited to Canada. This was actually a source of contention between the Canadian Bishops and Rome since they set forth the unapproved version in 1992. The approval in 2007 is basically a compromise that ended a decade and a half of debate about the NRSV lectionary between Canadian Bishops and Rome.

Better things are on the way! There were a slew of translations made after Vatican II, and obviously many times these have missed the mark, so to say. Now the Church has given more specific guidelines regarding translations, we will see the good already accomplished refined to conform more to accurately reflect both the original languages and authentic Catholic tradition. The American Bishops seem to be leading the way with their upcoming NABRE. I project that in my grandchildren’s time, the big three Catholic English Bibles will be well established: The Challoner Douay Rheims (THE classic English language Catholic Bible and still my personal favorite to read!), the RSV-2CE (in the format of the awesome upcoming study Bibles), and the NABRE (American, African, Australian, and Anglicized Editions with Revised Grail used worldwide for English liturgy.) Does the NABRE thing seem far-fetched or is someone else working on a better Catholic English translation of the Bible? It is cool how versatile that letter “A” could be! :)

Jason Engel said...

Thanks for interviewing Fr. Michael! I must say I share his appreciation for the illumination at Mark 6, though personally I prefer an early draft version of the illumination at Romans 8.

amfortas said...

Thanks Jonny but I don't see the wider English speaking world adopting NABRE for its lectionary. After all it's American! And I find the idea that the NRSV is unsuitable for family devotion odd just because there are copyright problems in adapting it for the liturgy. I assume you're okay about using it for study.

The Ordinariate has adopted RSV 2CE for its lectionary and a number of churches in the UK use the RSV but I think the rest of us will be using the JB and Trail psalms for some time yet.