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 entirely, or 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.