Faith and Historical Criticism

This week, one of the Catechist Formation classes I’m taking has been talking about the Four-Source Theory and the Synoptic Problem. Called to reflect on what we’d learned, I wrote the following:

This is a weird assignment for me since we’re tasked, if I understand the assignment correctly, with reflecting on what new perspectives or insights have been opened for us by our reading and exercise for this week. My problem is that the historical-critical approach, from which the four-source theory emerges, is what informed all of my study of Scripture up to this point…so it’s not really new to me. What is new to me is precisely what I would expect is that position most of the rest of the class is in: the approach of reverence and faith.

As I mentioned in my brief personal introduction in the first assignment, I am a recent [started just before Lent] convert to Catholicism [and even to, from a Catholic perspective, Christianity since I’d never been baptized in any tradition]. While you might expect that would mean I wouldn’t have been interested in the Church or the Tradition at all, I was, on the contrary, drawn deeply into it. I hold a Master of Theological Studies that was earned, in part, by studying Early Christianity from the Ante-Nicene period through to about the Council of Ephesus (431) [ don’t even get me started on Nestorius, Cyril, and Celestine ]. But all the work I did was only academic/philosophical/historical-critical and that was how I read and understood the writings of the early Saints and all of Scripture—my work was not at all devout. What’s new for me, then, is reading by the light of faith and, in this course, trying to re-read and re-learn in this light and with eyes newly opened by the Grace of God.

Unfortunately, the rather technical nature of the philological questions we’re talking about this week means that they don’t really change much in different light. In fact, if anything, it all becomes substantially less ‘shiny’ when cast in the light of faith. The Synoptic Problem is only really interesting and stimulating if it’s truly a “problem” for you. In faith, I accept and embrace the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. If that’s not a “problem” for me [ and 7 months ago I would have told you it was such a big problem for me that I suspected Catholics either didn’t really believe it or else were a horde of rampaging lunatics ], then I don’t see getting worked up at all over authorship and plagiarism issues in the Synoptic Gospels. Know what I mean?

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