The Lens We All Have

We all view Scripture through a lens. This is a more thorough discussion, and my updated thoughts on Sola Scriptura, personal interpretation, and Catholic Tradition.

communionsaintsenh.jpg

One of the tricky subjects for a Catholic to talk to a Protestant about is the word “Tradition,” and the role it plays in the Catholic Church. Say anything about how we have Tradition, and you will turn off many a Protestant ear. The word itself, is a barrier to further discourse. This is true often- because, in many ways Catholics and Protestants are using different words when talking about the same or similar things. Though, there are definite and significant differences in the two understandings of Christianity, many times, even on the areas where we agree there is a language barrier. Tradition isn’t one of those areas where we agree, but it is an area where the language barrier is a hinderance to understanding.

Here is one way that helped me, at least in a limited sense, understand Catholic Tradition, and something that may perhaps be helpful when talking to others and attempting to overcome the language barrier in this area.

The fact is that everyone interprets scripture through a lens. You can’t read the Bible as a Christian and not get meaning out of it through interpretation. In fact… you can’t be a literate person and not read anything and not get meaning out of it through the interpretation of your understanding.

In this sense, everyone kind of has their own Tradition. Though Biblical interpretation isn’t the sum and whole of what Catholic Tradition encompasses, it is an important part of it. Tradition, in part, consists of the lens through which Catholics interpret Holy Scripture.

One of the main struggles Protestants have with Tradition is that Catholics place it on par with Scripture, instead of holding Scripture itself as the highest. The problem with that is, our interpretation of Scripture, Catholic or Protestant, is inseparable from Scripture, period. Because a Bible un-interpreted is a book on a shelf without meaning. One could say that interpretation is the way we construct meaning out of Scripture. The problem Protestants run into, is whose interpretation is correct? On any given Sunday at any Protestant church throughout America , a pastor might cite books by theologians as sources for his sermon. Well… what evidence do we have that those theologians are interpreting Scripture correctly? And it also happens all. the. time. that two, or tens, or thousands of Protestants could read the same exact passage of Scripture and come to completely different conclusions about what it means. Baptism, Communion, Genesis… again, whose interpretation is correct? By its very nature, Truth cannot contradict itself. It’s can’t be that Jesus meant Holy Communion to be both symbolic and his actual Body and Blood. He meant one of the two, but not both. And if the answer to that question is important, what did he actually mean, then the lens through which we interpret Scripture is also important.

Scripture requires interpretation, that meaning be drawn out of it. And due to the thousands of Protestant denominations (over 32,000, to be closer to precise), I reject personal interpretation as adequate.

Catholic Tradition has long stood the test of time, more than any other Christian group claims to have had interpretation at all (all the other denominations have 1500 less years to work with!). So I have no problem putting it on level with the written word of Scripture. It is the lens through which I view Scripture. And we all have a lens we put in the exact same spot by the necessity of interpretation.

And that’s also why, in short, I accept the teachings of Tradition that may exist, in a strict sense, “outside of Scripture.” I don’t believe that Truth is contained only within the words of the Bible. God inspired the Bible but I don’t believe that’s God’s last breathed word to humanity. The Bible itself declares Jesus to be the “Word made flesh.” Catholics believe we still have the Word made flesh Himself present and among us today in the Eucharist. He’s still the Word. And He’s still talking. Through His Church.

Walk into any Protestant church and at some point someone will have a Word from God to share with someone else about their life. Nearly all Christians believe God still speaks today in some form, and often to them personally. And if God is actually speaking things to people (if it is indeed God speaking), then what is being spoken is True. And Truth is Truth, whether it’s on the pages of the Bible or spoken by a believer. There is no way to put some Truth (the Bible) on a different level than other Truth (God’s extra-Biblical Word revealed to humanity.) If it’s from God, it’s Truth. And thus they are the same, as they stem from the same ultimate Truth, God Himself.

Catholic teachings corroborate with the Bible in the most logically sound and deeply comprehensive way of anything I’ve found to exist. I cannot pretend that God is not in it, because only Catholicism mirrors  (best as any earthly thing can) the richness and vastness and deepness and intensity of our Creator to a level that feels like it is approaching appropriate. The Gospel is simple, but also amazingly complex. God is able to be understood by young children, but one could spend lifetimeS growing in that understanding (and Catholicism as a whole has!). God is personable, but also unfathomable.

And, in short, that is why, to this former Protestant, Tradition as a word and a belief has brought an increased richness to my faith and understanding of both the Bible and Christianity as a whole, and not detracted from it in the least.

Advertisements

A Few Things of Note

I have started to have the conversations with friends to tell them about this journey I’ve been on. A few things have happened of note, throughout the talks I’ve had so far.

Big Feelings. I knew some friends, or maybe even most, wouldn’t be super on board with my conversion to Catholicism. But I don’t think I anticipated all the Big Feelings that would be there. A dear and precious friend telling me, close to tears, that the concepts of things like confession are ones she just completely doesn’t understand. In that moment I wanted to tell her that I totally get it. I didn’t understand it for my entire life up until about a month ago. But it has been such a delicate dance to share this with people I love and to know when to explain how my views have changed and when it is better to just listen. I know I haven’t handled that perfectly. I’m so excited about all this Truth that I didn’t know before, and how it’s changing everything, and yet it took me years of disagreement before things changed. How to speak truth and be sensitive and loving and patient at the same time…. and to know when to do what…. of that I have failed and will fail again.

I, too, have had Big Feelings. I’ve cried all the way home from conversations with people so important to me. Knowing that I’m causing distress, on one hand. Feeling sad because those dear people are not going to be happy for me in what is a huge moment in my life on the other.

Surprising Objections. I anticipated some things, and felt at least decently prepared to talk about them. But I had a few friends uncomfortable with the idea of me referring to them as Protestants. I didn’t expect that. It was difficult to kind of have to reframe how any denomination or church formed post-reformation would fall under that umbrella, though you can’t lump all Protestants under any one umbrella in most areas. I also had friends who were adamantly un-unnerved by all the divisions in the church, and hadn’t given much consideration to the idea of the Holy Spirit preserving correct interpretation of the Bible on a large scale, and were much more comfortable with the idea that bits of truth scattered among the Christian churches of the world, and our interpretation of total truth is flawed due to sin. Though, I probably shouldn’t have been as surprised as I was.  But also it was so very foreign to them, that it was almost a situation of it being incomprehensible because it had never entered their minds as a possibility. They have known nothing else. And I get that, because I’ve been there too.

Things that Surprisingly Went Well. There were a couple of occasions where I felt I did a solid and logical job of explaining something. One such item would be the whole “God has actually preserved true interpretation of Scripture through His Holy Spirit in the Catholic Church” thing. My basis was that, as Christians, we believe a whole bunch of sinful, flawed people, were used by God to create a book we believe to be infallible. Truth. Pure Truth. I said I believe God to be loving, and it doesn’t make sense to me that God would leave us with an infallible book and only flawed and broken means of interpreting it. That was one moment where I felt like I conveyed my thoughts clearly and accurately, and that at the very least people were following my logic to the conclusion.

There were also people I have talked to where I haven’t cried on the way home. People who reassured me of their love and friendship in such an encouraging way after a deep and intense conversation. A couple who even said they were happy for me. Ok- I’ll take it! It was relieving and refreshing after much intensity.

The Exhaustion. The past few days have been draining. I am so, so exhausted, mentally and emotionally.

None of my friends are going to be content with me saying that I just feel God’s presence in the Catholic Church and just being drawn to that. I do, and I am, but that isn’t everything. I’m being drawn by deeply theological reasons, and they are for the most part deep thinkers that are going to ask deep questions.

Moving Forward.

It’s interesting to me how over the past few months this blog, that began as an online journal of me beginning a line of inquiry into Catholicism has turned into a blog journaling my conversion. I didn’t say surprising, because I don’t think I’m really surprised. Converting is a logical next step after the research and soul-searching I’ve done. But it’s interesting… interesting because Lorelei from 10 Years Ago would have never imagined being here. Interesting because this started as a personal journey and has become a journey that others are joining me on through reading and conversation. And interesting because I still have questions, that I will continue to explore, but I’ve learned enough to understand that the Catholic church has thought about and discerned every belief they have on a much deeper level than I have ever seen anywhere. I don’t think I’m going to find something in my personal search that will stump Catholic theology or logic. Now… my personality type is such that I will continue to look into questions that arise, but I continue to do so boldly, and unafraid of the answers I will find.

 

Church Membership

Here’s the thing about Church Membership. We went through membership class at our last 2 Protestant churches. The only reason we left the first church was due to a move, but… just for a bit of context, one membership class was a lovely dinner over at the pastor’s house (who we still care about very much and admire as an example of living out one’s faith in all areas), and the other membership class was a few weeks for an hour (also led by very sincere people) to help us understand a statement of faith that was relatively short- could be read through in a couple of minutes.

Ok. That’s the context.

The Catholics have THIS:

do742-paperback.jpg
My church’s statement of faith would probably fit on a couple of pieces of paper.

Here’s another major difference between Catholics and Protestants… if it isn’t explicitly laid out in the Bible (though Protestants disagree on a lot of what is supposedly explicitly laid out in the Bible), we don’t typically touch it. Some call it “Christian Liberty.” On issues nonessential to salvation, there are some truths that God has allowed us to interpret for ourselves while we are here. That has made so much sense to me for so many years. But now, I’m thinking… there is actually a truth about all these issue we allow Christian liberty for… like either Jesus is actually present in the Eucharist or he isn’t, it’s not like the truth behind any of these things are actually ambivalent. So is the Protestant church’s stance that God has chosen to keep those things secret? Then the Catholic church’s stance would be that God has revealed the details of the Christian theology that aren’t explicitly laid out in the Bible through the Holy Spirit to the Church. And that the Holy Spirit has helped the Church have correct interpretation of those things that are in the Bible as well.

I just keep getting drawn back to the unity of theology in the Catholic church. I just don’t think I agree anymore that God intended Christianity to have so many divisions. That isn’t unity, that isn’t a united Body. In some ways it’s amazing that with all the theology they have sorted through, that the Catholic faith has stayed united at such a large scale. It seems even unlikely- were it not for the Holy Spirit… perhaps.

And, finally, I think that the unity the Catholic church experiences here might be more similar to the complete union we will have with our Savior in heaven one day. It’s better to be together than to be on our own.

I like that the membership process takes a long time. I felt like the process at our current church was too quick and simple, and casual even. We dove about a centimeter deep into theology. Church isn’t about being a cool place to hang out. The theology is important. I’m thankful to have the time and an abundance of resources to help me along the way.

 

 

 

Interpretation

Interpreting the Bible literally or figuratively… that is a huge question. I’ll leave the science/evolution/creation side of this out for a moment and for another time. Right now what I just want to focus on is evidence for the Catholic way of interpreting scripture on a general scale.

What we have right now is a very complex book, that is also amazingly accessible to the masses, in the hands of people who don’t understand the various literary forms the Bible uses and their different intentions, and who don’t understand the cultural and linguistic implications that affect interpretation. Yes, I think people should be able to have a Bible in their hands and read it regularly. Great works of literature, fiction or non-fiction, can be read and something gleaned out of them even with just a basic reading and no background information or additional study. But, get yourself in a college class focused on a specific few great works of literature, and learn from a wise and passionate professor all the intricacies of how that work fit into the time in which it was written, and how it connected to the author’s other works, and what sort of themes and symbolism and meaning can be drawn out of that book by those who know how to read it – then everything changes. The book you are reading becomes so much richer and better, and more accurately understood. Why would it be any different with the Bible? Why would everyone attempt so often to interpret things on their own correctly, or only choose from a select group of like-minded interpreters while completely ignoring the interpretation of the text that has stood longer than any of the others?

Also, If we are to take the bible literally, like, no room for figurative speech, women should all be covering their hair. But, Protestants are quick to dismiss that as a cultural difference that has similar yet not identical implications of modesty for women in the church today. But if you say that you just made room for not taking it literally, word for word as written!

Head-Covering-Slider.jpg
I just discovered there is an actual movement to bring back covering our heads… seems more consistent. I have no idea about the original language or intent of that passage in Corinthians… but it’s interesting nonetheless. Catholic Nuns cover their hair for some pretty good reasons, too. But, I digress…

I suppose the Holy Spirit could give someone, on their own, a correct interpretation of scripture. But I haven’t seen any sort of uniformity anywhere close to that level in Protestant churches… and it isn’t that Catholics are uniform because no one thinks for themselves… they are uniform because they have thought more deeply about it than most others, and using a lens aligned with how the books were intended to be read, and who they were written to and by.

In some ways I’m like who was I to think  I had even remotely the ability to understand scripture accurately on my own. But, in other ways, I think there is a lot of truth to be garnered from the scriptures that doesn’t require a PhD in theology. Some of the most core, basic beliefs about Christianity are generally easy to understand even at a basic level. But my concern is the desire to go deeper, and how to make that happen and not veer off course. I don’t think I can trust myself to that given my education level. I, then, will have to put some faith in theologians to help me get to those depths. And the largest group of united theologians on the subject of scripture interpretation are Catholic.