Monday, July 14, 2008

Nothing in My Hand I Bring - How does God reveal himself? Pt 1

This week, Carmelina has written two posts looking at one big difference between what Roman Catholics and Protestants believe: The question of how God reveals himself. This question is addressed in chapter 4 of Nothing in My Hand I Bring. I'm posting the first half today, and the second half will go up on Wednesday. We'll also have some discussion questions at the end of the second post and Carmelina will respond. We'd love to get some discussion going here at EQUIP book club, so read along and join in!

As I explained in my first post, the Bible was the instrument God used to lead me away from Roman Catholicism to a true understanding of what it means to be a Christian. Whenever I say this, people ask me: 'Are you saying Roman Catholics don’t read the Bible?’, ‘Isn’t Roman Catholicism based on the Bible?’ And ‘If Roman Catholicism is based on the Bible, why would the Bible lead you away from Roman Catholicism?’ These questions are all inter-related and they come down to one big difference between Roman Catholicism and Protestant belief. And it’s this. ‘How does God tell us what He thinks?’

Like lots of children growing up in the 70s, my parents taught me about God. My Scripture teachers taught me about God. Even some of my friends. But I always knew that priests taught me about God in a different way. They were special. Not only had they studied for many years, but they had special power from God and they could tell me what the Bible meant. And the Pope was the captain of all the priests. My Dad had learnt a lot about Popes and I remember so clearly walking up Norton Street in Leichhardt and my Dad telling me that the Pope had died and then watching the TV with him to see the black smoke coming out of the Vatican and waiting for the smoke to turn white – the signal the new Pope had been elected. I revered the Pope. I believed that what He said, was also God’s word and the priests had to listen to what he said about the Bible.

Until the age of 15, I had never read the Bible. I don’t mean by this that I’d never read or heard any of the Bible. Roman Catholic liturgy contains lots of truths and verses taken from the Bible. The Bible was read at mass – especially the gospels and the letters of the New Testament. I still have the first ever liturgy book I was given by my parents for my first holy communion on 6 March 1977.

When I say I had never read the Bible, what I mean is that I had never sat down with a copy of the Bible in my own hands and read it. Not only was I never encouraged at any catechism classes or masses I went to, it was never handed out at church to me to read along with the readings or given to children as a gift at significant times like my first holy communion or my confirmation.

I know that things have changed in some Roman Catholic churches. One of my very good friends and her husband and her mother (they are the 3 most devoted Roman Catholics I know), read the Bible every day. As did my accordion teacher (I really am a true Italian!). But no one else in all of my extended family (and there are many of them!) do. Recently, I gave a Bible to a boy who had just had his confirmation in the Roman Catholic Church. When his mother saw the gift, she said “You’re not trying to convert him are you?”. I explained that Roman Catholic Bibles and Protestant Bibles are the same, except that the Roman Catholic Bible has extra books and that the version I had given her was a plain English Bible. She was greatly relieved and said that was great because then she might be able to read it herself. I tell you this story not to make fun of my friends whom I love very much. I tell you because it shows that whilst the Roman Catholic church may have ‘changed’ since Vatican II, the change isn’t widespread. Reading the Bible for yourself still isn’t widely encouraged. It’s still associated with Protestantism and it’s still considered something a priest does. In fact, even since leaving Roman Catholicism, I have never been to a Roman Catholic church where a Bible was available for me to read along (and I have been to many).

Why is it important you know this? It’s because of what the Roman Catholic church believes about “How does God tell us what he thinks?” In other words, how does God reveal himself to people?

If you haven't already had a chance, you can read chapter 4 before Wednesday and come back and read the rest of Carmelina's thoughts on this topic...and join in the discussion!


Cathy McKay said...

As a person who is terribly ignorant about much of Roman Catholicism, I have been finding this book very helpful.

It has given me more interest in and concern for what is happening this week as lots of pilgrims flock to Australia from abroad (A lot of them seem to be visiting the Hunter Valley!).

Can anyone explain more about "Vatican II" please? I am hoping I am not the only embarrassingly ignorant person reading this blog!

EQUIP Book Club said...

Here is Carmelina's response to Cathy's question about Vatican II:

Vatican II was the Second Ecumenical Council of the Vatican held between 1962-1965 (the first council had taken place nearly a century earlier). Protestant and Orthodox representatives were invited to attend and it's believed that about 2,540 'Council Fathers' with voting rights attended the first session of Vatican II. Vatican II issued doctrinal statements on issues such as liturgy, the Bible and revelation, the place of Mary in the Church, bishops, other religions and the relationship of other 'churches' to the Roman Catholic Church.

There is much debate about whether Vatican II was a progressive council. Some changes did occur, for example, there was some recognition that people who are not Roman Catholic are Christian, but as Ray Galea points out in the Appendix to this month's book (p.106), Vatican II still asserted that the Roman Catholic church is still the one true church. On the issue of non-Christian religions, Vatican II made some surprising statements. Since Vatican II, the Roman Catholic Church claims that salvation is also open to people of other religions because they too contain some truth which can enlighten all people. (see pp. 108-110 of this month's book).

However, at its heart, a careful examination of Vatican II's decrees shows the inherent weakness and errors in the Roman Catholic Church. Namely, the role and place of the Bible against church tradition and who is able to interpret the Bible. Decisions made at Vatican II were not solely guided by the Bible. At Vatican II, the highest and sole authority was not the Bible.

Anonymous said...

I've found the book helpful, too, and have been sharing parts of with my family. Ray's claim that being Roman Catholic is more about "belonging" than "believing" rings very true, and I think explains why it can be hard to witness to someone raised in that church - real cross-cultural ministry.

When I read Ray's conclusion that the fundamental difference between Protestant theology and RC theology is the latter's "unrelenting need to find a place for the human; to insert the church and its rituals and works into God's plan of salvation"(p99) it was bit of a "light bulb" moment: this explains everything! And it was a reminder to me, too, that I have no place in my own salvation but to accept God's gift with gratitude, and respond in obedience.

I'd love to give copies of this book to the RC members of my extended family.