Thursday, May 25, 2006

E-mail to professor

I composed this back in January of '05 after an "Intro to Biblical Studies" course I took at a "Catholic" institution. I no longer attend.

I'm sure I could reason some of this out a little better now, but it turned out pretty well nonetheless.


Prof. X,

I hope you had a wonderful Christmas and are enjoying
the New Year, despite this frigid weather:)

I am writing this e-mail to voice some concerns I had
with the Intro to Biblical Studies course that I took
this last fall. Many things I heard and observed were
quite troubling to me.

First, I would like to write about some positives that
I experienced throughout the class. Both you and
(Lutheran Professor) seemed very knowledgable in your particular
subject areas and were able to convey that knowledge
to us in a very engaging manner. Your use of
Powerpoint was wonderful and really added to your
presentations. Your decision to make use of
small-group discussion time is always a plus in my
book. It's always good to share ideas with fellow

On the negative side, I had many reservations about
the ideologies conveyed throughout the class. During
our final class feedbach/discussion session, I was
unable to share in the love-fest for you and(Lutheran professor)
since I disagreed with most of the comments from my
peers. I was hoping that some fellow students also
had some reservations in regards to your biblical
interpretations but if there were others in the class
that felt as I did, we decided to keep quiet. I held
my tongue throughout the semester which I regret
somewhat since most of your theological opinions went
unchallenged and you were not very unbiased in most of
your assessments. I'm afraid that many of the
students in our class were swayed by your rhetoric and
will continue to spread these opinions throughout the
Catholic world. Let me address some of these specific
concerns . . .

I had my first feeling of suspicion during one of the
first few classes when the issue of Mary's perpetual
virginity came up. Someone had come across one of the
passages concerning the "brothers" of Jesus. I
thought to myself that this would be an excellent
opportunity for you to show the limitations of the
aramaic language and to show how these were either
cousins of Jesus or sons of Joseph. Your response
was disappointing to say the least. You started out
my presenting some vague responses that the Church
uses to defend the perpetual virginity of Mary, but
they were not explained very well or with any
conviction whatsoever. Then you proceeded to say that
Joe Scholar had written a three-volume work showing
that Mary most likely had other children.

Now I'm no theologian but that doesn't sound like
Catholic teaching to me. Now I'm sure Joe Scholar
talked about how it was normal for a Jewish woman to
marry and have relations with her husband and have
many children, etc. That may have been the norm but
what was not the norm was giving birth to the Son of
God through an immaculate conception. This was not
your typical Jewish marriage; raising the Son of God
was not an everyday situation, and it called for a
unique arrangement.

Just because Joe Scholar has a PhD and wrote a book
doesn't mean he was alive 2000 years ago and hung out
with Joe, Mary and the kids. Now I know of many
scholars that defend the other side of the issue, but
they weren't given much mention by you. If anything,
the biblical evidence seems to agree with the orthodox
Catholic position . . . where were these "brothers of
Jesus" when Jesus was on the cross and putting his
mother in the protection of the Beloved Disciple? Why
weren't these "brothers of Jesus" referred to as "sons
of Mary", as was Jesus? Not surprisingly, you made no
mention of tradition and the teaching of the Church
except to discredit it.

"More heresy after the break" was a quote you used one
particular class period. I chuckled to myself because
I knew it to be true; it became an expectation every
Monday night for me. I believe you made the statement
right after you said that we should have stayed
obedient to the law after Christ left; that we could
still gain our salvation through it. I'm sure you
would agree with me when I say that St. Paul would
feel differently. This was another thing that
confused me when trying to figure out your personal
theology: do you give more weight to some scripture
than to other parts? For example, as I just stated,
Paul says explicitly that we don't need the law
anymore but you stated that Jesus probably wanted us
to keep the law. So is Paul wrong? Now if St. Paul
is wrong on this aspect, what does he get right? You
commented during our look at Hebrews that St. Paul
never speaks about sacrifice in his letters in the
same way that the author of Hebrews does. So is St.
Paul right here and now the author of Hebrews is
wrong? If these books/letters are all contradicting
themselves, then are they really inspired by God? If
not, then what should we believe? Is it all up for

This method of choosing verses that fit your own
personal theology reared its ugly head in one of my
small group discussions. We were discussing
Colossians 3:18 when one of my group members said
this: "I don't think Jesus would have agreed with
Paul's statement." Well, if Jesus wouldn't agree with
this, then what would he agree with Paul on? Should
we throw all of Paul's books out or just keep the
passages that we think that Jesus would agree with?
And who decides what Jesus would agree with? What I
found interesting during that whole class discussion
is that you never brought up the possibility that
maybe this passage was to be taken at face value, that
wives SHOULD be subordinate to their husbands! No one
could even fathom that St. Paul would actually believe
this! Jesus would be up in arms! Now you would
respond that this passage creates cycles of violence;
I wouldn't necessarily disagree with that but can we
just throw out this passage as a product of the times
and not true? Was the Holy Spirit taking a coffee
break when Paul wrote this particular passage?

As far as the "sacrifice of the mass", you quoted an
author that talked about how this image of sacrifice
also perpetuated cycles of violence. I'm sure many
unmentioned scholars would disagree as would I. My
wife and I recently had our first child. We have had
to make many "sacrifices" and none of them have led to
any violent activities. Sacrifice doesn't have to
involve blood and guts; it has to do with selfless
love. That is what Jesus gave us on the cross and
what he gives us every day on His altar: selfless
love. Now the implication you made through your
rhetorical questioning is that Paul's theology takes
precedence over the sacrificial theology of the
Hebrews author. Now you didn't say that explicitly
but it was definitely implied in your lecture. And
then you stated that with a few exceptions, this
aspect of sacrifice was not mentioned in the early
church until the late 2nd century. I would disagree
as would the church fathers:

The Didache

"Assemble on the Lord’s day, and break bread and offer
the Eucharist; but first make confession of your
faults, so that your sacrifice may be a pure one.
Anyone who has a difference with his fellow is not to
take part with you until he has been reconciled, so as
to avoid any profanation of your sacrifice [Matt.
5:23–24]. For this is the offering of which the Lord
has said, ‘Everywhere and always bring me a sacrifice
that is undefiled, for I am a great king, says the
Lord, and my name is the wonder of nations’ [Mal.
1:11, 14]" (Didache 14 [A.D. 70]).

Pope Clement I

"Our sin will not be small if we eject from the
episcopate those who blamelessly and holily have
offered its sacrifices. Blessed are those presbyters
who have already finished their course, and who have
obtained a fruitful and perfect release" (Letter to
the Corinthians 44:4–5 [A.D. 80]).

Ignatius of Antioch

"Make certain, therefore, that you all observe one
common Eucharist; for there is but one Body of our
Lord Jesus Christ, and but one cup of union with his
Blood, and one single altar of sacrifice—even as there
is also but one bishop, with his clergy and my own
fellow servitors, the deacons. This will ensure that
all your doings are in full accord with the will of
God" (Letter to the Philadelphians 4 [A.D. 110]).

Justin Martyr

"God speaks by the mouth of Malachi, one of the twelve
[minor prophets], as I said before, about the
sacrifices at that time presented by you: ‘I have no
pleasure in you, says the Lord, and I will not accept
your sacrifices at your hands; for from the rising of
the sun to the going down of the same, my name has
been glorified among the Gentiles, and in every place
incense is offered to my name, and a pure offering,
for my name is great among the Gentiles . . . [Mal.
1:10–11]. He then speaks of those Gentiles, namely us
[Christians] who in every place offer sacrifices to
him, that is, the bread of the Eucharist and also the
cup of the Eucharist" (Dialogue with Trypho the Jew 41
[A.D. 155]).


"He took from among creation that which is bread, and
gave thanks, saying, ‘This is my body.’ The cup
likewise, which is from among the creation to which we
belong, he confessed to be his blood. He taught the
new sacrifice of the new covenant, of which Malachi,
one of the twelve [minor] prophets, had signified
beforehand: ‘You do not do my will, says the Lord
Almighty, and I will not accept a sacrifice at your
hands. For from the rising of the sun to its setting
my name is glorified among the Gentiles, and in every
place incense is offered to my name, and a pure
sacrifice; for great is my name among the Gentiles,
says the Lord Almighty’ [Mal. 1:10–11]. By these words
he makes it plain that the former people will cease to
make offerings to God; but that in every place
sacrifice will be offered to him, and indeed, a pure
one, for his name is glorified among the Gentiles"
(Against Heresies 4:17:5 [A.D. 189]).

Finally I'd like to address your feminist agenda that
not-so-subtly sneaked into nearly every class of the
semester if I recall. I found it astounding that you
were able to work in the deaconess Phoebe near the end
of almost every lecture; it was quite amazing
considering she had nothing to do with what the topic
at hand was most of the time. Come to think of it, I
think more mention of Phoebe was made throughout the
semester than was made of Jesus!

Another item that was continually brought up was that
catacomb drawing of the women sharing the Eucharist as
well as the condemnation by Pope Gelasius in the
5th(?) century of woman priests. Now what was curious
though is that you made the implication that since
this was clearly going on in the early centuries, it
should be approved by the church. Now again, I'm no
historian but I'm sure there were plenty of things
that were going on in the early church that shouldn't
have been. Clearly, there were women posing as
priests in the early church and clearly there had to
be a statement from the Church to put a stop to it.
Now it seemed to me that you were trying to accomplish
two things through this repetition of images: 1)to
plant the seed of doubt in the students in regards to
women ordination and 2) to undermine the authority of
the "patriarchal" Church. Unfortunately, I don't know
how we can draw these two conclusions from this

Another disturbing trend was a whole class period
dedicated to the apocryphal and gnostic Gospel of Mary
Magdalene. It's one thing to mention it in passing
but to say it "shows the other side of the
relationships between the apostles" is a bit
disconcerting. From what I know, this "gospel" wasn't
written until much later and can hardly be put on the
same level as our four gospels. The following
discussion on the church possibly re-evaluating the
canon and adding some of these apocrphyal books was
downright laughable. Is someone going to find some
evidence that some of these books were inspired by the
Holy Spirit and we've just been mininformed for 1800
years? We're really getting too caught up in this "Da
Vinci Code" controversy . . . The last straw was
giving any credibility to Crossan and the Jesus
Seminar. These are the guys that are riduculed by
most of the scholarly community and did their voting
by casting colored rocks or something, right?

Now here's what I'm having trouble figuring out with
liberalism in the Church: if you take scripture as
inspired by the Holy Spirit, then it makes sense that
we need guidance "into all truth" by an infallible
authority which seems to reside in the bride of
Christ, the Church. If that's the case, then it seems
silly to blatently go against the wisdom of the church
and its Tradition, ESPECIALLY when speaking infallibly
(ex. perpetual virginity of Mary) because the "the
gates of hell shall not prevail against it." How
would the gates of hell prevail against it? If it was
wrong and taught error. Now this is obviously the
orthodox position on the matter. I guess the other
option is that the Holy Spirit did not inspire the
books of the bible and that some of this stuff is no
more true than some of the romance novels you find at
the check-out counter. If that's the case, why would
you even be a Christian? How do we know what's true
and what's not? Why would you dedicate your life to
studying these scriptures if they were hogwash?

Now I would say you fall in the middle of these two:
you think the scriptures are inspired by the Holy
Spirit but the Church cannot interpret them
infallibly. I'm not sure, I'm just speculating . . .
If that is the case, then you seem to fall in the
position of most Protestants; the spirit will guide
YOU . . . you don't need anyone to tell you how to
believe. Now the obvious problem with that is that
the spirit doesn't seem to do a very good job; that's
why we have 25,000 different protestant denominations
in the US alone. Another real problem I have with
your views is that you are a Dominican sister. Now
correct me if I'm wrong, but St. Dominic and St.
Thomas Aquinas, the most well-known Dominicans,
dedicated their lives to combating heresy, some of the
same heresies that you buy into! They both loved the
Church and always stayed within the Truth taught by
the Church. How do you reconcile this with your own
personal theologies?

My frustrations come from my love of the Catholic
Church. The Church claims to be the one true Church
of Christ and that it cannot err in matters of faith
and morals. If I were to discover that they had erred
somewhere, then their claim to the Church of Christ
would be false and I would be gone in a heartbeat and
I would expect others to do the same. What we expect
from the Church is truth and what they expect from us
is adherence to the truth of their teachings.

I almost left (Institution) after this last semester. When I
attend an institution that claims to be Catholic, I
expect to participate in classes that stay true to the
Catholic faith and I expect to hear from teachers that
put the wisdom of the Church above their own. If I
had taken this class over at (nearby Lutheran school) with (lutheran prof.) and
another protestant professor, I would have had no
problems with it. I would have disagreed with a few
things, but that's to be expected. What upsets me is
that I had to sit through this class at a so-called
"Catholic" institution with a "Catholic" professor
that made a point to question the Church at every
turn. Not to mention a liberal Lutheran to boot. I
feel like asking for my money back.

As you can tell, I had a rough semester here at (Institution).
I use to come home every Monday night and vent for
about 20 minutes to my poor wife who had to listen to
me rant and rave about each class. I did not wish to
offend you in this e-mail but I needed to get some of
these things off my chest. I did not mean for any of
these things to be a personal attack, just differences
of opinions that I needed to speak out about. I hope
that we can still be cordial towards one another; I
would hate for there to be any resentment over this
matter. I just do not think I'll be taking any more
courses with you in the future. I will send a copy of
this e-mail to (Pres. of Institution) expressing my concerns with
this institution and the teachings that they endorse
through the views of their faculty.

I hope you have a wonderful spring semester and enjoy
your Lent/Easter combo.

God bless,


At Friday, May 26, 2006 10:55:00 AM, Anonymous Brandon Field said...

It's sad to hear of a Dominican not throughly committed to combating heresy.

At Friday, May 26, 2006 1:51:00 PM, Anonymous moconnor said...

An interesting post. Sadly, being Catholic is not required at many Catholic institutions. I want to focus on one thread that runs through your email, though. It is best summarized in your statement, "I guess the other
option is that the Holy Spirit did not inspire the books of the bible and that some of this stuff is no more true than some of the romance novels you find at
the check-out counter. If that's the case, why would you even be a Christian? How do we know what's true
and what's not? Why would you dedicate your life to studying these scriptures if they were hogwash?"

This statement by a Catholic is somewhat puzzling. It was my belief that the Church saw the Bible as a complex, and rich document and not the "Christian Handbook" that Protestant Fundamentalists take it to be. We can talk about translation problems all day, but the bottom line is that the Bible contradicts itself in many places. It is a book that is inspired, but not dictated, by the Holy Spirit. It was written by imperfect men and thus should be considered an imperfect rendering of that inspiration. It doesn't HAVE to be wholly perfect. For me, that's lazy theology. God wants us to work at an understanding of His mysteries and I believe St. Paul was doing just that (and St. John). The Epistles are a theology, not another Gospel. He was working this out just like the other disciples. Remember, he never met Jesus except in a blaze of light.

What I'm trying to say is that our guidebook is the Catechism and the Bible is the inspiration for that Catechism. I'm much more comfortable with this knowing that it is a belief system that has been worked out over centuries based on the teachings of Jesus from the Bible. I don't want to have to depend so much on a book that was assembled by a committee (you know it was). For me, the Bible is not perfect, but a primary source for our Catechism.


At Friday, May 26, 2006 3:44:00 PM, Anonymous brandon field said...


The Church sees Scripture and Tradition as equally infalliable with regards to being God's revelation to His people. The truths contained in the Catechism are the current interpretation of God's revelation, but do not contain the same level of timeless Truth (uppercase-T) that the Sacred Scriptures are. That does makes Sacred Scripture perfect, in fact Perfect, regardless of the details of it's compillation and authorship. This is the way the Catholic Church sees it, at least.

At Saturday, May 27, 2006 10:54:00 AM, Anonymous moconnor said...

Well you could certainly educate me on where the Church proclaims the Bible as perfect in content. Sacred scripture is the bedrock of Catholic belief, but I've never mistaken many Catholic theologians for Bible fundamentalists. The latter are folks who always fall back on "either the Bible is perfect, or it's worthless", which was your argument in the email. If we as Catholics entertain the same notion, then we leave ourselves open to the Fundamentalists attacks on what Tradition has added to our beliefs. If one asks "who decides what is right and what is wrong?" then again I refer to the Cathechism, which sidesteps some of the unfortunate inconsistencies in the Bible. This is what I like about the Church. It has always been willing to keep the central act of Salvation in mind and (for the most part) not get tied up in the minutiae of the Bible.


At Saturday, May 27, 2006 11:48:00 PM, Blogger PrayingTwice said...


Ugh. You *would* bring up this objection when all my books are packed away for my upcoming move.

Though others out there are more qualified than I to speak on this, I will state my understanding of the Catholic view of Holy Scripture:

--No errors

--No contradictions

--Inspired by God

--Should be read *literally*, not *literalistically* (sp?)

--Interpreted through the eyes of the Church by Tradition and the teaching Magisterium

What else am I leaving out that is pertinent to this topic?

A few notes: it seems clear that you would dispute my first two points. I would answer; 1) take it up with the Church and 2) all the alleged errors and contradictions can and have been reconciled in one way or another.

Also, a quick distinction between the popular terms "literally" and "literalistically": the former means reading the text as the author intended us to read it. The latter means we are to read the text exactly as it is written. A little too simple, but here is a great example to clear up any confusion (borrowed from catholic apologist John Martignoni).

Let's say we read a text written recently and it says that it was "raining cats and dogs." A *literal* interpretation would be that it was raining very hard. A *literalistic* interpretation would be that cats and dogs were actually falling out of the sky.

To draw an example out of scripture, there are a few battles in the Old Testament with some enormous body-counts. I feel there is one in Joshua where his army slew like 185,000 people or thereabouts. Did the author mean to say that exactly 185,000 people were killed? Maybe, but more likely he wanted to convey to the reader that a whole bunch of enemies were slain by the good guys. When read in this way, this would not be considered an error.

As far as "fundamentalists" go, we actually share a bit more with them than most would like to admit. Both of us hold a very high view of the inerrancy scripture while many in the liberal camp would not. Where they get themselves into trouble is when they all think that they can interpret scripture infallibly for themselves, whereas we would rely on the authority of the Church to guide us.

I'm too tired to rummage through my boxes or surf the net to find some papal or conciliar quotes for you; maybe another reader has some on hand and they would like to share.


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