A Lenten Bible Story for Catholics: March 23, 2003

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A whole generation of American Catholics learned about the Bible when they went to their parish Confraternity of Christian Doctrine (CCD) classes. There is a good chance they had to memorize and recite the following question and answers about the Bible found in the 1941 edition of A Catechism of Christian Doctrine Revised Edition of the Baltimore Catechism No. 2.

Apparently, only eleven questions dealt with the Bible.

  1. Q 23B. What is the Bible?
    A: The Bible is the written word of God, committed to His Church for the instruction and sanctification of mankind.
  2. Q 23C: What do we mean when we say that the entire Bible is inspired?
    A: When we say that the entire Bible is inspired we mean that its principal author is God, though it was written by men whom God enlightened and moved to write all those things, and only those things, that He wished to be written.
  3. Q 23D. How is the Bible divided?
    A: The Bible is divided into the Old Testament, written before the coming of Jesus Christ, and the New Testament, written after His ascension into heaven.
  4. Q 23E. Are all the passages of the Bible to be understood according to our modern manner of expression?
    A: No; some of the passages of the Bible are not to be understood according to our modern manner of expression, since they contain certain figures of speech, parables, and literary forms used by the people of ancient times but not employed in the present.
  5. Q 23F. How can we know the true meaning of the Bible?
    A: We can know the true meaning of the Bible from the teaching authority of the Catholic Church, which has received from Jesus Christ the right and the duty to teach and to explain all that God has revealed. “In these epistles there are certain things difficult to understand, which the unlearned and the unstable distort, just as they do the rest of the Scriptures also, to their own destruction.” (II Peter 3:16)
  6. Q 23G. Are Catholics encouraged by the Church to read the Bible?
    A: Yes; Catholics are encouraged by the Church to read the Bible, especially the Gospels, which tell about the earthly life of Jesus Christ, the Son of God made man.
  7. Q 23H. What is the chief message of the New Testament?
    A: The chief message of the New Testament is the joyful announcement of our salvation through Jesus Christ. “These things are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing, you may have life in His name.” (John 20:31)
  8. Q 23I. What is Divine Tradition?
    A: Divine Tradition is the unwritten word of God — that is, truths revealed by God, though not written in the Bible, and given to the Church through word of mouth by Jesus Christ or by the apostles under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost.
  9. Q 23J. Has Divine Tradition ever been committed to writing?
    A: Divine Tradition has been committed to writing, especially by saintly writers called Fathers, who lived in the early centuries but were not inspired, as were those who wrote the Bible.
  10. Q: 23K. Has Divine Tradition the same force as the Bible?
    A: Yes; Divine Tradition has the same force as the Bible, since it too contains God’s revelation to men.
  11. Q 23L. By what kind of act do we believe the doctrines contained in the Bible and in Divine Tradition?
    A: We believe the doctrines contained in the Bible and Divine Tradition by an act of divine faith, which means that we accept them on the authority of God, who can neither deceive nor be deceived.

Up until the 1940s seminarians studying for the priesthood concentrated more on theology and morality rather than Scripture. In fact, United States seminaries were operating under 1906 guidelines found in the papal document Quoniam in re Biblica. However, the spirit was moving anew in the 1930s when chair of the American bishops’ Committee of the CCD, Archbishop Edwin O’Hara, gathered a group of United States Catholic scholars of the Bible in Washington, D.C. in January 1936. In October 1937 the first meeting of the Catholic Biblical Association (CBA) was held. In 1939 the journal Catholic Biblical Quarterly began publication.

Looking back at the constitutions of the CBA a dual goal is obvious because the CBA had early plans to work along with the bishops’ committee CCD . One was the promotion of scholarship by professional seminary teachers. The other was development of a strategy that would make the everyday Catholic in the pew more familiar with the Bible. However, as time went on it made more sense for the CBA to operate on a more independent basis. The seminary teachers knew that seminarians needed more understanding of the Sacred Scripture. This led Father Edward J. Byrne to give a paper on “The Curriculum of Scriptural Studies in Our Seminaries at the Second General Meeting of the CBA held at Hartford, Connecticut in October 1938.

Four Passionists were at the first 1937 CBA meeting. Before his long stint as chaplain at Bon Secours Hospital here in Baltimore, Father Silvan “Smokey” Brennan, C.P. studied theology and Scripture at the Angelicum in Rome from 1936 to 1937 and then taught Old Testament at the Passionist Monastery in Baltimore from 1935 to 1936. Others were Fathers Camillus Kronalage from the western province as well as Richard Kugelman and Simon Yungfleisch.

by Fr. Rob Carbonneau, C.P.
Historian and Director of The Passionist Historical Archives.