Adrienne Apologetics Bible Current Events Faith Formation Ink Slingers

On Video Proof, Oral Tradition and Written Tradition

1st Generation iPhone, 2007
1st Generation iPhone, 2007

In 2007 Apple launched the iPhone, and at the time it was the best device of its kind to easily take and share pictures and video. Seven years later, it appears everyone around me, both young and old, has an iPhone, an iPad, or one or several of their competitors’ devices. I heard that more photos had been taken in 2011 than in the almost 200 years combined since the first photograph was taken. These devices have made a revolutionary impact on our culture in an unusually short period of time.

The overwhelming use of personal device cameras is providing the internet with video recordings of almost all current events, both newsworthy and not so newsworthy. We are recording massive amounts of current events in 5 second to 2 minute long videos. I remember a tragic story a few years ago where a father was catching a foul ball for his son, lost his balance and fell to his death – and if that weren’t astonishing enough it was almost more astonishing that there wasn’t a single video clip of the fall. We are a society desperate for video documentation. I can’t help but wonder how much news might be filtered from us where video documentation is lacking because media outlets know our addiction to video clips and the trust we place in them. After all, seeing is believing.

Last month, I read an article at The Gospel Coalition where contributor Joe Carter attempted to review the evidence we were receiving about the atrocities ISIS was committing against Christians. Specifically, he was curious about child beheadings. While there was indeed a man reporting such atrocities, Carter questioned his authenticity and specifically asked why journalists in the area weren’t photographing and sharing pictures of the child beheadings, if it was true. I found this demand for pictorial evidence eye-opening.

Only a few weeks ago, a video depicting the beheading of journalist James Foley went viral. I can’t attest to the content of the video as I didn’t care to watch it. Furthermore, I was moved by a plea from Foley’s family that people like myself refrain from watching it out of respect for Foley and also in order to dissuade ISIS from finding viral success in beheading videos. While we as a nation are uncertain children are being beheaded by ISIS, we are indeed convinced that James Foley was beheaded – we have the video.

We are at the dawn of a new information revolution. And I wonder. In our lifetimes will we see a shunning of the written word in favor of video documentation? It seems we already are. However, it also seems preposterous that we could ever completely distrust the written word. After all, it is physical, unlike oral transmission which relies too much on faulty and dishonest living humans. We only barely trust oral testimony. Once it is written, then can we begin to trust it. But now, even written testimony isn’t nearly as convincing as video testimony. I foresee video documentation usurping written documentation as trustworthy, even to the degree we trust written documentation over oral. My children and future generations will have never known a time where video documentation wasn’t available, and this will permanently skew the handing on of history from now on.

Gutenberg Bible, Harry Ransom Center
Gutenberg Bible, Harry Ransom Center

In the 1450s Johannes Gutenberg printed the first Bible printed by moveable type. His invention, the printing press, created an information revolution. In the decades to follow, printed information became mass produced, and literacy flourished amongst the common folk for the first time in history. Less than a century later, people were so moved by their confidence in the written word that some Christians became suspicious of oral tradition and would only rely on the Christian teachings they could verify by their own reading in the Bible.

I wonder if I lived in the late 1400’s, might I have scoffed at the prediction that oral testimony would lose almost all of its credibility in favor of written testimony? Today, I want to scoff at the prediction that the written word will lose its trustworthiness to video documentation. I think, “But! The Bible! It is written Word. It is the inerrant written Word of God. That could never be dismissed!” And yet, perhaps Christians 500 years ago thought the same about oral teachings. Granted, we don’t have Holy Spirit given video teachings, like we have the Holy Spirit written Scriptures. But, as I worry for the future credibility of very credible written documentation, I can’t help but mourn the loss of credible information housed in oral form that was dismissed because of its medium.

Jesus orally taught his disciples and commanded they set forth to teach others – and Jesus’s example of oral teaching was the only example He left his chosen apostles for teaching all He commanded. Jesus didn’t distrust oral teaching. In fact, it was His preferred medium. Jesus said to Doubting Thomas, “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” (Jn 20:29) I wonder, how soon the day will come that would be Christians will not trust even this Scripture because there is not a 30 second video clip on Godvine where Thomas places his fingers in Christ’s wounds and we can re-hear Jesus’s voice saying these inerrant words of wisdom? St. John wrote about Jesus in the conclusion of his gospel, “There are also many other things that Jesus did, but if these were to be described individually, I do not think the whole world would contain the books that would be written.” Perhaps Jesus preferred oral teaching because like He who exists outside time and space, our memory, one of the attributers of our soul, is not limited by time nor space – oh, what about Jesus John’s memory contained!  We know St. Paul said, “We walk by faith, not by sight” because we can read it in Scripture (2 Cor 5:7). But, I wonder what else did St. Paul say that hasn’t been handed down because we didn’t trust it if it wasn’t written? We who no longer trust the method of information sharing preferred by Jesus, oral teaching, are no more walking by faith than our children’s generation who will naturally only trust the videos clips they see. I fear to realize the knowledge we will fail to pass on during this next information revolution as we continue to favor only what we can preserve by an iPhone’s onboard camera.

The Incredulity of St. Thomas, Carravagio, 1602
The Incredulity of St. Thomas, Carravagio, 1602

I am thankful for the Church’s perserverance in safeguarding and teaching Catholic oral traditions alongside the Scriptures. Clearly, God knew what He was doing when He established the Church. He knew that humans would begin to filter information based on medium. We’ve seen one type, oral, filtered away, and are now beginning to filter the other type, written, away as well. Yet, the Church will perservere, promulgating Christ’s teachings in both forms, despite our biases. Thanks be to God.

Catholic Sistas offers our prayers for family of Christian martyr James Foley, for all persecuted Christians and for their persecutors. 

Our Lady of Sorrows, pray for us. 

St. Thomas, pray for us.


Adrienne Apologetics Faith Formation Sacred Scripture

Why Catholics Don’t Read the Bible

As Catholics, we’ve all heard it before, “Catholics don’t read the Bible.”, “Catholicism is unbiblical!”, “They don’t even have Bibles in their pews!”, followed by examples of Bible “abuse” in the past of the Catholic Church where she chained Bibles to the pulpits (true) so the faithful couldn’t study them (false), or burned copies of the Bible (true) because, again, the Church didn’t want the faithful to study them (false).  Allow me to explore this characterization, as it contains a bit of truth, along with some natural misunderstanding.

“According to the apostle Paul, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God and who does not know scripture does not know the power or the wisdom of God, then ignorance of scripture is ignorance of Christ.

A.D. 408, St. Jerome, Father and Doctor of the Church

Children of God whom are nurtured by Sola Scriptura as their rule of faith have a very different relationship with Sacred Scripture than both modern and historical Catholics.  These devoted Christians have at least one copy of God’s Written Word, and many will lovingly delve into those pages daily for their source of God given nourishment.  They can’t imagine a spiritual life that isn’t drenched in the pages of Scripture.  “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her to sanctify her, cleansing her by the bath of water with the word, that he might present to himself the church in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” (Eph 5)  Thus, they are simply appalled that a Catholic may not own a Bible at all!  And again wonder, why are there no Bibles in the pews at a Catholic church?!

Modern Catholics do not share this same relationship with Sacred Scripture because historical Catholics did not.  Catholicism has a 2,000 year history, and due to this, the average Catholic has been brought up in the vestiges of an ancient faith that predates wide spread literacy and the printing press.  For the first 1500 years of the Church, all Bibles were hand written by scribes, to painfully exact standards.  If a scribe made a single mistake on a piece of parchment, the entire piece of parchment would be destroyed and rewritten, to ensure pristine copies of Sacred Scripture were released to the public.  These Bibles took years to complete and cost three years’ wages (like a modern day house, which we purchase with 30 year mortgages).  These copies of God’s Word were so expensive and rare, that the local churches would chain them to the pulpits to prevent theft, protecting the availability for all of the congregants.  The average layperson did not own one of these Bibles because of the expense and rarity, not to mention that person’s inability to read would have been troublesome even if they did have a copy.  Their daily spiritual lives did not revolve around individual study of Sacred Scripture, instead they found spiritual nourishment in other ways –  namely prayer and the Mass.  The historic Catholic would travel to mass (available daily) to hear God’s word read from the ambo, and explained in a homily.  His soul would be nourished not only by hearing the written word, but also by his prayerful presence with the Blessed Sacrifice of the Mass.  Outside of the Mass, his daily life would be sustained through a devotion to prayer.

God’s having allowed for the invention of modern technology has been fantastic for education and the spread of His Word, but it has also brought about changes in our relationships with Him.  When the printing press came on the scene in the 1400s copies of Bibles were being printed left and right!  And not at all with the same careful consideration the scribes had used.  The Church, in her effort to preserve the distribution of pristine copies of God’s Word, did indeed burn many poor prints or translations.  Around this time literacy grew and continued to grow, and soon the famous Reformation was born.  While our Sola Scriptura brethren grew in a faith formation focused on the pages of God’s word written in Scripture, our Catholic ancestors continued with their sturdy 1500 year old faith formation based on the mass and prayer.

Today, first world Catholics still may not own Bibles, though many do.  We’re still raised with an emphasis on mass attendance, frequency of sacraments, and a rich prayer life for our faith formation.  No, we still don’t have Bibles in our pews, but instead, we have missals which contain the passages to be read each day for mass.  These missals ensure that our priests are reading the same three to four selections of God’s written Word as all of the other priests in the other parishes that day.  The missal ensures that all faithful Catholics are read the entire Bible in three years of daily mass attendance, which makes for a pretty hefty emphasis on Sacred Scripture.

As God, in His providence, would have it, the latest advancements in technology have allowed for widespread conversions to Catholicism amongst many of God’s devoted children from the Sola Scriptura traditions.  These converts, having had their faith muscles strengthened on the written Word coupled with a vibrant passion for Christ, are uniting with the ancient Church and Her fullness of Christ’s teaching for an explosive combination!  God is showing us that we are weakened by our separation, and are strongest when we unite!  Our newest Catholics are inspiring us cradle Catholics to discover the Biblical Truth of Catholicism, providing us the knowledge armor of Sacred Scripture in conjunction with Sacred Tradition.  Study of the Scriptures in light of Tradition is eye opening and amazing.  But let us never forget that Holy Mother Church protected and provided these Scriptures for us.  We can never divorce the Scriptures from their Mother, for when we separate the two, we will be mislead by our own weaknesses.

Many thanks to the Holy Spirit for our Sacred Scriptures, and also, many thanks to all of our convert Catholics for bringing into the Church their passion for God’s Written Word!