Categories
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.

 

Categories
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!

Categories
Adrienne Faith Formation Feast Days Ink Slingers Mary Saints

Our Lady of Guadalupe: More than an oversized truck decal

Disclaimer: The reference to the truck decal is not an admonishment of the use of the truck decal.  It is by my own personal experience that I knew of the image for many, many years because how prevalently displayed she is, like specifically on vehicles in my area.  However, I never knew the story behind the decal, so when I learned about it a couple of years ago I was simply astounded.  The title reflects my own experience in learning the great significance of Our Lady of Guadalupe. 

In Texas, a good portion of our culture is directly influenced by the vibrant culture to our South, that of Mexico*.  We gorge on their food, love a good margarita, and find no child’s birthday party complete without a Sponge Bob pinata.  Among all those things we find iconic of the Mexican culture, we also find that funny image of Mary in the blue blanket with yellow squiggly lines behind her.  Why are there statues of Her in random front yards, and why is the image riding around on pickup trucks?

Our Lady appears to us on our highways! Photo By Debra de la Cruz.

To a large portion of Christians today, the Protestant Reformation of the 1500’s was the most defining time of Christianity since the Crucifixion.  In 1517, Martin Luther nailed his famous Ninety-five Theses to the Castle Church door in Wittenberg.  In the 1530’s, Luther was drafting the first doctrinal statement of the Lutheran church, Ulrich Zwingli was killed and John Calvin was shepherding Christians in his church in Geneva.  Interestingly, many students of the Reformation may not be aware that the 1500’s were equally monumental in Christian history for the people of Central America.  In 1531, God sent the Blessed Virgin to a little village outside of Mexico City to introduce Himself to the Aztec people and to show them the path to Himself and His Son.  “In only eight years, nine million people converted to the Catholic Church!  That’s an average of three thousand baptisms a day.  It stands as one of history’s most radical, monumental and rapid social transformations ever.” (Ron Tesoriero, Reason to Believe, pg 156).

Please check out Reason to Believe by Ron Tesoriero for more about the Virgin!

Allow me to give a very brief summary of God’s Guadalupe miracle.  Missionaries had been in the area for a while trying to convert the Aztec peoples to the ways of Christianity, yet, saw little success.  The Aztec beliefs were particularly troubling because they practiced human sacrifice (estimates are of thousands to hundreds of thousands per year).  However, God worked with what He’d accomplished through the missionaries, choosing (in His usual fashion) to call upon a very humble man already faithful to the Lord, Juan Diego.

In early December 1531, Juan Diego was on his way to Catechism class when he heard a woman call out to him from a little barren hill named Tepeyac.  Upon investigation, Diego found a beautiful lady who appeared as an Aztec woman and spoke to him in his native tongue.  Despite her ethnicity, Diego recognized the woman as Mary, the Mother of God.  She confirmed Her identity and instructed Diego to make an appeal to the local Bishop to build a church on Tepeyac.  Juan Diego had absolutely no stature to make such a request, but did what he could.  Surprisingly, the Bishop was somewhat receptive, but asked for proof of Diego’s encounter with the Blessed Virgin.

Diego did his best to avoid running into the Lady again as he did not feel fit for the job, but she appeared to him a few days later, on December 12th.  It was then She instructed him to go to the top of Tepeyac, gather the flowers growing there and bring them back.  No flowers would be growing in December, much less on Tepeyac, which was known to be barren.  Nevertheless,  there Diego found countless Castillian roses growing.  He bundled them up in his tilma (a sort of cloak made of cactus fiber) and he hurried to the church.  Once in an audience with the bishop, Diego opened his tilma for the beautiful flowers to cascade down, and was puzzled when the Bishop was more captivated by the tilma than the amazing flowers.  On the tilma, was painted the image of Our Lady cloaked in a blue starry mantle with sun rays bursting behind her.  To a people who communicated pictographically, a clear message of salvation was spelled out in the masterpiece’s details.

In the days to come, plans to build the church were made and many, many miracles happened at the site of Tepeyac.   When a few weeks later, on December 25th, a dead man brought before the tilma regained life, news and conversions spread like wildfire.

 

The tilma hangs in Mexico at La Basilica de la Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe. Photography by Bill Bell.

Now-a-days, this incredible story can be easily dismissed as fanciful folklore.  Stories like these only happen in the Bible, or in fairytale books, not in modern day real life.  However, God didn’t just use the image to convert the people of the 1500’s, He made sure that the tilma would be a source of evangelization for generations to come.

The 500 year old tilma is made of cactus fiber that has a longevity of about 20 years (meaning, it should have perished 480 years ago).  Despite the degradability of the fabric, the tilma hung freely for over 100 years without any protection from the environment, visitors, or candles before it was finally placed behind a thin protective glass casing.  The colors have never faded, and the fabric shows no signs of decay.  For reference, the American Declaration of Independence too was exposed to the elements for over 100 years before preservation measures were thought of.  However, by then it had already suffered damage from water, sun exposure and decay.  This 200 year old man-made document resides in a bulletproof, titanium case filled with inert argon gas.  Man needs titanium to protect his treasures, meanwhile God continues to astonish us with His protection.  In 1921, a large bomb was placed in a vase of flowers below the tilma.  The dynamite destroyed the church, blew out the windows, reduced the marble altar to rubble and mangled the large iron crucifix.  The target of the blast, the tilma, survived.  Its primitive glass casing wasn’t so much as even cracked.

Over the last 100 years, experts in many fields have investigated the miraculous tilma (including NASA researchers and a Nobel prize winner).  Researchers have been unable to identify the pigment used on the canvas, as the colors do not show to be made of any coloring agent, natural or synthetic, known to man.  The image has never faded, and has never been retouched.  Furthermore, upon close inspection, the pigment of the image does not actually reside in the cactus fibers of the tilma, instead the image hovers about 0.3 mm away from it (Reason to Believe pg 162).

Visitors say that the most memorable aspect of the Virgin is Her eyes, that they are genuinely lifelike.  This type of detail should be impossible to capture on crude cactus fiber.  The ability for such precision isn’t capable by the material.  Yet, in the 1950’s, photographic enlargements of the eyes showed the reflection of people, later learned to be Juan Diego, the Bishop and his interpreter, the three men who were gathered at the presentation of the tilma in 1531.  Lastly, in the mid 90’s, examination of the Virgin’s eyes by an ophthalmologist revealed that all of the proper parts of human eyes were present, “The eyes have all the characteristics of a human eye.  It has all the parts.  Around the pupil are contraction furrows which operate to contract the pupil in front of light.  These furrows were only detected by opthalmologic science in the twentieth century.  You can see the vascular supply in the upper eyelid of the right eye” says Dr. Jorge Escalante in Reason to Believe (pg 165).  If the image on the tilma holds secrets that could only be detected by technology 400 years later, imagine what other secrets She may be harboring for the unbelievers armed with even more advanced technology in the future?

Our Lady of Guadalupe is a conversion weapon of God’s that has proven effective over many, many generations.  While the Church struggled with sin and schism in the 1500s, God brought millions of new followers to Him through the Virgin.  Today, while the Church struggles to protect an ancient faith in the midst of man’s prideful technological advancement, we find that God is still showing us who’s Boss through the same evangelization tool.

So, next time you see the image of the Woman in the starry mantle with the sun glowing behind Her, remember why our Latin American friends are so fond of Her.  Just like at the Nativity 2,000 years ago, where God used His Mother to bring forth the Word Made Flesh,  Our Lord also used His mother to bring the Word of God to millions of people (and their children for generations to come) in the appearance of Our Lady of Guadalupe on December 12th, 1531.

“My belief in miracles cannot be considered a mystical belief: it is founded on human evidence, as is my belief in the discovery of America.  It is, indeed, a simple logical fact that hardly needs to be recognized or interpreted.  The extraordinary idea going around is that those who deny the miracle know how to consider the facts coolly and directly, while those who accept the miracle always relate the facts with the dogma previously accepted.  In fact, the opposite is the case: the believers accept the miracle (with or without reason) because the evidence compels them to do so.  The unbelievers deny it (with or without reason) because the doctrine they profess compels them to do so.” – G.K. Chesterton in Orthodoxy.

In addition to Reason to Believe, see also http://www.maryourmother.net/Guadalupe.html.

* Originally published with “Central America” instead of “Mexico”, which is incorrect as Mexico is in North America.