Wednesday, 10 April 2013

The Bible is Catholic- Dr Robert Tilley at Theology on Tap (TOT)

I went to Theology on Tap last night, to hear a talk on the notion that the Bible is a Catholic book. The speaker was the fabulous Dr Robert Tilley, a lecturer at the Catholic Institute of Sydney and at Notre Dame. What follows is a summary of my notes from the evening.

Theology on Tap is pretty awesome.

The notion of "covenant" is key
  • the word we translate as "testament" in the Old and New Testaments is actually the same word used throughout scripture to mean "covenant".
  • if we look at the covenants God makes with humanity in scripture, there is something particular common to them all: we see the establishment of a visible, hierarchical authority, with one head, who is the covenant representative of visible communion.
  • Covenantal heads- Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, Jesus
  • in what context were the sacred texts written?
    • Old Testament- within the community of the people of Israel
    • New Testament- within the community of the Church
    • They were never intended to be read by a lone ranger, but rather within that visible communion
  • the bible was written by the Church, within the Church, for the Church. Outside of this context it becomes insubstantial
Why have we come to have this mistaken notion that we can read such a book on our own?
  • since sacred texts in general have arrived in the marketplace, to be bought at our whim, we think we have the right to own them. We treat them as consumer items, and since we have the right to own them, we have the right to read them (as we please)
  • we are influenced by this modern impulse to coneitedly think we can read the Church's book apart from the Church
  • this stems from
    • the individualistic culture we find ourselves in
    • the fact that consumeristic advertising panders to us and says "you can do whatever you like"
  • in fact, none of us ever stand alone. "No man is an island." We exist in community- local, broader society, history of learning that we rely upon, traditions, etc.
  • Most of Paul's letters were the earliest texts written of the NT. In these we can see earlier Christian hymns and liturgical forms that were already in use for the Eucharist and baptism, etc. eg. 1 Cor. 11:23-9
  • The Church is truly something substantial: Eph 1:22-23- he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
  • Thus Christianity is not a "religion of the book", but rather of the Body of Jesus, or, the Word of God in the most perfect sense of the phrase- meaning, the Son of God.
Abstraction leads to fragmentation
  • as soon as you abstract, or separate, something from the whole to which it belongs, it becomes insubstantial
  • eg.
    • pluck a flower from a tree, it soon withers and dies
    • biblical criticism- new methods and tools have borne much fruit but when taken to extremes (as they have been), the Word of God becomes greatly divided, texts are pitted against each other, modern attitudes and assumptions read into texts, passages categorised and analysed beyond reason, etc. pertinent example- the Jesus Seminar- concluded that of everything Jesus apparently said in the Gospels, very few we can be sure were authentic utterances.
    • Right from the start of the Reformation, Luther removed the Deuterocanonical books from the OT, and wanted to remove the books of James ("an epistle of straw") and Revelation from the NT
    • the constant splitting of the Protestant churches into ever-increasing numbers of isolated communities
  • this logic of abstraction found in modernity has divorced both the Bible from the Church, and in many cases, and led to the ultimate tragedy- divorcing Christ from His Bride.
Where does the Bible locate the unity of faith?
  • Rom. 3:24- they are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus
  • Rom. 8:2-  For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death
  • Rom. 12:5- so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another
  • 2 Cor. 1:21-  But it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has commissioned us
  • Gal. 3:28- There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus
  • etc.
  • Jesus prayed that we, His followers, would all be one, in a real way, just as He and the Father are one. Through the Church He established with His apostles, we are to share in, and truly participate in, the very life of the Holy Trinity. (Deification, grace, Eastern Catholic Churches)

I may say a thing or two about the Q&A session another time.


  1. Great summary, thanks! :D I particularly like the stuff about market capitalism and consumerism. The fact that there are hundreds of bibles (The Surfers Bible? The Patriots Bible? The Newly-Wed Bible?) does encourage us to think of the Bible as private property, and therefore as subject to private interpretation. Were the Q&As any good?

    1. I liked it also. Another talk of his I'm planning to summarise was on Confession as "one of the chief ways of being serious" in this consumerist society. It was super great.

      Yeah, they were. I didn't take many notes on them though, I was more gonna focus on some particularly interesting one-liners.