Daily Archives: April 2, 2006

Pericope Adulteræ and Sola Scriptura

Later in the day I’m thinking for no particular reason about the story of Jesus and the adulterous woman and “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” I think of how Jesus sort of doodles in the dirt during the story. Remember Jesus and the dirt and spit last week with the curing of the blind man? So then I figure that this story must be from St. John as well, with the novelistic detail and such. So I look it up and re-read it and sure enough it’s from St. John.

But then my Oxford Study Edition Bible tells me a bit more. And this is why I love this edition of the Bible. They note that most original Greek manuscripts of the Gospel of John don’t contain this story, that it looks to have been added later. Other manuscripts have it in St. Luke. And they point out that it fits better, stylistically and thematically, there in St. Luke, right after where the Pharisees ask Jesus about the widow of the seven brothers.

And why I like my edition so much is because of that critical eye they have towards everything. That honesty. Yes, tradition holds that St. John wrote this particular Gospel, but generally the scholarship is that he himelf probably didn’t write it. And different extant texts of it differ. And it originally was written in Greek except apparently the parts that weren’t.

So it was written by a particular person or persons for a particular audience for a particular reason. (And then it was copied and re-copied and changed and so on and so on.) And this actually is something that I don’t like about St. John’s Gospel. This Gospel was written later than the other Synoptic Gospels, written specifically for a non-Jewish audience. And so its references to the Sanhedrin or Pharisees or Saducees or whoever simply as “The Jews” is to my ears rather jarring. (And to some ears it’s nakedly antisemitic.)

But the point of all this, I guess, if I could even think that I have a point here, is that I don’t believe that the Bible is the literal word of God. Or, rather, in my Catholicism I have been taught that the Bible is not the literal word of God, that it’s a text, that it’s divinely inspired and it’s part of what we believe and practice, but is not the beginning or end of what we practice. What we do and believe is made up of the scriptures but then also the life and practices of the church and the Church.


Today marks the first anniversary of the death of His Holiness Pope John Paul II.

I went to the Mass celebrated by the Holy Father on the Mall in Washington on October 7, 1979. I went with my friend Tom and his parents. I remember Tom’s mother was horrified at people smoking during the Mass. There were only a handful of worshippers who received communion from the Holy Father.

Monsignor Jameson told me recently that he there were far fewer people at that Mass than they expected, so they had tons of communion wafers left over. They farmed them out to parishes all over the archdiocese.

I remember hearing in math class that he had been shot. Dr. Zeleznock must have heard on the radio in the teachers lounge or something maybe, because he came rushing in all upset and told us what had happened. It was only a little over a month after President Reagan had been shot.

I remember feeling so bad for him, John Paul, as he got so old and frail. He had been so utterly strong and vibrant when he first became Pope. Especially after the Parkinsons got really bad, it was just heartbreaking sometimes to see him.

Dawn and I were planning to attend Mass on Saturday, April 2, 2005 anyway. We heard in the afternoon that John Paul had passed away, so we got extra dressed up and got to Mass early, thinking it might be a little more attended than usual. It was packed. We were lucky to get seats, in the St. Anthony Chapel, which we don’t normally like sitting in because it doesn’t really allow much in the way of views of the altar and is farther from the choir. But we did get married in that chapel, and it’s beautiful in there, so it’s not all that bad either. And Cardinal McCarrick showed up to preside. And then President and Mrs. Bush strolled in. There were secret service agents wandering all around, one stern-looking woman near us.

I’m into woodworking now, and there was this cool article in Popular Woodworking about his coffin. They quoted the legendary Frank Klausz, who built a replica of one corner of the coffin from pictures and who said about the big pins and tails of the dovetails: “It was easy to tell nobody measured or used angle gauges.” The author of the article Kara Gebhart Uhl followed up all sorts of leads in Rome but was unable to find out who built the coffin, beyond being “made by Vatican Museums’ restorers and conservators.” Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz, the Holy Father’s personal secretary, maybe knew something but wouldn’t say.

Fifth Sunday of Lent

The first reading is from Jeremiah, which book I have never read and about which I know absolutely nothing. I’m going to have to do something about that.

But the reading is classic prophets prefiguring the coming of the Messiah stuff. “The days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.” Then comes a really lovely line: “I will place my law within them and write it upon their hearts; I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”

I really like the imagery of writing upon hearts. I like how it’s not about rules or commandments but rather about the human heart and what the human heart wants and needs and desires and loves. I remember my religion textbook from college defining all religion as a search for an ultimate reality, a something else that many religions define as “god.” And so here seems to me a real recognition of that, of not just a story of how God creates and rules, but how also the human heart wants and seeks.

And the placing of the law within, that’s both the writing on the heart, the need and love for God coming from within but then also the placing of the law is Christ himself, God becoming man, God placing himself within the people as people, as a person. I think of how Christ tells us in St. Matthew that he has come not to abolish the law but to fulfill the law and the prophets.

Later I look at the Catechism of the Catholic Church on the great website of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Well well well, right there, right at the beginning of the catechism, part one, chapter one, section one begins “The desire for God is written in the human heart.” I love it when things like that happen.