Category Archives: Catholicism

Many are Called: Rediscovering the Glory of the Priesthood

Hahn, Scott. Many are Called: Rediscovering the Glory of the Priesthood. New York: Doubleday, 2010. Pp. 155. Hardcover. $14.99.

Many are Called: Rediscovering the Glory of the Priesthood is a slim volume in which Catholic scholar Scott Hahn shows his admiration and appreciation for this ancient and venerable ministry. Over the course of 12 chapters Hahn examines the priesthood in Scripture and history while highlighting the many roles that a priest plays: namely father, mediator, provider, teacher, warrior, judge, bridegroom, and brother.

He presents a redemptive-historical narrative in which the father was originally the priest of the family who passed down the role to his sons. Israel, then, was a nation of priests. But after the golden calf incident God stripped the nation of the priesthood and appointed a single tribe to serve the function.

Fast forward to the New Testament and we find Christ as our heavenly high priest; the one to whom the priesthood has always pointed. His body, the church, is an extension of himself and as such we are once again a nation of priests. But there are a sect of priests who serve the nation. They are the fathers to the fatherless; mediators (as extensions of Christ himself) between God and man; teachers of the laity; spiritual warriors charged with defending the faith and battling spiritual wickedness through prayer and fasting; and so much more.

Hahn does a great job of showing just how multifaceted the priesthood is while setting up a plausible foundation for the office based on Scripture. Where he doesn’t succeed, in my opinion, is in his case for celibacy. Sure, the Apostle Paul says that one can devote himself wholly to Christ if he does not marry, but he also says it’s better to marry than burn with desire. History is full of tales of priests who have carried on affairs with women and have even sired secret families. Had they been allowed to marry, as for example, the priests in the Orthodox Church, then there would be nothing scandalous about this. Add to this the fact that Peter, whom Catholics consider to have been the first pope, was married and it becomes hard to see a reason for making this a necessary vow for priests to make.

I was also somewhat disappointed with Hahn’s closing remarks about the frailty of priests. Of course we recognize that they’re human and on this side of eternity they’ll make mistakes and fall short of perfection. But the manner in which these remarks are presented seem like a thinly veiled defense of those caught up in the Catholic Church’s sexual abuse scandals. This volume would have been stronger had this material been omitted. But there is plenty to be gleaned from Hahn’s focused treatment and the positive features outweigh the negative.

B”H

Signs of Life: 40 Catholic Customs and Their Biblical Roots

Hahn, Scott. Signs of Life: 40 Catholic Customs and Their Biblical Roots. New York: Doubleday, 2009. Pp. 276. Hardcover. $23.00.

Signs of Life: 40 Catholic Customs and Their Biblical Roots is part apologetic, part devotional, and part catechism. Scott Hahn brings to bear his decades of study and devotion and explains Catholic belief and practice from the seemingly mundane actions of dipping your fingers into holy water upon entering the sanctuary to the central Christian tasks of worshipping the triune God.

Plenty is covered in between like the Sacraments; sacred times, spaces, and meals; and those notorious practices that give Protestants fits like indulgences, prayers for the dead, and relics. Hahn covers each subject in a few short pages and ends each chapter with a quotation from a saint, pope, council, or otherwise revered teacher that the reader is invited to ponder in their heart.

Interestingly enough, not every practice addressed is exclusively Catholic. For example, in chapter 16 Hahn covers Bible Study, which Protestants certainly engage in, but he does so from a Catholic perspective with reference to the revised lectionary of the 1970s and Dogmas, which are “the Church’s infallible interpretation of Scripture” (115). Prayers of Aspiration (chapter 12) aren’t unique to Catholics either. It’s quite normal for Protestants to recite memorized prayers or scriptural citations throughout their day.

But without detailing every custom covered let me just say that in general Hahn is to be celebrated for bringing his living faith in the living Christ to a broad audience in the most helpful of ways. Hahn writes simply without being simplistic and it is evident on every page of the book that he has thought through each of these practices deeply and more importantly, the reader gets the impression that he practices what he preaches.

As he notes in the introduction, his selection of material is “not quite random, but not quite inevitable either” (15). Rather they are the things that are important to him and Hahn’s “meditations are not definitions”; they’re his “reflections borrowed from this saint and that pope and combined in a way that’s [his]” (15). He invites the reader to ponder these things and things not mentioned and reflect on them in their own way.

Catholic readers will find much to build up their faith and Protestant readers will learn much about Catholic customs without being totally convinced that each one has sufficient biblical warrant (in other words, don’t approach this book as a definitive defense of Catholic practice, doctrine, or tradition); but there is something to be gleaned by every reader of this book. If nothing else the reader will come away with a strong sense of one Catholic’s appreciation of and devotion to his faith.

B”H

Hail, Holy Queen: The Mother of God in the Word of God

acts.pngHahn, Scott. 

Hail, Holy Queen: The Mother of God in the Word of God

New York: Image, 2001. Pp. xii + 191. Paper. $15.00.

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With thanks to Image Books‘ Blogging for Books program for this review copy!

I was raised Catholic but departed from the church shortly after my confirmation. God would eventually grab a hold of me at 21 years of age but as it happens he didn’t intend for me to return to the Church of my childhood. Instead I’ve been serving in Pentecostal churches for the past dozen years. And still, there are plenty of things about Catholicism that I miss, most notably liturgical worship and that inexplicable feeling that comes from knowing that yours is an ancient tradition.

There are also things, that at this point in my life, would keep me from returning, most notably the filioque clause in the Western version of the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed and the Marian Dogmas. I doubt I’ll ever be able to accept the filioque but I’m open to the things that the Catholic Church teaches about Mary. I’ve never been one of those Protestants who took pleasure in denigrating the mother of our Lord Jesus just to avoid the possibility of worshipping her!

So with this in mind I began reading through Scott Hahn‘s Hail, Holy Queen in order to see if he could convince me that the Marian Dogmas had more support than I had previously thought. In his usual conversational style, which marks all of his popular writing, Hahn makes the case for Mary’s Immaculate Conception (not to be confused with the virginal conception of Christ); her Divine Motherhood (i.e., her being the Theotokos – Mother of God); Perpetual Virginity; and Bodily Assumption.

But before turning to these Dogmas themselves, Hahn teaches the reader a bit about biblical typology. He presents Mary as the “New Eve” receiving grace where the first Eve rejected it; succeeding where the first Eve failed. Mary is also the “New Ark of the Covenant” who carried the Word of God made flesh; the true Bread from heaven; and the eternal High Priest. And just as every Davidic king had a “queen mother,” Mary is the Queen Mother par excellence, receiving due reverence even in the presence of her Son who is her superior.

In all of this Hahn exhibits a keen knowledge of Scripture and is able to reveal subtle allusions amidst some glaringly obvious types and shadows, and all of this with an eye on John’s Apocalypse and what it says about the woman clothed in the sun (Rev. 12). He also takes the reader through the Catechism of the Catholic Church and what the Fathers of the Church have had to say about Mary throughout the centuries. I’ll admit that he presents an impressive case for the antiquity of many of these Dogmas.

He also helped to clear up some things that I had always taken issue with, namely the idea of Mary as the “New Eve” to Jesus’ “New Adam.” How could Jesus’ mother also be his wife (especially in light of the fact that the Church is called the Bride of Christ)? He responds with reference to Isaiah 62:4-5, which actually makes sense, at least as far as I’m concerned. It’s funny, but one of his least sophisticated arguments in the book, a recounting of a homily delivered by a priest for the feast of the Immaculate Conception, really hit home. In short, the priest asked who would preserve their mother from sin if they had the power. The answer is everyone, of course, and yet none of us have that power. But Jesus does, and he used it (158-59)! Simple yet profound.

There were times when I thought that Hahn was reaching. For example, he goes through the standard objections to Mary’s Perpetual Virginity and notes the appeal to the place in the Gospels where Jesus’ mother is said to be outside with his brothers and sisters. Hahn’s response is that the Greek word for brother (adelphos) was used in the Greek translation of the Old Testament to refer to not only brothers, but also cousins or kinsman more generally, and that in Hebrew and Aramaic, which would have been spoken by Jews in first century Palestine, there was no distinct word for cousin so the word for brother would have been used (104).

I’m left to wonder exactly how the Gospel writers could have communicated that these people were in fact Jesus’ brothers and sisters then. What could they have possibly said, other than what they did say, to indicate such? I’m also curious about the use of adelphai (sisters) in Mark 6:3 and the longer reading of Mark 3:32. Did the feminine form of the word have the same range of meaning, and if so, where do we see this attested? I’m also be interested to learn why adelphai is set beside adelphoi in Mark 12:31-32 and adelphos in Mark 6:3 when there are many instances where adelphoi has “brother and sisters” as the intended meaning.

I was also underwhelmed by Hahn’s arguments for the Bodily Assumption, which is not mentioned in Christian writings until the sixth century. He points to Mary being found in heaven in body and spirit in Revelation 12, but that simply assumes what has to be proven, namely that Revelation 12 is about Mary in the first place. There is good reason to believe that it is about Israel. The appeal to there being established feast days when we do first read about the Bodily Assumption does nothing to show when they were established. Likewise, his anecdotal evidence about encountering a priest who wrote the one book on the subject just when he needed him most, does not an argument for the Assumption make.

In the end Hahn failed to convince me of the truth of all the Marian Dogmas but he did show me that there’s more to them than I had previously thought. He also offers one of the best explanations for praying the rosary that I’ve ever read and he demonstrates how focused meditation is far from vain repetition (without denying that it could turn into such). His is an intriguing study that shows the devotion of a son who truly loves his mother and we can all take a page out of Hahn’s book on that point.

B”H

In the Mail

My Ignatius Press ordered arrived today. To be honest, I saw the box and thought the publisher had sent a bunch of books for review because, well, I forgot I had placed this order! But here’s what I got:

2014-04-07 14.21.38-1

Now I have to move the Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI section of my library because these books are way too tall to fit on the top of my bookcase where my other Ratzinger volumes are housed.

B”H

Just Ordered

My dear friend/brother-from-another-mother Esteban informed me of a fantastic sale from Ignatius Press in which I just picked up the following books (links are to Amazon followed by Ignatius for comparison purposes):

You can’t beat a bunch of $3 books from arguably the best Pope ever! The sale ends at midnight so any interested parties will do well to get shopping now!

B”H

Catholic Bible Dictionary

cbd.jpgHahn, Scott, ed. 

Catholic Bible Dictionary

New York: Doubleday, 2009. Pp. xvi + 992. Hardcover. $45.00.

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With thanks to Image Books‘ Blogging for Books program for this review copy!

“More than a generation has passed since the appearance of the last major Catholic Bible dictionary,” says Scott Hahn in the preface to the Catholic Bible Dictionary (hereafter CBD). Technically he’s correct, but the multi-volume New Catholic Encyclopedia (Thomson/Gale, 2003) underwent a major revision at the turn of the century at which time thousands of entries were updated with hundreds more being added. So while it may be technically true that no Catholic Bible dictionary has appeared in more than a generation, this isn’t true of major Catholic reference works. Having said that, the CBD is a handy and affordable volume that can easily be added to the personal library of any interested student while the NCE will most likely be confined to the shelves of major research libraries.

From what I can discern from Hahn’s title as general editor and his comments in the preface and acknowledgements, the CBD was produced by a team of scholars. He thanks Matthew Bunson, Curtis J. Mitch, John S. Bergsma, Brant Pitre, and Christopher Bailey for their “hard work, expertise, and editorial assistance” (xi) but we’re left to guess what part they played. There’s no telling who the team that produced this volume is or what any of them did in particular. Authors’ initials do not appear at the end of individual entries and there isn’t a list of contributors or an author index so in the end all praise and criticism will fall squarely on Hahn’s shoulders.

The entries themselves range in length from a single sentence (e.g., “Beor,” 105) to several pages (e.g., “Covenant,” 168-75; “Jesus Christ,” 433-47; “Sacrifice,” 791-802). The longer articles include outlines that are helpful for readers who might want to skip to the parts most pertinent to their studies in the event they don’t need all of the information provided. Each biblical book, to include the deuterocanon, receives a helpful entry. The evenhanded approach to  issues of authorship and dating is impressive as the opinions of both church tradition and critical scholarship are noted. The overall approach to interpretation used in the CBD is explained in the article on “Biblical Criticism” (111-19), which explains its theological basis as well as its methodological limits.

As a Catholic reference work there is constant reference being made to Catholic documents such as Lumen Gentium, Dei Verbum, and most frequently, the Catechism of the Catholic Church. There are also entries on subjects unique to the Catholicism such as “Papal Primacy” (670-72); “Pontifical Biblical Commission” (718); or parts of larger entries such as the one on “Mary, the Mother of Jesus” (584-88), which addresses “Mary in Salvation History” and details her roles as “The Ark of the New Covenant” (586); “Queen Mother” (586-87); “The New Eve” (587-88); and “A Type of the Church” (588); or “Eucharist” (255-60), which has a section on “The Real Presence” broken up into explanations of “The Bread of Life” (256) and “Transubstantiation” (257).

As with any work of this nature some articles are better than others. The article on “Covenant” is superb (as we’d expect from Hahn who has devoted much of his career to the subject) in being clear, detailed, and highly informative. The article “Tongues, Gift of” isn’t quite so good as it’s marked by ambiguity. On the one hand we’re told that tongues in Acts 2 are known languages but then the issue is vague when addressing 1 Cor. 14. The author simply describes speaking in tongues as “speaking ‘to God’ and uttering ‘mysteries in the Spirit'” (922), but we’re never told whether this is supposed to be known or unknown languages, which impacts current debates on glossolalia.

I might complain about the length of certain entries as well. “Trinity” (924-26) gives basic information but a subject of such importance deserves a much fuller treatment, especially given the length of entries dedicated to less important subjects like priesthood. Or the strange selectivity of other articles could be mentioned, e.g., “God” (317-24), which has a section on the “Names of God” and lists only El, Elohim, Yahweh, Adonai, and Yahweh Sabaoth. But what of the many other compound Yahweh names (Yireh, Shalom, Nissi, Tzidkenu, et al.)? Another complaint one could register is the lack of attention to subjects that would be useful. There is no article on eschatology, for example, and one must read the entry on “Millennium” (618-19) to catch a glimpse of Catholic eschatological views.

But whatever the shortcomings of the CBD, the positive features far outweigh them. This is a volume that shows how to communicate sophisticated theology and biblical studies in a manner that students at various stages of development will find helpful. Having a Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur help to set the Catholic reader at ease and assure them that this volume is free from doctrinal error. It helps the non-Catholic reader to see that the positions taken are those of the Catholic Church and can be seen as representative. This proves valuable to the non-Catholic seeking to challenge Catholic teaching, which should only be done once it is identified and understood. With this in mind it becomes easy to suggest the CBD as a useful tool for anyone engaged in biblical study.

B”H

Swear to God: The Promise and Power of the Sacraments

pdc.jpgHahn, Scott.

Swear to God: The Promise and Power of the Sacraments

New York: Doubleday, 2004. Pp. 232. Hardcover. $23.00.

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More than a primer on sacramental theology, Scott Hahn’s Swear to God, is an eminently readable treatise on biblical covenants and the signs associated with them. This should come as no surprise to anyone who has read Hahn’s work as he’s been studying covenant for decades. In fact, he says that “there is no idea more important to Scripture—and no idea more important to your life—than the idea of covenant” (60). He continues by saying that “the covenant cannot be understood apart from its divinely appointed signs” (60).

And that’s how the sacraments are to be understood; as the signs that mark God’s covenant with his people. Hahn tells us that they are symbolic, but more than just symbols; memorials, but more than just reminders; rites of passage, but more than just rituals. He describes them as “divine actions on the order of the creation of the universe” (7). He tells us that they “marked moments in history—world history, salvation history, and personal history—when God was making a new start with his people” (7).

Hahn also tells us that the sacraments “give grace, which is a share in God’s life” (13). “All seven sacraments are actions of Jesus Christ. In Christ, heaven and earth meet, time and eternity unite most fruitfully. . . . In Christ, and in His sacraments, there is a marital bond between God and man, between the invisible and the visible” (28-29). And Hahn unpacks these statements in systematic order with a summary of what the sacraments are and where they can be found in Scripture.

Hahn describes the Eucharist as “the sacrament of sacraments” and “the source and summit of all Christian life” while acknowledging that “Baptism is the doorway to all the other sacraments” (154) and yet he spends about three chapters (12-14) emphasizing marriage! And why not? The Church is the Bride of Christ awaiting the day when we partake in the great wedding feast of the Lamb! But one thing that Hahn does a great job of, especially as the book progresses, is showing how the sacraments are all intertwined.

Hahn began the book with an anecdote from his time in seminary when he found the sacraments to be boring. Of course he was a Protestant back then and only believed in two sacraments, which he thought of as being largely symbolic. But the more he studied covenant the more he realized the importance of the sacraments and his conversion to Catholicism would help him to realize their ultimate significance. But what for the Protestant who reads this book? Do they need to make the move to Roman Catholicism to embrace the importance of sacramental theology?

A Catholic might say yes. I’d disagree. I think that Hahn’s book is the antidote to boredom with the sacraments among Catholics, but it’s also a stimulus to Protestants who haven’t really appreciated them to begin with. And appreciating them and partaking in them hinges, largely I think, on one’s understanding of priesthood. Of course for Hahn only those validly ordained priests in the Catholic Church can administer many of the sacraments (marriage [which is only witnessed by a priest] and baptism are exceptions); but even he acknowledges a time when all men were priests.

The priesthood was passed down from father to son before Israel’s idolatry in the wilderness. I’d argue that in Christ the priesthood has been restored to all believers and as brothers of Christ and sons of God we’re all valid ministers of the sacraments. I wouldn’t expect a Catholic or Orthodox believer to agree, of course, but then again if they did they’d be Protestant! This does raise some interesting issues for how Protestants would appreciate and practice the sacrament of Holy Orders. I’d love to see a multiple views book dedicated to just this topic!

I think the major strength of Swear to God is Hahn’s ability to communicate in simple language without being simplistic. He’s able to draw from the Church Fathers, Thomas Aquinas, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church (along with reference to some Jewish rabbis) without overwhelming the reader. This is the kind of book that will help readers coming from any perspective to appreciate that there’s probably more going on with the sacraments than they had originally thought, and wherever we fall on these issues, a deeper appreciation is always a good thing!

B”H