Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Is God Any Less Gifted than Melville or Twain?

Unique in the Judeo-Christian tradition, the Catholic Church sees the Bible—the best-selling book in history—as one complete whole. Jews, of course, don’t look past the Old Testament, while Protestants pick and choose books from Old and New to suit their agenda. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) teaches that it’s all the divine word of God. Therefore it must hang together.

I find this convincing.

Reading Moby Dick or Huckleberry Finn in high school literature classes, we always gave Melville or Twain the credit of having engineered a thoughtful, coherent whole.

Why should God be any less gifted?

The point is made in paragraphs 128–130 of the CCC, and summarized in question 23 of the Compendium:

What is the unity that exists between the Old and the New Testaments?
Scripture is one insofar as the Word of God is one. God’s plan of salvation is one, and the divine inspiration of both Testaments is one. The Old Testament prepares for the New and the New Testament fulfills the Old; the two shed light on each other.

Going deeper than the Compendium, as always, the CCC notes in paragraph 128 that since earliest times, the Catholic Church “has illuminated the unity of the divine plan in the two Testaments through typology, which discerns in God’s works of the Old Covenant prefigurations of what he accomplished in the fullness of time in the person of his incarnate Son.”

The question of typology is a thorny one, and above my pay grade, though  there is something of a simpler idea here: “History repeats itself.” For more on typology, see the Catholic Encylopedia.

Speaking as a lay Catholic, paragraph 128 suggests that God is a crafty Mystery writer, who set up the Story with plenty of clues. When the Answer was revealed, in the Incarnation, it was a surprise to most readers—especially Jesus’s Jewish contemporaries, most of whom rejected him as the solution to the crime.

Then, fifteen hundred years later, Luther and others began editing the mystery novel, leaving out clues and emphasizing some of what remained. That leaves a Reader’s Digest Condensed version of a great classic. I’ve always preferred original texts.

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