Footnote: The Historicity of Scripture

In my post on Genesis and Creation - Part 1, I said some things that require further clarification. I said I believe in the scientific evidence of an old universe as opposed to a very literal reading of Genesis 1 & 2. That is true, but I don’t want to give the impression that Genesis 1 & 2 have only anagogical value. Genesis 1 & 2 are presented as history and they must have, therefore, historical meaning and value.

Since writing that post, my daughter gave me a delightful Christmas gift: the two volume set, “Jesus of Nazareth,” by Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI. In his forward to volume 1, the pope says,

For it is of the very essence of biblical faith to be about real historical events. It does not tell stories symbolizing supranatural truths, but is based on history, history that took place here on this earth… If we push this history aside, Christian faith as such disappears and is recast as some other religion. (Jesus of Nazareth, Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI, San Francisco: Ignatius, 2008, p xv)

Reading this made great sense to me and I changed a longstanding belief that I had until then held: I had believed that the historicity of Scriptures did not matter to me, that if I learned that the whole bible was nothing but allegory, it would not affect my faith. However, I now see that Christianity is indeed an historical faith, that the historicity is essential.

Just to clarify: I did, in fact, believe in the historical events presented in Scripture. I did in fact believe that the sun stood still during Joshua’s battle, that the waters parted for Moses so that the Israelites could escape Egypt, that fire came down from heaven to ignite the first sacrifice offered by Aaron. But I believed that the meaning inherent in some of these stories was still meaningful without the historical event being real. That is, it was the allegorical or anagogical meaning that mattered; the event itself was merely a carrier. Now, thanks to Pope Benedict, I have changed my mind.

If I consider God and His attributes, chief among those attributes are that He is infinite and eternal. And what does it mean to be infinite and eternal? I do not believe that they mean “is everywhere” and “lives forever.” I believe that they mean God is outside of time and space – time and space being among His creatures. If I remember correctly from reading C.S. Lewis’ work “Mere Christianity” long ago, Mr. Lewis believed the same. It is a common idea among theologians. God is not limited by time and space, as we are. I don’t know what it’s like to be God, but there is no then/now/later for Him, nor is there a here or there. Perhaps it is always here and now for Him. Honestly, I don’t know. All I know is that He does not live within the limitations of time and space.

And what is history, if not the stuff of time and space? If I want to contemplate the difference between me and God, I need look no further than history. I live within a datum in history; God does not. And yet, Christianity and the Judaism that preceded it is very historical. We are taught our faith via history. It is interesting to me that the very thing that separates us from God is being used by Him to teach me about Him. Once again, I find this very beautiful and genius. And then, to take it one step further, God interrupts history now and then to show us Himself; this culminates in His ultimate act of entering history as one of us.

And this brings me back to Genesis 1 & 2. If we profess an historical religion – and we do – then Genesis 1 & 2 must be history. It tells the story of creation by God, therefore the creation of the universe by God must be historically true. And yet, there is scientific evidence that the facts presented in Gn 1 & 2 are not accurate. How to reconcile? God would not create a world with false historical evidence (fossils, red-shifted light, etc.). So, without my own ability to crack this code, I turn to the Magisterium who has indeed offered us a solution.

What does the Magisterium teach? Per Ludwig Ott’s “Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma,” it teaches us the following:

(Thanks to the excellent site www.biblicalcatholic.com for this easy, bullet point list.)

My own beliefs in a very old universe and in evolution do not contradict these dogmatic truths. And I am not in poor company in holding such beliefs. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, following the teachings of Pope Pius XII, allows freedom to explore such vistas of knowledge. I refer the reader to CCC sections 282 to 289 for such expressions. In particular, section 283 notes that such scientific research, in fact, invites us to an even greater admiration of God the Creator. I like physics and I have a certain degree of college training in the subject; I can say that the growing knowledge in this field has only made clearer that God created this universe – His fiat is increasingly the most rational explanation.

I also refer the interested reader to works by Rev. Robert Spitzer, S.J. In particular, his work, “New Proofs for the Existence of God,” makes great use of modern astrophysics and philosophy, breathing new life into our ancient beliefs. You can peruse some of his activities at his website: www.magisreasonfaith.org.

I find my preference for the scientific evidence increases my faith in God as Creator. I also find that quite a few physicists have come to know a Creator God through their studies. I have heard (from a professor friend) that among college professors who work in the sciences, including social sciences, physicists have the lowest rate of atheism. This makes sense to me. They studied the historical origins of the universe and they have concluded, independent of Scripture, that a Creator God is the best explanation for what they have found. The more they discover, the stronger this hypothesis grows. I think this is fantastic and exciting. It only strengthens the basic teachings of Genesis 1 & 2. The bible as history is again vindicated and I am converted, yet again, to my Faith.