A Writer’s Encounter with the Gospels
Pantheon, $24.95, 228 pp.
For many centuries the Catholic Church kept the Gospels from the eyes of the ordinary believer. If you couldn’t read Latin you were dependent on the oral tradition, the paintings on the church walls, and the preaching of the local parish priest. Putting the Bible in the hands of the people, or at least of those who could read, was a concern of the sixteenth-century Reformers. So, where Catholicism held sway, to translate the Bible into the language of the people was a crime—one that William Tyndale, among many others, paid for with his life. The church seems to have suspected that, unmediated by the teaching authority of the bishops, the Word of God would do more harm than good.
Even today Catholics are famously less familiar with the texts of Scripture than are their Protestant counterparts. Twentieth-century papal and conciliar teaching, supported by theology and biblical scholarship, has encouraged the reading of Scripture, while the liturgical renewal initiated by Vatican II has meant that a churchgoing Catholic now hears much more of the Bible than she or he would have in preconciliar days. And yet it remains safe to say that sustained encounter with Scripture is the exception, not the rule, among Catholic believers.
Mary Gordon’s thoughtful new book Reading Jesus might incline some leaders of the Catholic Church to wonder anew about the dangers of too much access to Scripture. Gordon has doubts about divinity: “I don’t know quite what I mean...