Sunday, November 21, 2010
Is the error of structural violence over the interpretation of scripture occurring again?
The Catholic Church teaches that people are not bound to any particular scripture interpretation. God speaks to people individually through scripture. This is expressed in documents such as Divino Afflante Spiritu (1943 Pius XII) and Dei Verbum (1965 Second Vatican Council). Thus, Catholics are not required to interpret everything in the Bible literally.
However, Dei Verbum also asserts that, “the task of authentically interpreting the word of God, whether written or handed on, has been entrusted exclusively to the living teaching office of the Church”. This teaching office of the church is called the Magisterium.
These two somewhat divergent concepts coexist by the Magisterium reserving the right to definitively interpret parts of scripture but rarely doing so. Even when sparsely applied, does this exclusive authority for scripture interpretation enable structural violence? The church says, “No” because it believes it always interprets God’s intentions correctly. However, what has history shown?
Galileo Galilei, through scientific study believed in heliocentrism, the theory that the Earth revolves around the Sun rather than the Sun circling Earth. Galileo was correct.
Despite being correct, Galileo was called before the Magisterium’s Inquisition twice. Psalm 93:1, Psalm 96:10, Psalm 104:5, Ecclesiastes 1:5 and 1 Chronicles 16:30 contain verbiage about the Earth being immovable or the Sun rising and setting about the Earth. Literally interpreting those passages, the Magisterium felt Galileo contradicted scriptural truths. Galileo felt he didn’t, citing 4th century bishop St. Augustine’s theological writings pertaining to non-literal scripture interpretation. However, the Magisterium’s power outranked Galileo, a layman.
Defending his thoughts, Galileo experienced both physical and emotional violence at the hands of the Catholic Church. In 1616, the Inquisition cleared him of all charges but condemned his theory as “false and contrary to Scripture”. He was told to stop promoting the idea. He initially promised to do this, likely to avoid further physical violence. Regardless, the emotional violence of asking him to turn off his God-given brain must have been extremely painful and likely inhibited achieving his potential.
Compelled by pursuit of truth, he later wrote his most famous work, “Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems” (1632) that defended his theory. In his second trial by the Inquisition, he was found, “vehemently suspect of heresy”, required to recant his theory and placed under house arrest the remainder of his life. Thus, he endured physical violence of imprisonment in addition to emotional violence of invalidating his thoughts and opinions for the last six years of his life.
Because reading books written by a heretic or on heretical topics are grounds for excommunication, the church imposed structural violence upon all humanity threatening them with excommunication if they read Galileo’s works or works on heliocentrism. In its attempt to control truth, the church violated truth.
The church lifted its ban on books discussing heliocentrism in 1835, almost 200 years after Galileo’s death. In 1939 Pope Pius XII, who authored Divino Afflante Spiritu, called Galileo one of the "most audacious heroes of research ... not afraid of the stumbling blocks and the risks on the way…” In 1992 the church finally admitted it erred in dealing with Galileo and his thoughts.
Could Galileo and other intimidated scientists have contributed more to the world if they had not experienced structural violence? We will never know the extent of damage caused by the church because of the impossibility measuring unrealized potential, hidden or buried by fear.
Could the Magisterium again be misinterpreting scripture? The church insists upon a literal interpretation of Jesus selecting twelve men for the original apostles and infers Jesus’ intention that this dictates clergy gender for all eternity. The Magisterium insists upon an interpretation that denies Jesus also sent Mary Magdalene as an apostle. It threatens excommunication to anyone pursuing or enabling female ordinations. Is the error of structural violence over the interpretation of scripture occurring again? Should we act with the same courage as Galileo in pursuing truth regardless of Magisterial threats?