First time the 222-year-old U.S. Constitution had been read in its entirety on the House floor.

Lawmakers took turns reciting each verse and article of the document. Republicans in charge of the chamber rattled it off with missionary zeal, as if in a school civics class. Democrats pitched in, but with seemingly less ardor.

Historians said it was the first time the 222-year-old governing document had been read in its entirety on the House floor.

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The Method for Understanding the Proper Meaning of the Biblical Book of Genesis

A modern reader of Genesis must bear in mind the principles of biblical exegesis laid down by St. Augustine in his great work De Genesi Ad Litteram (On the Literal Interpretation of Genesis). Augustine taught that whenever reason established with certainty a fact about the physical world, seemingly contrary statements in the Bible must be interpreted accordingly. He opposed the idea of a “Christian account” of natural phenomena in opposition to what could be known by science. He viewed such accounts as “most deplorable and harmful, and to be avoided at any cost,” because on hearing them the non-believer “could hardly hold his laughter on seeing, as the saying goes, the error rise sky-high.”

As early as 410 A.D., then, the greatest of the Western Church Fathers was telling us that the Book of Genesis is not an astrophysics or geology textbook. Augustine himself was a kind of evolutionist, speculating that God’s creation of the cosmos was an instantaneous act whose effects unfolded over a long period. God had planted “rational seeds” in nature which eventually developed into the diversity of plants and animals we see today. St. Thomas Aquinas cites this view of Augustine’s more than once in the course of the Summa Theologiae. St. Thomas, author Etienne Gilson writes,

was well aware that the Book of Genesis was not a treatise on cosmography for the use of scholars. It was a statement of the truth intended for the simple people whom Moses was addressing. Thus it is sometimes possible to interpret it in a variety of ways. So it was that when we speak of the six days of creation, we can understand by it either six successive days, as do Ambrose, Basil, Chrysostom and Gregory, and is suggested by the letter of the text . . . Or we can with Augustine take it to refer to the simultaneous creation of all beings with days symbolizing the various orders of beings. This second interpretation is at first sight less literal, but is, rationally speaking, more satisfying. It is the one that St. Thomas adopts, although he does not exclude the other which, as he says, can also be held.

In this century, Cardinal Bea, who helped Pius XII draft Divino Afflante Spiritu, wrote that Genesis does not deal with the “true constitution of visible things.” It is meant to convey truths outside the scientific order.

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Life, death, resurrection … and some heavy-duty summer reading

Flannery O’Connor, in a letter to William Sessions, wrote of the different presuppositions we must make when we deal with Protestants and Catholics:

When the Protestant hears what he supposes to be the voice of the Lord he follows it regardless of whether it runs counter to his church’s teachings. The Catholic, on the other hand, suspects that the voice may in fact come from the devil, unless it’s in accordance with the teachings of the Church. You are judging the old man as if he should act like a Catholic. The prophets were Jews and old Tarwater is a Protestant and his being a Protestant allows him to follow the voice he hears which speaks a truth held by Catholics. One of the good things about Protestantism is that it contains the seeds of its own reversal. It is open at both ends — at one end to Catholicism, at the other to unbelief.

Here, the big problem returns as the need to contrast our own freely chosen picture of the world — which we create for ourselves by our actions and the thoughts from which they flow in order to explain or justify what we do — over and against that picture of the world that we find in reason and revelation.

The Catholic bets that the picture held in the tradition of the Church about the highest things, about what is, is better for him than anything he might concoct for himself, even if it comes from a “voice” in the wilderness. The Catholic’s wager, to recall Pascal’s famous word, is that his ultimate well-being — including his very physical well-being as reflected in the doctrine of the resurrection of the body — is the true picture of the world in which he is to live. Paul, in his epistle to the Romans, stated the issue succinctly: “For if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. Faith in the heart leads to justification; confession on the lips to salvation” (10: 9-10). In these brief words we are asked clearly to state what we believe — that Jesus is Lord and that He rose from the dead. And we are asked to state these things not only to ourselves in private but to confess them to the world; so both words and deeds are expected of us.

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Lenten page-turners


Click for an interesting Lenten season reading assortment