Sunday, September 13, 2009

Catholic Approaches to Paul?

I'm reading the new book by Magnus Zetterholm Approaches to Paul: A Student's Guide to Recent Scholarship. It is an excellent summary of the dominant approaches to Paul today. I highly recommend it. Zetterholm identifies three approaches that are currently found in Pauline studies, especially with respect to Paul's relationship to Judaism as: (1) traditional, Reformational perspective; (2) the New Perspective; and (3) the "radical new perspective".

One question that comes immediately to mind however is where does Catholic scholarship fit within the discussion? Zetterholm doesn’t deal with Catholic scholarship. He does deal with a Catholic perspective only to the extent that he provides a historical overview of the church’s interpretation of Paul and Judaism before the Reformation. (ch 2) But after the Reformation and the introduction of Lutheran readings with the stress on “justification by faith”, Zetterholm doesn’t deal with the continuing Catholic tradition.

Would then the Catholic tradition represent a fourth approach in addition to the three Zetterholm identifies? Or does modern Catholic scholarship merely reflect the dominant categories and questions? If the New Perspective is largely a critique of Lutheranism, what is its relationship to Catholic scholarship? I would assume that Sander’s new view of Judaism has some influence on Catholic scholars, but wouldn’t his critique of the Lutheran Paul have been largely relevant to Catholic scholarship?

I suppose one way to look at this from Zetterholm's perspective is that insofar as Catholic scholarship’s questions are primarily related to dogmatic questions of Christian theology and insofar as each shares the fundamental historic assumption of mutual exclusivity of Judaism and Christianity, Catholic tradition can fall under Zetterholm's “traditional” perspective. No matter that it is not “Lutheran”, its concern is the same as Lutheranism: to relate doctrine and the theology of Paul. Catholic scholarship, in other words, would come to very different conclusions than Lutheran scholarship, but they would be addressing the very same questions.

However, there is a problem isn't there with referring to these very divergent traditions with the one category: the “traditional Paul”. To begin with Baur, as Zetterholm does, is to begin with Protestant scholarship, to the exclusion of the earlier and ongoing Catholic tradition. What would my Catholic friends say to this? Is there something unique about a Catholic approach to Paul? If so, what?

Perhaps our friends Michael and Brant over at Singing in the Reign/The Sacred Page can respond.


mbrankatelli said...

Hey Joel, I believe last year was termed the Pauline year by Benedict XVI. As such, he released a book entitled "Saint Paul" that has at least a few relevant chapters (I think like 13-14). If you haven't had the chance you should check it out.

Taylor Marshall said...

As a formerly Reformed Christian who is now Catholic, I've written a book precisely on this topic entitled:

The Catholic Perspective on Paul
(due 2010)

Please visit the site and listen to the free podcasts:

Anonymous said...

Taylor: Thanks for this. Perfect! Who is publishing your book? Is it possible to get a pre-published version?

Sue said...

Does studying and "approaching" Paul help you to understand anything about your self, and Reality altogether, in 2009?

Brian said...

How about Eastern Orthodox perspective(s) on Paul? I'm sure the emphasis on the doctrine of theosis would make a difference in how one view's the Apostle's thought overall.

Michael J. Gorman said...

As a Methodist who has been teaching in a Catholic institution for 18 years, I can tell you that there is no simple answer to this question. In the US, at least, Catholic scholarship on Paul is often very similar to the strands of Protestant approaches. I think Fitzmyer on Romans is pretty "Lutheran," while Brendan Byrne is not--yet he is not NPP. Frank Matera, on the other hand, is fairly NPP (he speaks of boundary markers and "cultural imperialism"), but not wholely.

The one error I would like to correct is the common assumption that Catholicism "shares the fundamental historic assumption of mutual exclusivity of Judaism and Christianity." This is very UN-Catholic these days; Catholic scholars, guided by the Second Vatican Council document Nostrae Aetate, are VERY appreciative of the Jewish people and stress the permanence of the covenant (Romans 11). Some Catholic scholars, therefore, are closer to folks like Gage in advocating a Sonderweg.

Michael J. Gorman said...

oops--I forgot; Byrne is not American.

Anonymous said...


Thank you for these thoughts. You have confirmed my impressions. I have used Matera's Galatians commentary and that seems quite protestant to me.

Hey, I look forward to meeting you when you are at NPTS in a couple weeks time.

Michael J. Gorman said...

Thanks, Joel; me, too--actually next week!

Matera got his PhD at Union-Virginia. He's a very nice guy and good scholar.

Michael J. Gorman said...

I forgot to mention a popular Catholic NT scholar here, Fr. Ron Witherup, who writes very good books at the lay and pastor-accessible level. His Paulist book 101 Questions on Paul is very fine, and in his discussion of justification he depends heavily on NTW and me.

Witherup is also a Union-Virginia grad. :-)

Strider said...

The interesting question is the relation between historical exegesis and the doctrinal teaching and preaching of the Church.

Protestant exegetes have believed, and perhaps continue to believe, that they can identify and reconstruct what Paul really believed about _____, independent of Church tradition and confessional commitments. Many Catholic scholars have come to believe this, too. But I am skeptical. The intractable scholarly disagreements suggest that the quest for the "real" Paul may be as elusive as the quest for the "real" Jesus.

But if we were able to accurately determine the teaching of Paul, what would this mean for us? After all, for Christians Paul's letter exist within a canon of Holy Scripture and are rightly, so we believe, interpreted within the Bible as a whole. Or as Stanley Hauerwas has put the matter:

Once Paul’s letters become so constructed canonically, Paul becomes one interpreter among others of his letters. If Paul could appear among us today to tell us what he “really meant” when he wrote, for example 1 Corinthians 13, his view would not necessarily count more than Gregory’s or Luther’s account of Corinthians. There simply is no “real meaning” of Paul’s letters to the Corinthians once we understand that they are no longer Paul’s letters but rather the Church’s Scripture.

Catholics and Eastern Orthodox believers would also insist on the necessity of interpreting the Apostle in continuity with the consensual theological tradition. This should not shock. Are we surprised that Lutheran exegetes tend to discover a Paul who conforms to the Lutheran confessions, Reformed exegetes tend to discover a Paul who conforms to the Reformed confessions? Is it wrong to allow church doctrine to influence and form the exegesis of Holy Scripture?