No matter how good we have it, no matter how wealthy we are, or how many good friends we have, or even how holy we are, all of us will experience sorrow in this life. A couple of years into my marriage when my wife, newborn child, and I were living in Ireland, I experienced a great deal of sorrow. I was never diagnosed as having depression, but the symptoms were similar to what other depressed people experience.
At the end of our days, the Catholic Church teaches that every human person must reckon with the same realities. She calls these the “Four Last Things”: Death, Judgement, Heaven, and Hell. We all will die. We all will meet Christ the Judge. And we all will enter into the eternity which we freely chose through our actions in the world.
Martin Luther rejected the Catholic Church’s declared authority to be the interpreter of Scripture for two reasons. First, in his eyes, the evident corruption of the Church, especially the papacy, entirely undermined the Church’s claim to be the divinely ordained, magisterial caretaker of orthodoxy through its tradition (traditio) of interpretation.
What Christians are currently witnessing is that the gods of burgeoning postmodernity are not, in the end, interested in sharing space with the Lord God. Even if Christians are willing to leave these gods alone, the gods themselves have no intention of leaving Christians alone. Pagans sooner or later realize that Christianity cannot really be just another cult, that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob can never really be just another god in their pantheon. Pagans recognize— often, it seems, before Christians themselves—that true Christianity just can’t fit in.
Sociologists at the University of Arizona and Duke University conducted a longitudinal study on social isolation from 1985 to 2005. In 1985 they found that most Americans could name three people they considered very close friends and confidants. By 2005, however, one in four Americans reported having no close friends—no one in whom they could discuss their thoughts or struggles. The number of the self-identified friendless had doubled in twenty years.
Why should anyone worry about the history of Scripture scholarship, especially reaching all the way back to the early fourteenth century?
The simple answer is that our peculiar situation today—in which priests, preachers, and people in the pews study the Bible as the inspired Word of God and academic Scripture scholars in universities study the Bible as an ancient book of mythology—is the result of the history of Scripture scholarship. We are searching for the reasons for this Great Divide, and that means searching for its ultimate origins.
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