A catechetical ministry lauds a Bible which was ultimately withdrawn for ‘revision’ because of its heretical and syncretistic commentaries
The First Indian Catholic Bible in English: A Catechetical Appraisal
By Fr. Gilbert Choondal SDB
The much awaited Indian Bible from Pauline Publications, The New Community Bible, is released on the day Pauline Year was inaugurated. The work for an Indian Bible was started in 1980. It is the fruit of arduous labour of a large number of Indian Biblical Scholars. Though it is a re-edition of the Christian Community Bible that was published from Philippines, it has several new features that makes it very much Indian! The popularity of this Bible was seen on the first day of its release! Among the 15,000 copies printed in its first print of this edition, circa 10,000 copies were sold on the first day itself! This Bible may take over any other books as the best seller of the year among Indian ecclesiastical Publications. My attempt in writing this appraisal was to view the Bible from a catechetical eye, so as to provide an Indian catechetical significance of this Bible. I do this by analysing its Indian features and other Catechetical features of this Bible.
Catechesis as Interpretation
Let me begin by explaining what exactly catechesis is. The purpose of catechesis is to revitalise our life of faith. In the process of rejuvenating our faith-life, catechesis utilises hermeneutics, narrative styles and communicative methods. To correlate faith to interpretative characteristics is the challenge of catechesis today.
Hermeneutics is the science of interpretation. The Greek verb hermneuein means both to interpret and to translate, thus implying dual activities of establishing the meaning of a text and expressing its meaning in a context for which it is not immediately evident.
Is not catechesis an interpretation of faith, retelling the faith stories? Groome considers his catechetical approach of Shared Christian Praxis entails hermeneutics throughout, in interpreting both present praxis and Christian Story and Vision. This interpretation is dialogical in nature since participants and agents (catechists) share in interpretation. Hence, every interpretation of faith can be defined as catechesis.
Bible as Catechesis
The Bible is not just a history book or some stories of some people. Rather, it is the faith-story of a people called by God. This faith-story was written by the inspired writers of the Bible to instil into the people of their times a mature faith. The Word of God thus forms, nurtures and transforms the faith of the people. If this is the effect of the Bible, Bible is a catechism to educate people to faith. Every book of the Bible was written for a specific faith need of the people of a distinct nature. After Gutenberg’s press brought out the first printed Bible, the Word of God had a tremendous effect on the faith of the people till today.
Though the Word of God catecheses, present Bibles are more catechetical than Gutenberg’s first printed version of the Bible. The additional features included in every Bible are helpful indicators for catechesis. Several of the versions of the Bible have introduced subtitles to distinct passages. This provides a better understanding of the passage for the reader. By understanding the subtitle of the passage, the reader is helped to understand the passage clearly. This was one of the first form of catechesis of the Bible in recent times. Though Catholic Bibles were late in introducing this new feature in comparison with protestant Bibles, we see almost all the Catholic editions of the Bible contain this feature.
An introductory instruction to every book of the Bible that are found in most of the Bible now is a very good means to understand that particular book from its structure, purpose, target audience, history and faith content. Presently, we have a variety of features in most of the Bibles such as pictures, introduction to Bible, artworks, cross references, maps, footnotes and indices. All these features added to a Bible make the Bible today a real catechism!
Catechetical features of the Indian Bible
What then, are the specific and Indian features that are catechetical in nature in this Bible? Going through the pages of NCB, one finds several unique features. NCB does not use old English. The text is meant for easy reading. A brief but accurate and authoritative introduction opens each of the major divisions of both the Old and the New Testaments – the Pentateuch, the Historical books, the Wisdom Books, the Prophetic Books in the Old Testament, the Gospels, and the Letters of Paul, in the New Testament. In addition, each book of the Bible has a brief introduction concluding with the structure of the Book itself. A typical page of the NCB has three items, viz., the text, the commentary, and a box placed between the text and the commentary containing helpful cross references. As far as possible the editors have maintained to keep the same sub-titles in the commentary so that one can easily identify the section of the text that is commented upon. All these are helpful catechetical tools to nurture one’s faith. But, what exactly are the typical Indian catechetical features of NCB? They are just two items: multi-religious references at the commentary and the Indian artworks.
Inter-religious catechesis (references to scriptures of other faiths)
Catechesis in the context of other faiths has been a serious concern in the Church. The General Directory for Catechesis states that catechesis in multi-religious context, calls for three basic requirements: forming fervent Christian communities and well-prepared native catechists; facilitating the Christians in discerning what is contrary to the Christian message and to accept at times seeds of the Gospel that are found in other faiths; finally, promoting mutual respect and understanding and lively missionary sense. A catechesis in the context of other faiths can be challenging and at times leading to syncretism. But, going through the references to scriptures of other faiths, one will not have the problem of syncretism in these commentaries or quotes. This is clearly given at the introduction of the Bible by the General Editor, Dr. Augustine Kanachikuzhy SSP.
“References made to the Indian Scriptures in the commentary could perhaps make some Christians uncomfortable. The question may be raised why as to Indian scriptures are referred to in a Biblical commentary. Such references serve only to get a more inter-cultural and contextualised understanding of certain Biblical terms and concepts. Highlighting some meeting points would also serve as an invitation for people of other faiths to approach and draw from the treasures of the Bible. For example, speaking about light and darkness in Genesis 1:14, the commentary says that “light is considered good and desirable also in the Vedas. The expression Tamsoma Jyotirgamaya is a well-known expression from Brihadaranyaka Upanishad. This, however, does not imply in any way that Indian Scriptural terms are parallel to Biblical terms or that the parallel references saying the same thing as the Biblical text.”
The NCB fulfils what GDC requested for an inter-religious catechesis. However, the prior requirement for the reader is a basic conviction about his/her own faith identity. This approach of NCB is surely going to attract people of other faiths too.
Visual Catechesis (Indian artworks in NCB)
The early icons were the gospel of the poor, so said Pope Gregory the Great. But Suger, the Abbot of St. Denis and a contemporary of St. Bernard, went a step further from the didactic nature of icons saying that the material beauty (in objects and images) sets us on a path of self-transcendence. A significant innovation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, in comparison to the Roman Catechism, is its use of the works of Christian art. The CCC employs five images: the logo on the cover, and four pictures, two of frescos, one of a sculpture, and one of a painting, each introducing one of the four main sections or pillars. The Compendium of Catechism of the Catholic Church includes 14 images taken from masterpieces of Christian art, to illustrate the beginning of each part or section. “The sacred images, with their beauty, are also a proclamation of the Gospel and express the splendour of the Catholic truth,” explained Benedict XVI during the presentation ceremony of CCCC.
It is this reason that makes the illustrations in NCB as powerful tool for communicating faith stories of the Bible. The NCB contains twenty four delicate yet power line drawings. The artworks are creations of late Fr. Christopher Coelho OFM, the renowned script writer of the all-time popular Indian film on Jesus, Karunamaidu. These twenty four artworks are assets to the NCB. The artworks in NCB have several levels of interpretations: The powerful expressive line drawings in Indian images not only convey inculturated view of the Biblical faith-story but expresses powerfully emotions and feelings of persons in the Word of God. For example, the expressive emotional face of Job (p. 866) conveys his physical, mental and spiritual struggles. Second level of this art is reinterpreted text to other Biblical texts. The angel’s call to Elijah in his desperate moment to eat the mysterious bread for sustenance of forty days is depicted in the art (p.516) as pre-figuration of the Eucharistic Bread. Finally, the illustrations succeed in blending the Biblical realities to present day living. The famous quote on the future peace and harmony in the world (“They will beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not lift up sword against nations…” Micah 4:3) is depicted as sword being beaten into the process of a farming tool in the background of an atom bomb explosion! Each illustration stands as a powerful symbolic catechetical poster filled with deep cultural, anthropological faith experience!
Proposals for a better catechetical edition of NCB
Though I do appreciate several features of this Bible, it leaves room for many more features for a better catechesis. First of all, the Indian Bible deflects from its original version of the Christian Community Bible in many of the features. The title is changed to The New Community Bible. Most glaring difference is the absence of introductory guidelines (almost 40 pages) to the entire Bible. These introductory guidelines contained history of the Bible editions, introduction to the Bible, indices, timeline, catechetical features of the Bible, etc. These features are very useful for the laity and clergy for catechesis and proper appreciation of the Word of God. The colour maps found in the Christian Community Bible were reduced to black and white. The calligraphic texts in the maps are not pleasant to read in these maps too. The brief lexicon given at the end is missing. A topical and thematic index is a very useful quick reference to the entire Bible. This does clarify certain concepts and terms that are not intelligible to ordinary faithful.
Though calligraphic texts are artistic and provide an appreciation to this ancient biblical art, division of titles to letters and syllables and sometimes reduced to misleading divisions can be confusing to the reader. The book of Wisdom is written as W/isdom, Proverbs as P/roverbs, Maccabees as Macca/bees (almost read as Mecca and bees), Chronicles as Chroni/cles or Thessalonians as Thes/saloni/ans! These titles can be presented in a better way.
One of the best part of the Bible is the artwork itself. They are the most attractive form of visual catechesis in the NCB. I would prefer a detailed explanation of each illustration given at the back of the picture. This would help the readers to understand and use them for catechesis. I would recommend more of such artworks in NCB! It is an asset to the Bible.
The first Indian Catholic Bible in English is an incentive to many more Bibles that can be edited and published from India. I hope there will be an Indian Youth Bible (A Bible meant for ministering youth and helping Indian youth), Indian Family Bible (meant for family catechesis and family animation), etc. Such Bibles are catechesis in themselves! The final inner cover of the NCB is beautifully scripted with this statement: “All these things that were written long ago were written for our learning today, so that by the endurance and comfort the Scriptures give us, we may have hope (ref. Romans 15:4).” I may add two more words: faith and love. That is catechesis.
The New Community Bible series:
NEW COMMUNITY BIBLE 01-A CRITIQUE JULY 14, 2008
NEW COMMUNITY BIBLE 02-THE PAPAL SEMINARY, PUNE, INDIAN THEOLOGIANS, AND THE CATHOLIC ASHRAMS 18 SEPTEMBER 2008/SEPTEMBER 2009/APRIL 2012
NEW COMMUNITY BIBLE 03-A FRENCH THEOLOGIAN DENOUNCES ERRORS IN THE COMMENTARIES FEBRUARY 24, 2009
NEW COMMUNITY BIBLE 04-THE ONGOING ROBBERY OF FAITH FEBRUARY 24, 2009
NEW COMMUNITY BIBLE 05-THE ANGEL GABRIEL DID NOT APPEAR TO THE VIRGIN MARY MARCH 15, 2009
NEW COMMUNITY BIBLE 06-PRESS REPORTS AND READERS’ CRITICISMS MARCH 22, 2009/DECEMBER 2009
NEW COMMUNITY BIBLE 06A-EPHESIANS-511.NET PRESS REPORTS
NEW COMMUNITY BIBLE 07-UNPUBLISHED LETTERS AGAINST ITS ERRONEOUS COMMENTARIES-THE EXAMINER MAY 2009
NEW COMMUNITY BIBLE 08-LETTERS CALLING FOR ITS WITHDRAWAL 31 DECEMBER 2008/DECEMBER 2009
NEW COMMUNITY BIBLE 09-LETTER TO THE CONGREGATION FOR THE DOCTRINE OF THE FAITH APRIL-MAY 2009
NEW COMMUNITY BIBLE 10-CORRESPONDENCE WITH THE SECULAR MEDIA, AND WITH PRIEST-CRITICS OF OUR CRUSADE AGAINST ITS ERRORS MAY 2009
NEW COMMUNITY BIBLE 11-VATICAN HELD RESPONSIBLE, BRAHMIN LEADERS DEMAND ITS WITHDRAWAL JUNE 25, 2009/DECEMBER 2009
NEW COMMUNITY BIBLE 12-LETTERS TO ROME JUNE 2009/AUGUST 2013
NEW COMMUNITY BIBLE 13-RESPONSES FROM THE BISHOPS AND THEIR EXECUTIVE COMMISSIONS AUGUST 2009
NEW COMMUNITY BIBLE 14-UKRAINIAN ORTHODOX GREEK CATHOLIC BISHOPS CALL IT A NEW AGE BIBLE, “EXCOMMUNICATE” INDIAN BISHOPS
MARCH 2010/APRIL 2012
NEW COMMUNITY BIBLE 15-DEMAND FOR ORDINATION OF WOMEN PRIESTS-FR SUBHASH ANAND AND OTHERS
APRIL 2010/JULY 2010/APRIL 2012/17 MARCH/10 APRIL 2013
NEW COMMUNITY BIBLE 16-CRITIQUE BY DERRICK D’COSTA
NEW COMMUNITY BIBLE 17-EXTOLLED BY CAMALDOLI BENEDICTINE OBLATE 1/5/10 MAY 2013
NEW COMMUNITY BIBLE 18-REVISED EDITION COMING, ST PAULS IN DENIAL JULY 2010/DECEMBER 2011
NEW COMMUNITY BIBLE 19-REVISED EDITION PUBLISHED A YEAR AFTER DENIAL JULY 2010/DECEMBER 2011
NEW COMMUNITY BIBLE 20-HALF-TRUTHS FROM CARDINAL OSWALD GRACIAS 28 JUNE 2013
NEW COMMUNITY BIBLE 21-INDIAN CHURCH’S SYNCRETIZED BIBLE EXPORTED 7 MARCH/6/9/24/30 MAY/5 JUNE, 2013
NEW COMMUNITY BIBLE 22-BISHOP AGNELO GRACIAS DEFENDS IT YET IT IS PULLED FOR REVISION FEBRUARY 2015
NEW COMMUNITY BIBLE 23-EDDIE RUSSELL CALLS IT A HINDUISED HERETICAL BIBLE FEBRUARY 2015
NEW COMMUNITY BIBLE 24-WHAT WERE THE REVISIONS MADE IN IT?
NEW COMMUNITY BIBLE 25-REVISED EDITION NOT RECOMMENDED FOR CATHOLICS FEBRUARY 2015
NEW COMMUNITY BIBLE 26-RESPONSES TO REVISED EDITION NOT RECOMMENDED FOR CATHOLICS
NEW COMMUNITY BIBLE 27-CARDINAL OSWALD GRACIAS STILL IN DENIAL OF RESPONSIBILITY FOR ITS ERRORS
HINDU RELIGIOUS MARK ON THE FOREHEAD 22-THE NEW COMMUNITY BIBLE
Categories: Hinduisation of the Catholic Church in India