Listen: Michael Trainor in conversation with Stephen O’Doherty.
Catholic theologian, Reverend Dr Michael Trainor, has a wide ranging conversation on Open House about Catholic belief and practice. He thinks Protestantism has given Catholics many gifts and Catholics should receive them with an open heart.
Bringing the Bible to Catholics
Senior Lecturer in Biblical Studies at Australian Catholic University (ACU) Adelaide, Rev Dr Michael Trainor, is presenting ‘The Bible for Living’ a short course on the Bible – aimed mainly at a Catholic audience. The course aims to teach people how to understand and live the Bible and has attracted strong enrollments. Rev Dr Trainor says he has noticed in recent years that Catholics, particularly older Catholics, are wanting to know more about the Bible.
“They have curiosity about what the Bible is. We have learnt from our Protestant colleagues where the Bible sits in our tradition. [During the course] you get an understanding of what the Bible is and what some of the stories are about and how to engage those stories in a way that is meaningful for people’s lives. That is the essence of it” he says.
The Protestant Reformation
Michael Trainor says to understand why Catholics have this need you need to wind back a few hundred years and mention the ‘R’ word; the Reformation.
“When the Protestant renewal movement began it was assisting people to come to read the Bible in their own language. Now prior to that, in Roman Catholicism, the word of God was shared with us by the means of the preacher, the priest, and was accessible only to those who knew Latin. So the Protestant reaction was to put the Bible in the vernacular which opened up the Bible to ordinary Christians who didn’t have to have all that theological background or know Latin. The reaction to that in Catholicism, was to focus on the Eucharist. From the 16th century the focus was on the celebration of the Lord’s Supper and devotion to the Blessed Sacrament and so on.” Rev Dr Trainor explained on Open House.
Catholics thankful for Protestant influence
“So from the 16th Century – right up until the middle of the 20th century – Catholics were not exposed to an understanding of the Bible that was accessible in their own language. It really was through the Biblical movement in Europe through Protestants that Catholics came (reluctantly in some ways) to embrace the modern Biblical movement. ” he says.
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“That was encouraged through the Second Vatican Council in the 1960’s. The leaders of the Catholic church gathered and really began to help Catholics see that part of our heritage is the Biblical heritage, which we need to embrace. We are thankful to the Protestant movement of that renewal.”
Personal faith in Jesus
When asked about the issue of the difference between a personal faith in Jesus and a faith in Jesus that is part of a sacramental religion, Rev Dr Trainor was again thankful for the influence of Protestants.
“At the heart of everything, and what is critical is this relationship to Jesus. I think Evangelical Protestantism is encouraging us as Catholics to allow the gift of Evangelical Protestantism and its emphasis on this personal relationship to Jesus to help us as Catholics to move into that relationship with Jesus.” he says.
Gifts received with an open heart
“In the past, what has happened in some ways – and I don’t mean this disrespectfully to my own bishops and so on- but I think, in the past, that personal relationship has been blocked or hindered and you could say, mediated, by the religious leader of our congregations. I think there is a move now, and particularly assisted by Pope Francis, for us to come into a personal relationship with Jesus. I think the gift of Evangelical Protestantism, and mainstream Protestantism, in terms of Biblical heritage, these are the gifts we as Roman Catholics could receive with an open heart.” says Michael Trainor.
Rev Dr Trainor was also enthusiastic about the Biblical idea, promoted by Martin Luther (who said the word Priest should become as common as the word Christian) of the ‘priesthood of all believers’. “I think the reclaiming of baptismal priesthood is the key to renewal in the Roman Catholic Church.”says Rev Dr Trainor.
He feels the upcoming Australian Catholic Plenary Council (the first in 70 years) is an important part of a process that will take, he acknowledges, time. The Plenary Council is a way for Bishops to communicate with the body of the church. Rev Dr Trainor believes the Bishops are open to listening to the needs of the local churches and the question that has been put by the Bishop’s is “What is God saying to us Catholics at this time in Australia?”
Biblical heritage speaking into today’s world
“If we are to answer that question openly it will change the way we are as a church within the Australian context; given absolutely everything that has been happening over the last couple of years especially in the light of the Royal Commission calling us to integrity and fidelity to what we believe.” he says
“At the heart of everything there is a dialogue we need to take between our heritage, our Biblical heritage, and how that’s been interpreted over the centuries and how God is acting in the culture of our day.’
“This comes back to the course I am teaching. There is a dialogue both between the Biblical inspired word on the one hand and on the other hand how this can speak into our own lives as we lead them today surrounded by all the challenges never anticipated by Jesus of Nazareth or by Abraham from the Old Testament.” says Rev Dr Michael Trainor.
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