Blogger Michael Barber, a Roman Catholic completing a PhD in theology at Fuller Seminary (yes, gentle readers, it is a brave new world), offers this analysis:
Notice here Pope Benedict's clear interest in highlighting the importance of biblical studies. In fact, one of the distinctive elements of Cardinal Ratzinger's work is his
attempt to do BIBLICAL theology. Catholic theolgoy [sic] needs to be bibilcally [sic] based. I'll have more to say about this in the future. Suffice it to say, the appointment of Vanhoye reveals two things. First, it indicates that the Pope has great respect for this biblical scholar. Second, it underscores his interest in fulfilling the Second Vatican Council's call for making the study of the Bible ("the study of the sacred page") the "soul of theology" (Dei Verbum, 24).
We too affirm that Catholic theology needs to be biblically based. What we wonder is whether Benedict and others are willing to allow a biblical theology to critique other voices in the Roman Catholic magisterium.
Since Vatican II, the Roman Catholic Church has produced an impressive array of biblical scholars. As a Neutestamentler up past his bedtime, I will name only a few American Neutestamentlers as examples: Joseph Fitzmyer, Raymond Brown, Luke Timothy Johnson. Without question, these giants of the academy have made enormous contributions to the understanding of Scripture, to the benefit of Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant Christians.
However, it is not at all clear that their scholarship can penetrate a theology that draws from other sources--tradition and the bishops--in significant measure. We recall a most remarkable turn in the impressive commentary on Mark's Gospel by German Roman Catholic scholar Rudolf Pesch. In an excursus on the "brothers" of Jesus in Mark 3:31ff, Pesch reviews in extensive detail the various views set forth historically on these figures. At his conclusion, he asserts that they are best understood as the natural sons of Mary and Joseph, born after Jesus. What then is to be done with the dogma of the Church that Mary was perpetually a virgin? Pesch simply remarks that the teaching of Scripture is one thing and the authoritative teaching of the Church is another.
Well, indeed it is. The question is what to do about it. While Catholicism has been in a state of off-and-on counter-reformation since the Protestant Reformation, the Reformers' justification for breaking free of Rome's control is as clear now as it was for Martin Luther at the Diet of Worms. It's tough to see the good news clearly through all that tradition. So here we Protestants stand, critiquing the tradition with Scripture. We cannot do otherwise.
We are happy that these days in some quarters Catholic lay people are discovering the Bible and grounding their personal faith in it. We hope that the same can be true for the Vatican, and that Vanhoye's appointment might presage that. The letter that Vanhoye studies, Hebrews, if read with even a modicum of care, sets forth a christocentric theology that utterly destroys what the Reformers insisted is wrong with the Roman Catholic Church, namely, its promotion of other mediators.
Roman Catholic thinkers are contributing mightily to the intellectual life of our republic these days (N.B. that five Supreme Court justices are Catholic: Scalia, Thomas, Kennedy, Roberts and Alito; also N.B. that the MSM still treated Alito's Catholicism as a novelty). Can they contribute to the life of their own church?