Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302
The Question Box
by Father I.J. Mikulski
(From the Sept. 15, 2011 edition of the Inland Register)
Q. This is a practical question. There’s controversy about which books belong in the original Bible, or not, and how to interpret them, or not. I wonder if those arguments will ever be settled and those apocryphal books just now becoming known. I don’t listen to TV preachers. My question: What was their writing material that lasted so long?
A. There’s a blizzard of manuscripts blowing around out there, more than 100 apocryphal books. Some foolish, some serious, some fake and some pretentious. None of them will ever be added to the accepted canon of the Bible. The time of selection is long past.
There were two materials suitable for writing: papyrus and parchment. Both were developed specifically for preserving documents. Papyrus sheets were made by stripping the rind off water reeds and laying them in vertical rows, slightly overlapping, then spreading another row horizontally. The sheet was beaten, pressed and squeezed. After drying, the horizontal side was suitable for writing.
Papyrus was nearly as durable as paper if it was not exposed to moisture, causing mildew, or dryness, making it brittle as old leaves. With careful storage 30,000 Greek papyri have been found in Egypt.
Parchment was a product of sheep skin. It was washed, depilated, soaked in lime, stretched on a frame, rubbed with chalk and finally polished with pumice stone. Both sides could be used. It could be rolled in a scroll, sealed with a gob of wax. It was the finest, most expensive, writing material. To use every inch of it scribes often copied lines with no margins, capital letters, punctuation, paragraphs or even vowels, all consonants just running together. Old Hebrew and Syrian alphabets had no vowels. You inserted them as you went along.
The Dead Sea Scrolls discovered in the late 1940s consist of some 600 manuscripts, 10 complete scrolls and thousands of fragments.
You can see that competent Scripture scholars have a jolly good time of it. The best are fluent enough to finish Latin, Greek and Hebrew crossword puzzles for entertainment.
Q. What about people who defy the laws of God knowingly and just don’t care? My family has some of those. No amount of urging matters to them. But yet the idea of hell seems too harsh for them because they’re mostly good otherwise. Can you explain my problem?
A. The decision for anyone’s eternal consignment is not mine, or yours. God doesn’t need our evaluation even though we might be anxious to give an opinion.
We don’t know who is presently in hell. We may share some conjecture that world-class degenerates like Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Saddam Hussein and such monsters are candidates who deserve eternal punishment, but we’re not sure. If not them, then who?
Recall the story Jesus told about poor Lazarus, a bum who sat at the curb of a rich man’s mansion. Both men died. Lazarus was now sitting in a place of honor at Abraham’s right with a grandstand view of hell. The rich man was in hell and his brothers would soon follow. What was their common sin? Negligence. A refusal to share.
Serious sin, like any break-up, is a gradual process of weakening ties until the love is gone and there’s no desire to continue. Divorce from God is the ultimate sin.
Q. Can you give a simple definition of what “unchurched” means when it appears in surveys?
A. Political pollsters zero in on that elusive person by defining him as someone who no longer belongs to any church or synagogue for at least six months, not counting the big feasts of Christmas, Easter or High Holy Days. Every denomination has a few such escapees.
Pollsters estimate that our Catholic faith has more lapsed members than the second place denomination has active members. That’s not surprising. We’ve been active for 20 centuries. If we could re-claim all our baptized Catholics we would out-number the second place denomination by at least 10 to 1.