A ROOF WITHOUT WALLS
AND MARKAN PRIORITY’S SERIOUS IMPACT
Following the 2nd Vatican Council, many Catholic Scripture scholars felt themselves free to teach Markan priority. By the late 1960s many Catholic scholars were openly teaching that science had proved the gospels were not historically reliable. These scholars taught that the 2000-year-old historical evidence and the traditional exegesis had now been accepted by Rome to be debatable.
The New Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture was published in 1969. The word: New implies that its ideas on the Scriptures superseded those of the 1953 Commentary. But as the earlier 1953 edition conforms to history, the Church Fathers and the decrees of Church Councils, it is still valid.
In the 1969 edition, a supporter of Markan Priority wrote the commentaries on the Gospels of Matthew and Mark, Acts, 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus. Other Markans covered Luke and John. ((NCCHS 709fg)). But the 1953 edition is not redundant. The new edition merely provided an alternative presentation based on Markan priority. The test of time will show which edition becomes redundant.
The faith of many was undermined by the claim that the gospels were not historically reliable. Some parted from the Church. But others loved Christ and his Church too much to leave. They hoped a way of reconciling the church’s position with ‘science’ would be found.
In this atmosphere, where ‘religious experiences’ and ‘feelings’ replaced logic and reason, fideism grew. Much was heard of ‘Gospel Values’ but little of ‘Gospel Truths’. Yet how long will one last without the other?
‘Radical Bible scholarship shook or destroyed belief, and some kind of philosophical subjectivism was then called in to shore up the ruins, with dogmas as symbolic expressions of personal experience’ ((PT 160-161)).
A leading English Catholic scripture scholar, Leonard Johnson, had earlier foreseen the danger of relying on personal experience and fideism. When introducing a book in 1960, he pointed out that the Gospel taught:
‘The Word became flesh’. But it would be of little value if, after a few years of Christ’s mortal existence, we lost contact with him and all we were left with was: ‘the Christ of Faith’.
‘There are people who claim that it was the faith of the Church that created the gospels; that the gospels are wonderful legends, pious imaginations in which the Church expressed its devotion to its leader. They then dismantle the solid edifice of the gospels in an attempt to get back to the Christ of history behind the Christ of faith.
And when they find that their meddling brings down the building in ruins about their ears, they console themselves with the theory that it is after all faith alone which counts—like people who would have a roof over their heads with nothing to support it’. [i.e. A roof without walls].
But the Christ of faith is the Christ of history. It is not the devotion of the Church which produced the gospels, but exactly the opposite -the gospels are the firm foundation of the Church’s faith’(LC xv)).
The serious effects of Markan Priority may be illustrated by the stories of two English priests. The first, Charles Davis, was an important young theologian who considered that as Europe had rejected monarchy and hierarchy as a political system, the continuing hierarchal structure of Pope, bishops, priests and laity was a barrier to conversion. But as he continued to believe that Christ had founded the Church, he remained with her while calling for wide spread modernisation.
But, in late 1966, Davis examined biblical criticism and saw how most exegetes, including many leading Catholics, had come to accept Markan priority and therefore the late dating of the gospels. Davis judged that this meant that none of the Gospels had been written by eyewitnesses of Christ’s life.
So the evidence for Christ establishing a hierarchical Church was absent. He left the Church in December 1966 and in a subsequent book, devoted five chapters to Markan priority with one entitled: ‘The origin of my doubts’ ((CD 126)).
The second priest, the main Markan priority contributor to the 1969 New Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture, remained within the Church. But the logic of his views eventually bore fruit.
At a meeting in Jerusalem during 2002 he suggested that:
‘In the first generation of Christians the focus of overall authority was the church at Jerusalem not Peter’. He added: ‘…Peter seems to have lost his overriding authority at least after leaving Jerusalem and ... [the] probable reason for the authority of Rome in ecclesiastical matters is its overwhelming secular importance as the capital of the empire’ (HWF)).
It is difficult to see how this opinion may be reconciled with a decree of the First Vatican Council, Session 4, Chapter I, sections 3, 4 and 6:
‘And it was to Peter alone that Jesus after his resurrection confided the jurisdiction of supreme pastor and ruler of his whole fold,  … the Sacred Scriptures … are clearly opposed to the distorted opinions of those who … deny that Peter, … was endowed by Christ with a true and proper primacy of jurisdiction. . Therefore if anyone says that …it was …not …proper jurisdiction that he directly and immediately received from our Lord Jesus Christ himself … let him be anathema’.  ((VAT)).
In a student guide, the same author taught that, ‘the beloved disciple’, was neither John the Apostle nor anyone else. It was an image of a perfect disciple of Christ created by an unknown author living in an unknown place at an unknown time. The students were not informed of traditional teaching or of Dei Verbum, paragraphs 7 and 18. Yet the author did find room to inform his students of: ‘the great Rudolf Bultmann’. ((HWG 11 and 45)).
In the early 20th Century, Alfred Loisy denied ‘the beloved disciple’ was an historical person. Loisy explained that:
‘He is the young Church, to whom was entrusted the heritage of Judaism and Jewish Christianity’.
In response to his 1908 book: Les Evangiles Synoptiques, and to other writings,
Loisy was excommunicated the same year.