Urges Deeper Interest in Sacred Scripture

Author: Most Rev. Donald Herlihy, Bishop of Ferns


Most Rev. Donald Herlihy, Bishop of Ferns

Morning after morning when the Council Fathers met in St. Peter's Basilica, a simple but very impressive ceremony took place. The Book of the Gospels was enthroned. This ceremony of the enthronement of the Gospel signified the presidency of Christ over the Council—Christ as teacher in the midst of his disciples. It signified the presence of Christ through the medium of his word and through the instrumentality of his teaching. It reminded the Council Fathers that Christ whose word is truth was the great and just judge of all their deliberations. But, above all, the ceremony seized the opportunity day by day to express the wish for renewed esteem for the word of God in theology and liturgy and to urge the appeal of recent Popes from Leo XIII to Pius XII for a deeper appreciation of Sacred Scripture and a greater love for the Bible. "Our fervent and confident trust is that the faithful will give themselves in increasing numbers to a more frequent reading of the Bible and draw therefrom light and strength for the salvation of their souls" (Pius XII).

It is with a certain degree of hesitancy that we proclaim our love for Holy Writ. We hesitate because our knowledge of Sacred Scripture is limited and love is always proportioned to knowledge. We know all too little about the Bible. We know all too little about the part it plays in the life and prayer of the Church.

The Bible is God's book.

It is not surprising that the Constitution on Divine Revelation which deals with Scripture and Tradition as sources of that revelation devotes far more space to Scripture than it does to Tradition. The unique value of the Bible is that it is God's book. This we joyfully accept, but we do so only because the Church gives us a guarantee that it is so. God himself has not told us so directly. Likewise, we need the Church to interpret the Bible for us. In it everything is not clear and many things are hard to understand. "He always writes like this when he deals with this sort of subject: and this makes some points in his letters hard to understand. These are the points that uneducated and unbalanced people distort in the same way as they distort the rest of Scripture—a fatal thing for them to do" (2 Peter 3, 16). There are many things in Sacred Scripture that could be understood in different ways and quite sincerely so. Men may read and do read the Bible and often, in all sincerity they come to different conclusions on matters of the greatest importance. It is not like God as we know him to give us a message and then leave it impossible to get its right meaning. We need someone who will give us the mind of God. We need a real living authoritative voice that can give us the right answer. We need a voice, an authority guaranteed by God. Otherwise the Bible is just an interesting collection of pious books and folklore. The Church founded by Christ is the interpreter of the mind of God. To it Christ gave authority to speak in his name. "The task of providing an authoritative interpretation of God's word has been entrusted exclusively to the living teaching office of the Church whose authority is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ" (Constitution on Divine Revelation, 10). While acknowledging the teaching authority of the Church for our guidance in interpreting Holy Scripture, the Constitution encourages us to look to the Bible so as to deepen our knowledge of God and of the ways of God and to increase our love for him. The Bible is the one unfailing source of a sound and balanced spirituality. "In the Sacred Books God greets his children with great love and speaks with them. The force and the power in the word of God is so great that it stands as the support and energy of the Church, the strength of faith for her children, the food of the soul, the pure and everlasting source of spiritual life" (Constitution on Divine Revelation, 21).

Writers chosen by God

All Christians are agreed on the sacred character and divine origin of the Scriptures. God himself is their author. They constitute his written word communicated to men for their salvation. To compose these sacred books God chose men who wrote under the special divine influence called inspiration. These authors God assisted in the use of their faculties and talents but he did not disregard their free will nor did he change their normal methods and style of writing. St. Luke tells us he undertook a careful research by way of preparation before proceeding to write. "I, in my turn, after carefully going over the whole story from the beginning, have decided to write an ordered account for you" (Luke, 1, 2). They wrote as directed by God. They wrote all that he wanted and no more. They used their own style and wrote under the influence of the conditions and culture that prevailed in their time. Thereby, they reduced the wisdom of God to the level of being understood by those to whom and for whom they wrote.

The books of Holy Scripture, therefore, suited the purpose of God in that they taught "solidly, faithfully and without error, the truth which God wanted to put into writing for the sake of our salvation" (Constitution on Divine Revelation, 11). And Saint Paul can write "all scripture is inspired by God and can profitably be used for teaching, for refuting error, for guiding peoples' lives and teaching them to be holy. This is how the man who is dedicated to God becomes fully equipped and ready for any good work" (2 Timothy, 3, 16-17).

These favoured men who, under divine inspiration, made a contribution to the books of Sacred Scripture, have left a permanent record of the history of salvation, of the love of God for men. About some of them we know a good deal: about others, very little: but all of them were our co-believers in the one true God. They wrote for the benefit of the synagogue and the church and their work serves the People of God to the end of time.

Accessible to all through Translations

Holy Scripture—sometimes referred to as the library of God—is made up of seventy-two books, forty-five in the Old Testament and twenty-seven in the New. Some of them were written as far back as three thousand years ago. The languages in which they were written are Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek. But they were translated into other languages at different times and according as the need arose. In modern times, since the invention of printing and the advance of education, printed versions of the Bible are to be found in all languages. "Since the word of God should be accessible at all times, the Church by her authority and with maternal concern sees to it that suitable and correct translations ire made into different languages, especially from the original texts of the sacred books.

And should the opportunity arise and the Church authorities approve, if these translations are produced in co-operation with the separated brethren as well, all Christians will be able to use them" (Constitution on Divine Revelation, 22).

* * *

The Gospels, the most important part of the New Testament, give us the good news of the coming of Christ on earth, the fulfilment of God's promise. In them his actions and words are recorded. These were first proclaimed by word of mouth and handed on from lip to lip. In the course of time they were committed to writing by various scribes, of whom four were accepted by the early Church with special reverence. All four seem to follow the same pattern,

the preaching of John the Baptist,
our Lord's mission in Galilee,
our Lord's mission in Judea and Jerusalem,
his passion and death, his resurrection and ascension into heaven.

Because of their different circumstances, the gospels differ from each other in many ways. But they all proclaim the basic truth about Jesus Christ, Son of man and Son of God. "It is common knowledge that among all the Scriptures, even those of the New Testament, the gospels have a special pre-eminence and rightly so, for they are the principal witness for the life and teaching of the incarnate word, our Saviour. The Church has always and everywhere held and continues to hold that the four gospels are of apostolic origin. For what the apostles preached in fulfilment of the commission of Christ, afterwards they themselves and apostolic men under the inspiration of the Divine Spirit, handed on to us in writing, the foundation of faith, namely, the four-fold gospel according to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John" (Constitution on Divine Revelation, 18). Besides the four gospels, the Canon of the New Testament contains the letters of St. Paul and other apostolic writing composed under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The epistles of St. Paul are the first attempt at Christian theology, worked out by a man of deep religious conviction and entirely dedicated to the love of God and his fellow man. St. Paul is not merely the first great theologian: all subsequent theologians have drawn from him and have been enriched by his insights into the mystery of salvation.

"Ignorance of Scripture—ignorance of God"

The Pauline letters have another significance which makes them unique. They are the earliest Christian writings, older than all other writings of the New Testament, including the gospels. They are, therefore, the earliest witness to the deposit of faith as it was known and accepted by the first followers of Christ.

Since the Vatican Council it has been noticed that a deeper interest has been aroused in Sacred Scripture. More people nowadays read the word of God. Many ways have been devised to encourage them to study and love the Scriptures.

Study circles have been formed, Bible services are being held, Scripture reading guides are being published, all in line with the spirit and directives of Vatican II. "This Sacred Synod earnestly urges all the Christian faithful, especially Religious, to learn by frequent reading of the Divine Scriptures, the excellent knowledge of Jesus Christ. For ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ. Therefore, they should gladly put themselves in touch with the sacred text itself, whether it be through the liturgy rich in the divine word or through devotional reading, or through instruction suitable for the purpose and other aids which in our time with the approval and active support of the shepherds of the Church are commendably spread everywhere" (Constitution on Divine Revelation, 25).

The liturgy is, of course, the best way in which to become familiar with, the word of God, because here the reading and explanation of the Scriptures takes place within the framework of the Mass. The first part of the Mass, that we now call the Liturgy of the Word, reproduces the synagogue service of the Jews and is made up almost exclusively of the reading and explanation of the Scriptures. Our Lord himself canonized this form of prayer. "He came to Nazareth where he had been brought up and went into the Synagogue on the sabbath day as he usually did. He stood up to read and they handed him the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. Unrolling the scroll he found the place where it is written: 'the spirit of the Lord has been given to me, but he has anointed me, he has sent me to bring The good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives, and to the blind new sight, to set the downtrodden free, to proclaim the Lord's year of favour.' He then rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the assistant and sat down, and all eyes in the Synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to speak to them, 'this text is being fulfilled to-day even as you listen.' And he won the approval of all and they were astonished by the gracious words that came from his lips" (Luke 4, 16-22)...


Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
22 August 1968, page 7

L'Osservatore Romano is the newspaper of the Holy See.
The Weekly Edition in English is published for the US by:

The Cathedral Foundation
L'Osservatore Romano English Edition
320 Cathedral St.
Baltimore, MD 21201
Subscriptions: (410) 547-5315
Fax: (410) 332-1069