Sunday, 27 June 2010

The Word of God

Fr Hunwicke has quite rightly taken me to task for my post about clerical education in the Church of England. While generally agreeing with what I wrote, he pointed out that the picture in Catholic seminaries wasn't quite as rosy as I had portrayed it, specifically with regard to the study of the ancient languages and homiletics. I put a comment on his post acknowledging the justice of what he said, though, in defence, I had sinned only by inadvertent omission, and not commission.

I think, though, that I should note another lack, and that is the study of scripture as scripture: I mean that though 'modern' scripture scholarship is done thoroughly and well, there is a lack of excitement about the word of God for its own sake. I think that this is generally true of the Catholic Church these days, and it needs remedying. It was not always true in the past, despite the propaganda; it was said of Blessed Antonio Grassi that he knew the entire Bible by heart; the minutes of the committee meetings at the Council of Trent (which were all faithfully recorded) reveal a most profound knowledge and love of the scriptures and patristics on the part of the council fathers, coupled with the ability to quote from both effortlessly. The wonderful output of that council did not happen by accident! Their proficiency went light-years beyond that of the fathers and periti at either of the Vatican councils. The seminarians at Douai were deeply steeped in the scriptures; the Bible was read at every meal, and, as we know, they made their own translation, destined to be so accurate (according to the standards of the day) that whole passages were lifted into the Authorized (King James) Bible. Philip Neri's Oratory from the very start put the study of Scripture at its heart. 'Daily sharing of the Word of God' is one of the foundational cornerstones of the Oratory, meaning by this both the Scriptures and also preaching.

I was first alerted to the modern (meaning probably over the last couple of hundred years or so) disinclination to read the Bible when I listened to the talks of Scott Hahn and Gerry Matatics. These men, formerly Presbyterian ministers from the Southern States of the US, brought to me a completely new understanding of the Scriptures. These men love the Word of God (it brought them into the Catholic Church), and that love is infectious. Gerry Matatics has sadly gone over to some Sedevacantist sect now, and perhaps Scott Hahn is a little too charismatic for my taste, but their talks wonderfully reveal Catholic truth at the very heart of the scriptures, and this quite extraordinarily enriches doctrine—exactly as should happen. This then should feed into preaching and exponentially give it strength. One of the purposes of preaching is to strengthen people's faith, and if they can see the Word of God alive in the scriptures, that is exactly what it will do. I have taken the somewhat controversial step (why controversial?) of placing Bibles in all the pews of my churches, and I do see people reading them before Mass, once the newsletter has been milked of all interest.

I wonder if all this is to do with the fact that since the Reformation we have known that 'Protestants read Bibles', therefore we have demonstrated that we are not Protestants by believing Church teaching and tending to know only the Bible as it occurs at Mass. It is common knowledge (and easy Protestant propaganda) that Bibles in English were forbidden in the years before the Reformation. This is not because it was forbidden per se to the laity, but so that anyone who would read the Bible would have had an education, knowing Latin, and would not interpret it in ignorance. This arose from the Lollard crisis, and it was not the same in other countries; in Luther's Germany, I believe there were already several vernacular translations of the Bible.
(Aside—some like to claim that lay Catholics are denied access to the Bible to this day: I once debated with a Jehovah's Witness who asserted baldly that today's Catholics even have to listen to sermons in Latin, that vernacular preaching is forbidden! Magari, (if only!) as the Italians say). The fact that I denied this was simply proof of my mendacity.

When Cyril and Methodius began cautiously to celebrate Mass in Slavonic, permission was given by the Holy Father for the Liturgy to be in the vernacular, but not the scriptures: the argument was that the three languages on the titulus of the cross, Hebrew, Latin and Greek, were by that fact the only languages in which the scriptures should be read. No doubt this made sense at the time.

I would dearly love to see a revival in the love of the scriptures among Catholics; it would deepen our faith considerably to see how the truths of the faith are borne out by the Bible. Church teaching, when orthodox, is enough to get us by, but surely lay (and a fortiori, clerical) nourishment from the Word of God is a good thing. This is hardly controversial; many recent Popes have encouraged the reading of scriptures with indulgences, but how many of us read the Scriptures directly (and with a helpful commentary) as part of our daily devotion?


Dominic Mary said...

Thank you for the inspiration, Father !

English Pastor said...

I watched Jeff Cavins/Scott Hahn's series "Our Father's Plan" on EWTN, as well as Jeff Cavin's series "The Great Adventure" and yes, from these, a new reverence and love for the Holy Scriptures was initiated. Sadly in my time at seminary (c.20 years ago) all we got was the Bible via Redaction Criticism, Form Criticism and Source Criticism, which all but tore inspiration from the text and made the scriptures a dry, intellectual pursuit rather than a love letter the Lord on our family history. The TV series noted above also brought the Divine Office alive for me, but a feeling of inadequacy also arose since we had no formal course on Hebrew, Greek or Latin in our seminary -not that I have the language abilities to have succeeded in the courses but I would have liked to have learned something of the sacred languages. A return to studying the scriptures as read and interpreted by the Early Church Fathers would be a great thing for all of us. As it happens, we didn’t have a course on Patristics from where the scriptural insights of the Fathers could be gleaned, so I feel very inadequately when preaching on the word of God.

Sir Watkin said...

whole passages were lifted into the Authorized (King James) Bible

This is perhaps an exaggeration.

The A.V. "translators" consulted D.R. for the New Testament (not the Old, which was published too late to be used by them), and used certain phrases from it that struck them as felicitous.

This is not especially noteworthy: they consulted, and borrowed from, other extant versions too. This was normal practice.

Most of the similarity between A.V. and D.R. is due to the fact that both are based on Tyndale: they are essentially revisions, not new translations. (There wasn't to be a major translation of the Bible into English ab initio until the New English Bible of the 1960s.)

Another cause is their shared preference for Latinate terminology (in contrast with e.g. the Geneva Bible). This perhaps is noteworthy, because it indicates a certain similarity of theological perspective.

It is noteworthy too that D.R. was excluded from the list of versions that the A.V. translators were supposed to consult, but they ignored such protestant prejudice and went ahead and used it anyway.

Dorothy B said...

Thank you, Father, for posting this. Provided the Catholic faithful are made aware that the Church is the authoritative interpreter of the Scriptures - as a safeguard against the occasional shock or dismay they may encounter on reading this or that particular passage - they will find upon persevering that the words of Scripture, and overwhelmingly the words of Christ, will return to their minds in times of joy and sorrow.

Anonymous said...

The nuns kicked me out, sadly, but I still do my half an hour of lectio every day :)