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Bring Back Scripture Print E-mail
By Bevil Bramwell, OMI   
Sunday, 01 July 2012

If like me you had avoidance of the scriptures drummed into you growing up, then here is another gem from Benedict XVI. The pope issued Verbum Domini after the Synod of Bishops gathered to study the word of God in October of 2008. (You may ask why the U. S. Church is set up so that papal documents have little effect in America – but that is for another time.)

To start with, Benedict says: “There is no greater priority than this: to enable the people of our time once more to encounter God, the God who speaks to us and shares his love so that we might have life in abundance (cf. Jn 10:10).”

The uniqueness of Catholicism is that it is God speaking to us. Catholicism is not a make-it-up-as-you-go-along religion. So “being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a definitive direction.” That person is Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word of God. He is the Lord.

This is where the scriptures come in. Their words are a privileged place for us to meet the Divine Word because “through all the words of sacred Scripture, God speaks only one single word, his one utterance, in whom he expresses himself completely (cf. Heb 1:1-3).”

In fact: “Saint Augustine had already made the point clearly: ‘Remember that one alone is the discourse of God which unfolds in all Sacred Scripture, and one alone is the word which resounds on the lips of all the holy writers.’” With the scriptures, we can get into a kind of dialog with God that is much deeper than a chat over the back fence.

Now watch this next step: because God is so different from us, his words are more pregnant with meaning than anything that we can utter. The Holy Father explains, using the psalms as an example:

The word of God draws each of us into a conversation with the Lord: the God who speaks teaches us how to speak to him. Here we naturally think of the Book of Psalms, where God gives us words to speak to him, to place our lives before him, and thus to make life itself a path to God. In the psalms we find expressed every possible human feeling set masterfully in the sight of God; joy and pain, distress and hope, fear and trepidation: here all find expression. Along with the psalms we think too of the many other passages of Sacred Scripture which express our turning to God in intercessory prayer (cf. Ex 33:12-16), in exultant songs of victory (cf. Ex 15) or in sorrow at the difficulties experienced in carrying out our mission (cf. Jer 20:7-18).

The Book of Psalms is really the best place for us to start learning to use scripture.

But since we are Catholics using scripture, another wrinkle must be kept in mind. Vatican II taught that God’s word is more involved than our words, so his revelation was never simply words on a page. The words witness to the living Word, Jesus Christ or we can call it the “Gospel” as the Council did.

They explained: “This Gospel had been promised in former times through the prophets, and Christ Himself had fulfilled it and promulgated it with His lips.” But then they went on: “This commission was faithfully fulfilled by the Apostles who, by their oral preaching, by example, and by observances handed on what they had received from the lips of Christ, from living with Him, and from what He did, or what they had learned through the prompting of the Holy Spirit.”

The council of course described this part of revelation, using the standard terms, as the tradition of the Church. Now here is the wrinkle: to get the accurate meaning of the scriptures we have to read them within the tradition of the Church. Otherwise we are just treating them like objects floating in outer space. We can make them mean anything.

Now back to Benedict: So the Church, the Body of Christ, is the “home of the word.” Then Church worship and the proclamation of the scriptures there is “the privileged setting in which God speaks to us in the midst of our lives; he speaks today to his people, who hear and respond.”

Furthermore, as we discover the scriptures, they can become “a great code for cultures,” even for our materialistic and solipsistic culture. For Benedict “code” means that: “Sacred Scripture contains anthropological and philosophical values that have had a positive influence on humanity as a whole.”

But they have to be identified by those in the cultures. This all turns on the humanity in Christ being the perfect realization of what humanity can be. It’s out of that scriptural understanding that we can understand the poor, the sick, the young, and all the other forms of humanity. The scriptures can speak to universities and in art, but most of all they can speak to our hearts.

Let’s read the scriptures!


Bevil Bramwell
, priest of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, teaches theology at Catholic Distance University. He holds a Ph.D. from Boston College and works in the area of ecclesiology.
 
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Comments (14)Add Comment
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written by Tom Perna , July 01, 2012
Bravo Fr. Bramwell! This is a great piece on the importance of the Scriptures and reading them in light of Tradition. I am a big fan of Dei Verbum and now Verbum Domini. I have given three talks on the Scriptures using Verbum Domini in the past year. It's my hope to continue to speak and write on the Scriptures via my blog. As Catholics, we need teach our brothers and sisters the importance of the Scriptures and how they cannot be afraid to open up the Bible.
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written by Bangwell Putt, July 01, 2012
I eagerly await your explanation of American neglect of papal documents. I cannot understand it.
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written by Jon S., July 01, 2012
For a tour de force on the strengths and weaknesses of the historical-critical method of interpreting Scripture, see Pope Benedict's Foreword to his "Jesus of Nazareth (Part One): From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration."
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written by Grump, July 01, 2012
Warming up for Leviticus:

Genesis 38:24
About three months later Judah was told, “Your daughter-in-law Tamar is guilty of prostitution, and as a result she is now pregnant.” Judah said, “Bring her out and have her burned to death!”

Exodus 31:14
"Observe the Sabbath, because it is holy to you. Anyone who desecrates it is to be put to death; those who do any work on that day must be cut off from their people."
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written by Dave, July 01, 2012
Thank you so much, Fr. Bramwell. I am reminded of St. Jerome's famous maxim, "ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ." The monks of old famously memorized the Psalms and the entire New Testament, for starters; would that Catholic Scripture Guilds arise for the very same purpose of encouraging the faithful, whatever their state in life, to memorize the Word of God and to make use of Holy Scripture in their personal prayer. The world would quickly change.
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written by Andrew, July 01, 2012
One of my favorite sayings of St. Jerome (from his commentary on Isaiah): "Ignorantia scripturae est ignorantia Christi," Ignorance of the scriptures is ignorance of Christ.
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written by Chris in Maryland, July 01, 2012
Yes...it has become blatantly obvious that the Church in America has been and is working to filter out The Pope. I can't wait for the follow-up on this.

I believe that as an adult, I can recall on the fingers of two hands, with some to spare, the number of times any parish pointed our "oh-so-educated" flock toward Papal letters, etc.
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written by Bangwell Putt, July 01, 2012
Two excellent sources offering learned assistance in understanding Scripture are (1) Divino Afflante Spiritu, Encyclical of Pope Pius XII and (2) How to Read the Bible, by Professor James L. Kugel, formerly professor of Hebrew at Harvard, in particular, the last chapter, entitled "After Such Knowledge ...". It contains these words: "I have, in some sense, been writing this last chapter for the past thirty years ... .

The encyclical rewards a careful, attentive Catholic reader with a deeper, more expansive understanding of Catholic teaching regarding interpretation of Scripture.

The scholarly books rewards all readers of good will with deeper understanding of Jewish scholarship and faith.

Both are very worth a considerable expenditure of time and energy.
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written by Manfred, July 01, 2012
"Who will blame a government which in its attempt to resolve the problems affecting an entire country resorts to the same measures which are regarded as lawful by married people in the solution of a particular difficulty." #17 Humanae Vitae 1968
American "catholic" bishops, priests, nuns and lay people revolted against this Papal document and the Papacy has been largely ignored ever since. Why do you think the American Church is suing the HHS and our present government? Because the government is insisting that contraceptives, abortifacients, etc. be made available in every health insurance policy issued in the U.S. The government is saying, "What's the big deal? catholics have been using these for decades!" Yes, read the Psalms. At least when you say "My God, My God, why have you abandoned me?" you will know WHY.
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written by russ, July 01, 2012
As a Protestant evangelical for over 31 years having left the Catholic faith as a young teen, I had the scriptures drilled into me and had them preached to me for almost an hour every Sunday. But it was man's interpretation of Scripture! I have been Catholic now for 7 years and every day more and more just desire to hear what the Church's take on the Scripture is. I want to read Scripture with the mind of the Church, not the voice of my old bible study teacher with a completely anti Catholic non sacramental view of the bible. I like reading the catechism and seeing how the Church uses Scripture to support the 2000 year old teachings of the faith. Not making stuff up as one goes along! Thanks for the article Father
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written by Holy Smoke, July 02, 2012
An article about twisting that twists. Sorry. Nice try. But there is no "conversation" that exists with God except in the subjectivist, liberal mind of those like Ratzinger.
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written by Fr. Bramwell, July 03, 2012
How do you know?
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written by Mike Dante, July 03, 2012
I certainly agree wholeheartedly with the entire substance of your remarks. But I am curious about the introductory sentence, "If like me you had avoidance of the scriptures drummed into you growing up". I have in hand my copy of the New Testament inscribed "Souvenir of your participation in the panel discussion on the Holy Bible at Television Station WTTG-TV on February 13, 1952" signed by Rev. Louis Hartman General Secretary of The Catholic Biblical Association of America. So clearly avoidance of the Scriptures was not taught in 1952 if schoolboys like me were then invited to a broadcast panel discussion of the Bible sponsored by a Catholic organization. Just as a matter of curiosity, Fr. Bramwell, how old are you if you can remember when Catholics were discouraged from reading the Bible? I shall not believe you if you insist you predate the reformation!
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written by Fr. Bramwell, July 04, 2012
Good question Mike. When I was growing up we never touched the scriptures. We heard them at Mass. Usually homilies touched on them and that was it for the week. 'Catechism' never went near the scriptures. I started hearing about the scriptures in the Charismatic movement. I owe them a lot.

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