The Catholic Thing
Eating Truth Print E-mail
By Brad Miner   
Monday, 17 June 2013

How many times, in movies about intrigue, have you seen a scene in which a spy is given a secret, written in code, and which, the agent having deciphered it eats it? Well, maybe the answer is: not very many times in the Digital Age. But, trust me, it was common motif in its day.

Now that sort of fact snack wasn’t particularly nutritious. But there is in Judeo-Christian literature stories – two in the Bible and others from tradition – of prophets and holy men being given words to eat by angels (or Our Lady), scrolls the consumption and digestion of which are transformative. An angel gives Ezekiel a scroll to eat (“and in my mouth it was sweet as honey”), and then the prophet is able to go and preach – with understanding – the very words the angel gave him to chew and swallow.

Sure, these may be lessons about the way we “consume” knowledge from texts. How many times have you heard a student wish he could just place a book against his skull and absorb the information “by osmosis”? And the idea is very alluring: of God simply pouring into us in a moment the insights that make us saints.

There was that time in the synagogue at Capernaum when Jesus spoke words that must have been about as controversial as any every uttered to an audience:

I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world. [John 6:51]
It was so outrageous that a number of disciples stopped following Jesus, and you have the sense the Twelve were hanging on by their fingernails. The Lord wonders if they’ll also leave, and you sense some of them might have been considering it, but then Peter says: “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

And all of this, as Scott Hahn makes clear in his latest book, Consuming the Word, was a foreshadowing of the institution of the Eucharist.

As Vatican II put it (Lumen Gentium): “Eucharistic sacrifice is the source and summit of the Christian life.” It’s unique among world religions, in that it happens one or more times a day in just about every Catholic church throughout the world. Dr. Hahn describes the process by which the earliest Christians merged Holy Communion with the reading of the Scriptures, especially the New Testament; indeed, that term is synonymous with both the Liturgy of the Word and the Eucharist, each express (even reenact) the historical proclamation of our new Covenant with God through Jesus Christ. The New Testament is a sacrament.

               Dr. Scott Hahn

It’s hard, actually, not to think as one reads Consuming the Word that the Fathers made a mistake by not sticking with the common usages of the first centuries of the Christian Era: Old Covenant and New Covenant. I don’t mean to suggest that “Testament” isn’t a fine word, let alone that something essential has been lost in using it. But “Covenant” seems to me a much more powerful word. It’s one thing to be bound to God by words and traditions; another to be bound by flesh and blood.

Hahn writes that for the first Christians the New Testament wasn’t a book, it was the Eucharist, and when at the Last Supper Jesus established a “new covenant in my blood” [Luke 223:20]:

He declared it to be the New Testament – and the Testament was not a text but an action. He did not say “read this” or “write this,” but rather “do this.” By the time the Gospels and the Epistles were written, the Church had already been faithful to Jesus’s instruction for decades. The New Testament was a sacrament at least a generation before it was a document.

Saint Paul, in fact, preached the Gospel before there were Gospels. Through his preaching, Paul stressed to those he converted that they are made one with Christ in sacrifice, i.e. the Eucharistic celebration, and that this in turn required priests, and with the priestly office came baptism, marriage, and so on.

There’s a subtle correction here to the sola scriptura view of the faith: it’s not that the books of the Covenants are diminished, rather that we recognize that the sacrifice preceded the documents. But, in no sense does Scott Hahn depart from belief in orthodoxy with regard to the Bible:

From Jesus to the apostolic Church to the pastors and theologians of the second century there is full unanimity of conviction on Scripture’ divine origin, divine authority, and divine truthfulness.
And it’s as true today as then. We believe the words of God, because the Word of God proclaimed the truth of those words in his earthly ministry.

And there’s also an important message here for the New Evangelization, namely that we’re all a part of it. Hahn writes that “salvation history did not end the ascension of Christ;” it goes on daily – in church and out. Though we hear the words proclaimed at every Mass in readings from the Old Testament, the Epistles, and the Gospels, Catholics really do need to read the Bible more – and know how to read it; how to consume it.

You won’t find a better introduction than Scott Hahn provides in this book.

Brad Miner is senior editor of The Catholic Thing, senior fellow of the Faith & Reason Institute, and a board member of Aid to the Church In Need USA. He is the author of six books and is a former Literary Editor of National Review. The Compleat Gentleman, read by Christopher Lane, is available on audio.
The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.


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Comments (1)Add Comment
written by Ib, June 17, 2013
I put this book on my Amazon wish list yesterday ... Delightful to read your review of it today!

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