Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Pope Benedict XVI: Humilty, the Church and Scripture

The Sacred Scriptures are a precious gift from God, which He has given to the Catholic Church to preserve and cherish until the end of time. That Church has always given great wisdom to help the faithful understand and contemplate the mysteries of the sacred text. Pope Benedict XVI has given us numerous homilies, books and documents that help explain how we should understand and approach the Sacred Scriptures. I wanted to share a few of these with you to contemplate on. I have bold typed the text which I found to be of particular importance.

The first quote is taken from a general audience in 2008. The general topic was Saint Gregory the Great. Here he gives us a glimpse into how the great Saint viewed Scripture. Notice how Saint Gregory avoided the pitfall of using Scripture as a prideful tool for the mere elevation of one's own knowledge. We can see how many have fallen into heresy using the Scriptures in this manner.



Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Gregory never sought to delineate "his own" doctrine, his own originality. Rather, he intended to echo the traditional teaching of the Church, he simply wanted to be the mouthpiece of Christ and of the Church on the way that must be taken to reach God. His exegetical commentaries are models of this approach.

He was a passionate reader of the Bible, which he approached not simply with a speculative purpose: from Sacred Scripture, he thought, the Christian must draw not theoretical understanding so much as the daily nourishment for his soul, for his life as man in this world. For example, in the Homilies on Ezekiel, he emphasized this function of the sacred text: to approach the Scripture simply to satisfy one's own desire for knowledge means to succumb to the temptation of pride and thus to expose oneself to the risk of sliding into heresy. Intellectual humility is the primary rule for one who searches to penetrate the supernatural realities beginning from the sacred Book. Obviously, humility does not exclude serious study; but to ensure that the results are spiritually beneficial, facilitating true entry into the depth of the text, humility remains indispensable. Only with this interior attitude can one really listen to and eventually perceive the voice of God.

The next text is taken from an address he gave in 2005 at Saint Peters square. Here the Holy Father talks a bit on Lectio divina. He emphasizes how one must read the Scriptures with the same Spirit who inspired them. Of course anyone residing outside the Church cannot be reading them with that same Spirit.



St Peter's Square
Sunday, 6 November 2005

Among the many fruits of this biblical springtime I would like to mention the spread of the ancient practice of Lectio divina or "spiritual reading" of Sacred Scripture. It consists in pouring over a biblical text for some time, reading it and rereading it, as it were, "ruminating" on it as the Fathers say and squeezing from it, so to speak, all its "juice", so that it may nourish meditation and contemplation and, like water, succeed in irrigating life itself.

One condition for Lectio divina is that the mind and heart be illumined by the Holy Spirit, that is, by the same Spirit who inspired the Scriptures, and that they be approached with an attitude of "reverential hearing".

Likewise in 2008 the Pope again reiterated this same message.



St Peter's Square
Sunday, 26 October 2008

One aspect very deeply reflected upon was the relationship between the Word and words, that is, between the Divine Word and the Scriptures that express it. As the Second Vatican Council teaches in the Constitution Dei Verbum (n. 12), a good biblical exegesis demands both the historical-critical and theological methods since Sacred Scripture is the Word of God in human words. This means that every text must be read and interpreted keeping in mind the unity of the whole of Scripture, the living tradition of the Church and the light of the faith. If it is true that the Bible is also a literary work even the great codex of universal culture it is also true that it should not be stripped of the divine element but must be read in the same Spirit in which it was composed.

In 2005 the Pope pointed out that the Scriptures are not subject to man's personal interpretations. This is a crucial mistake that Protestants have fallen into. They have removed the Scriptures from the bosom of the Church. By doing so they now read them without the aid of the Holy Spirit that inspired them.


Castel Gandolfo
Friday, 16 September 2005

The Church and the Word of God are inseparably linked. The Church lives on the Word of God and the Word of God echoes through the Church, in her teaching and throughout her life (cf. Dei Verbum, n. 8). The Apostle Peter, therefore, reminds us that no prophecy contained in Scripture can be subjected to a personal interpretation. "Prophecy has never been put forward by man's willing it. It is rather that men impelled by the Holy Spirit have spoken under God's influence" (II Pt 1: 20).

I will close with a more lengthy text from an address of Pope Benedict XVI to the Pontifical Biblical Commission. This should serve as a rule in which every Christian must follow in order to receive the Sacred Scriptures in the Spirit in which they were inspired. Those who reject these principals are outsiders, and they twist the Scriptures to their own destruction. We have witnessed this inside and outside the Church. We have had many "theologians" who have dissected the Scriptures as a science experiment and have thus lost their true meaning.

June - July 2009
Vol. XV, No. 4

Pope Benedict Addresses the Pontifical Biblical Commission
Inspiration and Truth of Scripture

In this regard the Council recalls first of all that God is the Author of Sacred Scripture: “The divinely revealed realities, which are contained and presented in the text of Sacred Scripture, have been written down under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. For Holy Mother Church relying on the faith of the apostolic age, accepts as sacred and canonical the Books of the Old and the New Testaments, whole and entire, with all their parts, on the grounds that, written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit they have God as their author, and have been handed on as such to the Church herself” (Dei Verbum 11).

Therefore since all that the inspired authors or hagiographers state is to be considered as said by the Holy Spirit, the invisible and transcendent Author, it must consequently be acknowledged that “the books of Scripture, firmly, faithfully and without error, teach that truth which God, for the sake of our salvation, wished to see confided to the sacred Scriptures” (ibid. 11).

From the correct presentation of the divine inspiration and truth of Sacred Scripture certain norms derive that directly concern its interpretation. The Constitution Dei Verbum itself, after stating that God is the author of the Bible, reminds us that in Sacred Scripture God speaks to man in a human fashion and this divine-human synergy is very important: God really speaks to men and women in a human way. For a correct interpretation of Sacred Scripture it is therefore necessary to seek attentively what the hagiographers have truly wished to state and what it has pleased God to express in human words.

“The words of God, expressed in the words of men, are in every way like human language, just as the Word of the eternal Father, when He took on Himself the flesh of human weakness, became like men” (Dei Verbum 13).

Moreover, these indications, very necessary for a correct historical and literary interpretation as the primary dimension of all exegesis, require a connection with the premises of the teaching on the inspiration and truth of Sacred Scripture. In fact, since Scripture is inspired, there is a supreme principle for its correct interpretation without which the sacred writings would remain a dead letter of the past alone: Sacred Scripture “must be read and interpreted with its divine authorship in mind” (ibid. 12).

Three Criteria for Interpretation
In this regard, the Second Vatican Council points out three criteria that always apply for an interpretation of Sacred Scripture in conformity with the Spirit that inspired it.

First of all it is essential to pay great attention to the content and unity of the whole of Scripture: only in its unity is it Scripture. Indeed, however different the books of which it is composed may be, Sacred Scripture is one by virtue of the unity of God’s plan whose center and heart is Jesus Christ (cf. Lk 24:25-27; Lk 24:44-46).

Secondly, Scripture must be interpreted in the context of the living tradition of the whole Church. According to a statement of Origen: “Sacra Scriptura principalius est in corde Ecclesiae quam in materialibus instrumentis scripta”, that is, “Sacred Scripture is written in the heart of the Church before being written on material instruments”.

Indeed, in her Tradition the Church bears the living memory of the Word of God and it is the Holy Spirit who gives her its interpretation according to the spiritual meaning (cf. Origin, Homilae in Leviticum, 5,5).

As a third criterion, it is necessary to pay attention to the analogy of the faith, that is to the consistence of the individual truths of faith with one another and with the overall plan of Revelation and the fullness of the divine economy contained in it.

“Indispensable Reference Point” for Research
The task of researchers who study Sacred Scripture with different methods is to contribute in accordance with the above-mentioned principles to the deepest possible knowledge and explanation of the meaning of Sacred Scripture. The scientific study of the sacred texts is important but is not sufficient in itself because it would respect only the human dimension. To respect the coherence of the Church’s faith, the Catholic exegete must be attentive to perceiving the Word of God in these texts, within the faith of the Church herself.

If this indispensable reference point is missing, the exegetical research would be incomplete, losing sight of its principal goal, and risk being reduced to a purely literary interpretation in which the true Author God no longer appears.

Furthermore, the interpretation of the Sacred Scriptures cannot only be an individual scientific effort but must always be compared with, inserted in and authenticated by the living Tradition of the Church.

This rule is decisive to explain the correct relationship between exegesis and the Magisterium of the Church. The Catholic exegete does not only feel that he or she belongs to the scientific community, but also and above all to the community of believers of all times. In reality these texts were not given to individual researchers or to the scientific community, “to satisfy their curiosity or to provide them with material for study and research” (Divino Afflante Spiritu 49).

The texts inspired by God were entrusted in the first place to the community of believers, to Christ’s Church, to nourish the life of faith and to guide the life of charity. Respect for this purpose conditions the validity and efficacy of biblical hermeneutics. The encyclical Providentissimus Deus recalled this fundamental truth and noted that, far from hindering biblical research, respect for this norm encourages authentic progress. I would say, a rationalistic hermeneutic of faith corresponds more closely with the reality of this text than a rationalistic hermeneutic that does not know God.

Inseparable Unity with Tradition
Being faithful to the Church means, in fact, fitting into the current of the great Tradition. Under the guidance of the Magisterium, Tradition has recognized the canonical writings as a word addressed by God to His People, and it has never ceased to meditate upon them and to discover their inexhaustible riches.


Anonymous said...

A very fine post. Thank you very much!

Matthew Bellisario said...

Thanks for the encouragement!