Understanding the Bible Series:
Importance of Understanding the Bible - Part 2
by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
(PART II, continued)
So the Scriptures tell
us what we know about God, need to know Who God is, what He wants. And this
needless to say, is the hard part of Sacred Scripture, as you will see before
this course is over. Oh what learned discourses can be made on the Bible but
the bottom line is what does God in the Bible tell us He wants us to do? Then
once we know what He wants us to do, another hard part, then to do it. So much
for number two. Who God is, what He wants and how we are to please Him. But
watch this, between two and three the Bible tells us not only what God wants
us to do, under pain of sin, the Scriptures also tell us what God would, would
want us to do, what would please God even though we would not commit a sin if
we did not do it.
I came back from Washington
at 11:00 last night, I worked till 12:30 this morning to prepare class, I got
up early enough to spend three hours in preparation and I dont believe that
my coming to Ann Arbor is binding for me under sin. And I trust you can say
the same about yourselves, thanks for coming in this inclement weather. I said
a prayer, Lord I hope somebody shows up. Thanks for coming.
III. Why is it Important to Understand the Bible?
Were asking ourselves,
not even taking a pause, were asking ourselves, Why is it important for us
to understand the Bible? But I repeat, not to understand about the
Bible, but to know the Bible; what God has revealed.
The Scriptures are
a/the mainstay for our worship of God. Through the Bible we see that God wants
us to adore Him, thank Him, beg for His mercy and ask Him for what we need.
If theres one thing that stands out from the first to the last book of the
Bible it is the need we have to pray. So much so that based on our knowledge
of Scripture we can say for certain who is going to heaven and who will go to
hell, infallible certitude. Those will who go to heaven, who pray, those who
are going to go to hell who dont pray. As I told the atheist, Dr. Paul Van
Buren, remember, when I debated with him at the University of Michigan here
in Ann Arbor, Dr. Van Buren, you dont have to believe me, because you dont
believe in God but I believe. Unless you believe in God and therefore pray,
you dont pray unless you believe in God, Dr Paul Van Buren, I told the whole
audience youre not going to go to heaven youre going to go to hell. I didnt
have to use any profanity just some simple theology. Remember Pascal, French
philosophers famous wager, all right, all right there are people who have
all kinds of arguments against the existence of God but says Pascal, it isnt
good logic suppose, just suppose, at least you can say this, there might be
a God, would you admit that? Yes, there might be a God. Well, my friend
if then there is a God and there is a heaven and a hell, its not even, well,
smart gambling. That doesnt mean that we are to just pray to a God who might
exist but it does not make sense to be a professed atheist and above all not
to pray because the Bible from beginning to end insists, is what God mainly
wants from His creatures. Our principle responsibility as rational beings is
IV. Sacred Scripture Provides Us with the Mysteries that We are to Grow in Understanding Through Prayer and Putting into Practice What We Believe
Even as I look at this
lineup of the classes weve got, 1-4-7-9 classes, I think to myself, Oh no,
nine classes on Sacred Scripture. The least that any approved seminary, Catholic
seminary in the world, may give, the least, is four semesters on Sacred Scripture,
thats the least. Theres no way we can possibly, I dont say cover everything
there is to be known about Scriptures but my hope is to at least share with
you certain bedrock principles in understanding the Bible that we need. And
here it is to know that the Scriptures contain revealed mysteries.
And here this supernatural
revelationWhat God has supernaturally, call it miraculously communicated to
the human race in the two ways that we described. Contains, the content of
this revelation both in Sacred Tradition and for our purpose in Sacred Scripture,
the contents is bifocal. So supernatural revelation contains strict mysteries
and what they call naturally knowable truths. In the Bible therefore we find
many things that the human mind could and indeed should know even apart from
its being supernaturally revealed by God.
The Existence of God
God can be known from
reason alone. The basic obligations of the Ten Commandments, we are told not
to lie. Stands to reason society would be impossible unless we trusted people
when they speak to us. If I couldnt trust what another person telling me that
it is the truth, in other words, that the persons speech corresponds with the
mind why bother listening to anybody. And if I know that I dont want others
to lie to me my reason tells me I should not lie to others.
Now the Old Testament
contains a great deal of what we call naturally knowable truths, like for example,
that there is only one God, life of polytheism all around the Jewish people.
The New Testament also, but less so, the New Testament is mainly God revealing
not naturally knowable truths but what we call strict mysteries. When then
in the Scriptures we find, and its especially the New Testament, when we find
what are called strict mysteries, what do we mean? We mean those truths revealed
by God that are rationally inconceivable before revelation, rationally
inconceivable before revelation; and rationally incomprehensible
after revelation. These words are just bedrock Catholic theology. A strict
mystery, and the New Testament is filled with strict mysteries, a strict mystery
is a revealed truth/truths rationally inconceivable before revelation and rationally
incomprehensible after revelation. Name a few strict mysteries. Well, the basic
strict mystery is the Holy Trinity. Theres only One God but three Individuals.
God is three individual Persons, Hes Infinite but there are not three gods.
Whats a strict mystery? That God became Man, spoke with human lips, ate our
food, breathed our air, slept, how I like this, and got tired, thanks Lord.
Its a strict mystery of how that Man, how we can say that Child in Marys arms
on Christmas morning was a Creator. And is therefore rationally inconceivable
before being revealed, and once being revealed you can know something about
it but you cannot know everything about it which is the theological definition
of comprehension. Comprehension means full understanding. That is why as I
tell people, heaven must be eternal, it will take that long to learn all there
is about God, it will just go on and on and on and well never get bored. So
there are strict mysteries and well find them as well see in Sacred Scripture.
Oh let me give you
one more, oh I hope youll appreciate this, and thats the next course, Christian
marriage is a strict mystery. Thats good theology. Rationally inconceivable
before, before revelation, and as so many husbands and wives have told me, and
rationally incomprehensible. We can laugh cant we, because we have the faith.
Without faith in the Christ Who unites these two people, that He the living
God gives them, two selfish human beings, that kind of love, that they would
even, I dont say, live with one another, even stand one another. I dont say
for a week or a month or six months but a whole lifetime. More of that on the
V. Sacred Scripture Gives Language of Prayer
The Sacred Scriptures
gives us much of the language of our prayer. The Psalms alone are an ocean
of prayer of praise of the divine majesty. So much of our prayer is even literally
the words of the scriptures, the sentiments, the words and that for the best
of reasons because the most important and I wish to repeat and thus emphasize,
our most important responsibility on earth is to pray. And pray not
just by vocalizing words and being still in the posture of prayer, the essence
of prayer is the submission of the will to God. And good theology, you are
praying by being here and I trust Im praying by speaking to you. Its our
wills submitting themselves to the will of God, that is the essence of prayer.
VI. Sacred Scripture in Both the Old and New Testaments is the Revelation of Jesus Christ
Sacred Scripture in
both the Old and New Testaments, and I use the word in, I could have said
are, I want to emphasize however the singular noun, is the revelation of Jesus
Christ. In other words, Christ is indeed the Word of God, or if we wish, the
enfleshment of God. Thats what incarnare means, to enflesh. Christ
is the Incarnation of God. But Christ is enfleshed not only in His human
body but also in the human words that God used to manifest Himself to the world
in Sacred Scriptures. And this theme, by the way, runs very deep in the Catechism
of the Catholic Church, for which by the way Im signing a contract to finish
a handbook on the Catechism of the Catholic Church to be finished by
the end of this year, in only a hundred thousand words. The one thing that
I want to bring out in the handbook, this Catechism brings out in a way that
for over four centuries, we Catholics have not realized it, or maybe did not
know it but because of such preoccupation with the Scriptures by those whom
we call Protestants, that Catholics have in some ways shied away from the Bible
and have not as deeply penetrated into the meaning of the Bible as say, our
fore bearers did before the so-called Protestant Reformation. The Bible is
the word of God and therefore, lowercase the word word but it is the enfleshment
of God in human, call it bodily language which we can read with our eyes. In
other words, God is revealing Himself in Sacred Scripture but watch it, that
is revealing Himself is not just a piece of rhetoric, it is not only the Bible
was written or was revealed, sure the Sacred Scriptures were revealed
to the inspired writers so they would write what God wanted them to write, but
every time we use our bodily eyes to read that bodily perceptible word found
in Sacred Scripture. This is what Christ meant when He said I will send you,
remember, the Holy Spirit who will enlighten you. And we sure need enlightenment
because the words of the Bible are not just words of another book it is God
Who Is, and watch this, is, present tense, is revealing Himself.
And depending on the faith with which we read the Scriptures, theres no such
thing as say, a needless rereading of Scripture. Every time we read we get
more light and more light so much so that Thomas Aquinas had, what shall I call
it, the nerve, the audacity to say, the Scriptures are quasi sacramentum
octavum, like an eighth sacrament. By definition a sacrament gives grace
just by being received. So the Scriptures give grace just by being read. You
read the Sacred Scriptures and Christ Himself assures us His Holy Spirit will
enlighten us. Read it again, He enlightens us again. And as St. Ignatius tells
us and tells us to tell others so Im telling you, never do speed reading of
the Bible. Give the Holy Spirit a chance, dont rush Him. Let me read what
Ive got here, no wonder St. Jerome declared that, I quote, To be ignorant
of the Scriptures is to be ignorant of Christ. And that includes the Old Testament
so much so that Im afraid many people are at least wondering if not scandalized,
oh no all this Old Testament, first reading the Book of Baruch I didnt even
know there was a Baruch and now we find it in the reading at Mass. Every thing
that God has revealed in the Scriptures is all, so our faith tells us, about
Jesus Christ. In other words, either by anticipation, or by narration, or by
recollection, or by constant inspiration about Jesus Christ.
- What is the Bible?
- What is Sacred Scripture
and how does it differ from Sacred Tradition?
- And what is the
role of the Church in the preservation, interpretation and application of the
Bible or Sacred Scripture to our daily lives.
What I will do just
briefly in the next few minutes is say a word about each of these three categories.
What is the Bible?
I thought Id be safe
and just quote from the modern Catholic Dictionary. What is the bible?
The Bible is the collection of books accepted now by Christian
churches, inspired, as an inspired record of revelations made to mankind by
God about Himself and His will for men.
And even though the
feminists went over the manuscript Im so pleased to see, either they left the
word man or had to change it back to man. Let me tell you, in going over the
translation of Cardinal Law, which you know the Holy Father did not accept,
of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, I cannot tell you what happens
to the faith once you remove the masculine gender where the, imagine the Holy
Spirit inspired the evangelists to use the masculine gender, and we now in the
enlightened 20th century are going to improve on the Holy Spirit.
So what is the Bible?
As we will, the whole Christian world does not agree on what belongs to the
Bible. And just for the record, the text of the bible used by Cardinal Law
and his translators is the Episcopalian bible, the Revised Standard Version,
we trust Catholicized. Nevertheless, it is the text translation used by the
British and more specifically by the Anglican Communion.
In general, therefore,
the Bible is, what those who call themselves Christian, believe God has inspired
certain people to write in such a way that God is the Author of what
we call the Bible. And as you know the word bible literally means, the book,
the book. And we must say God provided for the invention of printing
and beyond that, the invention of writing anticipating that the Bible would
be written. He wanted to make sure that what He said would be in written form.
How Does Sacred Scripture Differ From Sacred Tradition?
Weve talked about
this just to isolate it. In general therefore God reveals Himself in two ways,
through inspired persons and that is Sacred Tradition, through inspired writings
and that is Sacred Scripture. In other words, Sacred Tradition is what we learn
about God and His will from persons, not through what they wrote but how they
lived and what they said and the two most important persons in human history
who are the principle channels of Gods revelation through Sacred Scripture
are Jesus and Mary, neither one of whom wrote anything that we call Sacred Scripture.
But surely their lives and their words are a source of divine revelation to
the human race until the end of time.
And finally we ask,
What is the
Role of the Church in the Preservation, Interpretation and Application of the
Sacred Scriptures to Our Daily Lives?
In one word, that role
is indispensable. As I told my confreres in the faculty at Lutheran
School of Theology, where I taught for seven years, they would argue, you Catholics
always, the Church says this, the Church says that, we have the bible. So
Id ask them, Whered you get the bible? From the Holy Spirit. Thanks,
how do you know what belongs to the bible? What do you mean? And Im sure
Ive said this to some of you already, how many gospels? They were insulted,
How many gospels? Four gospels. How many gospels were originally written?
Four They did not know, honestly, these are doctors in theology. So I ticked
off about 10 names of the 25 gospels that existed in the early Church, somebody
had to decide which are the four genuine gospels. My problem, when I, dont
say, debate, when I dialogue with Protestants is to practice Christian charity.
Well take a fifteen
minute break. How about a Latin break? In Nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus
Sancti. Amen. Gloria Patri, et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto sicut erat in principio,
Copyright © 2005 Institute on Religious Life
Conference transcription from a talk that Father Hardon
gave to the Institute on Religious Life
Institute on Religious Life, Inc.
PO. Box 410007
Chicago, Illinois 60641