Summary: The Bible is the Church's book, so we must read it in faith and read it as a member of the community of the Church.
Monday of First Week of Lent
There are a whole series of websites on the Internet devoted to trying to debunk the Sacred Scriptures. For instance, with respect to the book of Leviticus, which we read from today, one can find tons of places where the clear natural law prohibition against sodomy, reiterated in both the Old and New Testaments, is attacked. My favorite is the pseudo argument that Jesus did not preach against sodomy. But, of course, the only thing you can prove is that the NT did not record any preaching of Jesus against that unnatural act.
This brings us to the Synod’s concern regarding the interpretation of the Bible, what is technically called hermeneutics. The Word of God cannot be properly understood without the gift of faith. All theology is faith seeking understanding. Without faith, we look at the Scriptures as a merely human artifact, and dissect it like a fetal pig. “Saint Bonaventure states that without faith there is no key to throw open the sacred text: ‘This is the knowledge of Jesus Christ, from whom, as from a fountain, flow forth the certainty and the understanding of all sacred Scripture. Therefore it is impossible for anyone to attain to knowledge of that truth unless he first have infused faith in Christ, which is the lamp, the gate and the foundation of all Scripture’ And Saint Thomas Aquinas, citing Saint Augustine, [remarkably] insists that ‘the letter, even that of the Gospel, would kill, were there not the inward grace of healing faith.’”
The rabbis of Jesus’ day argued about today’s reading from Leviticus, you shall love your neighbor as yourself. Who is this neighbor? Some argued it was the nearest clan members; others, any Jew. Nobody argued that the term “neighbor” extended beyond the Jewish faith–not until Jesus. He defined the ones to be cared for as his brethren, and the context clearly means everyone, friend, relative, close or far. And, when he told the story of the Good Samaritan–remember that Samaritans were the mortal enemies of Jews–he even extended the kindness we owe others to those who hate us.
The Holy Father tells us that if we are to properly understand Scripture, we have to keep in front of our minds the reality that the Bible is the Church’s book. So “the primary setting for scriptural interpretation is the life of the Church.” The Scriptures came into being as products of the Church’s faith. “Faith traditions formed the living context for the literary activity of the authors of sacred Scripture. Their insertion into this context also involved a sharing in both the liturgical and external life of the communities, in their intellectual world, in their culture and in the ups and downs of their shared history. In like manner, the interpretation of sacred Scripture requires full participation on the part of [students of Scripture] in the life and faith of the believing community of their own time”.
We cannot, then, treat the Scriptures like any other text, precisely because they retain the character of God’s word. They are inspired by the Holy Spirit. “This is a constant datum implicit in the Bible itself: St. Peter tells us: ‘No prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by the impulse of man, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God’ (2 Pet 1:20-21). Moreover, it is the faith of the Church that recognizes in the Bible the word of God; as Saint Augustine memorably put it: ‘I would not believe the Gospel, had not the authority of the Catholic Church led me to do so.’ The Holy Spirit, who gives life to the Church, enables us to interpret the Scriptures authoritatively. The Bible is the Church’s book, and its essential place in the Church’s life gives rise to its genuine interpretation.”
So, as St. Jerome taught, we can never read Scripture on our own. It’s too easy to find doors closed because we haven’t the history, insight or inspiration to open them. “The Bible was written by the People of God for the People of God, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Only in this communion with the People of God can we truly enter as a “we” into the heart of the truth that God himself wishes to convey to us.” That is not to say that we can’t discover new things in the Scriptures, especially personal insights. But we may not proclaim them as the Gospel truth without the approval of the Church, which, practically speaking, means the bishop and his representatives. “An authentic interpretation of the Bible must always be in harmony with the faith of the Catholic Church.”