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Summary: The existence of the Word of God makes it necessary to have a living and authoritative interpretator "of last resort," in the Church.

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Monday of 21st Week in Course

St. Monica/St. Augustine

Verbum Domini

St. Monica could easily be called the patron saint of frustrated prayer. A Catholic herself, she found herself married to a pagan, with a son who, unbaptized as a child, turned into a kind of semi-pagan hellion during his youth. For decades she prayed for his conversion, and ultimately had the joy of seeing him turn to God, be baptized, and then ordained. Moreover, he became a bishop and is widely acknowledged to be the greatest theologian of the first Catholic millennium. In fact, the Holy Father cites him no fewer than ten times in Verbum Domini.

How do we understand the Word of God, and specifically the Scriptures? Experience alone teaches us that there must be an authoritative interpreter, a kind of translator of last resort. We humans have been pretending that not to be needed for almost five hundred years. In truth, in less than five years we will be bombarded with propaganda surrounding the five hundred year anniversary of Luther’s revolution. Luther undoubtedly was the worst thing to happen to the Church in the last two thousand years. With the exception of the great East-West schism of 1054, and the temporary Great Western Schism, a political rupture in the 14th century, the Catholic Church was one body, with diverse members, for fifteen hundred years. Luther began a theological rupture that, because of the greed of political rulers, led to the idiotic notion that every man is his own pope. Ultimately it gave us over 40,000 Christian communions (when I was young it was just 30,000), a number of non-Christian breakoffs like the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons, and the destruction of Western culture.

We should have listened to Aquinas and Augustine, interpreting this Gospel. The Pharisees were really good at reading Torah and the commentaries. So good that they smothered the spirit of the Torah, the expression of God’s love to mankind:

“The intrinsic link between the word and faith makes clear that authentic biblical hermeneutics can only be had within the faith of the Church, which has its paradigm in Mary’s fiat. 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, insists that ‘the letter, even that of the Gospel, would kill, were there not the inward grace of healing faith.’”

Phariseeism, and, for that matter, rabbinic Judaism, always tends toward death, rather than life, because it tends to obscure the loving Father behind the Law, and the reality that the true Law is the Law of Christ, which is a Law of Self-Giving.

We also must remember, especially after the experience of the last five centuries, an irrefutable fact: “the primary setting for scriptural interpretation is the life of the Church. ‘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 exegetes in the life and faith of the believing community of their own time’”

We must submit ourselves humbly to the living and continuous testimony of the Catholic Church. “This is a constant datum implicit in the Bible itself: ‘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.”

We should pray every day that all Christians understand this truth, and come together in faith, hope and love. Our 40,000 division is a scandal to the world. Lord Jesus, come and defeat our pride, bringing us together in Truth, Beauty, and Goodness.

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