The topic ‘Catholics and Scripture’ could be approached in a variety of ways. Covering everything that could be said is not possible on a website like this. To this end, there is only one question driving this article: what are a few things it would be useful to be aware of about the way Catholics seek to respond to the Scriptures in their journey of faith?
The significance of the Scriptures to Catholic theology and spirituality would be difficult to overstate. The Word of God is at the heart of who we are. The first thing to note, however, is that we must avoid the tendency to read the Bible in the same way as we would a novel. Instead, we should get used to thinking about the books of the Bible as a series of independent and yet connected works. For those who have visited an art gallery, a useful comparison might be that of an exhibition mounted by various artists around a broad theme. Each artist has his or her style, and while there are detectable thematic or stylistic connections, each painting in the exhibition can be viewed in its own right. Each of the books of the Bible is, in fact, its own work of art – often painted with one eye on one of the earlier paintings, but not necessarily so.
The second point to note is that, for the Catholic, the Bible contains ‘the truth’. That being said, it should be understood that our understanding of the truth the Bible presents is deeper and more profound than merely saying ‘the Bible is literally true’. In this post-modern scientific age, we tend to limit ‘truth’ to mean ‘that which is historically and scientifically provable’. While there is much that can be said about the contents of the Bible on that score, it is a dead-end to think of it as being primarily geared towards presenting scientific fact and literal history.
These sacred texts do infallibly present truth, but it is the truth concerning who God is and who we are in relation to God. Through the recounting of stories, events, poems, songs, parables, sayings, letters and so on, the Scriptures lead us on an exploration of some of the most important questions at the heart of the human quest: how did we come into being, who are we called to be, are we alone, and will it be alright in the end?
Thirdly we should note that the fact that the Bible is the Word of God does not preserve it from the impact of the processes involved in its writing and compilation. The different books of the Bible came into being often over long periods, going through many versions. They can, at times, be contradictory and, it should be acknowledged, periodically unhelpful to the modern reader. The Bible reflects the very people who were involved in its writing – with all their strengths and weaknesses. This does not make it any less valuable or dependable. God works through the ups and downs of the human experience. We see this in our own lives: that just because someone is not perfect does not mean God is not present. In a certain sense, the same is true of the Bible. It is utterly the word of God…and it thoroughly reflects the human beings who were involved in its construction. How can it be otherwise?
Original text by Shane Dwyer
Photo of Hands on Bible by Patrick Fore on Unsplash
Fr Anthony Mellor, 30 October 2019
Archbishop Mark Coleridge, Archbishop of Brisbane, 30 October 2019
30 October 2019