The study of the Scriptures is pleasant and interesting, but it would be going too far to say that it is easy. They treat of God and the supernatural, we could not expect to grasp the full sense of the Sacred text at a reading. We require help to understand the Bible. Now, the labours of the greatest scholars of the whole Christian era have done much to clarify the meaning of the Scriptures. Sound principles of interpretation have been formulated to guide us in reading; knowledge of these will be of the greatest assistance to us. Again, a general idea of the content of each of the two Testaments that make up the Bible will be at once an attraction and an aid to the reading and understanding of them. This is true of the classics of ordinary literature; it is no less true of the Bible.
THE first rule for the interpretation of Holy Scripture is that the text be read carefully. This may appear self-evident, but at least it requires to be emphasised. Nothing is so important as the reading of the Scripture itself—continuous, assiduous reading, and so far as possible, methodical, systematic reading. An old trite axiom says: "The best commentary on the Bible is the Bible itself." The Bible is an harmonious whole. The books which compose it, though beautifully varied in literary form and style, are one in their principal author,—God; and one in their purpose,—to teach us God. One passage in the Bible will shed light on another, and the study of the text itself is always the first consideration. Again, for the very reason that the Bible is difficult of interpretation the text must be read closely. The same is true of any difficult text. Thus, in the matter of Canon Law, the law of the Church, which requires close study and often a commentary by an expert, the same rule holds good. "Read the Code" is always the advice of professors to students of this subject. This is not to depreciate commentaries. These have their function and value, to be sure; but they are of secondary importance to the reading of the text. A well-known adage of philosophy warns us that "The accessory follows the principal." The commentary is an accessory; the text is the principal. The commentary is a means to an end; the end is the elucidation of the text. This golden rule of reading the text is convincingly established by its success in the case of St. Jerome,* whom the Church, in the prayer for his feast (Roman Breviary, September 30th) calls Her "greatest Doctor in interpreting the Sacred Scriptures." With reference to his stay of three years on the Aventine in Rome, he writes: "I frequently explained to a number of others, as far as I could; the divine books; reading of them had created interest; interest, familiarity; familiarity, confidence." (Epistle 45, 2). Note the sequence—reading, interest, familiarity, confidence; and confidence implies proficiency. * St. Jerome was born about 347 A.D.; died in 420 A,D.
THE INTERPRETATION OF THE SCRIPTURES