Monday, 17 October 2016

The Reading of the Scriptures by Fr Felix, O.F.M.Cap. part 14.

In the Scriptures the word prophet means one who speaks for another rather than one who foretells future events. Thus Aaron is called the "prophet" of Moses (Exodus 7, 1), because he acted as spokesman for the latter before Pharaoh. Moses is called a "prophet" (Deuteronomy 34, 10) because he was bearer of God's message. In time this meaning (spokesman of God) became the technical one, and in the period of Monarchy a "prophet" is one who announces the word of God, generally under divine inspiration. This meaning is retained until the end of the New Testament. The Prophets whose books we read in the Old Testament were all inspired preachers sent in times of religious crisis to preach repentance to sinners and to comfort the just. In the ninth century B.C. the Prophets begin, and the most delightful chapters of 2 and 4 Kings are those which tell of Elias the Thesbite, the prophet of Carmel (one of the greatest personalities of the Old Testament), and his successor, Eliseus. In the following century, and thence till the end of the Babylonian Exile we have the literary prophets, so called because they have left us their writings in the Bible. Of these there are sixteen (not including Baruch who is generally reckoned with (Jeremias)—the four Greater and the twelve Lesser Prophets. The prophetical books contain the preaching of those Prophets,—vehement denunciation of sin and vice, and moving appeals to repentance and perseverance in virtue. Especially do the Prophets foretell the coming of the Redeemer. They describe in marvellous detail His character, mission, and miracles, and many circumstances of His life, particularly His sufferings and death. Isaias in places reads more like a Gospel than a Prophet. Icrentias, "the most pathetic of the Prophets," is a Prophet of the Babylonian Exile. His mission was in an evil time, and he was cruelly persecuted by his own people. Yet he loved them intensely, and his Lamentation for the destruction of Jerusalem and the ruin of the Temple are unique in all literature. Ezechiel also is a Prophet of the Babylonian Exile: he prophesied in Babylon itself. The last of the Greater Prophets, Daniel, was also in exile in Babylon. His life, miraculously preserved on many occasions, is rich in interest. His prophecy is quoted by Our Lord. (St. Matthew 24, 15): The Lesser Prophets are so called because their books are of lesser extent; their prophecies are not less sublime. Jonas is referred to by Our Lord (St. Matthew 12. 40); his miraculous rescue from the sea is another instance of the typical sense of Scripture. St. Peter cites Joel (Acts 2, 17-21) ; St, Stephen, in his discourse before the Sanhedrin, quotes Amos (Acts. 7, 42-43) ; St. Paul quotes Habacuc (Romans 1, 17), and Osee (Romans 9, 25-26). The short Book of Abdias (of one chapter only) is praised by St. Jerome for the sublime mysteries it contains. Micheas foretold the teaching mission of the Church; Nahum, foretold the fall of Ninive, the Assyrian capital; Sophonias foretold the election of the gentiles and the rejection of the Jews. Aggeus and Zacharias, by their zeal for the House of God, forwarded the rebuilding of the Temple under Zorobabel. Malachias, the last of the Prophets, is thought by some to be the same as Esdras. In his prophecy there is a beautiful passage (1, 11), foretelling the Mass, the perfect and universal and continual sacrifice of the New Law.
The remaining seven books of the Old Testament are called the Didactic or Sapiential Books.* They contain precepts and counsels to guide human conduct in accord with the good designs of God. "Job" and "Job's comforters" have passed into the language of the proverbial; the Book of Job describes this marvellous man, his sufferings and his patience. Proverbs is written in the language of the parable; Ecclesiastes (i.e. the Preacher) speaks eloquently of the vanity of human glory; the Canticle of Canticles (i.e. the greatest of Canticles) is an allegory in which God's love is described in terms of human love. Wisdom and Ecclesiasticus are very easily read and understood. Lastly, there is the Psalter or Book of Psalms, which is of special importance because so very extensively used by the Church in the liturgy. The word psalm also is from the Greek. Its original meaning was the striking of notes on a musical instrument. Later it came to mean a song or poem set to music, and finally its meaning was restricted to the sacred songs or hymns of the Old Testament. The Psalms, therefore, are inspired hymns, i.e. inspired prayers in poetic form. The Book of (one hundred and fifty) Psalms is called the Psalter. The word at first denoted the stringed instrument resembling a harp on which the psalm was played. * DIDACTIC because they teach; SAPIENTIAL because they contain precepts and maxims of wisdom.
1. The Bible itself speaks of "the comfort of the Scriptures" (Romans 15, 4). The reading of the Bible in a spirit of faith and humility is an excellent and a practical and a pleasant exercise of piety. But as every good gift of God can be misused, so, too, can the Scriptures. The Church has made just and reasonable laws to protect the Sacred Books from misuse, and to guide us in reading them. 2. We must read the Scriptures from a Catholic edition of them, guaranteed as such by the Ordinary. Such an edition, either of the New Testament separately, or of the whole Bible, can be obtained easily and at a modest price. 3. The reading of the Scriptures is good and praiseworthy and eminently desirable. Our advocacy of the reading of the Bible differs, however, from that of non-Catholics. The Bible is one source of Divine Revelation; Apostolic Tradition is another. The infallible teaching of the Catholic Church makes known to us the doctrines of our faith from these two sources. The reading of the Bible, therefore, is not necessary to salvation; it is an aid: and a powerful aid. Guided by these very reasonable principles every Catholic who can read may and should draw great spiritual and intellectual profit from THE READING OF THE SCRIPTURES. ********