Saturday, 8 October 2016

The Reading of the Scriptures by Fr Felix, O.F.M.Cap. part 7.

'This is eminently reasonable, as every Catholic knows well. Many non-Catholics, however, object to this ruling of the Church as being tyrannical and a curtailment of our freedom in biblical study. On the contrary, this ruling "rather protects it (the pursuit of biblical science) from error, and largely assists its real progress. A wide field is still left open to the private student in which his hermeneutical skill may display itself with signal effect, and to the advantage of the Church." (Ibid.) There is no curtailment of freedom properly so called. Freedom is a mean between unreasonable servitude on the one hand and unreasonable licence on the other. We are not free to think contrary to the laws of mathematics; yet no one calls it tyranny because we may not think that ten and ten make fifteen. So likewise we are still free though we are bound to conform to the laws of logic and Theology. Our opponents might as reasonably maintain that a physician's freedom is curtailed by his knowledge of chemistry. It is,—in the sense that he has no longer freedom to administer wrong drugs through ignorance, and so poison his patient. The freedom which the Catholic exegete enjoys appertains to the true freedom referred to in the Gospel: "Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed in him: if you continue in My Word you shall be my disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth and the truths shall make you free." (St. John 8, 31-32). Truth is the friend, not the enemy of freedom. Finally, the Bible presupposes Theology. Consider its opening sentence: "In the beginning God created heaven and earth." (Genesis 1, 1). This statement supposes at least that the reader believes in the supernatural and that he is a monotheist; otherwise, the Bible would begin by stating and proving the existence of God. And, as a fact of history, the Israelites of Moses' time, for whom Genesis was first written, had Theology.
The word testament means a covenant, a pact, an agreement between two parties. It was used to denote the covenant or agreement made by God with Abraham (Genesis 17), where the latter in return for faith in God and obedience to God's commands was promised great blessings for himself and his descendants. This Testament was only to lead on to another which was frequently foretold in the prophecies, viz., "the New and Eternal Testament," inaugurated by Our Divine Lord at the Last Supper and on Calvary, sealed in His Precious Blood, and solemnly promulgated on the day of the first Pentecost. St. Paul explains that the New Testament makes the former old (cfr. Hebrews 8, 13); thus came the terms Old and New Testament. The books of the Old Testament are those written during the period of the first Covenant; the books of the New are those written after the Christian era began. We speak of them respectively as the Old and New Testaments of the Bible.
When we open our New Testament the first books we meet are the four Gospels. The word Gospel is from the old Anglo-Saxon godspel, a compound of god (good) and spa, (tidings). It is a literal rendering of the Greek word, euaggelion, latinised into evanyclium. We have the same root in the word evangelist. The word was used several times by Our Lord to mean the doctrine of Christianity, e.g., in St. Mark 16, 15: "Go ye into the whole world and preach the Gospel to every creature." The meaning of the word is clarified from the parallel passage in St. Matthew 28, 19-20: "Going, therefore, teach ye all nations: baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you." In this sense also the word is used by St. Paul: "For I am not ashamed of the Gospel. For it is the power of God unto salvation. . ." (Romans I, 16). It means the whole economy of the Christian dispensation with its divine benefits on the one hand and on the other, its doctrine—dogmatic and moral, mystical and liturgical. This is what we mean when we speak of "the Gospel" without further qualification. The word is admirably adapted to its purpose—the Gospel is primarily and above all the glad tidings of victory in and through Christ Our Lord. Here I digress for a moment to reprobate the practice of misapplying to merely human doctrines this word, gospel, consecrated by Our Lord Himself to connote His incomparable divine teaching, and so used for nineteen centuries. In rhetoric and literature we find this misapplication frequently. However good and desirable these doctrines may be thought to be by their advocates, the latter should be able to realise that they are separated by a gulf of infinity from the unique doctrine of Christ in which "the justice of God is revealed . . . . from faith unto faith," (Romans 1, 17). The practice has now taken on the character of a literary vogue, and Catholics require to be warned against adopting it.