(The Nationalist, 9 October 2004)
Is the Bible still seen by Irish Catholics as a Protestant book? I have the feeling that it is. Maybe that has its origins in the Reformation, when, if Protestants said yes, Catholics said no; if Catholics went one way, Protestants went the opposite. When I was in Africa I found that things were different. Africans are great Bible-readers. I often remember meeting soldiers at road-blocks sitting in the shade of a tree reading the Bible, and ready with questions from it, eager for answers.
The early Christian tradition, too, was different. Saint Jerome, who lived in the fourth century, and who made the first translation of the Bible from the original Hebrew and Greek into Latin, the language of his day, wrote, ‘Ignorance of the Bible means ignorance of Christ’. He also said, ‘Love the Bible and wisdom will love you; love it and it will preserve you; honour it and it will embrace you.’
The Bible is the divine word in human words. ‘In sacred scripture, divine things are conveyed to us in the manner to which people are accustomed,’ wrote Saint Thomas Aquinas. The whole of life is in it: the good and the bad, the beautiful and the ugly. We meet saints and sinners, heroes and gangsters, lovers and haters – people like ourselves.
Reading it means we learn about the faith at first-hand rather than at one remove. The Bible is the soul of theology, though it communicates in a way that is more direct, more alive and more human than a book of theology. It has a power, too, that no other reading, argument or persuasion has. It can inform, educate, illuminate and motivate like nothing else. What the Bible communicates to us is God’s own life, God’s self, rather than merely ideas or information about God.
The Bible is best read in a setting of prayer, and ideally in a group. There are new translations available that are divided into easy-to-read sections. An easy way of killing several birds with one stone is to use the Bible readings of the Sunday Mass, focussing especially on the first reading and the Gospel since they are linked. In that way the one table of the Word of God and the Body of Christ nourish each other.
‘All scripture is inspired by God and can profitably be used for teaching, for refuting error, for guiding people’s lives and teaching them to be holy’. (2 Timothy 3.16)