THE BIBLICAL INITIATIVEWhat the apostle writer is aiming for with the biblical initiative is to propagate the Holy Scripture - the Gospel in particular - so that everyone comes to know God's word.
In practical terms he will do this by means of biblical, explanatory,1 and guidance publications.
Convinced that "the Bible is God's letter written to human beings to guide them to their ultimate goal", the apostle longs to make it known and to have it reach all humanity.
But since only very few people
are in a position to understand the holy Book in Greek or Latin, and in a single volume, he should meet these particular and general needs by means of such biblical publications as translations, summarized versions and Bible stories.
Translations. These, with commentary, are to render the text faithfully in various languages. All these should contain notes of a historical, moral and pastoral character drawn from the Holy Fathers and Doctors of the Church.
Summarized versions for school or family use. Here, genealogies, abrogated laws, and issues that concern scholars should be excluded or touched on briefly. Such publications however are to contain the whole Bible History of the Old and the New Testament told with the same words of the holy Books. Let facts be given their historical story line, the prophets their time, the Wisdom books their place, so that the picture of divine history is faithful, effective and enjoyable.
Bible stories and Bibles for children attractively designed and fully illustrated. The mind of the child and of ordinary folk is more open to receive God's teaching!
Extracts [=partial editions] from both the Old and the New Testament enriched with introductions and commentary.
Here the Gospel must hold pride of place. Of all books it is the luminary, it is
faith's bel canto, the liturgy's most wonderful adornment; it is the daily and essential reading of every Christian.
By explanatory publications we mean all those published materials which, in a more or less explicit way, introduce,2 comment, illustrate, defend and adapt... the whole or part of the holy Book. Such publications vary, depending on their particular purpose as, for example:
- an introduction to the whole Bible or to some book in particular;
- an illustration of a biblical character as, for example, David, Judith, Mary Magdalene, and so on.
- [studies on the] connections between the Bible, in general and in particular, and secular and sacred science, history, art...
- miscellaneous writings or illustrations, illustrated albums, articles in newspapers and journals, books that elucidate biblical truths or facts...
- biblical quotations... In their writings and discourses the Holy Fathers and Church writers always inserted tracts or verses from Scripture. Some of them even managed to compose entire letters by the ingenious device of combining any number of scriptural tracts.
The press apostle should once again introduce
this good habit. "Scripture" says Saint Augustine "is explained with Scripture."
There are instead so many books where the human has supplanted the divine.
The apostle must instead be a dispenser of God's mysteries. If he fails to do this, he can no longer be called an apostle.
This is also the spirit of the Church.
Particular attention is to be paid then as to the way to present the passages chosen.
"Not everyone is able to understand all the books of the Bible. A person should not immediately take up the reading of the prophets, with their deep thinking and splendid poetry, if he is not versed in the Near Eastern style or of the way of thinking of the Hebrew institutions or of their theology.
"To be read first are Genesis, then Exodus, plus selected passages from the five following books, a good deal from the Kings, Paralipomenon [= Chronicles], Esdra and Nehemiah.
"It will be a delight to read the book of Ruth, and likewise those of Tobit, Judith and Esther. Job is a completely sublime philosophical canticle but rather obscure.
"To read the Canticle of Canticles requires training in the language of the mystics, particularly those of the Near East.
"The lofty poetry of the Psalms, the wisdom of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Wisdom and Ecclesiasticus will be a delight.
"A few well-chosen passages from the Prophets will suffice.
"The only advice as regards the Gospels is to read them in their entirety again and again and become well-versed in them. Very interesting is the Acts of the Apostles. The Letters of Saint Paul are lofty and nourishing but they contain difficult and obscure passages and require a good commentary. The Catholic Letters are more accessible.
"The Apocalypse [Revelation], likewise, is to be read with a good commentary since the work is quite obscure.
"Quite useful are passages which are chosen in view of a particular philosophical or historical perspective, or as a study of Latin (Vulgate text) or of Greek (text of the LXX).
"In this regard we advise also the use of the Synoptics, that is, the unified Gospels."3
Whatever the type of explanatory biblical publication it is that the apostle prepares for general readership, it must not, as a general rule, convey deep analysis or present novelties of any kind.
Such publications must aim to give the word of God to the great mass of people and be prepared with the love and intent with which God prepared the Bible.
Their presentation should be such that scholars do not disdain them. They should satisfy those who, with an upright and simple heart, are searching for God; those who are pursuing wisdom, the good of society, and eternal salvation; those whose wish is to find "the way, the truth and the life".
Such publications are to be pastoral. Pastoral because they are prepared by apostolic-minded people, pastoral in appearance, pastoral in the choice of notes and, insofar as possible, in their low cost; pastoral in that they are addressed to all people.
Saint Gregory the Great states that "Holy Scripture appears before the eyes of our mind almost like a mirror, so that we can thus see our spiritual image in it. What we discover there are the stains of our sins and the beauty of our good works. It lays down a marker to show how far distant we are from perfection."
But Saint John Chrysostom also asserts: "Nemo potest sensum Scripturæ sacræ cognoscere, nisi legendi familiaritate, sicut scriptum est: Ama illam et exaltabit te: glorificaberis ab ea, cum fueris amplexatus".4
Saint Augustine says: "Believe me, everything
in Holy Scripture is great and divine. Truth is there whole and entire; what we find there is an eminently suitable teaching to nourish our soul and to restore our strength; indeed scripture is so well suited to our needs, that there is no one who cannot find what he needs, provided he approaches it with the faith and piety that true religion demands."
If you want Scripture reading to be productive you have to guide people to read the holy Book with the lively desire to meet Jesus Christ, God's gift; to read it in humility, faith and prayer, and with the desire to change their life.
Insist in every possible way, therefore, on the importance, the necessity and the way to read the holy Books.
Have people understand that Bible reading is important and recommended by the Church, because they are God's writings for everyone and everyone needs them: the poor to draw from this source the promise of eternal wealth and consolation in their privations; the rich to learn how to be good and charitable towards the poor; the healthy to learn how to employ life and sanctify it; the sick to draw strength and resignation; the innocent to be strengthened in doing good; the sinner to repent of his sins and to return to the Christian life; the learned to become a disciple of heavenly Wisdom; ordinary folk to know and
love their Savior more and more. In short, everyone can find something good in the holy Books in order to help them become better.
Guide people to read Scripture in a pious, loving and sincere way, so that they resolve to conform their lives to the teachings set out.
Everyone who approaches God's Book should be able to say of himself what the well-known French writer, François Coppée acknowledged: "A modest achiever, I have gone back over the Gospel asking God to grant me the meekness of the poor in spirit. I have become like those little children that the Lord wanted to come forward and in front of whom he proclaimed that the kingdom of heaven would be for those who are like them. I have listened to the word of God with the simplicity of the fishermen on the lake of Tiberias, to whom Jesus spoke on the water, seated on the prow of a boat... Little by little every line of the holy Book became alive for me and confirmed for me that it contained the truth. In every word of the Gospel I saw the truth shine like a star and I experienced it like the beating of a heart."
As regards the order in which to read the Bible, three ways are suggested: the theological, the familiar, and the liturgical.
The theological order suggests reading the books
of Holy Scripture in the order listed by the Council of Trent, which is to start from Genesis, then Exodus, and so on and to conclude with the Apocalypse [Revelation].
The familiar order is the one advised by many authors of ascetics. It consists in reading first all the books of the New Testament and then those of the Old Testament. Among these latter, first of all the historical books, which are the easiest and the most suitable for instilling a biblical mentality; then the wisdom books and, lastly, the prophetic books, which are the most difficult.
The liturgical order is the one suggested by the Church in the liturgy, as it is set out in the Breviary and in the Mass.
A prime rule and a very important one is to read the Scripture as Holy Mother Church sets it out for us for she is its guardian; secondly, read only those texts which bear her approval.
1 * The Italian text has "esplicative" for "spiegative".
2 * The Italian text has "introducono" for "esordiano".
3 Grande Dizionario Enciclopedico, (ed.) Prof. Giovanni TRUCCO, vol. II.
4 * "No one can know the meaning of Holy Scripture unless he familiarizes himself by reading it, in keeping with the words: 'Love it and it will exalt you: you will be glorified by it when you experience its embrace'."