MEANINGS IN THE SACRED SCRIPTURES
We can say that he is the first of the prophets strictly speaking: he lived during the time of the Judges.
His father was Elkanah and his mother, Hannah, who, though advanced in age, received from the Lord a son who she promised to consecrate to the service of God. Samuel was in fact presented to the temple, where he grew in the fear of the Lord and in fulfillment of his duties.
Meanwhile, God, offended by the conduct of the sons of the High Priest Eli, let them die in battle. Their father, at the news of the misfortune, fell to the ground and died. The Lord, however, had elected another Priest: Samuel.
The new Priest and Judge of Israel was faithful to the Lord and wisely governed. He commanded that all the idols and foreign gods be taken away from the midst of the people and invited all to penance. The Lord forgave Israel and freed her from the hands of the Philistines.
He anointed Saul, the first king of Israel; he knew how to let him face, in due time, the divine censure. It was also he who consecrated the new king, David, but he was not able to see David's complete triumph.
Attributed to Samuel are the books of Judges and Ruth.
The books I and II Kings bear his name due to the big part he had in it.
THE BOOK OF JUDGES - RUTH - I, II KINGS
The Book of Judges speaks of the leaders who ruled over God's people from the death of Joshua (1442?) until the election of Saulle1 (1075). These leaders are taken out sometimes from one tribe, sometimes from another, and even from several tribes contemporaneously.
The first two chapters describe the political and religious condition of Israel: continuous threats from neighboring peoples and abandonment of the Lord that left his people to the oppression of her enemies.
Then the episodes of some Judges are narrated: Othoniel, Ehud, Deborah, Barak, Gideon, Jephtah, Samson.
As appendix, there is the story of the idolatry of the Danites and the crime of the men of Gibeah that caused the extermination of all the tribes of Benjamin.
The Book of Ruth is a small masterpiece that paints with exquisite finesse a scene of family life during the time of the Judges. Its topic is very simple: A man from Bethlehem, Elimelech, driven by famine, emigrates with his wife Naomi and two sons to the land of Moab where his two sons die after having married two Moabite women: Ruth and Orpah. After ten years, left without husband and sons, Naomi returns to Bethlehen, followed by Ruth who cannot separate herself from her mother-in-law. In Bethlehem, Ruth goes to glean in the field of Boaz, who marries her, and she begets for him Obed, the father of Jesse and the ancestor of David.
What is moving in the book of Ruth is Naomi's strong resignation, Ruth's piety and modesty, and Boaz's faith and generosity. These three beautiful persons shine out in a sweet background of domestic and religious feelings, reflecting divine goodness.
The I and the II Book of Kings: the four books of Kings2 include the history of the chosen people from the oppression of the Philistines (which ends the Book of Judges) to the exile of Joachim in Babylon.
The first book, after having spoken about the terms of Eli and Samuel as judges, describes the institution of the royal dignity in Israel in the person of Saul who is later censured for disobeying God. In his stead would be elected David who pretty soon demonstrates his worth and
excites the jealousy of Saul who persecutes him unjustly without ever succeeding to suppress him, while he himself, after being defeated by the Philistines, miserably perished, thus losing in a day his sons, his army his life, and his Kingdom.
The second book speaks of the kingdom of David in Hebron as it wars against Saul's son; then of the kingdom of David in Jerusalem with David's glories and disastrous sins, and ends with some fragmentary documents of various kind.
These two books that form a single work called Samuel show a marvelous unity and were done perhaps over the writings of the prophets Samuel, Gad, and Nathan.REFLECTION III
Meanings in the Sacred Scriptures
Give me insight to observe your teaching,3
to keep it with all my heart.
We read in the Gospel of St. Luke: Tunc aperuit illis sensum ut intelligerent Scripturas
Jesus opened the eyes of the Apostles so that they might understand the Scriptures. Let us therefore pray to the Divine Master so that he may also open our eyes, that we may understand them correctly.
If we consider the Bible superficially, it appears to us like all the other books; and yet, what a difference! We know that under the cortex of the letter and the paper there is a whole world of sublime, universal, and eternal truths. Under the modest external garment we
see God's word. And we love the Bible not so much for its external form, but because it is God's word, the word of our most loving Father.* * *
It is a must to distinguish in the Bible the letter and the spirit of the letter. The first, as St. Paul says, kills; the spirit on the other hand vivifies: Littera enim occidit, spiritus autem vivificat. (2Cor 3:6)5
Oh yes! The letter, if badly interpreted, can bring death to the soul. Thus it happened to many of the Hebrews who, having badly interpreted what the O.T. told of the future Messiah when he came into the world, refused to receive him: Et sui eum non receperunt; (Jn 1:11)6 Not only that: they crucified him and God's anger weighed on their heads.
In order to comprehend well the meanings of the Bible,7 it is necessary that we join the school of our infallible mother and teacher, the Church, who, through the assistance of the Holy Spirit, shall guide us safely in the way of truth.
A word without a meaning is like a body without soul, it is a cadaver of a word. St. Augustine says that man is poor in his words and these words ordinarily have but a single meaning, the literal meaning.
Since the Bible is God's letter, the syllables and the words of which it is made have as a consequence a divine meaning. It is in virtue of this meaning that the Sacred Book is enveloped by a luminous aura such that the Bible is
held by all to be the principal book that humanity possesses.
The meaning of the Sacred Scriptures is threefold: the literal, the mystical, and the accommodated.
The literal meaning, also called the historical, is that which is deduced from the natural meaning of the words according to their ordinary usage, and this can either be proper or figurative.
It is proper, when the words mean what is at first sight presented to the mind: for example, when Jesus tells the disciples Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem (Mt 20:18) they were indeed going to the capital of Palestine.
It is figurative when the words are not understood literally, but figuratively. Thus, when St. John the Baptist, upon seeing Jesus coming, says: Ecce Agnus Dei: behold the Lamb of God (Jn 1:29), he takes the word Lamb figuratively. The Baptist did not want to mean that the Messiah was a little lamb, he wanted only to allude to his meekness, to his work of redemption, wherein Jesus, like a meek lamb, had to be immolated in reparation for the sins of men.
The mystical meaning, also called the spiritual or typical, is that which comes out not from the words, but from things expressed by the words; for example: when, on Holy Saturday, the Church at the end of every lamentation makes people sing: Jerusalem, Jerusalem, return to the Lord your God; it is clear that here reference is made not to the walls of the city, but to the soul far away from God.
Many times, the Holy Scripture uses the name
Jerusalem to indicate the soul, the Church, Paradise, and in all these cases the word Jerusalem has a mystical meaning.* * *
Such a mystical meaning is also called typical, because often the thing it represents is like the type of another. Judith who cuts the head of Holofernes, is a type of the Most Blessed Virgin who crushes the infernal dragon.
The bronze serpent made by Moses was the type of Jesus Christ crucified and placed between heaven and earth as a sign of salvation for all men.
The accommodated meaning is not really a meaning that is in Sacred Scripture; it is the meaning that we ourselves give to the words and phrases of the Bible. This meaning can be more or less true, and more or less appropriate, according to the rightness of intention and the degree of knowledge of him who makes it.
For example: In Psalm 17, verse 27-28,8 it is said: Toward the sincere, sincere; but to the perverse you are devious. How many times we use these words to say: With good people, you shall be good and with the devious, devious: that is, to express the proverb: Tell me who your friends are, and I will tell you who you are! But this would be an accommodated meaning, that is, adapted, because the words of the Psalm want to say instead that God is good, or merciful towards the good, and bad, that is, severe, towards the bad, when he punishes the latter and shows mercy to the former.
In practice, what meaning should one have in reading the Bible?
Here it is: the reader must let himself be guided by the meaning that the words have in themselves, that is, by what the letter wants to say and then, if on some point he meets with obscurity or doubt, let him turn to the
explanatory notes that every text must have at the foot of the page.
In short: stick preferably to the literal meaning, as the Church does when she chooses scriptural texts to prove theological truths. This meaning is evidently the true meaning of Holy Scripture.
With this, we do not intend to exclude or diminish the importance of the other meanings.
The mystical especially has very great importance. It was largely used by the Apostles, the Apostolic Fathers and much later was adopted by the Alexandrian School headed by Origen and by the Fathers of first class authority like St. Ambrose, St. Augustine, and St. Gregory the Great.
The accommodated meaning has also its value, if used seriously and with due reverence. It is a sign of respect for the words of the Bible and at times a way for better expressing a truth; but it has no dogmatic value. First comes the literal meaning, then the mystical, then the accommodated.
In any case, the reader must always bear in mind that the sacred words of the Bible are divine and it is always God who speaks.
The Holy Bible should be read even when we do not understand: the Holy Spirit shall make us understand, or else create in us very precious spiritual and supernatural goods. He, as he did to the Apostles, will open our understanding to enable us to understand.
EXAMPLE. - Sts. Saturninus and Companions, martyrs. - At the beginning of the fourth century, under the Emperors Diocletian and Maximinian, persecution became more cruel not only against the persons of Christians, but also against sacred places and the Sacred Scriptures. Christians were ordered, under pain of death, to surrender to the judges the sacred books.
The priest Saturninus of the city of Abitina in the proconsular province of Africa was arrested during this persecution. At that time, he was in a gathering of about fifty persons, among whom were four of his sons: Dativus, Telicus, Saturninus and Hilarion.
Loaded with chains, they were sent to Carthage to the proconsul Anulinus to be judged.
Asked if they were Christians and if they had taken part in the gathering, they openly professed their faith. Subjected to torture on the racks, they did not stop professing their being Christians and they invoked the help of God's grace so they could bear the torments: My Lord, Jesus Christ, come to my aid, have mercy on me, guard my soul, grant me the grace of patience. Hear me, O Lord; I thank you for the suffering you send me...
Marvelous was the confession of the martyr Emeritus, who, questioned by the proconsul if he had the Scriptures with him, answered: I keep them in my heart!
Speak clearly, the proconsul shouted. Do you have the Scriptures at home or not?
I keep them in my heart, the martyr repeated calmly. And added: Praised be Jesus Christ. Lord, help me because I suffer for your name and I willingly suffer; but do not allow that I should remain confused.
To the question of the proconsul, another confessor of that glorious group, Felix, frankly said:
We have celebrated with great devotion the holy sacrifice, and we have gathered to read the Divine Scriptures.
Thus Saturninus, through the pains of torture, exclaimed, I keep the Sacred Scriptures in my heart!
In the end, tired by the undefeated firmness of those confessors, the proconsul had them thrown to prison, where he let them die of exhaustion and miseries.
In this manner, for the name of Jesus Christ and in defense of the Sacred Scriptures, they won the palm of glorious martyrdom.
LITTLE SACRIFICE. - Today, in spite of human respect, I shall kiss many times the book of the Holy Gospel, professing to love it to the point of giving my life for it, if this were necessary.READING
God orders the writing of his Law
God said to Moses, Write out this song, then, for yourselves. Teach it to the Israelites and have them recite it, so that this song may be a witness for me against the Israelites. For when I have brought them into the land flowing with milk and honey which I promised on oath to their fathers, and they have eaten their fill and grown fat, if they turn to other gods and serve them, despising me and breaking my covenant; then, when many evils and troubles befall them, this song, which their descendants will not have forgotten to recite, will bear witness against them. For I know what they are inclined to do even at the present time, before I have brought them into the land which I promised on oath to their fathers.
So Moses wrote this song that same day, and he taught it to the Israelites. Then the LORD commissioned Joshua, son of Nun, and said to him, Be brave and steadfast, for it is you who must bring the Israelites into the land which I promised them on oath. I myself will be with you.
When Moses had finished writing out on a scroll the words of the law in their entirety, he gave the Levites who carry the ark of the covenant of the LORD this order: Take this scroll of the law and put it beside the ark of the covenant of the LORD, your God, that there it may be a witness against you.
(Dt 31:19-26)CANTICLE OF THE THREE YOUNG MEN [#]
Blessed are you, O Lord, the God of our fathers, praiseworthy and exalted above all forever; And blessed is your holy and glorious name, praiseworthy and exalted above all for all ages.
Blessed are you in the temple of your holy glory, praiseworthy and glorious above all forever.
Blessed are you on the throne of your kingdom, praiseworthy and exalted above all forever.
Blessed are you who look into the depths from your throne upon the cherubim, praiseworthy and exalted above all forever.
Blessed are you in the firmament of heaven, praiseworthy and glorious forever.
(Dn 3:52-56)9PRAYER OF THANKSGIVING
I give you thanks, O God of my father; I praise you, O God my savior! I will make known your name, refuge of my life; you have been my helper against my adversaries. You have saved me from death, and kept back my body from the pit, from the clutches of the nether world you have snatched my feet; you have delivered me, in your great mercy from the scourge of a slanderous tongue, and from lips that went over to falsehood; from the snare of those who watched for my downfall, and from the power of those who sought my life; from many a danger you have saved me, from flames that hemmed me in on every side; from the midst of unremitting fire, From the deep belly of the nether world; from deceiving lips and painters of lies, from the arrows of dishonest tongues. I was at the point of death, my soul was nearing the depths of the nether world; I turned every way, but there was no one to help me, I looked for one to sustain me, but could find no one. But then I remembered the mercies of the LORD, his kindness through ages past; for he saves those who take refuge in him, and rescues them from every evil. So I raised my voice from the very earth, from the gates of the nether world, my cry.
1 Saulle è is another spelling for the name Saul, the first king of Israel.
2 I, II Kings: according to the Greek version of the Seventy (LXX) and the Vulgate. In reality, it refers to 1/2 Samuel. III/IV Kings correspond to 1/2 Kings. The two books of Kings constitute the natural sequel to the two books of Samuel. While 1/2Samuel include the period that goes from the birth of Samuel to the death of David, 1/2Kings refer to the events that take place between the appearance of the kingdom of Solomon, successor of David, and the fall of the monarchy of Judah, during the siege and destruction of Jerusalem (975-586 B.C.).
3 Studiare (insight to observe) means to dedicate oneself to knowing and observing the Law. In LS the study of the Sacred Scriptures is considered the foundation of theological studies (pp. 50, 51, 69, 78, 92, 281, 392, 303), of spirituality (pp. 227, 238, 247f, 261, 302-303), and of pastoral as a whole (pp. 69, 73f. 238, 247f, 274, 291, 317). Examples of saints are cited, saints who have become so through their study of Holy Scripture. Paul himself is one who knows the entire Bible (p. 230).
4 “Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures.”
5 “...The letter brings death, but the Spirit give life.”
6 “...His own people did not accept him.”
7 The old exegesis, which could not take into consideration the modern scientific demands, attributed to every text of the Scriptures different levels of meaning. The most common distinction was that which also Don Alberione uses: between the literal meaning and the spiritual meaning. Medieval exegesis distinguished in the spiritual meaning three different aspects: the revealed truth, the behavior to follow and the final accomplishment. Thus, the famous couplet of Augustine of Denmark, of the XIII century: “Littera gesta docet, quid credas allegoria, / moralis quid agas, quid speres anagogia” (see note 11 on p. 293). All the effort of modern historical-critical exegesis aims at defining the exact meaning of a biblical text in the circumstances wherein it was composed. The problem is complex, and is not presented in the same manner as for the different literary genres (historical narratives, chronicales, parables, prophetic oracles, legislative norms, proverbs and sayings, prayers, hymns, etc). - the PCB presents some principles on the matter:
1. Literal meaning: In general this meaning, not to be confused with “literalistic” or fundamentalist, is unique: “it is the one directly expressed by the inspired human authors” and is the fruit of divine inspiration. It is deduced from an exact analysis of the text within its literary and historical context. The task of exegesis is to conduct this analysis by using all the possibilities offered by literary and historical-archaeological research; without forgetting the dynamic character of many biblical texts. A modern reader of the Bible should try to clarify the orientation of thought expressed by the text, perceiving its more or less foreseeable extension, adding to its initial meaning new determinations. Also the literal meaning would seem then, from the start, to be open to further clarifications that are produced thanks to continuous “rereadings” in new contexts.
2. Spiritual meaning. Not to be confused with heterogeneous meanings, extraneous to the literal meaning. Jesus, through his death and resurrection, has established a radically new context, which sheds light, in a new manner, on the ancient texts and determines the change of meaning. As a general indication, “we can define the spiritual meaning, understood according to the Christian faith, as the meaning expressed by the biblical texts when they are read under the influx of the Holy Spirit in the context of the paschal mystery of Christ and of the new life that results from it.” This “paschal” context illumines the whole New Testament, which recognizes in it the fulfillment of the Scriptures. Hence, there exists a close relationship between the spiritual meaning and the literal one. The spiritual sense, however, is not to be confused with the “accommodated” meaning mentioned in LS (pp. 41-43), or with whatever subjective interpretation dictated by imagination or by intellectual speculation.
3. Complete meaning. Sensus plenior is defined as “a more profound meaning of the text willed by God, but not clearly expressed by the human author.” It is equivalent to the “spiritual meaning” in case this is distinguished from the “literal meaning.” Its foundation is the fact that the Holy Spirit, the principal author of the Bible, can guide a human author in the choice of his expressions in such a way that they express a truth whose full depth he does not perceive. Above all, with the canon of the Scriptures, a new context is created capable of making some potentials of meaning, left in the shadow by the original context, appear. In conclusion, the meanings of the Scriptures are to be sought in the literary and historical context of the texts, and in the new, spiritual, and ecclesial context wherein the Christian reader lives (cf. L'interpretazione della Bibbia nella Chiesa).
8 Psalm 17 of the Vulgate corresponds to Psalm 18 in the Bibles translated from the original texts.
9 LS shows “Dan. III, 51-56,” (Dn 3:51-56) but the quoted passage begins with v. 52.