Papist Orthodoxy

September 25, 2009

Sacred Scriptures: How to Study Them

Filed under: Doctrine, Sacred Scripture and Theology — Tags: , , , , — Antiochian-Thomist @ 12:27 am

Hebrew Scriptures

St. Augustine on how we should proceed in the study of Scripture (On Christian Doctrine, Book II, Chapter 9):

“And in pursuing this search the first rule to be observed, as I said, to know these book [of Holy Scriptures], if not yet in understanding, still to read them so as to commit them to memory [emphasis mine –Antiochian-Thomist]…. Next, those matters that are plainly laid down in them, whether rules of life or rules of faith, are to be searched into more carefully and more diligently…. For among the things that are plainly laid down in Scripture are to be found all matters that concern faith and the manner of life, –to wit, hope and love…. After this when we have made ourselves to a certain extent familiar with the language of Scripture, we may proceed to open up and and investigate the more obscure passages, and in doing so draw examples from the plainer expressions to throw light upon the more obscure…. And in this matter memory counts a great deal.”

St. Augustine on knowledge of languages for Sacred Scriptures (On Christian Doctrine, Book II, Chapter 11):

“The great remedy for ignorance of proper signs is knowledge of languages…. And men…need two other languages for the knowledge of Scripture, Hebrew and Greek [emphasis mine]…. For in some languages there are words that cannot be translated into the idiom of another language.”

St. Augustine gives counsels on how and what to study in Sacred Scriptures. From the context, it should be evident that our Latin Father of the Church is addressing the clergy and learned laity. Nonetheless, his pronouncements should still ring true for our clergy and apt laity of today. Consider the instruction of Pope St. Pius X in his letter Quoniam in Re Biblica (24 March, 1906) which established the rules governing education in Holy Writ in the seminaries. It is as though he read St. Augustine, put down the book, and picked up the pen and scribed the following:

“In all of the academies, the candidates for the academic degrees of theology must answer certain Scriptural questions concerning the historical introduction of the Bible and its critique, and also concerning exegesis; and they will show by an examination that they can interpret Holy Writ with relative ease and understand Hebrew and Biblical Greek [emphasis mine].”

Further, consider this from Pope Leo XIII in Providentissimus Deus

“It is necessary that professors of Holy Scripture –and the same applies to theologians– know the languages in which the canonical books were originally drafted by the sacred writers, and it would be excellent if the ecclesiastical students acquire the same knowledge, above all those who aspire to academic degrees in theology. It will be necessary to take special care to have, in all Academies, teaching chairs in the languages of antiquity, above all the Semitic languages [emphasis mine].”

How many seminaries, ‘traditional’ or otherwise, Latin or Eastern, can claim to train at least the better part of their seminarians in this manner (admittedly, probably more Eastern than Latin)?

It should be noted that the Church continues to encourage the laity to delve into the infinite riches of Sacred Scripture. Although many of the faithful do not have the time or the aptitude to memorize Scripture or the learn Scriptural languages, much wisdom can be gleaned from the prayerful rumination of Holy Writ translated into one’s vernacular. Further, there exist several good translations of Scriptural commentaries composed by various Fathers of the Church and St. Thomas Aquinas, so one need not worry about lacking good guides through some of the complexities of Holy Writ.

In the words of Our Lord to St. Augustine as the latter was pondering a theological issue: “Tolle et lege!” [Take and read!]

St. Augustine of Hippo

St. Augustine of Hippo

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