Scripture and Tradition

'Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ,' wrote Saint Jerome. Jerome is reflecting here not on the Gospels, but on the Old Testament Book of Isaiah. Even in the Old Testament, before the Gospels were written, Christ is revealed. The revelation reaches its fullness, of course, in the Gospels - 'a vision of faith based on precise historical testimony' (Novo Millennio, 17). If we are to contemplate Jesus, we should familiarise ourselves with the one source of divine revelation: Scripture and the Tradition in which and by which it is interpreted.

One of the great gifts of Vatican II was the call for Catholics to read and to become more familiar with the Scriptures. People sometimes knew the Bible well formerly, but not always. Vatican II performed a great service in calling us back to the books authored by God himself. This is a wonderful gift with which to nourish our lives. As Ecclesia in Oceania teaches, we need to read the Scriptures and to pray as we read if we are to know Christ: 'prayer should accompany the reading of Sacred Scripture, so that a dialogue takes place between God and the reader' (38).

With this in mind the Pope has called for faithful translation of the Scriptures into 'the greatest possible number of vernacular languages.' There cannot be too many tongues proclaiming the word of God! But, he continues, making the Scriptures accessible needs more than delivering Bibles to homes. There is a need too for teachers to be formed in Scripture and prepared for opening the minds and hearts of others to God's word.

In pondering the return to the Scriptures and in particular to the Gospels it is important that we all remember this is not a call to fundamentalism, to what the Pope in Fides et Ratio several years ago called 'biblicism' (55). We are not to think in other words that the meaning of the Scriptures is obvious, self-evident, and that all we must do is decide what seems the most obvious meaning to us. This would mean we all had our own private interpretations of Scripture and no means of checking the authority of what it is we think that we find there. Where this happens the Scriptures are read only subjectively and God's purpose - to give us utterly certain knowledge - is thwarted.

Instead, we read the Scriptures in community and in the context of Sacred Tradition. It was the early Church community that discerned which books were 'canonical', part of the canon of Sacred Scripture. The mission of the Apostles was to hand on what they had received to the first Christian communities; and this teaching authority is continued today in the 'apostolic preaching' of the bishops (Catechism, 77). Thus we read the Scriptures together and through the Tradition passed on by the Apostles to the bishops. In this way we guard against false interpretations of Scripture and stay within the communion of the Church.

When we contemplate the face of Christ a stranger does not confront us. We have his family tree or 'genealogy', the history of his people is told in the Old Testament, and the story of his birth, life, death, and resurrection unfolds in the New Testament. By coming to know the Scriptures more and more we come closer to him, our prayer is deepened, and 'the face of the Nazarene emerges' (Novo Millennio, 18).


+ Denis J. Hart,
Archbishop of Melbourne.
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