I recently had occasion to quote this to our long-time commentator, Bosco: “Whatever is not consistent with love of God and neighbour cannot be a right interpretation of Scripture.” St Augustine was the author of this wise saying, and it is the key to our understanding of Scripture.
One reason, politeness apart, that I interact with Bosco here is that beneath the unappealing surface of what he writes, there is a child of God and a man who believes that he is “saved” and has a concern for the rest of us. Ironically, when he criticises St Thomas More and others in the Church for the way they treated heretics in the past, he fails to see that they were motivated by much the same thoughts that motivate him, namely the view that someone else is teaching “another gospel” and putting their soul in peril, as well as the souls of others. More, like his Protestant successors, had the power of the State on his side and could use it to correct error. Bosco only has the internet, which he uses to scarify the Catholic Church, which he believes is in error. And so it goes on.
The Bible is not a text-book, it is not a history book, it is not a work of scientific accuracy, and yet we believe, nay we know, that it contains everything we need to know in order to attain salvation. But how are we to understand it? Bosco tells us confidently that it explains itself to the person of faith, and follows that up by demonstrating that it doesn’t, by coming to conclusions the diametric opposite of others who read it. Now, it is of course, just possible that a small group of American Fundamentalists understand the Book Canonised by the Church better than the Church which Canonised it, but on the balance of probabilities, it would be unwise to bet the farm, let alone your soul, on it.
At this point in internet “dialogue” it is common to get into proof-texting. Well, I can speak only for myself and I don’t kow about you, but I am heartily sick of Christians from different Churches throwing proof texts at each other.
In her post yesterday, Audre advised us that she was a “big picture” person, and that is good advice. Once we realise that the biggest picture is that God is love, and therefore any interpretation of Scripture inconsistent with love of God and neighbour cannot be correct. It follows that in our dealings with each other, whilst love might lead us to be alarmed that x or y is “wrong” in their interpretation, so might we be.
It is for that reason that Catholics, Anglicans and Orthodox look to the teaching of the Church to support the readings which their own reasoning suggests. No-one who knows anything about the Catholic Church could believe what only those who know nothing about it propound when they suggest that it seeks to tell its members how the read the Bible in every aspect of its richness. That is not, and never has been, the function of the Church.
The Church is the repository of the “rule of Faith”. It is the guardian of the Creeds through which it interprets what it received from the hands of the Apostles themselves. So, to take one example, you can argue about what you think the Trinity is, and you can support yourself with proof-texts, but the Church knows that heretical positions were, in the past (as now) supported by clever men (and it is always men … just saying) with arguments of their own devising, and so, if we are wise, we will turn to the Church to see what it has to say on the matter. There we discover the wisdom of the ages, guided by the Holy Spirit. We can then measure our own conclusions against that collective wisdom. If we think we are right, then of course, we shall act on that. But if we are wise, we will pray for discernment. I don’t know about you, but I lack whatever spirit it is that leads people to believe that they know better than the mind of the Church.
Love is the guide for how we should read Scripture. We bring to it emotional and cultural baggage which is bound to influence how we read and interpret, and it is right that should be the case; even were it not right, it is inevitable. But then let us measure our thoughts against the yardstick that God is Love. The Holy Spirit speaks to us in love, but in the struggle to translate that into words, we can miss the deeper level at which He communicates to us. God abides with us always. Of course we will feel ourselves “unworthy”, and we are – by our standards. If we look at us through God’s eyes, we are the reason that Christ suffered, died, was buried and rose again, we are loved that much. Do you get it? I don’t in my head, but I do emotionally. It makes no sense to my earthly standards, but that just tells me how far those are from God’s.
The Holy Spirit speaks through the Church, and He speaks to all of us if we have ears to hear and a heart open to receiving Him. I am unworthy, and yet Christ died for me, so I am worthy. Yes, I see the distance between this weak and fallible person and the infinite goodness of the Trinity, but then through prayer and through Grace, I have faith that the gap will narrow and I can enter more deeply into the ultimate reality of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.