Grace to you!
Reading the bible isn’t always easy, but it’s exciting. In the texts, we breathe the Spirit of God and connect with Christ himself. Knowing Scripture is getting to know and live in Christ in God through His written Word.
To know God is to know His Word. This Word isn’t simply the lexical and textual constructions of the library/collections of documented revelations called the bible. It is Jesus Christ, the Word of God made flesh. The bible is simply a divinely inspired documented aspect of the Divine Revelation.
I hope you know God’s Word in Scripture was first God’s Word revealed in actions and verbal expressions, and, more importantly, made flesh in Jesus Christ, years before they were documented. For us believers in the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, revelation isn’t simply about that moment in history when the disciples of Jesus and those who followed after them, wrote down some of what Jesus did and taught. It goes deeper than that – to the entire plan of God revealed through historical events in human history. The most definitive moment is the Incarnation- when God took flesh in the womb of Virgin Mary and became man – Jesus Christ the Lord.
Those who saw all the events of Christ (life witnesses) conveyed what they saw, heard and received, like a tradition, handed on from one disciple to another before they started to write. The entire revelation is God himself. The handing on of it was both a lived experience of the Christian people through their life and, most importantly, through their worship – liturgy – and the documented expression of it in what we know today as Scripture. These two aspects weren’t dichotomized during the early days of the Church and we shouldn’t dichotomize them now either. They are one body of revelation, one Word – Jesus Christ.
I tell this story today as we, Catholic Christians, celebrate the life of Saint Jerome because he was one of the pioneers of making the bible accessible to believers in the common language of the people of the time. The first Latin version of translated biblical manuscripts called Vetus Latina (Old Latin), which existed around the latter part of the second century and the middle of the third century, was very complex for the non-educated, common person on the street to read and understand. Jerome’s translation, though with a few imperfections, as one would expect with any translation, was called the Vulgate (language of the Common Person).
Guess what? Pope Damasus I had seen the need for all Catholics to know the Word of God in their private readings, and connect with it more during the Liturgy, to read it and understand it. So he looked for the best linguist and theologian with deep spiritual discernment to translate biblical manuscripts from the original Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek, and the Vetus Latina, to the common, accessible language of the people, which was Common Latin (Vulgate).
The version, called Vulgate, was to be such that people with less education could read God’s Word in Scripture, as well as connect with God’s Word in the Liturgy. The Church believes that the knowledge of God’s Word is necessary to the knowledge of Christ himself. As the Catholic Saint Jerome argued, and rightly so, “ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.”
Historical facts show that Pope Damasus I attached an indulgence to the actual reading of the bible, so as to encourage all Catholics to read it.
My reflections aren’t about history. However, it may be important to see the relevance of the knowledge of the Word of God and its central place in Catholic spirituality. When people say Catholics don’t read the bible and are not biblical, maybe they are yet to know about the story of Jerome and Pope Damasus I, not to mention the Fathers of the Church from the early years of Christianity, whose works are grounded in Scripture. Equally, probably they do not know the relevance of the Vulgate translation of the bible, which came around 382AD, over 1135 years before the protestant reformation of 1517AD.
So much for this background information: May I ask: How much do you know Scripture? When was the last time you read and prayed God’s Word?
God love you. God bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu
Fr. Maurice Emelu, Ph.D.
Father Maurice provides a daily blog of reflections based on the bible readings of the day from the Catholic liturgical calendar. You will find these reflections helpful for your spiritual growth, inspiration and developing your own thoughts. It may also be helpful for ministers in preparing their sermons for liturgical celebrations.