Editorial, June/July 2011
Recently I read a little book on the mystery of God’s word by Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, O.F.M.Cap. (Jesus Began to Preach, Liturgical Press, 2010). The author is the well-known theologian and preacher to the papal household. He has held that position since 1980.
The last chapter is about the spiritual reading of the Bible. There he makes an important point that I would like to pass on to the readers of HPR. The main idea in the book is that the word becomes or gives life because it contains and breathes the Holy Spirit. In the application to the Bible, Cantalamessa says that just as God not only created all things and also dwells in them by his power keeping them in existence, so also as the author of Scripture—the Holy Spirit—dwells in the word and gives it life.
St. Paul says, “All Scripture is inspired by God” (2 Tm 3:16). The Greek word he uses is theopneustos, which is composed of two words: God (Theos) and Spirit (Pneuma). This is usually translated as “inspired by God.” That is correct, but the word also has an active meaning in the sense that Scripture “breathes the Holy Spirit.” We can call this “active inspiration.” God is present in his holy word and he is Spirit and Life; so the power of God working in and through his word in the Bible can change a person’s life by breathing new spirit and life into it. The Bible, therefore, is not only inspired by God, but it also “inspires God” and “breathes forth God.” In this sense it not only illuminates the mind, but it also moves the will to love and adoration of God.
Fr. Cantalamessa also points out that the word of God is theandric, that is, both divine and human, just like Jesus Christ himself and the Church he founded on the Twelve Apostles. To be truly Catholic and Christian one must acknowledge both the divinity and the humanity of Jesus. The heretics erred and err by stressing one to the neglect of the other. In this regard the author criticizes both fundamentalists and Scripture scholars who limit themselves to a study of the letter and literary sources of Scripture and never penetrate to its spirit. Both approaches are faulty because they emphasize the human and the historical, and neglect the spiritual and Christological dimension of both the Old Testament and the New Testament.
When the Bible is read under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, one comes to see that everything in it refers to Christ and his Church in one way or another. This is the meaning of the observation of Augustine, quoted by Vatican II in the Constitution on Divine Revelation (§16), that the New Testament is hidden in the Old, and the Old is made manifest in the New. To this point Fr. Cantalamessa says: “[S]piritual reading, in its full and comprehensive sense, is one in which the Holy Spirit teaches us to read the New Testament in reference to Jesus and to read the Old and the New Testament together in reference to the Church” (90). Thus, all the books of the Bible share in “active inspiration,” and so are not only “inspired by the Holy Spirit” but also breathe him forth if read with faith.
The author also mentions the crisis of faith on the part of some biblical scholars and seminarians. He says that they have suffered from spiritual poverty because of the way in which Scripture is taught, as mainly a human product and fact of history: “The Church has lived and lives from a spiritual reading of the Bible; once this path that nourishes the life of piety is cut off, zeal and faith dry up and languish” (86).
Moreover, the liturgy, especially the Mass and the Liturgy of the Hours, is based on the spiritual use of the Bible. If students do not understand that, then they see little or no connection between the worship of the Church and what they learn in class.
When we pray, we talk to God; when we read Scripture, God talks to us. Both are necessary for a full Christian life, especially for priests who are commissioned by Jesus to preach God’s word in season and out of season. Their preaching should breathe the Holy Spirit.