Three books offer three views and uses of the Bible for Catholics, showing the rich and diverse nature of our faith.
In “A Year with the Bible,” prolific Catholic writer Patrick Madrid presents readings from every part of Scripture to address the ups and downs of Christian life. Madrid demonstrates the Bible’s path to a devotional life through accompanying thoughts and prayers to selected brief readings.
The three scholarly authors of “The Bible and the Believer” — one for each of the Jewish, Catholic and Protestant traditions — challenge readers religiously and intellectually. They examine their respective traditions’ use of the Old Testament by reflecting on the historical-critical method together with a religious reading.
The Jewish writer Marc Zvi Brettler notes, “Reading a text religiously means connecting it to your community in the present. In contrast, reading a text from a historical-critical perspective means connecting it to its original author and setting.”
Each of the three authors shows clearly how the historical-critical method, which unearths inconsistencies and strives for new understandings of much-loved readings, caused a stir when it developed out of 19th-century German Protestantism. While each of the three faith groups did eventually accept this approach, religious authorities have only done so while finding a way to continue their traditionally religious way of reading Scripture.
Catholics rely on tradition, reason and the Bible, all officiated by the magisterium, so we are somewhat insulated against new findings that for strict Biblicists might hurt their faith. Jesuit scholar Father Daniel Harrington outlines the Catholic acceptance of the historical-critical method. He notes how the spiritual or religious reading of Scripture still takes center place, though the scholarly method begins most discussions.
Catholics will learn much about Protestantism, and the vulnerability of their faith to different readings of the Bible. Without a similarly developed tradition-reason aspect to the faith, and lacking a central religious authority such as the pope, the winds of academic change often carry them away. Many have gone down the “slippery slope to unbelief,” while others built a fortress against the outside world in a vain effort to keep their Protestant faith pure.
Catholics have much to be thankful for, in other words, with our deposit of faith. “Sola Scriptura” (Scripture alone), well defined by Protestant Peter Enns, makes the Bible into the final arbiter for theological disputes. Yet the Bible is much more chaotic, diverse, and inconsistent than the Protestant reformers could have imagined. “Sola Scriptura” has therefore brought about unceasing dispute and division among Protestants, not only because of the rebellious nature of Protestantism, but because of this nature of the Bible, which has failed to live up to the uniformity and consistency that Protestants have asked from it.
Enns wisely suggests that Protestants stop asking the Bible to do the impossible for them. He calls for more Catholic-type contemplation, since that tradition assumed and invited the type of spiritual struggle and critical examination of old religious beliefs and the self that Protestants have long avoided.
Readers will learn from the Jewish scholar Brettler that the Jewish reverence for a lively, engaged tradition parallels Catholicism, and that Protestants share the same endless division and disagreement with Jews resulting from not having a central religious authority.
John Bergsma’s “Bible Basics for Catholics” offers a clear, consistent, and faithful introduction to the Bible that does assume a unified whole to Scripture. He concentrates on this unity by avoiding particularities. His bird’s eye view of sacred history notes how God has called humanity to “divine filiation”, or a father-child relationship, with humans from the beginning. Bergsma traces the various attempts by God to establish a living, fruitful covenant with humans through Adam, Noah, Moses, David and the new David, Jesus, who re-established the Davidic covenant while also fulfilling it. This followed God’s promise, spoken through the prophets, that he would write the law on our hearts.
Bergsma’s consistent theological reading of the Bible introduces basic dogma as well.
These three books, by varying so greatly from each other, reflect the diverse Catholic uses for the Bible, depending on the occasion and need.
“A Year with the Bible: Scriptural Wisdom for Daily Living” by Patrick Madrid. St. Benedict Press (Charlotte, N.C., 2012). 388 pp., $44.95.
“The Bible and the Believer: How to Read the Bible Critically and Religiously” by Marc Zvi Brettler, Peter Enns & Daniel Harrington, SJ. Oxford University Press (New York, 2012). 224 pp., $27.95.
“Bible Basics for Catholics: A New Picture of Salvation History” by John Bergsma. Ave Maria Press (Notre Dame, Ind., 2012). 180 pp., $14.95.
Also of interest: “Bible Top Tens: 40 Fun and Intriguing Lists to Inspire and Inform” by Mary Elizabeth Sperry. Our Sunday Visitor (Huntington, Ind., 2012). 160 pp., $13.95.