Peter and Paul

Pope Benedict teaches that we can only interpret the Scriptures in the lives of the saints. This observation has transformed my life. I was brought up within Biblical Evangelicalism in which we had long Bible sermons on Sunday morning, Sunday night and Wednesday night. We had home Bible studies, youth Bible studies, women’s Bible studies and men’s Bible studies. All of us busy interpreting the Bible, “and what does that verse mean to you Mildred?”

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not down on Bible studies and the Catholics could certainly use a few more. Goodness, most Catholics think the Epistle to the Philippians was written to people living in the Philippines, and wouldn’t know their Hezekiah from their Zachariah. So I’m not down on Bible studies, but what shook me up about Pope Benedict’s little saying undermines not only the well meaning, individualistic Bible studies of the Evangelical faithful, but it also undermines the well meaning, individualistic Bible studies of the Liberal elite. The academics with their form criticism, source criticism, historical criticism, linguistic criticism, feminist criticism, metaphorical phantasmagorical criticism etc etc.–all of this is undermined as well.

Again, don’t hear what I’m not saying. I’m in favor of good scholarship and the insights that intelligent and conscientious scholars give us on Sacred Scripture, but all of it takes second place to the interpretation of the Scriptures through the lives of the saints.

Take, for example, the two glorious saints Peter and Paul. How can we ever understand the New Testament unless we attempt to understand these two great saints? Only when we study them as people and understand their motivations, their desires, their energy, their faults, their passions and their love and their enormous gift of faith and their magnificent hearts can we begin to really understand the power and the glory of the New Testament in all its magnificent unity and diversity.

The same applies to the whole Scripture. How can we really understand, “Unless you become as a little child you cannot enter the kingdom” unless we stop and consider St Therese, St Gianna, St Agnes and all the other virgin martyrs? How can we really understand the guts and the glory and the beauty and the passion and the pathos of the New Testament unless we study the lives of the saints?

I tell my catechists that they need just three resource books: the Bible, the Catechism of the Catholic Church and a good dictionary of the saints. So go for it!

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  • priest’s wife

    lovely post! If you haven't read it already- I recommend the book "Modern Saints"- most of the blesseds and saints within are modern enough to be photographed

  • jdonliturgy

    Father, could you point me to where the Pope teaches that? I am a bit confused, because the Pontifical Bible Commission document, specifically names the methodologies you label as "liberal elite" as being valid and necessary Catholic approaches. I would love to know more.

  • Fr Longenecker

    jdon, read the post more closely. I said the different forms of criticism were okay and good.

  • Holly

    Father,What "good dictionary of saints" would you recommend?

  • Marilyn

    “Pope Benedict teaches that we can only interpret the Scriptures in the lives of the saints.”Von Balthasar said the same thing. In the forward to his book on St. Therese of Lisieux, he stated his opinion that the saints are the “living gospel” and disputes the objection that the Bible suffices. He went on to say that all the Church’s theology is rooted in the period that stretches from the apostles into the Middle Ages when the great theologians were also saints. But then, in another book, he stressed that the depths of divine meaning of the Scriptures to each unique human life are endless. I think these two ways of interpretation are certainly not mutually exclusive, but harmonious.It’s been said that Von Balthasar was the favorite theologian of Pope John Paul II.

  • kkollwitz

    "and what does that verse mean to you Mildred?"As we used to say in RCIA, "I don't care what I think about this passage; I care what the church thinks about this passage."

  • broken

    It's good to be Catholic! Thank You, Thank You, Thank You God.

  • jdonliturgy

    Thank you for clarifying, Father."As we used to say in RCIA, 'I don't care what I think about this passage; I care what the church thinks about this passage.'"It is, however, very appropriate to ask "How is God speaking to you today through this Scripture?" in addition to how the Church interprets a passage. The Word of God is alive and active (Hebrews 4:12), and through it, God speaks to the hearts of all believers.

  • Howard

    I agree completely, Father. Something as simple as "Blessed are the pure in spirit" or "Blessed are the merciful" can seem very abstract, or worse, easy, until we consider someone like St. Maria Goretti. "Oh…. That's what it means…."

  • Deacon Bill

    Cardinal Ratzinger, in the late 1990 published a short biography of the first 50 years of his life.The English version was entitled Milestones. Near the end of the first chapter, page 9 as I recall, he said this, "I have often reflected since then on this remarkable disposition of Providence: that, in this century of progress and faith in science, the Church should have found herself presented most clearly in very simple people, in a Bernadette of Lourdes, for instance, or even in a Brother Konrad, who hardly seemed to be touched by the currents of the time. Is this a sign that the Church has lost her power to shape culture and can take root only outside the real current of history? Or is it a sign that the clear view of the essential, which is so often lacking in the “wise and prudent” (see Mt 11:25), is given in our days, too, to little ones? I do think that precisely these “little” saints are a great sign to our time, a sign that moves me ever more deeply, the more I live with and in our time." (Page 9)