From the Treasure Chest: Challoner’s “The Morality of the Bible-Genesis”

Although I didn’t do any writing while on vacation, I was able to do a little reading. I “discovered” another modern Catholic writer that I would like to get to know better.  His name is Richard Challoner, whom you see here in the portrait.  This particular portrait of Richard hangs in the Archbishop’s House at Westminster Cathedral.

It’s a pity that the blog that was hosted there is no longer active. There is a great post all about Richard that was written by a priest there. Having recently visited the Library of Congress, and Thomas Jefferson’s personal library located there, I was motivated to continue adding virtual book selections to our humble YIM Catholic Bookshelf. And today is the feast day of St. Lawrence, patron of librarians and archivists, so what better day than this to share more books with you?

Somehow, and I honestly don’t recall how,  I stumbled upon Challoner’s work and immediately added fifteen of his books to the shelf. What with our limited budget here, but with books that are free, this was easy to do. No need to get Webster’s approval.

The book below was published in 1762 and re-published in 1827.  Its full title is The Morality of the Bible: Extracted From All of the Canonical Books, Both of the Old and New Testament. It’s subtitle is For the Use of Such Pious Christians As Desire to Nourish Their Souls to Eternal Life With Daily Meditating On The Word of God. You know, as well as I do, that they just don’t title books like this anymore.

As a former Protestant who converted to Catholicism, I enjoy reading the Bible. I’m not afraid of touching mine, and as my wife can verify, I don’t get lost between it’s covers. Geographically speaking, I know my way around the Scriptures and I don’t need the table of contents or the handy side tabs to find passages.

In case I get labelled as a “holier than thou” type, let me just say that in no way am I claiming that I completely understand everything I’m reading there. Alone, no one else does either.  I don’t care if you have a PhD. in theology, you alone don’t know enough, and you never will. If you haven’t figured that out yet, then you have been kidding yourself. I’m not going to argue with you though, I’m just stating the facts.

But I’m not saying “throw in the towel” either. Not by a long shot. Read scripture and study the Word.  We are called to do so, and contrary to popular belief, we are encouraged to do so. And this isn’t something new either, as these quotes of St. John Chrysostom prove:

To become adult Christians you must learn familiarity with the scriptures(On the Letter to the Ephesians – Education of Children).

But what is the answer to these charges? “I am not,” you will say, “one of the monks, but I have both a wife and children, and the care of a household.” This is what has ruined everything, your thinking that the reading of scripture is for monks only, when you need it more than they do. Those who are placed in the world, and who receive wounds every day have the most need of medicine. So, far worse even than not reading the scriptures is the idea that they are superfluous. Such things were invented by the devil.[Second Homily on Matthew, section 10 (which is sometimes labeled as section 5.)]

Want to see more saintly quotes on the importance of reading scriptures? See what the actual “holier than thou types”, from St. Augustine to Pope Benedict XIV, have to say on the matter here. As for me and other “needier than thou” types, let’s just say that Challoner’s little book is a good start to help you summon the courage to dive in and to start reading the Bible on your own.

Sure,  this book is old and may be lacking in the most up to date teachings of the Church. But it won’t be very far off, and Challoner keeps it pretty straightforward. In the preface, he states:

The word of God has been of old the great meditation book of the holy fathers and other saints: and these pure souls illustrated by the light of the Spirit of God, have discovered in almost every page of this heavenly book (where there is not one iota or tittle without its meaning, St. Matt. v. 18.) in its mystical sense many excellent lessons of life, and documents of divine wisdom; for the bringing on the spiritual man to all perfection.

But as the generality of Christians are not capable of penetrating so far into the profound depths of the more obscure and mysterious parts of the sacred scriptures; much less of making themselves perfect masters of all the sublime contents of these divine books: for which the whole life of the best capacities would hardly suffice; though wholly employed in study and meditation: we have endeavoured in the following sheets, for the benefit of the commonality, to abstract from every part of these sacred writings, what appeared to us the most plain, and the most intelligible; the most instructive, and the most affective; adapting the whole as much as possible to every capacity; in order to make the meditation on the divine word, both very easy and very profitable to all Christians of a good will: industriously avoiding all such hard and obscure passages, as might be liable to be wrested by the unlearned and the unstable to their own perdition (2 St. Peter, iii. 16.) and passing by all such as might rather exercise the brain, than enlighten the mind and enflame the heart: which is the great business of meditation and mental prayer.

Sheesh, they wrote with huge paragraphs back in the day! Again, for more instruction, there are other resources for you if, and when, you need them; your Parish priest, a deacon, or a pastoral associate, for example, will be more than willing to answer any questions you may have. And the Cathechism, and all of the helpful commentary in your thicker Catholic Bible, is there to help as well. And don’t forget the resources on our YIM Catholic Bookshelf, too.

Here is Challoner’s first chapter, which naturally covers the book of Genesis. Take a look, and see what you think. I know what I think—This will be a great resource to help my children become as familiar with the Scriptures as I am.

School’s in!

GENESIS.

Chapter I. Verse 1. &c.;

‘In the beginning God created heaven and earth. And God said: be light made, and light was made: and God saw the light that it was good.’

See, my soul, how all things readily obey the great Creator: he speaks the word, and they are presently made; and they spring forth out of nothing, at his command: and all that he makes he sees to be good, and nothing that he makes is evil. And why wilt not thou obey his word? How long wilt thou resist his commands? How long shall evil (which is no part of his creation) have dominion over thee whom he created good, for himself the sovereign Good?

v. 31. ‘And God saw all the things that he had made, and they were very good.’

Each part of the creation, and every single creature was good: but all of them together were exceeding good, nothing being wanting to make the whole absolutely perfect. O great Creator, glory be to thy name! Let the whole creation bless thee for ever.

Chap. ii. v. 3. ‘God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it he had rested from all his work.’

This day of God’s rest, sanctified by him, has a mysterious allusion to the everlasting rest or sabbath, into which he will introduce all his true servants, after the six days labors of their mortal life. (Hebr. iv. 4. 5. 9. 11.)

v. 9. ‘The Lord God brought forth of the ground, all manner of trees—the tree of life also in the midst of paradise.’

This tree of life, by eating of the fruit of which man would have lived for ever, was an illustrious figure of our Lord Jesus Christ, by feeding on whom, we are brought to everlasting life. (St. John vi. 50, 51, 52, &c.;)

Chap. iii. v. 17, &c.; Mark the sentence of man’s punishment for sin:

‘Cursed is the earth in thy work: with labour and toil shalt thou eat thereof all the days of thy life. Thorns and thistles shall it bring forth to thee—in the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat thy bread, till thou return to the earth, out of which thou wast taken, for dust thou art and into dust thou shalt return.’

Of this curse, the just punishment of man’s fall from God by sin, we still feel the weight, in this earth (of flesh) which we carry about with us, in the thorns and thistles of our disorderly inclinations, and the labour and toil with which we must suppress them, &c.; And this remembrance of our extraction and the necessity of our returning to our original dust, is here inculcated, to teach us to know ourselves; to be ever humble; and to be always prepared for our journey hence.

Chap. iv. 9, 10. ‘The Lord said to Cain—What hast thou done? The voice of thy brother’s blood crieth to me from the earth.’

O sinner, what hast thou done, when by thy scandals, or by thy drawing any of thy neighbours into sin, thou hast murdered that poor soul ? Will not thy brother’s blood, in these cases, cry aloud to heaven for vengeance against thee?

Chap. v. v. 5. ‘Adam lived nine hundred and thirty years, and he died:’

and so of the other patriarchs; the account of whose long lives is still concluded with these words, “and he died.” And how small a difference will there be by and by, between the longest and the shortest life? Since a thousand years before the eyes of the eternal Truth are but as yesterday, which is past and gone, Psalm lxxxix. 4.

v. 24. ‘Enoch walked with God, and was seen no more, because God took him.’

Happy they who make it the business of their life to walk with God, by keeping themselves in his presence,” by a spirit of recollection; and by a constant attention to please him ! such as walk with him tn this manner, he will take to himself in a happy eternity.

v. 29. ‘He called his name Noe (Noah), (or comforter) saying this same shall comfort us, from the works and labours of our hands on the earth which the Lord hath cursed.’

Our true Noe, or comforter, sent us from heaven, is the Son of God, who comes to comfort us under all our labours; to bless the works of bur hands; and to change into a blessing in our favour, the curse laid on us for sin.

Chap. vi. 3. ‘God said: my spirit shall not remain in man for ever, because he is flesh,’(enslaved to carnal sins, and therefore shall be destroyed.)

Mark how by the sins of the ‘flesh, the spirit of God is sure to be taken away, from the carnal man; and a deluge of evils of course will overflow his whole soul.

v. 6. ‘Noe was a just and perfect man in his generations: he walked with God.’ v. 22.

And Noe did all things which God commanded him. Behold the way to all happiness: ’tis by doing thus we shall escape the dreadful deluge, which threatens all the sinners of the earth.

Chap. viii. 21. ‘The imagination and thought of man’s heart are prone to evil from their youth.’

O the dismal consequences of original sin! Good God deliver us from ourselves.

Chap. xii. 1, 2, 3. ‘The Lord said to Abram. Go forth out of thy country: and from thy kindred, and out of thy father’s house; and come into the land which I shall shew thee: and I will make of thee a great nation: and I will bless thee, &c.; and in thee shall all the kindreds of the earth be blessed.’

Happy they who follow God, when he calls them, from the midst of sin and iniquity, as it were out of their native land, to shew them the fair regions of virtue and devotion, in order to bless them there; and from thence to translate them to an eternal inheritance in his kingdom above. This is that great grace of vocation, the corresponding with which is the way to heaven. This “following” God is the fundamental point of Christian morality.

Chap. xiv. v. 18, 19, &c.; ‘Melchisedech the King of Salem, bringing forth bread and wine, for he was the priest of the most high God, blessed him, and said, blessed be Abram, by the most high God, who created heaven and earth: and blessed be the most high God by whose protection the enemies are in thy hands.’ “And he gave him the tithes of all.”

Behold here a most ancient and a most illustrious figure of Christ, our great king and priest; and of his sacrifice. See Heb. vii. &c.;

Chap. xv. 1. ‘Fear not, Abram, I am thy protector, and thy reward exceeding great.’

My soul he will be so to thee, if thou also wilt seek him as Abram did, in the simplicity and sincerity of thy heart. (Wisdom i. 1.)

v. 6. ‘Abram believed God, and it was reputed to him unto justice.’

Happy faith, which, joined with obedience and devotion, made Abram the special favourite of heaven.

Chap. xvii. v. 1. ‘I am the Almighty God: walk before me, and be perfect.’

The shortest way to all perfection is to walk before God, and in his presence; with a constant attention to please him.

Chap. xviii. v. 17, &c.; ‘The Lord said: can I hide from Abraham what I am about to do seeing that in him all the nations of the earth shall be blessed? For I know that he will command his children and his household after him, to keep the way of the Lord, and to do judgment and justice.’

See here the duty of fathers and masters, &c.; And see also how true it is that the ‘Lord is good to them that hope in him; to the soul that (sincerely) seeketh him.’ (Lamentations iii. 25.)

v. 27. ‘I will speak to my Lord, whereas I am but dust and ashes.’

Learn my soul thus to humble thyself in thy addresses to God in prayer.

v. 32. ‘I beseech thee, said Abraham, be not angry, O Lord, if I speak yet once more: what if ten just men shall be found there?(viz. in Sodom) I will not destroy it said the Lord for the sake of ten.’

Of what service then are the just to the whole commonwealth(?); Since ten of them might have even saved Sodom.

Chap. xix. 14. ‘Lot spoke to his sons in law (the men of Sodom) that were to have his daughters: and said: Arise, get ye out of this place; because the Lord will destroy this city: and he seemed to them to speak as it were in jest.’

So when the servants of God threaten the wicked with the judgments of God, which are hanging over their heads, their words make no more impression upon them than if they were in jest; till the wrath of God coming on a sudden and when they least expect it, hurries them away and plunges them into a miserable eternity.

v. 26. ‘Lot’s wife looked behind her and was turned into a statue of salt.’

Instructing us, how dangerous it is after being delivered from the Sodom of iniquity and sin, to look back, by a relapse, or by the affection to sin, towards that miserable city.

v. 33. ‘Abraham called upon the name of the Lord God the Eternal’

behold one of God’s names, the most expressive of his divine essence.

See Chap. xxii. The ready obedience of Abraham, when he was sent to offer up his son Isaac in sacrifice; as well as the obedience and resignation of Isaac, who was then a young man in the flower of his age, and yet offered no resistance. And mark the blessing-entailed upon them both, in consequence of this intended sacrifice; alas! how often have we been called upon, to offer up, as it were, in sacrifice, some darling object of our affections; or some unhappy passion, which ties us down to the earth: and yet we never have had the courage to make this offering; and for want of this compliance have deprived ourselves of God’s special blessing, and have perhaps the great work of God yet to begin.

Chap. xxiv. v. 63. ‘Isaac was gone forth to meditate in the fields,’ &c.;

Learn, my soul, from the patriarchs and all the other saints this holy exercise of meditation: and let it be thy daily employment.

Chap. xxv. v. 8. ‘Abraham died in a good old age, having lived a long time, and being full of days: and was gathered to his people:’ (the people of God, who were gone before him)

Where note, that he in a particular manner is said to have lived a long time, and to have been full of days; and yet both his father, and almost all his ancestors lived to a greater age than he. (Gen. ii.) But Abraham’s time was long, and his days were full indeed, by the good use of his time, and by his constant attention to please God in all things. O let our days, my soul, be full in this manner.

v. 34.’Esau eat and drank, and went his way, making little account of having sold his first-birth right.’

A figure of unhappy sinners, who for the sake of gratifying for a moment, their carnal or sensual appetite, sell their title to the inheritance of the first born whose names are written in heaven, and forfeit their father’s benediction; and make little or no account of this greatest of all miseries. See Heb. xii. 16, 17.

Chap. xlv, v. 4. &c.; ‘I am Joseph your brother, whom you sold into Egypt. Be not afraid: and let it not seem to you a hard case that you sold me into these countries: for God sent me before you into Egypt, for your preservation—Not by your counsel, was I sent hither, but by the will of God, &c.; And Joseph blessed all his brethren, and wept upon every one of them.’

O admire and adore the wonders of divine Providence, in the whole history of Joseph; and imitate the charity, purity and humility of this holy patriarch.

Chap. xlvii. v. 9. ‘The days of my pilgrimage (said Jacob to king Pharaoh) are one hundred and thirty years, few and evil; and they are not come up to the days of the pilgrimage of my fathers.’

Thus these holy men looked upon themselves as pilgrims upon earth; longing for their true and heavenly country. Heb. xi. 13, 14, 15, 16. Such ought to be the sentiments and dispositions of all good Christians.

Chap. xlviii. v. 15. ‘God, in whose sight my fathers Abraham and Isaac did walk,’ &c.;

Said Jacob blessing the sons of Joseph! O my soul how happy shall we be, if we also take care to walk in this divine presence, like these ancient saints!

Chap. xlix. v. 6. ‘Let not my soul go into their counsel, nor my glory be in their assembly.’

Say thou my soul the same of the counsels of the ungodly: and of all the assemblies of the workers of iniquity. v. 10. ‘The sceptre shall not be taken away from Juda—till he come that is to be sent (Shilo the Messiah) and he shall be the expectation of nations.’ v. 18. “I will look for thy salvation O Lord.”

Illustrious promises of the coming of the Son of God, for our salvation: who also in the blessing of Joseph v. 26 is called “the desire of the everlasting hills,” as being longed for as it were, by the whole creation.

Chap. l (50) v. 19, 20. ‘ Can we resist the will of God, said Joseph to his brethren, you thought evil against me; but God turned it into good, &c.;’

O how often does he deal thus with us, by drawing good out of our evils ! O blessed be his name!

Challoner’s book in it’s entirety may be found on the YIM Catholic Bookshelf.


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