The great saint and Scripture scholar Saint Jerome is often quoted (among seminarians at least) as saying “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ!” His meaning, of course, is that we cannot claim to really know Jesus without knowing the Scriptures.
The books of the Bible, which we have from God and which most people probably have at home, are inspired by the Holy Spirit, the original authors writing as the Spirit prompted them but still writing as true authors. As Christians we recognize that much of the Old Testament (also called the Hebrew Scriptures) can be seen as pointing to Jesus Christ.
Of course we recognize the importance of the New Testament as relating particularly to the life of Jesus, to the Church which he founded, and to our spiritual needs today, 2000 years later.
Not all of us are able to read the Scriptures in their original languages, but there are excellent translations available, to read at home. And we hear lots of Bible readings at Mass, so that over the years we can remember many passages. So there should be no reason for anyone to be ignorant of the Scriptures.
Naturally we recognize that the Bible is not a historical document in the same sense that a newspaper reports historical facts. While the Bible is inspired by God and based in the lives of the Hebrew people and the followers of Christ, we know that it is a faith document more than a scientific treatise or history book.
That is not to take away the truth of the Bible at all! The type of questions we ask of Scripture differ from the type of questions we would ask of a science textbook or a microfilmed newspaper archive.
Of science books we might ask “how old is the universe?” or “how is a rainbow formed?” Of history books we might ask “who won the American Civil War?” or “how many Presidents has the United States had?”
Of the Bible our questions are different. Who created the universe? What is the relationship between God and his people? How are we supposed to live in relation to each other? What did Jesus Christ do for us? How does that help us to live today?
Many of these questions and others must also be asked, not only of Scripture, but of the Church’s Tradition and of the Magisterium, the authentic teaching office of the Church. Jesus, whose heart was moved with pity and love for his people who needed him as their shepherd, has been generous in providing for our spiritual needs in many ways.
“The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.” Almost everyone knows that this is the first line of the 23rd psalm. Doesn’t this sum up much of what we believe as Christians, much of what we know about God and his love for us? The Church’s prayerbook is filled with many hymns and prayers that help us to know God and love him as we should.
Saint Paul’s letters, too, teach us of God’s love and the saving power of the Cross of Christ. “In Christ Jesus you who once were far off have become near by the blood of Christ.” We who were ignorant of God’s ways have been made members of the Church through the grace of Christ.
By our study, our participation at Mass, our reading of the Bible at home, and the religious education we provide for our children, we can come to know Christ and allow him, working in us, to defeat ignorance. Our faith is more than mere knowledge: it entails a relationship with God through our baptism, and a posture of believing in what God teaches us.
As the crowds who came to Jesus wherever he went, looking for his words, his healing, and his love, we who are members of his Church can rejoice that the heart of Jesus is filled with love for us, so that we can come to know, love, and serve God in this life and live happily with him forever in the life to come.
Fr. John G. Stillmank is pastor of St. Andrew Parish, Verona, and St. William Parish, Paoli.