Wednesday's Audience - St. Jerome on the Bible
"Love Sacred Scripture and Wisdom Shall Love You"
VATICAN CITY, NOV. 15, 2007 (Zenit) - Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI delivered Wednesday at the general audience in St. Peter's Square. The reflection focused on St. Jerome.
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Dear brothers and sisters!
Today we continue with the presentation of St. Jerome. As we said last Wednesday, he devoted his life to the study of the Bible, for which he was acknowledged as "eminent doctor in the interpretation of sacred Scripture" by one of my predecessors, Pope Benedict XV.
Jerome underlined the joy and importance of familiarizing oneself with the biblical texts: "Don't you feel, here on Earth, that you are already in the kingdom of heaven, just by living in these texts, meditating on them, and not seeking anything else?" (Ep. 53,10).
In truth, to converse with God and with his word means to be in heaven's presence, that is to say, in God's presence. To draw close to the biblical texts, above all to the New Testament, is essential for the believer, because "ignorance of Scriptures is ignorance of Christ." This is his famous sentence, also quoted by the Second Vatican Council in the constitution "Dei Verbum" (No. 25).
Truly "enchanted" by the word of God, Jerome asked himself: "How could we live without the science of Scriptures, through which we learn how to know Christ himself, who is the life of the believer?" (Ep. 30,7). Hence the Bible, the instrument "with which God speaks to the faithful every day" (Ep. 133,13), becomes catalyst and source of Christian life for all situations and for everyone.
To read Scripture is to converse with God: "If you are praying," he writes to a noble young lady from Rome, "you are speaking with the Groom; if you are reading, it is He who is speaking to you" (Ep. 22,25). The study and meditation of Scripture makes man wise and at peace (cf. In Eph., prol.). Certainly, to penetrate more deeply the word of God, a constant and increasing practice is necessary. This is what Jerome recommended to the priest Nepotian: "Read the divine Scriptures with much regularity; let the Holy Book never be laid down by your hands. Learn there what you ought to teach (Ep. 52,7)."
To the Roman matron Laeta he gave the following advice for the Christian education of her daughter: "Make sure that every day she studies some passages of Scripture. ... That she ensues from reading to praying and from praying to reading. ... Instead of loving jewelry and silk garments, may she rather love the divine books" (Ep. 107,9.12). With the meditation and the science of the Scriptures one "maintains the balance of the soul" (Ad Eph., prol.). Only through a deep spirit of prayer and the help of the Holy Spirit are we able to understand the Bible: "For the interpretation of sacred Scripture we always need the help of the Holy Spirit" (In Mich. 1,1,10,15).
A passionate love for Scripture pervaded all of Jerome's life, a love that he sought to also awaken in the faithful. To a spiritual daughter he recommended: "Love sacred Scripture and wisdom shall love you; love it tenderly, and it will protect you; honor it and you shall receive its caresses. Let it mean to you as much as your necklaces and your earrings mean to you" (Ep. 130,20). And again: "Love the science of Scripture, and you shall not love the vices of the flesh" (Ep. 125,11).
A fundamental criterion Jerome used to interpret Scripture was to be in tune with the magisterium of the Church. Alone we are not able to read Scripture. We find too many closed doors and we are easily mistaken. The Bible was written by the people of God, for the people of God, with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Only in communion with the people of God can we truly enter the core of the truth that God intends to convey us.
For him an authentic interpretation of the Bible always had to be in harmony with the faith of the Catholic Church. This is not an external requirement imposed on the book. The book itself is the voice of the people of God in pilgrimage, and only in the faith of these people we find the right frame of mind to understand sacred Scripture. Hence Jerome warned: "Stay firmly attached to the traditional doctrine that has been taught to you, so that you can preach according to the right doctrine and refute those who contradict it" (Ep. 52,7).
In particular, given that Jesus Christ founded his Church on Peter, he concluded that every Christian has to be in communion "with the chair of St. Peter. I know that on this stone the Church is built" (Ep. 15,2). Consequently, he declared: "I am with whoever is united to the chair of St. Peter" (Ep. 16).
Jerome obviously does not neglect the ethical side. Rather often he recalls the duty of reconciling life with the divine word, and that only by living it we manage to understand it. Such coherence is necessary for ...
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