Disagreement Between Friends, II

The Bible—Lovely Beyond Words

I have at the moment a very concrete impression of scripture.  My father confessor is in the habit of placing his stole over his penitents’ heads, not only when he pronounces the words of absolution, but for the whole duration of their confession.  Therefore my forehead, pressed between the folding analogion beneath it and the thick priestly vestments above it, gets to become rather intimately acquainted with the chill metalwork detail of the Gospel-book placed on the analogion.  Inevitably I walk away from confession with red scriptural reliefs racing across my brow.

Tradition—philosophical, legal, religious—may be written or unwritten.  The unwritten tradition—that is, the actual daily practice of self-examination, the law, and the faith—is in a sense more important than the written; “For the letter kills: but the spirit quickens” (II Cor. iii. 6).  Nevertheless, with regard to the written tradition, which provides the basis, as it were, for the unwritten, I like to see it as a kind of diptych, with the Bible making up one panel, and the Liturgy the other.  Fr. Behr comments very usefully (and post-modernly) on this close association of biblical and liturgical texts, departing from the manifestation of the risen Christ on the road to Emmaus:

[The disciples] did not come to this knowledge [that Jesus is the Lord, the Son of God] through hearing reports about his birth nor by accompanying him for a period of time.  This simply reflects the fact that the usual methods of human knowledge—scientific analysis, historical inquiry, or philosophical reflection—are inadequate when the desired object of knowledge is God, for God is not subject to human perception, whether physical or mental, but shows himself as and when he wills, just as the risen Christ comes and goes at his own pleasure and, as we have seen, disappears from sight once he is recognized….  Rather, the disciples came to recognize the Lord as the one whose Passion is spoken of by the scriptures and encountered him in the breaking of bread.  It is these two complementary ways, the engagement with the scriptures and sharing the Lord’s meal, “proclaiming his death until he comes” (I Cor. xi. 26), that Paul specifies he has received (from the Lord himself in the case of the eucharistic meal) and then handed down, or “traditioned,” to later generations.  These constitute, as it were, the matrix and the sustenance of the Christian tradition. [3]

Scripture, and most especially scripture as heard in preparation for the Eucharist, is “the matrix and sustenance of the Christian tradition”—whence the proper veneration the Church accords to scripture.

Perhaps because I am a bibliophile, the sacrality of text is something which has always made good sense to me.  Letters printed handsomely on a page conjoin, for me, all the sophisticated erudition of ripe old age with all the virginal innocence of childhood:

With my memories of home I count also my memories of sacred history, which I, though only a child in my parental home, was very curious to know.  I had a book of sacred history then, with beautiful pictures, entitled One Hundred and Four Sacred Stories from the Old and New Testaments, and I was learning to read with it.  It is still lying here on my shelf, I keep it as a precious reminder.  But I remember how, even before I learned to read, a certain spiritual perception visited me for the first time, when I was just eight years old.  Mother took me to church by myself (I do not remember where my brother was then), during Holy Week, to the Monday liturgy….  A young man walked out into the middle of the church with a big book, so big that it seemed to me he even had difficulty carrying it, and he placed it on the analogion, opened it, and began to read, and suddenly, then, for the first time I understood something, for the first time in my life I understood what was read in God’s church.  There was a man in the land of Uz, rightful and pious, and he had so much wealth, so many camels, so many sheep and asses, and his children made merry, and he loved them very much and beseeched God for them: for it may be that they have sinned in their merrymaking.  Now Satan goes up before God together with the sons of God, and says to the Lord that he has walked all over the earth and under the earth.  “And have you seen my servant Job?” God asks him. [4]


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Published in: on September 3, 2010 at 10:02 pm  Comments (2)  
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  1. Very interesting article, which i need to read again to understand better. As a catholic priest, i’d like to comment briefly, that in the Catholic religion, the Holy Scripture has no priority. HIstorically, the the HOly Tradition and the Sacred LIturgy – which is the Living Tradition – existed before the New Testament was written, and existed long before the canon of the NT was fixed. More or less, those books came grdually to be considered canonical (ca 4th century) which were chanted in the Liturgy of the Mass and during the Divine Office. Thus, the TRadition is prior: the Holy Scriptures can be seen as a part of the HOly Tradition, that part which was written down and then canonised by the Church. The proper attitude towards the Holy Scriptuers is to listen to it during the Mass and Office being sung or read. Many of the proper chants of the LIturgy are taken from HOly Scripture too, especially from the Psalms. The Church Magisterium does not base Catholic Church does not base her dogma solely upon Scripture: neither needs a divinely revealed and ecclesiastically defined dogma to be attetsted to by Scripture in order for it to be obligatory for Catholics to believe. Tradition in its whole (i.e., the consensus of the CHurch Fathers, the Creeds, the traditional LIturgy, the oral Tradition handed down through the ages, as well as the Tradition as written down in the Scriptures) are drawn upon as source of dogma. The Catholic Church’s current Teaching AUthority bases its erroneous anti-gay teachings (which are neither Traditional, nor infallible!) not upon Holy Scripture, but upon an incorrect understanding of Natural Law. (see the excellent book by Father Moore, O.P. ”HOmosexuality: A question of truth”.) Our religion is not a Religion of a Book, but rather, the Religion of the God-Man, especailly as He is present in, worshipped in , and communicated through, the Sacraments. The Scriptures are imporatant in as far as they lend themselves hereto. I suspect that the Eastern ORthodox understanding of the relationship between Tradition and Scripture is similar. At least, so i have always thought.

  2. […] earlier posts in this series, “The Necessity of Dogma” and “The Priority of Scripture,” I tried both to defend the value which conservatives attach to the traditional sources of authority […]

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