Philadelphia, Pa., Nov 8, 2016 / 06:53 am (CNA/EWTN News).- While reading the Bible may be associated with Protestantism in the minds of some, love of Scripture is at the core of the Catholic Church, said the apostolic nuncio to the United States.
“The love and veneration of the Word of God is an expression of the heart of the Catholic Church which is increasingly promoting a ‘new hearing’ of God’s Word through the new evangelization of our cultures,” Archbishop Christophe Pierre said Oct. 26. “This new hearing is a recovering of the centrality of the divine Word in our Christian life and in our dialogue with those who do not share our Catholic faith.”
The archbishop addressed a gathering of the American Bible Society in Philadelphia, where the 200-year-old organization is now based. The non-denominational organization is dedicated to translating, publishing and distributing editions of the Bible. Among those present for the nuncio’s remarks were Archbishop of Philadelphia Charles J. Chaput and Dr. Roy Peterson, the president and CEO of the American Bible Society.
Archbishop Pierre said Sacred Scripture is “at the very heart of the Christian life.” He noted the ancient Catholic tradition to teach and pray Sacred Scripture. The Church Fathers venerated God’s word and prayed it through the practice of Lectio Divina. “The nature of the Sacred Scriptures calls for an audience of faith who opens the sacred texts to discover the presence of the living God speaking to the soul of the believer,” he said.
This has helped drive the Church’s concerns for proper renditions and translations of the sacred texts, the nuncio recounted. Different Latin variants of Sacred Scripture in the early Church put at risk the shared story of the Church. In the year 382, responding to concerns about the variant texts of the Bible, Pope Damasus I commissioned St. Jerome to revise the texts for a new version “that would embrace more faithfully the truth of the revelation,” the archbishop noted.
“His dedication to Scripture motivated Jerome to further study the Hebrew and the Semitic tradition involved in the sacred texts. Thus Jerome grew in a deeper and more profound union with the mystery of God though the knowledge of Scriptures,” Archbishop Pierre said.
Over time, the Latin language itself became an obstacle to spreading the Biblical message, as Latin’s use became restricted to a small group of educated people. The Latin Vulgate maintained its dominance as the official version of Scripture in the Roman Catholic Church, while other translations were regarded with suspicion for misleading the faithful.
“The love and devotion of the Catholic Church was, and continues to be, the true motivation behind the faithful custody and zealous preservation of the truth that God wanted put into sacred writings for the sake of salvation,” the archbishop said.
He reflected on Martin Luther’s “painful separation” from the Catholic Church. Though he praised the Protestant leader’s dedication to accessible Scripture, he noted that Luther modified the biblical canon from 46 books to 39 and modified the Letter of the Romans’ text to add his concept of “through faith alone.”
The response to the Protestant movement by the Council of Trent established that all Sacred Scripture “must be read according to the spirit in which they were written.” “This implies that Scripture must go hand-in-hand with the holy Tradition preserved in the ecclesiastic experience of the faith of the apostles,” Archbishop Pierre said.
The development of different languages continued to separate people from a close reading of the Latin Scriptures and, the archbishop said, separated them from “having a personal encounter with the risen Lord manifested in the Bible.” “The separation produced by the Protestant Reform left a painful wound in the mystical body of Christ and as a consequence of this, the belief that a personal reading of the Bible is a typical Protestant practice grew in the common Catholic mindset,” he said. “The reality manifested in our Roman Catholic Tradition, however, indicates that this common assumption is far from the truth.”
Archbishop Pierre recounted developments since the pontificate of Pope Leo XIII. In the mid-20th century, Pope Pius XII opened the way for translation of Scripture to help Christians return to the sources of faith, while the Second Vatican Council opened the way to dialogue with Protestant Christians in its main document on Scripture, “Dei Verbum.”
“During the decades after ‘Dei Verbum,’ the magisterium of the Roman Catholic Church has insisted on the continued study, research, and education of Holy Scripture by the faithful people of God, establishing stronger bonds of ecumenical dialogue and relationships of unity with our brothers and sisters of different denominations,” he said.
The archbishop cited the work of the Pontifical Biblical Commission, the Biblical studies in Rome’s pontifical universities, and the biblical institutes throughout the Catholic world that train pastors and the laity to bring biblical truth “to those who are hungry for the nourishment of God’s Word.”
The nuncio praised the American Bible Society as “a providential instrument that exemplifies the ecumenical bonds built upon the treasure of the Scriptures.” He welcomed its collaboration with Catholic ministries, saying its propagation of the Word of God is “a vivid expression of the love of God that unifies us with the purpose of inspiring hunger and thirst for the Scriptures.”
The Bible society supported the October 2008 Synod of Bishops and has created a polyglot Bible. It has distributed Bibles to Spanish-language Catholic communities and has supported Catholic pastoral activities like the World Youth Day events in Poland and Brazil. The society also collaborated with the 2015 World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia. It is presently working with the U.S. bishops’ conference to present the Bible as the Book of Mercy for National Bible Week Nov. 13-19.