Last night we had our second session for our new RCIA group and had an introduction to Scripture. One of the questions raised was “should we read the Bible literally?” What an important question.
We believe and teach that the Scriptures are inspired by God, that God is their author, and that they were written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Yet we find different styles of writing in the Scriptures, prayer, history, poetry, prophecy and narratives. The Document of the 2nd Vatican Council Dei Verbum (12) says,
“To search out the intention of the sacred writers, attention should be given, among other things, to “literary forms.” For truth is set forth and expressed differently in texts which are variously historical, prophetic, poetic, or of other forms of discourse. The interpreter must investigate what meaning the sacred writer intended to express and actually expressed in particular circumstances by using contemporary literary forms in accordance with the situation of his own time and culture.”
As one writer said “We are not to take the bible literalistically, but in a literal sense”.
I was thinking of our discussion this morning as we celebrate the Dedication of the Basilicas of St Peter and St Paul and I am thinking particularly of the Basilica of St Paul, that was founded by Constantine and consecrated by Pope Sylvester in 324. It is built over the burial site of St. Paul.
On 15 July 1823, a workman repairing the lead of the roof started a fire that led to the near total destruction of this basilica, which, alone among all the churches of Rome, had preserved much of its original character for 1435 years. It has been completely rebuilt. There is now a colossal statue of Saint Paul that stands right at the centre of the atrium and was sculpted by Giuseppe Obici (1807-1878). He is cloaked figure with a long sword in his hand. St Paul was no soldier. Why the sword? The sculptor, I believe, is alluding to the words in the book of Hebrews (4:11) “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” If this is so, we need to make the scripture a source of our prayer, which we encounter daily.
Let God’s word penetrate our innermost self today.