Why (and how) did God inspire Sacred Scripture?
If you are looking for a way to understand the Bible better, and to make the Word of God more fully your own, I recommend a careful reading of Jeremy Holmes’ new book, Cur Deus Verba: Why the WORD became Words (from Ignatius Press). Holmes, an Associate Professor of Theology at Wyoming Catholic College, is a highly credentialed theologian who has put his wisdom at the service of helping us to understand Sacred Scripture, and what it means to incorporate it into our lives.
To explain why God inspired the creation of Sacred Scripture, Holmes first explores the Trinity as its goodness and love overflow into Creation. He then turns to the Incarnation of Christ to see that “God creates in order to give Himself”, that “God wants His creatures to be true causes” as well, and that each “Creature’s return to God” is through “Christ the Head of Creation” (this sentence is constructed from a few of the subtitles in the second chapter, on the Incarnation). With this as background, Holmes offers extraordinarily valuable chapters on the following Biblical topics:
- What Scripture is for
- The authors of Scripture
- Israel’s participation in Christ
- The spiritual sense
- Divisions of the spiritual sense
- The literal sense
- Literary forms
- Difficulties in Scripture
I found fascinating Holmes’ discussion of how inspiration combines with the uniqueness of each sacred author in the creation of each book of the Bible, which is the topic of the fourth chapter. It is more than fitting, therefore, that the book concludes with an examination of the role of the reader—which, after all, is very near to the heart of why God created Scripture in the first place. Where does our personal response come in? When are we learning to think “with and through” the Word of God rather than imposing our own ideas “upon” the Word of God? Thus Holmes explores both the problem and the value of the reader’s own special subjectivity.
The book concludes with the question “Where is the Bible?” The author argues, essentially, that Sacred Scripture resides within and reaches us from the Heart of Christ, who is both the reflection of the Father’s love and our way of return to Him.
I could extract keen insights from each chapter, but this is one of those rare books which is far better savored than highlighted. Once I had read just a small amount of it, I used it as a prelude to my evening spiritual reading, taking it section by section and enjoying the increased understanding I had of “how Scripture works” as a result.
But perhaps I should quote something from the last chapter of the book (“The Reader”) which will capture the spirit of Holmes’ entire approach to the sacred text:
The modern reader, with his complete printed Bible and a concordance or perhaps good Bible software, has Scripture more than ever at his fingertips as a tool and an object of reflection. Yet the Fathers and medievals had Scripture itself for fingers, no longer merely as an object of thought, but a medium for it. They thought their thoughts and communicated their thoughts by way of the holy text. As they pushed their way farther and farther into Scripture, Scripture pushed itself farther and farther into them. [p. 238]
Thus the author concludes: “Prolonged fidelity to this experience led to a second experience: in the end, Scripture has its way with the reader despite all his subjectivity” (p. 239). Or as he ultimately expresses it: The ancient monks “used Scripture as a medium for their own reflections, but ultimately the medium became the message.”
We all bring something personal and therefore unique to our relationship with Scripture. But our own prayerful love of and deep fidelity to the text produces, over time, a profound reconciliation and even union of our own necessary human subjectivity with the life-giving Word of God. The spirit which leads to this union—and so this growth and expansion of our very selves—is the Spirit of Christ, with and through whom we find our ever-accelerating return to the Father.
Such, in any case, is a small taste of the insight one finds in reading Cur Deus Verba: Why the WORD Became Words, by Jeremy Holmes. Here is wisdom that is at once both extraordinarily deep and extraordinarily easy to make our own.
Jeremy Holmes, Cur Deus Verba: Why the WORD Became Words. Ignatius Press 2021. Paper, 284 pp., $16.96 (also available as an ebook).
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