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WRITERS' SCHOOL
 INTRODUCTION      NEW!
 
ENRICHMENT
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WHY STUDY THE BIBLE?
by Nathan Schmiedicke, Ph.D.   E-mailBio
February 14th, 2010
 

“Ignorance of Scripture is Ignorance of Christ!”


 
St. Jerome (347-420) was both a holy man and a master of the classical liberal arts and for that reason equipped to teach the Bible to the Church.  He is responsible for the translation of the Bible from Hebrew and Greek into Latin, which we call the Vulgate.
 

These bold words of St. Jerome contain a deep truth.  The God-given goal of our existence is nothing less than God Himself. And yet, as the catechism has it: in order to be with God forever in Heaven, we must first love him and serve him in this life.  But to love him and serve Him in this life we must first know him.

Well, how can we know God in this life? The classical answer to this question is that we can know God in two ways: through reason and through revelation.

REASON:  MAN REACHING OUT TO GOD


"And He hath made of one, all mankind, to dwell upon the whole face of the earth...that they should seek God, if haply they may feel after him or find him, although he be not far from every one of us."  (Acts 17:26-27)
 

We can know many things about God
simply through the use of our reason exercised on ourselves and the world
around us. However, because of our fallen human nature, these truths about God
(which are the most important of all truths!)
can only be arrived at by a few really wise people, after a really long time and a whole lot of effort. Plus, it is inevitably the case that there is a lot of confusion and error mixed in with these.

REVELATION:  GOD REACHING OUT TO MAN

God, who, at sundry times and in divers manners, spoke in times past to the fathers by the prophets,
last of all, in these days, hath spoken to us by his Son."  (Hebrews 1:1-2)

The wonderful thing about revelation is that it is a superior way of knowing God that comes to us from God Himself. It is available to everyone who has faith, right now, and without the error mixed in. Plus there is the added benefit that God can reveal more about himself to us than we would ever be able to figure out about Him from reason alone.

WRITTEN REVELATION:  THE BIBLE
 

A primary way God reveals Himself and His will to mankind is through the Scriptures. Before (and after) the Word of God became a man (John 1:14), the word of God became a book. Unlike all other books, however, the Bible is not simply human words, but is really the word of God, “living and active” (Heb 4:12). Because of this, the Bible has always been at the heart of the Church’s liturgical, devotional, intellectual, and practical life. This word, since it is God’s word, is simply better and more important than any other words that are out there.

THE BIBLE AND THE CLASSICAL LIBERAL ARTS
 

This is not to denigrate the human “words” contained in the liberal arts or the great poets, philosophers, and theologians, but rather to realize their true worth and purpose. Seeing God through the Scriptures is still, as St. Paul says, seeing as if through a glass, darkly (1 Cor 13:12). During this time of seeing “darkly” however, God’s Grace and revelation build on and perfect what people know by nature. The disciplined presentation of truth, beauty, and goodness in the humanities and liberal arts makes people better receivers of God’s revelation.

In the Catholic Tradition, biblical studies and the liberal arts have always been two peas in a pod. When St. Augustine began writing his treatise on Scriptural interpretation (On Christian Doctrine- 397 AD) he placed the study of Scripture firmly within the context of the liberal arts, showing concretely how the many fields of knowledge all contribute to a better understanding of divine revelation. (And he was relying heavily on traditions and ideas that had been passed on to him from much earlier!)
 

  The danger of what are falsely called  'classical' study programs today is that after all the hype, they will not provide students with the knowledge and skills that classical studies were valued through Church history:  the linguistic, logical and rhetorical  skill necessary for the interpretation of literature—and most importantly—the Word of God."  
 

-William Michael

 
     

St. Augustine would be thrilled with CLAA students because with their training in the liberal arts, humanities, and Catechism they will be able to reap maximum benefit from their study of Scripture. The liberal arts gives them the best of what reason has to offer, and Scripture the best of what revelation has to offer. Together these make an unbeatable combination in CLAA students!

For example, they will be able to:

  1. Distinguish between various senses of Scripture and how to apply these. (Logic)

  2. Know how to approach difficult passages in Scripture in a systematic and profitable way. (logic, dialectic, grammar)

  3. Read the text of Scripture deeply, attentive to its different modes of narration and persuasion (rhetoric).

  4. See clearly how the truths of faith and morals are present in the Scriptures, and see the relations between these. (Catechism)

  5. Situate the biblical stories in their historical context (Chronology and Geography).

Through reading and studying and praying God’s word, we come to know God better. The more we know, the more we can love and the better we can serve God in this life and so be happy with Him in Heaven. Thus the study of the Bible in the context of the humanities and liberal arts is a special means by which we fulfill the purpose of our creation.

WHY CATHOLIC BIBLE STUDY?  SCRIPTURE AND CATHOLIC LIFE

 

There has been more written about the Bible than about any other book in history. Despite the almost infinite and confusing variety of “perspectives” on the Bible, however, the Bible is a Catholic book. It was entrusted to God’s People Israel from the beginning and preserved by the Church throughout history. Its interpretation and preservation continue to be the prerogative of the Church, which Jesus promised his Spirit would “guide into all truth” (John 16:13). It comes from God through the Church and is ultimately for the building up of the Church.

When individuals undertake Bible study outside of the guidance of the Church, they inevitably run headlong into the very problems that divine revelation was supposed to help overcome (long time, much confusion, error mixed in, etc.). Since God’s word is alive and not just a dead letter, the Bible is intended to be read as part of a lively and faithful Catholic life that includes the magisterium, the tradition, the sacraments, devotional and liturgical prayer, and an active living out of God’s will in daily life. Reading the Bible any other way fails to draw from the Bible the full extent of its riches.

Many people have read the Bible itself, or books about the Bible, or Bible studies and come away confused, empty, or wondering how what they had learned helped them to know, love, and serve God better. A Bible study that helps Catholics to read the Bible confidently as fervent Catholics is urgently needed and the CLAA is going to be providing it.

God wants His people to be able to read and understand His words in a sure way, right now. He does not want faith and action put on hold while people wait for the next “assured conclusions” of biblical scholarship to tell them what the Bible “really” means. The words of Jesus to the lawyers and scribes of his day can rightly be applied to this kind of scholarship: “You have taken away the key of knowledge; you did not enter yourselves, and you hindered those who were entering.” (Lk 12:52)

What God really desires is to reveal Himself to us so we can know and love Him, or, as Hosea the prophet more beautifully says it, He wants to “allure us into the desert to speak tenderly to us” (Hosea 2:14). This CLAA Bible program will be precisely that: an Exodus away from biblical criticism that denies faith, hope, love (and often enough, reason) into a place where we can meet God with fervent faith and respond generously to his call (Hosea 2:15).

HOW SHOULD WE STUDY THE BIBLE?
 

There seem to be two main obstacles people meet when faced with the task of reading the Bible: 1. It’s really long 2. It’s often confusing.

A. It’s really long!
The Bible is a bunch of books put together into one book. In most editions and translations it is well over 1000 pages. Some parts of it (The Pentateuch and the Gospels, for example) may well be said to be more important than others, but ALL of it is equally the word of God, and as such deserves the devoted attention of Christians.

The Church Fathers and the Jewish People before them advocated an approach to Scripture that revered every word, even every letter, as significant. The way they came to this was through the experience of letting the words of Scripture “soak” into their minds, through slow, prayerful, and attentive reading.

In order to give adequate time to the whole of God’s written revelation, this program will take the divide and conquer approach.

The CLAA will be offering a five part / five year program that will cover the entire Bible, section by section. Each of these five classes will have 40 lessons, for a total of 200 lessons. If students spend a week on a lesson, this will amount to an average of just 5-10 pages of the Bible per week, which might further be broken down into a page or two a day, five days a week. Not so bad.

Not only will this approach allow us to read the Bible from cover to cover, but it will also allow us to enjoy it!

B.  It’s often confusing!
There’s no denying that the Bible has a LOT of information in it and that our ability to access that information is hampered by many factors, such as our distance in time and culture, or simply the sheer volume or the difficult details of the biblical story itself. What’s it all mean and why does it matter?

WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?
 

Each lesson will provide the information necessary to do two basic things, which together will alleviate the difficulties of meaning.

A.  Getting Specific
The first is that in reading the books in small sections we will have the time to address very specific difficulties, even at the level of the words themselves and the things they signify. For example, What is all of this strange stuff about the Nephilim in Genesis 6, or again, Why does God try to kill Moses in Exodus 4? A close study of how these passages are worded, and what the words signify, leads to some important discoveries that help to answer these questions. (Want to know what they are? Take the course!)

B.  Seeing the Big Picture
The second is that as we go through specific stories, we will be gradually building a ‘big picture” view of biblical salvation history. That way, individual books and parts of books can be understood in relation to the whole work, and in relation to the even larger context of human history generally.

WHY DOES THE BIBLE MATTER?
 

Even when we understand a passage, however, that does not guarantee that we see it as something that edifies us in any concrete way. This further step will also be a focus of this Bible study: showing that the truths revealed to us by God have concrete practical implications for our lives as Christians. St. Augustine, in On Christian Doctrine, laid it down as a rule that any interpretation of Scripture that does not build up the love of God and neighbor, is a failed interpretation. This is how the Fathers of the Church read Scripture – with a view to how it reveals Christ and how Christ reveals what we are called to be. This is how we will read it too.

CONCLUSION
Ultimately, this course will be an opportunity to read all of God’s word in the same spirit with which it was written, and come thereby to know, love, and serve God better. I close with a quotation that sums up the Church’s attitude toward Scripture and indicates how this course in the CLAA will treat Scripture:

“In the sacred books, the Father who is in heaven meets His children with great love and speaks with them; and the force and power in the word of God is so great that it stands as the support and energy of the Church, the strength of faith for her sons, the food of the soul, the pure and everlasting source of spiritual life.”  (Dei Verbum, Vatican II.)


ABOUT DR. NATHAN SCHMIEDICKE



Dr. Nathan Schmiedicke was born the fifth of eleven children and raised on a small family farm in Michigan. He attended Catholic school through eighth grade and was home-schooled through High school. After graduating with honors from Thomas Aquinas College in 2000 (CA) he married his college sweetheart, Wendy (Youngclaus), and began graduate school at Marquette University (Milwaukee). He completed his PhD in Biblical Theology in 2007 and began teaching Theology, Patristics, Scripture, and languages at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia, PA and classics at nearby Villanova University. Nathan and Wendy have four boys, and one more on the way in March. He is excited to be starting work fulltime with the CLAA this summer.

 

Note:  Dr. Schmiedicke will be teaching the CLAA's courses in Biblical Studies opening this Summer.  For more information follow the link below.  - W. Michael

 
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