Making Good Use of Scripture

(This piece is an excerpt from a lecture Brother Francis gave in the 1970s.)

The Bible is the book that makes saints. If you have absolutely no intention of ever trying to become a saint, then leave the Bible alone, for this is the only purpose of its existence.

Holy Scripture is the most ancient volume you have in your possession. If you doubt this, try to find one on your shelves written before the time of Moses. The Bible is also the most up-to-date best seller; and what is more, there never was a time when it was out-stripped in this regard. It is the most available book, being found in every language of the whole world. Moreover, it is the most read, the most quoted, the most used. Yet it happens, at the same time, to be most ab -used of all writings.

How, then, do we make proper use of the Bible? To begin with, the saints teach us by their lives and by their writings. For they themselves made the very best use of it, and thus became saints.

Holy Church also teaches us how to make of God’s Book a means to sanctity and salvation. Indeed, it is principally for this purpose that Our Lord founded the Church. She teaches us by her use of Sacred Scripture in the liturgy of the Mass. She teaches us through the Divine Office (the Breviary), which priests and religious ought to read constantly, and ought to make the norm of what they hold and what they preach. And furthermore, the Church teaches us by means of many traditional prayers (the Rosary, the Angelus, the Way of the Cross, etc.), which bring vividly to our lives the Great Realities constituting the subject matter of Holy Writ.

But our best teacher in using and understanding Holy Scripture is the Bible itself. Let me explain what I mean.

You may have started to read the Old Testament and found it to be obscure, difficult, enigmatic, at times even shocking. The language of prophecy, to be sure, is necessarily enigmatic, for enigmas tease our minds, as it were, and rouse our powers of deep realization. They impress us with the mysterious and super-rational quality of religious Truth. Yet the meaning of prophecies was never intended to remain perennially hidden. To our great fortune, we have the mysterious utterances of the Old Testament interpreted by Our Lord Himself, as well as by His inspired Apostles and Evangelists. So let us go to the New Testament, where we are led with keys to the treasures of the Old.

At the direction of our great teacher and spiritual guide, Father Leonard Feeney, I made it a practice over considerable period of time to copy, as part of a daily meditation, one passage a day from the New Testament where it was quoting directly from the Old. The number of these passages added up to 411. These can be easily found in any Bible, being prominently printed in italics in most editions.

The very first of my 411 copied passages is the following quotation from the Prophet Isaias, given by Saint Matthew to prove that the virginal birth of Jesus fulfills a Messianic prophecy:

Behold a Virgin shall conceive and bear a son and they shall call His name Emmanuel. (Is. 7-14; Matt. 1:23)

Now if this were not a Messianic prophecy understood by the ancient Jews as such, there would have been absolutely no point in Matthew — a Jew himself — using it, since he wrote the first Gospel in the language of the Jews of his time precisely to show how the prophecies of the Messias were fulfilled in Jesus. But if we do not heed the right teachers — the Catholic Bible, the saints, and the Church — then the “scholars,” those scribes of our time (many of whom work for the devil), will certainly mislead us. For this same breed of “scholars,” using Hebrew dictionaries written by Jews already committed to reject Jesus as the Messias, and written centuries after Hebrew had ceased to be a spoken language, have convinced many, including some publishers of “Catholic” Bibles, that the word “alma” in the prophecy of Isaias does not mean “virgin” at all, but “a young girl.”

The matter brings to mind that notorious mistranslation in the English version of the Novus Ordo where pro multis (for many) is falsely given to mean “for all men.” This, too, is rationalized by the “authority” of a modern scribe, who has devised the absurd and ridiculous lie that the Aramaic language spoken by Christ fails to provide distinct terms for the words “many” and “all”; while in the very same formula for the consecration of Our Lord’s Precious Blood, the Aramaic word for “all” — namely, kol — is also used: “Take this, all of you, and drink from it.” (Editor’s Note: Thank God, in 2007, this serious error in translation was corrected by the Holy See.)

But to return to the prophecy of Isaias, is it not remarkable that the Hebrew scholars — genuine scholars in this instance — who translated the Old Testament into Greek in the third century before Our Lord, rendered “alma” by the Greek word “parthenos,” which can only mean “virgin”? This appears in the famous Greek version known as the Septuagint, which had such high authority that it was usually from it that Our Lord and His Apostles took their words, whenever they quoted Scripture. This Greek Septuagint translation of the Old Testament was done by seventy-two Hebrew scholars, who were learned theologians and pious believers in the Christ-to-come.  And they were equally as well versed in Greek as in their own Hebrew tongue, living in the Hellenistic world where Greek was the language for all educated people.

This is answering false scholars with true scholars. And it usually can be done — that is, by one who has the time and the learning to do it.  But why should that ever be a necessity to a Catholic who has the Faith, who wants to become a saint, and who has for teachers the Apostles and Evangelists and even Our Lord Himself?