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St Augustine Teaches Us How to Read the Bible

By Deacon Keith Fournier
August 28th, 2014
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

The Bible is not some-thing, but reveals Some-One. In the words of St. Paul to Timothy, all Scripture is inspired by God. (2 Tim. 3:16) The Greek means God-breathed. They reveal Jesus Christ and our encounter with Him is the heart of what it means to be a Christian.

ORLANDO, FL (Catholic online) - On this Feast of St. Augustine, I am happy to present an excerpt from his great writings. It is found in the Office of Readings in the Liturgy of the Hours, the official prayer of the Catholic Church, on the Feast of St John the Evangelist.

The Bishop Augustine was reflecting on the first letter which the beloved disciple John wrote to the early Christians. In characteristic Patristic style (the style of the early church fathers), the good Bishop weaves the biblical text in between his inspired exposition.

This manner of reflecting on the biblical text - responding to it - returning to it - and reflecting again, reveals an intimate communion with the Living Word, Jesus Christ. It is He who is revealed in the written word. He comes and reveals Himself to all who live their lives in communion with Him.

Clearly Augustine did - and we can do so as well. The key which unlocks the door to this way of life is prayer. A Christian who does not pray is like a human person who does not breathe. Jesus Christ is alive. He is Risen. He is available to you and me as He was to Augustine.

This style of approaching the Bible was perpetuated in the Western Church through the practice of Lectio Divina, praying the Scriptures.The Bible is an invitation into an encounter with the living God for every Christian. Its words are not a formula to obtain "success" in life, but an invitation into a communion of Love with the Living Word which is meant to bear the fruit of a new way of living in the Lord.

The Bible is not some-thing, but reveals Some-One. In the words of St. Paul to Timothy, all Scripture is inspired by God. (2 Tim. 3:16) The Greek means God-breathed. They reveal Jesus Christ and our encounter with Him is the heart of what it means to be a Christian.

As a young man, I searched for meaning and purpose in my life beyond the emptiness and materialism of the age. My search eventually they led to an encounter with the One who is the "Way, the Truth and the Life" (Jn. 14:6) and home to the Catholic Christian faith. One of the first fruits of this encounter was an unquenchable attraction to the Bible.

I wanted to understand its meaning for my life. I spent nearly two years in a Benedictine Monastery where I began reading the Fathers of the Church and practicing what is called "Lectio Divina". It has carried me for years as I have continued the journey of following the Risen Jesus in His Church.

The early Christians received the scriptures as a gift. They knew that the sacred words were to lead to a deeper communion of love with their source, the Living Word of God. Early theologians were mystics. My favorite definition of a theologian is from the Monk Evagrius of Pontus, someone who "rests his head on the chest of Christ."

The image calls to mind the beloved disciple, John, depicted as doing just that in early Christian art. It also speaks of the indispensable prerequisite for any fruitful study of the Bible, a relationship with the Lord in the intimacy of prayer. Prayer must be practiced if it is to be perfected.

Early Christians viewed the reading of Scripture as a way of encountering the Living Word, who gives Himself as bread to those who feed on this written Word. This practice is kept alive in the Christian monastic tradition, particularly among Benedictines in the West. It is embedded in the Eastern Christian tradition and especially evident in the writings of the early Church fathers.

They wrote in a sort of stream of scriptural consciousness, moving from inspired thoughts to actual biblical quotes and back; most often without any reference to the specific "chapter and verse". The text was living within them. To use a phrase from my childhood they "knew it by heart."

This way of encountering the Lord in His Word can be cultivated in our lives. It involves meeting the Lord in His word and being changed, converted, in that encounter. It can inform a rhythmic way of life steeped in the practice of the presence of God throughout the day.

Participation in the rich and beautiful pattern of the Liturgical life of the Church, filled as it is with the Biblical texts that are arranged for the faithful every day, helps to develop this rhythm. This kind of prayer brings the word to life and changes the one engaged in it into the One whom they experience in the encounter. 

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St. Augustine: The Word Became Flesh and Revealed Life Itself

We announce what existed from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our own eyes, what we have touched with our own hands. Who could touch the Word with his hands unless the Word was made flesh and lived among us?
 
Now this Word, whose flesh was so real that he could be touched by human hands, began to be flesh in the Virgin Mary's womb; but he did not begin to exist at that moment. We know this from what John says: What existed from the beginning. Notice how John's letter bears witness to his Gospel, which you just heard a moment ago: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God.
 
Someone might interpret the phrase the Word of life to mean a word about Christ, rather than Christ's body itself which was touched by human hands. But consider what comes next: and life itself was revealed. Christ therefore is himself the Word of life.
 
And how was this life revealed? It existed from the beginning, but was not revealed to men, only to angels, who looked upon it and feasted upon it as their own spiritual bread. But what does Scripture say? Mankind ate the bread of angels.
 
Life itself was therefore revealed in the flesh. In this way what was visible to the heart alone could become visible also to the eye, and so heal men's hearts. For the Word is visible to the heart alone, while flesh is visible to bodily eyes as well. We already possessed the means to see the flesh, but we had no means of seeing the Word. The Word was made flesh so that we could see it, to heal the part of us by which we could see the Word.
 
John continues: And we are witnesses and we proclaim to you that eternal life which was with the Father and has been revealed among us - one might say more simply "revealed to us."
 
We proclaim to you what we have heard and seen. Make sure that you grasp the meaning of these words. The disciples saw our Lord in the flesh, face to face; they heard the words he spoke, and in turn they proclaimed the message to us. So we also have heard, although we have not seen.
 
Are we then less favored than those who both saw and heard? If that were so, why should John add: so that you too may have fellowship with us? They saw, and we have not seen; yet we have fellowship with them, because we and they share the same faith.
 
And our fellowship is with God the Father and Jesus Christ his Son. And we write this to you to make your joy complete - complete in that fellowship, in that love and in that unity.

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Deacon Keith Fournier is Founder and Chairman of Common Good Foundation and Common Good Alliance. A married Roman Catholic Deacon of the Diocese of Richmond, Virginia, he and his wife Laurine have five grown children and six grandchildren, He serves as the Director of Adult Faith Formation at St. Stephen, Martyr Parish in Chesapeake, VA. He is also a human rights lawyer and public policy advocate.

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