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A Missing Element in Discussions on Inspiration

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When one ordinarily learns about scriptural inspiration, the explanation usually runs thus, “God inspired certain authors with a certain illumination where they expressed the word of God in human language, free from error and unified within itself.”

While this is certainly a fine description in explaining the unity of the word of God across the various authors, by having a single source in the prophetic light and in the content of their message, and the truth of the word of God, that the words written truly correspond to the works of God in history and the Divine mysteries themselves. Yet, the explanation is lacking, for, where there is unity and truth, there must also be goodness and beauty.

By merely speaking of the truthfulness of Sacred Scripture we build a polemical defense against certain heretics and unbelievers who reject the inerrancy of scripture, yet we reduce the Divine imprint to only one aspect. Until this trend is reversed, we will not be able to inspire a love for the Sacred Page. For many, since inspiration is tied up merely in the truth value of the words given, they object to the reading of the Sacred Page, asking “why can’t I just read catechisms and books of theology?” Many cannot answer this question, for, it seems that since the purpose of a catechism is to clearly express the truth contained in the apostolic deposit in a didactic manner that, if promulgated by the church, we should only read catechisms. This is a perfectly reasonable way of proceeding if scripture is merely meant to communicate truth. In fact, it would be positively dangerous to expose ourselves to something we could “twist to our own destruction.” It is much easier to read the Athanasian Creed on the Divinity of Our Lord than to reason through some of the more difficult phrases in the Gospels.

There is a flaw in this argument. They forget to consider that the inspiration of the Sacred Page extends beyond merely the truth of its propositions, rather, scripture is also able to inspire to devotion and love of God more than any other writing. It not only excels all in its sublimity of its doctrine, but also in the fervor of its devotion

Scripture causes us to be “perfect,” it furnishes us “for ever good work,” it is the means by which “a young man cleanse his way,” it causes “a great delight…as in all manner of riches,” it contains “wondrous things,” it causes our souls to break out in “very fervent desire,” it is “my delight, and my counselor,” it makes one alive when their “soul cleaveth to the dust,” when one’s “soul melteth away for very heaviness” it is one’s comfort, and it is “sweeter than honey.”

I could go on, but, my point is that Sacred Scripture, when reflecting on its own inspiration points to its ability to build up one in goodness and strike with beauty as principally constituting the effect of inspiration, rather than merely considering its own truth value.

Fr. A. M. Dubarle, O.P. makes this point well in his Introduction to Scripture,

St. Paul gives us a general idea of the properties of Scripture when he speaks of “the Sacred Writings which are able to instruct unto salvation by the faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is in­spired by God and useful for teaching, for reproving, for correcting, for instructing in justice; that the man of God may be perfect, equipped for every good work” (II Tim. 3:15-17).

In this passage we can immediately discern a double element:

1) an element of intellectual truth; we are presented a teaching, a wisdom, and it is the reader’s task to find out what judgements are passed by the sacred book, what doctrines are proposed and, conse­quently, guaranteed by the divine veracity, what conception of the world, what view of wisdom, can be gathered from the whole.

2) an element of religious efficacy; Scripture is specially apt for arousing in hearts the religious life that it describes or recommends; the word of God is as active in Scripture as it is in nature.

These two elements are closely united: the power of suggestion and the objective teaching do not exclude one another. In literary form the Bible does not present itself as a work of pure intelligence; it more closely resembles those freer works (poems, accounts, essays) designated by the general name of literature in contrast to the more rigorously technical productions of thought (science, philosophy, erudition). It shares in the evocative power of literary compositions, and its content cannot be reduced to the mere enunciation of abstract truths

In order to have a complete idea of the effects of inspiration, one must take into account these two, ever-present factors, although only one or other of them may be clearly felt in different passages. In reading Scripture one must avoid both seeing in it a collection of abstract theses, in which each grammatical sentence would be an express affirmation, and considering it as a simple testimony of reli­gious enthusiasm which has lost all directive value for us and is only good for temporarily arousing our fervor.

Religious life in its highest representatives, direct contact with an invisible and transcendent Being who calls forth affective reactions of fear, respect, and love tend spontaneously to translate themselves into intellectual expressions: it is not just the inevitable discharge of intense emotion, but a means of establishing communion between believers on the intellectual level, as they already have on that of sensible rites or practical morality.

These formulas, deficient though they may be, are not necessarily pure symbols of what is inexpressible reality. Divine grace can pene­trate this exercise of intelligence and enable it, at least partially, to attain its object. So it is that these formulas, born of particularly rich experiences, are capable of both calling forth new experiences and of guiding them. They can have life-value and truth-value at one and the same time. Thanks to inspiration, in the case of Scripture, this double result is always attained, to an exceptionally high degree….

There is hardly any human book, no matter how beautiful it may be, which does not grow old and appear at least partially outdated after a cer­tain length of time…Although the different parts of Scripture were first addressed to readers of a determined period, they keep a sort of eternal youth, thanks to divine inspiration. Once the original circumstances of time and place have been taken into account, it is always possible to find in them a lesson of permanent interest…

The Bible, the religious book inspired by God, possesses an incomparable power of edification. There is no part of it which is not rich in practical lessons: living expressions of piety, virtuous exam­ples to imitate, accounts of divine judgements throughout history, recollections of the divine promises made to the faithful. All that is marvelously disposed to both promote and guide our zeal. Hence St. Paul could extol the rich plenitude of the sacred books in these terms: “Whatever things have been written have been written for our instruction, that through the patience and the consolation afforded by the Scriptures we may have hope” (Rom. 15:4)

Such spiritual fruitfulness is the effect of inspiration. Human genius would never be able to produce a book at once adapted to a given environment of time and place and yet capable of nourishing all men of any period, a book full of teaching adapted to any level of the religious life, from that of the beginner to that of the most perfect, a book able to produce living faith in hearts by reason of the paternal solicitude of God for His own.

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