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Southern Africa Bishops Conference

International Network of Societies for Catholic Theology


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Introduction to Grace and Truth

Vol. 28, No. 1, April 2011 which is entitled “On Scriptures”. To purchase your own copy of the complete issue, contact: library@sjti.ac.za

Introduction

Anselm Prior, OFM

Various events had delayed this choice of topic for our Annual Conference of the Catholic Theological Society of Southern Africa (CTSSA). When we eventually were able to present a collection of lectures on Scripture, our hunger pangs were sated at last. As with other recent conferences, we are happy to share these inputs with the readers of Grace and Truth.

The image of eating is a constant and strong one in Scripture. Our theme was taken from the Book of Revelation where John is told to “eat this scroll”. This passage parallels Ezekiel 3:1-3 where the prophet is also instructed to eat a scroll. Both faithful disciples of God’s word ate what was to them sweet in the mouth. They were then instructed to go and preach; for Ezekiel to a stubborn Israelite nation, for John to the nations of the world. What one eats is absorbed into the body and becomes part of us. Indeed, nutritionists today tell as that “we are what we eat”. Having digested the word of God, both Ezekiel and John have no option but to share its message with others. With John this word has now taken on universal significance and far-reaching consequences.

The spiritual writers of our Christian tradition teach of the importance of abiding in God’s word, through arid times too, till it becomes sweet to the taste. This image of residing with the Scriptures is echoed by the Vatican Council whose Dei Verbum document “exhorts all the Christian faithful …to learn the ‘surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ’ (Phil 3:8) by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures [lectio divina]. ‘Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.’ …Let them remember, however, that prayer should accompany the reading of sacred Scripture, so that a dialogue takes place between God and them.” In Sacrosanctum Concilium we are taught that “the treasures of the Bible are to be opened up more lavishly, so that a richer share in God’s word may be provided for the faithful” (#51). Our experience teaches us that faithfulness in this matter can lead eventually to what St. Theresa of Avila might describe as a “good soaking”. Absorbed by the word, the believer is transformed and sees reality in another light and from a different perspective.

The next step is to share something of this experience with others. So both Ezekiel and John are sent to prophetically proclaim the word. This can be a bitter experience because what was absorbed into one’s being as life-giving may sound like bad news to many. Yet the prophet’s stance is necessary for a nourishing of the public mind and for contextualizing truth for those who may find it unappetizing. How else, though, are people’s minds to be formed in the face of issues like climate change, wars, worldwide starvation, sexual slavery, lack of resources (for example, energy, food and water), as well as the universal desire for human rights and dignity? Courage is required by the reflective speaker, together with a reliance on the power of the Holy spirit, for “how are they to hear without some to proclaim, and how are they to proclaim unless they are sent?” (Rom 15:10).

Ezekiel had the scroll unrolled for him; John was given an open one. The duty of theologians, and particularly of Scripture scholars and liturgists, is to see that the word of God is opened wide as rich fare for the faithful, for it is the source of their nourishment at God’s table (Lectionary for Mass, #10).

This issue of Grace and Truth opens with a reflection by Archbishop Slattery on how the Word “invites, motivates and guides humanity” to enter into a personal relationship with God. God is pure Gift and this is reflected in the covenant offered to humankind. This in turn challenges us to live, as it were, in a covenant with each other, namely, in community. The other themes developed by Slattery point to the necessity for a well-founded biblical spirituality to enable believers to bask in gratitude for an all-giving, all-loving God.

The critical issue of the environmental crisis is tackled by Kevin McDonnell who makes it clear that humanity’s present headlong rush towards self-destruction, including that of the earth itself, can be halted through attention to a balanced understanding of biblical teaching. He uses a number of contemporary authors to investigate themes that range from the extremes of possessiveness of and unconcern for the earth. The Exile’s contribution to the sacred scroll freed God’s people from dependence on a particular place; yet does not the constant theme of pilgrimage throughout the Scriptures lead the people somewhere? The Scriptures, he affirms, have the power to inspire and motivate people to work towards God’s purpose for creation.

In order to relate the Scriptures to the worldwide issue of human rights, Christo Lombaard shows the necessity of understanding the Bible as both holy and human. The acts of faith found in the text are counterbalanced by contemporary faith reactions to the Bible. E. Otto has made an important contribution by sharing how moves towards human rights can be detected centuries ago. The biblical priestly writers place humanity in direct relationship to God, a subversive view to political rulers at that time. The state no longer has unrestricted power over its citizens. The author concludes with two recent developments which could help us resolve issues surrounding biblical spirituality and human rights.

Gerardus Hattingh investigates the meaning of God’s reconciliation of all things in Christ’s death on the cross. He explores various meanings of Paul’s language in Colossians about suffering, both of Christ’s and that of the apostle. He seeks for an understanding of how our own sufferings can be united with the afflictions of Christ in a redemptive manner. The author also considers how the teaching of John Paul II sheds light on how Christ is present in all those who suffer.

“Things went wrong because the scroll was not ‘eaten’,” suggests Martin Badenhorst, referring to Josiah in II Kings 22:11. The author moves on to consider whether Deuteronomic teaching might enlighten us today when it comes to the South African constitution and the respect for persons. Through a study of the principles of brotherhood (referring to both males and females), the freeing of slaves, relations between husbands and wives, the status of widows, and the Sabbath year, we discover a vision of equality and empowerment. This moral integrity has much to say about our society today in South Africa.

The final contribution to this issue is Margaret Mollett’s reading into the necessity of opening the Scriptures to the laity, despite possible negative consequences. These latter come from various negative experiences of Protestants over recent centuries. Vatican II’s Dei Verbum, and encouragement from the Pontifical Biblical Commission, have resulted in wide-ranging biblical study and prayer at all levels in the church. The author would like to see this movement given wider scope.

I trust that this issue of Grace and Truth will entice you into further study of the sacred scriptures and spread your on-going knowledge and formation with others.

God loves each of us as if there were only one of us.  ~St. Augustine

 

© CATSSA 2011