Entering more deeply into the Bible

Jared Staudt

Catholics in the United States have been enriched in the last few of decades with a renaissance of biblical studies. The Denver Catholic Biblical and Catechetical Schools now enroll over 2,000 students. Many others have gone through Jeff Cavins’ Bible Timeline series or benefited from the many books and resources from Scott Hahn and his St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology, including the Letter & Spirit journal and the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible. There have also been new opportunities for academic studies, such as through the Augustine Institute and Franciscan University of Steubenville.

To continue this renaissance, the first volume of A Catholic Introduction to the Bible: The Old Testament has been published, written by John Bergsma and Brant Pitre (Ignatius, 2018). This large book (1060 pages) is quickly becoming a Catholic bestseller, and for good reason. It is one of the best fulfillments of Pope Benedict XVI’s call for a renewed Catholic interpretation of the Bible, rooted in the Catholic tradition and liturgical life, guided by faith, and which makes use of modern historical and literary studies. The authors help bridge a gap that largely divides the academic and spiritual readings of the biblical narrative.

The introductory chapter of the volume explaining the vision of the work itself makes an important contribution to explaining the proper way to read the Bible. It speaks of being “self-consciously both historical and theological in its approach” and utilizing “all of the tools of natural human reason . . . but unites them to supernatural faith” (9; 11). This vision takes flesh by examining major historical questions and issues raised by modern scholarship while also engaging the Church Fathers and magisterial tradition. For instance, it explores five different theories for why certain foods are prohibited in Leviticus, from Mary Douglas’ anatomical explanation to St. Thomas Aquinas’ liturgical view (212).

For each book of the Old Testament, Bergsma and Pitre provide a brief introduction, details on its literary structure and outline, overview of its content, historical issues raised by modern scholarship, theological issues, relation to the living tradition of the Church, and explanations of how it appears in the liturgical readings. In the sections on theology and the tradition, they regularly cite the Church Fathers, the writings of saints, and teachings of the Church, including the Catechism. Each chapter also includes helpful tables and boxes which answer common questions, such as how we count the Ten Commandments, as there are a few variations (see 179).

A Catholic Introduction to the Bible makes the sacred text more accessible by drawing out key themes, answering difficult questions and misconceptions, and drawing us into ancient history. The authors describe how “the Old Testament is in fact an enormous library of books that were written by human beings and gathered together over the course of centuries. Unlike many ancient books, it was preserved through time and continues to be the object of intense study up to our own day” (16). They help us to enter into this study ourselves, not only in its historic dimensions, but also through faith, which enables us to participate in its realities.

We can see this in participation coming out the book’s explanation of Exodus, which “recounts the foundational historical events by which God formed the people of Israel into a nation and entered into covenant with them. These events are commemorated, celebrated and sacramentally experienced in the liturgy of Israel as well as in the New Covenant liturgy” (199). Likewise, we enter into the mystery of the Incarnation through Isaiah, known as the fifth Gospel, “read more frequently [during the Mass] than any other Old Testament book but the Psalms and . . . rivaling the four Gospels in its frequency” (758). The mysteries of the Old Testament, though rooted in ancient history, remain living witnesses and guides into the realities of our salvation.

As part of our efforts to grow in discipleship, we need to continue the renaissance of biblical studies in the Church. If you have gone through the Great Adventure timeline or read a shorter overview of the biblical narrative, such as Walking with God or A Father Who Keeps His Promises, and you want to go deeper, A Catholic Introduction to the Bible will serve as a great guide. It’s very readable and engaging, even as it wades into scholarly questions. This weighty introduction will prove a crucial resource for entering more deeply into the Bible.

COMING UP: Why 42 had to be impeached twenty years ago

Sign up for a digital subscription to Denver Catholic!

Twenty years ago this month, I found myself seriously double-booked, so to speak.

The editing of the first volume of my John Paul II biography, Witness to Hope, was entering the ninth inning, and I was furiously engaged in exchanging edited and re-edited copy with my editors in New York. At the same time, the Clinton impeachment drama was cresting. And as I had long done speechwriting for Congressman Henry Hyde, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, I spent week after week of split time, working on John Paul II from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., then switching to impeachment for a couple of hours before returning to Witness to Hope in the evening.

It was not the optimal way to work but it had to be done, even if it seemed likely that the president would be acquitted in a Senate trial. On December 19, 1998, the House of Representatives voted two articles of impeachment and senior House members, including Mr. Hyde, solemnly walked the two articles across the Capitol and presented them to the Senate’s leaders. On toward midnight, Henry Hyde called me and, referring to Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, said, “We’re not going to make it. Trent won’t fight; I saw it in his eyes.” After a long moment I replied that, if we were going to lose, we had a duty to lay down a record with which history would have to reckon.

Which is what the great Henry Hyde did during the January 1999 Senate trial, where he bent every effort to prevent the proceedings from descending into farce.

For Hyde, the impeachment of President Bill Clinton was an unavoidable piece of nasty business. It was not a matter of partisan score-settling, nor was it a matter of punishing a president for gross behavior with an intern in the White House. It was a matter of defending the rule of law. As Henry put it to me when it seemed clear that the president had perjured himself and obstructed justice, “There are over a hundred people in federal prisons for these crimes. How can the chief law enforcement officer of the United States be guilty of them and stay in office?”

Impeachment is a political process and it was clear by mid-fall of 1998 that the politics were not breaking toward removing the president from office. They had been pointed that way over the summer, though. And as the pressures built, it seemed as if the Clinton presidency might end as Richard Nixon’s had: Party elders, in this case Democrats, would go to the White House, explain that it was over, and ask the president to resign for the sake of the country. Then around Labor Day that year, Maureen Dowd of the New York Times and other columnists began suggesting that, if Clinton were impeached and convicted, the sexual revolution would be over, the yahoos of reaction would have won, and we’d be back to something resembling Salem, Massachusetts, during the witchcraft insanity.

That was preposterous. It was also effective. And within days, at least in Washington, you could fill the templates shifting: This wasn’t about the rule of law, it was about sex and the yahoos couldn’t be allowed to win. (That Henry Hyde was the leader of the pro-life forces in Congress neatly fit this storyline, of course, abortion being a major plank in the platform of the sexual revolution.)

So once the game was redefined — Are you for or against the puritanical yahoos? — there was little chance to wrench the political process back to what it was really about: the rule of law. In his opening speech during the president’s trial, Henry Hyde tried valiantly to refocus the argument, insisting that high office did not absolve a man from obeying his constitutional oath to faithfully execute the laws of the United States and his oath swearing to tell the truth to a federal grand jury. To suggest that it did was to “break the covenant of trust” between president and people, dissolving “the mortar that binds the foundation stones of our freedom into a secure and solid edifice.”

It wasn’t a winning argument. But it was the right argument. And on this 20th anniversary, the nation should remember with gratitude those like Henry Hyde who, under fierce assault, stood for the rule of law.

Featured image by Gage Skidmore | Flickr