Thursday, December 27, 2012

One Kind of Scripture and Another

Finally, I am coming to the end.

In the eleventh volume of his twelve-volume Dance to the Music of Time, English novelist Anthony Powell (left, with cat) places his narrator and alter ego, Nick Jenkins, at a literary conference in Venice in the mid-1950s. The series of novels began with Nick and three British friends in boarding school at the end of World War I. Forty years and ten novels have passed.

Meeting one minor writer after another at the Venice conference in Temporary Kings allows Jenkins “to connect together a few additional pieces in the complex jigsaw making up the world’s literary scene; a game never completed, though sometimes garishly illuminated, when two or three unexpected fragments were all at once coherently aligned in place.”

My own reading life was like this for far too long. Still to this day, I find myself trying to align stray fragments. What a vain pursuit!

This morning I return to my posts about the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which went on hiatus through the long Christmas weekend of traveling to and fro. And I find myself in front of a new topic: Scripture.

Scripture is no literary pile of fragments. It is a unified whole. I think this is one reason why I always feel differently after reading Scripture than I do after toiling through Powell or Wallace or even O’Brian. Here, everything connects.

The CCC makes four important points about Scripture in paragraphs 105–108:
  1. In reading Scripture, we “rely on the faith of the apostolic age.” We are connected with Christ through the Apostles, just as we are when we read John’s letters or gospel today. We are not connected with Powell, Joyce, Milton, even Shakespeare. We are connected through Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, et al., to Jesus Christ, and through Christ to God. (105)
  2. God acted through the “authors of the sacred books” but they did their part too. They “made full use of their own faculties and powers so that, though he acted in them and by them, it was as true authors that they consigned to writing whatever he wanted written, and no more.” In other words, the writers of Scripture were not engaged in automatic writing. They were not simply “channeling.” Their freedom was engaged in the act of writing.  (106)
  3. “The inspired books teach the truth.” Not the truth of a moment. Not this year’s literary fashion. The truth. Unlike Powell’s, this “game” is “completed.” As St. John of the Cross noted, God has nothing more to say. (107)
  4. Unlike our literary culture, Christianity is not a “religion of the book.” The Word of our God is “incarnate and living.” The Scriptures will remain a “dead letter” for us unless the Holy Spirit opens our minds to understand them. (108)
I find it useful to refer back and forth between my ordinary life as a reader and writer and my engaged life of faith as a Catholic. The contrasts are often instructive.

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