“Search the scriptures, for you think in them to have life everlasting; and the same are they that give testimony of me.” John 5:39

“Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life.” John 6:69

The idea of scripture comes from the ancient Jewish understanding of history. As is evident from the structure and content of the books of the Old Testament, history and God’s providence are reflexive ideas, each serving to display the other: history reveals the God of Abraham, who cares for and guides His people, but Providence likewise is the very measure and author of history. For this reason even the historical texts of scripture bore weight for the Jews. Not only did those books preserve their history, but in that history the Israelites remembered their God and listened to Him. For without the inspiration of history, as it were, there could be no inspired texts. This also clarifies the eminently self-referential nature of the scriptures. The promises God gives to the patriarchs of Genesis inform the reflections on His activity throughout; the Exodus narrative seems to be in many ways the type and forerunner of all of salvation history; and the late wisdom literature meditates on the many prophecies of scripture with longing, distilling through them a structure for prayer that spurns the things of the flesh, preferring God Himself.

History and Providence became united as flesh in the person of the man Christ who is the eternal Word of God. The Scriptures were thereby transfigured, no longer containing merely a record of the testament, but now also being the living dialogue of God to all His people, bound together as a single Scripture just as history became enfolded by God’s eternity through grace. For after the completion of the books of the new testament, and the ratification of the canon of scripture, the Bible was perfect. When the Church was young, therefore, and the Apostles were still living, she meditated through the Holy Spirit on the great mystery of Christ which had in a single stroke fulfilled the whole testament of Abraham, of the law and the prophets (Luke 24:27)—fulfilled all things even to the end of the world, being the crown of all creation. To this end, the two-testamented Bible integrates, fulfills, and references itself much more than the Old Testament alone.

What does this mean for the life of the Church? First, this complete, Christian scripture is the soul of the liturgy in which the life of the Church consists. It instructs the liturgy explicitly, through the words of Christ Himself (injunctions to the Apostles, words of consecration, etc.), the example of His actions (the laying on of hands, miracles, His sacrificial death, etc.), and the ways in which He revealed the truth of the scriptures in Himself (the wonderful circumstances of His nativity, His glorious resurrection and ascension, the law of love in Matthew 5, etc.). Inasmuch as the New Testament and history were much the same thing in the first century following Christ’s ascension, with its books recording the wonders of the new faith and its letters unfolding its mysteries to nascent churches, the liturgy whereby the Church celebrated her faith and her life in Christ developed simultaneously through both—that is, through history as lived (in tradition) and history as communicated (in scripture). Concrete teachings on the new, high priesthood of Christ (Hebrews 5), the wedding feast of the Lamb (1 Corinthians 11:23-34), baptism (Romans 6:4, Colossians 2:12), and other sacraments and practices of the Church were developed and taught. In this way, the New Testament fed and filled out the teachings of Christ as they impelled believers toward a canon of practices.

Secondly, Scripture is the perfect language of love through which the Church prays, both within the context of the liturgy and outside it. Beyond the first generation of Christians, we can see more fully how the usefulness of Scripture became defined, both as a deposit of the mysteries of the faith, but also as the perfect language of love with which to pray. The Psalms are the most excellent example of this, having both a didactic and an orational virtue, but the prophets and all the history of the ancient Jews as authored become pillars of prayer. The loving and devoted speech which the Church pours out to the heart of Christ from morning to evening without ceasing resounds as a single song made with the widely different instruments of the many books of the Bible, which nevertheless unite in a single harmony and accompany the one voice of His bride. It is a song in which Christians are invited to participate even outside the liturgy, by reading the scriptures prayerfully, lifting up their hearts in the love of thanksgiving.

These, then, are the two natural uses of Scripture, the supernatural self-revelation of God. From these two uses we can derive the basic principles of hermeneutics. First, the origins of the scriptures must be remembered: from a human perspective, they recall the promises of God and their fulfillment through Him. From a divine perspective, they are the whole narrative, stretching from the cosmic to the deeply personal, of God’s self-gift to mankind. They are the cry of the Church as she “seek[s] him whom [her] soul loveth” (Song 3:2) and the prayer of the Son to the Father, who says, “Holy Father, keep them in thy name whom thou hast given me; that they may be one, as we also are” (John 17:11; also vv. 17, 21-23). This leads into the second and third principles: Scripture requires interpretation because of its uniqueness among all literature and the many difficulties arising from its dual authorship, and this interpretation must come from within the faith—that is, by the same authority as that which ordained the canon of Scripture. The Magisterium, ordained by God to direct the interpretation of Scripture, does not affect Divine Revelation, but is rather the condition of its infallible transmission.

In sum, then, what God has accomplished for His people He has revealed to all in order that all may know Him through His Son. Through the genius of many men and the forms of many genres of literature everything concerning salvation history was bound up in τ βιβλία. The authority of the histories and teachings therein informed the sacramentality and the mystical charity of the Church and her members. But from the beginning God revealed Himself through the mediation of a people: He chose, then, to institute a Church, and, defending her always from error, granted her the authority to interpret all Revelation by the guidance of the Holy Spirit. The ultimate fruit of Scripture, therefore, is endless thanksgiving, since through it all humanity has received the proof of God’s merciful love and the gateway into His life.