Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Three Reasons for Teaching the Bible

Why teach the Bible?
In his inaugural lecture at the University of Paris, when St. Thomas Aquinas was installed as Magister in Sacra Pagina--note, as a master commentator on the Bible, not first and foremost as a philosopher--Thomas gave three primary reasons, based on a quotation from the book of Baruch:
"This is the book of the commandments of God, and the law that is for ever. All that keep it shall come to life: but they that have forsaken it, to death" (Baruch 4:1)
[Thomas speaking:] According to Augustine in On Christian Doctrine 4:12, one skilled in speech should so speak as to teach, to delight, and to change; that is, (1) to teach the ignorant, (2) to delight the bored, and (3) to change the lazy.
The speech of Sacred Scripture does these three things in the fullest manner. For it firmly teaches with its eternal truth. Psalm 118.89: "Thy word, O Lord, stands firm forever as heaven." And it sweetly delights with its pleasantness. Psalm 118.103: "How sweet are thy words to my mouth!" And it efficaciously changes with its authority. Jeremiah 23.29: "Are not my words as a fire, saith the Lord?"
Therefore, in the text above [Baruch 4:1] Sacred Scripture is commended for three things. First, for the authority with which it changes: "This is the book of the commandments of God." Second, for the eternal truth with which it instructs, when it says, "And the law that is forever." Third, for the usefulness with which it entices, when it says, "All that keep it shall come to life."
--Thomas Aquinas, Hic Est Liber, 1256
(Ralph McInerny, Thomas Aquinas, Selected Writings, 5-6)
Thomas' statements are remarkable for two reasons.
First, he lays out an admirable philosophy of pedagogy. Teachers should not simply strive to communicate information; they should strive to do it in a way that is delightful, as well as transformative.
Second, he points out that Scripture--above all other objects of study--has the power to accomplish all three of these "in the fullest manner."
I must say that in my own experience, I have seen this time and time again in the classroom. I studied many subjects in college, in which I found great instruction and much delight, but they paled beside the first course I took on the Bible. The experience was... electrifying. That's the only way to describe it.
Now that I'm on the other side of the desk, it's even better. I can't tell you how many times in the classroom we have what you might call an "Emmaus Road" experience, in which the hearts of the students (and my own heart) are "burning within us" when we get down to the task of explaining the sacred page.
Moreover, I've also noticed the distinct power that the Bible has not only has to instruct and to delight (as do many other subjects) but to actually transform students. I like how Thomas puts it: "To change the lazy." (Thomas evidently had no illusions about students in the 13th century, who were evidently not much different than students in the 21st century!)
For those of you who've taught Scripture, have you had this experience?
For those of you who've studied Scripture in the classroom, did your Scripture courses accomplish all three of Thomas goals?


Sárie Mirime said...

I'd like to add a huge YES to your second question. I can remember sitting in your classes and going "wow!" several times. Your OT class definitely changed the lazy with the reading assignments.


Galactic Catholic said...

First scripture study= Father Jacque Seynaeve and the Gospel of John at LSU. Still have my notes for the final ORAL exam. Definitely set my heart on fire.

Jeremy Priest said...

I loved to read Scripture before I took my first Scripture course at Marquette University. The course itself was one of the most boring I've ever taken. It sucked the life out of my joy with Scripture. It was only after finding some tapes of Dr. Hahn's that life was restored: you can be intellectually rigorous and spiritually enthralled.