I had dreamed that today, as I turn 40 years old, I would ship out my finished book to a publisher. But God had other plans. As I round the pole and head on back toward the finish line of life, I have:
- a beautiful, snugly baby boy
- two (close to three!) teenagers who enjoy me and like to talk with me
- a whole pack of middle kids who want to sing songs and hear stories
- fifty or so fun and thoughtful students who are committed to learning (except for the day before Thanksgiving Break)
- a new lead on solving these health issues
- a wife who is still sane despite everything I just listed.
Oh, and I have a draft of the book. It’s a theology of Scripture inspired by St. Augustine’s On Christian Doctrine. Footnotes need work (bother footnotes), and the last chapter is just a ta-a-ad incomplete, but it’s a book.
What’s in it? Glad you asked:
As so often with fundamental insights, St. Augustine’s most brilliant move in On Christian Doctrine seems simple once he has made it. He begins his entire treatment of Scripture by asking, “What is Scripture for?”
It would be easy to look for Scripture’s purpose superficially, setting down whatever benefits we gain from Scripture in a bucket list as “parts of its purpose.” But St. Augustine spends the entire first book of On Christian Doctrine in a careful discussion of what “for” means, distinguishing use from enjoyment, and to complete his argument he delves into the mysteries of the Trinity, the Incarnation, and the Church. He bases his conclusion, the famous principle of charity, not only on abstract analysis but also on Scripture’s testimony about itself.
The first three chapters of my book mirror the first book of On Christian Doctrine. The immediate context of Scripture is the Church, while the context for understanding the Church is the Incarnation, and the context for understanding the Incarnation is the Trinity. So, as a preparation for asking why God made Scripture, Chapter 1 asks why God created anything at all, and delves into the mystery of the Trinity to answer the question. Chapter 2 considers that point where we see God’s purpose in creation most clearly and fully achieved, namely the Incarnation. Finally, chapter 3 asks directly about the purpose of Scripture, and offers an account in terms of the nature of the Church. Part I as a whole culminates in a definition of Scripture and—with a tip of the hat to Augustine’s conclusion in Book I of On Christian Doctrine—the rules of faith and charity.
Scripture consists of words about things, but the things are prior to the words about them. So Part II of this book is devoted to an exploration of the “things” of Scripture. Chapter 4 investigates the authors of Scripture, who lived among the “things” of Scripture as part of the same history and fabric so that they are themselves biblical realities along with the Temple and the Exodus and all the rest. Chapter 5 widens in scope to consider the history of Israel as a whole insofar as Israel had an anticipatory share in the mystery of Christ. Chapter 6 then considers how the realities of Scripture were themselves signs, what tradition has called the “spiritual sense” of Scripture, and Chapter 7 rounds out the discussion with a closer look at the relationship of the spiritual and literal senses and an explanation of the traditional division of the spiritual sense into allegory, moral, and tropological.
In Part III we turn to the words of Scripture, the “bookness” of the Bible. Chapter 8 delves into the literal sense of Scripture, namely how the words signify things, with a focus on the narrative portions of the Bible. Chapter 9 extends this reflection on how words signify to consider different literary forms and the variety of ways they convey meaning. Because difficulties in Scripture arise chiefly around the literal sense, where readers feel there is no way to escape, Chapter 10 examines the fact that difficulties do occur in Scripture and asks how, in general, we should think about that fact.
Language begins with things which are described by words, which words are then received by the hearer. Things, words, hearer: these three are inseparably present wherever we find speech or writing. Part II of this work dealt with the “things” of Scripture, and Part III examined the “words”. Part IV turns to the reader or hearer of Scripture as the subject of the activity of reading or hearing, that is, as the place where Scripture exists as more than in blots on a page. Previous chapters have looked at the reader in his relationship to things and in his relationship to words, but this final part examines the reader precisely in his subjectivity. Chapter 11 asks whether the reader’s subjectivity contributes to the accomplishment of Scripture’s purpose, and Chapter 12 concludes by arguing that the Sacred Heart of Jesus is the place where Scripture definitively resides.