Thursday, 24 July 2008

Scripture Reading Plan: Chronicles



I haven't mentioned the Scripture reading plan I've been (more or less) following for a while, but today conveniently is the start of a new book of the Bible, 1 Chronicles (aka Paralipomena in the Vulgate or Paralipomenon in the Douai), I thought I'd do an introduction to it in order to encourage you too to take a look at it!

But first a reminder of what this is all about....

The Bible reading plan

Catholics are notoriously reluctant to read the Bible, particularly the Old Testament. But it is important that we do - as St Jerome pointed out, ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ! Scripture, and particularly lectio divina (meditative reading of Scripture, feeding into contemplative prayer) is as much part of our Tradition as the Mass is. In the Western tradition, Our Lady at the Annunciation is often depicted reading Scripture (as above), and St Luke's description of her 'treasuring all these things in her heart' is the paradigm for lectio.

In fact I particularly loved Pope Benedict XVI's description last week, drawn from the Fathers, of Scripture as 'a spiritual Eden, a garden where we can walk freely with God, admiring the beauty and harmony of his saving plan as it bears fruit in our own lives, in the life of the Church and in all of history'.

The particular plan I'm trying to follow comes courtesy of a Benedictine monk, Dom Christopher Lazowski, who posted it on the New Liturgical Movement blog last year, asking for feedback on whether this plan for lectio divina, which enables one to read the entire Bible, aside from the Gospels and the psalms, in the course of a year, works! It essentially follows the order of the readings from Matins (in the traditional Roman and Benedictine breviaries), but includes those texts omitted from the Office.

Now that I'm bearly three-quarters through a year's worth of reading, I'd have to say that it is a little over-ambitious as a plan for lectio divina unless you are a contemplative monk with several hours a day to devote to the task - two or three chapters of the Bible a day is far too much to seriously study and meditate on for most of us!

All the same, just reading those few chapters systematically each day with a commentary, and perhaps picking out a small section to meditate on, has proved pretty valuable to me, particularly as it makes one focus on those books that tend to be skipped over as less important! To understand the New Testament one really has to be seeped in the Old, and a program of reading of this kind can help achieve this.

Resources for reading

The Old Testament, however, is not always easy to understand or grasp the significance of, hence the need for introductions for each book (and what I'm writing is mostly drawn from Fr Baker and Peter Kreeft's respective introductions to the Bible, both of which are excellent and complementary).

From time to time you will find it pretty helpful to have resources to go to get the significance of the text. Personally I'm mainly using the Navarre Bible, but there are some good resources online that are worth a look. In particular I would suggest:


Chronicles

Matins has been working its way through the history books of the Bible over the last little while, and the Plan continues with 1&2 Chronicles for the next few weeks.

The books (which are joined together in the Hebrew Bible and may have been split in the Septuagint for ease of copying) were written some time after 400 BC and covers much the same ground as Kings but from a different perspective.

Key themes: In fact, they start from the story of Creation (although the real focus starts with King David and King Solomon) and retell history from the perspective of God's messianic promise to David. The chronicler assesses each of the Kings of Judah, and judges most of them to be pretty much failures!

This is very much a theology of history - with divine retribution for idolatry a strong subtext. It is the Temple, though, and the proper worship of God in it, that is the central key to understanding Chronicles. Temple theology, of course, also got a substantial mention from the Pope at WYD, and these books are key to understanding the New Testament descriptions of Jesus as the Temple, and ourselves as the Temple of the Holy Spirit.

That said, there are some peculiarities to these books for many readers - the perspective is priestly rather than prophetic, with a strong liturgical focus (though that might appeal to many traddies!); the level of detail provided may strike one as unnecessary (but remember that God inspired the author to write exactly wanted he wanted, no more or less!); and it has a touch of '1066 and all that' - Kings are either good or bad, and faults by the good kings (such as David) are either glossed over or omitted altogether.

But overall its message is positive - it is idealistic, and reminds us that the political health of a nation depends on its spiritual health, and the nation's spiritual health depends in turn on that of its leaders...

The reading plan: The perspective of Chronicles is not always one easy for the modern reader to identify with. Though medieval monks loved pouring over those genealogies and comparing then to those elsewhere in Scripture, the reading plan sensibly suggests whipping through and reading the first five chapters today; 6-10 tomorrow, then slowing down to around three chapters a day to get you to 30 July. For 2 Chronicles, similarly read 1-5 in one go, then 6-9, aiming at finishing it by August 9.

Happy reading!

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