Monday, 12 May 2008

Scripture reading plan continued - the Book of Revelation

The Matins readings this week are all homilies related to the octave of Pentecost, but the Bible reading plan takes us appropriately enough to the Book of Revelation, or the Apocalypse for the next week or so.

One of the reasons I think traddies are a little reluctant to tackle the Bible is the (quite reasonable) fear that we might be led into error if we read the text unaided. Scripture is not self-evident, and the history of heresy illustrates only too clearly the problems that arise when individual interpretations receive priority over Tradition. And no book of the Bible I suspect, has spawned more heresies than Revelation!

On the other hand, it is also one of the most beautiful books in the Bible. Who can go past this description for example:

"Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband; and I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Behold, the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away." And he who sat upon the throne said, "Behold, I make all things new." (Rev 21:1-5)

Revelation is filled with wonderful hymns and brilliant imagery, and it is extremely important theologically.

The key to reading Revelation is understanding the allegorical and symbolic language. The ideal (as always) is to read it in the light of the Fathers, who carefully explain the various references. There are two main possible approaches to doing this - use a complete commentary by one of the Fathers, or use a 'catena', a selection of quotes culled from the Fathers relevant to a particular passage. Personally, I think the catena approach is a good way of getting an overview before delving into a particular commentary, and a good supplement to the homilies in the Breviary.

For the Gospels, the Catena Aurea of St Thomas Aquinas is a wonderful resource, and available online here:

In terms of the other books of the Bible such as Revelation, I've started acquiring the useful Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture Series. It provides the scriptural verses (using the Revised Standard Version), then an overview of the Fathers' interpretations, then a series of selections from them.

Somewhat ironically, this is actually an ecumenical project, perhaps the only example of 'practical ecumenism' I've found so far that I really liked!

Of course, because of that, there is some danger that the selection of texts and overviews may be a little skewed, but if so, I haven't found it yet (although that may simply reflect the particular volumes I've acquired so far and my relative ignorance of the Fathers) - certainly the Revelation volume seems fine (but if anyone knows of any problem areas, let me know!). St Augustine features heavily, as does Bede, but also many of the lesser known Greek Fathers. Its real virtue lies in providing access to a lot of texts that aren't otherwise available in English.

The Navarre Bible commentary is also a useful starting point for Revelation (though as a general rule I find the Navarre Bible a little dry, and a little over-given to quoting long extracts from Mgr Escrivar and Vatican II documents).

Still, there are some useful resources on the web:

Happy reading!


Joshua said...

I think you mean St Josemaria, formerly know as Mgr Escriva. :-)

But yes, the Navarre is as you say.

The saint's own books of maxims have the terse quality that the Navarre's extracts lack, tho' I have rarely read either.

You may enjoy an apposite piece of chant:

Opus Dei, qui tollit pecunia mundi... !!!

(No disrespect intended.)

Terra said...

Fair correction Joshua! And I did indeed your recast of the chant!

Any ideas on good commentaries?

Joshua said...

Well, believe it or not my old P.P. Fr (now Bp) Jarrett recommended - from the pulpit - Wm Barclay's scripture commentaries, obviously despite the latter's Presbyterian viewpoint, since Barclay really had a great insight into the Holy Writ.

Terra said...

A sad commentary on the state of contemporary catholic exegesis I think more than anything else!