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The Spiritual Study of the Voice of God

Gerard Norton, OP

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“Now for Christian thinking in the twentieth century two slogans have been wisely adopted: aggiornamento, or keeping abreast of the times, and approfondimento, or deepening of theological thought. This double programme must be for the Bible too.  Its first part can be carried out by translating into the language we use today, its second part by providing notes which are nether sectarian nor superficial.”

Alexander Jones.  Editor’s foreword to The Jerusalem Bible, Darton, Longman, Todd, 1966, p. v.  

From my Parents, September 1976

That is the inscription on the front of my Jerusalem Bible.  I persuaded my parents to buy it for me in preparation for the noviciate, on the instructions of our novice master, Albert Leonard OP.

This Jerusalem Bible was different from the red soft covered C.T.S. one of my schooldays: in addition to the citation from the foreword given above,  I read there for the first time of the work of a great Dominican school of the Bible in Jerusalem who had produced a French translation in 1956 with explanatory notes and cross references to different parts of the Bible to help the reader.

Over the years, some flaws of this English translation became evident, and a New Jerusalem Bible was produced. Perhaps regrettably, many editions of the Jerusalem Bible were produced without the notes that were such a core part of the initial drive. The notes are not just a simplification of the Biblical text.  They stir us to engage with the various features of the text as Word of God and as incarnate in our history.

Whatever the flaws, this first Jerusalem Bible was a fine achievement.  The layout itself, with helpful headings, and a single column per page invited me, as a reader, to engage with the text.

In that noviciate year, I became attached to that Jerusalem Bible in a way that has haunted me ever since. Today when I hear people contrasting a fruitful Lectio Divina with the aridity of scientific scripture study, I remember the vision of the Jerusalem Bible foreword.  Not just that, I recall a whole tradition of Dominican study that began with the spiritual study of the voice of God in the Scriptures, but was then given the grace of science.  As one writer put it, we did not spurn the meat of science for the milk of the spiritual interpretation. In case that seems a fanciful image, it is borrowed from Jordan of Saxony’s life of St Dominic.

From that initial Dominican commitment to balance the spiritual sense of scripture with the scientific one, we can trace a strong line of fruitful scientific study of the Bible to our day.   For Dominicans, scholarship entails courageous fidelity to a mandate given by the Order and accepted in obedience.  In our preaching and teaching over 800 years, in many countries, we have offered God’s people the meat of science with the milk of spiritual nurture.  Long may that continue.