A Boy And The Bible
From a Correspondent
I have often thought of writing about " Books that changed my mind," and have even been encouraged by others in this egotistic project, for there are always a number of people deeply interested in the mental history of even quite undistinguished converts to Catholicism. But many things have checked me, and one of them is the fact that a narrative of ray adventures and misadventures among books would, if it was to be truthful, have to begin by saying something of a spell of very real mental formation in the early years of my life by a book, namely, by the Bible. And so lacking are most Catholics in a first hand knowledge of the Bible that to hear of anyone seriously reading it sounds fearfully dull to them.
Actually, however, it was not on account of dullness that I ceased to read the Bible, nor was it because of our old friend " modern criticism." That played its part
later in my life. But I ceased to be a Bible reader at a time when I was innocent of doubts and was getting a curious sort of intellectual satisfaction from my reading. I gave it up, so far as it was not from laziness, because I was getting that kind of satisfaction in greater measure from puzzles and cricket averages. At least that is my first impression at this distance of time.
The Daily Portion My parents had been brought up, and tried to bring me up, to look to the Bible as the sole rule of faith and almost the only food of devotion. I was taught to read a portion every day and, as a child, did so under my mother's care and did not find it dry. When the time came for me to be sent to a preparatory school my parents, who were missionaries, left me in charge of relatives of the same religious persuasion, and during the holidays I continued this daily Bible reading with a cousin who mothered me and to whom. I became deeply attached.
read the " portions" prescribed by an organisation called The Scripture Union, and week by week received notes on them from my mother. My cousin was also a devoted student of the Bible and annotated the margin of my Bible with headings and summaries from her own and my mother's notes in a minute but beautifully clear script.
The Annotations This Bible study was of a kind with which few arc familiar now. It had, of course, no use for any critical theories nor even any knowledge of what they were. Accepting the whole Bible as verbally inspired it promoted a great verbal know ledge of it. It delighted in chains of " references," and in the grouping of texts under " topics " such as a doctrinal or moral truth or some type of character or action. It would analyse a passage and label the sections with neat little one-word and (as often as not) alliterative headings.
Great patience and ingenuity and much " Bible-searching " went into these exer cises. And, indeed, there is nothing in them incompatible with a deep and loving devotion towards holy things, as a long tradition of monastic piety bears witness. But they could be very barren to a mind without any other spiritual nourishment. The schemes they created were essentially verbal in character and gave singularly little help towards understanding the real structure of the books and passages they annotated or the real sequence of the writer's thought. And I found in after years that not only the schemes but even the contents of the passages so elaborately read and re-read had completely passed from my mind.
Neglect During term time my daily Bible reading was from a very early period habitually neglected while my mother's notes on the daily portions arrived unfailingly week by week. There were many times when I was filled with acute compunction for this, but I doubt whether it was ever for the loss of the reading itself. When I did actually read I was seldom bored and often derived positive enjoyment from the mental exercise involved in some of the pattern making. for my mind was always partial to verbal or arithmetical ingenuities. But enjoyment of that kind could be more readily extracted from other sources.
Not that my attitude towards the Bible was in any way comparable to my attitude towards puzzles and cricket scores. My upbringing had set the Bible quite apart from all other books and interests and I had no religious doubts during my school years.
On the other hand this exaltation of the Bible had no proportionate effect upon my religious life. The emotional impact of the Bible upon me seems to have been more akin to romantic glamour than to what would logically follow from its status as the revealed Word of God. I would occasionally quote from it argumentatively or examine carefully the meaning of phrases but even when, in mid-adolescence,
went through a short but fairly intense period of religious emotionalism I did not turn to the Bible. in spite of the fact that I knew nothing of any sacramental alternative.
But twenty years later, after an interval of scepticism. I read it completely through three—or was it four?—times for the sheer interest of it. How much of this was due to that early training?