By Fr. HENRY ST. JOHN O.P.
'THE Decree of Vatican II 'THE Ecumenism insists that all Catholics must recognise -the signs of the times" and take part actively and intelligently in the work of ecumenism for unity among Christians. There is no take it or leave it about this, it is a central concern for all, priests, and laity alike.
One of the signsof the times for us in England is the eagerlyawaited publication of the Jerusalem Bible, a translation made from the already famous l.a Bible de Jerusalem (1961), a one volume text of the whole Bible, with introductions and notes. first published in 1956, which embody the results of modern biblical scholarship, pioneered in the Catholic Church by !'Ecole Biblique of St. Etienne in Jerusalem, of which Peru Roland de Vaux, 0.P., a world-famous scholar, is now the head.
Last month, at the annual conference of the Missionary and Ecumenical Council of the Church of England Assembly, a large and representative Anglican gathering at which many members of other Christian Churches, including six Catholic observers were present, Dr. Murray Beasley, an eminent Baptist scholar, held up this commentary, which he was using in his lecture. to eulogise it for its fine biblical scholarship and its true ecumenical useful nesits. is this that makes it a sign
of the times. We have moved into a common biblical atmosphere, in which divided Christians can feel at ease. even in their divergences, because the Bible is bringing them closer to each other in the faith and service of Christ the Lord.
A silent revolution, largely unperceived, has for long been at work in the way we Catholics see and understand the Bible.
AMONG OUR SCHOLARS it has been gradually recognised and to some extent appreciated, but to the rank and file, whatever their standard of secular education, the Bible has hitherto remained largely a closed book. vaguely and somewhat partially connected with our faith and worship, our private prayer and meditation, our understanding of Christian doctrine.
Now, owing to the work of the Vatican Council, and to the important explanatory and authoritative documents it has issued, the Bible has been restored to its true place as the central and constructive source of, our Christian faith, from which the unity we are beginning to seek for so earnestly will come.
There are differences between Catholics and other Christians concerning the interpretation of Scripture, but there is a strong convergence between them as to the way the Bible is to be ap
proached and understood. In consequence we are together coming to see that the Bible, as the possession of the Believing Community, is the guiding principle by which the unity Christ wills for his Church can be restored. Increasingly, in the future, the way will be seen as the way of Biblical theology.
Separated Christians, from the theologians downwards to the ordinary everyday Christian, will seek in the Scriptures the truth as it is in Christ, by bearing witness to what each believes the Holy Spirit has said, and is saying, to him through the tradition of his own particular allegiance, and on this basis, all together, will seek what the same spirit says to them as a mixed group.
THE CENTRE OF INTEREST in ecumenical action and prayer will thus be steadily shifted from what each church is to what each church is capable of becoming. This is no denial on the part of any one allegiance of what is "given" by God: it is a conviction that inner renewal in thought and prayer can lead to deeper insights into the truth of God's word to men, and so to the attainment of the fullness of truth by a general convergence, under the Holy Spirit. towards deeper understanding of what has been "given".
What kind of a book then, is this new Jerusalem Bible? At first sight it is a somewhat formidable volume. Primarily it is a full text of the whole Bible. translated from the original languages, with scrupulous scholarship and close reference
to the French text, with which of course the introductions to books or groups of books in both Old and New Testaments, and the numerous and deeply relevant footnotes on every page were originally related.
The translation of the text is by many hands who names are acknowledged in the foreword by the General Editor. Fr. Alexander Jones, who supervised this whole work. The resulting versions keep as far as possible the character of the original. They are modern, lucid and dignified, and, where I have listed them, a pleasure to read, in private or aloud.
There is a directness about them which will appeal specially to the ordinary English reader. The lay-out makes also for ease in reading: psalms, prophetic writings, wisdom literature in poetic form, where necessary, and prose texts in liberal paragraphing with headings.
THE MOST USEFUL approach to this invaluable commentary in the first instance would he to read the groupintroductions,to the Pentatench, the Synoptic Gospels, St. Paul's Epistles and the Gospel of St. John. These will serve as an introduction to the new critical principles underlying modern biblical exegeses and hermeneutics. with which many readers will be unfamiliar and which are necessary for an understanding 01 the modern approach.
All the other introductions should then be read to complete the general picture. The notes of course speak for themselves and should be studied in their setting in the text of each book. Specially valuable to study groups is the index of Biblical Themes.
The Book is expensive, though not in relation to its size and importance. Every effort should be made to secure its availability by parish libraries, local free libraries, schools, study groups, convents, perhaps even a copy could be placed in the parish church on a lectern (chained if necessary) for occasional readers to consult.
Parish priests and their curates will surely cut down their smoking by half, if necessary, to make sure of possessing a copy: it is essential for the Sunday homily if this most important part of the liturgy is to be made alive and effective.
In conclusion i congratulate the publishers, all the collaborators in this great work, and especially Fr. Alexander Jones, its progenitor. May it greatly promote the cause of Christian unity for which we must all work and pray.