The Malta Independent 27 September 2020, Sunday

An insightful lecture by Cardinal Prospero Grech OSA

Malta Independent Sunday, 10 November 2013, 09:15 Last update: about 7 years ago

The Maltese Augustinian Province, in conjunction with the Faculty of Theology of the University of Malta and the Archdiocesan Foundation for Theological Studies, recently held the 17th annual St Augustine Lecture. This year’s lecture, superbly delivered by His Eminence Cardinal Professor Prospero Grech OSA, was entitled: “How Augustine read the Scriptures”.

The lecture was given twice. The first time was in Lecture Hall Gateway E at the University of Malta on 29 October and was chaired by Dr Jean-Paul DeLucca. The second was on 31 October at the Augustinian Institute in Pietà, specifically in St Augustine’s Lecture Hall. This was chaired by Revd Pierre Desira OSA, to whom I give my wholehearted congratulations for the intelligent yet familiar way in which he beautifully introduced His Eminence. His original way of introducing this well-known academic and ecclesiastical personality made us all warmly receptive to Cardinal Grech’s insights from the outset!

The basis for Augustine’s approach towards the Bible is to be found in his famous treatise De Doctrina Christiana (On Christian Doctrine).

The Bishop of Hippo started writing this book in the year 396, soon after he was consecrated bishop, and he continued this monumental work some 20 years later until his death.

His preferred translation was called the ‘Itala’, a variation of the Old Latin rather than the Vulgate, the celebrated translation of St Jerome that translated the original Hebrew into Latin.

Augustine justified his position on three counts. First, he said that the Apostles employed the Septuagint to disseminate the Christian message. Second, he firmly believed in the incredible precision of this translation. Third, the ‘Itala’ was used as a pre-Gospel proclamation to the people of the Hellenes where the Gospel was preached. However, he was wise enough to advise that when a doubt did arise regarding the translation of any word, checking it with the original language is a must in order to resolve the riddle.

For this Church’s genius, the principal criterion for establishing whether or not a particular book is to be considered canonical is either if the it is read publicly in the celebration of the liturgy of those churches which had the highest authority – such as those of Rome, Carthage, Alexandria, Jerusalem, Antioch and Corinth – or if it has been “received by all the catholic churches” (DDC 2, 8, 12).

The basic question the inquisitive St Augustine asked was: Why do we read the Bible? His remarkable answer is as refreshing now as it was 16 centuries ago. He strongly affirmed that we read the Bible to attain charity.

In On Christian Doctrine, Augustine says: “Whoever, then, thinks that he understands the Holy Scriptures, or any part of them, but puts such an interpretation upon them as does not tend to build up this twofold love of God and our neighbour, does not yet understand them as he ought. If, on the other hand, a man draws a meaning from them that may be used for the building up of love, even though he does not happen upon the precise meaning intended by which the author whom he reads intended to express in that place, his error is not pernicious, and he is wholly clear from the charge of deception” (1, 36, 40). Another faithful and erudite disciple of Saint Augustine, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, uncovered the Bishop of Hippo’s insight by the subsequent statement he made in his post-synodal apostolic exhortation on the word of God in the life and mission of the Church, ‘Verbum Domini’: “We do well also to remember that the process of lectio divina is not concluded until it arrives at action (actio), which moves the believer to make his or her life a gift for others in charity” (§ 87).

Apart from his undisputed scholarship, Cardinal Grech gave us a powerful example of what biblical charity is all about. Thanks to his deep humility and pastoral charity, he made us love the living message of the Bible: Jesus Christ in our neighbour!


Fr Mario Attard OFM Cap


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