By Bishop James Conley
The 5th century Scripture scholar, St. Jerome, who is perhaps most famous for his translation of Sacred Scripture from their original languages into Latin, famously stated that “ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.” In Sacred Scripture, Jesus wants us to know about him, but also to encounter him.
The Second Vatican Council declared that “access to Sacred Scripture ought to be open wide to the Christian faithful, to learn ‘the surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ,’ by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures” (Dei Verbum). These convictions reflect the Church’s teaching throughout her history on the supremacy and centrality of Sacred Scripture in life, liturgy, and theology.
Sacred Scripture is God speaking to us, and therefore it is an infinite, priceless treasure to us. However, to many Catholics, the Bible is understandably daunting. It is written thousands of years ago, in foreign languages, using various literary forms that need to be understood in their proper context. We often, therefore, feel a certain level of inadequacy in our ability to study the Scriptures and understand how to interpret them properly. Thus, many Catholics have grown apathetic, ambivalent, and even averse to the Bible.
Moreover, many priests in ministry today express disappointment that Scripture study was the weakest part of their seminary formation. Sadly, I would concur. I found my classes in Sacred Scripture in the seminary to be woefully deficient. This is no condemnation of my well-intentioned, talented Scripture professors. However, I found there to be an over-emphasis on the historical-critical method, which, having its place in Scripture study, should not be singled out as the only means of interpreting the Word of God.
There are, however, indications that the situation is changing. Pope Benedict XVI noted that “in recent decades... there has been a crescendo of interventions aimed at an increased awareness of the importance of the word of God and the study of the Bible in the life of the Church” (Verbum Domini).
This acknowledgment is reflected in a growing number of programs, publications, and institutions devoted to learning and living Sacred Scripture. Many Catholics are discovering anew that in these sacred books “the Father who is in heaven comes lovingly to meet his children, and talks with them” (DV), and they are learning how to “listen” more attentively to everything the Father says in every part of Scripture.
Three years ago, I began a conversation with Dr. Vern Steiner, who, with his wife Carol, had been received into the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil 2015. In his long career as an evangelical Protestant, Vern had served as a pastor, seminary professor, and founder and president of an institute in Biblical Studies.
Our conversation focused on my desire to see a school devoted to the study of Scripture here in the Diocese of Lincoln. I was familiar with one model from my years in Denver, where more than 1,000 Catholics were enrolled in a program of study that journeys through the whole Bible at a serious level; and it seemed possible that we might establish our own version of something similar, uniquely fitted to the needs of our diocese. Three years later, after much prayer, those initial conversations are coming to fruition.
The Emmaus Institute for Biblical Studies (which takes its name from the famous story in Luke 24) is set to launch in the fall of 2019, under the direction of Dr. Steiner and the oversight of a diocesan-approved board of directors. The Institute will feature a core curriculum: “Creation to New Creation: Journey Through Scripture from Genesis to Revelation,” complemented by a variety of Scripture-centered courses, seminars, and other resources offered at a variety of levels and in various locations throughout the diocese, and beyond.
We anticipate a wide target audience: clergy, religious, laity, seminarians, parents, teachers and catechists, Bible study leaders, campus missionaries—any and all servants of the Lord devoted to loving God with all their heart, mind, and soul. Although passionately Catholic and wholly consistent with our faith and the teachings of the Church, the Institute will be welcoming to non-Catholics as well.
As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit entity, the Institute will be self-funded, but will carry out its mission as an apostolate of the Diocese of Lincoln in cooperation with and in support of my pastoral plan. I believe the time is right for the stated vision of Emmaus to become reality: “a biblically literate and passionately Catholic community, filled with the knowledge and love of Christ, through a deepening understanding of Sacred Scripture and its centrality in the life and liturgy of the Church.”
More information on the Emmaus Institute will be made available in the upcoming months. I invite all the faithful to pray for God’s blessing on this Spirit-led and grace-filled endeavor, and to take advantage of the opportunities and resources the Institute will provide. I pray for its success, as in coming to know the Scriptures we will be led to a closer encounter with Jesus Christ.