Plato used mathematical language as a cloaking device, casting it as it were over the terms, and [veiling] the true nature of things, just as the Theologians used myths, and the Pythagoreans used symbols for the same purpose.
-Proclus, Commentary on the First Book of Euclid's Elements
. Cited in Sara Rappe's Reading Neoplatonism
Granted, these are the words of a pagan, but they can give us some insight into how we read and assimiliate what we believe, and whether or not we are doing it correctly. Even in the Gospels, Our Lord spoke in parables so that "in seeing they may not perceive, and hearing they may hear but not understand". In the ancient world, a text was not just venerated for what it revealed, but also for what it hid. What was hidden was deemed to be ineffable, wonderful, and far above anything the un-transformed human mind could conceive.
Of course, the first approach that comes to mind in thinking of these things is the Protestant approach. If we take into consideration how a text was read in the ancient world, we will find that sola scriptura applies the ways of an apple to an orange. Or better yet, it is like reading Shakespeare as one would read a Japanese manual to program your DVD player. If the text is not merely trying to transmit a set of ideas or propostions, but rather at times is a manifestation of verbal symbolism that transmits a new divine life, then one cannot simply sit down and read it as one's whim dictates. Nor is it intended for mass distribution so that anyone, no matter how uninitiated, can pick the Scriptures up and pontificate on them. Need we be reminded that even the epistles of St. Paul were meant to be read out loud in the assembly of the faithful? To read them privately using one's own criterion of interpretation is thus not really normal; again, it is like reading the lyrics of a song to oneself instead of listening to the song itself.
But I would not simply limit this critique to Protestantism, lest I leave us Catholics off the hook. For we have our own version of distorting the ancient approach to truth, but we use catechisms and acts of the Magisterium to do it instead of just using the Scriptures. Anyone who has perused Ludwig Ott's Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma will know what I am talking about. Here, we acheive a stale transmission of the Gospel in which Christianity is a set of propostions and procedures that must be passed down in technical code. I have decried this phenomenon many times on this blog; a sense that we Catholics have the only true immaculate data set, and all others are defective. Christianity as communion and as a way of life is thus confined to the background, forever a phenomenon that we have lost since we apply the same criteria of knowledge that we use in analyzing a computer program to contemplating the things of God.
Certainly I will concede that Faith comes through hearing, and in hearing we are supposed to understand. But we must understand with humility. The act of reading all things that touch upon our Faith puts us, the reader, in a position of weakness and submission to something much greater and more powerful than our lowly mortal minds. If only we would approach these things with reverence, as direct images of the Divine, then we would better understand what the Gospels are all about.
The soul therefore was never a writing-tablet bare of inscriptions; she is a tablet that has always been inscribed and is always writing itself and being written on by the Nous.
Let us then let the Gospel, the Eternal Word, read and write us...