Give the Old Testament to the Christian People


The Old Testament must be given back to Christians. Nothing is more necessary nor more urgent.

The Old Testament must be given back to Christians. Nothing is more necessary nor more urgent. Christians must be given that half of their heritage of which they are being deprived, this Promised Land running with milk and honey from which they have been expelled, but which belongs to them. This great edifice must be turned over to their use, and without all the pseudo-scientific apparatus of arbitrary conjecture and frivolous hypotheses which can only serve to discourage, disconcert and repel the faithful, to so deafen them that they no longer hear because of the ridiculous cackle of scribes unable to understand in any positive way the great cry of the prophets: “Sitientes, venite ad aquas: You who thirst, come to the waters!” They must be shown that in this magnificent work of the Holy Spirit, of the Wisdom of God, is to be found, not a confused mass of disparate material half eaten away by time, but a superb monument the ages have not altered and which is still offered to us today, virginal and intact, in all its sublime and profound composition, in its original signification, in the invitation that it extends, as powerful today as ever, to our heart, our intelligence, our imagination, our sensibility, and our need of love and beauty. Of this sacred text we are fortunate to have an incomparable transcription, sanctioned for centuries by the authority and practice of the Church, which I regard as the masterpiece, the summit and glory of the Latin language — I mean the Vulgate.

If I had my way it would form the basis of the education of children, as the poems of Homer, which they excel, once did for Greek youth. Or, if we must make do with French translations, let them take their principal orientation — adding nothing to it save prudently — from this venerable canon in which I think we can recognize the very mark and accent of divinity. What happiness then to recover our heritage. What happiness to admire with a free and open heart our God and Creator, who is no less, nay is infinitely more, in this vivifying word directly addressed to us, than he is in the radiant profusion of nature. Let us nourish ourselves on this history which has a direction, on this suite of events conducted by God for our instruction and in order to reveal his infinite and ingenious mercy. God is not the cold entity of the philosophers. He is Someone. Moses and David will show us what He is, how He lives his life, so that we have the right to see Him since, as we are told, we are made in His image, let the wise explain that as they will. But what joy and emotion to see our Father above, overflowing with fatherliness toward us, with tenderness and compassion and all the emotions, even anger. Yes, we love this anger, this holy anger, we love it because he takes our transgressions as seriously as our efforts to do well. And yet there are imbeciles who speak of a ferocious God. A jealous God, yes, as much as you like. It is as that that we love Him.

So let us plunge head first into this ocean of love and beauty that is the Old Testament, where so many saints and geniuses have found an inexhaustible food. Let us reacquaint ourselves, in all their living and sym­bolic vitality, with those truly superhuman personages — I mean those in whom an integral humanity is en­tirely transfigured by authentic meaning — Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Job, Samuel, David. These are not heroes of novels or the theater. We can take them in our arms. These are brothers and sisters, but brothers and sisters full of God, overwhelmed by the will of the Most High. Let us read Holy Scripture, but let us read it as did the Fathers who have shown us the best posture in which to do so: let us read it on our knees! Let us read it, not with a critical intention or that stupid curiosity which leads only to vanity, but with the passion of a famished heart! We are told that life is there, that light is there, why not try for a little while to acquire the taste for it ourselves? There is not just the Majesty of Sinai that invites us to the ascension. There is a feminine smile, the smile of that Wisdom, that August Virgin whose image the Lord put before himself to encourage him to create the world. It is she we perceive at the end of this long perspective of incomparable monuments. She is there from Genesis, the spreading dawn that precedes the rising of the sun. This divine light is not absent for us Christians from any part of the revealed text, whether of the Old or the New Testament. It is to her that Our Lord’s words in the Gospel can be applied. “When they tell you, he is in the desert, it is not true, or that he is in a closed room, do not believe it. But as light arises in the East and shows itself even to the West, thus will be the coming of the Son of Man.” He it is that reigns over every part of the Old Testament, of which he is in the inspirer, as well as of the New. It is He who signs every page with this solemn oath: “Ego vivo: I live!”


Claudel, Paul. “Give the Old Testament to the Christian People.” Catholic Dossier 6 no. 1 (January-February 2000): 6-7

Reprinted with permission of Catholic Dossier. To subscribe to Catholic Dossier call 1-800-651-1531.


Paul Claudel (1868 - 1955), one of the great lights of pre-conciliar Catholicism, had the Vulgate Bible on his desk throughout his life, at home and in his many posts throughout the world as a French diplomat. His poetry and drama are suffused with Scriptural allusions and inspiration, and after his retirement at the age of 65 he spent the rest of his long life meditating on Scripture and commenting on it. The preceding essay is Chapter III of a book published in the year of his death, J’aime la Bible (Paris: Fayard, 1955. Claudel cast a cold eye on the depredations done the Sacred Text by a kind of biblical scholarship. Here he makes an impassioned plea for immersing ourselves in the Old Testament, seeing it, as the Church and Fathers do, as messianic, pointing always to Christ.

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