The Spiritual Intelligence of Scripture

Scriptural Intelligence

There are multiple intelligences: linguistic, mathematical, social, musical, interpersonal, etc. There is also religious intelligence, e.g. the intelligence of scripture, and the mystical intelligence of the mysteries of God. Here are quotations from various translations:

  • "Everyone who heard him was amazed at the intelligence of his answers."(Lc 2:47)
  • “Why do you reason that it’s because you have no bread? Are you still without intelligence?" (Mc 8:17)
  • "Listen, Israel. You will love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your intelligence, and with all your strength." (Mc 12:33)
  • He said to them, “O men without intelligence!” Then beginning with Moses and all he prophets, he opened their intelligence to all the scriptures concerning him. (Lc 24:25)
  • "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by renewing your intelligence so that you may discern the will of God." (Romans 12:2)
  • “O Galatians without intelligence!” (Galatians 3:1)
  • "May Christ dwell in your hearts through faith—that you may understand (with your mystical intelligence) what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses any knowledge." (Ephesians 3:17-19)
  • "Be renewed in your spiritual intelligence and put on the new man, which was created according to God’s image in righteousness and true holiness." (Ephesians 4:23-24)

The purpose of education is to develop a child's intelligence in light of Piaget's stages of cognitive development. Universities endeavor to develop more fully the many forms of human intelligence: logical, technical, artistic, musical, relational, moral, religious (in religious studies), etc. Technical rationality is a very limited form of intelligence; it applies only to logic and engineering but not in other forms of human intelligence. Most English bible translations use “mind” or “spirit” rather than “intelligence” but in the social sciences as in education it is more common to write about intelligence than mind or spirit.

Scriptural intelligence, like literary intelligence, requires a great familiarity of the texts. It takes years of study to assimilate the scriptural subculture, and it requires daily meditation rather than academic studies. Biblical intelligence leads to spiritual wisdom, while theology leads to cognitive wisdom; both are desirable but biblical intelligence should have the priority.

Adapted from


19th Sunday of O.T.: Elijah on Mount Horeb (1 Kings, 19)

From the God of power to the God of silent whispers

Elijah walked forty days and forty nights to Mount Sinai to encounter the God of Moses in storm, earthquake, and fire. All his life he had experienced the God of power. During the seven year famine, God had provided: “Ravens brought him bread and meat.” Later a widow provided him with little cakes, “for the Lord says, ‘The jar of flour shall not go empty nor the jug of oil run dry until the day when the Lord sends rain.” When the son of the widow died, Elijah prayed. “The Lord heard his prayer, and the life breath returned to the child’s body and he lived.”

The greatest show of power was the contest on Mount Carmel between the priests of Baal and the God of Israel. Elijah had proposed: “You shall call upon the name of your gods, and I will call upon the name of the Lord. The God who answers with fire is God.” The priests of Baal hopped around their altar, slashing themselves with swords. Elijah had his altar drenched with water, not once but three times. Then upon Elijah’s invocation, “The Lord’s fire came down and devoured the burnt offering, wood, stones, and dust, and lipped up the water in the trench.” Adding his own power to the power of God, Elijah ordered, ‘Seize the prophets of Baal. Let none of them escape.” And he slaughtered them all. Great is the power of our God!

At Mount Horeb, the Mount Sinai where Moses had encountered God in the fury of nature, he expected to find the same. “Why are you here, Elijah? He answered, ‘I have been most zealous for the God of hosts [the God of armies and victories]. They have destroyed your altars and murdered your prophets.’” I want revenge from the God of power, that he kill all my enemies.

“There was a strong and violent wind–but the Lord was not in the wind; after the wind, an earthquake–but the Lord was not in the earthquake; after the earthquake, fire–but the Lord was not in the fire; after the fire, a light silent whisper.” Elijah probably did not understand. The event was recorded, but it was understood only many centuries later.

The prophets slowly discovered that God speaks in soft whispers. He “Won’t shout, or raise his voice, or make it heard in the street. A bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench.” Elijah had murdered his opponents; maybe he realized his mistake when he confessed, “I am no better than my ancestors.” God did not give up on him but provided him with food and water for a long journey into the desert of silence. Then God revealed himself to him in a whisper.

The conversion from a God of power to one of whispers is experienced anew by each generation, by each individual. When Moses and Elijah appeared to Jesus on a high mountain and his garments became white as light, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is well that we are here. This is what we expected all along: a sign in the sky for all to see, a sign of your power!” Jesus turned to him and said “Behind me, Satan, because you’re not thinking God’s thoughts, but human thoughts!” What a reprimand after Peter had just been given the keys of the kingdom of heaven, that is, ecclesiastical power. Peter and the papacy may represent church power, but Peter was the first to abandon Jesus, along with all the others. God's power is greatest in weakness.

“Jesus of Nazareth was a prophet mighty in deeds and words” – a man of divine power.– “We had hoped that he was the one to restore Israel” – to restore Israel’s political power. “Then Jesus told them, “O, men of little intelligence! How slow you are to believe everything the prophets said! The Messiah had to suffer these things and then enter his glory, didn’t he?” In spite of all the prophets, it is easier to believe in a God of power than in a God of silent whispers.

The revelation on Horeb did not replace that on Mount Sinai. God still reveals himself, individually and collectively, in earthquakes and fires, or sickness and failure. It is hard not to listen to the inner voice when one is struck with cancer or a family collapse.

What are the earthquakes and fires that challenged your self-righteousness? What are your spiritual practices to listen to God’s silent whispers?


13th Sunday in Ordinary Time (John 1:1)

God's voice in everyday life

Today on television one could see coming to Mass about 2,000 men at the end of their three day pilgrimage on foot. They had come to Cotignac, a sanctuary dedicated to Mary and Joseph. These fathers came from all over France to discuss, share, and pray for their families, especially their children. (Wives have their own 2-3 day pilgrimage a few weeks later). I found their piety during this outdoor Mass and their testimonies after Mass to be a good illustration of my understanding of John 1:1.

At the beginning was the Logos (Voice, Grand Design, Wisdom)

For more than 15 centuries, Western Christianity read in St. Jerome's translation of the bible that "In principio erat Verbum." In the Roman culture centered on rhetoric and public speech, "verbum" referred to the spoken word of orators. For us who have spent ten to twenty years learning from books, "word" unconsciously refers to the written word. At Mass, the priest often presents processionally the written Bible to the assembly. In common language, the "word of God" usually refers to the written Bible.

At the beginning of the universe was the Spoken Word: "Then God said: Let there be light, and there was light." God spoke to Abraham, Moses, and the prophets. God's Voice is life and light, never discourse, speech, or written message. Most of the Jewish Bible was written between 500 and 1,000 years after Abraham and David. At Pentecost the Holy Spirit gave the apostles a new voice and the power to proclaim God's grand design through Jesus Christ. To this day the creative Voice of God speak (never tweets) to the mind, soul, and conscience, often through the written word, and more often independently of it.

Logos means much more than "verbum." It was central in Greek culture and philosophy. It meant word but also rationality, wisdom, intelligent design, and much more. At creation, God's Voice was intelligent design for the universe in expansion. With salvation the Voice is the grand design for humankind to return to the Father. God's Word is wisdom, knowledge that fulfills, news that bring happiness, good news to share with others.

This is what I saw on the French state television on July 2. During Mass, one could see how these men were listening to the Voice, motionless, eyes closed. In four testimonies after Mass, we learned about God's Voice, grand design, and wisdom in their lives. Edouard had been a very successful CEO. Unexpectedly he went to deliver medication to sisters serving the poor in Africa. He heard the Voice, and had a dream like Joseph. It changed his life. He had found the grand design of God for his life. Bernard and Anne-Claire now have a life full of joy, they say, as the unexpected result of an accident that left Anne-Claire amnesic after a coma of ten months. They have been transformed by this trauma which gave them wisdom and silent joy. Laurent heard a steady Whisper at the annual pilgrimage of men reflecting on their role as fathers. He has learned to follow the example of St. Joseph, the soft father of his adoptive son, and to give up the authoritarian model inherited from his father and grandfather. Michèle and Jean-Marie, like Joseph the migrant to Egypt and Nazareth, learned to give up their careers as nature lovers to become ever more involved with the poor in the streets in poor neighborhood. In short all heard the Voice outside the structure of liturgy and bible studies, they came to understand the true grand design for their lives, and find wisdom and joy.

As envisioned by John in his Prologue, at the beginning was Logos, Voice, intelligent grand design, cosmic beauty and wisdom for the world. For tele-spectators like me, this program also brought forth a faint whisper of grand design and wisdom. Thanks be to God!


17th Sunday of Ordinary Time (Mt. 13:44-52)

Misunderstanding All Four Parables

Today’s gospel reading invites us to reflect on four parables which all seem easy and obvious. The kingdom of God is like finding a hidden treasure or a rare pearl for which one must sell all one’s possessions. It is also like sorting the good and the bad fish after a catch: this is what the angels will do at the end of time.

"Do you understand all these things?" They answered, "Of course! It’s so obvious." Then, instead of congratulating them, Jesus added another parable: a good scribe must sort the old and the new. “Obvious again! What’s the point?” The apostles did not get it; this is why Jesus added this fourth parable. Let’s go over the texts.

In reference to finding a hidden treasure for which one must sell all one’s possessions Jesus had told a young man,”Sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." This is a radical demand. It is not just going to church on Sundays and saying “we have the treasure of Catholic truth.” Granted we cannot all do that, but that's what the text means.

“The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls." One can only find the kingdom by searching. Finding God’s grand design for each of us is finding the rare pearl of our deepest identity or vocation. To find the will of God, hence our vocation and deepest identity, is a lifetime quest for which we may have to give up much of our superficial possessions.

After a catch the fishermen must separate the good and he bad fish, or in another parable, the weeds and the wheat. Let the angels do their job of separating the saints and the sinners; in the meanwhile it is our job to distinguish and separate the good and bad deeds, attitudes and beliefs. And this is also the point of the fourth parable.

To every scribe sitting in from of him, Jesus said, “Every scribe who has been instructed in the kingdom of heaven [must] bring both new and old things out of his treasure chest.” All educated Jews must select both “new things” from the New Testament and “old things” from the Old Testament. This applies to all believers at all times: we must select both old things from scripture and church teachings and new things from the voice of God in nature, history, and conscience. Fifty years ago, one of the greatest mortal sins was pre-marital sex, while missing one Sunday Mass would send you to hell forever. Over the much of the last thirty years, abortion has been the greatest and often the only intrinsic evil in our culture of death. Today as ever, every scribe or educated believer must bring forth “ both new and old things out of his treasure chest.”

"Do you understand all these things?" They answered, "Of course! It’s so obvious." While it may be obvious, the real problem is to practice it. In common parlance, the value of a thing is measured by its price. What is the price we are willing to pay for the hidden treasure, the rare pearl, and the search for Christian truth, identity, and vocation?


20th Sunday of Ordinary Time (Romans 5:212-15)

“Through one man death entered the world.”

It is often assumed that the wages of sin are death. Had not God said to the first couple, “ When you eat from it [the tree of life] you shall die?”

I do not know the origin of the speculation that Adam would not have died had he not sinned. This belief continues to this day. Reportedly, “It’s commonly said that biblical creationists believe in ‘no death before the Fall’. But while humans clearly didn’t die before the fall, there’s no evidence that other life-forms didn't die.”

To understand the wages of sin as physical death contradicts the whole biblical tradition and vitiates St. Paul’s argument about Adam and Jesus.

After sinning, Adam and Eve did not drop dead but were afraid because they saw they were naked. The curses inflicted on them were clearly spelled out: labor pain and toiling all the days of life, “until you return to the ground, from which you were taken.” Throughout the Bible, death is the natural return to the dust from which the Adamites are taken. Punishment for sin may be sickness, disease, foreign invasion, and premature death, not death itself.

After forming man taken from the dust of the earth God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, obviously the breath of divine life, not just physical life – God did not breathe life into all the animals he created. Only Adam was created at God’s image, and all Adamites, not just Christians, benefit from the divine breath in them.

If we take the wages of death to be physical death, then the promised life of Jesus Christ refers tolife after death, in the other world, in a dualistic perspective. In this case we only have to wait to see this other-worldly life.

One may also read Paul’s comparison of Jesus with Adam as an individualistic theological thesis: “If by one person’s transgression the many died, how much more did the grace of God and the gracious gift of the one person Jesus Christ overflow for the many.” This can be taken as a dogmatic statement to be accepted intellectually, the way children accept catechism teachings. By a single man, Adam, transgression brought death; by a single man, Jesus Christ, God’s grace came to overflow many. But such an interpretation does not do justice to the gist of Romans and Galatians.

Ultimately Paul's point is a comparison between the behavior of the followers of Adam leading to spiritual death, that is, the loss of divine breath in them, and the behavior of the followers of Christ leading to the gracious gift that overflows many. This is the very purpose of Romans: it is not just a dogmatic thesis to be accepted intellectually but an appeal to discipleship. “O stupid Galatians! Did you receive the Spirit from ....accepting a dogmatic thesis, or from your life of faith?” If God breathed his life into all humans, all the more will he breath the Spirit into the followers of Jesus Christ.

Now it is the job of the homilist to help his audience define the ways of Adam that lead to slow death: e.g. social media addiction, pornography, drugs and alcoholism, etc. and to define the ways of Jesus Christ that lead to life: e.g. love of neighbor and compassion for the weak, biblical studies, meditation, etc. Jesus Christ brought life so that his followers may have it in abundance, in this life, not just in the life to come.
Inspired by


Trinity Sunday (EX 34:4-9)

Mercy vs. Miséricorde: the limitations of language

I was happy to read on Sunday June 10 the words of God to Moses (Exodus 4-6:)
                 L’Eternel, l’Eternel, Dieu miséricordieux et compatissant
      I was less happy when I read the translation adopted by the CCB:
                  The LORD, the LORD, a merciful and gracious God.

The main difference is  “mercy” versus “miséricorde.”
The Sunday after Easter is called the Sunday of “divina misericordia” - in English the Sunday of divine mercy, and in French le dimanche de la miséricorde divine. The year 2016 was the Jubilee of divine Mercy; in French it was “l’année de la Miséricorde.” In English there is no equivalent of the Latin misericordia. In French there is no exact equivalent of the English mercy.

Mercy comes from “from Old French merci ‘pity’ or ‘thanks,’ from Latin merces, ‘reward,’ in Christian Latin ‘pity, favor, heavenly reward.’” Generally speaking mercy means clemency “toward someone whom it is within one's power to punish or harm.” Mercy evokes the context of a judgment in court where the accused asks for pity like  a beggar.

Miséricorde means “compassion for the misery of others,” especially the most needy ones. Asking for divine mercy suggests asking for clemency to a God who has the power the punish, by begging for forgiveness for one’s sins. Asking for divine miséricorde  suggests appealing for compassion to a God who has always shown compassion for the misery of his people since he rescued them from slavery in Egypt. In the first case God is seen as just but eternally angry since the sin of Adam. In the second case God is compassionate by nature and  sin only increases his desire to save the sinner.

The imagery of an angry God has a long history. To the question Cur Deus homo? (why did God become man?) Anselm’s  answer was “satisfaction” to the honor of God for sins of humankind, and satisfaction was obtained through the suffering on the Cross. Over the centuries it became obvious that satisfaction required suffering and reparation.

In about 1665, “One night, after returning home from a ball for Carnival dressed in her finery, [Margaret Alacoque] experienced a vision of Christ, scourged and bloody. He reproached her for her forgetfulness of him.” She initiated the practice of the Friday Holy Hour in memory of the agony at Gethsemane.  Her life was full of suffering and mortification.  The devotion to the Sacred Heart is often associated with reparation. In about 1924, “Once I was at a dance,” recounts Faustina in her dairy, “I suddenly saw Jesus racked with pain, all covered with wounds [ who said] ‘How long shall I put up with you and how long will you keep putting Me off?” Her life was full of suffering and mortification. “My child, you please Me most by suffering. The more you come to love suffering, My daughter, the purer your love for Me will be.” There is a long tradition that requires suffering and mortification to appease God. There are also apparitions of the Virgin Mary asking for prayer and penance to avoid the imminent justice of God.

Revelation happens through language. Whether one thinks of God in terms of “mercy” or “miséricorde” depends on one’s culture. Even saints speak the language of their culture. The visions of Margaret Mary Alacoque took place within the context of French Jansenism. Faustina experienced Jesus according to the culture of expiation of the 1930s and 1940s when there were quite a few mystics experiencing union with Christ in his passion (e.g. Padre Pio). One can only think through the language of one’s culture but one's language is not a prison. The original language of revelation, Hebrew and Greek, must be translated into and understood in reference to the many languages of the world. This is the purpose of exegesis and indirectly, of the Sunday homily.