The story goes that, aged 31, Augustine of Hippo was in a personal crisis. A distinguished young professor of rhetoric in Milan, he was disillusioned with his adherence to Manichæism. In thrall to pleasure, he longed for peace. He found himself weeping in his garden, and cried out to a God he did not know. He heard the voice of a child singing tolle lege, tolle lege which is Latin for ‘take up and read’. In response to the song, Augustine is said to have found a Bible and opened the pages at random to Romans 13.13-14:
Let us live honourably as in the day, not in revelling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarrelling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.
The rest, as they say, is history.
At some ordinations when the Bible is given, these words are used:
Receive this book,
as a sign of the authority given you this day to build up Christ’s Church in truth.
Here are words of eternal life.
Take them for your guide
and declare them to the world.
Here are words of eternal life – not only for those who are ordained, but for everyone. What can that mean for you, and for me, in today’s church and world? Well this Sunday is called ‘Bible Sunday’ and our distinguished preacher at 10am, Regius Professor David Fergusson, will help us to reflect on the authority and application of scripture.
I’m fortunate to be married to a biblical scholar. But you don’t have to be a Regius Professor, or a specialist in Hebrew, to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest. The slow, deliberate, prayerful reading of scripture is an essential Christian duty - and, I hope, joy.
So: tolle lege.