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DOGMATIC CONSTITUTION ON DIVINE REVELATION (Dei Verbum) Introduction by
Most Rev. Charles Chaput Archbishop of Philadelphia
VATICAN COUNCIL II
CATHOLIC TRUTH SOCIETY PUBLISHERS TO THE HOLY SEE
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CONTENTS INTRODUCTION BY ARCHBISHOP CHARLES CHAPUT ......................3 INTRODUCTION ................................................................................9 CHAPTER I Revelation itself ..........................................................................10 CHAPTER II The transmission of divine Revelation ....................................13 CHAPTER III The divine inspiration and interpretation of Holy Scripture ....................................................................17 CHAPTER IV The Old Testament ....................................................................20 CHAPTER V The New Testament ....................................................................22 CHAPTER VI Holy Scripture in the life of the Church ..................................24
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INTRODUCTION by Archbishop Charles Chaput Vatican II urges faithful to read the Bible “It has pleased God in his goodness and wisdom to reveal himself and to disclose the mystery of his will.” (cf. Eph 1:9) So begins the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation (Dei Verbum), issued on November 18, 1965. Dei Verbum - which means “Word of God” in Latin - is one of the four foundational documents of the Second Vatican Council. And yet in some ways over the past 35 years, it’s been a better-guarded secret than the “third secret of Fatima.” Too many Catholics barely know it exists. And I hope we can begin to remedy that together.
Esteem for ‘Word of God’ Many of you will remember that Vatican II produced 16 texts, divided into four major constitutions, plus various decrees and declarations. Dei Verbum, written as a constitution, showed the bishops’ esteem for the Word of God and the reverence in which they hoped all Christian believers would hold that Word. Dei Verbum stands at a crossroad. On the one hand, it served as an official seal of approval on decades of biblical research by Catholic scholars, some of whom operated under a cloud of suspicion for much of their academic careers. At the same time, it launched everyday Catholics on a scriptural revival unparalleled in the history of the Church. Dei Verbum opens by explaining the basic flow of the process of Divine Revelation, which comes to fruition in the life of Jesus Christ, who “made [Revelation] perfect by completing it, and confirming it by divine testimony” (n. 4). Since Jesus Christ is the definitive manifestation of God, the Council Fathers naturally say that “no other public revelation is to be awaited before the glorious manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ” (n. 4). 3
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Scripture and Tradition Moreover, the bishops teach that “Sacred Tradition and holy Scripture form a single sacred deposit of the word of God entrusted to the Church” (n. 10). In doing so, the council bypasses the old Protestant Reformation debate about “Scripture versus Tradition” to a more useful discussion of the Lord’s desire to reveal Himself fully to His People - a process carried forward by both Scripture and Tradition. This makes sense. In reality, Tradition came before Scripture, and the Church came before them both, because the writing of the New Testament didn’t begin until some 15-20 years after the Lord’s Death and Resurrection. The Gospel message was passed along through oral tradition first, and only later committed to written form. The means of transmission - whether oral or written - were secondary to the goal (revelation) and to the receiver of the revelation (God’s People, the Church).
‘Authentic Interpretation’ Obviously, the Scriptures didn’t drop from heaven in final form. They took shape in and through the community of the Church, working under divine inspiration. And somewhat like the American Constitution, the Scriptures are not self-explanatory documents. They require “an authentic interpretation” - and that task “has been entrusted exclusively to the living voice of the Church’s magisterium” (n. 10). The bishops stress that “sacred Tradition, holy Scripture and the Church’s magisterium are by God’s most wise decree so closely connected and associated together that one does not subsist without the other two, and that all of them, and each in its own manner, under the impulse of the one Spirit of God, contribute efficaciously to the salvation of souls” (n. 10).
Divine Inspiration Dei Verbum therefore offers a middle way between Protestant fundamentalism and secular rationalism in interpreting the Bible. It clearly teaches the divine inspiration of the sacred authors and, 4
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therefore, the inerrant quality of their writings. It says “that the books of Scripture teach certainly, faithfully and without error the truth that God for our salvation willed to be recorded in holy Writ” (n. 11). In that qualifying phrase, “for our salvation,” we hear the Catholic response to modern rationalism, which denies the inerrancy of Scripture and even the need for salvation. But Dei Verbum also avoids a simple-minded literalism. In response to fundamentalists and biblical literalists, Dei Verbum stresses the need to “investigate what the sacred writers really intended to signify and God was pleased to manifest by their words” (n. 12). For Catholics, this comes through an analysis of “literary forms of expression. Truth is, in effect, set forth and enunciated in a diversity of fashions, in texts that are, in varying ways historical or prophetic or poetic, or that employ other modes of expression” (n. 12). Dei Verbum, then, follows the common sense wisdom of the great 16th century cardinal and historian Cesare Baronius, who reacted to the Galileo crisis of his day with the simple comment that, “The Scriptures tell us how to go to heaven not how the heavens go.”
God’s Word leads us to fulfillment Catholics hold that Scripture does not interpret itself. Obviously, it has great power and value for any reader. But to be fully understood, it needs both a scientific approach - the work of biblical scholars, along with experts in linguistics, history, archaeology and other fields - and also a final and authoritative voice. As Dei Verbum says, “all that has been said about the manner of interpreting Scripture is subject ultimately to the Church’s judgment; she has the divine commission and the office of preserving and explaining the word of God” (n. 12). In my experience, relatively few Catholics make the mistake of biblical literalism. But quite a few in recent years have bought into a kind of rationalism, which tends to deny the historical truth of the Gospels or the possibility of miracles, including even the virginal conception and bodily resurrection of Jesus. And yet the healthy response to today’s skepticism is not a reactionary swing to 5
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fundamentalism, which simply doesn’t fit with 19 centuries of Catholic scholarship. Rather, the right path is the “middle road” of Dei Verbum, which gives proper weight to the scientific examination of Scripture, but insists that it be done from the perspective of faith and within the context of the Tradition of the Church. Dei Verbum’s most powerful passage may arguably be in its final chapter, which is devoted to the place of “Holy Scripture in the Life of the Church.” It stresses that “the Church has always venerated the Body of Christ... for she never fails, more especially in the sacred liturgy, to receive the bread of life, whether this comes from the table of the word of God or from that of Christ’s Body” (n. 21). In other words, for Catholics, there is no conflict between Word and Sacrament. Just the opposite. The Word leads to the Sacrament, and the Sacrament presupposes and is actually made present by the Word. Dei Verbum strongly encourages that the Scriptures “be wide open to the faithful” (n. 22). One way this has been done over the centuries, say the Council Fathers, has been through the rendering of the Bible into the various languages of the human family “from the very beginning” of Church history (n. 22). Some historians might have us believe that Martin Luther gave us the first modern-language vernacular Bible. But that’s simply not true. Other German versions came first. Luther’s claim to fame was that his translation was a very well polished, literary German. At any rate, with both practical and ecumenical concerns in mind, the bishops in Dei Verbum call for translations to be undertaken “by a common effort shared by our separated brethren,” with ecclesiastical approval. One such successful effort has been the Common Bible, produced by a team of Protestant, Catholic and Eastern Orthodox scholars. Another way the Church has listened to the Council’s invitation to have the Scriptures “open wide to the faithful” is through the revised lectionary used for the liturgy. In this plan, the three Sunday readings rotate in a three-year cycle, covering all four Gospels, major passages from the epistles and significant portions of the Old Testament, especially the prophetical and historical books. The 6
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weekday lectionary is based on a two-year cycle, offering a broad exposure to portions of the Bible previously unread in the Liturgy. The arrangement is so good that a number of Protestant denominations have voluntarily adopted this lectionary. Not only are millions of Christians now being fed a very substantial diet at the table of God’s Word, but it’s happening to them at precisely the same moment, which suggests some hope for future unity. Over the past 35 years, the biblical revival sparked by Vatican II has been a source of blessing and vitality for the whole Church - and it will continue to renew the hearts of believers for many years to come. After all, if it “pleased God... to reveal Himself” to us, shouldn’t it equally please Him when we search the depths of that Revelation found in His Word and celebrated in His Church? Let me close this reflection with the words the Council Fathers used to conclude Dei Verbum 35 years ago: So may it come that, by the reading and study of the sacred books “the word of God ‘run and may be glorified’ (2 Thess 3:1) and may the treasure of revelation entrusted to the Church more and more fill men’s hearts. Just as persevering devotion to the eucharistic mystery augments the Church’s life, so it is permissible to hope that a new impulse will be given to the spiritual life as a result of increased veneration for that word of God ‘which endureth for ever’” (Is 40:8; 1 Pet 1:23-25). To which, I hope all of us throughout the Church, will always be able to give a heartfelt “Amen.” 9 Charles Chaput
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PAUL, BISHOP SERVANT OF THE SERVANTS OF GOD TOGETHER WITH THE FATHERS OF THE SACRED COUNCIL PUTS ON PERMANENT RECORD THE DOGMATIC CONSTITUTION ON DIVINE REVELATION INTRODUCTION 1. The sacred Council, devoutly attentive to the word of God and confident in proclaiming it, pays homage to the words of St John when he says: ‘We declare unto you the life eternal which was with the Father and hath appeared to us: that which we have seen and heard we declare unto you, that you also may have fellowship with us, and our fellowship may be with the Father, and with his son Jesus Christ’ (1 Jn 1:2-3). For which cause, following in the footsteps of the Council of Trent, and of the First Vatican Council, this Council proposes to set forth the authentic doctrine of divine revelation and its transmission, so that the whole world may by hearing the message of salvation, come to believe it, by believing may hope, and by hoping may love.’1
Cf. St Augustine, De catechizandis rudibus, c. IV, 8: PL 40, 316.
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CHAPTER I REVELATION ITSELF 2. It has pleased God in his goodness and wisdom to reveal himself and to disclose the mystery of his will (cf. Eph 1:9), whereby men through Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, have access to the Father in the Holy Spirit, and become partakers of the divine nature (cf. Eph 2:18; 2 Pet 1:4). By this revelation the invisible God (cf. Col 1:15; 1 Tim 1:17), out of the abundance of his love, speaks to men as to friends (cf. Ex 33:11; in 15:14-15) and is conversant with them (cf. Bar 3:38), that he may invite them to share his company and admit them to it. The divine plan of revelation is realised in deeds and words that are closely interconnected, so that the deeds wrought by God in the history of salvation manifest and reinforce the teaching and realities signified by the words, while the words proclaim the deeds and cast light upon the mystery contained in them. The profound truth conveyed by this revelation, whether it concerns God or manâ€™s salvation, shines forth for us in Christ who is at once the mediator and the fullness of revelation in its entirety.2 3. God who creates and keeps in existence all things by means of his Word (cf. Jn 1:3) offers to men in created things an abiding witness to himself (cf. Rom 1:19-20). Further, that he might open the way to heavenly salvation, he from the beginning made himself known to our first parents. Then, after their fall he raised them again by his promise of deliverance to the hope of salvation (cf. Gen 3:15) and without any intermission took loving care of the human race, so as to give eternal life to all who sought for salvation by patient endurance in the practice of good works (cf. Rom 2:6-7). In his own good time he called Abraham to make him the father of a great nation (cf. Gen 12:2), which, after the patriarchal era, he instructed through Moses and the Prophets, so that they might recognize him 2
Cf. Mt 11:27; Jn 1:14, 17; 14:6; 17:1-3; 2 Cor 3:16, 4:6; Eph 1:3-14.