Adoremus, Society for the Renewal of the Sacred Liturgy
Pope Benedict XVI
POST-SYNODAL APOSTOLIC EXHORTATION
OF THE HOLY FATHER BENEDICT XVI
TO THE BISHOPS, CLERGY, CONSECRATED PERSONS AND THE LAY FAITHFUL
ON THE WORD OF GOD IN THE LIFE AND MISSION OF THE CHURCH
Spanish Version on Vatican Website
God in dialogue 
The analogy of the word of God 
The cosmic dimension of the word 
The creation of man 
The realism of the word 
Christology of the word [11-13]
The eschatological dimension of the word of God 
The word of God and the Holy Spirit [15-16]
Tradition and Scripture [17-18]
Sacred Scripture, inspiration and truth 
God the Father, source and origin of the word [20-21]
Called to the covenant with God 
God hears us and responds to our questions 
In dialogue with God through his words 
The word of God and faith 
Sin as a refusal to hear the word of God 
Mary, “Mother of God’s Word” and “Mother of Faith” [27-28]
The Church as the primary setting for biblical hermeneutics [29-30]
“The soul of sacred theology” 
The development of biblical studies and the Church’s magisterium [32-33]
The Council’s biblical hermeneutic: a directive to be appropriated 
The danger of dualism and a secularized hermeneutic 
Faith and reason in the approach to Scripture 
Literal sense and spiritual sense 
The need to transcend the “letter” 
The Bible’s intrinsic unity 
The relationship between the Old and the New Testaments [40-41]
The “dark” passages of the Bible 
Christians, Jews and the sacred Scriptures 
The fundamentalist interpretation of sacred Scripture 
Dialogue between pastors, theologians and exegetes 
The Bible and ecumenism 
Consequences for the study of theology 
The saints and the interpretation of Scripture [48-49]
The word of God in the sacred liturgy 
Sacred Scripture and the sacraments 
The word of God and the Eucharist [54-55]
The sacramentality of the word 
Sacred Scripture and the Lectionary 
Proclamation of the word and the ministry of Reader 
The importance of the homily 
The fittingness of a Directory on Homiletics 
The word of God, Reconciliation and the Anointing of the Sick 
The word of God and the Liturgy of the Hours 
The word of God and the Book of Blessings 
Suggestions and practical proposals for promoting fuller participation in the liturgy 
a) Celebrations of the word of God 
b) The word and silence 
c) The solemn proclamation of the word of God 
d) The word of God in Christian Churches 
e) The exclusive use of biblical texts in the liturgy 
f) Biblically-inspired liturgical song 
g) Particular concern for the visually and hearing impaired 
Encountering the word of God in sacred Scripture 
Letting the Bible inspire pastoral activity 
The biblical dimension of catechesis 
The biblical formation of Christians 
Sacred Scripture in large ecclesial gatherings 
The word of God and vocations 
a) Ordained ministers and the word of God [78-81]
b) The word of God and candidates for Holy Orders 
c) The word of God and the consecrated life 
d) The word of God and the lay faithful 
e) The word of God, marriage and the family 
The prayerful reading of sacred Scripture and “lectio divina” [86-87]
The word of God and Marian prayer 
The word of God and the Holy Land 
The Word from the Father and to the Father 
Proclaiming to the world the “Logos” of hope 
The word of God is the source of the Church’s mission 
The word and the Kingdom of God 
All the baptized are responsible for this proclamation 
The necessity of the “missio ad gentes” 
Proclamation and the new evangelization 
The word of God and Christian witness [97-98]
Serving Jesus in “the least of his brethren” (Mt 25:40) 
The word of God and commitment to justice in society [100-101]
The proclamation of God’s word, reconciliation and peace between peoples 
The word of God and practical charity 
The proclamation of the word of God and young people 
The proclamation of the word of God and migrants 
The proclamation of the word of God and the suffering 
The proclamation of the word of God and the poor 
The proclamation of the word of God and the protection of creation 
The value of culture for the life of humanity 
The Bible, a great code for cultures 
Knowledge of the Bible in schools and universities 
Sacred Scripture in the variety of artistic expressions 
The word of God and the means of social communication 
The Bible and inculturation 
Translating the Bible and making it more widely available 
God’s word transcends cultural limits 
1. The word of the Lord abides for ever. This word is the Gospel which was preached to you” (1 Pet 1:25; cf. Is 40:8). With this assertion from the First Letter of Saint Peter, which takes up the words of the Prophet Isaiah, we find ourselves before the mystery of God, who has made Himself known through the gift of His word. This word, which abides for ever, entered into time. God spoke his eternal Word humanly; His Word “became flesh” (Jn 1:14). This is the good news. This is the proclamation which has come down the centuries to us today. The Twelfth Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, meeting in the Vatican from October 5-26, 2008, had as its theme: The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church. It was a profound experience of encounter with Christ, the Word of the Father, who is present where two or three are gathered in his name (cf. Mt 18:20). With this Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation I readily respond to the request of the Synod Fathers to make known to the whole People of God the rich fruits which emerged from the synodal sessions and the recommendations which resulted from our common endeavour. Consequently, I intend to revisit the work of the Synod in the light of its documents: the Lineamenta, the Instrumentum Laboris, the Relationes ante and post disceptationem, the texts of the interventions, both those delivered on the Synod floor and those presented in written form, the reports of the smaller discussion groups, the Final Message to the People of God and, above all, a number of specific proposals (Propositiones) which the Fathers considered especially significant. In this way I wish to point out certain fundamental approaches to a rediscovery of God’s word in the life of the Church as a wellspring of constant renewal. At the same time I express my hope that the word will be ever more fully at the heart of every ecclesial activity.
2. Before all else, I would like to call to mind the beauty and pleasure of the renewed encounter with the Lord Jesus which we experienced during the synodal assembly. In union with with the Synod Fathers, then, I address all the faithful in the words of Saint John in his first letter: “We proclaim to you the eternal life which was with the Father and which was made manifest to us that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you may have fellowship with us; and our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ” (1 Jn 1:2-3). The Apostle speaks to us of hearing, seeing, touching and looking upon (cf. 1 Jn 1:1) the word of life, since life itself was made manifest in Christ. Called to communion with God and among ourselves, we must proclaim this gift. From this kerygmatic standpoint, the synodal assembly was a testimony, before the Church and before the world, to the immense beauty of encountering the word of God in the communion of the Church. For this reason I encourage all the faithful to renew their personal and communal encounter with Christ, the word of life made visible, and to become His heralds, so that the gift of divine life communion can spread ever more fully throughout the world. Indeed, sharing in the life of God, a Trinity of love, is complete joy (cf. 1 Jn 1:4). And it is the Church’s gift and unescapable duty to communicate that joy, born of an encounter with the person of Christ, the Word of God in our midst. In a world which often feels that God is superfluous or extraneous, we confess with Peter that he alone has “the words of eternal life” (Jn 6:68). There is no greater priority than this: to enable the people of our time once more to encounter God, the God who speaks to us and shares his love so that we might have life in abundance (cf. Jn 10:10).
From “Dei Verbum” to the Synod on the Word of God
3. With the Twelfth Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the Word of God, we were conscious of dealing in a certain sense with the very heart of the Christian life, in continuity with the previous synodal assembly on The Eucharist as the Source and Summit of the Church’s Life and Mission. Indeed, the Church is built upon the word of God; she is born from and lives by that word. Throughout its history, the People of God has always found strength in the word of God, and today too the ecclesial community grows by hearing, celebrating and studying that word. It must be acknowledged that in recent decades ecclesial life has grown more sensitive to this theme, particularly with reference to Christian revelation, the living Tradition and sacred Scripture. Beginning with the pontificate of Pope Leo XIII, we can say that there has been a crescendo of interventions aimed at an increased awareness of the importance of the word of God and the study of the Bible in the life of the Church, culminating in the Second Vatican Council and specifically in the promulgation of the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation Dei Verbum. The latter represented a milestone in the Church’s history: “The Synod Fathers … acknowledge with gratitude the great benefits which this document brought to the life of the Church, on the exegetical, theological, spiritual, pastoral and ecumenical plane”. The intervening years have also witnessed a growing awareness of the “trinitarian and salvation-historical horizon of revelation” against which Jesus Christ is to be acknowledged as “mediator and fullness of all revelation”. To each generation the Church unceasingly proclaims that Christ “completed and perfected revelation. Everything to do with his presence and his self-manifestation was involved in achieving this: his words and works, signs and miracles, but above all his death and resurrection from the dead, and finally his sending of the Spirit of truth”.
Everyone is aware of the great impulse which the Dogmatic Constitution Dei Verbum gave to the revival of interest in the word of God in the life of the Church, to theological reflection on divine revelation and to the study of sacred Scripture. In the last forty years, the Church’s magisterium has also issued numerous statements on these questions. By celebrating this Synod, the Church, conscious of her continuing journey under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, felt called to further reflection on the theme of God’s word, in order to review the implementation of the Council’s directives, and to confront the new challenges which the present time sets before Christian believers.
4. In the twelfth synodal assembly, Bishops from throughout the world gathered around the word of God and symbolically placed the text of the Bible at the centre of the assembly, in order to stress anew something we risk taking for granted in everyday life: the fact that God speaks and responds to our questions. Together we listened to and celebrated the word of the Lord. We recounted to one another all that the Lord is doing in the midst of the People of God, and we shared our hopes and concerns. All this made us realize that we can deepen our relationship with the word of God only within the “we” of the Church, in mutual listening and acceptance. Hence our gratitude for the testimonies about the life of the Church in different parts of the world which emerged from the various interventions on the floor. It was also moving to hear the fraternal delegates, who accepted our invitation to take part in the synodal meeting. I think in particular of the meditation offered to us by His Holiness Bartholomaios I, Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, for which the Fathers expressed deep appreciation. Furthermore, for the first time ever, the Synod of Bishops also invited a rabbi to offer us a precious witness on the Hebrew Scriptures, which are also part of our own sacred Scriptures.
In this way we were able to acknowledge with joy and gratitude that “in the Church there is also a Pentecost today in other words, the Church speaks in many tongues, and not only outwardly, in the sense that all the great languages of the world are represented in her, but, more profoundly, inasmuch as present within her are various ways of experiencing God and the world, a wealth of cultures, and only in this way do we come to see the vastness of the human experience and, as a result, the vastness of the word of God”. We were also able to see an ongoing Pentecost; various peoples are still waiting for the word of God to be proclaimed in their own language and in their own culture.
How can I fail to mention that throughout the Synod we were accompanied by the testimony of the Apostle Paul! It was providential that the Twelfth Ordinary General Assembly took place during the year dedicated to the great Apostle of the Nations on the two thousandth anniversary of his birth. Paul’s life was completely marked by his zeal for the spread of God’s word. How can we not be moved by his stirring words about his mission as a preacher of the word of God: “I do everything for the Gospel” (1 Cor 9:23); or, as he writes in the Letter to the Romans: “I am not ashamed of the Gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to every one who has faith” (1:16). Whenever we reflect on the word of God in the life and mission of the Church, we cannot but think of Saint Paul and his life spent in spreading the message of salvation in Christ to all peoples.
5. With this Apostolic Exhortation I would like the work of the Synod to have a real effect on the life of the Church: on our personal relationship with the sacred Scriptures, on their interpretation in the liturgy and catechesis, and in scientific research, so that the Bible may not be simply a word from the past, but a living and timely word. To accomplish this, I would like to present and develop the labours of the Synod by making constant reference to the Prologue of John’s Gospel (Jn 1:1-18), which makes known to us the basis of our life: the Word, who from the beginning is with God, who became flesh and who made his dwelling among us (cf. Jn 1:14). This is a magnificent text, one which offers a synthesis of the entire Christian faith. From his personal experience of having met and followed Christ, John, whom tradition identifies as “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (Jn 13:23; 20:2; 21:7, 20), “came to a deep certainty: Jesus is the Wisdom of God incarnate, he is his eternal Word who became a mortal man”. May John, who “saw and believed” (cf. Jn 20:8) also help us to lean on the breast of Christ (cf. Jn 13:25), the source of the blood and water (cf. Jn 19:34) which are symbols of the Church’s sacraments. Following the example of the Apostle John and the other inspired authors, may we allow ourselves to be led by the Holy Spirit to an ever greater love of the word of God.
6. The novelty of biblical revelation consists in the fact that God becomes known through the dialogue which he desires to have with us. The Dogmatic Constitution Dei Verbum had expressed this by acknowledging that the unseen God “from the fullness of his love, addresses men and women as his friends, and lives among them, in order to invite and receive them into his own company”. Yet we would not yet sufficiently grasp the message of the Prologue of Saint John if we stopped at the fact that God enters into loving communion with us. In reality, the Word of God, through whom “all things were made” (Jn 1:3) and who “became flesh” (Jn 1:14), is the same Word who is “in the beginning” (Jn 1:1). If we realize that this is an allusion to the beginning of the book of Genesis (cf. Gen 1:1), we find ourselves faced with a beginning which is absolute and which speaks to us of the inner life of God. The Johannine Prologue makes us realize that the Logos is truly eternal, and from eternity is Himself God. God was never without his Logos. The Word exists before creation. Consequently at the heart of the divine life there is communion, there is absolute gift. “God is love” (1 Jn 4:16), as the same Apostle tells us elsewhere, thus pointing to “the Christian image of God and the resulting image of mankind and its destiny”. God makes himself known to us as a mystery of infinite love in which the Father eternally utters his Word in the Holy Spirit. Consequently the Word, who from the beginning is with God and is God, reveals God himself in the dialogue of love between the divine persons, and invites us to share in that love. Created in the image and likeness of the God who is love, we can thus understand ourselves only in accepting the Word and in docility to the work of the Holy Spirit. In the light of the revelation made by God’s Word, the enigma of the human condition is definitively clarified.
7. In the light of these considerations, born of meditation on the Christian mystery expressed in the Prologue of John, we now need to consider what the Synod Fathers affirmed about the different ways in which we speak of “the word of God”. They rightly referred to a symphony of the word, to a single word expressed in multiple ways: “a polyphonic hymn”. The Synod Fathers pointed out that human language operates analogically in speaking of the word of God. In effect, this expression, while referring to God’s self-communication, also takes on a number of different meanings which need to be carefully considered and related among themselves, from the standpoint both of theological reflection and pastoral practice. As the Prologue of John clearly shows us, the Logos refers in the first place to the eternal Word, the only Son, begotten of the Father before all ages and consubstantial with him: the word was with God, and the word was God. But this same Word, Saint John tells us, “became flesh” (Jn 1:14); hence Jesus Christ, born of the Virgin Mary, is truly the Word of God who has become consubstantial with us. Thus the expression “word of God” here refers to the person of Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of the Father, made man.
While the Christ event is at the heart of divine revelation, we also need to realize that creation itself, the liber naturae, is an essential part of this symphony of many voices in which the one word is spoken. We also profess our faith that God has spoken his word in salvation history; he has made his voice heard; by the power of his Spirit “he has spoken through the prophets”. God’s word is thus spoken throughout the history of salvation, and most fully in the mystery of the incarnation, death and resurrection of the Son of God. Then too, the word of God is that word preached by the Apostles in obedience to the command of the Risen Jesus: “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to the whole creation” (Mk 16:15). The word of God is thus handed on in the Church’s living Tradition. Finally, the word of God, attested and divinely inspired, is sacred Scripture, the Old and New Testaments. All this helps us to see that, while in the Church we greatly venerate the sacred Scriptures, the Christian faith is not a “religion of the book”: Christianity is the “religion of the word of God”, not of “a written and mute word, but of the incarnate and living Word”. Consequently the Scripture is to be proclaimed, heard, read, received and experienced as the word of God, in the stream of the apostolic Tradition from which it is inseparable.
As the Synod Fathers stated, the expression “word of God” is used analogically, and we should be aware of this. The faithful need to be better helped to grasp the different meanings of the expression, but also to understand its unitary sense. From the theological standpoint too, there is a need for further study of how the different meanings of this expression are interrelated, so that the unity of God’s plan and, within it, the centrality of the person of Christ, may shine forth more clearly.
8. When we consider the basic meaning of the word of God as a reference to the eternal Word of God made flesh, the one Saviour and mediator between God and humanity, and we listen to this word, we are led by the biblical revelation to see that it is the foundation of all reality. The Prologue of Saint John says of the divine Logos, that “all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made” (Jn 1:3); and in the Letter to the Colossians it is said of Christ, “the first-born of all creation” (1:15), that “all things were created through him and for him” (1:16). The author of the Letter to the Hebrews likewise states that “by faith we understand that the world was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was made out of things which do not appear” (11:3).
For us, this proclamation is a word of freedom. Scripture tells us that everything that exists does not exist by chance but is willed by God and part of his plan, at whose center is the invitation to partake, in Christ, in the divine life. Creation is born of the Logos and indelibly bears the mark of the creative Reason which orders and directs it; with joy-filled certainty the psalms sing: “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and all their host by the breath of his mouth” (Ps 33:6); and again, “he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood forth” (Ps 33:9). All reality expresses this mystery: “The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork” (Ps 19:1). Thus sacred Scripture itself invites us to acknowledge the Creator by contemplating his creation (cf. Wis 13:5; Rom 1:19-20). The tradition of Christian thought has developed this key element of the symphony of the word, as when, for example, Saint Bonaventure, who in the great tradition of the Greek Fathers sees all the possibilities of creation present in the Logos, states that “every creature is a word of God, since it proclaims God”. The Dogmatic Constitution Dei Verbum synthesized this datum when it stated that “God, who creates and conserves all things by his word (cf. Jn 1:3), provides constant evidence of himself in created realities”.
9. Reality, then is born of the word, as creatura Verbi, and everything is called to serve the word. Creation is the setting in which the entire history of the love between God and his creation develops; hence human salvation is the reason underlying everything. Contemplating the cosmos from the perspective of salvation history, we come to realize the unique and singular position occupied by man in creation: “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him: male and female he created them” (Gen 1:27). This enables us to acknowledge fully the precious gifts received from the Creator: the value of our body, the gift of reason, freedom and conscience. Here too we discover what the philosophical tradition calls “the natural law”. In effect, “every human being who comes to consciousness and to responsibility has the experience of an inner call to do good” and thus to avoid evil. As Saint Thomas Aquinas says, this principle is the basis of all the other precepts of the natural law. Listening to the word of God leads us first and foremost to value the need to live in accordance with this law “written on human hearts” (cf. Rom 2:15; 7:23). Jesus Christ then gives mankind the new law, the law of the Gospel, which takes up and eminently fulfils the natural law, setting us free from the law of sin, as a result of which, as Saint Paul says, “I can will what is right, but I cannot do it” (Rom 7:18). It likewise enables men and women, through grace, to share in the divine life and to overcome their selfishness.
10. Those who know God’s word also know fully the significance of each creature. For if all things “hold together” in the one who is “before all things” (cf. Col 1:17), then those who build their lives on his word build in a truly sound and lasting way. The word of God makes us change our concept of realism: the realist is the one who recognizes in the word of God the foundation of all things. This realism is particularly needed in our own time, when many things in which we trust for building our lives, things in which we are tempted to put our hopes, prove ephemeral. Possessions, pleasure and power show themselves sooner or later to be incapable of fulfilling the deepest yearnings of the human heart. In building our lives we need solid foundations which will endure when human certainties fail. Truly, since “for ever, O Lord, your word is firmly fixed in the heavens” and the faithfulness of the Lord “endures to all generations” (Ps 119:89-90), whoever builds on this word builds the house of his life on rock (cf. Mt 7:24). May our heart be able to say to God each day: “You are my refuge and my shield; I hope in your word” (Ps 119:114), and, like Saint Peter, may we entrust ourselves in our daily actions to the Lord Jesus: “At your word I will let down the nets” (Lk 5:5).
11. From this glimpse at all reality as the handiwork of the Blessed Trinity through the divine Word, we can understand the statement made by the author of the Letter to the Hebrews: “in many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets; but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world” (1:1-2). It is very beautiful to see how the entire Old Testament already appears to us as a history in which God communicates his word: indeed, “by his covenant with Abraham (cf. Gen 15:18) and, through Moses, with the race of Israel (cf. Ex 24:8), he gained a people for himself, and to them he revealed himself in words and deeds as the one, living and true God. It was his plan that Israel might learn by experience God’s ways with humanity and, by listening to the voice of God speaking to them through the prophets, might gradually understand his ways more fully and more clearly, and make them more widely known among the nations (cf. Ps 21:28-29; 95:1-3; Is 2:1-4; Jer 3:17)”.
This “condescension” of God is accomplished surpassingly in the incarnation of the Word. The eternal Word, expressed in creation and communicated in salvation history, in Christ became a man, “born of woman” (Gal 4:4). Here the word finds expression not primarily in discourse, concepts or rules. Here we are set before the very person of Jesus. His unique and singular history is the definitive word which God speaks to humanity. We can see, then, why “being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a definitive direction”. The constant renewal of this encounter and this awareness fills the hearts of believers with amazement at God’s initiative, which human beings, with our own reason and imagination, could never have dreamt of. We are speaking of an unprecedented and humanly inconceivable novelty: “the word became flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn 1:14a). These words are no figure of speech; they point to a lived experience! Saint John, an eyewitness, tells us so: “We have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (Jn 1:14b). The apostolic faith testifies that the eternal Word became one of us. The divine Word is truly expressed in human words.
12. The patristic and medieval tradition, in contemplating this “Christology of the word”, employed an evocative expression: the word was “abbreviated”. “The Fathers of the Church found in their Greek translation of the Old Testament a passage from the prophet Isaiah that Saint Paul also quotes in order to show how God’s new ways had already been foretold in the Old Testament. There we read: ‘The Lord made his word short, he abbreviated it’ (Is 10:23; Rom 9:28) … The Son himself is the Word, the Logos: the eternal word became small small enough to fit into a manger. He became a child, so that the word could be grasped by us”. Now the word is not simply audible; not only does it have a voice, now the word has a face, one which we can see: that of Jesus of Nazareth.
Reading the Gospel accounts, we see how Jesus’ own humanity appears in all its uniqueness precisely with regard to the word of God. In his perfect humanity he does the will of the Father at all times; Jesus hears his voice and obeys it with his entire being; he knows the Father and he keeps his word (cf. Jn 8:55); he speaks to us of what the Father has told him (cf. Jn 12:50); I have given them the words which you gave me” (Jn 17:8). Jesus thus shows that he is the divine Logos which is given to us, but at the same time the new Adam, the true man, who unfailingly does not his own will but that of the Father. He “increased in wisdom and in stature, and in favour with God and man” (Lk 2:52). In a perfect way, he hears, embodies and communicates to us the word of God (cf. Lk 5:1).
Jesus’ mission is ultimately fulfilled in the paschal mystery: here we find ourselves before the “word of the cross” (1 Cor 1:18). The word is muted; it becomes mortal silence, for it has “spoken” exhaustively, holding back nothing of what it had to tell us. The Fathers of the Church, in pondering this mystery, attributed to the Mother of God this touching phrase: “Wordless is the Word of the Father, who made every creature which speaks, lifeless are the eyes of the one at whose word and whose nod all living things move”. Here that “greater” love, the love which gives its life for its friends (cf. Jn 15:13), is truly shared with us.
In this great mystery Jesus is revealed as the word of the new and everlasting covenant: divine freedom and human freedom have definitively met in his crucified flesh, in an indissoluble and eternally valid compact. Jesus himself, at the Last Supper, in instituting the Eucharist, had spoken of a “new and everlasting covenant” in the outpouring of his blood (cf. Mt 26:28; Mk 14:24; Lk 22:20), and shows himself to be the true sacrificial Lamb who brings about our definitive liberation from slavery.
In the most luminous mystery of the resurrection, this silence of the word is shown in its authentic and definitive meaning. Christ, the incarnate, crucified and risen Word of God, is Lord of all things; he is the victor, the Pantocrator, and so all things are gathered up forever in him (cf. Eph 1:10). Christ is thus “the light of the world” (Jn 8:12), the light which “shines in the darkness” (Jn 1:5) and which the darkness has not overcome (cf. Jn 1:5). Here we come to understand fully the meaning of the words of Psalm 119: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (v. 105); the risen Word is this definitive light to our path. From the beginning, Christians realized that in Christ the word of God is present as a person. The word of God is the true light which men and women need. In the resurrection the Son of God truly emerged as the light of the world. Now, by living with him and in him, we can live in the light.
13. Here, at the heart, as it were, of the “Christology of the word”, it is important to stress the unity of the divine plan in the incarnate Word: the New Testament thus presents the paschal mystery as being in accordance with the sacred Scriptures and as their deepest fulfillment. Saint Paul, in the First Letter to the Corinthians, states that Jesus Christ died for our sins “in accordance with the Scriptures” (15:3) and that he rose on the third day “in accordance with the Scriptures” (15:4). The Apostle thus relates the event of the Lord’s death and resurrection to the history of the Old Covenant of God with his people. Indeed, he shows us that from that event history receives its inner logic and its true meaning. In the paschal mystery “the words of Scripture” are fulfilled; in other words, this death which took place “in accordance with the Scriptures” is an event containing a logos, an inner logic: the death of Christ testifies that the word of God became thoroughly human “flesh”, human “history”. Similarly, the resurrection of Jesus takes place “on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures”: since Jewish belief held that decay set in after the third day, the word of Scripture is fulfilled in Jesus who rises incorrupt. Thus Saint Paul, faithfully handing on the teaching of the Apostles (cf. 1 Cor 15:3), stresses that Christ’s victory over death took place through the creative power of the word of God. This divine power brings hope and joy: this, in a word, is the liberating content of the paschal revelation. At Easter, God reveals himself and the power of the trinitarian love which shatters the baneful powers of evil and death.
Calling to mind these essential elements of our faith, we can contemplate the profound unity in Christ between creation, the new creation and all salvation history. To use an example, we can compare the cosmos to a “book” Galileo himself used this example and consider it as “the work of an author who expresses himself through the ‘symphony’ of creation. In this symphony one finds, at a certain point, what would be called in musical terms a ‘solo’, a theme entrusted to a single instrument or voice which is so important that the meaning of the entire work depends on it. This ‘solo’ is Jesus. … The Son of Man recapitulates in himself earth and heaven, creation and the Creator, flesh and Spirit. He is the centre of the cosmos and of history, for in him converge without confusion the author and his work”.
14. In all of this, the Church gives voice to her awareness that with Jesus Christ she stands before the definitive word of God: he is “the first and the last” (Rev 1:17). He has given creation and history their definitive meaning; and hence we are called to live in time and in God’s creation within this eschatological rhythm of the word; “thus the Christian dispensation, since it is the new and definitive covenant, will never pass away; and no new public revelation is to be expected before the glorious manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ (cf. 1 Tim 6:14 and Tit 2:13)”. Indeed, as the Fathers noted during the Synod, the “uniqueness of Christianity is manifested in the event which is Jesus Christ, the culmination of revelation, the fulfilment of God’s promises and the mediator of the encounter between man and God. He who ‘has made God known’ (Jn 1:18) is the one, definitive word given to mankind”. Saint John of the Cross expresses this truth magnificently: “Since he has given us his Son, his only word (for he possesses no other), he spoke everything at once in this sole word and he has no more to say… because what he spoke before to the prophets in parts, he has spoken all at once by giving us this All who is his Son. Any person questioning God or desiring some vision or revelation would be guilty not only of foolish behaviour but also of offending him, by not fixing his eyes entirely on Christ and by living with the desire for some other novelty”.
Consequently the Synod pointed to the need to “help the faithful to distinguish the word of God from private revelations” whose role “is not to ‘complete’ Christ’s definitive revelation, but to help live more fully by it in a certain period of history”. The value of private revelations is essentially different from that of the one public revelation: the latter demands faith; in it God himself speaks to us through human words and the mediation of the living community of the Church. The criterion for judging the truth of a private revelation is its orientation to Christ himself. If it leads us away from him, then it certainly does not come from the Holy Spirit, who guides us more deeply into the Gospel, and not away from it. Private revelation is an aid to this faith, and it demonstrates its credibility precisely because it refers back to the one public revelation. Ecclesiastical approval of a private revelation essentially means that its message contains nothing contrary to faith and morals; it is licit to make it public and the faithful are authorized to give to it their prudent adhesion. A private revelation can introduce new emphases, give rise to new forms of piety, or deepen older ones. It can have a certain prophetic character (cf. 1 Th 5:19-21) and can be a valuable aid for better understanding and living the Gospel at a certain time; consequently it should not be treated lightly. It is a help which is proffered, but its use is not obligatory. In any event, it must be a matter of nourishing faith, hope and love, which are for everyone the permanent path of salvation.
15. After reflecting on God’s final and definitive word to the world, we need now to mention the mission of the Holy Spirit in relation to the divine word. In fact there can be no authentic understanding of Christian revelation apart from the activity of the Paraclete. This is due to the fact that God’s self-communication always involves the relationship of the Son and the Holy Spirit, whom Irenaeus of Lyons refers to as “the two hands of the Father”. Sacred Scripture itself speaks of the presence of the Holy Spirit in salvation history and particularly in the life of Jesus: he was conceived of the Virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit (cf. Mt 1:18; Lk 1:35); at the beginning of his public mission, on the banks of the Jordan, he sees the Holy Spirit descend on him in the form of a dove (cf. Mt 3:16); in this same Spirit Jesus acts, speaks and rejoices (cf. Lk 10:21); and in the Spirit he offers himself up (cf. Heb 9:14). As his mission draws to an end, according to the account of Saint John, Jesus himself clearly relates the giving of his life to the sending of the Spirit upon those who belong to him (cf. Jn 16:7). The Risen Jesus, bearing in his flesh the signs of the passion, then pours out the Spirit (cf. Jn 20:22), making his disciples sharers in his own mission (cf. Jn 20:21). The Holy Spirit was to teach the disciples all things and bring to their remembrance all that Christ had said (cf. Jn 14:26), since he, the Spirit of Truth (cf. Jn 15:26) will guide the disciples into all the truth (cf. Jn 16:13). Finally, in the Acts of the Apostles, we read that the Spirit descended on the Twelve gathered in prayer with Mary on the day of Pentecost (cf. 2:1-4), and impelled them to take up the mission of proclaiming to all peoples the Good News.
The word of God is thus expressed in human words thanks to the working of the Holy Spirit. The missions of the Son and the Holy Spirit are inseparable and constitute a single economy of salvation. The same Spirit who acts in the incarnation of the Word in the womb of the Virgin Mary is the Spirit who guides Jesus throughout his mission and is promised to the disciples. The same Spirit who spoke through the prophets sustains and inspires the Church in her task of proclaiming the word of God and in the preaching of the Apostles; finally, it is this Spirit who inspires the authors of sacred Scripture.
16. Conscious of this pneumatological horizon, the Synod Fathers highlighted the importance of the Holy Spirit’s work in the life of the Church and in the hearts of believers in relation to sacred Scripture: without the efficacious working of the “Spirit of Truth” (Jn 14:16), the words of the Lord cannot be understood. As Saint Irenaeus states: “Those who do not share in the Spirit do not draw from the bosom of their mother [the Church] the food of life; they receive nothing from the purest fountain that flows from the body of Christ”. Just as the word of God comes to us in the body of Christ, in his Eucharistic body and in the body of the Scriptures, through the working of the Holy Spirit, so too it can only be truly received and understood through that same Spirit.
The great writers of the Christian tradition speak unanimously of the place of the Holy Spirit in the relationship which believers are to have with the Scriptures. Saint John Chrysostom states that Scripture “needs the revelation of the Spirit, so that by discovering the true meaning of the things enclosed therein, we can reap abundant benefits”. Saint Jerome is likewise firmly convinced that “we cannot come to an understanding of Scripture without the assistance of the Holy Spirit who inspired it”. Saint Gregory the Great nicely emphasizes the work of the Spirit in the formation and interpretation of the Bible: “He himself created the words of the holy Testaments, he himself revealed their meaning”. Richard of Saint Victor points out that we need “the eyes of doves”, enlightened and taught by the Spirit, in order to understand the sacred text.
Here too I would like to emphasize the very significant witness to the relationship between the Holy Spirit and Scripture which we find in the texts of the liturgy, where the word of God is proclaimed, heard and explained to the faithful. We find a witness to this in the ancient prayers which in the form of an epiclesis invoke the Spirit before the proclamation of the readings: “Send your Paraclete Spirit into our hearts and make us understand the Scriptures which he has inspired; and grant that I may interpret them worthily, so that the faithful assembled here may profit thereby”. We also find prayers which, at the end of the homily, again ask God to send the gift of the Spirit upon the faithful: “God our Saviour… we implore you for this people: send upon them the Holy Spirit; may the Lord Jesus come to visit them, speak to the minds of all, dispose their hearts to faith and lead our souls to you, God of mercies”. This makes it clear that we cannot come to understand the meaning of the word unless we are open to the working of the Paraclete in the Church and in the hearts of believers.
17. In reaffirming the profound connection between the Holy Spirit and the word of God, we have also laid the basis for an understanding of the significance and the decisive value of the living Tradition and the sacred Scriptures in the Church. Indeed, since God “so loved the world that he gave his only Son” (Jn 3:16), the divine word, spoken in time, is bestowed and “consigned” to the Church in a definitive way, so that the proclamation of salvation can be communicated effectively in every time and place. As the Dogmatic Constitution Dei Verbum reminds us, Jesus Christ himself “commanded the Apostles to preach the Gospel promised beforehand by the prophets, fulfilled in his own person and promulgated by his own lips to all as the source of all saving truth and moral law, communicating God’s gifts to them. This was faithfully carried out; it was carried out by the Apostles who handed on, by oral preaching, by their example, by their ordinances, what they themselves had received whether from the lips of Christ, from his way of life and his works, or by coming to know it through the prompting of the Holy Spirit; it was carried out by those Apostles and others associated with them who, under the inspiration of the same Holy Spirit, committed the message of salvation to writing”.
The Second Vatican Council also states that this Tradition of apostolic origin is a living and dynamic reality: it “makes progress in the Church, with the help of the Holy Spirit”; yet not in the sense that it changes in its truth, which is perennial. Rather, “there is a growth in insight into the realities and the words that are being passed on”, through contemplation and study, with the understanding granted by deeper spiritual experience and by the “preaching of those who, on succeeding to the office of bishop, have received the sure charism of truth”.
The living Tradition is essential for enabling the Church to grow through time in the understanding of the truth revealed in the Scriptures; indeed, “by means of the same tradition, the full canon of the sacred books is known to the Church and the holy Scriptures themselves are more thoroughly understood and constantly made effective in the Church”. Ultimately, it is the living Tradition of the Church which makes us adequately understand sacred Scripture as the word of God. Although the word of God precedes and exceeds sacred Scripture, nonetheless Scripture, as inspired by God, contains the divine word (cf. 2 Tim 3:16) “in an altogether singular way”.
18. We see clearly, then, how important it is for the People of God to be properly taught and trained to approach the sacred Scriptures in relation to the Church’s living Tradition, and to recognize in them the very word of God. Fostering such an approach in the faithful is very important from the standpoint of the spiritual life. Here it might be helpful to recall the analogy drawn by the Fathers of the Church between the word of God which became “flesh” and the word which became a “book”. The Dogmatic Constitution Dei Verbum takes up this ancient tradition which holds, as Saint Ambrose says, that “the body of the Son is the Scripture which we have received”, and declares that “the words of God, expressed in human language, are in every way like human speech, just as the word of the eternal Father, when he took on himself the weak flesh of human beings, became like them”. When understood in this way, sacred Scripture presents itself to us, in the variety of its many forms and content, as a single reality. Indeed, “through all the words of sacred Scripture, God speaks only one single word, his one utterance, in whom he expresses himself completely (cf. Heb 1:1-3)”. Saint Augustine had already made the point clearly: “Remember that one alone is the discourse of God which unfolds in all sacred Scripture, and one alone is the word which resounds on the lips of all the holy writers”.
In short, by the work of the Holy Spirit and under the guidance of the magisterium, the Church hands on to every generation all that has been revealed in Christ. The Church lives in the certainty that her Lord, who spoke in the past, continues today to communicate his word in her living Tradition and in sacred Scripture. Indeed, the word of God is given to us in sacred Scripture as an inspired testimony to revelation; together with the Church’s living Tradition, it constitutes the supreme rule of faith.
19. A key concept for understanding the sacred text as the word of God in human words is certainly that of inspiration. Here too we can suggest an analogy: as the word of God became flesh by the power of the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary, so sacred Scripture is born from the womb of the Church by the power of the same Spirit. Sacred Scripture is “the word of God set down in writing under the inspiration of the Hol