May 15, 2008

Pope Benedict XVI on the Word of God

Online Edition:

May 2008

Vol. XIV, No. 3

Pope Benedict XVI on the Word of God

Addressing the Bishops of Switzerland in November 2006, Pope Benedict focused on key matters concerning Scripture, which seemed to anticipate the topic for the next the Synod of Bishops. In this address, which provides useful context for the Synod, the pope speaks of scriptural exegesis, a Greek word meaning to draw out, or interpret and understand the meaning of a text. Following are excerpts from the Holy Father’s address.


“Our exegesis has progressed by leaps and bounds. We truly know a great deal about the development of texts, the subdivision of sources, etc., we know what words would have meant at that time…. But we are increasingly seeing that if historical and critical exegesis remains solely historical and critical, it refers the Word to the past, it makes it a Word of those times, a Word which basically says nothing to us at all; and we see that the Word is fragmented, precisely because it is broken up into a multitude of different sources.

“With Dei Verbum, the Council told us that the historical-critical method is an essential dimension of exegesis because, since it is a factum historicum [historical fact], it is part of the nature of faith. We do not merely believe in an idea; Christianity is not a philosophy but an event that God brought about in this world, a story that He pieced together in a real way and forms with us as history.

“For this reason, in our reading of the Bible, the serious historical aspect with its requirements must be truly present: we must effectively recognize the event and, precisely in His action, this ‘making of history’ on God’s part.

Dei Verbum adds, however, that Scripture, which must consequently be interpreted according to historical methods, should also be read in its unity and must be read within the living community of the Church. These two dimensions are absent in large areas of exegesis.

“The oneness of Scripture is not a purely historical and critical factor but indeed in its entirety, also from the historical viewpoint, it is an inner process of the Word which, read and understood in an ever new way in the course of subsequent relectures [re-reading], continues to develop.

“This oneness itself, however, is ultimately a theological fact: these writings form one Scripture which can only be properly understood if they are read in the analogia fidei as a oneness in which there is progress towards Christ, and inversely, in which Christ draws all history to Himself; and if, moreover, all this is brought to life in the Church’s faith. [The “analogy of faith” refers to a rule or guide for the interpretation of Scripture from Tradition. — Ed.]

“In other words, I would very much like to see theologians learn to interpret and love Scripture as the Council desired, in accordance with Dei Verbum: may they experience the inner unity of Scripture — something that today is helped by ‘canonical exegesis’ (still to be found, of course, in its timid first stages) — and then make a spiritual interpretation of it that is not [simply] externally edifying, but rather an inner immersion in the presence of the Word.

“It seems to me a very important task to do something in this regard, to contribute to providing an introduction to living Scripture as an up-to-date Word of God beside, with and in historical-critical exegesis. I do not know how this should be done in practice, but I think that in the academic context and at seminaries, as well as in an introductory course, it will be possible to find capable teachers to ensure that this timely encounter with Scripture in the faith of the Church — an encounter on whose basis proclamation subsequently becomes possible — can take place”.

In January this year, Pope Benedict addressed the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops, commenting on the Synod to take place in October. He commented on the purpose and objectives of the Synod.

The next General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops will reflect on “The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church”. Among the Ecclesial Community’s many and great duties in today’s world, I emphasize evangelization and ecumenism. They are centered on the Word of God and at the same time are justified and sustained by it. As the Church’s missionary activity with its evangelizing work is inspired and aims at the merciful revelation of the Lord, ecumenical dialogue cannot base itself on words of human wisdom (cf. I Cor 2:13) or on neat, expedient strategies, but must be animated solely by constant reference to the original Word that God consigned to His Church so that it be read, interpreted and lived in communion with her. In this area, Saint Paul’s doctrine reveals a very special power, obviously founded on divine revelation but also on his own apostolic experience, which confirmed anew the awareness that not wisdom and human eloquence, but only the power of the Holy Spirit builds the Church in the faith (cf. I Cor 1: 22-24; 2:4ff.)

The Holy Father also noted the “happy coincidence” of the celebration of the Pauline Year, beginning on June 28, and related his hope for the Synod whose bishops are entrusted with transmitting to the world the Word of God in Scripture, and the Living Word, Jesus Christ, with courage and zeal.

The next Synod … will therefore offer to the Church’s contemplation, and principally to her Pastors’ contemplation, the witness also of this great Apostle and herald of God’s Word. To the Lord, whom he first persecuted and then to whom he consecrated his entire being, Paul remains faithful even to death. May his example be an encouragement for all to accept the Word of salvation and translate it into daily life through the faithful following of Christ…. The Synod Fathers will focus on it once they have become familiar with the preparatory documents, the Lineamenta and Instrumentum laboris, which you yourselves in the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops have contributed to creating. Thus, they will be able to discuss among themselves, but above all, gathered in collegial communion, to listen to the Word of life which God has entrusted to the loving care of His Church, so that it is courageously and convincingly proclaimed, with the parresia [Gk: “outspokenness”] of the Apostles, to those near and far. Indeed, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, everyone is given the possibility to encounter the living Word that is Jesus Christ.



The Editors