Jun 15, 2008

Word of God

Online Edition: June 2008

Vol. XIV, No. 4

Synod of the Word of God: Lineamenta

Introduction: Why a Synod of the Word of God | Chapter 1: Revelation, the Word of God and the Church

Introduction: Why a Synod of the Word of God

“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life — the life was made manifest, and we saw it, and testify to it, and proclaim to you the eternal life which was with the Father and 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. And we are writing this that our joy may be complete” (I Jn 1:1-4).

1. “In the beginning was the Word” (Jn 1:1). “The Word of our God will endure for ever” (Is 40:8). The Word of God, present at the creation of the world and humankind, initiates history: “God spoke” (Gen 1:3,6ff.). The Incarnation of God’s Son, Jesus Christ, the most decisive moment in history, is announced by the Word of God: “And the Word became flesh” (Jn 1:14). The Word of God will bring history to a close with the sure promise of meeting Christ in everlasting life: “Surely, I am coming soon” (Rev 22:20).

The Word of God is the ultimate surety which God, in His infinite love, gives to people of every age and time, enabling them to become witnesses to His Word. The synod wishes to reverently contemplate this mystery of the Word, God’s greatest gift, to render thanks for it, to meditate upon it and to proclaim it to all members of the Church and all people of good will.

2. In an increasing number of ways, people today are displaying a great need to listen to God and speak with Him. At present, Christians are eagerly seeking the Word of God as the source of life and as a means of encountering the Lord in a personal manner.

Clearly, the unseen God interacts in this personal encounter “out of the abundance of His love; [He] speaks to humankind as friends and lives among them, so that He may invite and take them into fellowship with Himself.”1 This generous act of God’s Revelation is an ongoing, grace-filled event.

This communication takes place through the action of the Holy Spirit, who, through the Word, seeks to renew the life and mission of the Church, to call her to an ongoing conversion and to send her to bring the message of the Gospel to all peoples, so “that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (Jn 10:10).

3. The Person of Christ the Lord is at the core of the Word of God. Throughout her history, the Church has constantly experienced and mirrored the mystery of the Word. “What do you believe the Scriptures to be, if not the Word of God? Certainly, many words are penned by the prophets; yet the Word of God is one, uniting the whole of Scripture. The faithful conceive this unique Word from a seed given by God as a lawful spouse, and fruitfully bring it forth from their mouths, so to speak, by giving it birth and recording it in characters, so it can be passed on, even to us.”2

In the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation Dei Verbum, the Second Vatican Council set forth the Church’s solemn Magisterium on the Word of God, explaining its teaching and indicating its practice. This document completed the long study and development of three Encyclical Letters: Providentissimus Deus of Leo XIII, Spiritu Paraclitus of Benedict XV and Divino Afflante Spiritu of Pius XII.3 It also represented a stage in the process of renewal in exegesis and theology which was further enriched by the spiritual experience of the faithful and opportunely treated in the Synod of Bishops of 19854 and the Catechism of the Catholic Church. In the years following the Council, the Magisterium of the universal and local churches placed greater insistence on an encounter with the Word, convinced that this “will bring the Church to a new spiritual Spring.”5

In the continuing process of God’s breathing forth His Word, this Synodal Assembly is being convoked in close connection with preceding Synods of Bishops (1965-2006). It looks to the foundations of faith and seeks to present how the Word has been encountered in the Bible (cf. Josh 24; Neh 8; Acts 2) and throughout the history of the Church.

4. More specifically, this synod wishes to set forth, in continuity with the preceding one, the intrinsic connection between the Eucharist and the Word of God, since the Church must receive nourishment from the one “bread of life from the table of both God’s word and Christ’s body.”6 This is the Synod’s underlying purpose and primary goal, namely, to fully encounter the Word of God in Jesus the Lord, present in the Sacred Scriptures and the Eucharist. Saint Jerome observes: “The Lord’s flesh is real food and His blood real drink; this is our true good in this present life: to nourish ourselves with His flesh and to drink His blood in not only the Eucharist but also the reading of Sacred Scripture. In fact, the Word of God, drawn from the knowledge of the Scriptures, is real food and real drink.”7

Forty years after the Second Vatican Council, questions arise as to what are the fruits of the conciliar document, Dei Verbum, in our Church communities and whether this Dogmatic Constitution has really been taken to heart. With regard to the Word of God, many positive things have clearly taken place in the People of God: for example, biblical renewal in the liturgy, theology and catechesis; the distribution and practice of the Bible by the biblical apostolate and efforts of communities and ecclesial movements; and the increased use of the instruments of today’s communication media.

Some things, however, pose problems or still remain an open question. The lack of knowledge and uncertainty regarding the teachings of Revelation are a deep concern. Many Christians remain without any contact with the Bible and the danger is always present that it will not be used properly. Without the truth of God’s Word, relativism becomes alluring in people’s lives and thinking. This situation urgently warrants a total and complete knowledge of the Church’s teachings concerning the Word of God. It also requires employing suitable methods in providing all Christians with opportunities to encounter Sacred Scripture. The Church must take up the new ways suggested by the Spirit today to ensure that the various manifestations of the Word of God be known, discerned, loved, and more profoundly grounded and lived in the Church, thereby becoming the Word of Truth and Love for all people.

5. The purpose of this synod is primarily pastoral, namely, spreading and strengthening encounters with the Word of God by thoroughly examining its doctrinal underpinnings and allowing them to show the manner in which this is to be done. This will lead to experiencing the Word of God as the source of life in everyday circumstances and devising true and readily available ways in which Christians and all people of good will can listen to God and speak with Him.

In a concrete sense, the synod intends among its many objectives: to help clarify the basic truths of Revelation as the Word of God, Divine Tradition, the Bible and the Magisterium, which prompt and guarantee an authentic and effective living of the faith; to spark an appreciation and deep love of Sacred Scripture so that “the faithful might have easy access” to it;8 to renew listening to the Word of God, in the liturgy and catechesis, specifically through lectio divina [holy reading], duly adapted to various circumstances; and to offer a Word of consolation and hope to the poor of the world.

This synod desires to give the Word of God as bread to the People of God. Its aim is to foster a proper approach to biblical hermeneutics and to correctly direct the process of evangelization and inculturation. It also intends to encourage ecumenical dialogue, which is closely linked to listening to the Word of God and to promote an encounter and dialogue of not only Christians and Jews9 but also those engaged in interreligious and inter-cultural dialogue. The synod proposes to achieve this task by treating the following three areas:

— Revelation, the Word of God, the Church (Chapter I)

— The Word of God in the Life of the Church (Chapter II)

— The Word of God in the Mission of the Church (Chapter III).

In this way, the foundational elements of the Word of God might be united to its operation in the Church.

The Lineamenta does not intend to treat every demand and application of encountering the Word of God. Rather, drawing on the teachings of the Second Vatican Council, this document will describe the essential characteristics of the Word of God, emphasizing both its doctrinal content and that drawn from experience and inviting the reader to provide further detailed information.

Chapter 1: Revelation, the Word of God and the Church

“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” (Heb 1:1,2).

God Takes the Initiative: Divine Revelation by the Word of God

6. “In His goodness and wisdom God chose to reveal Himself and to make known to us the hidden purpose of His will.”10 At the risk of subjecting the mystery of God to the human word and the formality of an arbitrary report, the Second Vatican Council masterfully and accurately set forth in Dei Verbum a summary of the faith professed by the Church throughout the ages. God makes Himself known in a gratuitous and direct way so as to enter into an interpersonal relationship of truth and love with humankind and the world He created. God reveals Himself in the visible realities of the cosmos and history “through deeds and words having an inner unity”,11 thereby demonstrating an “economy of Revelation”, namely, a plan which seeks the salvation of humankind and, through it, all creation. At one and the same time, this Revelation communicates the truth about God, One in Three, and the truth about humanity, loved by God and destined for eternal happiness. This Divine Revelation gloriously culminates in the Person of Jesus Christ, “who is both the mediator and the fullness of all Revelation”.12

This gratuitous communication, which presupposes a deep communion analogous to human intimacy, is characterized by God Himself and His Word, that is, the “Word of God”. Fundamentally speaking, it is a personal act of the Trinitarian God, who loves and consequently “speaks”. God speaks to humankind so that each person might acknowledge His love and respond to Him.13 An attentive reading of the Bible clearly demonstrates that this communication has continually taken place from Genesis to Revelation. When the Word of God is read and proclaimed, above all in the Eucharist, the “Sacrament par excellence”,14 and in the other sacraments, the Lord Himself makes an appeal to us to “become part” of a deeply profound and uniquely interpersonal event of communion between Him and us and each of us with one another. Truly, the Word of God is active and accomplishes its purpose (cf. Heb 4:12).

The Human Person Needs Revelation

7. A person is capable of knowing God by relying simply on God-given human resources (cf. Rom 1:20), namely, the world of creation (liber natur [book of nature]). In various circumstances in history, as a result of sin, this knowledge of God has become clouded and uncertain and even denied by many. But God does not abandon humanity; He puts a deep longing in individuals for light, salvation and peace, even if this is not always recognized. Proclaiming the Gospel to the whole world has helped keep people aware of this bond with the Creator and has resulted in religious and cultural values.

The People of God are showing signs of a keen desire — even a deep yearning — for an intense, sure faith. In removing the veil of ignorance, confusion and self-doubt about God and humankind, the People of God can discern and uphold the truth of God among the many conquests of our technological age. This deep, extensive yearning, almost a crying out, leaves a person open to perceive the truth of God’s revealing Himself for the sake of humanity and to listen to His Word. This is the underlying objective of the synod: to investigate the pastoral implications of the topic in guaranteeing and advancing the process of a new evangelization and permitting the gathering of valuable information for ecumenical, interreligious and cultural dialogue.

The Word of God is Intimately a Part of Human History and Guides it

8. Persons in some cultures think that everything comes from them and as a result consider themselves masters of their own destiny. This attitude makes it difficult for them to accept that someone might come into the world to enter into dialogue and provide the meaning of existence. Such a mentality can also be seen in often incorrect conceptions of God and various forms of doubt. God, however, who cannot silence the truth of His Word, reassures the individual that His Word is amicable and spoken for a person’s good. While always respecting a person’s freedom, the Word of God, nonetheless, requires a faithful listening to and meditating on its content. Truly, the Word of God “must appear to each individual as an opening to his problems, with a response to his questions, a widening of his values and together meet his aspirations.”15 Again, we understand from Dei Verbum that the Word of God precedes every human word and initiative. God pronounces His Word to open a person to unexpected horizons of truth and meaning as stated in Genesis 1; John 1:1ff.; Hebrews 1:1; Romans 1:19-20; Galatians 4:4; and Colossians 1:15-17. Saint Gregory the Great maintains: “Scripture comes down to our level in using our poor words, so as to allow us gradually to climb, step-by-step, from what is seen near-at-hand to things sublime.”16

From the start, God wanted “to make known the way leading to eternal salvation”.17 Scripture reveals how God’s Almighty Word began a dynamic dialogue with humanity from its very beginning. Oftentimes, dialogue was often dramatic, but eventually it prevailed. In the history of God’s Chosen People, Israel, the supreme Revelation took place in Jesus Christ, His Eternal Word-Made-Flesh (cf. Jn 1:14). Saint Ephrem states: “I considered the Creator-Word, and likened it to the Rock that accompanied the people in the wilderness. It was not from any reservoir of water within the Rock that it poured forth glorious streams for them: there was no water in the Rock, yet oceans sprang forth from it. In like manner, the Word created things out of nothing. Blessed is that person accounted worthy to inherit your Paradise! In his book, Moses described the creation of the natural world, so that both Nature and Scripture might bear witness to the Creator: Nature, through man’s use of it, Scripture, through his reading of it. These are the witnesses which abound everywhere; they are to be found at all times, present at every hour, confuting the unbeliever, who is ungrateful towards the Creator.”18

The pastoral implication of this idea of the Word of God is striking. Its history is intimately intertwined with the history of humankind. In fact, it is the very basis of the history of humanity. For this reason, human history is not composed simply of human thoughts, words and initiatives. Vibrant traces of the Word of God can be seen in nature and culture. Not only does the Word give human knowledge its true value, but the human sciences themselves help reveal the Word’s identity. The Word, in taking on a human nature, reveals the humanism intended from the very beginning. In a special way, the Word itself chose a people to share the path of freedom and salvation and to show the steadfastness and patience of God and His being an “Emmanuel” (Is 7:14) “God-with-us” (Is 8:10; cf. Rom 8:31; Rev 21:3). This explains how the Word of God, through biblical testimony, was reflected in the thoughts and expressions of individuals through the ages. At times, this took place in a contorted and beleaguered manner like a cry for help in the dark events of history, yet it had extraordinary effects in history as seen in an appealing manner in the lives of the saints. Living their special charisms as gifts of the Holy Spirit, they showed the inherent, fundamental potentiality of the Word of God, when taken to heart.

Today, people need help to understand the correct relationship between public Revelation, which constitutes the Christian Creed, and private revelations, not to mention the importance of both for a faith which is indeed genuine.

Jesus Christ is the Word of God Made Man, the Fullness of Revelation

8 [9]. “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” (Heb 1:1ff). Generally speaking, Christians are aware of the centrality of the Person of Jesus Christ in the Revelation of God. However, they do not always know the important underlying reasons, nor do they understand in what sense Jesus is at the heart of the Word of God. Consequently, when they read the Bible, they are at a loss in making it a truly Christian reading.

For this reason, Dei Verbum recalls that God willed a totally unexpected event to take place: “For He sent His Son, the Eternal Word, who enlightens all men, so that He might dwell among men and tell them of the innermost being of God (cf. Jn 1:1-18). Jesus Christ, therefore, the Word-Made-Flesh, was sent as ‘a man to men.’ He ‘speaks the words of God’ (Jn 3:34), and completes the work of salvation which His Father gave Him to do (cf. Jn 5:36; 17:4).”19 Therefore, in His earthly life and hour of glory, Jesus took upon Himself and fulfilled the entire purpose, meaning, history and plan of the Word of God. Thus, Saint Irenaeus maintains: “Christ brought us all that could possibly be new, by bringing Himself.”20

Pastorally speaking, this truth requires an understanding on how to gather, in an analogous way, the various meanings of the Word of God in the faith of the Church, as seen in the Bible. In the Scriptures, Jesus Christ is shown to be the Eternal Word of God, which shines forth in creation, is given a historical character in the message of the prophets, is fully manifested in the Person of Jesus, is echoed in the voice of the apostles and is proclaimed in the Church today. In a general sense, the Word of God is Christ-the-Word, who, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, is the key to all interpretation. “The Word of God, who was in the beginning with God, is not, in His fullness, much talk or a multiplicity of words; but a single Word, which embraces a great number of ideas (theoremata), each of which is a part of the Word in its entirety … and if Christ refers us to the Scriptures in testifying to Himself, it is not to one book that He sends us to the exclusion of another, but to all, because all speak of Him.”21 Thus, continuity can be seen in diversity.

The essence of the Church’s proclamation is this richness of the Word. If the Church knows how to understand herself in Jesus Christ, she will feel herself generated and renewed by the Word of God. However, it is also true that the Word of God (which is Jesus) has also to be understood, as He Himself said, “according to the Scriptures” (Lk 24:44-49). Christ-the-Word is in the history of the People of God in the Old Testament, which bears witness to Him as Messiah; He is present at this historical moment in the Church, who proclaims Christ-the-Word through preaching, meditates on Him through the Bible and experiences Him through divine friendship. Christ-the-Word guides the Church’s life. Saint Bernard observes: “In the plan of the Incarnation of the Word, Christ is the center of all Scripture. The Word of God, already capable of being heard in the Old Testament, became visible in Christ.”22

The Word of God as a Symphony

9.[10] The points treated in the preceding section now permit a listing of the senses which the Church gives to the Word of God in the process of Revelation. It can be compared to a symphony played with many instruments, since God communicates His Word in many and various ways (cf. Heb 1:1). The history of Revelation is long and has a diversity of heralds, yet it is always characterized by a hierarchy in meaning and function. Consequently, it is right to speak of an analogous sense of the Word.

a – In Revelation, the Word of God is the Eternal Word of God, the Second Person of the Most Blessed Trinity, the Son of the Father, the basis for intra and extra communication of the Trinity: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made” (Jn 1:1-3; cf. Col 1:16).

b – Therefore, the created world “tells of the glory of God” (Ps 19:1); everything is His voice (cf. Sir 46:17; Ps 68:34). In the beginning, God created the cosmos by His Word and sealed creation with His wisdom. The work of interpreting the created order was given to humankind, created to the image and likeness of God (cf. Gen 1:267-27; Rom 1:19-20). Indeed, humanity receives through the Word the invitation to enter into dialogue with God and creation. God thus made all creation and humanity in primis [first of all] to render “perennial witness to Him”.23

c – “The Word became flesh” (Jn 1:14): The Word of God par excellence, the ultimate and definitive Word, is Jesus Christ. His Person, mission and life on earth are intimately united, according to the Father’s plan which culminates at Easter. But that plan will not reach its fulfillment until Jesus consigns the Kingdom to the Father (cf. I Cor 15:24). He is the Gospel of God to humankind.

d – In view of the Word who is the Son-Incarnate, the Father spoke in ancient times to the fathers through the prophets (cf. Heb 1:1). Through the power of the Holy Spirit, the apostles continue to proclaim Jesus and His Gospel. Thus, in service to the one Word of God, the words of man are taken as the words of God, resounding in the proclamation of the prophets and the apostles.

e – Sacred Scripture, under divine inspiration, unites Jesus-the-Word to the words of the prophets and apostles. The Bible itself attests to the authenticity of this fact. In containing the Word of God written under divine inspiration, the Bible can truly be said to be the Word of God.24 Every page looks to the Word, Jesus, because He said, “It is precisely the Scriptures that bear witness to me” (Jn 5:39). Through the charism of divine inspiration, the Books of Sacred Scripture have a direct, concrete power of appeal not possessed by other texts or holy writings.

f – But the Word of God is not locked away in writing. Even though Revelation ended with the death of the last apostle,25 the Word-Revealed continues to be proclaimed and heard throughout Church history. The Church has the responsibility to proclaim the Word in the world as a response to its aspirations. In this way, the Word continues to move ahead through spirited preaching and many other forms in service to the Gospel. Preaching is the Word of God communicated by a living God to living persons in Jesus Christ by means of the Church. From this vantage point, it can be understood that when God’s Revelation is preached, something which can truly be called the “Word of God” finds fulfillment in the Church.

The Word of God displays all the qualities of true communication between persons. For example, it is informative, because God communicates His truth; expressive, because God makes plain His manner of thinking, loving and acting; and finally, it is an appeal addressed by God to a person to be heard and given a response in faith.

The task of ordained ministers is to instruct the faithful in a proper conception of the Word of God by avoiding erroneous or over-simplistic approaches and any ambiguity. Emphasis needs to be placed on the Word of God’s intrinsic connection to the mystery of the Trinitarian God and His Revelation; its manifestation in the world of creation; its germinal presence in the life and history of humanity; its supreme expression in Jesus Christ; its infallible confirmation in Sacred Scripture and its transmission in the living Tradition of the Church. Since the employment of human language is part of the mystery of the Word of God, research in the sciences of language and communication will necessarily be involved.

Personal Faith Responds to the Word of God, a Faith Manifested in Listening

10.[11] “The obedience of faith is owed to the God who reveals.”26 A person is to listen to the One who gives through speaking, “freely surrendering his entire self”.27 This leads to a person’s totally accepting the invitation of full communion with God and doing His will for the sake of the community and every believer.28 This idea of faith and communion will be seen in each encounter with the Word in preaching and Bible reading. For this reason, Dei Verbum recommends in approaching the Scriptures what is universally confirmed about the Word of God: “God … speaks to men and women as to a friend … so that He might invite and take them into fellowship with Himself.”29 “In the Sacred Books, the Father who is in heaven meets His children in great love and speaks to them….”30 Revelation is a communion of love, oftentimes expressed in Sacred Scripture in terms of “covenant” (Jn 9:9; 15:18; Ex 24:1-18; Mk 14:24).

An aspect of noteworthy pastoral significance is touched upon here, namely, faith concerns the Word of God in all its signs and languages. Through the dynamic power of the Holy Spirit, the Word communicates truth to faith by means of a teaching or doctrinal formula. It recognizes that the Word is the basic force at work in conversion; a light in response to the many questions in the believer’s life; a guide to a proper and wise discernment of reality; an invitation not simply to read or speak the Word but to “do it” (Lk 8:21); and finally, an everlasting source of consolation and hope. From this follows, as a certain logic of faith, the task of acknowledging and ensuring the primacy of the Word of God in the life of believers by receiving it as the Church proclaims it, understands it, explains it and lives it.

Mary, Every Believer’s Model of How to Welcome the Word

11.[12] In penetrating the mystery of the Word of God, Mary of Nazareth, from the moment of the Annunciation, remains the Teacher and Mother of the Church and the exemplar of every encounter with the Word by individuals or entire communities. She welcomes the Word in faith, mediates upon it, interiorizes it and lives it (cf. Lk 1:38; 2:19,51; Acts 17:11). Indeed, Mary listened to and meditated upon the Scriptures; she associated them with Jesus’ words and the events which she discovered were related to His life. Isaac of Stella says: “In the inspired Scriptures, what is said in a universal sense of the virgin mother, the Church, is understood in an individual sense of the Virgin Mary…. The Lord’s inheritance is, in a general sense, the Church; in a special sense, Mary; and in an individual sense, the Christian. Christ dwelt for nine months in the tabernacle of Mary’s womb, He dwells until the end of the ages in the tabernacle of the Church’s faith. He will dwell for ever in the knowledge and love of each faithful soul.”31

The Virgin Mary knows how to take into account what is happening around her and live the necessities of daily life, fully aware that what she receives as a gift from her Son is a gift for everyone. She teaches us not to stand by as idle spectators before the Word of Life, but to become participants, allowing ourselves to be led by the Holy Spirit, who abides in believers. She “magnifies” the Lord, discovering in her life the mercy of God, who makes her “blessed”, because “she believed that there would be a fulfillment of what had been spoken to her from the Lord” (Lk 1:45). She invites every believer to put Jesus’ words into practice: “Blessed are those who have not seen yet believe” (Jn 20:29). Mary is the paradigm of the person who truly prays the Word and knows how to keep the lamp of faith burning in daily life. Saint Ambrose observes that every Christian believer conceives and begets the Word of God. According to the flesh, Christ has only one mother; but, according to the faith, everyone gives Him birth.32

The Word of God, Entrusted to the Church, is Transmitted to Every Generation

12.[13] “In His gracious goodness, God has seen to it that what He had revealed for the salvation of all nations would abide perpetually in its full integrity and be handed on to all generations.”33 As Friend and Father of humankind, God continues to speak. Even though Revelation has ended, it continues, in a certain way, in a communication where the Word of God becomes actually present to us. Indeed, Revelation is still able to provide enlightenment and increase our understanding. This is because the Father, in giving the Spirit of Jesus to the Church, entrusts the treasure of Revelation to her34 and makes her the primary recipient and privileged witness of the loving and salvific Word of God.

For this reason, the Word is not an inert deposit in the Church, but “the supreme rule of her faith” and life-giving power, “advancing through the power of the Holy Spirit” and “growing” with the “reflection and study of believers”, the personal experiences of the spiritual life and the preaching of bishops.35 Men of God, who have “abided in” the Word, bear particular witness to it.36 Surely, the clear and primary mission of the Church is to transmit, in keeping with Jesus’ mandate (cf. Mt 28:18-20), the Divine Word to all humankind in every time and place. History confirms how this took place and how it continues, after so many centuries, even in our day with great vitality and fruitfulness, despite the various obstacles it encounters.

Divine Tradition and Sacred Scripture in the Church: A Single Sacred Deposit of the Word of God

13.[14] In treating this subject, we need to recall that the Word of God became the Gospel or lieta notizia (“Good News”) in Jesus Christ. As such, the Word of God becomes part of apostolic preaching and continues through the ages in two ways which are visibly and inextricably interconnected. One is the dynamic flow of a living Tradition, manifested by “all that she herself [the Church] is and all that she herself believes”,37 that is, through worship, doctrine and the Church’s life. The other is Sacred Scripture, which, by virtue of the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, preserves in written form the unchanging character of the original and constitutive elements of this living Tradition. “This Sacred Tradition, therefore, and Sacred Scripture of both the Old and New Testaments are like a mirror in which the pilgrim Church on earth looks at God, from whom she has received everything, until she is brought finally to see Him as He is, face to face (cf. I Jn 3:2).”38 The Church’s Magisterium, which is not above the Word of God, must “authentically interpret the Word of God, whether written or handed on”.39

The Second Vatican Council insists on the fundamental unity and close connection between Scripture and Tradition, stating that the Church treats both “with the same sense of loyalty and reverence”.40 The Magisterium renders irreplaceable service in guaranteeing an authentic interpretation of the Word of God by “listening [to it] devoutly, guarding [it] scrupulously and explaining [it] faithfully”.41

Pastorally speaking, through following the Church’s teaching, the relation between Scripture and Tradition is clearly seen and is translated into real-life experiences. For example, in the early Church, Tradition preceded Scripture and was always a kind of fertile “humus” which “makes the Sacred Letters more profoundly understood and continuously active in her”.42 On the other hand, “‘the Word of God is living and active’ (Heb 4:12) and ‘it has power to build you up and give you your heritage among all those who are sanctified’ (Acts 20:32; cf. I Thess 2:13).”43 Both are channels of communication of the Word of God. Therefore, the Word of God finds its completeness of meaning and grace in experiencing both, “one inside the other”. In this way, both can be called, and indeed are, the “Word of God”.

This teaching has many important implications in pastoral practice. For example, the idea of “sola Scriptura” cannot exist in and of itself, because the Scriptures are related to the Church, namely, to the one who receives and understands both Tradition and Scripture. The Scripture has the essential role of providing access to and being the authentic source of the Word, thus becoming the reference point in the proper understanding of Tradition.

Practical implications also arise from the distinctions concerning apostolic tradition, later tradition which interprets it and applies it to the present, and other ecclesiastical traditions. Also to be considered is the Church’s decisive action in determining the canon of the Scriptural Books which thus guaranteed their authenticity (73 books: 46 of the Old Testament and 27 of the New Testament).44

Finally, what always needs to be borne in mind is the necessary and active interaction and dialogue of Sacred Scripture and Tradition with the signs of the Word of God in the world of creation, especially in the human race and its history.45

Thought also needs to be given to the Church’s living Tradition and the genuine service to the Word of God in the form of catechisms, from the first Symbol of the Faith, the core of every catechism, to the various versions through the ages, the most recent in the universal Church being the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the catechisms of the local Churches respectively.


1 Conc. Œcum. Vat. II, Const. dogmatica de Divina Revelatione Dei Verbum, 2.

2 Rupertus Abbas Tuitiensis, De operib us Spiritus Sancti, I, 6: SC 131, 72-74.

3 Cf. Leo XIII, Litt. Encycl. Providentissimus Deus (18 novembris 1893): DS 1952 (3293); Benedictus XV, Litt. Encycl. Spiritus Paraclitus (15 septembris 1920): AAS 12(1920), 385-422; Pius XII, Litt. Encycl. Divino afflante Spiritu (30 septembris 1943): AAS 35 (1943), 297-325.

4 Cf. Synodus Episcoporum, Relatio finalis Synodi episcoporum Exeunte cœtu secundo: Ecclesia sub verbo Dei mysteria Christi celebrans pro salute mundi (7 decembris 1985): Enchiridion del Sinodo dei Vescovi, 1, Bologna 2005, 2733-2736.

5 Benedictus XVI, To Participants at the International Congress Honouring Dei Verbum (16 September 2005), in L’Osservatore Romano: Weekly Edition in English, 21 September 2005, p. 7; cf. Paulus VI, Epistula Apostolica Summi Dei Verbum (4 novembris 1963): AAS 55 (1963), 979-995; Ioannes Paulus II, Weekly General Audience (22 May 1985), in L’Osservatore Romano: Weekly Edition in English, 27 May 1985, pp. 1, 2; Idem., Discourse on the Interpretation of the Bible in the Church (23 April 1993), in L’Osservatore Romano: Weekly Edition in English, 29 April 1993, 3, 4, 6; Benedictus XVI, Angelus (6 November 2005), in L’Osservatore Romano: Weekly Edition in English, 9 November 2005, p. 1.

6 Conc. Œcum. Vat. II, Const. dogmatica de Divina Revelatione Dei Verbum, 21.

7 S. Hieronymus, Commentarius in Ecclesiasten, 313: CCL 72, 278.

8 Conc. Œcum. Vat. II, Const. dogmatica de Divina Revelatione Dei Verbum, 22.

9 Cf. Pontifical Biblical Commission, The Jewish People and Their Sacred Scriptures in the Christian Bible (24 May 2001); Libreria Editrice Vaticana, Vatican City, 2001.

10 Conc. Œcum. Vat. II, Const. dogmatica de Divina Revelatione Dei Verbum, 2.

11 Ibidem.

12 Ibidem.

13 Cf. ibidem.

14 Missale Romanum, Editio typica tertia, Typis Vaticanis, Vatican City 2002, Institutio generalis, n. 368.

15 Paulus VI, Lettre au IVème Congrès national français de l’enseignement religieux (1-3 Avril 1964), in La Documentation Catholique n. 1422 (19 Avril 1964), p. 503.

16 S. Gregorius Magnus, Moralia, 20,63: CCL 143A,1050.

17 Conc. Œcum. Vat. II, Const. dogmatica de Divina Revelatione Dei Verbum, 3.

18 S. Ephraem, Hymni de paradiso, V, 1-2: SC 137, 71-72.

19 Conc. Œcum. Vat. II, Const. dogmatica de Divina Revelatione Dei Verbum, 4.

20 S. Irenaeus, Adversus Hæreses IV, 34, 1: SC 100, 847.

21 Origenes, In Ioannem V, 5-6: SC 120, 380-384.

22 Cf. S. Bernardus, Super Missus est, Homilia IV, 11: PL 183, 86.

23 Conc. Œcum. Vat. II, Const. dogmatica de Divina Revelatione Dei Verbum, 3.

24 Cf. ibidem, 24.

25 Cf. ibidem, 4.

26 Ibidem, 5.

27 Ibidem.

28 Cf. ibidem, 2; 5.

29 Ibidem, 2.

30 Ibidem, 21.

31 Isaac de Stella, Serm. 51: PL 194, 1862-1863.1865.

32 Cf. S. Ambrosius, Evang. secundum Lucam 2, 19: CCL 14, 39.

33 Conc. Œcum. Vat. II, Const. dogmatica de Divina Revelatione Dei Verbum, 7.

34 Cf. ibidem, 26.

35 Ibidem, 8; cf. 21.

36 Cf. Catechismus Catholicæ Ecclesiæ, 825.

37 Conc. Œcum. Vat. II, Const. dogmatica de Divina Revelatione Dei Verbum, 8.

38 Ibidem, 7.

39 Ibidem, 10.

40 Ibidem, 9; cf Conc. Œcum. Trident., Decretum de libris sacris et de traditionibus recipiendis: DS 1501.

41 Ibidem, 10.

42 Ibidem, 8.

43 Ibidem, 21.

44 Cf. Catechismus Catholicæ Ecclesiæ, 120.

45 Cf. J. Ratzinger, An Attempted Explanation of the Conceptual Problem of Tradition, in K. Rahner – J. Ratzinger (W.J. O’Hara, trans.), Revelation and Tradition: Search Press Ltd., London, 1966.



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