Dei Verbum and Sacred Scripture

I certainly am grateful to all who came to the special luncheon after the 11:00 Mass last Sunday! It was great to be with so many people, and to know you were having an enjoyable time visiting with each other and perhaps meeting someone new. A meal is just the sort of place people get to know one another well. Many thanks go to the Council of Catholic Women for organizing such a delicious luncheon. Some of you wrote me some very thoughtful notes, too. When I came back to the parish office after the prayer service at the Cathedral, I debated about reading them before writing my bulletin article, and am I ever glad I did! Your messages made me smile, and I was reminded of how much I enjoy being here with you at St. Peter’s.

Today we kick off Catholic Schools Week. These days will be filled with activities at Faithful Shepherd Catholic School, and at the Masses today our parish school will be celebrated a bit more than usual. For those who do not know, our parish and the two parishes in Eagan collaborated with many parents in founding Faithful Shepherd, which opened in the fall of 2000 along Yankee Doodle Road just east of Lexington – a point near the center of a triangle formed by the three churches. There is much to celebrate about our parish school of 515 students, and its dedicated faculty and administration. And at Faithful Shepherd, we at St. Peter’s are often praised for a display of support for Catholic education out of all proportion to our size. I want to thank the people of our parish for making a Catholic education possible for our parishioners!

Have you ever wondered about the Bible? What is it? How did it come to be? Did it fell down from heaven? The Catholic Church answers such questions in a document called Dei Verbum, the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation. This was one of the sixteen principal documents of the Second Vatican Council, all issued between December 1963 and December 1965. Dei Verbum is the document about the Bible. I would like to describe some of the teachings contained in this rather brief constitution, since they are so important and yet are seldom discussed. If your eyes are beginning to glaze over, I challenge you to read out loud to yourself the paragraph below that begins with the words, “What people often forget….” I promise it will make sense of a lot of things!

The Council Fathers of Vatican II remind us that it pleased God to reveal himself to human beings, to grant access to himself so the people he created could become sharers in his nature. This revelation was made through deeds and words, and “the most intimate truth which this revelation gives us about God and the salvation of man shines forth in Christ, who is himself both the mediator and the sum total of Revelation” (Dei Verbum 2). The Council Fathers explain that Jesus Christ commanded the apostles to preach the Gospel. They “handed on what they themselves received” by means of “the spoken word of their preaching, by the example they gave, [and] by the institutions they established” (DV 7). The apostles left bishops as successors, and they passed on the sacred Tradition, together with sacred Scripture, and Scripture and Tradition both serve as a mirror in which the Church contemplates God (DV 7). This Tradition (with a capital “T”) makes progress in the Church even today, as people gain new insights.

What people often forget today is that Scripture and Tradition are taken together, flowing from the same spring and moving toward the same goal. Dei Verbum states: “Sacred Scripture is the speech of God as it is put down in writing under the breath of the Holy Spirit. And Tradition transmits in its entirety the Word of God which has been entrusted to the apostles by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit” (DV 9). Together they form a single deposit of the Word of God, entrusted to the Church (DV 10). Understanding this teaching of the Catholic Church might help people comprehend why the Church does not consider herself free to change her doctrine: we actually consider the preaching of the apostles, their example, and the institutions of the apostolic age to be part of the deposit of faith, part of divine revelation.

After this, the Vatican II document Dei Verbum addresses sacred Scripture specifically. It says that both the Old and New Testaments were “written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit … have God as their author, and have been handed on as such to the Church herself” (DV 11). It also says “the books of Scripture, firmly, faithfully, and without error, teach that truth which God, for the sake of our salvation, wished to see confided to the sacred Scriptures” (DV 11).

The document also takes up the subject of the Bible in the life of Catholics today. No doubt the bishops of Vatican II were aware of how few Catholics had much familiarity with the Bible. We have all heard stories about or experienced ourselves the way Catholics were discouraged from reading the Bible out of concern they would misinterpret it, but I do not think it was ever official Church teaching that lay people would be better off not reading the Bible. In 1965, Catholics were told from the highest level of authority that they should read the Bible: “The Sacred Synod forcefully and specifically exhorts all the Christian faithful, especially those who live the religious life, to learn ‘the surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ’ (Phil. 3:8) by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures” (DV 25). The Council Fathers said “all the preaching of the Church, as indeed the entire Christian religion, should be nourished and ruled by sacred Scripture. In the sacred books the Father who is in heaven comes lovingly to meet his children, and talks with them” (DV 21). I hope that memorable line gives you a greater desire to read the Bible.

Leave a Reply