Saturday, November 13, 2010

Verbum Domini — Introduction (1-5)

This is the first installment of my commentary on Pope Benedict's post-synodal apostolic exhortation on the Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church, Verbum Domini (which you can download here). This covers the introduction (paragraphs 1-5).

The opening sentences are worth quoting verbatim (pun certainly intended!).
"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. (Verbum Domini [VD] 1)
This certainly sets the tone for the whole document. Benedict is writing to us about the good news, the Word-made-flesh, Who abides forever.

For those of us — myself included — who aren't aware just how much work goes into these bishops' synods, Benedict lists the documents he will be revisiting in his exhortation:
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. (VD 1)
The purpose of the exhortation is "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" so that "the word will be ever more fully at the heart of every ecclesial activity." (VD 1)

Then the Holy Father quotes the beginning of St. John's first epistle, drawing attention to the direct contact the Apostles had with the Word of life, and their desire to bring others into fellowship — that is, communion — with that Word Who is Jesus, and with His Father. We have had contact with that Word, too: "Being Christian is [the result of] the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction." (Deus Caritas Est [DCE] 1) We must renew this encounter with Christ and be His heralds so that this gift of communion with God can be spread throughout the earth. It is "the Church's gift and unescapable duty to communicate that joy" which is sharing in the God's divine life, since God alone has "the words of eternal life." (VD 2; John 6:68)

Benedict considers the Church's journey with the Word since Vatican II's Dei Verbum. The previous Synod's theme was "The Eucharist as the Source and Summit of the Church's Life and Mission," and this theme naturally led to the Synod on the Word of God: "the Church is built upon the word of God; she is born from and lives by that word." (VD 3) The faithful draw strength from the Scriptures, growing by hearing, celebrating, and studying them. He notes the increase in Catholic biblical studies in ecclesial (not merely academic) life over the past few decades. The Catholic Commentary on Scripture, the Ignatius Study Bible series, and of course the Great Adventure Bible Timeline come to my mind as excellent examples of this. The years between Vatican II and this Synod
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." (VD 3)
The Church continually preaches Christ as "completed and perfected revelation" to every generation. (VD 3) The Synod was called "to review the implementation of the [Second Vatican] Council's directives [regarding the Word of God], and to confront the new challenges which the present time sets before Christian believers." (VD 3)

At this point, I think I found an error in a footnote. It is said that "In the last forty years, the Church's magisterium has also issued numerous statements on" questions pertaining to revelation and Scripture. (VD 3) A footnote lists Pope Paul VI's Summa Dei Verbum by mistake, I think — while this document's title includes "Dei Verbum" in it, it is about seminaries; it does not mention "Scripture" nor "Bible" at all, only "Biblical" once. I think an overzealous researcher for magisterial pronouncements included this one without vetting it first!

In paragraph 4, His Holiness makes an important note about the way in which the Scriptures must be read: "we can deepen our relationship with the word of God only within the 'we' of the Church, in mutual listening and acceptance." (VD 4) Put another way, the Scriptures must be read in the Church, that is, from within the Tradition of the Church. That being said, he also drew attention to the participation by the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, and by a rabbi who offered "a precious witness on the Hebrew Scriptures." (VD 4) With these perspectives, there is also "an ongoing Pentecost" in the Church today: "various peoples are still waiting for the word of God to be proclaimed in their own language and in their own culture." (VD 4)

This emphasis on evangelization brings to mind St. Paul, whose year was being celebrated during the Synod:
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.
Finally, the pope reiterates his desire that the fruits of the Synod's labor "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." (VD 5)

The three parts of his exhortation follow the prologue of St. John's Gospel (John 1:1-14), "a magnificent text [...] which offers a synthesis of the entire Christian faith." (VD 5) These three parts are Verbum Dei (The Word of God), Verbum in Ecclesia (The Word in the Church), and Verbum Mundo (The Word to the World).

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