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God's Word leads us to fulfillment

 

November 29, 2000

 

The second in a series of columns from Archbishop Chaput's address on "Dei Verbum" during the archdiocesan Scripture Conference, Oct. 20-21, in Denver.

 

Catholics hold that Scripture does not interpret itself. Obviously, it has great power and value for any reader. But to be fully understood, it needs both a scientific approach the work of biblical scholars, along with experts in linguistics, history, archaeology and other fields and also a final and authoritative voice. As Dei Verbum says, "for, of course, all that has been said about the manner of interpreting Scripture is ultimately subject to the judgment of the Church which exercises the divinely conferred commission and ministry of watching over and interpreting the Word of God" (n. 12).

In my experience, relatively few Catholics make the mistake of biblical literalism. But quite a few in recent years have bought into a kind of rationalism, which tends to deny the historical truth of the Gospels or the possibility of miracles, including even the virginal conception and bodily resurrection of Jesus. And yet the healthy response to today's skepticism is not a reactionary swing to fundamentalism, which simply doesn't fit with 19 centuries of Catholic scholarship. Rather, the right path is the "middle road" of Dei Verbum, which gives proper weight to the scientific examination of Scripture, but insists that it be done from the perspective of faith and within the context of the Tradition of the Church.

Dei Verbum's most powerful passage may arguably be in its final chapter, which is devoted to the place of "Sacred Scripture in the Life of the Church." It stresses that "the Church has always venerated the Body of the Lord, insofar as she never ceases, particularly in the Sacred Liturgy, to partake of the Bread of Life and to offer it to the faithful from the one table of the Word of God and the Body of Christ" (n. 21). In other words, for Catholics, there is no conflict between Word and Sacrament. Just the opposite. The Word leads to the Sacrament, and the Sacrament presupposes and is actually made present by the Word.

Dei Verbum strongly encourages that the Scriptures "be open wide to the faithful" (n. 22). One way this has been done over the centuries, say the Council Fathers, has been through the rendering of the Bible into the various languages of the human family "from the very beginning" of Church history (n. 22). Some historians might have us believe that Martin Luther gave us the first modern-language vernacular Bible. But that's simply not true. Other German versions came first. Luther's claim to fame was that his translation was a very well polished, literary German. At any rate, with both practical and ecumenical concerns in mind, the bishops in Dei Verbum call for translations to be undertaken "in a joint effort with the separated brethren," with ecclesiastical approval. One such successful effort has been the Common Bible, produced by a team of Protestant, Catholic and Eastern Orthodox scholars.

Another way the Church has listened to the Council's invitation to have the Scriptures "open wide to the faithful" is through the revised lectionary used for the liturgy. In this plan, the three Sunday readings rotate in a three-year cycle, covering all four Gospels, major passages from the epistles and significant portions of the Old Testament, especially the prophetical and historical books. The weekday lectionary is based on a two-year cycle, offering a broad exposure to portions of the Bible previously unread in the Liturgy. The arrangement is so good that a number of Protestant denominations have voluntarily adopted this lectionary. Not only are millions of Christians now being fed a very substantial diet at the table of God's Word, but it's happening to them at precisely the same moment, which suggests some hope for future unity.

 

 

 

 

 

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