By Santiago Rodriguez, S.J.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1: 1-5)
This October, we celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council. This Council was called by Pope John XXIII who stated that the main reason for it was the need for aggiornamento, a word which is usually translated as an updating. The documents of this Council reviewed, revitalized and re-presented the Church's teaching in order to strengthen the Church's mission in the world today. The Church's teaching was also expanded upon and developed in significant ways, such as in relation to ecumenism and religious freedom, as well as in many other aspects of the Church's liturgy and life.
The dogmatic constitution on divine revelation, Dei Verbum – meaning “Word of God” in Latin – is one of the four foundational documents of the Second Vatican Council. Dei Verbum intends to set forth the true doctrine on divine revelation and its transmission. The purpose is for “...the whole world to hear the summons to salvation, so that through hearing, it may believe, through belief, it may hope, through hope, it may come to love” (DV§1).
The Church calls us to relish divine revelation in Dei Verbum, and through the process of understanding Sacred Scriptures, to grow in faith, hope and love. The more we assent to the self-communication of God contained in Sacred Scriptures, the more we are able to respond according to what faith requires of us. In the light of revelation, faith requires from us belief, trust, obedience and love.
If God speaks of truth in the Scriptures, then faith requires intellectual belief. In the Book of Exodus, God reveals the Ten Commandments and proclaims: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall not have other gods beside me” (Ex 20:2-3). As he speaks this truth, our faith requires assent to this truth. And as we assent to it, we ask ourselves this question: “How does this truth transform my life? How do my sweat, laughter, joy and tears proclaim that he is my God and there is no other?”
If God makes promises in the Scriptures, then faith requires confidence and trust. When the psalmist sings: “I love you, Lord, my strength, Lord, my rock, my fortress, my deliverer; my God, my rock of refuge, my shield, my saving horn, my stronghold!” (Ps 18:2-3), faith requires trust on my part. It invites me to a conviction that God will indeed deliver me because he is my fortress and my shield. I am led to recognize that God remains my strength in moments of agony, anxiety and fear.
If God gives a command in the Scriptures, then faith requires obedience, the observance of his life-giving laws. As Jesus tells us: "'My commandment is that you love one another as I have loved you" (Jn 15:12). We are called to observe this command. It means that our toils and celebrations acquire a new meaning in the way we love one another.
Most importantly, we are called to believe, to trust, and to be obedient in love. Dei Verbum calls us to delight in the Sacred Scriptures so that we might become more faithful, trusting, obedient and loving. It invites us to recognize that Christ is the full revelation of the Father; he is the life-giving revelation. He has the power to transform our lives and the world. He is the mediator and the fullness of revelation (DV§2).
Dei Verbum also explains the process of transmission and interpretation of the Word of God. The transmission of faith has developed in three stages. The first stage is the words and acts of Christ, in the way he lived and proclaimed the kingdom of God to his audience. The second stage is through the reports of the apostles and other disciples on his deeds and words; they used different words to adapt to the audience, but they nonetheless kept the sense of what he did and said. In the third stage, some divinely-inspired individuals wrote down part of this original teaching.
In order that the full and living Gospel might always be preserved in the Church, the apostles appointed bishops as their successors. In doing so, the responsibilities of teaching and interpreting Scriptures were entrusted to the Church. The transmission of this teaching is very important to the life of the Church. Therefore, Sacred Scripture and the transmission of the teaching from one generation to another through Sacred Tradition are bound closely together; they communicate with each other. Both flow from the same divine well-spring, for there is one chief Author, the Holy Spirit, for all of Scripture.
“The Church always venerates the Scriptures as it does the Lord's Body, when, especially in the Liturgy it takes the bread of life from the table of the word of God” (DV §21). As divine revelation strengthens our souls and prepares us for mission, the Church invites and encourages us to drink often from the well-spring of these waters. I would like to propose three ways to cherish the treasure of Sacred Scripture and to grow in friendship with God.
First of all, try to read at least a portion of the Bible every day. It is not necessary to read it from cover to cover, or in any particular order. Put yourself into contact with God's Word on a regular basis, for as little as fifteen minutes a day. Set a clear goal, and stick to it.
Secondly, try to pray at least some portion of the Divine Office each day, which we also know as the “Liturgy of the Hours”. Since about ninety percent of it is taken from Sacred Scripture, it is quite a healthy spiritual diet.
Last but not least, try to read the writings of the Fathers of the Church, the great scholars and saints of the early centuries. The Fathers of the Church had a gift for seeing connections and meanings in the Word of God. Since their writings are often included in the Divine Office, this serves as another reason to pick up on this habit of praying the Office. By doing so, we pray and receive instruction from these masters of theology and spirituality.
Go to another post in our Second Vatican Council series:
Lumen Gentium – Sacrosanctum Concilium – Gaudium et Spes