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Biblical authority permeates council teaching.

On Oct. 11, 1962, the bishops of the Second Vatican Council entered St. Peter's Basilica in solemn procession behind an ancient manuscript of the Scriptures. As they conducted their deliberations before this centuries-old Bible, enshrined in a place of honor, they were enacting a drama of the role of Scripture in the council itself and in the post-conciliar church. The church is summoned to be a follower and servant of the word. The authority of the Bible permeates all aspects of the council. The constant citation of biblical texts gives the council documents a flavor of biblical language and is implicit recognition of the authority of the biblical text.

Early in the first session of the council a draft document, a dogmatic schema "On the Sources of Revelation," prepared by the theological commission under Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani, crystallized the reactionary tendencies of post-Tridentine and antimodernist theology. The draft went beyond the Council of Trent in arguing for "two sources" of revelation, and presented fundamentalist views on inspiration and inerrancy. Immediately a procession of speakers stood to urge rejection of this schema.

Still, despite strong voices against this draft, partly because of parliamentary confusion, the vote to reject the schema did not receive the required two-thirds majority necessary to send it back to the drafting committee. A week later the drama was further heightened when Cardinal Pericle Felici, the council general secretary, announced that Pope John XXIII had removed discussion of this schema from the agenda and handed it over to a mixed commission, of which Ottaviani and Jesuit Cardinal Augustin Bea, representing the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity, were to be cochairs. Commentators saw this incident as a sign that the bishops were to take the council as their own and not remain as deputies of the Roman Curia.

The revised Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation (Dei Verbum)-subsequently described by Dominican Fr. Edward Schill-beeckx, a peritus, as one of the council's "crown jewels"--was accepted: 2,344 bishops in favor out of 2,350 in attendance. The first words of the preface set the tone for the whole: "Hearing the Word of God with reverence and proclaiming it confidently," the council claims that its teaching is itself service of the word and proclaims it with the hope that the world will increase in faith and love. A chapter on revelation itself, which is foundational for the whole, follows the preface.

Revelation is dialogic and personal. While Vatican I said that God reveals his wisdom, goodness and "eternal decrees of his will," Vatican II uses less abstract language in stating, "God chose to reveal himself." This self-disclosure of God is not simply in the form of truth about God but is an invitation to dialogue and communion with him. Revelation occurs in both words and deeds, which have "an inner unity; the deeds wrought by God in the history of salvation manifest and confirm the teaching and reality signified by the words, while the words proclaim the deeds and clarify the mystery contained in them."

The following important chapter, "Handing on Divine Revelation," spells out carefully, but somewhat dialectically, the relation of Scripture and tradition. Neither Scripture nor tradition is ever called explicitly a "source" of revelation, but there is a close connection between the two. Both of them flow "from the same divine wellspring ... and tend toward the same end." In one sense "Scripture" is the result of tradition since it is the handing on in writing of the apostolic witness and preaching. Scripture and tradition form one sacred deposit of the word of God, yet there is a priority given to Scripture, which is called the word of God, while tradition hands on the word. This section states that the church's apostolic tradition develops with the help of the Holy Spirit, "through the contemplation and study made by believers who treasure these things in their hearts ... through an intimate understanding of the spiritual realities which they experience, and through the preaching of those who have received through Episcopal succession the sure gift of truth. Study, religious experience and community discernment are thus an important part of the development of tradition. Here episcopal teaching is part of a larger process of growth rather than its sole agent. But later the text states simultaneously that the "magisterium," the teaching office, is "not above the word of God, but serves it," and continues, "The task of authentically interpreting the Word of God, whether written or handed on, has been entrusted exclusively to the living teaching office [magisterium] of the Church." Thus the teaching office is simultaneously the servant of the word and its authentic interpreter. Benedictine Abbot Christopher Butler, a peritus, later bishop, captured the tension in the conciliar statements when he wrote shortly after the council: "It is all very well for us to say and believe that the magisteriurn is subject to Holy Scripture. But is there anybody who is in a position to tell the magisterium: Look, you are not practicing your subjection to Scripture in your teaching?" The abbot's question is still with us.

Chapter 3, "Sacred Scripture, Its Inspiration and Divine Interpretation," addressed a neuralgic issue in the debate between conservatives and advocates of biblical criticism, how Scripture communicates "faithfully and without error that truth which God wanted put into sacred writings." The discoveries of natural science (e.g., the age of the universe) as well as the insights of historical criticism concerning de facto errors in the Bible seemed to challenge traditional church teaching on inerrancy. In a formulation that was accepted only in the last session of the council, Dei Verbum states that "the books of Scripture must be acknowledged as teaching firmly, faithfully and without error that truth which God wanted put into sacred writings for the sake of our salvation" (emphasis mine). In the post-conciliar years the phrase "for the sake of our salvation" became a critical principle against literal interpretation of parts of the Bible that legitimated sexual or social oppression. The enduring importance of this issue was manifest in the April 2012 exhortation of Pope Benedict XVI to the Pontifical Biblical Commission to investigate again the question of inspiration and the truth of the Bible.

The conciliar document then goes on to state the principal norm of interpretation: "The interpreter of sacred Scripture in order to see clearly what God wanted to communicate to us, should carefully investigate what meaning the sacred writer really intended, and what God wanted to manifest by means of their words," which is an affirmation of the primacy given to historical criticism. Selective methodological principles are then given to attain the original sense of the text:

* Attention must be paid to the literary forms;

* The interpreter must consider the historical circumstances of the time of writing;

* Attention must be paid to the customary and characteristic pattens that people in that period employed in dealing with each other.

Though seeming obvious from a vantage point of 50 years after the council, these principles were among the most controversial before and during the drafting of Dei Verbum. In principal, no method of scholarly inquiry is precluded in seeking the meaning of texts. The text then turns to theological exegesis, introduced by a citation from St. Jerome that "the holy Scripture must be read and interpreted in the sacred spirit in which it was written." This "pneumatic" or spiritual exegesis means consequently that "serious attention must be given to the content and unity of the whole of Scripture"; interpretation must take into account "the living tradition of the whole church ... along with the harmony which exists between elements of the faith" (analogia fidei).

In its final chapter, after brief comments on revelation in the Old and New Testaments, the document turns to "Sacred Scripture in the Life of the Church" and stresses that Scripture is to permeate every aspect of church life, especially at the Eucharist where people receive "the bread of life from the table both of God's word and of Christ's body."

The immediate history of post-Vatican Catholic biblical scholarship, in concert with other theological disciplines, presents a dazzling kaleidoscope. Along with established teachers and scholars, mainly religious or clerics, more and more talented laypeople, especially women scholars, entered the field. Roman Catholic scholars quickly became leaders in the academic study of the Bible. The biblical renewal became the soul of bilateral ecumenical dialogues, as groups turned to the scriptural roots of disputed issues only to find that a historical critical reading of the Scriptures challenged positions once thought to be set in concrete. Literally thousands of religious and laypeople flocked to summer institutes and workshops sustained by joyful discovery of the manner in which the Bible touched their lives.

Along with its landmark contributions, Dei Verbum bequeathed continuing challenges to the church: the relation of theological intepretation to historical criticism; the challenge to church life and structures posed by greater knowledge of the apostolic age; deeper understanding of inspiration; continual renewal of biblical preaching; and the continuing need, as Cardinal Carlo Martini emphasized, "to renew the renewal."
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Title Annotation:BEFORE AND AFTER
Author:Donahue, John R.
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Geographic Code:4EXVA
Date:Oct 11, 2012
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