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La Bibbia nel concilio: La redazione della constituzione "Dei Verbum" del Vaticano II.

La Bibbia nel concilio: La redazione della constituzione "Dei Verbum" del Vaticano II. By Riccardo Burigana. Testi e ricerche di scienze religiose, n.s., 21. Bologna: Societa editrice il Mulino, 1998. 514 pp. L65000.

To theologians no less than ecclesiastical historians, those old enough to have been there and those who were not, this history of Vatican II's Constitution on Divine Revelation, Dei verbum, offers both instruction and delight. The job of research and analysis has been thoroughly and efficiently done. When, at some future date, someone comes to do for Vatican II what Hubert Jedin did for Trent and Klaus Schatz has recently done for Vatican I, the task will have been greatly facilitated by the prodigious labor of Riccardo Burigana, a fellow of the Istituto per le scienze religiose of Bologna.

Burigana's use of the vast number of extensive and varied sources here was all the more necessary since, unlike the other documents of the Second Vatican Council, the Constitution on Divine Revelation was, and is destined to remain, an articulus stantis et cadentis ecclesiae. These sources comprise a very limited number of published works like the Acta et documenta of the council, available in English, and the three-volume Storia del concilio Vaticano H of G. Alberigo, currently appearing in translation (History of Vatican H, ed. Giuseppe Alberigo ;English version ed. Joseph A. Komonchak [Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis, 1995-]). By far the most extensive material put under contribution is in the Vatican archives of the council itself, in the archives of Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli (John XXIII) in Bologna, and in those of the World Council of Churches in Geneva. Add to these a long list of the personal papers of participants and periti, the diaries kept by various members of the commissions, and the reports of the various commissions themselves from 1960 to 1965. In a first appendix, the author includes a list of the various stages of redaction of the document on divine revelation, and, in a second, the schema and text of what started out as a constitution on the sources of revelation (De fontibus revelationis), followed by the text of Dei verbum prepared by the subcommission for its meeting of April 20-25, 1964, which finally led to the promulgation of the Constitution. In this teeming labyrinth, only an index of names is provided, but it does facilitate the consultation of the volume by identifying the sees and dioceses of the fathers of the council.

The five chapters that make up this history of Dei verbum start with the years 1959-62, from 25 January 1959, when Pope John XXIII announced his wish to call a general council and was met by the "devoto silenzio" (29) of the cardinals present. The survey of the vota, the expressed wishes of the various parts of the Catholic world, makes fascinating reading, revealing as it does the concerns uppermost in the minds of different segments of the Catholic world. The vota of the various Catholic faculties in Europe and the Americas play the full diapason, from the staunchly "ultramontane" to the restive, scarcely larvated "neomodernismo" (358). This vast flood left the preparatory commission seemingly unimpressed. It came up with a document of what was its uppermost concern, the sources of revelation, De fontibus revelationis. It was eager, indeed anxious, to have the document approved and passed right from the first session of Vatican II in 1962. Protestations to the contrary notwithstanding, the commission's prime concern was the unequivocal recognition of who stood under whom: whether the word stood under the church, or the church under the word. The commission thought--quite wrongly as it turned out--that once the council agreed that tradition had the upper hand over Scripture, all the rest would follow, as liturgical instructions used to say, more solito, in the usual manner.

In Burigana's second chapter, aptly titled "Il naufragio de De fontibus revelationis," the struggle to transmogrify the council from a biddable assembly to a genuinely responsible and reflective body was barely decorous on the surface. What went on behind the scenes, however, was not. The footnotes here make fascinating reading. The effort to have De fontibus "withdrawn" was extensive, involving the hierarchies of the Catholic world--even the Italian hierarchy broke rank on the issue (165). The exception was the U.S. hierarchy, whose almost total silence in such a theological and profoundly ecclesial debate must strike one as remarkable, indeed instructive. Up to the very end of that session of October to November 1962, parties appealed to the wishes of the pope, cited rules of the council, and expressed anxiety about the faith of "simple" believers. But the decision rested ultimately with John XXIII, and it was he who determined to "interrupt" the debate, in effect to "sink" the document and start all over again. It was at the Twenty-Fourth General Congregation, at the moment when Felici, the secretary of the council, read the message of the pope, that Vatican II came to life.

The next three chapters follow the course of events from that November of 1962, through the second session under the new pontificate of Paul VI, and up to the solemn promulgation of the document we have today. Its ecumenical impact came to be taken very seriously indeed. The original wishes of John XXIII to have a pastoral council, not one that issued condemnation, came to the fore. The concern to respect the freedom of exegetes, the stress on the vital role of the Bible in the liturgy, and the grasp of the ecclesiological issues involved in any discussion of the word of God, all bore fruit in a document that, while not the last word on the subject, opened the door to a new and radically different future. Up to the very end, efforts were made to insert a word here, a phrase like traditio constitutiva there, to slip in some hint of the church's power to define truths not found in sola Scriptura, to insure that Rome had the final say in its interpretation. The document was even found lacking stylistic elegance: four gerundives in the same paragraph (354 n. 192)! Attempts to add a "nota praevia" (415), like that added to the Constitution on the Church, kept surfacing. Even after the solemn promulgation of the Constitution on 18 November 1965, the Osservatore romano slanted the text in its Italian translation of the Latin original (432). If all this does not make for edifying reading, one must keep in mind that God writes straight on crooked lines, Dei verbum.

Stanley B. Marrow Weston Jesuit School of Theology
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Author:Marrow, Stanley B.
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Date:Mar 1, 2000
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