Verbum opens by explaining the basic flow of the process of
Divine Revelation, which comes to fruition in the life of Jesus
Christ, who "completed and perfected Revelation and confirmed it
with divine guarantees" (n. 4). Since Jesus Christ is the definitive
manifestation of God, the Council Fathers naturally say that "no
new public revelation is to be expected before the glorious manifestation
of our Lord, Jesus Christ" (n. 4).
the bishops teach that "sacred Tradition and sacred Scripture
make up a single sacred deposit of the Word of God, which is entrusted
to the Church" (n.10). In doing so, the council bypasses the old
Protestant Reformation debate about "Scripture versus Tradition"
to a more useful discussion of the Lordís desire to reveal Himself
fully to His People Ė a process carried forward by both
Scripture and Tradition.
makes sense. In reality, Tradition came before Scripture, and
the Church came before them both, because the writing of the New
Testament didnít begin until some 15-20 years after the Lordís
Death and Resurrection. The Gospel message was passed along through
oral tradition first, and only later committed to written form.
The means of transmission -- whether oral or written --
were secondary to the goal (revelation) and to the receiver
of the revelation (Godís People, the Church).
the Scriptures didnít drop from heaven in final form. They took
shape in and through the community of the Church, working under
divine inspiration. And somewhat like the American Constitution,
the Scriptures are not self-explanatory documents. They require
"an authentic interpretation" -- and that task "has been entrusted
to the living teaching office of the Church alone" (n. 10). The
bishops stress that "in the supremely wise arrangement of God,
sacred Tradition, sacred Scripture and the Magisterium of the
Church are so connected and associated that one of them cannot
stand without the others. Working together, each in its own way
under the action of the Holy Spirit, they all contribute effectively
to the salvation of souls" (n. 10).
therefore offers a middle way between Protestant fundamentalism
and secular rationalism in interpreting the Bible. It clearly
teaches the divine inspiration of the sacred authors and, therefore,
the inerrant quality of their writings. It says "that the books
of Scripture, firmly, faithfully and without error, teach that
truth which God, for the sake of our salvation, wished to be confided
to the sacred Scriptures" (n. 11). In that qualifying phrase,
"for the sake of our salvation," we hear the Catholic response
to modern rationalism, which denies the inerrancy of Scripture
and even the need for salvation. But Dei Verbum also avoids
a simple-minded literalism.
to fundamentalists and biblical literalists, Dei Verbum
stresses the need for "carefully search[ing] out the meaning which
the sacred writers really had in mind, that meaning which God
had thought well to manifest through the medium of words" (n.
12). For Catholics, this comes through an analysis of "literary
forms, for the fact is that truth is differently presented and
expressed in the various types of historical writing, in prophetical
and poetical texts and in other forms of literary expression"
(n.12). Dei Verbum, then, follows the common sense wisdom
of the great 16th century cardinal and historian Cesare
Baronius, who reacted to the Galileo crisis of his day with the
simple comment that, "The Scriptures tell us how to go to heaven
-- not how the heavens go."
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).
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 todayís skepticism is not a reactionary
swing to fundamentalism, which simply doesnít 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
Verbumís 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.
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 thatís simply not true. Other German versions
came first. Lutherís 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.
way the Church has listened to the Councilís 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 Godís Word, but itís happening to them at precisely
the same moment, which suggests some hope for future unity.
Verbum reminds teachers of religion and clergy of their duty
to be formed in the knowledge and spirit of the Scriptures. In
fact, the document urges all the faithful "forcefully and specifically"
to grow in their faith "by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures"
(n. 25). And to make their point, the bishops quote the great
maxim of St. Jerome: "Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance
United States, all of these conciliar teachings found people eager
and ready to respond. Bible study courses are now standard in
many American parishes. Our own archdiocesan Catholic Biblical
School is a great example of how hungry people are for the Word
of God. Today, it would be a rare Catholic high school graduate
who hadnít studied the Bible for at least two years. Sunday preaching
is also much more biblically based. The Catholic renaissance in
Scripture, however, has also had its problems. At times, poorly
prepared teachers have misled adults and young people alike. Elsewhere,
lay people have not had good guidance from clergy and have wandered
into fundamentalism. So what can we do to set things right?
I hope each of you will read at least a portion of the Bible every
day Ė if you donít already. Thereís no need to read it cover to
cover, or in any particular order. Just put yourself into contact
with Godís Word on a regular basis Ė as little as 15 minutes daily.
Set a clear goal, and stick to it.
once youíve begun your biblical "immersion" program, try to pray
at least some portion of the Divine Office, which we also know
as the "Liturgy of the Hours," each day. I canít think of a healthier
spiritual diet, since 90 percent of it is Sacred Scripture. Many
so-called "Bible-believing" Christians are astonished to discover
that our clergy and religious are required by Church law
to pray this biblically based discipline daily. Obviously, start
out small, by trying to celebrate Morning and Evening Prayer.
Use one of the "hours" as part of a prayer-group activity or during
a Holy Hour. See if your pastor might be willing to introduce
or re-introduce Sunday Vespers as part of the parish schedule,
at least during Advent or Lent. Pray Night Prayer with your spouse
before going to bed.
try to read some of the Early Fathers of the Church Ė the great
scholars and saints of the first Christian centuries. The Early
Fathers had a gift for seeing connections and meanings in the
Word of God which elude many of our best theological minds today.
And this is another reason to introduce yourself to the Divine
Office, in which we not only pray, but also receive instruction
from the masters of theology and spirituality, who are so often
the Early Fathers.
join a parish-based Bible study group . . . or at least one under
Catholic auspices. If one doesnít exist, approach your pastor
with the idea, and offer to take some responsibility for its organization
and upkeep. If you donít have someone trained in the Scriptures
to guide the project, make sure that you have good study aids:
a good translation of the Bible Ė the Revised Standard Version,
1966 Catholic edition, is one of my favorites; along with a concordance;
and solid Catholic commentaries. And again, if you canít find
what you need at the parish level, consider signing up for our
archdiocesan Catholic Biblical School, which has served the Church
in northern Colorado so long and so well.
make your encounter with Scripture a real prayer and study experience,
and not just a "sharing session." And make sure your methods of
interpretation are firmly rooted in the teaching of the Church.
Remember that if someone brings up a biblical passage that seems
to contradict a doctrine of faith, either the passage is not being
properly understood, or itís not being read in its full historical,
literary or doctrinal context -- so more homework is needed. Why
am I sure of that? Because the same Holy Spirit who guided the
writing of the Sacred Scriptures has likewise been the constant
Guide of the Church in her work of expounding and defining Christian
doctrine. In other words, God canít contradict Himself or allow
the Church to contradict herself.
be careful not to deny, in subtle ways, the centrality of Jesus
Christ. Both as a priest and a bishop, I was really puzzled by
the reaction to the Vaticanís recent document Dominus Iesus,
even in some Catholic circles. The response wasnít just negative
-- it was bitter. But Dominus Iesus doesnít say anything
new. Take 20 or 30 minutes and actually read it. It teaches exactly
the same message as Vatican II. It preaches exactly the same doctrine
Catholics have always believed.
teaches, and Catholics believe, that Jesus is the fulfillment
of all the hopes and all the promises offered to mankind from
the dawn of salvation history. There is no salvation outside Jesus
Christ. I know that at times some of our Jewish friends get nervous
about what they call "fulfillment talk." But "fulfillment talk"
is at the core of the Christian message; we canít avoid it without
doing violence to the Person and the Message which stand at the
heart of Christianity. Thatís why, for instance, the U.S. bishopsí
committee which is charged with implementing the Catechism has
insisted that catechetical texts not replace "B.C." and "A.D."
with "B.C.E." and "C.E." Jesus Christ is at the center of human
meaning and world history Ė and not to proclaim Him as lord is
a failure in our Christian duty of evangelization.
many Jews express concern about our designation of the New Testamentís
companion volume as "the Old Testament." With the best of intentions,
some Christians have come up with alternatives like "the Hebrew
Scriptures" or "the Jewish Bible." And I include myself on that
list, because Iíve done the same thing. The problem is that these
expressions are inaccurate. Significant portions of the so-called
"Hebrew Scriptures" werenít originally written in Hebrew, but
in Greek. In like manner, books in the would-be "Jewish Bible"
did not in fact form part of the canon of the Hebrew text, but
only of the Septuagint or Greek text. It might simply be better
to let our Jewish friends know that, for us, "old" does not mean
obsolete or useless, but venerable -- that is, worthy of veneration.
recover the skills of apologetics. Apologetics, some of you will
recall, is that branch of theology devoted to the explanation
and defense of our faith. Far too many Catholics have fallen prey
to all sorts of fundamentalist sects, because somebody used the
"hook" of Sacred Scripture to convince the poorly catechized that
biblical faith and Catholic doctrine are mutually exclusive. This
is nonsense. So itís really important to familiarize yourself
with the writings of some of the best Catholic apologists in the
field today Ė women like Rhonda Chervin, Janet Smith and Joyce
Little, men like Peter Kreeft, Patrick Madrid, Karl Keating and
Father Peter Stravinskas,
challenges his flock always "to be ready to give a reason for
the hope that is in them" [1 Pt 3:15]. Apologetics is essential
to our "faith-sharing." It is certianly not "anti-ecumenical"
to explain what we believe and why we believe it, and to defend
our beliefs when attacked. In fact, I see two wonderful results
from apologetics, especially when itís biblically based. The first
is evangelization: When we really know our faith, we tend to share
it. The second is growth in Christian unity: When we explain our
faith to other sincere Christians, misconceptions are replaced
by truth. On the other hand, when the Catholic faith is misrepresented
out of ignorance or malice, itís Christian charity and also our
Christian duty to point out the errors and to call the erring
person to a change of mind, heart and behavior.
my list of "things to do," biblically speaking Ė at least for
starters. It may sound challenging, but it is not daunting
Ė not if we agree with the Epistle to the Hebrews that Godís Word
is "living and effective;" not if we really understand the gift
God gave us in this remarkable document Dei Verbum.
past 35 years, the biblical revival sparked by Vatican II has
been an source of blessing and vitality for the whole Church Ė
and it will continue to renew the hearts of believers for many
years to come. After all, if it "pleased God . . . to reveal Himself"
to us, shouldnít it equally please Him when we search the depths
of that Revelation found in His Word and celebrated in His Church?
Let me close this reflection with the words the Council Fathers
used to conclude Dei Verbum 35 years ago:
may it come that, by the reading and study of the sacred
books "the Word of God may speed on and triumph" [2 Th
3:1] and the treasure of Revelation entrusted to the Church
may more and more fill the hearts of men. Just as from
constant attendance at the eucharistic mystery the life
of the Church draws increase, so a new impulse of spiritual
life may be expected from increased veneration of the
Word of God, which "stands forever" [Is 40:8; cf. 1 Pt
I hope all of us at this conference, and throughout the Church
in northern Colorado, will always be able to give a heartfelt