Skip to comments.Vatican II and the Word of God: Part IV
Posted on 03/23/2004 5:17:47 AM PST by Desdemona
Vatican II and the Word of God: Part IV
The Ultimate Goal of Bible Study Everybody knows the Protestant Church is the religion of the Bible and the Catholic Church is all about the sacraments. Right? No, this is wrong. The opposition or contrast between Word and Sacrament sets up a false, even impossible, dichotomy.
In This Article... Word or Sacrament? The Goal of All Bible Study Holiness: The Bottom Line
Word or Sacrament?
When you look at Catholic liturgical celebrations, youll find one or more readings from Scripture preceding the sacramental rite. This is especially apparent in the Sunday Eucharistic celebration, where a rich liturgy of the Word precedes the liturgy of the Eucharist. One of the principal liturgical reforms of Vatican II was the mandate to expand the quantity and variety of readings for Mass, providing a substantial and balanced diet of the Word of God. Sunday Mass-goers are exposed to most of the more important passages of the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, over the course of three years (daily Mass-goers get this overview in two years). Take a close look at the prayers of the Mass and you will see Scripture everywhere. The Gloria starts with a quote from Luke 2, the Lamb of God from John 1, the Holy, Holy from Isaiah 6, and so on. It is as if we cannot approach the table of Lord and recognize His true Body and Blood until our faith has been built up by listening to and then responding with the inspired word of God.
Not only does the Second Vatican Council emphasize the importance of both Word and sacrament in worship, but it ascribes to them the same function the nourishment of Gods people. The Bread of Llife and the bread of the Word are served to us from the same Eucharistic table, says the final chapter of Dei Verbum. So it is not an either/or either Scripture or Sacraments the Catholic Church has always venerated the divine Scriptures as she venerated the Body of the Lord (DV 21).
Blocking Access to the Bible?
So if this is true, why did the Catholic Church keep people from reading the Bible for all those years?
The answer is, it never did any such thing. The official Church never forbade Bible reading or blocked authentic translations of the Scriptures being given to the People of God. But the important word here is accurate. Translation is always, to some degree, an act of interpretation. As such is can be particularly treacherous in leading people into error who think they are simply reading Gods inspired Word. Such was the case with the English translation of John Wyclif, predecessor of the Protestant Reformation, whose anti-clericalism and denial of Christs full Eucharistic presence lurked underneath his simple translation. So yes, Church authorities objected to certain Bibles being circulated because they were such badly-translated Bibles that they could injure peoples faith.
So how about when you have good translations? Popes Leo XIII and Pius XII, long before Vatican II, emphasized the importance of everyone being acquainted with the Word of God. And ultimately Dei Verbum 21 proclaims it loudly and strongly: Access to sacred Scripture ought to be open wide to the Christian faithful. In the final chapter of this document, the Second Vatican Council encourages accurate and appropriate translations to be made into all vernacular languages. It even encourages ecumenical teams of translators to come up with versions that can be used by all Christians, assuming such translations are approved by Catholic Church authorities as accurate and containing no doctrinal errors. My favourite translation, by the way, is an ecumenical one the original Revised Standard Version, done in the 1950s, which was approved for liturgical use in the Catholic Church and is still available as the Ignatius Bible (San Francisco, Ignatius Press).
The Goal of All Bible Study
Dei Verbum quotes one of the greatest Bible Scholars of the Early Church, St. Jerome, to emphasize the need of all Christians to become intimately familiar with Scripture: Ignorance of Scripture is Ignorance of Christ. Jerome studied the original biblical languages and sought to master all the technical tools available in his day to help him understand and expound the Bibles meaning more effectively. However, he and the other Fathers and Doctors never lost sight of the true purpose of Bible study. The Scriptures teach us much about the history of salvation and the moral law. Yet the ultimate point of Gods revelation is not classroom instruction. Ive met many Catholics who have walked away disappointed from a Bible study because it was heavy on history and theories of interpretation, but stopped short of nourishing a living relationship with the Bibles divine Author and applying the Word to everyday life.
There is of course a tremendous amount of history, doctrine, and moral instruction in Scripture. But the deepest truth about Scripture is this it is a privileged place where we encounter God and where He speaks a living, personal, life-changing word to us. "For in the sacred books, the Father who is in heaven meets His children with great love and speaks with them" (DV 21). Christianity is ultimately not a philosophy, but a relationship. And Bible reading for the Christian must always be in the service of deepening this relationship.
I did not discover this until my teenage years. When I was a child, we had an old Bible sitting around that was seldom opened. Curiosity prompted me to delve into it at about age 12. The only thing that interested me were the Old Testament stories touching upon fighting and sex. Everything else bored me to tears. My conclusion? The Bible is dull and irrelevant.
One Sunday shortly before my 16th birthday, I went to Sunday Mass as usual, but this time, the gospel somehow hit me between the eyes. It was about leaving everything behind and following Jesus. I was a hippie, involved in all sorts of social change movements of that time, and scornful of the bourgeois, bland middle-class Catholicism that I saw in my parish. This passage really surprised me because it was so challenging. I had never realized that following Jesus was supposed to be an adventure. So I ripped the passage out of the missalette and plastered it up on my bedroom wall.
Shortly thereafter, a young priest came to the parish right out of seminary and started a youth group. He passed out the Good News Bible, a very easy to understand modern translation, with a cool, electric cover. I started reading it and this time it wasnt ancient history. It was about now. It was about problems I was facing. Through it I heard God speaking to me about my own issues, answering my own, pressing questions, and I couldnt get enough.
Later on I went to college and began formal study of Scripture, where I was eager to learn a lot of history, interpretation theory (hermeneutics) and even biblical Greek. But ultimately it was all in service of the relationship. The goal was, and still is, to understand the Bible better so that I might hear Him speaking more clearly and give myself more wholeheartedly to Him.
Holiness: The Bottom Line
Perhaps the very central chapter of the entire Council is not in Dei Verbum at all, but in Lumen Gentium or the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church. Chapter Five of that document makes clear the universal call to holiness, that everyone, from every walk and state of life, is called to the heights of holiness, defined in terms of an intimate, transforming union with the three divine Persons. "God is love," says 1 John 4:8, and holiness means therefore, sharing in His very nature (2 Pet 1:4) which is the perfection of love. The renewal of the Church, a stated reason for the convening of the Second Vatican Council, is ultimately about growing in charity. If Catholics are ever going to attract the unbelieving world to Christ, it means growing in charity. So where do we get the power to become holy, to love as he loved? From the the sacraments and the Word of God (DV 26).
So it is no accident that one of the four major documents of the Council is devoted to the liturgy and another, Dei Verbum, to the Word of God. And Dei Verbum, one of the last documents to be finished and published by the Council, says that all the advances in the study of Scripture over the last 150 years with the help of philology and archaeology all this is good and to be received with thanksgiving. But it reminds scholars and all Christians to keep in perspective the ultimate goal of reading the Scriptures. In the final analysis, the Bible is given to us a place of dialogue, for us to meet with Him, to hear His voice, and respond to Him.
We are called to be friends of the Lord. He wants us to be increasingly united with Him in faith, hope and love so that we can be prepared for an eternity at His right hand. Encountering Him through Scripture on a daily basis is one of the secrets to this transforming journey from glory to glory.
Dr. D'Ambrosio studied under Avery Cardinal Dulles for his Ph.D. in historical theology and taught for many years at the University of Dallas. He appears weekly on radio and TV reaching six continents and his books, tapes, and CDs are internationally distributed. He will be leading a Catholic Heritage Cruise/Pilgrimage to Rome in July 2004. Information on his resources, talks, and cruise is available on his website, www.dritaly.com.
So if this is true, why did the Catholic Church keep people from reading the Bible for all those years?
The answer is, it never did any such thing. The official Church never forbade Bible reading or blocked authentic translations of the Scriptures being given to the People of God. But the important word here is accurate.
If the Bible for the people was always so important for the RCs, how come they never went out of their way to produce any translations in the language of the people?
It's one thing to say they "never blocked" accurate translation, it's quite another to demonstrate a positive attitude towards creating such translations. Something about sins of omission.
Thank God for the Reformation.
You can't make such a claim. For example, Venerable Bede translated the Bible into English's ancestor language, Anglo-Saxon, in the middle of the first millenium, not long after the British Isles had been converted!
It is reported that Bede translated a portion of the Gospel of John. No record of the translation or how it was used survives.
That is hardly an inspiring story if one wants to assert the RC concerns for getting the Bible to the people.
John Wycliffe, a Roman Catholic, translated the entire Bible from the Vulgate into English. His reward? He was condemned as a heretic and expelled from his position at Oxford and after he died the pope had his bones exhumed and burned.
I would say if being burned at the stake counts as an objection then its a pretty BIG one. :O)
A bit of revisionist history but if it encourages Catholics (or anybody for that matter) to read their Bibles then thats fine. Just a note:
"When you look at Catholic liturgical celebrations, youll find one or more readings from Scripture preceding the sacramental rite.
Reading lots of scripture during services is an indication of NOTHING. Please consider:
When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. Matthew 6:5-6
I think the message is clear. You need to spend time alone with God to study His word.
One more thing:
"My favorite translation, by the way, is an ecumenical one the original Revised Standard Version
I used the Revised Standard for 30 years (and, here a secret, it's built off of the King James Version). I finally gave it up because it contains numerous errors. Many Bible search programs and search engines dont even include the Revised Standard. There are many good software tools to help you go back to the original text to see what exactly is written. One can only hope theyre Vatican approved.
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