Skip to comments.Vatican II And The Word Of God, Part Two
Posted on 03/24/2004 10:41:45 AM PST by ConservativeStLouisGuy
The Revelation of God in Scripture
As we saw in Part One, Vatican II says that the Christian Life is supposed to be an intimate relationship, a dialogue between us and God. But wait a minute. God is so different from us! His ways are not our ways. And if our puny minds have trouble understanding what He does, how much more do they stumble trying to understand who He is.
The Word of God in Words of Men
Are not the agnostics right when they say that if God exists, He is so utterly beyond us that we cannot possibly know and say anything meaningful about Him?
The Council, following all the great teachers of the Catholic Tradition, admits that God is absolute and incomprehensible mystery (DV 6). But in His loving mercy, He has stooped to our level so as to help us understand His loving plan for our lives. In what St. John Chrysostom calls His divine condescension, He has accommodated Himself to our way of understanding. How do we communicate to one another? Through words and actions. So from the time of Abraham onwards, God has intervened in human history and communicated to us through words and deeds (DV2).
There are a couple of things to note about His communication with us, His revelation of Himself and His plan for our salvation. First of all, He uses human words and deeds to speak to us, and these are told and passed on by human witnesses and are ultimately written down by human authors. Yet this very human process is guided and inspired throughout by His Holy Spirit, the divine Author of both the story and the actual books which recount that story (DV 7). The books that tell the story are collected into what we now call the Bible, which more traditionally was called the Sacred Scriptures (meaning simply Sacred Writings). They are a library written by various authors over a span of hundreds of years. Yet they are at the same time one unified book, telling one story of salvation, with one Divine Author, the Holy Spirit.
Throughout history, people have gone astray by failing to recognize the dual character of the Scriptures, which are the Word of God in the words of men (DV 13). To forget the human dimension of the Word leads to fundamentalism; to see only the human leads to secular humanism.
A Gradual and Progressive Revelation
Another thing to note about Gods communication with us over the course of salvation history is that He was wise enough not to reveal too much about Himself too fast. One can compare our relationship to God to a human love relationship. When a couple begins courting, they dont tell all on the first date. Rather, as they get to know each other better, they gradually reveal more and more about themselves. When their wedding day finally comes, they reveal themselves completely to each other, even physically. The total intimacy of marriage is the culmination of a progressively deepening relationship.
Thats the way God works with us, too.
The story of revelation really starts with the pagan Abraham. God begins slowly to reveal Himself to Abraham. He doesnt spell out everything all at once. First of all, He must remove Abraham from his pagan environment, so He draws him away from his home and leads him on a pilgrimage a journey that ultimately takes Abraham and his family to Egypt. But its not until about 600 years after Abrahams first contact with God that the Ten Commandments are given. And even then He doesnt tell them everything eternal life, the Trinity, etc. thats for later. First He has to get the idea across that they are to worship only one God, and that the primary way to please Him is through a life of holiness and justice.
But eventually the time came for the marriage, for God to reveal the most intimate secrets about Himself. That was when God sent His only Son into the world. Jesus Passion, His death and resurrection, is the ultimate moment of Gods revelation of His entire self to us, as Eternal Love that is stronger than sin and death.
Jesus as the Word Made Flesh
John, at the beginning of his gospel, calls Jesus The Word. So when we talk about the Word of God we are not primarily talking about the words of a book, but a about person, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, who was made flesh and gave himself to us.
The Scriptures, from Genesis to Revelation, point to Jesus Christ. The early Church Fathers said Jesus is the Word condensed, the abbreviated Word of God. The Scriptures are like Jesus body in a way analogous to the Eucharist, His sacramental body. Dei Verbum says the Church has always revered the Scriptures as it does the Eucharistic body of Christ (DV 21). Though we dont actually worship the Bible, notice how we sometimes incense the gospel before it is read in Mass and how the priest frequently kisses the book. That is to show the veneration we have for Christ who really comes to us in His written and proclaimed word. When the Scriptures are read in faith in the liturgy, the Council teaches that the Lord Jesus is truly present in the power of His divine grace speaking directly to the congregation (Constitution on the Liturgy, paragraph 7).
In giving us Jesus, God said everything He has to say to us. Thats why there is no further public revelation possible after Christ (DV 4), as the Mormons and Moslems mistakenly believe. If there were need for any further revelation after Jesus, then Jesus couldnt have been perfectly the Word of God.
If you examine Lourdes, Fatima, and other reliable prophecies or apparitions of the Blessed Mother, you will find that the messages delivered simply call us to take the age-old gospel more seriously and to live it with a sense of urgency repentance, faith in Christ Jesus, hope for heaven, and love for God and all humanity. Such messages provide a living, now word to Gods people helping them to know His will in the circumstances facing them in a particular time and place, but they do not provide new information that we need for the sake of our salvation.
Authority and Interpretation of Scripture
Though all was said once for all in Christs life, death, and resurrection, weve been busy for the last 2,000 years unpacking this incredible gift of Gods Word. And we have a lot more unpacking left to do. Our limitations as human beings mean that we dont understand everything at once and we have to keep drawing more nourishment and insight out of what the Lord has spoken once and for all in His Son.
Therefore guidance on how to interpret Scripture was an important part of Vatican IIs legacy. First of all, the Council made clear that we are to respect and seek out the literal sense of Scripture: what the human author intended to teach us about God and our salvation through the words that he wrote (DV 11). That means that the original historical context of each book of the Bible and indeed each passage must be respected. It also means that we should make use of any scientific and historical tools that can be used to help us reconstruct this context thereby getting clearer insight into the meaning the text had for its human author and his original audience.
On the other hand, given that all of the books of the Bible also have the Holy Spirit as their author, we need also to interpret these books in the same Spirit in which they were written (DV 12). In other words, prayer, faith, and holiness provide an indispensable key to the unlocking of Scriptures deepest meaning, a meaning which sometimes exceeds the conscious intention of the human author. Since the Bible is a divinely-authored library, each book should be interpreted in light of all the others Old Testament in light of the New, New Testament in light of the Old (DV 16), with the Gospels (DV 18) and especially their account of the death and resurrection of Christ as the dynamic center.
Reliability of Scripture
A few words should be said in closing about the historical and scientific accuracy of the Bible. The Church has always guaranteed that the Scriptures teach faithfully and without error that truth which God wanted to communicate to us regarding our salvation (DV 12). However it is not at all clear that God or the biblical authors thought that an exact scientific explanation of how the world was created was necessary for our salvation. Divine inspiration does not exempt the biblical authors from the intellectual limitations of their respective ages when it comes to matters of science and secular history. Every book and every line of Scripture is inerrant insofar as it teaches us about God and our salvation, but is inerrant in no other way.
Still there are some historical events that are critical to our salvation, notably the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, as professed in the Nicene and Apostles Creed. From the days of the early Church Fathers, it was clear that the four evangelists were not trying to provide us with an exact chronology of all Jesus sermons and miracles. There are discrepancies in matters of minor detail in the Gospels, like whether Jesus drove the moneychangers out of the temple at the beginning (Jn 2) or at the end (Lk 19) of his public ministry. But text-book history was not what the evangelists were writing. Their goal was to arrange the miracles and words of Jesus in such a way as to provide us with a picture of who Jesus was and what He did for our salvation. In this the four Gospels entirely agree and are utterly reliable, despite slanderous fictions such as The Da Vinci Code which have come and gone ever since the Gnostic gospel of Thomas in the second century.
The Catholic Church is thoroughly biblical. Indeed the Bible is a thoroughly Catholic book. In fact the next great contribution of the Second Vatican Council was to explain how the Bible can only be fully understood in its native context, namely, the Tradition of the Catholic Church. But well save that for our next article, part three of our series on Vatican II and the Word of God.
We believe in one God,
. . . .the Father, the Almighty,
. . . .maker of heaven and earth,
. . . .of all that is, seen and unseen.
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
. . . .the only Son of God,
. . . .eternally begotten of the Father,
. . . .God from God, Light from Light,
. . . .true God from true God,
. . . .begotten, not made,
. . . .of one being with the Father;
. . . .through him all things were made.
. . . .For us and for our salvation
. . . .. . . .he came down from heaven:
. . . .. . . .was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary,
. . . .. . . .and became truly human.
. . . .For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
. . . .. . . .he suffered death and was buried.
. . . .. . . .On the third day he rose again
. . . .. . . .. . . .in accordance with the Scriptures;
. . . .. . . .he ascended into heaven
. . . .. . . .. . . .and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
. . . .. . . .He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
. . . .. . . .. . . .and his kingdom will have no end.
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
. . . .who proceeds from the Father [and the Son],
. . . .who with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified,
. . . .who has spoken through the prophets.
. . . .We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
. . . .We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
. . . .We look for the resurrection of the dead,
. . . .. . . .and the life of the world to come. Amen.
Sorry, the creed I learned says, unequivocally, Credo.
I observe also that there are at least four serious translation errors in your english text - that is, errors of translation with doctrinal implications. So, here is the latin:
Credo in unum Deum,
Patrem omnipotentem, factorem caeli et terrae,
visibilium omnium et invisibilium.
Et in unum Dominum Iesum Christum,
Fílium Dei unigenitum,
et ex Patre natum, ante omnia saecula.
Deum de Deo, lumen de lumine,
Deum verum de Deo vero,
genitum, non factum, consubstantialem Patri:
per quem omnia facta sunt.
Qui propter nos homines et propter nostram salutem
descendit de caelis.
Et incarnatus est de Spiritu Sancto ex Maria Virgine,
et homo factus est.
Crucifixus etiam pro nobis sub Pontio Pilato;
passus et sepultus est,
et resurrexit tertia die, secundum Scripturas,
et ascendit in caelum, sedet ad dexteram Patris.
Et iterum venturus est cum gloria,
iudicare vivos et mortuos,
cuius regni non erit finis.
Et in Spiritum Sanctum, Dominum et vivificantem:
qui ex Patre Filioque procedit.
Qui cum Patre et Filio simul adoratur et conglorificatur:
qui locutus est per prophetas.
Et unam sanctam, catholicam et apostolicam Ecclesiam.
Confiteor unum baptisma in remissionem peccatorum.
Et exspecto resurrectionem mortuorum,
et vitam venturi saeculi.
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