Constitution of the II Vatican Council on the Divine Revelation "Dei Verbum"
November 18, 2012 In today's Gospel Jesus says: "Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away". Let me share with you an important and beautiful document of the II Vatican Council about Revelation and the Bible. It is a very short document, and its goal is to propose the doctrine of the Church about revelation. Why God has revealed himself to us?
The purpose of revelation is that men and women enter in communion with God. (Cf. 1 John 1:2-3). It is the announcement of salvation, so that men may believe, hope and love. It is the communication of a knowledge that brings communion and salvation if it is put in action; as St. Augustin says: "So that those who believe may hope, and those who hope may love". (Preface)
Chapter I: The Revelation
God in his goodness and wisdom has let us know the mystery of his will, in order to make us sharers of the divine nature, to admit us to communion with him (2).
Jesus is mediator (teacher) and the fullness of all revelation. He is the fullness of revelation, in words and actions, because whoever sees him sees the Father, and because his words "will never pass away". That's why the Christian truth will never pass away, there is not another public revelation to wait for, and we are just awaiting the "glorious manifestation." (4).
The answer to revelation is the obedience of faith (5). God communicates his own truth, and men and women accept this revelation through faith. Through faith men and women answer the gift of God with the gift of themselves. When you believe, you give yourself to God, because you give him your capacity to know, and your capacity to love. It is not just to know that something is like this, but to accept that this is so because God had spoken it to me. He knows. It is to put myself in the hands of God. This is faith.
Chapter II: How is the divine revelation transmitted?
God wants all men to be saved. He wanted the revelation of Jesus to be transmitted to all men and women, through all generations. So Jesus commanded the apostles to proclaim his Gospel. The apostles did, by preaching orally and by writing. But this Gospel had to be preserved in time. So the apostles ordained other ministers as their successors, so that they may continue their magisterial mission. This is called tradition, the fact that those who came after have received the Gospel from those who went before, and they transmitted what they * received. We may find in scripture the foundations of this Sacred Tradition (Cf. 2Ts 2:15, Jude 3). "From that tradition it is made known to the Church the complete cannon of Sacred Scripture". We would not know which books are sacred if it was not for the Tradition of the Church (8).
The successors of the Apostles have the duty to preserve the deposit of faith entrusted to them, to explain it and spread it (9). We all participate in the reception of the tradition but only the Magisterium has the authority to authentically interpret the word of God, written or transmitted. We can see the wisdom of God in establishing it in this way, since without an authority in interpretation, we would have as many doctrines as people, and it would be difficult to know what God really wanted us to know and to do (10).
Chapter III: Inspiration of the Holy Scriptures and their interpretation
The Bible is inspired by the Holy Spirit, so God is its Author; but it is also work of the human author, as a free instrument of the Holy Spirit. Human authors have written all and only what God wanted. Because God is the main Author, there cannot be errors in the Bible (11).
Because human authors are also true authors, it is necessary to pay attention to human sciences for interpretation, like literary genders. But because it is a work of the Spirit, the exact interpretation must take in account the whole Scripture (because it is the same author), the Tradition and the analogy of the faith. One and the same Author cannot contradict himself. The exegete must work according to these rules, but only the Church has the last word about their work, since only the Church has the duty and the ministry of preserving and interpreting the word of God (2Pe 1:20) (12). The Bible shows the condescendence of God: He spoke our way, in such a way that his word became human for our sake (13).
Chapter IV: The Old Testament.
It has a value even nowadays (14). Its riches: doctrine about God, about man, treasures of prayer and it contains hidden the mystery of Christ's redemption (15).
Chapter V: The New Testament.
The word of God is in an eminent way manifested in the New Testament. Only Jesus, full of grace and Truth, has the words of eternal life (17). The Gospels are the most important in the New Testament, because they contain the life and doctrine of Jesus (18). The Church teaches firmly that the Four Gospels have an apostolic origin. The apostles themselves or their disciples have been the authors (Matthew and John were apostles, Luke disciple of Paul, and Mark disciple of Peter) (19). The Gospels are historic. They transmit to us what Jesus did and taught. First the apostles preached orally. Then they selected some of the things and put them in writing. It is stressed the truthfulness and sincerity of the content. The use of sources oral or written, the circumstances of preaching, are not an obstacle to the historical truth of the Gospel (20).
Chapter VI: The Holy Scripture in the Life of the Church
"The Church has always venerated the divine Scriptures just as she venerates the body of the Lord". The Bible is spiritual food of Christians, supreme rule of faith together with tradition and the source of life for the Church (21).
Exhortation to read the Bible (25). Priests and ministers of the word (e.g. teachers of religion of any kind) have a special duty, because they cannot transmit what they don't taste by themselves. Everyone then is invited to the frequent reading of Scriptures, because "to ignore the Scriptures is to ignore Christ" (St. Jerome).
How to deepen in our personal contact with the word of God? Participation of the Liturgy, which is full of texts and readings coming from the scriptures; personal meditation, and other initiatives (like Bible studies, etc.). Finally, the Council reminds us that reading of Scripture should be accompanied of prayer, so that there is a dialogue: "When we pray, we speak to God; when we read, we listen to him" (S. Ambrose).
What do we do when we receive a letter of a friend? We immediately open it and see what our friend had for us in his or her heart. Our Lord and God wrote for us the scripture, to let us know about his love for us. May we never leave the Bible closed. As the Council says: "May the treasure of revelation, entrusted to the Church, fill the hearts of men and women" (26).