Category Archives: Scripture Synod

The Symphony of Revelation in Verbum Domini

In Verbum Domini, the Pope provides a quick summary of the theology of revelation:

In the light of these considerations, born of meditation on the Christian mystery expressed in the Prologue of John, we now need to consider what the Synod Fathers affirmed about the different ways in which we speak of “the word of God”. They rightly referred to a symphony of the word, to a single word expressed in multiple ways: “a polyphonic hymn”.[17] The Synod Fathers pointed out that human language operates analogically in speaking of the word of God. In effect, this expression, while referring to God’s self-communication, also takes on a number of different meanings which need to be carefully considered and related among themselves, from the standpoint both of theological reflection and pastoral practice. As the Prologue of John clearly shows us, the Logos refers in the first place to the eternal Word, the only Son, begotten of the Father before all ages and consubstantial with him: the word was with God, and the word was God. But this same Word, Saint John tells us, “became flesh” (Jn 1:14); hence Jesus Christ, born of the Virgin Mary, is truly the Word of God who has become consubstantial with us. Thus the expression “word of God” here refers to the person of Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of the Father, made man.

While the Christ event is at the heart of divine revelation, we also need to realize that creation itself, the liber naturae, is an essential part of this symphony of many voices in which the one word is spoken. We also profess our faith that God has spoken his word in salvation history; he has made his voice heard; by the power of his Spirit “he has spoken through the prophets”.[18] God’s word is thus spoken throughout the history of salvation, and most fully in the mystery of the incarnation, death and resurrection of the Son of God. Then too, the word of God is that word preached by the Apostles in obedience to the command of the Risen Jesus: “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to the whole creation” (Mk 16:15). The word of God is thus handed on in the Church’s living Tradition. Finally, the word of God, attested and divinely inspired, is sacred Scripture, the Old and New Testaments. All this helps us to see that, while in the Church we greatly venerate the sacred Scriptures, the Christian faith is not a “religion of the book”: Christianity is the “religion of the word of God”, not of “a written and mute word, but of the incarnate and living Word”.[19] Consequently the Scripture is to be proclaimed, heard, read, received and experienced as the word of God, in the stream of the apostolic Tradition from which it is inseparable.[20] (Benedict XVI, Verbum Domini, sec. 7)

It is funny to me how we use the term “word of God” with so many different meanings. What connects them all is that each meaning somehow denotes God’s revelation. The Bible is the word of God. Jesus is the word of God. Even creation is the word of God. I’d like to set the whole thing up as an equation:

The Word of God = Creation + The Bible + Jesus + Salvation History + Apostolic Preaching + Tradition

But I do not think it is quite that simple. Somehow, each element listed can be said to be the Word of God, not just a “part” of the word of God. They are all interrelated and yet not one of them is perfectly complete without the others. I mean, for example, Jesus stands outside of creation and yet is part of creation through his incarnation. Tradition somehow encompasses the Bible and yet is distinct from it. The Apostolic preaching included biblical material, especially from the Old Testament, but it also proclaimed the resurrection of Christ before the New Testament was in written form. Salvation history is recorded in the Bible and yet extends beyond the reach of the Bible. Jesus is the culmination of Salvation History and yet the story extends beyond him into his effects on the whole world. All the elements of the Word of God, of God’s revelation to man are essential, interrelated and overlapping. Rightly do the Synod Fathers declare the word of God to be a “symphony.”

Finally, Pope Releases Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation on the Bible; SBL blogging

Ok, so the Pope finally released his document on the Bible,Verbum Domini. It was posted on the Vatican website on Thursday, November 11. So…you may have thought I was asleep at the wheel since I have been watching for this. But…I’ve been doing a lot like eating turkey and going to the SBL conference. More on that in a bit.

Anyway, I plan to go through the document here on the blog and comment on different sections. For now, here are my initial thoughts:  The document is very long–much longer than is typical for this kind of document. There is nothing in the document that is surprising or ground-breaking. It is pretty much a faithful elaboration on the Synod’s earlier documents, especially the Propositions. It is a restatement of many important  Catholic positions on the Bible and all things biblical. It also deals with how the Bible ought to function in the life of the Church in all its aspects. I think it will be a valuable touchstone in the years to come, but not a sea-change document. I’ll post more thoughts as they come to me.

Ah…and about that Society of Biblical Literature conference.  I went to the Annual Meeting in Atlanta. At the meeting, I attended a session on “biblioblogging,” with presentations by some of the major academic Bible bloggers. It was very interesting and inspiring. It made me feel that I am not alone in the world of blogging about the Bible and re-invigorated me for this blog. Most of the presenters posted their papers on their blogs before delivering them at the meeting. I felt a little weird–yet kind of cool–sitting there reading Jim Davila’s paper on my Android while he spoke. It was also nice to be able to put a face with a name for a lot of Bible bloggers out there.

Here’s what the session looked like:

Theme: The Past, Present, and Future of Blogging and Online Publication

The room was packed–far beyond what I anticipated. Unfortunately, there were very few women. It was a great collection of Bible scholars and computers nerds all together in one place. I would encourage you to read some of the papers that were presented, which I have linked to above. Or perhaps you’ll find some other interesting posts at their authors’ blogs.

Rumors: Apostolic Exhortation on the Bible to be Published Soon

So, I gave you a false alarm back in March that the Pope’s Postsynodal Apostolic Exhortation on the Bible would be out by Easter. That did not happen. However, I just obtained new information that the final edits to the manuscript were in the works during the first week of July and that it now has been submitted to the official Vatican publisher. The document exists and will soon be published. As soon as I hear anything more, I will let you know.

Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation on the Bible

Pope Benedict XVI is expected to turn out a post-syndol apostolic exhortation on the Bible at some point in the next few months. Last time that he had an October Synod (2005), the exhortation came out in February 2007, about a year and half later. The Bible Synod took place last October 5-26, 2008. Cardinal Marc Oullet, archbishop of Quebec, requested that Pope Benedict write an encyclical on the Bible and biblical interpretation at the Synod last fall (see Zenit). While I do not think it likely for the Pope to produce both an apostolic exhortation and an encyclical on the Bible in a relatively short period of time, it is possible. We can expect he will be spending extra effort on the exhortation in order to sum up the synod and clearly re-state the Church’s views on the Bible. If Benedict remains with us for several years after the exhortation, it is possible he could produce an encyclical as well. However, I bet he will invest the exhortation, which he is obligated to provide, with a great deal of thought and energy. It should make for good reading. I imagine it will re-affirm what Catholics believe about the Bible and provide a good synthesis of post-Vatican II teaching.

At the Synod: Tension Between Biblical Scholaship and the Catholic Faith

I found this report from CNS to be illustrative of the conversations going on at the synod:

  • During the first 10 days of the Oct. 5-26 synod on the Bible, a recurring theme in the synod hall was the tension several bishops see between some schools of biblical scholarship and the traditional faith of the church.

    The day after Cardinal Marc Ouellet of Quebec presented his summary of the synod’s initial discussions Oct. 15, several synod members met with reporters to discuss points the cardinal raised.

    U.S. Cardinal William J. Levada, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, said the tension between some schools of interpretation, or exegesis, and the traditional theology and teaching of the church was “not just one of the key — but I would say one of the most delicate — questions” for the synod.

    He said, “We might look at the tension this way: When you look at the Scriptures, oftentimes you are told, ‘Read the Scripture to look just at what this passage says to you or says in itself.’

    “That is a very important step,” he said, “but when you think of the way in which the church for 2,000 years has been reading and reflecting on the Scripture, the next question seems natural and necessary, and that is, ‘How is this passage of Scripture related to all of the Bible and how is it related to the faith of the church?'”

I’m glad that the bishops are working through some of the most difficult and admittedly delicate questions about the Bible and the Catholic faith. It will be very interesting to see what they come up with. The “tension” between biblical scholarship and the Catholic faith is clear: when scholarship definitely proves something that contradicts the way that Catholics have always thought about something…well, what do you do? John Paul II made clear that the Church is committed both to faith and to reason as ways of discovering truth. But what happens when they seem to conflict?

There are a couple basic approaches to resolving the conflict. 1.) You can reject the traditionally held view as erroneous. 2.) You can gloss over the contradiction and ignore it.

But of course, both of these approaches are problematic. The first one is a problem because people have the tendency to throw out the baby with the bath water and reject more than was proved wrong. Or people assume that because one traditionally-held view was proved wrong that all traditional views should be questioned or overthrown. The second approach is a problem because it does not give due credit to reason–a legitimate and binding way of coming to know the truth.

I grant there are other (and more complex) ways of explaining the problem, but I just wanted to break it down for you.

There are a few attempts out there trying to solve this problem, but it just hasn’t been done on a wide scale. I’m hoping that the bishops will work through the difficulty and delicacy of the whole thing, but we’ll have to wait and see.

A Third Site about the Synod

As I keep discovering more sites about the Scripture Synod, I keep giving you the links. Today, I came across the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops site about the synod. As for news, it seems to rely on the same sources as the other two sites: basically reporting from Catholic News Service. BUT the site has the added bonus of blogging by none other than Bishop Gerald Kicanas. I think it’s pretty unusual to have a bishop blogging during a synod–it may be a first. Nonetheless, I hope you enjoy it. You can even get an RSS feed of the blog.

US Delegates at the Synod

In a previous post, I didn’t explain the synod structure quite right. So, there are 32 members appointed by the pope (all bishops) which are part of a total 253 voting members of the synod. The other members are members of the curia, heads of religious orders and bishops voted for by their respective bishops conferences. In addition there are the experts and observers.

So, the voting members from the US are:
1. Francis Cardinal George
2. Daniel Cardinal DiNardo
3. Archbishop Donald Wuerl
4. Bishops Gerald Kicanas
5. Archbishop Basil Schott, OFM

The experts from the US are:
1. Sr. Sara Butler
2. Fr. Damian Akpunonu
3. Msgr. Timothy Verdon

The observers from the are:
1. Carl Anderson, Supreme Knight
2. Ricardo Grzona
3. Sister M. Clare Millea, A.S.C.J., Superior General, Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus

I hope that clears up any confusion about the synod’s structure and US representation there.

Synod Struggles Over Inerrancy

Hmmm…synods, I imagine, are generally rather boring. A bunch of bishops and theological experts sit around having abstruse discussions about Church life and theology. But whoa, you touch the Bible and whether it’s true–or at least, in what sense it is true–and zing! you’ve got a controversy. Thus is the case with the current Scripture Synod.

(For the record, CNS has reporter Cindy Wooton on the ground and National Catholic Reporter has John Allen Jr.)

Catholic Bible Student Notes on the Synod:
1. There’s been discussion about the correct Catholic understanding of the inerrancy of Scripture. Check out this article from NCP. Looks like theres been talk concerning the debate between “restricted inerrancy” and “unrestricted inerrancy,” a hot debate at Vatican II.

2. John Allen’s interview with Cardinal Pell. The Cardinal says: “I would say the synod is going along very sedately and securely. I’d say there’s less division in this synod than in any synod I’ve been to.” He also mentions the possibility of setting up an international Institute of Biblical Translation. He says that Cardinal George recommended that the CDF issue a statement on biblical inerrancy (in Cardinal Pell’s words) “to make clear that saying the Bible is ‘inspired’ is not necessarily the same thing as claiming that it’s universally inerrant, in every way.” The interview is long but makes for interesting reading.

3. Rabbi Shear-Yashuv Cohen addressed the synod on Monday. I’m looking for video of the address if anyone finds it, please post the URL in the comments. From what I’ve heard it was a moving speech. Unfortunately, he made some negative comments about Pope Pius XII–there’s been talk of beatifying this pope and some Jews have been upset by his supposed inaction during World War II. Other Jews like Rabbi David Dalin have defended his actions.

4. If you want to read what’s actually going on at the synod without any media filter. Check out the daily bulletins released by the Vatican which include the Holy Father’s homilies to the synod, short speeches by voting bishops and an outline of every day’s activity.
October 3
October 4
October 5 (opening day of synod)
October 6 another
October 7 another
October 8
October 9 another and another
October 10 another
October 11

Ok, these are my notes so far.

Another Synod Site

Catholic News Service has put up their own site about the Bible Synod which starts on Sunday. The site has links to several CNS stories about different aspects of the synod plus interviews and other articles with people somehow related to the synod. It looks like they’ll use this site to post news stories about the synod over the next couple weeks. Just keeping you up to speed on the resources you’ll need to follow the events…

Oh yeah, and the CNS blog has been tracking things. Here’s a post with some random items about the synod.

New Website on the Scripture Synod

Jeff Cavins just launched a website that will be keeping track of what goes on at the synod which begins Monday. In the intro video on the site, he says the site will be posting articles, audio and video of synod events. I’m hoping it will be a valuable resource for everyone over the next couple weeks. The site is called

Why is this synod so important? Well, it’s the first time in over 40 years that the highest echelons of Church authority are officially discussing the Bible. Yes, the last major document on the Bible was Dei Verbum. A few things have been released by the Pontifical Biblical Commission and the Popes have a made a few comments, but the Magisterium has not grappled with the biblical question in a serious way since the early 1960’s. So I think the next couple weeks could be really important in Catholic biblical thought and biblical theology for the next 40 years or so. I could be wrong.