At the heart of the first day’s debate on Revelation at the ecumenical council are the introduction and the first two of the six chapters of the schema.
The introduction sets down briefly the link between the schema and Sacred Scripture and its relation to the First Vatican Council. It is stated that the present document is a continuation of the earlier council.
Chapter one deals in general with what Revelation is and what its effect is on man. In short, Revelation is the opening of God to man in a plan of salvation. It consists of both action and words.
The action of Revelation, according to a summary of the document made public by the council press office, is the salvific action of God in history and gives validity to the revealed word, that is, to the Bible. The Bible interprets the divine action which, without the word to explain it, would remain mute and obscure in its meaning. God speaks when He acts in history, and with His word He explains His action, the schema summary states.
Salvific will is unfolded gradually through history. Salvation was promised after Adam and Eve had sinned, and the plan becomes clearer through Abraham, Moses and ultimately through Christ. The Christian era is not merely a historical period of religion or salvation, but it unfolds as an epoch of eschatological hope.
Then the text discusses man’s faith in Revelation, and chapter one ends with a series of definitions regarding Revelation adopted by the First Vatican Council.
The second chapter deals with the transmission of Divine Revelation. Here the document is concerned with the difficult problem of relating Scripture and tradition. The schema has tried to leave the question open, pending the development of more mature theological thought. This approach has drawn some fire in the council hall already and is among the most controversial problems in the schema.
The text states that there are not two parallel sources with no mutual connection. Rather there are two modes of transmission in which one mystery of salvation continues to live in the Church.
The document tells how Christ commanded the apostles to proclaim the message of salvation. Revelation as it exists stems from the tradition of the living Christian communities at the outset of the Christian era and in the Scripture which was born of this tradition. Through these two the Church finds God in Revelation.
The document defines tradition as the total being and the action of the Church, in its life, in its doctrine and in its worship, whereby the mystery of salvation is implicit and is passed on to all ages. Scripture is not outside of tradition but forms part of it and contains it in a very special manner.
The document says from the living connection between the Church and tradition there also flows the possibility of the development of tradition. This statement has drawn much fire. Many maintain that there is a distinction between apostolic tradition and the tradition or traditions of the post-apostolic period.
The document explains that there is no increase of new content, but that there is a progressive comprehension of the mystery of salvation under the constant influence of the Holy Spirit.
Finally, chapter two states that tradition lives in all members of the Church but that its authentic interpretation is entrusted to the teaching authority of the Church. This does not mean that the Church has any power over the word of God, but that it has the mandate to conserve and to announce the word of God with fidelity and vigilance.
Chapter three is entitled the Inspiration and Interpretation of Sacred Scripture. The chapter, following the directives of pontifical documents and avoiding all controverted questions, states the Church’s basic teaching on inspiration.
It emphasizes two truths:
- That the sacred books were composed under the Holy Spirit’s influence in such a way that God is their author and they are immune from error.
- That they were written by men endowed with certain human talents and had their origin in a determined human context.
Chapter three says that the proper interpretation of Holy Scripture requires two investigations: one into the intention of the author in writing the text and, secondly, into what God Himself intended to say through the human author.
The first investigation, the chapter says, requires a study of the “literary forms” of Holy Scripture. Our historical, prophetical, poetical, didactic and apocalyptical books express truth in different forms. Attention must also be paid to literary usage in Biblical times.
But interpretation should not be limited to a literary analysis of individual texts, the chapter continues. Only by a thorough understanding of the whole mystery of salvation can we uncover the full meaning of Scripture.
The remaining chapters deal with the Old and New Testaments and with Sacred Scripture in the life of the Church.
Chapter four, on the Old Testament, is brief. It traces the history of salvation in the Old Testament: God choosing the people of Israel, making promises to them and making Himself known through His intervention in their history. The prophets interpreted God’s words and deeds.
The chapter explains that the history of Israel’s salvation is a preparation for the final salvation offered by Christ. Despite the imperfect and impermanent character of many of the details in the books of the Old Testament, these books are of permanent value for the Church since they illuminate God’s paths toward salvation in Christ and also bear witness to God’s holiness and goodness.
Chapter five, on the New Testament, has kept this title despite the complaints of many council Fathers that it indicates that the text would deal with the Gospels almost exclusively. The commission decided to retain the title but to incorporate a new article (17) dealing with the entire content of the New Testament.
Articles 18 and 19 examine the Gospels in closer detail.
Article 19 refers to the “historical character of the Gospels.” Article 20 deals with other books of the New Testament.
Though the text was drawn up in April, the council press office says it is in “complete harmony” with the Pontifical Biblical Commission’s instruction of the following month.
Chapter six bears the new title, “The Sacred Scripture in the Life of the Church.” There had been objections to the previous title, which referred to “the use” of Sacred Scripture, based on the notion that there is something irreverent in “using” God’s word.
The chapter’s contents were also altered in the light of a schema “On the Word of God” drafted by the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity before the council opened in1962.
It not only urges that accurate translations of the Bible be made but that they be undertaken in collaboration with separated Christians wherever possible.
The schema urges another type of cooperation: between Scripture scholars and dogmatic and moral theologians. Article 23 both praises Scripture scholars for their past work and encourages them to continue confidently, so that the Church’s judgment may ripen through their assistance.
The schema says that the study of Sacred Scripture is the heart of theological formation. It recommends Scripture reading, especially for priests but for all faithful as well.
Bishop should see to the preparation of editions of the Bible equipped with explanatory notes. Other editions should be prepared for non-Christians with notes suitable for their needs.
The schema finally expresses the hope that the faithful may delve deeply into riches of the Sacred Scripture, drawing fresh incentives for a fuller Christian life.
James C. O’Neill
NCWC News Rome correspondent