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Pope Benedict issues major document on Sacred Scripture (link to full text)

November 11, 2010

Pope Benedict has issued the post-synodal apostolic exhortation Verbum Domini [The Word of the Lord], the most important Church document devoted to Sacred Scripture since the Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation (Dei Verbum), which was promulgated in 1965.

The publication of Verbum Domini follows the twelfth ordinary general assembly of the Synod Of Bishops, which took place in 2008 and was devoted to “The Word of God in the Life and the Mission of the Church.”

The document, though released on November 11, is dated September 30, the memorial of St. Jerome. The full text was made public in Latin, Italian, English, French, Spanish, German, Portuguese and Polish.

Verbum Domini is divided into three major sections. The first section, entitled Verbum Dei, explains “the Trinitarian dimension of revelation,” in which “God the Father, source and origin of the Word,” reveals Himself to mankind. This revelation is completed in Christ, and the first chapter explores the relationship between the Eucharist and revelation. The Pope goes on to explore man’s response to God’s revelation, appropriately through prayer. Next the Pontiff writs about the interpretation of Scripture, the role of Church authority in guiding that interpretation, and the need to avoid the twin dangers of fundamentalist or secularist approaches.

The second section, Verbum in Ecclesia, explains how the Word of God remains alive and active in the ministry of the Church. This section points out the heavy reliance on Scripture in the Eucharistic liturgy and the importance of regular Bible reading. The Pope notes that Christians and Jews are bound together in part because of their shared devotion to the use of the Scriptures in worship.

The third section, Verbum Mundo, reminds readers of "the duty of Christians to announce the Word of God in the world in which they live and work." Pope Benedict writes on the universal mission of the Church to spread the Word of God, and the importance of bringing Gospel principles into the secular world.

(A Reuters report on the papal document concentrated almost exclusively on a short passage within the 200-page text, in which the Pope called for respect for religious freedom. As the Reuters story pointed out, when the Pontiff spoke on the need for “reciprocity in all spheres,” he was clearly making a plea for Islamic states to recognize the rights of Christians. That plea, however, is only a minor point in the context of the full apostolic exhortation.)

Speaking to Vatican Radio, Cardinal Marc Ouellet—who was the relator general for the 2008 Synod—observed that Pope Benedict had been actively involved in discussions throughout the Synod session, and “we see that in the document.” The Pope’s apostolic exhortation, he said, reflects “the great unity among the Synod fathers.” He remarked that the Pope, in Verbum Domini, accurately conveys the shared sense of the Synod participants: strongly encouraging Christians to read and reflect on the Bible, emphasizing the value of the Scriptures as the basis for ecumenical discussion, and being keenly aware of the strong connections between the Old and New Testaments.

Verbum Domini joins Dei Verbum and three papal encyclicals-- Pope Leo XIII's Providentissimus Deus (1893), Pope Benedict XV's Spiritus Paraclitus (1920), and Venerable Pius XII's Divino Afflante Spiritu (1943)-- as a milestone in the development of Catholic teaching on Sacred Scripture, which is summarized in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (nos. 101-141).


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