XII ORDINARY GENERAL ASSEMBLY
The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church
This Bulletin is only a working instrument for
05 - 06.10.2008
- FIRST GENERAL CONGREGATION (MONDAY, 6 OCTOBER 2008 - MORNING
- SECOND GENERAL CONGREGATION (MONDAY, 6 OCTOBER 2008 - AFTERNOON)
FIRST GENERAL CONGREGATION (MONDAY, 6 OCTOBER 2008 -MORNING)
- REFLECTION BY THE HOLY FATHER
At the beginning of the First General Congregation this morning, Monday 6 October 2008, after the brief reading of the Hour of Terce, the Holy Father Benedict XVI gave the following reflection:
Dear Brothers in the Episcopacy,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
At the beginning of our Synod the Liturgy of the Hours proposes a passage from Psalm 18 on the Word of God: praise for His Word, expression of the joy of Israel in learning it and, in it, to learn about His will and His face. I would like to meditate on a few verses of this Psalm with you.
It begins like this: “In aeternum, Domine, verbum tuum constitutum est in caelo... firmasti terram, et permanet”. This refers to the solidity of the Word. It is solid, it is the true reality on which we must base our life. Let us remember the words of Jesus who continues the words of this Psalm: “Sky and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away”. Humanly speaking, the word, my human word, is almost nothing in reality, but a breath. As soon as it is pronounced, it disappears. It seems like nothing. But already the human word has incredible force. It is words that create history, it is words that form thoughts, the thoughts that create the word. It is the word that forms history, reality.
Even more, the Word of God is the foundation of everything, it is the true reality. And to be realistic, we must rely upon this reality. We must change our notion that matter, solid things, things we can touch , is the most solid, the most certain reality. At the end of the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord speaks to us about the two possible foundations for building the house of one’s life: sand and rock. He who builds on sand only builds on visible and tangible things, on success, on career, on money. Apparently these are the true realities. But all this one day will vanish. We can see this now with the fall of two large banks: this money disappears, it is nothing. And thus all things, which seem to be the true realities we can count on, are only realities of a secondary order. Who builds his life on these realities, on matter, on success, on appearances, builds upon sand. Only the Word of God is the foundation of all reality, it is as stable as the heavens and more than the heavens, it is reality. Therefore, we must change our concept of realism. The realist is he who recognizes the Word of God, in this apparently weak reality, as the foundation of all things. Realist is he who builds his life on this foundation, which is permanent. Thus the first verses of the Psalm invite us to discover what reality is and how to find the foundation of our life, how to build life.
The following verse says: “Omnia serviunt tibi”. All things come from the Word, they are products of the Word. “In the beginning was the Word”. In the beginning the heavens spoke. And thus reality was born of the Word, it is “creatura Verbi”. All is created from the Word and all is called to serve the Word. This means that all of creation, in the end, is thought to create the meeting place between God and His creature, a place where the history of love between God and His creature can develop. “Omnia serviunt tibi”. The history of salvation is not a small event, on a poor planet, in the immensity of the universe. It is not a minimal thing, which happens by chance on a lost planet. It is the motivation for everything, the motivation for creation. Everything is created so that this story can exist, the encounter between God and His creature. In this sense, the history of salvation, Covenant, precedes creation. During the Hellenistic period, Judaism developed the idea that the Torah would have preceded the creation of the material world. This material world seems to have been created solely to make place for the Torah, for this Word of God that creates the answer and becomes the history of love. The mystery of Christ already is mysteriously revealed here. This is what we are told in the Letter to the Ephesians and to the Colossians: Christ is the prototypos, the first-born of creation, the idea the universe was conceived for. He welcomes all. We enter in the movement of the universe by uniting with Christ. One can say that, while material creation is the condition for the history of salvation, the history of the Covenant is the true cause of the cosmos. We reach the roots of being by reaching the mystery of Christ, His living word that is the aim of all creation. “Omnia serviunt tibi”. In serving the Lord we achieve the goal of the being, the goal of our own existence.
Let us take a leap forward: “Mandata tua exquisivi”. We are always searching for the Word of God. It is not merely present in us. Just reading it does not mean necessarily that we have truly understood the Word of God. The danger is that we only see the human words and do not find the true actor within, the Holy Spirit. We cannot find the Word in the words. Saint Augustine, in this context, recalls the scribes and Pharisees consulted by Herod when the Magi arrived. Herod wants to know where the Savior of the world would be born. They know this, they give the correct answer: in Bethlehem. They are great specialists, who know everything. However they do not see reality, they do not know the Savior. Saint Augustine says: they are signs on the road for the others, but they themselves do not move. This is a great danger as well in our reading of the Scriptures: we stop at the human words, words form the past, history of the past, and we do not discover the present in the past, the Holy Spirit who speaks to us today with the words from the past. This is not how we may enter the internal movement of the Word, which in human words hides and opens the divine words. Therefore, there is always a need for “exquisivi”. We must always look for the Word within words.
Therefore, exegesis, the true reading of the Holy Scripture, is not only a literary phenomenon, not only reading a text. It is the movement of my existence. It is moving towards the Word of God in the human words. Only by conforming to the Mystery of God, to the Lord who is the Word, can we enter within the Word, can we truly find the Word of God in human words. Let us pray to the Lord that He may help us to look for the word, not only with our intellect but also with our entire existence.
At the end: “Omni consummationi vidi finem, latum praeceptum tuum nimis”. All human things, all the things we can invent, create, are finite. Even all human religious experiences are finite, showing one aspect of reality, because our being is finite and can only understand one part, a few elements: “latum praeceptum tuum nimis”. Only God is infinite. And therefore His Word too is universal and knows no boundaries. Coming into communion with the Word of God, we enter a communion of the Church that lives the Word of God. We do not enter into a small group, with the rules of a small group, but we go beyond our limitations. We go towards the depths, in the true grandeur of the only truth, the great truth of God. We are truly a part of what is universal. And thus we go out into the communion of all the brothers and sisters, of all humanity, because the desire for the Word of God, which is one, is hidden in our heart. Therefore even evangelization, the proclamation of the Gospel, the mission are not a type of ecclesial colonialism, where we wish to insert others into our group. It means going beyond the individual culture into the universality that connects all, unites all, makes us all brothers. Let us pray once again that the Lord may help us to truly enter the “vastness” of His Word and thus open the universal horizon to humanity, what unites us despite all the differences.
At the end, we return to a preceding verse: “Tuus sum ego:salvum me fac”. This translates as: “I am yours”. The Word of God is like a stairway that we can go up and, with Christ, even descend into the depths of His love. It is a stairway to reach the Word in the words. “I am yours”. The word has a face, it is a person, Christ. Before we can say “I am yours”, He has already told us “I am yours”. The Letter to the Hebrews, quoting Psalm 39, says: “You gave me a body... Then I said, ‘Here I am, I am coming’”. The Lord prepared a body to come. With His incarnation He said: I am yours. And in baptism He said to me: I am yours. In the Holy Eucharist, He always repeats this: I am yours, so that we may answer: Lord, I am yours. In the path of the Word, entering the mystery of his incarnation, of His being among us, we wish to appropriate His being, expropriate our existence, giving ourselves to Him, He who gave Himself to us.
“I am yours”. Let us pray the Lord that we may learn to say this word with our whole being. That way we will be in the heart of the Word. That way we will be saved.
[00020-02.04] [NNNNN] [Original text: Italian]
SECOND GENERAL CONGREGATION (MONDAY, 6 OCTOBER 2008 -AFTERNOON)
- REPORTS ON THE CONTINENTS
- REPORT BY H.EM. CARD. ALBERT VANHOYE, S.J., RECTOR EMERITUS OF THE PONTIFICAL BIBLICAL INSTITUTE OF ROME (FRANCE)
Today at16.30, in the presence of the Holy Father, after the reciting of the Adsumus, the Second General Congregation took place, for the reading of the Reports on the Continents on the theme of the XII Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church..
The Acting President Delegate was H.Em.Card. William Joseph LEVADA, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
After a period of time dedicated to free interventions by the Synodal Fathers on the Reports on the Continents, before the intervention by H. Em. Card. Albert Vanhoye, S.J., Rector Emeritus of the Pontifical Biblical Institute of Rome (FRANCE), the Special Guest, Shear-Yashuv Cohen, Head Rabbi of Haifa (ISRAEL) intervened.
This General Congregation ended at 18.55 with the prayerAngelus Domini. 245 Fathers were present.
REPORTS ON THE CONTINENTS
- For Africa: H.E. Most. Rev. John Olorunfemi ONAIYEKAN, Archbishop of Abuja (NIGERIA)
- For Asia: H.E. Most. Rev. Thomas MENAMPARAMPIL, S.D.B., Archbishop of Guwahati (INDIA)
- For America: H. Em. Card. Oscar Andrés RODRÍGUEZ MARADIAGA, S.D.B., Archbishop of Tegucigalpa, President of the Episcopal Conference (HONDURAS)
- For Europe: H. Em. Card. Josip BOZANIĆ, Archbishop of Zagreb (CROATIA)
- For Oceania: H.E. Most. Rev. Michael Ernest PUTNEY, Bishop of Townsville (AUSTRALIA)
The Interventions on the Continents are published below:
- For Africa :H.E. Most. Rev. John Olorunfemi ONAIYEKAN, Archbishop of Abuja (NIGERIA)
THE WORD OF GOD IN THE LIFE AND MISSION OF THE CHURCH:
THE AFRICAN STORY
In the Instrumentum Laboris, (IL) no.7b, we read the following pertinent observation.
“In younger local churches, Bible usage among the faithful is more extensive than in other places”.
Within the limit of time that is permitted to me in this presentation, I wish to illustrate no matter how briefly that the statement made above is very relevant for the continent of Africa. Two recent important Biblical occasions in the continent of Africa have put us in a position to clearly witness and document the above fact. The first was on the 40th Anniversary of the Vatican Council document Dei Verbum, celebrated in a meeting on Bible Apostolate in Africa held in Abuja - Nigeria in June 2005. The second was earlier this year 2008 when the Catholic Biblical Federation held its Plenary Assembly for the first time on the African Continent in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. On both occasions, we were able to hear the stories of what God has done to bring the word of God to the nooks and crannies of the continent of Africa, especially since the 2nd Vatican Council. Today, we look at our continent and we can say that indeed the word of God is good news that has been spread far and wide. Challenges exist but so also have we a lot of consolation.
In my brief presentation, I have decided to follow the tripartite division of the Synod theme, which we find both in the Lineamenta and in the Instrumentum Laboris namely:
(a) the Word of God in Africa
(b) the Word of God in the life of the church in Africa and
(c) the word of God in the mission of the church in Africa.
I. THE WORD OF GOD IN AFRICA
1. Semina Verbi in African Tradition: The Pre-Synodal documents stress the importance of a global concept of the Word of God, that goes well beyond the Scriptural texts. The Word of God is the dialogue of God with the entire humanity, which reaches out to all human beings of every age and place. The African Synod finally and definitively rehabilitated the African Traditional Religion and cultures recognizing, in a most official and authoritative document that the African Traditional Religion is a monotheistic faith, (EIA 7) which believes in and worships the one true God, “the Creator” (EIA 57). This is the same God who has never made himself unknown to any people who with a sincere heart seeks him, (LG 15). Obviously, because of human imperfections, this God is often approached in images and vague reflections. But the basic truth is that the Supreme Being, Creator of heaven and earth is the target of the worship and prayers of our African Traditional Religion. The basic norms of morality in these religions, imperfect though they may be, reflect rays of “the light which enlightens every mind.” Jn 1:9. All this has not been without the grace of God, as Vatican II clearly states (LG 15). This has been not only a preparatio evangelica for the eventual reception of the gospel message but indeed a welcoming environment and a fertile soil for such announcement of the Word of God, both in scripture and in the ministry of the church, (EIA 57).
I believe it is important to recognize this if we are to ever explain how the Christian faith has spread so fast within the last century on the continent of Africa, “ a marvelous work of divine grace” (EIA 33). My late father, who was one of the first to embrace Christianity in our village around 1920, made it clear to me that when he became a Christian, he did not take on a new God. It was the same Olorun the Yoruba Supreme Being, whom he had known already in the Traditional Religion. Upon this he built his Christian faith, by the grace of God, and thanks to the preaching of the gospel by the missionaries. Thus even in the so called Dark Continent, the light of the Eternal Word of God was never absent.
2. Africa in Sacred Scriptures: The Word of God has also the specific meaning of the written inspired scriptures which tell the story of the people of God both of the Old and of the New Covenant. In this divine history, the continent of Africa has always been very much present. Right from the beginning, the Patriarch Abraham had reason to take refuge in Egypt, (Gen. 12:10-20). We should not forget too that this same Egypt providentially became the historical “incubator” of the people of Israel. The family of Jacob – Israel- that left the land of Canaan for Egypt, at the invitation of Joseph comprised just 70 people, (Ex 1:5). They remained in the Land of Goshen for about 430 years, (Ex 12:40). When they left on the Exodus, they had become a great nation numbering 600,000 men, “not counting their families” (Ex 12:37). If we indeed count their families, even at a conservative average of five persons per family, we would be talking of a total of about three million people on the march! It was in Egypt therefore that Israel as a nation had its first and early growth. Thus, for the people of Israel, Egypt is not only a land of persecution and exodus but also the land of refuge and protection. For most of the history of Israel, she was a small state wedged in between the great nations of Egypt in the South, Syria in the North and Mesopotamia to the East.
In the New Testament, again Egypt was the land of refuge for the Holy Family, (Mt 2:13-15). At his passion, the African, Simon of Cyrene helped Jesus to carry the cross, Mk 15:21). On the day of Pentecost, many pilgrims came from Africa, from “Egypt and parts of Libya round Cyrene” (Acts 2:10). The Ethiopian eunuch, (Acts 8:26-39) was one of the first to carry the Christian message home, far into the heart of Africa.
It is no wonder therefore, that some of the earliest centers of Christianity both in terms of theology and theologians as well as of martyrs and confessors are in Northern Africa – Alexandria, Carthage and Hippo to mention a few. All this is well acknowledged and celebrated in the Post-Synodal Exhortation of John Paul II, Ecclesia in Africa, n31. I believe it is important to remind ourselves of this fact so that we do not continue to think of Africa as new and strange to the whole history of salvation as preserved for us in the inspired scriptures. Our continent can boast of being a “biblical land” in a way that many great Christian nations of today dare not.
3. The Scripture in Africa Today. Vatican II ruled that all the faithful should have wide access to the word of God in Sacred Scripture, (DV 22). A lot of effort has been made since the Vatican Council to offer such access to African Christians. However, there is still a lot of difficulties in this regard.
3.1. The very text of Scripture itself can be quite a problem in many places. The cost of a Bible may be minimal in many parts of the world. In Africa, it can be as high as a month’s wages in many places. The result is that many people do not have enough money to own a Bible. Efforts are made to produce Bible texts at affordable prices. In this we must commend the efforts of our Protestants brethren who have made this a priority of their own apostolate. In many places, the Catholic Church has joined hands with other Christians especially within the context of the Bible Society. This collaboration is yielding much fruit.
3.2. Apart from the text, there is also the question of language. Many languages still do not have an adequate translation of the Bible text. Therefore the direct access to the Word of God in Scriptures remains unattainable for those who speak only those languages. Here lies the importance of translation which is not an easy task. Again here, our Protestant brethren have been very much involved in this task of Bible translation in many parts of Africa. The Catholic Church especially after the Vatican Council has joined with vigor in this task, not without great difficulties. Very often the means to achieve this objective, as well as the expertise to carry it out are very much lacking. Translations are very important in Africa because it is not only putting the Word of God in another language but also because in many parts of Africa, illiteracy is still widespread. In such circumstances, the Bible translation in the local language makes the Bible text available and accessible even to people who cannot read. As they listen to the Bible read in their languages, they are able to receive the Word of God by listening. In a culture that is largely oral like we have in Africa, the importance of listening to the Word of God can not be overemphasized. After all, the Lord Jesus said: “Blessed are those who hear the Word of God and put it into practice” (Lk 11:28) Even though I believe that those who read the Word of God may also be blessed, it seems that those who simply listen to the Word of God may even be more blessed.
3.3. But even after hearing the Word of God read in our languages, there is still the task of interpreting this word so as to imbibe the true meaning of the message that the Holy Spirit intends for those to whom the word is addressed. Here comes the task of interpretation, of exegesis both at the scientific level and at the popular level. We have received ample witness to the wonders that the Holy Spirit has been working in the hearts and minds of simple Christians who approach the Word of God with deep faith and love. There is a kind of Christian “spiritual instinct” for the right understanding of the Word of God which sometimes puts to shame the irresponsible speculations of some scientific exegetes. Both the Lineamenta (n. 19, 25) and the Instrumentum Laboris (n. 38) speak at length of Lectio Divina. Since the Vatican Council, this has been very much part of Bible Apostolate in Africa, as we have designed several methods for reading, meditating and applying the Scripture to the lives of our people. For example, appropriate Bible study methods have come out of places like Dzogbegan Monastery in North Togo and Lumko Pastoral Center in South Africa, to mention only a few. These methods have gone round the world and have been used, often with modifications, but with great profit.
3.4. The New Media: Even in this brief survey, we cannot but mention the challenge of the new media. Computers and Satellites have revolutionized communication in our days. If the Word of God is to be communicated, as God intends it to be, then we cannot ignore what is happening in the new communications technologies. Unfortunately, the technological gap is widening daily between the rich and poor nations. But the good news is that these very technologies are in many ways bridging this gap. Cellular phones and internet are now available even in remote areas without electricity or telephones. The possibilities for the spread of the Word of God are beyond imagining. In many parts of Africa, there are many creative programs and projects for spreading the message of the scriptures beyond the traditional texts and books. There is here a crying need for a world-wide solidarity and sharing of resources.
II. THE WORD OF GOD IN THE LIFE OF THE CHURCH IN AFRICA
“The Word of God sustains the Church throughout her history” (Lin. 19). This is true also in the history of the Church in Africa.
1. The early church was built around the Word of God in Sacred Scripture. This is no less true of the early church of Northern Africa. That tradition has continued unbroken even to our days. In this regard, the Coptic churches of Egypt and Ethiopia share the same wealth of Scriptural basis as other oriental and Eastern Rite churches.
2. However today, the attention is more on the more recent churches of Sub-Saharan Africa. While the Catholic Church established in some parts of Africa in the 15th Century, has continued unbroken for 500 years in places like Mozambique and Angola, the church in most parts of Africa today is a product of more recent evangelization, mainly of the 20th Century, “a period of rapid growth” as Ecclesia in Africa, n. 33 describes it. The missionaries who brought the Catholic faith to Africa at the end of the 19th and during most of the 20th century were men and women of their own times and of their own places of origin. It is obvious that the Bible as a Scriptural text was not very much a priority in the life of the church in those days. Therefore the early Catholic communities of Africa were more familiar with the doctrines learnt through the Catechism and the preaching of the missionaries, than with quoting biblical chapters and verses. But this does not mean that they were ignorant of Sacred Scripture. The Catechism itself was based in an indirect way on the Scriptures. More important still was the liturgy. At Mass, regular passages were read and homilies delivered upon them. The Pre-Vatican II missal had less readings than we have today. But there was nevertheless an appreciable selection of readings from both the Old and the New Testaments. We should not underestimate also the wide use of Bible histories which were particularly very popular with children and younger people. Through such publications, much of the essential stories of the Bible both in the Old and New Testament were learnt with great profit. Of course there were Catholic Bibles and these were available but not in a very widespread manner. Nor were translations so widespread. It used to be said that while Protestants went to church carrying their Bibles, the Catholics went to church clutching their Rosaries and their missals, if they had any.
3. Then came the 2nd Vatican Council with its biblical revolution, opening up the Sacred Scripture to the life of the church. The Council had very clear directives not only in Dei Verbum especially chapter 6 but also in other documents, like the Dogmatic Constitution on the Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium and in that on Priestly Formation, Optatam Totius, where Scripture is defined as “the soul of theology” (OT 16). These directives were taken on with great seriousness by the church in Africa. It can be said that there began an explosion of enthusiasm for the Word of God in Sacred Scripture. In particular, large sections of the lay faithful developed strong thirst for the Word of God in Sacred Scripture. They did all they could to learn as much as they could. In fact at times, they were so anxious that they were ready to lap dirty water from poisonous ponds in non-Catholic terrains.
The Council put the responsibility for proper handling of Sacred Scripture squarely on the shoulders of the local church leadership namely the Bishops. The bishops of Africa have not neglected this duty. Almost every Episcopal Conference has a Commission on the Bible and for the direction of Bible Apostolate. These Commissions also are linking hands with sister Episcopal Conferences on Regional and on Continental levels. At the continental level, SECAM has a coordinating office called the Biblical Centre for Africa and Madagascar (BICAM). It used to be in Nairobi but it is now in the Headquarters of SECAM in Accra – Ghana. The structure on the African level are coordinated and integrated on the world level through the Catholic Biblical Federation of which the Church in Africa is a major stakeholder. Through these structures, the Magisterium of the church in Africa has endeavored to encourage, promote and coordinate the use of Scripture in the church. Bible projects like production of Bible texts, translations and the publication of Biblical materials are closely supervised by competent personnel assigned to the task by competent authorities. This has yielded great fruits in most and almost every country.
In this regard, the church in Africa remains ever appreciative of the role of many Institutes of Consecrated Life that are specially committed to Biblical Apostolate. For example, mention should be made of the Fathers and the Daughters of St. Paul (the Paulines family) who publish a lot of Bible texts and materials, and the Congregation of Divine Word to mention only a few.
On the level of scientific exegesis, the African church has taken seriously the need to ensure that African exegetes and theologians are given adequate support and encouragement as well as direction in their work. The SECAM has a committee on Bible called the Commibible which is its Biblical Commission. Its tasks are precisely to supervise the work of the BICAM and the other agencies of the Biblical apostolate in Africa. Parallel to but closely linked with the Commibible is the Association of African Bible Exegetes called Pan-African Association of Catholic Exegetes (PACE). This organization meets regularly in Congresses and scientific sessions, about once in two years, where Scriptural issues are discussed at the highest level of Scientific Biblical reflection. Their publications have received the respect and acclaim of their peers in other regions of the universal church. The work deserves the greatest support and encouragement.
III. THE WORD OF GOD IN THE MISSION OF THE CHURCH IN AFRICA
By now, we have seen a lot of what the church is doing in its mission in Africa through the word of God. Here we only wish to stress a few issues.
1. Primary Evangelization: First, Africa is still a continent of first evangelization. Recent statistics still put the percentage of Catholics in Africa at about 14%, (EIA 38). There is therefore a lot of harvest in the field. (EIA 74) The task of primary evangelization obviously demands that the Word of God is announced and proclaimed in all its power and vigor. This requires that the scripture be properly presented to those whom we are inviting to accept the Christian message. The Catechesis by which we undertake primary evangelization have become more and more deeply rooted in Sacred Scripture, in accordance with the directives of the General Directory for Catechesis and also following the example of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
2. Pastoral Care: It is also the mission of the church to lead its members towards a coherent living of the Christian faith in their daily life and occupations. Here the Word of God in Scripture is a constant point of reference “a light for our path” Ps 119:105. The lessons of Sacred Scripture both of the Old and New Testament are forever relevant since the Word of God lasts forever. The Christian, living in the world, who has to witness to the gospel message, is encouraged to get familiar with the sources of his faith, especially in the inspired Word of God. Thus Scripture plays a major role in the pastoral mission of the church towards her members.
3. Ecumenism: There is the mission of the church to others outside its fold. We start with other Christians that are not of our church. We have had occasion to mention our cooperation on ecumenical basis in the production of Bibles and in the task of translation. We have noticed much to our delight and certainly to the greater glory of God that the greater familiarity of Catholics with the Holy Scriptures has brought us closer to our brothers of other Christian traditions for whom Scripture is often the main and perhaps only source of guidance in Christian life. When we are able to read the Bible together and pray the Bible together, a lot of misunderstandings are laid aside, cooperation becomes possible and fruitful and the mission of the church in general is promoted. There are of course difficulties, especially with groups that are not only of the fundamentalist type but clearly anti-Catholic. Africa is unfortunately the dumping ground for all kinds of crazy ideas from other continents. The includes claims that our church does not “respect” the Bible and therefore cannot really be considered truly Catholic. Many of our members are often embarrassed by the attacks and harassments of such groups, especially when they themselves are not properly prepared to defend their Catholic stand. Many of our members however have been challenged to take the Scriptures more seriously, precisely to be able to stand their ground when others attack them and their church. On the whole however, I believe that contact with our Protestant brethren in Africa is gradually growing in a positive direction.
4. Interreligious Dimension: Here we are dealing largely with the African Traditional Religions and Islam. Although there are a few members of other world religions like Judaism, Hinduism, Budhism, etc. these are practically of no great pastoral consequence for us. We are nevertheless challenged to relate with our fellow Africans who belong to these other religions, armed with the Word of God in our Scripture. I have already spoken about the adherents of the African Traditional Religion and the many truths and values they have in common with our Christian faith. My experience is that followers of African Traditional Religion gladly listen to the stories of the Bible and even adopt much of what it says.
To some extent, the same can be said of Muslims who basically acknowledge Jesus at least as a prophet. They speak about the “gospel”, although this may not necessarily be the same gospel that we read. But there is the basic agreement that God has spoken to us through his prophets. Therefore, the respect of our Sacred text is generally taken for granted. With so many parts of the Holy Koran having parallels with and may be drawn from our Holy Scriptures, there is a wide level of common discourse which we can engage in with our Muslim brothers and sisters. The tragedy however is that not much is being done along this line especially as Christian-Muslim rivalries in many places concentrate largely on our difference rather than on all that we have in common. Furthermore, there are fanatics who boldly assert that the Holy Koran is God’s own correction and improvement on our scriptures. When these are left to spread their unhelpful ideas, mutual respect for our different sacred writings becomes problematic.
The 2nd Vatican Council in one little passage recommended that special Scripture editions be prepared for people of other faiths. To the best of my knowledge, very little has been done in this regard. I believe that in Africa at least, we should do more.
A lot is happening these days about the Word of God in the church and especially in the life and mission of the Church in Africa. We have only tried to summarize and give a general snap shot of the reality that we are living in. It is the work of the Spirit of the Lord, moving in our local church. Much of what is happening are not documented. They take place at the local level and remain there. But that is indeed where the action of the spirit is working. From this Synod, we are hoping that the enthusiasm for the Word of God which we experience now in our continent will be strengthened and sustained. We are hoping too that having told our story about the challenges we face and the limits of our resources, we can look forward to more support from those who have been helping us in the areas of need already mentioned. We continue to trust in the Spirit of the Lord Jesus, the Author of Scripture and the great Interpreter, who makes his words known to all who listen to it with all their hearts. May the Word of God in all its richness dwell in our hearts. Amen. (Col. 3:16).
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- For Asia:H.E. Most. Rev. Thomas MENAMPARAMPIL, S.D.B., Archbishop of Guwahati (INDIA)
“The Word became flesh”
1. It was in Asia that the Word became flesh. It was from there that His saving message was carried in all directions: Paul hearkened to the call of the Macedonians and set out for the Western continent; Peter set sail for Rome, James for Spain, Mark for Alexandria, Thomas for India; Ireaneus made his way to Lyons, and others to the ends of the earth.
2. The Word of God was received, meditated upon by individuals and communities and shaped into spiritual traditions in Asia which became the common heritage of the early Church. The first Councils of the Church that were held in Asia deepened the reflection. We shall never know how much of the cultural wealth and religious earnestness of Asia has gone into those concepts and practices that we today consider as part of the general Christian heritage, for example, in the areas of Christian doctrine, liturgy, monasticism, ecclesiastical discipline, missionary spirit and others. They remain an indistinguishable part of our common patrimony. Indeed, we cannot close an eye to the unique “Asianness” of the biblical and primitive Christian legacy.
The Word Announced
3. History tells us that Syrian monks carried God’s word with great enthusiasm to Persia, Afghanistan, Central Asia, West China and South India. They dialogued and inculturated, but in all situations they shared the message of Jesus with extraordinary zeal. We have evidence to say that they interacted with Zoroastrians, Buddhists, Manichaeans, Taoists, Confucians, Hindus, Muslims, and leaders of tribal religions among the Turks, Huns, and Mongols. Christian communities came up in places as far away as Xian (China). Monasteries developed as centres of learning, fortresses of theology and spirituality (for example, at Edessa, Nisibis). The monks borrowed from the storehouse of indigenous languages, cultures, religions and ideas they found among various peoples. Local faith expressions took shape spontaneously.
4. These communities taken together may have been as many as 70 million Christian believers. But unfortunately due to the emergence of mighty hostile forces in the heartlands of Asia in later years, many of them died out or were greatly enfeebled. However, those of South India and West Asia have remained on.
5. Aside from these reverses, there were other reasons too why Asian societies ignored the Christian proposal. As the men of Athens, over-confident of their philosophical wisdom, were not easily inclined to pay attention to a proposal (Paul’s message) that came from another cultural background, leaders of the advanced civilizations of Asia did not think they needed anything beyond what they had already attained through their own intense intellectual effort and religious search. While they always retained a mild curiosity about ideas and experiences that had an external origin, they could not think that the overwhelmingly great stock of wisdom they had accumulated called for any serious revision or addition.
6. Historically too, the declaration of Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire made it appear to the Persians that Christian religion was closely allied to Rome, Persia’s chief rival and enemy. Ever since then, the image of having alien loyalties would cling to various Christian communities in different parts of Asia right through the colonial period to our own days, especially because Christianity in people’s minds had become strongly representative of the West . That is what made the dominant classes resist Christian advances, while marginal societies like smaller ethnic groups, tribal communities, fisherfolk, oppressed minorities, humbler castes, and outcastes who looked at social realities from a different perspective from the dominant communities, welcomed the liberative power of the Good News (Lk 4:18; Mt 5:3).
7. The achievements of later missionaries, mostly from the Western world, are fresh in our minds: what was done by zealous persons like Xavier, Valignano, de Rhodes, Britto, Vaz, Lievens; persons who knew how to adapt to cultures like De Nobili, Ricci. These and other innumerable heroic souls penetrated the most inaccessible regions, confronted the most unwelcoming rulers, transcended immense cultural barriers, announced the Gospel, built up communities, put languages into writing, provided literature to linguistic groups, pursued ethnological studies, presented unknown communities to the wider world, created interest in anthropological reflections, intervened on behalf of oppressed communities, offered services in the field of health and education setting up impressive institutions, pressed for social reforms, introduced entire societies to modernity, and planted ideas into the hearts of people to guide their society to freedom and offer leadership in the Church and in the wider society. They initiated theological reflection in different cultural contexts, with an edifying measure of self-criticism, that laid the foundation of today’s missiological thinking. Today’s Church in Asia is what it is because of their extremely generous services . It is the continuation of this work that is in our hands today.
The Word Translated into Life: Witness
8. From Christianity’s earliest beginnings Christian Evangelizers had a persuasive power because their ‘Word’ was translated into action. Mother Teresa is a recent example. Missionaries have remained creative and kept entering into new areas of work. Their services in the fields of education and health are greatly esteemed. Going beyond these fields, they have entered into the areas of new forms of poverty: illiteracy, unemployment, urban violence, gender and caste inequality, female feticide, and drug addiction. They have stepped up their services for street children, unwed mothers, broken families, handicapped persons, AIDS/HIV patients, terminally ill, victims of violence, migrants, slum people, the landless and the imprisoned. They are active in the struggle for justice for oppressed groups; in the work for social change, cultural promotion, protection of environment, defense of life and family; in advocacy on behalf of the weak, downtrodden and the marginalized, and giving voice to the voiceless.
9. Even where the Gospel is resisted most, the evangelical witness of socially relevant works find welcome. Silent but sincere service has an eloquence of its own. “No speech, or words are used, no sound is heard; yet their message goes out to all the world and is heard to the ends of the earth” (Ps 19:3-4). There are places in Asia where the message is better “whispered in the inner rooms” than “proclaimed on the housetops” (Lk 12:3). This is a strategic choice in situations where freedom of religion is restricted, not renunciation of one’s duty. For, the duty to communicate the message remains. Some have gone the last extent possible in this respect and witnessed to evangelical values and to the cause of Christ with their very lives.
The Word Continues to be Proclaimed
10. There has been an intense effort in Asia to bring God’s word closer to the people. This effort has intensified since Vatican II. Bible consciousness has grown. Bible translations have multiplied, many produced in ecumenical collaboration. Enthusiasm for the Biblical message has risen. Bible Sundays are observed. Bible study groups have increased in number: Basic Christian Communities, BEC’s, Small Christian Communities, Charismatic groups, lay associations, youth groups, family gatherings. Small groups of believers read the Word of God, reflect, and apply the message to their own situation and pray (some following the LUMKO and ASIPA methods). They need to be assisted. For, without guidance, over-enthusiasm can lead people to free interpretation of the Scriptures and even old believers can come to the point of leaving the Church and joining some fundamentalist groups. It is also a challenge to priests and religious to root themselves more in the Scriptures.
11. Biblical studies are pursued through correspondence courses, even in vernacular languages. Bibles and biblical tracts are available to students in our schools, patients in our hospitals, and people in general in various life-situations. Bible schools offer innovative service. Bible-related books keep growing in numbers in our libraries. Creatively planned Biblical and theological courses are being offered to the religious, lay people, and committed youth. Weekend courses are becoming popular . Study aids are produced on a big scale (Audio-visual materials, paintings, art pieces, films, CD’s, cassettes, lessons in the internet, and messages on the mobile, posters in public places). Bible study weeks and Bible Sundays are observed. A pastoral use of the Bible is gaining strength. Bibles are enthroned in families. There is growing interest in the tradition called Lectio divina. Homilies break the Word of God during liturgy. They need probably to be made less academic and more relevant to Christian living.
12. Folk media (dances, skits, dramas, recitations, story-telling) are skillfully used to retell the Biblical stories. The printed media give a Christian interpretation to current events. The electronic media (Radio Veritas, Shalom TV) bring Catholic news and views to remote villages. Catholic Information Centres have increased in number, and there are people who turn to Christ searching for meaning. Commitment to the biblical message provides a common ground for ecumenical initiatives.
13. Intense effort is being made to pass on in all fidelity the Christian teaching to the next generation. Children are taught traditional catechism, with competitions, quizzes, and dramatics to make the learning interesting. However, culturally meaningful communication styles ought to be given greater importance. Young adults study the Bible. They seek to deepen their understanding of the central Biblical messages and try to apply them to their social situation. They wish to become enthusiastic sharers of the Good News. It is interesting to note that 65% of Asia is young.
Prayer-Life Nourished and Church Growth Promoted by the Word
“Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way” (Acts 17:22).
14. These words are rightly addressed to Asians today; for, they continue to give importance to their religions in a rapidly secularizing world. “Despite the influence of modernization and secularization, Asian religions are showing signs of great vitality and a capacity for renewal, as seen in reform movements within the various religious groups” (EA 6). Dialoguing with members of vibrant religions can be a stimulus to one’s own faith as well. The sense of the sacred they foster is a great human asset.
15. We are grateful to God, that church-attendance on our continent is encouragingly high. Sundays are kept holy. In remote villages where Mass is not possible every Sunday, people gather around the ‘Word’ of God with great devotion. Prayer-life, both liturgical and situational, is enriched by readings from the Bible. Prayer-groups continue to grow in number. The Word of God provides powerful motivation for the apostolate and adds fruitfulness to our evangelical reach-out. People in large numbers flock to charismatic retreats that announce God’s Word in all its power. Lives are changed. Healing prayers draw non-Christian crowds as well. Miracles do take place, both of healing and of conversion.
16. Significant Church growth is recorded, where our apostolic personnel (priests, sisters and catechists) are actively engaged in missionary work among ‘responsive communities’, tour villages, visit homes, make personal and group contact through direct interaction. Among such groups we may mention many ethnic minorities (tribal people) in different parts of China, Indonesian islands, North Myanmar, Thailand, Northeast India and other places that have responded enthusiastically to this manner of sharing God’s Word. And Jesus’ message echoes from the high Himalayas to the distant oceans. It re-echoes in Central Asia.
Preparation of Proclaimers: Flowering of Vocations in Asia
17. It is evident that the announcers of the ‘Word’ ought to be given serious theological and spiritual formation. The harvest indeed is plentiful, and, thank God, the number of labourers too keeps increasing. Vocations are coming up in Asia even from new Christian communities. Seminaries and houses of formation multiply. Theological institutes, Catechist training centres and other institutions for the formation of religious and lay persons are on the increase. Existing ones expand their scope and diversify their services.
18. Religious life is understood in Asia, its relevance recognized, its contribution appreciated, and its representatives respected. For, there are native models of religious life belonging to other Asian religions. Religious values like renunciation, austerity, silence, prayer, contemplation, and celibacy are highly regarded. New congregations and institutes of apostolic life come into existence and new religious movements keep rising, because such a trend corresponds to the general atmosphere prevailing in the larger society, where every religion is renewing itself and spiritual guides are much sought after. Religious persons are considered the guardians of religious and human wisdom in Asia. With adequate formation, young religious can grow up as effective announcers of the Christian message.
Deepening of Theological Reflection
“In the process of encountering the world’s different cultures, the Church not only transmits her truths and values, but she also takes from the various cultures the positive elements already found in them” (EA 21).
19. Strengthening of theological formation implies also the deepening of reflection on God’s Word in the Asian context of poverty and injustice; and also of a plurality of religions, civilizations, and cultures. It implies the use of categories of thought, symbolisms, spiritual traditions that make meaning to Asians. Here is a challenging task before the teacher of the “Word”.
20. As we know, words have different connotations in different cultural contexts. If he/she is too close to the traditional Christian expressions, the message may not be easily intelligible to those beyond the fold. If his main concern is to be intelligible to them, he may distance himself from original expressions. Misunderstandings can arise.
21. However, these are not hurdles that cannot be transcended. And when it is done after serious study and mature reflection, inculturation takes place at a very deep level; for, inculturation is not a matter of a few externals. Historically, the Gospel has crossed many cultural barriers in different parts of the world, the Hellenic, Germanic, Celtic, Slav, Syrian, and Egyptian. Each step furthered the development of theology and enriched Church life. But it called for great sensitivity to the culture concerned and to the sentiments of the believing community; equally, a great sense of responsibility to the local and the Universal Church, and fidelity to the ‘Word’. Magisterium has always been a valuable assistance. It is in order to further this effort that Asian theological journals keep offering a wide selection of indigenous theological reflection. And in this way, the Asian Church seeks to contribute to “the growth of the Word” (Acts 6:7; 12:24; 19:20).
22. When a civilization is closely related to a major religion (e.g., Islamic, Hindu, Confucian, Shinto), the borrowing of elements suited for faith and worship from those religions will need to be handled with care. If the teacher of the ‘Word’ begins to use expressions that adherents to these great religions consider as their own, they may take it as violation of what is sacred to them, and the Christian community as an imposition of something alien. The initiative may offend both communities. On the contrary, traditional Christian expressions may make no appeal to the collective psyche of a society to which a message is addressed. It is not our intention to give up our efforts for inculturation because of these difficulties.
23. When respectful attention to cultures and communities combine with apostolic boldness and fidelity to the ‘Word’, new ground is broken; and the space for new faith and worship expressions in that civilizational world expands. “Thanks to this action within the local Churches, the universal Church herself is enriched with forms of expression and values” (RM 52). And Christ becomes incarnate in that culture. But we need to move ahead with care. For, we are dealing here with matters about which communities are extremely sensitive at the deepest level. Asians have a deep sense of the sacred.
24. As modern society looks for relevance in religion in order to see meaning in it, Asians look primarily for depth. Pope John Paul II said, “My contact with representatives of the non-Christian spiritual traditions, particularly those of Asia, has confirmed me in the view that the future of mission depends to a greater extent on contemplation” (RM 91). It is the spiritual depth that comes from God-experience that Asians seek. Whoever can provide that, holds their attention. God-experience in this context does not mean some sort of ecstatic experience, but has reference to sincerity and authenticity, genuineness, deeds matching words, egoless-ness evidenced by commitment to the common good. Such persons always win a hearing when they speak with spiritual unction.
Sharing of God’s Word in Life-contexts
25. The Good News of Jesus makes the greatest impact when it is shared in actual life-contexts. Much of Jesus’ teaching that has come down to us was given on the occasion of ordinary human encounters. Hearts were touched, lives were changed, and numbers were added to the community of believers. This is what is happening in Asia in a quiet but effective way through the effort of Christian believers: bringing a message of peace to situations of conflict, of justice to oppressed communities, of probity to corruption-ridden societies, of equality to unfair situations (related to caste, class, gender, race, ethnicity), of assistance to the hungry and the poor. These efforts are different from a textbook presentation of Christ based on truth claims, debates and arguments. But they explain the teachings of the Gospel most eloquently. They translate the Christian message into life.
26. In many countries in Asia, Christians are under heavy pressure. Freedom is restricted, new converts are harassed, and the believing community is persecuted as happened in Orissa (India) recently. However, the patience manifested by the community, the restraint shown, the moderation in response, the spirit of forgiveness … all these have an evangelizing power. The Christian community’s commitment to the common good and keen interest in the central concerns of humanity (justice, peace, family, environment, freedom, fairness, solidarity, sincerity, honesty, respect for life, concern for the poor, deep sense of responsibility for human affairs) are eloquent by themselves. These themes have a universal appeal and provide a language everyone understands; they become powerful carriers of the Gospel message.
27. The Christian community in Asia is grateful to God that they have active lay persons among them who keep trying to bring the Gospel into the field of education, government, administration, legislation, judiciary, science, technology, family, youth services, art, and music. They become bridge-builders across cultures, ethnic identities, ideologies, philosophies, political and economic interests. However, these remain always challenging tasks.
28. Peter urged, “Be ready at all times to answer anyone who asks you to explain the hope you have in you, but do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Pet 3:15-16). Much of early Christian theology emerged from the writings of the Fathers of the Church who tried to explain the Faith to their friends and foes alike. So does it today. Our theologians and Christian thinkers in Asia seek to address their message to religious critiques, fundamentalists, ultra-modernists, radical thinkers and activists, Christians and non-Christians alike. Those who do this service deserve our thanks, as do the rest of the team of evangelizers. These exercises, responsibly done, can lead to new formulations, and even a deeper self-understanding within the Christian community itself.
The Gospel produces spiritually motivated Persons
29. Historians begin to notice that atheism in certain periods of history may have sprung from a deep sense of injustice in a believing society; so too certain forms of anti-clericalism and apostasy may have arisen due to the failure of Church personnel. Heresies and schisms may have been aggravated by cultural distances. In periods of social imbalances in human history, rapid transitions take place, leading even to revolutions. Asia is going through such a phase of rapid changes and uncertainties in its history: rejection of colonial exploitation and acceptance of self-imposed forms of exploitation, assertion of independence and acceptance of new forms of dependence, a movement towards democracy and away from it, towards economic equality and away from it, towards things modern along with a powerful re-assertion of the traditional culture.
30. There are stirrings in society and traditional cultures and values are being challenged. In spite of all this, religion does not seem to be weakening in Asia. It manifests itself in new forms, at times with a political touch. Pluralism in thought in Asia has not led to total secularization or nihilism. It has only taught respect for each other. However, it should not lead to indifference.
31. Amidst many political and social uncertainties, the little Church in Asia does not hold out illusions of a new Utopia before people, it does not promise to produce Supermen. But it searches for ways of producing ethically and spiritually motivated people and teams of persons earnestly committed to the good of humanity. And it will continue to remind people of their eternal destinies in Christ. The Gospel continues to reveal its inner strength even amidst all these social tensions.
The Sacred Word in Asia
32. Let us return to where we began: the Word of God. While people admire the vast and impressive Christian works, they are touched and transformed only by the power of God’s Word. The “Sacred Word” makes meaning to Asians, because they have ancient books that are considered sacred and authoritative, which influence their life and culture profoundly: beliefs, conduct, relationships, worship, moral principles. They are thought to have the ability to show the way to salvation. These books that are considered holy have a definitive canon and can be interpreted only by authorized persons (priests, monks, scholars and councils). They are read, sung, chanted, meditated upon, repeated, memorized, represented in icons, recorded in calligraphy. They are to be grasped by the mind, accepted into the heart, and allowed to transform human realities.
One thing is certain: there is religious hunger in Asia still. This Asian earnestness about religion is an asset for the whole of humanity, not merely for the eastern continent. Religious movements are more deeply rooted in the collective psyche of Asian communities than political movements. Even people who are unwilling to change their faith are eager to search for greater spiritual depths. Asians are open to God’s Word. Biblical thought keep touching individual lives, affecting community values, transforming relationships, correcting philosophies, influencing plans for social betterment. For Asians know that “man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Mt 4:4).
May these words come true with regard to today’s Asia, “I will pour out my spirit on everyone, your sons and daughters will proclaim my message” (Acts 2:17). May this message reach to the ends of the earth.
 With the recent shift in the population pattern of Christianity to other parts of the world, the above mentioned image may change.
 Some would like to highlight only the missionaries’ association with colonial powers. This would be totally unfair; for, their compulsions were many and their possibilities few. They themselves were often persecuted by anti-clerical colonial authorities. It called for profound faith on their part to keep confronting insurmountable difficulties to continue the mission of sharing the Gospel.
 It was recently reported that in Nanjing (China) Amity Printing Company printed 6 million Bibles in 2007. The company is planning to increase its capacity to printing 12 million Bibles per year, which will mean 23 Bibles every minute (SAR News, June 16-30, 2008, pg 22). Such initiatives started in 1987. Over 50 million have already been printed.
A Japanese edition of the Dictionary of Biblical Theology is available electronically. There is a popular course called “Bible in 100 weeks”.
 There is a complaint that the present style of teaching the Scriptures remains too academic, not sufficiently oriented to a spiritual and pastoral use of the Bible.
[00013-02.07] [NNNNN] [Original text: English]
- For America:H. Em. Card. Oscar Andrés RODRÍGUEZ MARADIAGA, S.D.B., Archbishop of Tegucigalpa, President of the Episcopal Conference (HONDURAS)
The text of this intervention was not received before the closing of this Bulletin.
- For Europe: H. Em. Card. Josip BOZANIĆ, Archbishop of Zagreb (CROATIA)
1. The Holy Father, Benedict XVI, during his meeting last September with the world of Culture at the Collège des Bernardins in Paris, ended his address with the following words: “What gave Europe’s culture its foundation – the search for God and the readiness to listen to him – remains today the basis of any genuine culture”.
Speaking about the relationship between the Word of God and Europe, every historical era could be taken into consideration and show the influence of the Bible on the various cultural, economic and political aspects. However, this is not the point of my intervention, neither as pertains to the breadth nor the content. One cannot separate Europe from Christianity, this is the incontrovertible fact from which I start, especially because Christianity is the privileged key for reading to understand our Continent in its entirety.
In fact, if we look at it from a geographical point of view, it is difficult to define the European boundaries, especially those bordering towards the East and the South-East. If we look at Europe from the political perspective and from the viewpoints that arise from this, we find the same problems because European heritage is far vaster than the political organizations of human cohabitation in a specific place.
The process of Christianization has united the determining factors of the European context, an evident point, however, Christianization, simply said, means the proclamation of the Word of God, capable of enlightening the different aspects of the life of men. Clearly though, Europe, in its historical evolution, has been marked not only by Christianity. But, we can reasonably state that Europe was born thanks to Christianity, and the Church has contributed to the building of Europe, thanks to the unflagging commitment by the proclaimers of Christ’s salvation, as attested to in an exemplary way by the Patron Saints Benedict and Cyril and Methodius. There is no lack, however, of dark pages in its history which today seem in clear contrast to the Good News of the Gospel; and however, while linked to the spread of Christianity, they are but its suffering, negative effect, expression of the sin that lives in the heart of man. Here we will look at the part of European history that belongs to the mysterium iniquitatis.
There is an indissoluble bond between the Bible and Europe. All that has made European culture and civilization great - the Europe of the thousand cathedrals, the Europe of the custodians of the art treasures, of literature and Christian music, the Europe that expressed real signs of solidarity and service to the poor through the emphatic force of Christian charity - found their origins in the Bible. Themes such as human dignity, the recognition of human rights, the separation of Church and State - just to mention a few - find their source in the Bible. Social justice, law, criticism towards any type of idolatry, the rejection of false images of God, have their foundation in the Bible. The Bible unites the East and the West, the North and the South of the Continent as well as the different Churches and Christian communities.
2. Reading the relationship between the Word of God and Europe could be fruitful, starting from the Instrumentum laboris with its three points: The mystery of the God who speaks - the Word of God in the life of the Church - the Word of God in the mission of the Church. These three articulate points offer the contents and the method for a path that, applied to the European reality, could promote a renewed conscience of the centrality of the Word in the lives of our communities. I will try to look at this from three stages: revelatio - interpretatio - celebratio, each centering the practice of the Lectio divina.
The proclaimed Word of God shows us God, a God who comes to man, offering man the possibility of discovering and learning about Him in the mystery of one’s life. The God of the Covenant, the God of Jesus Christ and the Paschal Mystery, which finds its fulfillment of the promises in the Old Testament - in the furrow of Hebrew spiritual heredity - was proclaimed on European soil; first to the people of the Greco-Roman world, in circumstances that often required the witness of martyrdom. The revelatio necessarily implied a distancing and overcoming the existing regulations in the life of that society, and however this “revolution” and “”re-culturization” came about by adapting to the intelligibility and language of the times.
Even during prior eras, the missionary action - drawing from Revelation, which it bears - brought about as a consequence, and not as primary goal, inculturation offered a possibility of giving a new form of life to men to the Word of God, interpreted by Tradition and the Magisterium of the Church. This process was repeated in contacts with the Roman culture, with the Franco-Germanic culture, with the Slav and other people, as evangelization spread. This dynamic permeated the formation of European conscience in the Middle Ages, even if the external circumstances were very different. The interpretatio certainly progressed during all eras - how to forget the fruitful season of the Patristic one -but in the second millennium, and above all with the Reform, important changes emerged, however ofttimes attaining differences in a method of approach. All this created disputes, from its interpretation - necessary companion to evangelization and fruit of the action of the Spirit in the Church and in the heart of believers - fruitful detachment from these disputes, avoiding new ones, finally took place. European Theology and pastoral ministry were mutually enriched, in their hermeneutical visions. The need, felt evermore today, to promote knowledge of the Bible is also necessary to avoid the danger of new “fundamentalist” readings and ideological drifting.
Therefore Revelation is not static, nor is it chronologically separated from other processes: in other words, the revelatio is always accompanied by the interpretatio, practiced - finally - on man and on the world, which becomes the living and celebrated Word, giving the reason for being to the mission and the action of the Church.
3. Today in Europe, there are signs of a renewed interest in the Bible. Therefore, it is necessary to start from God and the event of His Revelation, and at the same time, with the courage of a new and more mature proposal of the Lectio divina. Referring to the Lectio divina, I not only think about the reading of the sacred text, which still always remains the essential reference for ecclesial discernment, nor do I think about the reading limited to restricting subjectivity. Rather, I think about listening to God which continuously acts upon history, unveiling His presence in every event. This will allow reading the life of the Church in Europe as a place where He reveals Himself. This is how the Lectio divina, as reading in the Spirit, becomes the divine-human experience, whose subject is God Himself at work in the ecclesial body.
In a similar perspective, one may ask how to read the differences in opinions in the Church, the conflicts between people, but also how to face the cultural marginalization of Christianity, the search for freedom outside the presence of God. Now, if Christianity is the founding principle that embraces and unifies Europe, we should recognize the action of God which is revealed even if we deviate from the path, in our disagreements and conflicts, as well as in communion, with respect and altruism. This urges us to a Christianity that will not get involved in political or financial games, to the point of becoming unrecognizable. The responsibilities of European Christians must not be limited to an exclusively economical or political reading of events. If we do not take on the methods offered by the Lectio divina - where we allow “God to read us” - direct consequences will arise in the celebration of God, the revealed and holy mystery, in the mission of the Church. In fact, in the Christian concept, the celebratio is always also the actualization of the event of God who revealed Himself in Jesus Christ, making Himself present in the here and now of the history of man once again (re-praesentatio). Celebratio therefore becomes Lectio divina in its fullest sense. And in the Church that celebrates the risen Lord that the Word of God is made flesh, thus becoming the instrument of salvation for all men.
4. Europe is living its identity crisis on all three levels mentioned above. It seems it wishes to run away from the revealed God and is looking for the source of its identity closing itself into the humanum, an intentionally vague concept. When man does not listen to what God says, inevitably he will start speaking in God’s place, but underlying this speaking is fear. Europe without God risks becoming a nest of anguish and builds a civilization of fear. The Word of God restores hope and joy.
Also, Europe goes into crisis when it does not accept the interpreting force of the Word of God, which finds in faith and inspiration its main foundation. This is an arduous task in all the scientific disciplines and especially for theology. Europe rightfully boasts its own development of theological thought, but there is a need for further efforts for a more productive confrontation with the new interpretations and scientific research, which often may divide from the hermeneutical paradigms of Christian truth. The rejection of the Word of God, as interpretation, leads Europe towards the culture of discouragement and insecurity.
In fact, a culture that breaks away from Christian celebration, that is to say the celebration of the Mystery of the Goodness of God and salvation achieved in Christ, endangers its own joy and pushes Europe towards a civilization of affliction and misery, which feels the burden of old age and death. Where there is a celebration of the Christian mysteries, the Church is youthful, and this guarantees the youthfulness of Europe as well.
5. The Lectio divina is not only an internal force for new inspiration in the apostolate, but also the foundation for the ecumenical movement and for inter-religious dialogue. This is the path of comprehension of the Word of God, which needs transcendency. This is also the place of freedom where the human answer can be found. In this human-divine dynamic, the Lectio divina therefore presents a transfiguring force. Rather, one can assert that Christ Himself is Divina Lectio. To be a Christian, to be formed as Christ, to live Christianity, means “to be Lectio divina”. Therefore, the invitation to apply oneself to the Lectio divina has become urgent, the prayerful and meditated reading of the Word of God. Holy Scripture must be the starting point even for the most ordinary pastoral acts, because in this lies the strength of metaphorics (meaning beyond the text) and the transfiguration (the experience of the gift, experience of more than self sufficiency). Thus we can say as Saint Paul did: “For me, living is Christ”.
This year we will have the possibility to look back on the life and the writings of Saint Paul frequently. The Apostle of the Gentiles interprets his mission as a “calling” and as a gift of Grace, never as an independent initiative. Saint Paul lays the foundation so that Christian spirituality is not only a spirituality of imitation, but also a spirituality of conformation. In the former the protagonist is the “I”, the individual, the norm is the law and the basic virtue is the constant effort of the individual. But in spirituality of conformation the subject is the Holy Spirit who molds Christ in the believer; the norm is the recognition of Grace which always precedes; the basic virtue is the willingness to allow Christ to take shape in one’s own experience of life.
6. As I come from Zagreb in Croatia, where recently we celebrated the tenth anniversary of the beatification of Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac, I would like to add a thought in reference to Him. In his homily, the Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, pointed out a particularly striking parallel between Saint Paul and the Blessed Alojzije Stepinac. He spoke first of their meeting with the risen Lord and then he underlined: “What is striking both for the Apostle Paul and for Cardinal Stepinac is that, while those who persecuted them were slaves to violent and lying ideologies, they - although deprived of their liberty - maintained their inner freedom: freedom to encourage and guide their friends, calm while supporting brothers of the faith, ready to forgive and pray for their enemies and for those who were causing them harm.”
We who come from the part of Europe once dominated by dictatorial regimes, the last of which was communism, understand that the pastors and the faithful were able to resist the cruelty and horrors of ideology only because they trusted in the Word of God.
Filled by the Holy Spirit of Christ described in the Holy Scripture, many European Catholics and Christians in the twentieth century were able to distinguish between good and evil, to resist totalitarianism, revealing its perverse and satanic deviation. Holy Scripture allowed them to discover not only the weaknesses of others and of themselves, but above all the hope that springs from that same Word of God. Hope in life that is stronger than death and destruction, hope in sense that is stronger than nonsense, hope in the care of God for the poor and oppressed, for those living on the edge of society, hope that led them to making a better and a more just world.
Therefore for we Europeans, regaining Christian memory and heritage - learning from past generations - means going back to the roots of our historical identity, drinking from the fountain of the Word of God. For we Europeans professing our faith, nourished by listening to the Word and by ecclesial experience, must take the form of bearing witness: causing all - believers and non-believers - to refer to the hope expressed by John Paul II in concluding his Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Europe - “to blaze new trails leading to a ‘Europe of the spirit’, in order to make the continent a true ‘common home’ filled with the joy of life.” (EE, 121).
[00018-02.07] [NNNNN] [Original text: Italian]
- For Oceania: H.E. Most. Rev. Michael Ernest PUTNEY, Bishop of Townsville (AUSTRALIA)
The Word of God in Oceania
During the Opening Mass of World Youth Day in Sydney, for the procession of the Book of the Gospels a ceremony called “The Coming of the Light” was performed by young students from the Torres Strait Islands in the north-east of Australia. This ceremony depicts the arrival of a European missionary carrying the Bible. His offer of the Word of God is initially resisted by the local population. Then they change and embrace the Word of God which transforms their lives. After some initial contact in previous centuries, the Word of God was carried to Oceania by missionaries, both Protestant and Catholic, during the nineteenth century.
The cultures of Oceania, other than the Western culture of Australia and New Zealand, range from literate to predominantly oral cultures. In the former, the scriptures are treasured and read in the homes, often more than they would be in Australia or New Zealand. In the latter, even today the message of the Word of God is best shared by story-telling, ritual, song and drama rather than simply by a reading of the text.
In many places, the procession of the Word of God in the liturgy is a very vibrant cultural expression of faith in God’s Word. This was evident again at the welcome to the Holy Father at World Youth Day and at the final mass, during each of which the Word of God was carried in procession by pilgrims from Tokelau and Fiji respectively. This reverent acknowledgement of the Word has much to teach Australians and New Zealanders who can sometimes take the privilege of the reading of the Word of God for granted.The incredibly dedicated and at times heroic work of missionaries who shared the Word of God through the preaching of the Gospel, the Sacraments, and the teaching of the Church’s Tradition to so many people throughout the Pacific has borne enormous fruit. This fruit was not without its ambiguities because as was pointed out in Ecclesia in Oceania, the missionaries also at times introduced elements which were culturally alien to the people (3). It is also true that sometimes elements of the welcoming culture inconsistent with the Word of God continue to influence the lives of people. Faced with these challenges, there is always a need for competent staff to teach in seminaries and higher institutes of learning in the many countries of Oceania.
The new churches of the Pacific now face the challenges of cultural transition as they move in some places from village communities to urban life, and to participation in a global economy. Because of this transition there can be stress on family life and a breakdown of the social fabric. As well, at times they can struggle to deal with the Western political process which most of them have inherited from their European colonizers, and increasing environmental threats because of climate change.
Moreover, in the many countries of Oceania there are an incredible number of languages in which the Word of God would ideally be communicated. For example, in Papua New Guinea alone there are eight hundred and forty-seven distinct languages. Overall there are as many as twelve hundred quite different languages in Oceania.
In Australia and New Zealand the Word of God arrived with the first Europeans who settled in these islands. The Church grew and flourished. But now the Word often struggles to be heard in an indifferent culture. Australia is one of the most secular countries in the world. New Zealand has many more Pacific Islander people who tend to be much more religious, but the predominant European culture is as secular as it is in Australia.
However, for one glorious week during World Youth Day, the streets of secular Sydney were full of vibrant signs of the presence of God, and the resisting culture crumbled before the power of the Holy Spirit present in the faces and voices of 200,000 young people.
Many Catholics in Australia and New Zealand live lives deeply shaped by their faith in the Word of God, but this is not always apparent and has become almost a secret in our dominant secular culture. This is not because the people are not truly faithful, but because the existence of God is not acknowledged in any way in the daily life of ordinary Australians and many New Zealanders. The majority live for much of the time as if there is no God, even if they are believers.
After World Youth Day, some Australians and New Zealanders have a sense that the promise of a new evangelization may finally be underway despite the apparent impermeability of the secular culture. In his own description of the context in which the Word of God must be preached in Australia, and to a great extent in New Zealand, the Holy Father spoke at World Youth Day of the “sinister” phenomenon of freedom and tolerance so often being separated from truth, and of a relativism which has made all-important “experience” detached from any consideration of what is good or true. He accurately described the secular culture in Australia and New Zealand when he spoke of a “spiritual desert” and went on to say: “How many of our contemporaries have built broken and empty cisterns (cf. Jer 2:13) in a desperate search for meaning – the ultimate meaning that only love can give? This is the great and liberating gift which the Gospel brings.”
The challenge confronting Australia and much of Oceania is to find new ways to enable this gift of the Gospel to be heard. When one looks back to the recommendations of Ecclesia in Oceania, such as the practice of lectio divina and biblical formation of the people, it is obvious that they remain only partially fulfilled.
The post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation also foresaw the Word of God as an “inexhaustible wellspring of evangelization” (10). With ever-increasing intensity, the Church in Australia and New Zealand and the other countries of Oceania are turning their attention to the need to engage in a new evangelization of our part of the world, especially in the secular culture of Australia and New Zealand. However, at the present time no one method or even a shared understanding of what is required in practical terms, has emerged.On their return from World Youth Day, many young Australian pilgrims asked that they have opportunities in their own dioceses to listen to catechesis and to engage in a question and answer session with their bishops, so aware were they of their ignorance and so eager were they to hear the message of the Gospel and the teaching of the Church, after their experience of World Youth Day. This provides a new opportunity for bishops and priests to assist young people to achieve a greater understanding of the Word of God as it is found in the Apostolic Tradition and the teaching of the Church. The Church in Oceania is proclaiming the Word of God in a culture in which others are also attempting to do so. Some Protestant groups have an approach to evangelization which ignores the cultural context and relies at times on a fundamentalist understanding of the Word of God. Because of this, Catholic evangelization can be rejected because it is not distinguished from this alternative version.
At the same time, ecumenical relations with the major Christian Churches and relationships with the Jewish community and the Islamic community and those of other World Religions is a very positive experience for the Church in most parts of Oceania. We seek to stand together in our secular culture to affirm the fundamental value of belief in God and the right of religious people to make their contribution to our secular culture.
While these are some of the challenges confronting the Church in Oceania, there are many signs of new life and the witness of tens of thousands of committed Catholics who have remained faithful despite the impact of secularism. World Youth Day has given us great hope. It remains for us now to harvest its fruits.
[00016-02.08] [NNNNN] [Original text: English]
REPORT BY H.EM. CARD. ALBERT VANHOYE, S.J., RECTOR EMERITUS OF THE PONTIFICAL BIBLICAL INSTITUTE OF ROME (FRANCE)
Document of the Pontifical Biblical Commission
on “The Jewish People and their Sacred Scriptures in the Christian Bible”
In 1996, after its partial renewal, the Pontifical Biblical Commission was invited by its president, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, to choose a new subject of research, which would be important for the life and mission of the Church today. Several subjects were proposed and voted upon. The subject that obtained the majority of votes was “Anti-Judaism and the Bible”. The term “anti-Judaism” was preferred to “anti-Semitism” because it is more precise. In fact, there are other Semitic people in addition to the Jews.
Consequently, the Biblical Commission has shown herself to be faithful to the choice of this term, but she didn’t keep it in the title of her work. She adopted a wider and more positive perspective defining her subject under another formulation: “The Jewish people and their Sacred Scriptures in the Christian Bible”. Then a colleague pointed out that the expression “their Scriptures” is too vast a term, since on top of the Hebrew Bible, this is applied to the Mishna, the Tospehta, and the Talmud. This is why we changed the term to “Sacred Scriptures”, an expression used by the Apostle Paul at the beginning of his Letter to the Romans and which has the advantage of expressing religious respect for the writings designated in this way.
“The Jewish people and their Sacred Scriptures in the Christian Bible”: Two distinct and complementary themes can be found in this title, which correspond to two questions. The first is: how is the Jewish people presented in the Christian Bible, that is to say in the Old Testament and in the New? The second question is: What place do the “Sacred Scriptures” of the Jewish people occupy in the Christian Bible? The document deals with these two questions in inverse order. First it deals with the place occupied by the Old Testament in the Christian Bible and then the way the Jewish people are presented in both parts of this Bible, Old and New Testament. Let us say immediately that this a more open and more positive way of posing questions obtained as a result of the word “anti-Judaism” not appearing in any of the titles of the document, nor in any of the chapter titles, nor in any paragraph titles. On the other hand, it can be found in many places in the text, because this problem was not avoided but clearly confronted, without taking up the whole perspective, which remained above all positive, which makes - let us say - this document a more efficient antidote to anti-Judaism.
The work of the Biblical Commission was done, as usual, in three steps. Firstly, monographical studies were written down by each member of the commission and were discussed in the plenary assembly. Afterwards, when the plan for the document was established, the drafting of different parts of it was entrusted to several colleagues and then submitted for discussion. Finally, the third step in which the different contributions were unified in one draft that was discussed, revised and voted on. The final draft was therefore the fruit of a collegial work.
This work was accomplished with scientific rigor and with a spirit of respect and love for the Jewish people. The texts were not treated superficially but were studied and researched. So the document is not always easy to read. And the texts themselves inspire respect and love for the Jewish people. “In the Old Testament” indeed, the plan of God is a union of love with his people, a paternal love, a spousal love and, notwithstanding Israel's infidelities, God will never renounce it, but affirms it in perpetuity (Is 54:8; Jr 31:3). In the New Testament, God's love overcomes the greatest obstacles; even if they do not believe in His Son whom He sent as their Messiah Saviour, Israelites are still loved (St. Paul affirms this in his Letter to the Romans 11:28). Whoever wishes to be united to God, must also love them” (no. 86, end). The Biblical Commission clearly oriented herself in the direction indicated by Pope Paul VI in his homily of 28 October 1965, the day of the promulgation of the conciliar document Nostra Aetate, which dealt with relations with the non-Christian religions, particularly the Jewish one. Speaking of Jews, Paul VI wished “that we would have respect and love to them” and he also added “and that we would have hope in them”. This extremely positive orientation leaves no room for anti-Judaism. It should be maintained most faithfully.
The document is made up of 3 large chapters. The first is entitled “The Sacred Scriptures of the Jewish People, fundamental part of the Christian Bible”. We used beforehand “complementary part”, which would have meant that without the Sacred Scriptures of the Jewish people, the Christian Bible would not be complete. This is completely true, but it is insufficient. The Old Testament is not simply a piece among others in the Christian Bible. It is the base, the fundamental part. If the New Testament was established on another basis, it would have no real value. Without its conformity to the Sacred Scriptures of the Jewish people, it could not be presented as the accomplishment of God’s project. When the Apostle Paul wants to express the essential element of Christian faith, he underlines this conformity twice, saying: “Christ died for our sins, in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he was buried, and that on the third day, he was raised to life, in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared” (1 Co 15,3-5). The Christian faith then is not only based on events, but also on the conformity of these events with the revelation contained in the Sacred Scriptures of the Jewish people (no. 7). This constitutes evidently a very strong tie between Christians and Jews.
The first chapter presents a long demonstration of the affirmation contained in its title. First, it shows that “The New Testament recognizes the authority of the Sacred Scriptures of the Jewish people”. It recognizes it implicitly by constantly using the same language of the one found in the Sacred Scriptures and by frequently alluding to passages of these texts. It also recognized this by using explicit quotations. The Document recalls in detail the multiple ways in which these explicit quotations are presented in the New Testament. The reader can get tired of it, but this attention to these precise details demonstrates all its value.
Frequently, the New Testament uses some texts of the Jewish Bible to argue. “The New Testament recognizes a decisive value to an argumentation based on the Scriptures of the Jewish people”. In the fourth Gospel, Jesus declares in this regard that the “scripture cannot be set aside” (Jn 10:35). Its value comes from its being the “word of God” (ibid.). “In his doctrinal argumentation, the Apostle Paul, particularly, relies constantly on the Scriptures of his people and he makes a clear distinction between scriptural argumentation and human reasoning. He attributes an irrefutable value to scriptural argumentation. For him, Jewish Scriptures are always valuable today to guide the spiritual life of Christians. In his Letter to the Romans, he writes: “And all these things which were written so long ago were written so that we, learning perseverance and the encouragement which the scriptures give, should have hope” (Rm 15:4; cf. 1 Co 10:11).
Then the document shows that “the New Testament asserts itself in conformity with the Jewish People’s Scriptures”. The New Testament manifests, in fact, a dual conviction: “on the one hand, what is written in the Jewish Bible has necessarily to be accomplished, as it reveals the design of God, which cannot fail to be realized. On the other hand, the life, the death and the resurrection of Christ fully correspond to what was said in these Scriptures”.
The document delves deeply into the theme of the accomplishment of Scripture, because it is a very important theme in the relationship between Christians and Jews, and very complex. First this theme is dealt with in paragraph 8; it is picked up again in Chapter 2, paragraphs 19 to 21 at length. The accomplishment of the Scriptures necessarily includes three aspects: a fundamental aspect of continuity with the revelation of the Old Testament, but at the same time an aspect of difference on certain points and a surpassing aspect. A simple repetition of what existed in the Old Testament is not enough to allow us to speak about accomplishment. Decisive progress is essential. For example, let us take the theme of God’s dwelling among his people. The first achievement was the Temple of Jerusalem built by Solomon. As splendid as it was, it was imperfect. At the moment of its inauguration, Solomon realized this, and said to God: “The heavens, the highest of the heavens, cannot contain you. How much less this temple built by me” (1 K 8:27). Soiled by the sins of the people, the Temple of Solomon was destroyed and the Jews were exiled. When they returned from exile, the temple was rebuilt. Was this then the accomplishment of God’s project? Not at all, because again it had to do with a material construction, built by humans and could not really be God’s home. It was different to Solomon’s Temple, but instead of going towards decisive progress, the difference went towards inferiority. That is what the prophet Haggai noted when he asked the returning Jews: “Is there anyone left among you who saw this Temple in its former glory? And how does it look to you now? Does it not seem as though there is nothing there?” (Hg 2:3). Therefore, the prophet announced an intervention by God. This intervention was realized in Christ’s Paschal mystery. Jesus had announced it to the Jews saying: “Destroy this Temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (Jn 2:19). The evangelist adds: “He was speaking of the Temple that was His body” (Jn 2:21). This time, the difference is radical. As St. Mark put it, instead of a “Temple made by human hands”, it is a “Temple not made by human hands” (Mk 14:58) and this difference goes towards infinite superiority. The glorified body of Christ is really God’s residence; “In him, in bodily form, lives divinity in all its fullness”, as announced by the Letter to the Colossians (Col 2:9).
In paragraph 8, the Document states that conformity of the New Testament to the Jewish people’s Scriptures is not complete, rather, it is “accompanied by some aspects of non-conformity”. For example, this is the case in Saint Paul’s Letters. “In the Letter to the Galatians and the one to the Romans, the Apostle argues starting from the Law” - that is to say the Old Testament - “to show that faith in Christ put an end to the regime of Law. It shows that the Law as revelation announced its own end as the necessary institution for salvation.”
We could point out that in reality there is no “non-conformity” to the Jewish people’s Scriptures taken as a whole, rather, a non-conformity to their institutional aspect and a conformity to their prophetic aspect, which is present in the Torah. In fact, the Old Testament is full of tension between these two aspects. In Saint Paul’s Letters, “the most significant phrase is the one from Rm 3:21 where the apostle states that the manifestation of God’s justice, in the justification through faith in Christ, is made “independently from Law”, but is however “conforming to the witness of Law and the prophets”. In a similar way, the Letter to the Hebrews shows that the Paschal Mystery of Christ conforms to the prophecies and to the pre-figurative aspect of Scriptures, but involves, at the same time, an aspect of non-conformity to the ancient institutions”. Christ’s personal sacrifice conforms to the prophetic oracles that denounced a lack of animal immolations, even if prescribed by the Law. The situation of Christ glorified conforms to the oracle of PS 109(110):4 on the priesthood “according to “the order of Melchizedek”; it is, because of this, non-conforming to the Levitic priesthood. Often we can find both conformity and non-conformity.
In paragraph 21, the document returns to the notion of accomplishment and declares that it is “an extremely complex notion, that can be easily falsified, if one insists unilaterally on continuity and on discontinuity.” Therefore, the pastoral must take care not to falsify the notion of the accomplishment of the Scriptures. The document continues saying that “Christian faith recognizes the accomplishment in Christ, in the Scriptures and in Israel’s attempts, but does not understand this accomplishment as the realization of what was written. Such a concept would be a reduction. In truth, in the mystery of the crucified and risen Christ, accomplishment is achieved in an unforeseen way. It is a passing. Jesus does not limit himself by playing a pre-ordained role - the role of the Messiah (victorious) - but He confirms a fullness to the notions of the Messiah and salvation, that we could not imagine beforehand; He filled them with a new reality; we could even say, on this subject of “new creation” (2 Co 5:17; Ga 6:15). [...] The Messianism of Jesus has a new and unpublished meaning [...] This gives place to renouncing excessive insistence, characteristic of a specific apologetic, on the value of the proof attributed to the accomplishment of the prophecies. This insistence contributed to making the judgment of Christians on Jews more severe as well as on their reading of the Old Testament: the more we find evidence of mention of Christ in the texts of the Old Testament and the more we find the incredulity of [the great majority] of Jews as obstinate and inexcusable.”
Further on, the document declares: “Although the Christian reader is aware that the internal dynamism of the Old Testament finds its goal in Jesus, this is a retrospective perception whose point of departure is not in the text as such, but in the events of the New Testament proclaimed by apostolic preaching.” The document then reaches a conclusion concerning the Jews who do not believe in Christ: “It cannot be said, therefore, that Jews do not see what has been proclaimed in the text, but that the Christian, in the light of Christ and in the Spirit, discovers in the text an additional meaning that was hidden there.” The expression, as you can see, has deep nuances. The Christian interpretation surpasses the literal sense of certain texts; it confirms “a surplus of meaning”, but not in an arbitrary way; it discovers this “surplus of meaning” in the texts themselves, because it “was hidden there”.
In paragraph 64, the document expresses the same idea in other terms. It states: “Christian readers were convinced that their Old Testament hermeneutic, although significantly different from that of Judaism, corresponds nevertheless to a potentiality of meaning that is really present in the texts. Like a “revelation” during the process of photographic development, the person of Jesus and the events concerning Him now appear in the Scriptures with a fullness of meaning that could not be hitherto perceived.”
According to the Document, it follows that “Christians can and ought to admit that the Jewish reading of the Bible is a possible one, in continuity with the Jewish Sacred Scriptures from the Second Temple period, a reading analogous to the Christian reading which developed in parallel fashion”. But the document clearly states that while it is possible for Jews who do not believe in Christ, this reading is not possible for Christians, because it implies accepting all the presuppositions of Judaism, in particular those that “exclude faith in Jesus as Messiah and Son of God.”. “Both readings are bound up in the vision of their respective faiths, of which the readings are the result and expression. Consequently, both are irreducible.” This position is valid for the Jewish reading in its entirety. It is not valid for reading all the details of the Biblical texts, because often the Jewish reading of details does not imply the refusal of faith in Christ. It simply corresponds to a reading made before Christ’s coming.
Therefore the document can declare that “On the practical level of exegesis, Christians can, nonetheless, learn much from Jewish exegesis practiced for more than two thousand years, and, in fact, they have learned much in the course of history”. The document adds that, reciprocally, “it is to be hoped” by Christian exegetes “ that Jews themselves can derive profit from Christian exegetical research.” (no. 22)
To complete the study of relationships between the New and the Old Testament, the document studies the existing relationships, in Judaism and primitive Christianity, between Scriptures and Tradition. It finds some correspondence: Tradition gives birth to Scriptures” and then accompanies it, because “no written text can adequately express all the riches of a tradition”. Tradition determined, in particular, the canon of Scriptures. This determination was made progressively and did not end in the same result for Christians and Jews. Christians have the writings of the New Testament, over the books of the Old Testament, and, for the Old Testament itself, the Christian canon is more extensive than the Jewish canon of Scriptures. It also includes books written in Greek, whereas the text cannot be found in the Hebrew Bible. The Document takes this into account.
On the other hand, it points out that the reception of the Scriptures is not the same in Judaism as in Christianity. “For all the currents within Judaism during the period corresponding to the formation of the canon, the Law was at the center. Indeed, in it were to be found the essential institutions revealed by God himself governing the religious, moral, juridical and political life of the Jewish nation after the Exile.” In the New Testament, on the contrary, “the general tendency [...]is to give more importance to the prophetic texts, understood as foretelling the mystery of Christ. The apostle Paul and the Letter to the Hebrews do not hesitate to enter into polemics against the Law.” This difference in perspective is due to the fact that the Church of Christ is not a nation. The Apostle Paul strenuously fought against imposing on original Christians from pagan nations, the legislation and particular customs of the Jewish nation.
The second chapter of the document examines the situation in a more detailed way. It takes into consideration the “fundamental themes in the Jewish Scriptures and their reception into faith in Christ” (no. 19-65).The Jewish people’s Scriptures are received in the Christian Bible under the name Old Testament. The Document immediately points out that “By “Old Testament” the Christian Church has no wish to suggest that the Jewish Scriptures are outdated or surpassed. On the contrary, it has always affirmed that the Old Testament and the New Testament are inseparable. Their first relationship is precisely that. At the beginning of the second century, when Marcion wished to discard the Old Testament, he met with vehement resistance from the post-apostolic Church.”
“The title “Old Testament” [...] is an expression coined by the apostle Paul to designate the writings attributed to Moses” (cf. 2 Co 3:14-15). There Paul speaks about “reading the Old Testament” and then “when we read Moses”. The meaning of the expression was given, since the end of the 2nd Century, to apply it also to the other Sacred Scriptures of the Jewish people found in the Christian Bible. “Today in certain circles there is a tendency to use “First Testament” to avoid any negative connotation attached to “Old Testament”. But “Old Testament” is a biblical and traditional expression which of itself does not have a negative connotation: the Church fully recognizes the importance of the Old Testament” as the Word of God. As for the expression “First Testament”, it can be found in Latin as “prius testamentum” or “primum” in the translation of the Letter to the Hebrews (9:15; “primum” in 9:18), but then this is not the Scriptures. This is the Covenant concluded on the Sinai, and of this “first Covenant” it can be said that God made it “old”, when he announced the “news” and it was since then bound to disappear (Heb 8:13).
Therefore, in the New Testament, the expression “Primum Testamentum” has a negative connotation and “Old Testament” does not.
The polemic text of the Letter to the Hebrews is, generally speaking, consciously or unconsciously, ignored in the soothing declarations on the permanent validity of the first Covenant. The Document does not quote this text, but takes it into account, because it refrains from asserting the permanent validity of the Sinai Covenant. It mentions the permanent validity of the “covenant-promise of God”, which is not a bilateral pact such as the Sinai Covenant, often broken by the Israelites. It is “all merciful” and “cannot be annulled” (no. 41). It “is definitive and cannot be abolished”. In this sense, according to the New Testament, “Israel continues to be in a covenant relationship with God”. (no. 42)
In the second chapter, the document reviews no less than nine fundamental themes of the Jewish people’s Scriptures, which are received in the faith in Christ. The two first ones have great breadth, because this is “God’s revelation” and the situation of the “human person” under these two contrasting aspects of “grandeur and wretchedness”. The subsequent themes define God’s plan, “liberating and salvific” plan, achieved through “the election of Israel”, the people to whom God Offers “the Covenant” and “the Law”. The last themes deal with “prayer and cult, Jerusalem and Temple”. Then the divine oracles of reproaches and condemnations”, and finally the oracles of “promises”.
The document states that “the New Testament fully appropriates the great themes of the theology of Israel”, but does not cease repeating what has already been written on this subject. It delves into them, and this requires surpassing in view of progression. “The person and work of Christ together with the existence of the Church prolong this history”. “Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that the passage from one Testament to the other also involves ruptures. These do not submerge continuity. They presuppose it [on the contrary] in essentials. Yet these ruptures impinge upon whole tracts of the Law: for example, institutions like the levitical priesthood of the Jerusalem Temple; cult forms like animal sacrifice; religious and ritual practices like circumcision, rules concerning purity and impurity, dietary prescriptions; imperfect laws such as divorce; restrictive legal interpretations concerning the Sabbath. It is clear that — from the viewpoint of Judaism — these are matters of great importance. But it is also clear that the radical replacement in the New Testament was already adumbrated in the Old Testament and so constitute a potentially legitimate reading.”(no.64)
“Discontinuity on certain points is only the negative side of what is positively called progression. The New Testament attests that Jesus, far from being in opposition to the Israelite Scriptures, revoking them as provisional, brings them instead to fulfilment in His person, in His mission, and especially in His paschal mystery... In fact, none of the great Old Testament themes escapes the new radiation of Christological light.” (N. 65)
In particular, “The New Testament takes for granted that the election of Israel, the people of the Covenant, is irrevocable: it preserves intact its prerogatives (Rm 9:4) and its priority status in history, in the offer of salvation (Ac 13:23) and in the Word of God (13:46). But God has also offered to Israel a “new covenant” (Jr 31:31); this is now established through the blood of Jesus. The Church is composed of Israelites who have accepted the new covenant, and of other believers who have joined them. As a people of the new covenant, the Church is conscious of existing only in virtue of belonging to Christ Jesus, the Messiah of Israel, and because of its link with the apostles, who were all Israelites. Far from being a substitution for Israel, the Church is in solidarity with it. To the Christians who have come from other nations, the apostle Paul declares that they are grafted to the good olive tree which is Israel (Rm 11:16,17). That is to say, the Church is conscious of being given a universal horizon by Christ, in conformity with Abraham's vocation, whose descendants from now on are multiplied in a filiation founded on faith in Christ” (Rm 4:11-12; Ga 3:28-29)” (no. 65).
Therefore, the New Testament is situated in a line of deep faithfulness in relationship to the Sacred Scriptures of the Jewish people, however a faithfulness that is at the same time creative, conforming to the prophetic oracles that announced “the new covenant” (Jr 31:31) and the gift of a “new heart” and a “new spirit” /Ezk 36:26).
The third chapter of the document is called “The Jews in the New Testament”. But it begins with a necessary statement, which is not lacking in usefulness, on the “Different points of view” that exist “in Judaism after the exile”. (No. 66-69). In fact, it would be an error to conceive Judaism at that time as a monolithic reality. On the contrary, we must note the existence of different currents of thought and behavior, which often opposed each other. The Jewish historian Josephus distinguishes three “parts” or schools of thought, the Pharisees, the Sadducees and Essenes. However this list is not complete. “The relations between the different groups were at times severely strained, even to the point of hostility [...] The Qumran writings are full of polemics against the Jerusalem Sadducean hierarchy, wicked priests accused of violating the commandments, and they likewise denigrate the Pharisees. “ The document keeps this situation in mind, which is reflected in the New Testament writings. It distinguishes several subsequent periods: first, “the last centuries before Christ”, then the 1st century after Jesus Christ, divided into three thirds. The first third is the time of Jesus’ life “which had already begun a little earlier, when Jesus was born before the death of Herod the Great in 4BC”, before [the beginning of] our era.
The document states that “Jesus did not belong to any of the sects existing within Judaism at the time. He was simply one of the common people. Recent research has attempted to situate him in various contemporary contexts: a charismatic rabbi from Galilee, an itinerant Cynic preacher, and even a revolutionary zealot. He does not fit into any of these categories.” As for the group of disciples, then, “they could very well reflect the pluralism that existed in Palestine at that time” (No. 67).
The second third of the 1st century is the time “where the disciples of the risen Christ greatly increased in numbers and were organized into churches”. The last third begins with “the Jewish revolt of 66-70", which provoked the Jewish war, and the downfall and destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem. “When they speak of Judaism, Christian writings from this period were more and more influenced by this rabbinic Judaism then in the process of being formed. In certain areas, conflicts between the synagogue leaders and Jesus' disciples were bitter.” (N. 69).
After this necessary prologue, the document studies the way the Jews are presented in the Gospels and in the Acts of the Apostles. Then, in the Letters of Paul, James, Peter and Jude and in Revelation. The first phase is very significant. It declares that “the Gospels and Acts have a basic outlook on Jews that is extremely positive because they recognize that the Jews are a people chosen by God for the fulfilment of His plan of salvation. This divine choice finds its highest confirmation in the person of Jesus, son of a Jewish mother, born to be the Savior of His people, one who fulfils His mission [...] The attachment to Jesus of a great number of Jews, during his public life and after his resurrection, confirms this perspective, as does Jesus' choice of twelve Jews to share in his mission and continue his work.” (No. 70)
Another aspect of this situation is expressed in the following terms: “The Good News, accepted wholeheartedly in the beginning by many Jews, met with opposition from the leaders, who were eventually followed by the greater part of the people. The result was that between Jewish and Christian communities a conflict situation arose that clearly left its mark on the redaction of the Gospels and Acts” (N. 70).
These two aspects of this situation, the first, very positive, the second negative, can be found in all the writings of the New Testament. The second aspect gave rise to expressions of rejection and the creation of polemical texts. However, the document states: “In the New Testament, the reproaches addressed to Jews are not as frequent or as virulent as the accusations against Jews in the Law and the Prophets. Therefore, they no longer serve as a basis for anti-Jewish sentiment. To use them for this purpose is contrary to the whole tenor of the New Testament. Real anti-Jewish feeling, that is, an attitude of contempt, hostility and persecution of the Jews as Jews, is not found in any New Testament text and is incompatible with its teaching. What is found are reproaches addressed to certain categories of Jews for religious reasons, as well as polemical texts to defend the Christian apostolate against Jews who oppose it.” (N. 87)
Reproach never corresponds to hatred. The document reminds us that, in the Acts of the Apostles, “Israel's sin was to have put to death the Prince of Life” (Ac 3:15). “This sin [...] is recalled only as a basis for an appeal to conversion and faith. Besides, [the Apostle] Peter attenuates the culpability, not only of the ‘Israelites’ but also of their ‘leaders’ by saying that they acted ‘out of ignorance’ (3:17). Such forbearance is impressive. It corresponds to the teaching [who told us to love our enemies] (Lk 6:36-37)and example of Jesus [He prayed for those crucifying Him] (Lk 23:24)”. (No. 75) Saint Stephen, the first of the martyrs, faithfully followed this example (Ac 7:60).
As for polemical texts, thereby provoked by Jewish opposition to the Christian Apostolate, the document points out that since the “situation has radically changed”, there is no longer any need to “interfere with relations between Christians and Jews”. (no. 71)
In concluding, the document states that the New Testament is “in serious disagreement with the vast majority of the Jewish people”, because “it is essentially a proclamation of the fulfilment of God's plan in Jesus Christ (announced in the Old Testament), puts it in serious disagreement with the vast majority of the Jewish people who do not accept this fulfilment.[...] Although profound, such disagreement in no way implies reciprocal hostility. The example of Paul in Rm 9:11 shows that, on the contrary, an attitude of respect, esteem and love for the Jewish people is the only truly Christian attitude in a situation which is mysteriously part of the beneficent and positive plan of God.”.
“Dialogue is possible, since Jews and Christians share a rich common patrimony that unites them. It is greatly to be desired that prejudice and misunderstanding be gradually eliminated on both sides, in favor of a better understanding of the patrimony they share and to strengthen the links that bind them.” (No. 87)
In this direction, complete docility to the Word of God urges the Church to progress.
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BRIEFING FOR THE LANGUAGE GROUPS
The first Briefing for the language groups will take place (in the locations and with the Press Attachés indicated in Bulletin No. 2) tomorrow, Tuesday 7 October 2008 at approximately 14.00, at the end of the Briefing of the American Bible Society held at 13.00 in the John Paul II Hall of the Holy See Press Office (originally scheduled for Wednesday 8 October 2008).
We would like to remind the Audio-Visual Operators (cameramen and technicians) and the photo reporters to request their access permits (very restricted) from the Pontifical Council for Social Communications.
At the Briefing by the American Bible Society, the following will participate: H.Em. Card. Peter Kodwo Appiah TURKSON, Archbishop of Cape Coast (GHANA); Rev. Fr. Thomas ROSICA, C.S.B., Executive Director of the Catholic Television Network of Canada “Salt and Light” (CANADA); Rev. Dennis DICKERSON, President, Board of Trustees, American Bible Society; Rev.Giuseppe COSTA, Director of the Libreria Editrice Vaticana.