Verbum Domini EN 28

28 Here I would like to mention Mary’s familiarity with the word of God. This is clearly evident in theMagnificat.There we see in some sense how she identifies with the word, enters into it; in this marvellous canticle of faith, the Virgin sings the praises of the Lord in his own words: “TheMagnificat – a portrait, so to speak, of her soul – is entirely woven from threads of Holy Scripture, threads drawn from the word of God. Here we see how completely at home Mary is with the word of God, with ease she moves in and out of it. She speaks and thinks with the word of God; the word of God becomes her word, and her word issues from the word of God. Here we see how her thoughts are attuned to the thoughts of God, how her will is one with the will of God. Since Mary is completely imbued with the word of God, she is able to become the Mother of the Word Incarnate”.[81]

Furthermore, in looking to the Mother of God, we see how God’s activity in the world always engages our freedom, because through faith the divine word transforms us. Our apostolic and pastoral work can never be effective unless we learn from Mary how to be shaped by the working of God within us: “devout and loving attention to the figure of Mary as the model and archetype of the Church’s faith is of capital importance for bringing about in our day a concrete paradigm shift in the Church’s relation with the word, both in prayerful listening and in generous commitment to mission and proclamation”.[82]

As we contemplate in the Mother of God a life totally shaped by the word, we realize that we too are called to enter into the mystery of faith, whereby Christ comes to dwell in our lives. Every Christian believer, Saint Ambrose reminds us, in some way interiorly conceives and gives birth to the word of God: even though there is only one Mother of Christ in the flesh, in the faith Christ is the progeny of us all.[83] Thus, what took place for Mary can daily take place in each of us, in the hearing of the word and in the celebration of the sacraments.

[81] Id., Encyclical Letter Deus Caritas Est (25 December 2005), : AAS 98 (2006), 251.
[82] Propositio 55.
[83] Cf. Expositio Evangelii secundum Lucam, 2, 19: PL 15, 1559-1560.

The Interpretation of Sacred Scripture in the Church

The Church as the primary setting for biblical hermeneutics

29 Another major theme that emerged during the Synod, to which I would now like to draw attention, is the interpretation of sacred Scripture in the Church. The intrinsic link between the word and faith makes clear that authentic biblical hermeneutics can only be had within the faith of the Church, which has its paradigm in Mary’s fiat.Saint Bonaventure states that without faith there is no key to throw open the sacred text: “This is the knowledge of Jesus Christ, from whom, as from a fountain, flow forth the certainty and the understanding of all sacred Scripture. Therefore it is impossible for anyone to attain to knowledge of that truth unless he first have infused faith in Christ, which is the lamp, the gate and the foundation of all Scripture”.[84] And Saint Thomas Aquinas, citing Saint Augustine, insists that “the letter, even that of the Gospel, would kill, were there not the inward grace of healing faith”.[85]

Here we can point to a fundamental criterion of biblical hermeneutics: the primary setting for scriptural interpretation is the life of the Church.This is not to uphold the ecclesial context as an extrinsic rule to which exegetes must submit, but rather is something demanded by the very nature of the Scriptures and the way they gradually came into being. “Faith traditions formed the living context for the literary activity of the authors of sacred Scripture. Their insertion into this context also involved a sharing in both the liturgical and external life of the communities, in their intellectual world, in their culture and in the ups and downs of their shared history. In like manner, the interpretation of sacred Scripture requires full participation on the part of exegetes in the life and faith of the believing community of their own time”.[86] Consequently, “since sacred Scripture must be read and interpreted in the light of the same Spirit through whom it was written”,[87] exegetes, theologians and the whole people of God must approach it as what it really is, the word of God conveyed to us through human words (cf.
1Th 2,13). This is a constant datum implicit in the Bible itself: “No prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by the impulse of man, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (2P 1,20-21). Moreover, it is the faith of the Church that recognizes in the Bible the word of God; as Saint Augustine memorably put it: “I would not believe the Gospel, had not the authority of the Catholic Church led me to do so”.[88] The Holy Spirit, who gives life to the Church, enables us to interpret the Scriptures authoritatively. The Bible is the Church’s book, and its essential place in the Church’s life gives rise to its genuine interpretation.

[84] Breviloquium, Prol.: Opera Omnia, V, Quaracchi 1891, pp. 201-202.
[85] Summa Theologiae, I-II 106,2.
[86] Pontifical biblical commission, The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church (15 April 1993), III, A, 3: Enchiridion Vaticanum 13, No. 3035.
[87] Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation Dei Verbum, DV 12.

30 Saint Jerome recalls that we can never read Scripture simply on our own. We come up against too many closed doors and we slip too easily into error. The Bible was written by the People of God for the People of God, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Only in this communion with the People of God can we truly enter as a “we” into the heart of the truth that God himself wishes to convey to us.[89] Jerome, for whom “ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ”,[90] states that the ecclesial dimension of biblical interpretation is not a requirement imposed from without: the Book is the very voice of the pilgrim People of God, and only within the faith of this People are we, so to speak, attuned to understand sacred Scripture. An authentic interpretation of the Bible must always be in harmony with the faith of the Catholic Church. He thus wrote to a priest: “Remain firmly attached to the traditional doctrine that you have been taught, so that you may exhort according to sound doctrine and confound those who contradict it”.[91]

Approaches to the sacred text that prescind from faith might suggest interesting elements on the level of textual structure and form, but would inevitably prove merely preliminary and structurally incomplete efforts. As the Pontifical Biblical Commission, echoing an accepted principle of modern hermeneutics, has stated: “access to a proper understanding of biblical texts is only granted to the person who has an affinity with what the text is saying on the basis of life experience”.[92] All this brings out more clearly the relationship between the spiritual life and scriptural hermeneutics. “As the reader matures in the life of the Spirit, so there grows also his or her capacity to understand the realities of which the Bible speaks”.[93] The intensity of an authentic ecclesial experience can only lead to the growth of genuine understanding in faith where the Scriptures are concerned; conversely, reading the Scriptures in faith leads to growth in ecclesial life itself. Here we can see once again the truth of the celebrated dictum of Saint Gregory the Great: “The divine words grow together with the one who reads them”.[94] Listening to the word of God introduces and increases ecclesial communion with all those who walk by faith.

[88] Contra epistulam Manichaei quam vocant fundamenti, V, 6: PL 42, 176.
[89] Cf. BenedictXVI, General Audience (14 November 2007): Insegnamenti III 2 (2007), 586-591.
[90] Commentariorum in Isaiam libri, Prol.: PL 24, 17.
[91] Epistula 52:7: CSEL 54, p. 426.
[92] Pontifical Biblical Commission, The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church (15 April 1993), II, A, 2: Enchiridion Vaticanum 13, No. 2988.
[93] Ibid., II, A, 2: Enchiridion Vaticanum 13, No. 2991.
[94] Homiliae in Ezechielem I, VII, 8: PL 76, 843D.

“The soul of sacred theology”

31 “The study of the sacred page should be, as it were, the very soul of theology”:[95] this quotation from the Dogmatic Constitution Dei Verbum has become increasingly familiar over the years. Theological and exegetical scholarship, in the period after the Second Vatican Council, made frequent reference to this expression as symbolic of the renewed interest in sacred Scripture. The Twelfth Assembly of the Synod of Bishops also frequently alluded to this well-known phrase in order to express the relationship between historical research and a hermeneutic of faith where the sacred text is concerned. The Fathers acknowledged with joy that study of the word of God in the Church has grown in recent decades, and they expressed heartfelt gratitude to the many exegetes and theologians who with dedication, commitment and competence continue to make an essential contribution to the deeper understanding of the meaning of the Scriptures, as they address the complex issues facing biblical studies in our day.[96] Sincere gratitude was also expressed to themembers of the Pontifical Biblical Commission, past and present, who in close collaboration with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith continue to offer their expertise in the examination of particular questions raised by the study of sacred Scripture. The Synod likewise felt a need to look into the present state of biblical studies and their standing within the field of theology. The pastoral effectiveness of the Church’s activity and the spiritual life of the faithful depend to a great extent on the fruitfulness of the relationship between exegesis and theology. For this reason, I consider it important to take up some reflections that emerged in the discussion of this topic during the Synod sessions.

[95] Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation Dei Verbum,
DV 24; cf. Leo XIII, Encyclical Letter Providentissimus Deus (18 November 1893), Pars II, sub fine: ASS 26 (1893-94), 269-292; BenedictXV, Encyclical Letter Spiritus Paraclitus (15 September 1920), Pars III: AAS 12 (1920), 385-422.
[96] Cf. Propositio 26.

The development of biblical studies and the Church’s magisterium

32 Before all else, we need to acknowledge the benefits that historical-critical exegesis and other recently-developed methods of textual analysis have brought to the life of the Church.[97] For the Catholic understanding of sacred Scripture, attention to such methods is indispensable, linked as it is to the realism of the Incarnation: “This necessity is a consequence of the Christian principle formulated in the Gospel of John 1:14: Verbum caro factum est. The historical fact is a constitutive dimension of the Christian faith. The history of salvation is not mythology, but a true history, and it should thus be studied with the methods of serious historical research”.[98] The study of the Bible requires a knowledge of these methods of enquiry and their suitable application. While it is true that scholarship has come to a much greater appreciation of their importance in the modern period, albeit not everywhere to the same degree, nonetheless the sound ecclesial tradition has always demonstrated a love for the study of the “letter”. Here we need but recall the monastic culture which is the ultimate foundation of European culture; at its root lies a concern for the word. The desire for God includes love for the word in all its dimensions: “because in the word of the Bible God comes to us and we to him, we must learn to penetrate the secret of language, to understand it in its structure and its mode of expression. Thus, because of the search for God, the secular sciences which lead to a greater understanding of language became important”.[99]

[97] Cf. Pontifical Biblical Commission, The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church (15 April 1993), A-B: Enchiridion Vaticanum 13, Nos. 2846-3150.
[98] Benedict XVI, Intervention in the Fourteenth General Congregation of the Synod (14 October 2008): Insegnamenti IV, 2 (2008), 492; cf. Propositio 25.
[99] Id., Address to Representatives of the World of Culture at the “Collège des Bernardins” in Paris (12 September 2008): AAS 100 (2008), 722-723.

33 The Church’s living magisterium, which is charged with “giving an authentic interpretation of the word of God, whether in its written form or in the form of tradition”,[100] intervened in a prudent and balanced way regarding the correct response to the introduction of new methods of historical analysis. I think in particular of the Encyclicals Providentissimus Deus of Pope Leo XIII and Divino Afflante Spiritu of Pope Pius XII. My venerable predecessor John Paul II recalled the importance of these documents on the centenary and the fiftieth anniversary respectively of their promulgation.[101] Pope Leo XIII’s intervention had the merit of protecting the Catholic interpretation of the Bible from the inroads of rationalism, without, however, seeking refuge in a spiritual meaning detached from history. Far from shunning scientific criticism, the Church was wary only of “preconceived opinions that claim to be based on science, but which in reality surreptitiously cause science to depart from its domain”.[102] Pope Pius XII, on the other hand, was faced with attacks on the part of those who proposed a so-called mystical exegesis which rejected any form of scientific approach. The Encyclical Divino Afflante Spiritu was careful to avoid any hint of a dichotomy between “scientific exegesis” for use in apologetics and “spiritual interpretation meant for internal use”; rather it affirmed both the “theological significance of the literal sense, methodically defined” and the fact that “determining the spiritual sense … belongs itself to the realm of exegetical science”.[103] In this way, both documents rejected “a split between the human and the divine, between scientific research and respect for the faith, between the literal sense and the spiritual sense”.[104] This balance was subsequently maintained by the 1993 document of the Pontifical Biblical Commission: “in their work of interpretation, Catholic exegetes must never forget that what they are interpreting is the word of God. Their common task is not finished when they have simply determined sources, defined forms or explained literary procedures. They arrive at the true goal of their work only when they have explained the meaning of the biblical text as God’s word for today”.[105]

[100] Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation Dei Verbum,
DV 10.
[101] Cf. John Paul II, Address for the Celebration of the Centenary of the EncyclicalProvidentissimus Deus and the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Encyclical Divino Afflante Spiritu (23 April 1993): AAS 86 (1994), 232-243.
[102] Ibid., 4: AAS 86 (1994), 235.
[103] Ibid., 5: AAS 86 (1994), 235.
[104] Ibid., 5: AAS 86 (1994), 236.
[105] Pontifical Biblical Commission, The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church (15 April 1993), III, C, 1: Enchiridion Vaticanum 13, No. 3065.

The Council’s biblical hermeneutic: a directive to be appropriated

34 Against this background, one can better appreciate the great principles of interpretation proper to Catholic exegesis set forth by the Second Vatican Council, especially in the Dogmatic ConstitutionDei Verbum: “Seeing that, in sacred Scripture, God speaks through human beings in human fashion, it follows that the interpreters of sacred Scripture, if they are to ascertain what God has wished to communicate to us, should carefully search out the meaning which the sacred writers really had in mind, that meaning which God had thought well to manifest through the medium of their words”.[106]On the one hand, the Council emphasizes the study of literary genres and historical context as basic elements for understanding the meaning intended by the sacred author. On the other hand, since Scripture must be interpreted in the same Spirit in which it was written, the Dogmatic Constitution indicates three fundamental criteria for an appreciation of the divine dimension of the Bible: 1) the text must be interpreted with attention to the unity of the whole of Scripture; nowadays this is called canonical exegesis; 2) account is be taken of the living Tradition of the whole Church; and, finally, 3) respect must be shown for the analogy of faith. “Only where both methodological levels, the historical-critical and the theological, are respected, can one speak of a theological exegesis, an exegesis worthy of this book”.[107]

The Synod Fathers rightly stated that the positive fruit yielded by the use of modern historical-critical research is undeniable. While today’s academic exegesis, including that of Catholic scholars, is highly competent in the field of historical-critical methodology and its latest developments, it must be said that comparable attention need to be paid to the theological dimension of the biblical texts, so that they can be more deeply understood in accordance with the three elements indicated by the Dogmatic Constitution Dei Verbum.[108]

[106] No.
DV 12.
[107] Benedict XVI, Intervention at the Fourteenth General Congregation of the Synod (14 October 2008): Insegnamenti IV, 2 (2008), 493; cf. Propositio 25.
[108] Cf. Propositio 26.

The danger of dualism and a secularized hermeneutic

35 In this regard we should mention the serious risk nowadays of a dualistic approach to sacred Scripture. To distinguish two levels of approach to the Bible does not in any way mean to separate or oppose them, nor simply to juxtapose them. They exist only in reciprocity. Unfortunately, a sterile separation sometimes creates a barrier between exegesis and theology, and this “occurs even at the highest academic levels”.[109] Here I would mention the most troubling consequences, which are to be avoided.

1) First and foremost, if the work of exegesis is restricted to the first level alone, Scripture ends up being a text belonging only to the past: “One can draw moral consequences from it, one can learn history, but the Book as such speaks only of the past, and exegesis is no longer truly theological, but becomes pure historiography, history of literature”.[110] Clearly, such a reductive approach can never make it possible to comprehend the event of God’s revelation through his word, which is handed down to us in the living Tradition and in Scripture.

2) The lack of a hermeneutic of faith with regard to Scripture entails more than a simple absence; in its place there inevitably enters another hermeneutic, a positivistic and secularized hermeneutic ultimately based on the conviction that the Divine does not intervene in human history. According to this hermeneutic, whenever a divine element seems present, it has to be explained in some other way, reducing everything to the human element. This leads to interpretations that deny the historicity of the divine elements.[111]

3) Such a position can only prove harmful to the life of the Church, casting doubt over fundamental mysteries of Christianity and their historicity – as, for example, the institution of the Eucharist and the resurrection of Christ. A philosophical hermeneutic is thus imposed, one which denies the possibility that the Divine can enter and be present within history. The adoption of this hermeneutic within theological studies inevitably introduces a sharp dichotomy between an exegesis limited solely to the first level and a theology tending towards a spiritualization of the meaning of the Scriptures, one which would fail to respect the historical character of revelation.
All this is also bound to have a negative impact on the spiritual life and on pastoral activity; “as a consequence of the absence of the second methodological level, a profound gulf is opened up between scientific exegesis and lectio divina. This can give rise to a lack of clarity in the preparation of homilies”.[112] It must also be said that this dichotomy can create confusion and a lack of stability in the intellectual formation of candidates for ecclesial ministries.[113] In a word, “where exegesis is not theology, Scripture cannot be the soul of theology, and conversely, where theology is not essentially the interpretation of the Church’s Scripture, such a theology no longer has a foundation”.[114] Hence we need to take a more careful look at the indications provided by the Dogmatic Constitution Dei Verbum in this regard.

[109] Propositio 27.
[110] Benedict XVI, Intervention at the Fourteenth General Congregation of the Synod (14 October 2008): Insegnamenti IV, 2 (2008), 493; cf. Propositio 26.
[111] Cf. ibid.
[112] Ibid.
[113] Cf. Propositio 27.
[114] Benedict XVI, Intervention at the Fourteenth General Congregation of the Synod (14 October 2008): Insegnamenti IV, 2 (2008), 493-494.

Faith and reason in the approach to Scripture

36 I believe that what Pope John Paul II wrote about this question in his Encyclical Fides et Ratio can lead to a fuller understanding of exegesis and its relationship to the whole of theology. He stated that we should not underestimate “the danger inherent in seeking to derive the truth of sacred Scripture from the use of one method alone, ignoring the need for a more comprehensive exegesis which enables the exegete, together with the whole Church, to arrive at the full sense of the texts. Those who devote themselves to the study of sacred Scripture should always remember that the various hermeneutical approaches have their own philosophical underpinnings, which need to be carefully evaluated before they are applied to the sacred texts”.[115]

This far-sighted reflection enables us to see how a hermeneutical approach to sacred Scripture inevitably brings into play the proper relationship between faith and reason. Indeed, the secularized hermeneutic of sacred Scripture is the product of reason’s attempt structurally to exclude any possibility that God might enter into our lives and speak to us in human words. Here too, we need to urge a broadening of the scope of reason.[116] In applying methods of historical analysis, no criteria should be adopted which would rule out in advance God’s self-disclosure in human history. The unity of the two levels at work in the interpretation of sacred Scripture presupposes, in a word,the harmony of faith and reason. On the one hand, it calls for a faith which, by maintaining a proper relationship with right reason, never degenerates into fideism, which in the case of Scripture would end up in fundamentalism. On the other hand, it calls for a reason which, in its investigation of the historical elements present in the Bible, is marked by openness and does not reject a priori anything beyond its own terms of reference. In any case, the religion of the incarnate Logos can hardly fail to appear profoundly reasonable to anyone who sincerely seeks the truth and the ultimate meaning of his or her own life and history.

[115] John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Fides et Ratio (14 September 1998),
FR 55: AAS 91 (1999), 49-50.
[116] Cf. Benedict XVI, Address to the Fourth National Ecclesial Congress in Italy (19 October 2006): AAS 98 (2006), 804-815.

Literal sense and spiritual sense

37 A significant contribution to the recovery of an adequate scriptural hermeneutic, as the synodal assembly stated, can also come from renewed attention to the Fathers of the Church and their exegetical approach.[117] The Church Fathers present a theology that still has great value today because at its heart is the study of sacred Scripture as a whole. Indeed, the Fathers are primarily and essentially “commentators on sacred Scripture”.[118] Their example can “teach modern exegetes a truly religious approach to sacred Scripture, and likewise an interpretation that is constantly attuned to the criterion of communion with the experience of the Church, which journeys through history under the guidance of the Holy Spirit”.[119]

While obviously lacking the philological and historical resources at the disposal of modern exegesis, the patristic and mediaeval tradition could recognize the different senses of Scripture, beginning with the literal sense, namely, “the meaning conveyed by the words of Scripture and discovered by exegesis, following the rules of sound interpretation”.[120] Saint Thomas of Aquinas, for example, states that “all the senses of sacred Scripture are based on the literal sense”.[121] It is necessary, however, to remember that in patristic and medieval times every form of exegesis, including the literal form, was carried out on the basis of faith, without there necessarily being any distinction between theliteral sense and the spiritual sense. One may mention in this regard the medieval couplet which expresses the relationship between the different senses of Scripture:

Littera gesta docet, quid credas allegoria,
Moralis quid agas, quo tendas anagogia.

The letter speaks of deeds; allegory about the faith;
The moral about our actions; anagogy about our destiny”.[122]

Here we can note the unity and interrelation between the literal sense and the spiritual sense, which for its part is subdivided into three senses which deal with the contents of the faith, with the moral life and with our eschatological aspiration.

In a word, while acknowledging the validity and necessity, as well as the limits, of the historical-critical method, we learn from the Fathers that exegesis “is truly faithful to the proper intention of biblical texts when it goes not only to the heart of their formulation to find the reality of faith there expressed, but also seeks to link this reality to the experience of faith in our present world”.[123]Only against this horizon can we recognize that the word of God is living and addressed to each of us in the here and now of our lives. In this sense, the Pontifical Biblical Commission’s definition of the spiritual sense, as understood by Christian faith, remains fully valid: it is “the meaning expressed by the biblical texts when read, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, in the context of the paschal mystery of Christ and of the new life which flows from it. This context truly exists. In it the New Testament recognizes the fulfilment of the Scriptures. It is therefore quite acceptable to re-read the Scriptures in the light of this new context, which is that of life in the Spirit”.[124]

[117] Cf. Propositio 6.
[118] Cf. Saint Augustine, De libero arbitrio, III, XXI, 59: PL 32, 1300; De Trinitate, II, I, 2: PL 42, 845.
[119] Congregation for Catholic Education, Instruction Inspectis Dierum (10 November 1989), 26: AAS 82 (1990), 618.
[120] Catechism of the Catholic Church,
CEC 116.
[121] Summa Theologiae, I 1,10, ad 1.
[122] Catechism of the Catholic Church, CEC 118.
[123] Pontifical Biblical Commission, The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church (15 April 1993), II, A, 2: Enchiridion Vaticanum 13, No. 2987.
[124] Ibid., II, B, 2: Enchiridion Vaticanum 13, No. 3003.

The need to transcend the “letter”

38 In rediscovering the interplay between the different senses of Scripture it thus becomes essential to grasp the passage from letter to spirit. This is not an automatic, spontaneous passage; rather, the letter needs to be transcended: “the word of God can never simply be equated with the letter of the text. To attain to it involves a progression and a process of understanding guided by the inner movement of the whole corpus, and hence it also has to become a vital process”.[125] Here we see the reason why an authentic process of interpretation is never purely an intellectual process but also a lived one, demanding full engagement in the life of the Church, which is life “according to the Spirit” (Ga 5,16). The criteria set forth in Number 12 of the Dogmatic Constitution Dei Verbum thus become clearer: this progression cannot take place with regard to an individual literary fragment unless it is seen in relation to the whole of Scripture. Indeed, the goal to which we are necessarily progressing is the one Word. There is an inner drama in this process, since the passage that takes place in the power of the Spirit inevitably engages each person’s freedom. Saint Paul lived this passage to the full in his own life. In his words: “the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life
(2Co 3,6), he expressed in radical terms the significance of this process of transcending the letter and coming to understand it only in terms of the whole. Paul discovered that “the Spirit of freedom has a name, and hence that freedom has an inner criterion: ‘The Lord is the Spirit and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom’ (2Co 3,17). The Spirit of freedom is not simply the exegete’s own idea, the exegete’s own vision. The Spirit is Christ, and Christ is the Lord who shows us the way”.[126] We know that for Saint Augustine too this passage was at once dramatic and liberating; he came to believe the Scriptures – which at first sight struck him as so disjointed in themselves and in places so coarse – through the very process of transcending the letter which he learned from Saint Ambrose in typological interpretation, wherein the entire Old Testament is a path to Jesus Christ. For Saint Augustine, transcending the literal sense made the letter itself credible, and enabled him to find at last the answer to his deep inner restlessness and his thirst for truth.[127]

[125] Benedict XVI, Address to Representatives of the World of Culture at the “Collège des Bernardins” in Paris (12 September 2008): AAS 100 (2008), 726.
[126] Ibid.
[127] Cf. Id., General Audience (9 January 2008): Insegnamenti IV, 1 (2008), 41-45.

The Bible’s intrinsic unity

39 In the passage from letter to spirit, we also learn, within the Church’s great tradition, to see the unity of all Scripture, grounded in the unity of God’s word, which challenges our life and constantly calls us to conversion.[128] Here the words of Hugh of Saint Victor remain a sure guide: “All divine Scripture is one book, and this one book is Christ, speaks of Christ and finds its fulfilment in Christ”.[129] Viewed in purely historical or literary terms, of course, the Bible is not a single book, but a collection of literary texts composed over the course of a thousand years or more, and its individual books are not easily seen to possess an interior unity; instead, we see clear inconsistencies between them. This was already the case with the Bible of Israel, which we Christians call the Old Testament. It is all the more so when, as Christians, we relate the New Testament and its writings as a kind of hermeneutical key to Israel’s Bible, thus interpreting the latter as a path to Christ. The New Testament generally does not employ the term “Scripture” (cf. Rm 4,3 1P 2,6), but rather “the Scriptures” (cf. Mt 21,43 Jn 5,39 Rm 1,2 2P 3,16), which nonetheless are seen in their entirety as the one word of God addressed to us.[130] This makes it clear that the person of Christ gives unity to all the “Scriptures” in relation to the one “Word”. In this way we can understand the words of Number 12 of the Dogmatic Constitution Dei Verbum DV 12, which point to the internal unity of the entire Bible as a decisive criterion for a correct hermeneutic of faith.

[128] Cf. Propositio 29.
[129] De Arca Noe, 2, 8: PL 176, 642C-D.
[130] Cf. Benedict XVI, Address to Representatives of the World of Culture at the “Collège des Bernardins” in Paris (12 September 2008): AAS 100 (2008), 725.

Verbum Domini EN 28