“Religion of the Book” or “Religion of the Word”?
That is one of the divides emerging during the current Synod on the Bible being held at the Vatican. (The formal title of the meeting of some 250 bishops and sundry experts is the Synod on the Word, and it ends this Sunday after three weeks.) The issue of Catholics and Scripture is an excellent one, I think, as biblical illiteracy remains widespread (and that goes for sola Scriptura Protestants as much, if not more, than Catholics.) Catholic News Service has a nice backgrounder on Catholicism and bible study here. Yet in spite of the development from Pius XII and Divino Afflante Spiritu and then the Council’s Dei Verbum, and liturgical reform that greatly broadened the cycle of readings, Catholics still want and need to become more educated about the bible.
Will the synod foster this process? There have been many interesting interventions by each of the bishops (yes, the editing job is tedious, and that’s the current stage in the process), including Benedict XVI, who signaled one of the main themes, that of “healing” the rift between theology and exegesis–the latter having scrubbed scripture of the Divine. John Allen is in Rome and has daily coverage.
The argument that biblical exegesis has undermined belief seems to me to have more merit for some exegetes than it does for the faithful. I think Catholics want (and need) to learn more about the Bible as a text and as a source of faith–and that they are not mutually exclusive. But I think that will require a lot of work “on the ground” and outside the liturgical setting. So far, the synod’s emerging recommendations seem to focus on improving homilies (again, putting the responsibility and work solely on priests) and helping lectors deliver their “lines.” And focusing on Catholicism (Christianity) as a “Religion of the Word” rather than of “the Book,” not only serves to distinguish the church from Judaism or Islam, but seems to put such a strong emphasis on spirituality over the intellect as avenues to holiness.
There is also concern that, contra Dei Verbum, the bible is being put at the service of tradition, rather than playing in concert. (DV, 10) Lectio divina is a popular proposal, and who could argue? But I am a fan of small groups bible studies (the Little Rock program remains the best, and most popular) and I’d like to see the bishops get more practical, loosen the reins a bit.
There are many other themes, and counterarguments to my impressions. (Apropos, just noticed Robert Royal’s column at “The Catholic Thing” advocating a practice of biblical virtues rather than study of the bible.) But this is an important–very important–topic for the church, so I just wanted to open a thread for further thoughts.