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"I would never have believed it!"

Fifty years ago today, Yves Congar wrote these words in the journal that he was keeping during the newly-opened Second Vatican Council. (Congar's "My Journal of the Council" has recently been published in English translation by Liturgical Press).His astonished exclamation concerned the fact that 62% of the Bishops gathered in Council had voted against the draft document "On the Sources of Revelation." However, according to the Council's rules, it required a two-thirds negative vote to remand the document back to committee. Then, with his sanctified common sense, Pope John intervened, reconstituted the committee, now to be headed jointly by Cardinals Ottaviani and Bea, and commissioned them to produce a new document.I had just begun theological studies in Rome, living at Collegio Capranica (founded by Cardinal Capranica 100 years before Trent). The fourth theologians from the College, who were working at the Council as assistants, broke the electrifying news at dinner (even before Xavier Rynne could get to a phone). We all sensed that it marked a historic turning point.What emerged from the Council was one of its most important documents, the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, "Dei Verbum." The young Joseph Ratzinger had an important role in helping to articulate the more "personalist" understanding of God's revelation that characterizes the document.I think that "Dei Verbum" has been relatively neglected since the Council -- more attention (and polemics) being lavished on the other three constitutions; but, to my mind, it is the foundational document. And, if we hope to receive the Council with requisite fulness, it is the place to start -- fifty years later.

About the Author

Rev. Robert P. Imbelli, a priest of the Archdiocese of New York, is Associate Professor of Theology Emeritus at Boston College.



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I think that Dei Verbum has been relatively neglected since the Council Yet:- Scripture permeates our faith lives. Every catechism session at every level everywhere includes some Scripture reading, I think. Everyone finds that the primary purpose of the homily is to explain the Scripture readings and how they might apply to our lives. Most parishes I know have some kind of group meeting around Scripture. People question documents that rely on quotes of Vatican documents or of the catechism, but have much more trust in biblical quotes.- To explain how fantastic-sounding Scripture passages still contain some truths, I have heard many times the explanation of the need to take the "literary form" into account. - I have the impression that there is also a general consensus that Scripture is inspired by God but written by authors with human and cultural limitations - so that every word is true, except when it isn't...So, it seems to me that, even without knowing "Dei Verbum", contemporary Catholics have internalized much of what's in the document, so that, taking a quick look at it now, it seems pretty straightforward. If it's been neglected, it is because it's been victim of its success. I suppose that that's what it means for a document to have been "received". Am I wrong?

Claire,I certainly think you make valid points. The greatly expanded use of Scripture in the liturgy is a real enrichment. The existence of groups meeting to read and pray the Scriptures is a sign of promise. And "Dei Verbum" certainly served as a catalyst for both.My remark, which you quote, had primarily in mind the explicit appeals to the documents of Vatican II both in theological circles and in the Catholic Press. There my impression is that the theological vision of "Dei Verbum" has suffered a certain benign neglect. Its robust Christ-centered vision of revelation perhaps deemed problematic.Without denying what I conceded in the first paragraph, despite the vastly increased exposure to Scripture at the liturgy, have we become a more biblically knowledgeable and informed community, in our consciousness and practice, since the Council -- especially given the vast decline in attendance at liturgy? Many commentators, of all stripes, lament the biblical illiteracy we encounter in college classrooms and religious education classes. But even for those who attend Sunday Eucharist regularly, a fair number in my experience miss the first reading; and relatively few read and pray the readings before the liturgy. Doing the latter would, to my mind, constitute an active "reception" of "Dei Verbum."

I has been my experience that, while the Gospel is given some time during homilies---Sunday and week-day, the first two readings are so very often skipped over.Many Catholics do not see the tie-in with the first two readings and the Gospel. And sadly, I agree that we are not more biblically knowledgeable. I believe that the priests are not more knowledgable of scriptures, hence, neither is the congregation.I noticed that when I offer scriptural studies during the Lenten season---I have many takers. We are doing the Acts of the Apostles during Lent of 2013----straight from the Biblical text---and studying the development of the Christian communities at the same time. Hopefully, people will grow a bit in their understanding of the Acts and their own connection with the early Christian communities---in facing the struggles and joys of being Christian.

You can get a useful weekly look at the Sunday readings from signing up with the American Bible Society's Lectio Divina the ABS is, of course, non-denominational, they consider Lectio Divina as primarily a Catholic practice, and use the RC Lectionary; though they also consider it as a practice that more Christians, Catholic or not, ought to follow (the LD for November 25 thus is geared to the feast of Christ the King which, the last time I looked, was not generally a Protestant celebration).The daily scripture readings from the Irish Jesuit site Sacred Space, seem generally, though not always, to follow the Mass readings of the day. site is available in a number of languages, one of which is NOT Italian. Italian used to be there, prepared by the Italian Jesuits, but they were woefully remiss in keeping up the work (unlike the Germans or the French, for instance), and now they have simply vanished.

Nicholas,Many thanks for the links. A few years ago Cardinal Martini, in an article published in "America," recommended "lectio" as a crucial spiritual practice for the nourishing of faith, especially in our frenzied Black Friday culture. Of course, he famously employed "lectio" in sessions in the Milan Duomo.I'm giving a presentation at St. Theresa's in the Bronx this coming Tuesday on "The Advent of the Year of Faith" speaking of "Dei Verbum" and introducing the practice of "lectio divina." St. Theresa's is easily accessible via the Number 6 Subway line -- of "The Taking of Pelham 1,2,3" fame :-)Little Bear,May your efforts flourish!

Yes, thanks to Nicholas for the links.For those who might not have it, here's the link to Universalis which gives the daily readings of the Holy Office.

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