"A Symphony of the Word" | A Short Guide to Pope Benedict XVI's Apostolic Exhortation Verbum Domini | Carl E. Olson | Ignatius Insight | December 21, 2010
When chosen as pontiff on April 19, 2005, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger was the oldest man elected pope in nearly 300 years and the first German in 500 years. Of greater significance was the fact—not often noted or analyzed in-depth—that Pope Benedict XVI was the first biblical theologian to ever sit in the Chair of St. Peter. Yet, as Dr. Scott Hahn notes in the opening chapter of Covenant and Communion: The Biblical Theology of Benedict XVI (Brazos, 2009), the pontificate of Benedict XVI, "to a degree not seen perhaps since the medieval papacy of Gregory the Great, has borne the stamp of a distinctive biblical theology."
While the lengthy and prolific pontificate of Benedict's successor and close friend John Paul II produced a remarkable number of major documents addressing many crucial issues, none of those documents were solely focused on the Bible, its interpretation, and its place in the Church. Now, in the fifth year of his pontificate, Benedict has written a major document about Sacred Scripture. It is the post-synodal apostolic exhortation, Verbum Domini (also available in PDF format from the Vatican site), on the "Word of God in the life and mission of the Church," which was presented on September 30, 2010, the memorial of St. Jerome, and made public on November 11th.
The Genesis of Verbum Domini
Dr. Michael Barber, Professor of Theology, Scripture and Catholic Thought at John Paul the Great Catholic University (San Diego), has noted on his blog, "The Sacred Page", that Benedict XVI's "clear focus on Scripture has been manifest throughout his papacy." He points out that the Year of St. Paul (2008) was marked by a prolonged and consistent emphasis on Scripture, notably within the many audiences the pope dedicated to the writings and theological thought of the Apostle Paul. The Holy Father's best-selling book, Jesus of Nazareth: From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration, addressed methods of interpreting Scripture and reflected at length on life and teachings of Jesus Christ. (Two more volumes are yet to be published, one on Christ's Passion and Resurrection and another on his birth and infancy.)
In October 2006, Benedict XVI chose the topic, "The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church," and in April of 2007 he announced a synod in which the bishops would meet together to discuss the nature of Scripture and its role in the Church. The Lineamenta (draft guidelines) for the 2008 Synod of Bishops stated that the "purpose of this Synod is primarily pastoral, namely, spreading and strengthening encounters with the Word of God ..." It listed as objective the following: "to help clarify the basic truths of Revelation as the Word of God, Divine Tradition, the Bible and the Magisterium, which prompt and guarantee an authentic and effective living of the faith; to spark an appreciation and deep love of Sacred Scripture so that 'the faithful might have easy access" to it; to renew listening to the Word of God, in the liturgy and catechesis, specifically through lectio divina, duly adapted to various circumstances; and to offer a Word of consolation and hope to the poor of the world."
It also mentioned the aim of fostering "a proper approach to biblical hermeneutics and to correctly direct the process of evangelization and inculturation. It also intends to encourage ecumenical dialogue, which is closely linked to listening to the Word of God and to promote an encounter and dialogue of not only Christians and Jews but also those engaged in interreligious and inter-cultural dialogue." With those goals in mind, the Twelfth Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops met at the Vatican from October 5-26, 2008. Benedict writes in the Introduction that Verbum Domini is his response "to the request of the Synod Fathers to make known to the whole People of God the rich fruits which emerged from the synodal sessions and the recommendations which resulted from our common endeavour" (par. 1).
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