Tuesday, 2 December 2008

The Final Message of the Synod on the Word of God

For the season of Advent, I am preparing a series of four allocutios on the Final Message of the October Synod of Bishops for the Legion of Mary praesidium in the parish. Herewith, my notes for the first of these allocutios.

1. Introduction

Advent as “coming”: so we look forward to the coming of Jesus - forward (the second coming, so we are encouraged to be “awake”), backwards (the coming of Jesus as God-made-man at Bethlehem, that we will celebrate at Christmas).

“The Word of God” as advent: the phrase has a specific reference to the Scriptures, but this is not exclusive - it refers to Jesus Christ himself (typically in a phrase like “The Word made flesh”), and to any other way in which God speaks or communicates himself to mankind (perhaps typically in the word addressed to the prophets); it reaches back to creation (which can be seen as the first moment of God’s coming, advent).[1]

The Final Message of the Synod has sections devoted to Creation and Salvation History, the person of Jesus Christ, the Church, and (the longest section) the place of Scripture in the world today.

Methodology of the Final Message: rich in use of texts from the Scriptures to support a vision of the “Word of God” that is not limited to just the written word of the pages of the books of the Bible.

2. Vatican II: Dei Verbum

God, who through the Word creates all things (see John 1:3) and keeps them in existence, gives men an enduring witness to Himself in created realities (see Rom. 1:19-20). Planning to make known the way of heavenly salvation, He went further and from the start manifested Himself to our first parents. Then after their fall His promise of redemption aroused in them the hope of being saved (see Gen. 3:15) and from that time on He ceaselessly kept the human race in His care, to give eternal life to those who perseveringly do good in search of salvation (see Rom. 2:6-7). Then, at the time He had appointed He called Abraham in order to make of him a great nation (see Gen. 12:2). Through the patriarchs, and after them through Moses and the prophets, He taught this people to acknowledge Himself the one living and true God, provident father and just judge, and to wait for the Savior promised by Him, and in this manner prepared the way for the Gospel down through the centuries.

Then, after speaking in many and varied ways through the prophets, "now at last in these days God has spoken to us in His Son" (Heb. 1:1-2). For He sent His Son, the eternal Word, who enlightens all men, so that He might dwell among men and tell them of the innermost being of God (see John 1:1-18). Jesus Christ, therefore, the Word made flesh, was sent as "a man to men." (3) He "speaks the words of God" (John 3;34), and completes the work of salvation which His Father gave Him to do (see John 5:36; John 17:4). To see Jesus is to see His Father (John 14:9). For this reason Jesus perfected revelation by fulfilling it through his whole work of making Himself present and manifesting Himself: through His words and deeds, His signs and wonders, but especially through His death and glorious resurrection from the dead and final sending of the Spirit of truth. Moreover He confirmed with divine testimony what revelation proclaimed, that God is with us to free us from the darkness of sin and death, and to raise us up to life eternal.

3. The Final Message Section 1: “… our faith is not only centred on a book, but on a history of salvation ….”[2]

[In creation] a first "cosmic" revelation is found which makes creation similar to an immense page opened up before all of humanity, in which a message from the Creator can be read: "The heavens declare the glory of God, the vault of heaven proclaims his handiwork, day unto day makes known his message; night unto night hands on the knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their message goes out into all the earth" (Ps 19:2-5).[3]

The divine word is, however, also at the origin of human history. Man and woman, whom God created "in the image of himself" (Gn 1:27), and who bear within themselves the divine imprint, can enter into dialogue with their Creator or can wander far from him and reject him away by sinning. … The divine is therefore present in human events which, through the action of the Lord of history, are inserted in the greater plan of salvation for "everyone to be saved and reach full knowledge of the truth" (1 Tm 2:4).

Consequently, the effective, creative and salvific divine word is source of being and of history, of creation and redemption.[4]

The words of the Bible bear witness to the divine word, in a written form. So we are not surprised to see that the Bible gives an account of creation and the history of salvation, in the pages of what we know as the Old Testament.


1. How Catholics approach the Bible is very different than two other groups:

-evangelical Christians, who have less sense of philosophy and of the Church, restrict to a greater or lesser extent the understanding of the “Word of God” to the written words of the Bible

-Muslims would share an idea of creation as a manifestation of God, and so there is a preference for not representing created objects or persons in their religious art. Muslims view their Scriptures, the Koran, as the content of the revelation of God through the prophet Mohammed; they do not have a sense of it as a witness to an ongoing history of salvation.

2. We are unfolding the different ways in which the Bible, a written word, is a witness to a Living Word - and we have started by looking at it as witness to creation and to the history of salvation.

3. In proclaiming the Gospel, and then in catechesis, the idea of a history of salvation is important. We present to those we are evangelising a story - of God’s creation, and then of his intervention in that creation for the salvation of man, centred on the coming of Jesus Christ and his redemptive action.

[1] cf Final Message of the Synod n.3: “.. the word of God
precedes and goes beyond the Bible ..”
[2] Final Message of the Synod, n.3. Note that this is only a
partial citation. cf Vatican II Dei Verbum nn.3-4
[3] Final Message of the Synod, n.1.
[4] Final Message of the Synod, nn.2-3.

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