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Divine Inspiration of Sacred Scripture

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on God the Father
General Audience, Wednesday, 1 May 1985 - in Italian & Spanish  

"1. Today we repeat once again those beautiful words of the conciliar Constitution Dei Verbum: "And thus God, who spoke of old, uninterruptedly converses with the bride of his beloved Son [which is the Church]; and the Holy Spirit, through whom the living voice of the Gospel resounds in the Church, and through her, in the world, leads unto all truth those who believe and makes the word of Christ dwell abundantly in them (cf. Col 3:16)" (DV 8).

Let us take up again what it means "to believe." To believe in a Christian way means precisely to be led by the Spirit to the entire truth of divine revelation. It means to be a community of the faithful open to the word of the Gospel of Christ. Both are possible in every generation. The living transmission of divine revelation, contained in Tradition and Sacred Scripture, remains integral in the Church, thanks to the special service of the Magisterium, in harmony with the supernatural sense of the faith of the People of God.

2. To complete this concept of the bond between our Catholic "creed" and its source, the doctrine of the divine inspiration of Sacred Scripture and the authentic interpretation of Scripture is also important. In presenting this doctrine we will follow above all (as in the previous catecheses) the Constitution Dei Verbum.

The Council said: "Holy Mother Church, relying on the belief of the apostles, holds that the books of both the Old and New Testaments in their entirety, with all their parts, are sacred and canonical because, having been written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (cf. Jn 20:31; 2 Tim 3:16; 2 Pet 1:19-21; 3:15-16), they have God as their author and have been handed on as such to the Church herself" (DV 11).

God - as the invisible and transcendent author - "chose men and while employed by him they made use of their powers and abilities, so that...they, as true authors, consigned to writing everything and only those things which he wanted" (DV 11). For this purpose the Holy Spirit acted in them and through them (cf. DV 11).

3. Granted this origin, it must be held "that the books of Scripture must be acknowledged as teaching firmly, faithfully, and without error that truth which God wanted put into the sacred writings for the sake of our salvation" (DV 11). St. Paul's words in his Letter to Timothy confirm this: "All Scripture is inspired of God and is useful for teaching—for reproof, correction, and training in holiness so that the man of God may be fully competent and equipped for every good work" (2 Tim 3:16-17).

In accordance with the teaching of St. John Chrysostom, the Constitution on Divine Revelation expresses admiration for that special "condescension, "a stooping down" as it were by divine Wisdom. "The words of God, expressed in human language, have been made like human discourse, just as the Word of the eternal Father, when he took to himself the flesh of human weakness, was in every way made like men" (DV 13).

4. Some norms concerning the interpretation of Sacred Scripture logically spring from the truth of its divine inspiration. The Constitution Dei Verbum lists them briefly: A primary principle is that "since God speaks in Sacred Scripture through men in human fashion, the interpreter of Sacred Scripture, in order to see clearly what God wanted to communicate to us, should carefully investigate what meaning the sacred writers really intended, and what God wanted to manifest by means of their words" (DV 12).

For this end - this is the second point - it is necessary to take into consideration, among other things, the "literary genres." "For truth is set forth and expressed differently in texts which are variously historical, prophetic, poetic, or of other forms of discourse" (DV 12). The meaning of what the author expresses depends precisely on these literary genres, which must therefore be considered against the background of all the circumstances of a given era and a specific culture.

Here, then, is the third principle for a correct interpretation of Sacred Scripture: "For the correct understanding of what the sacred author wanted to assert, due attention must be paid to the customary and characteristic styles of perceiving, speaking, and narrating which prevailed at the time of the sacred writer, and to the pattern men normally employed at that period in their everyday dealings with one another" (DV 12).

5. These sufficiently detailed indications, given for interpretation of an historical-literary character, demand a deepened relationship with the premises of the doctrine on the divine inspiration of Sacred Scripture. It must be "read and interpreted according to the same Spirit by whom it was written" (DV 12). Therefore, "no less serious attention must be given to the content and unity of the whole of Scripture...the living tradition of the whole Church must be taken into account along with the harmony which exists between elements of the faith" (DV 12). By the "harmony which exists between elements of the faith," we mean the consistency of the individual truths of faith among themselves and with the total plan of revelation and the fullness of the divine economy contained in it.

6. The task of exegetes, that is, researchers who study Sacred Scripture with appropriate methods, is to contribute, in keeping with the above-mentioned principles, "to a better understanding and explanation of the meaning of Sacred Scripture, so that through preparatory study the judgment of the Church may mature" (DV 12).

Granted that the Church has "the divine commission and ministry of guarding and interpreting the word of God," whatever concerns "the way of interpreting Scripture is subject finally to the judgment of the Church" (DV 12). This norm is important and decisive for specifying the reciprocal relationship between exegesis (and theology) and the Magisterium of the Church. It is a norm that remains closely related to what we have previously said about the transmission of divine revelation.

We must stress once again that the Magisterium makes use of the work of theologians and exegetes and at the same time watches over the results of their studies. The Magisterium is called to safeguard the whole truth contained in divine revelation.

7. To believe in a Christian way means to adhere to this truth by taking advantage of the guarantee of truth which comes to the Church through its institution by Christ himself. This holds true for all the faithful, and also for theologians and exegetes—at the right level and in the proper degree. In this field the merciful providence of God is revealed for everyone. God has willed to grant us not only the gift of his self-revelation, but also the guarantee of its faithful preservation, interpretation and explanation, entrusting it to the hands of the Church."

After the Catechesis, Pope John Paul II greeted the pilgrims in various languages

Per la festa del 1° maggio

Carissimi fratelli e sorelle! Oggi una categoria molto importante della società, i cari lavoratori, sono in festa: il primo maggio è la giornata del lavoro. La Chiesa è solidale con i problemi dei lavoratori: essa è loro vicina, ne condivide le ansie e le aspirazioni, le gioie e le trepidazioni. La Chiesa soprattutto presenta ai lavoratori Cristo nella casa di Giuseppe, il carpentiere di Nazaret. In quella casa, Gesù ha imparato da Giuseppe a guadagnarsi il pane col sudore della fronte. La Chiesa pertanto presenta ai lavoratori l’esempio di San Giuseppe artigiano, sposo di Maria santissima e patrono della Chiesa universale, il quale ebbe da Dio l’altissima e singolare missione di accogliere con amore, di proteggere con affetto, di sostenere col suo lavoro e di aiutare con la sua prudenza nella crescita umana Gesù, il Verbo di Dio incarnato. Rivolgo pertanto fin dall’inizio di questa udienza un particolare saluto, pieno d’affetto, a tutti i lavoratori. Chiediamo a San Giuseppe e alla Madonna, alla quale è dedicato il mese di maggio che oggi incomincia, che ci ottengano la grazia di realizzare nella nostra vita quotidiana il messaggio di amore e di donazione, proclamato da Cristo.


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