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The New Testament Is a Perpetual and Divine Witness to Christ

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on God the Father
General Audience, Wednesday, 22 May 1985 - in French, Italian & Spanish  

"1. The New Testament is of lesser extent than the Old. Under the aspect of historical redaction, the books that make it up were written in a much shorter period of time than those of the Old Testament. It contains twenty-seven books, some of which are very brief.

In first place we list the four Gospels according to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Then follows the Acts of the Apostles, whose author is also Luke. The most numerous group contains the apostolic letters, and among these the most numerous are the Letters of St. Paul: one to the Romans, two to the Corinthians, one to the Galatians, one to the Ephesians, one to the Philippians, one to the Colossians, two to the Thessalonians, two to Timothy, one to Titus, and one to Philemon. The so-called corpus Paulinum ends with the Letter to the Hebrews, written in Paul's sphere of influence. Then follow the Letter of St. James, two Letters of St. Peter, three Letters of St. John, and the Letter of St. Jude. The last book of the New Testament is St. John's Apocalypse (Revelation).

2. With regard to these books, the Constitution Dei Verbum has this to say: "It is common knowledge that among all the Scriptures, even those of the New Testament, the Gospels have a special pre-eminence, and rightly so, for they are the principal witness of the life and teaching of the incarnate Word, our Savior. "The Church has always and everywhere held and continues to hold that the four Gospels are of apostolic origin. For what the apostles preached in fulfillment of the commission of Christ, afterward they themselves and apostolic men, under the inspiration of the divine Spirit, handed on to us in writing: the foundation of faith, namely, the fourfold Gospel, according to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John" (DV 18).

3. The conciliar Constitution underlines in a particular way the historicity of the four Gospels. It writes that the Church "has firmly and with absolute constancy held, and continues to hold, that the four Gospels...whose historical character the Church unhesitatingly asserts, faithfully hand on what Jesus Christ, while living among men, really did and taught for their eternal salvation until the day he was taken up into heaven (cf. Acts 1:1-2)" (DV 19).

With regard to the way the four Gospels came to be, the conciliar Constitution links it above all with the apostolic teaching that began after the descent of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. Here is what we read: "Indeed, after the ascension of the Lord the apostles handed on to their hearers what he had said and done. This they did with that clearer understanding which they enjoyed after they had been instructed by the events of Christ's risen life and taught by the light of the Spirit of truth" (DV 19). These "events of Christ's risen life" are mainly the resurrection of the Lord and the descent of the Holy Spirit. We can understand that, in the light of the resurrection, the apostles definitively believed in Christ. The resurrection cast a basic light on his death on the cross and also on all that he had done and proclaimed before his passion. On the day of Pentecost the apostles were "taught by the light of the Spirit of truth."

4. From the oral apostolic teaching we pass to the drafting of the Gospels, concerning which the conciliar Constitution says: "The sacred authors wrote the four Gospels, selecting some things from the many which had been handed on by word of mouth or in writing, reducing some of them to a synthesis, explaining some things in view of the situation of their churches, and preserving the form of proclamation but always in such fashion that they told us the honest truth about Jesus. For their intention in writing was that either from their own memory and recollections, or from the witness of those who themselves 'from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word' we might know 'the truth' concerning those matters about which we have been instructed (cf. Lk 1:2-4)" (DV 19). This concise statement of the Council reflects and briefly sums up the richness of the investigations and studies that biblical scholars have not ceased to dedicate to the question of the origin of the four Gospels. For our catechesis, this summary will suffice.

5. Concerning the rest of the books of the New Testament, the conciliar Constitution Dei Verbum says the following: "By the wise plan of God, those matters which concern Christ the Lord are confirmed, his true teaching is more and more fully stated, the saving power of the divine work of Christ is preached, the story is told of the beginnings of the Church and her marvelous growth, and her glorious fulfillment is foretold" (DV 20). This is a brief and concise presentation of the contents of those books, apart from chronological questions, which are of less interest here. We will mention only that scholars place their composition in the second half of the first century.

What counts more for us is the presence of the Lord Jesus and his Spirit in the authors of the New Testament, who are the means through whom God introduces us into the new revelation. "For the Lord Jesus was with his apostles as he had promised (cf. Mt 28:20) and sent them the advocate Spirit who would lead them into the fullness of truth (cf. Jn 16:13)" (DV 20). The books of the New Testament introduce us precisely to the way that leads to the fullness of the truth of divine revelation.

6. Here we have another conclusion for a more complete concept of faith. To believe in a Christian way means to accept God's self-revelation in Jesus Christ, which constitutes the essential content of the New Testament.

The Council tells us: "When the fullness of time arrived (cf. Gal 4:4), the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us in his fullness of grace and truth (cf. Jn 1:14). Christ established the kingdom of God on earth, manifested his Father and himself by deeds and words, and completed his work by his death, resurrection and glorious ascension and by the sending of the Holy Spirit. Having been lifted up from the earth, he draws all men to himself (cf. Jn 12:32, Greek text), he who alone has the words of eternal life (cf. Jn 6:69)" (DV 17). Therefore they provide special support for our faith."

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

Uccisione di un sacerdote nelle Filippine

Un sacerdote, il reverendo Alberto Romero, della diocesi di Dipolog nell’isola di Mindanao, è stato assassinato all’altare durante la celebrazione del sacrificio eucaristico. Desidero parteciparvi il mio dolore per questo tragico fatto, ancor più grave perché l’uccisione è avvenuta in un momento sacro di così grande valore per la fede, e invitarvi a rivolgere una fervida preghiera al Signore risorto e alla sua Madre santissima per l’anima di questo sacerdote. Associamo nel ricordo orante anche i suoi familiari, il vescovo, il clero e il popolo fedele della diocesi di Dipolog e in particolare coloro che appartengono alla parrocchia affidata alle cure pastorali del sacerdote ucciso.


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