Dei Verbum and Lectio Divina-Benedict XVI

The Dogmatic Constitution “Dei Verbum,” whose drafting I personally witnessed as a young theologian, taking part in the lively discussions that went with it, begins with a deeply meaningful sentence: “Dei Verbum religiose audiens et fidenter proclamans, Sacrosancta Synodus …” [“Hearing the Word of God with reverence, and proclaiming it with faith, the Sacred Synod …”] (n. 1).  With these words the Council points out a descriptive aspect of the Church: she is a community that listens to and proclaims the Word of God.

The Church does not live on herself but on the Gospel, and in the Gospel always and ever anew finds the directions for her journey. This is a point that every Christian must understand and apply to himself or herself: only those who first listen to the Word can become preachers of it.  Indeed, they must not teach their own wisdom but the wisdom of God, which often appears to be foolishness in the eyes of the world (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:23).

The Church knows well that Christ lives in the Sacred Scriptures. For this very reason — as the Constitution stresses — she has always venerated the divine Scriptures in the same way as she venerates the Body of the Lord (cf. “Dei Verbum,” n. 21).  In view of this, St. Jerome, cited by the conciliar Document, said that ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ (cf. “Dei Verbum,” n. 25).
The Church and the Word of God are inseparably linked. The Church lives on the Word of God and the Word of God echoes through the Church, in her teaching and throughout her life (cf. “Dei Verbum,” n. 8). The Apostle Peter, therefore, reminds us that no prophecy contained in Scripture can be subjected to a personal interpretation. “Prophecy has never been put forward by man’s willing it. It is rather that men impelled by the Holy Spirit have spoken under God’s influence” (2 Peter 1:20).

We are grateful to God that in recent times, and thanks to the impact made by the Dogmatic Constitution “Dei Verbum” the fundamental importance of the Word of God has been deeply re-evaluated. From this has derived a renewal of the Church’s life, especially in her preaching, catechesis, theology and spirituality, and even in the ecumenical process. The Church must be constantly renewed and rejuvenated and the Word of God, which never ages and is never depleted, is a privileged means to achieve this goal. Indeed, it is the Word of God, through the Holy Spirit, which always guides us to the whole truth (cf. John 16:13).

In this context, I would like in particular to recall and recommend the ancient tradition of “Lectio divina“: “the diligent reading of Sacred Scripture accompanied by prayer brings about that intimate dialogue in which the person reading hears God who is speaking, and in praying, responds to him with trusting openness of heart” (cf. “Dei Verbum,” n. 25). If it is effectively promoted, this practice will bring to the Church — I am convinced of it — a new spiritual springtime.

As a strong point of biblical ministry, “Lectio divina” should therefore be increasingly encouraged, also through the use of new methods, carefully thought through and in step with the times. It should never be forgotten that the Word of God is a lamp for our feet and a light for our path (cf. Psalm 119[118]:105).

In invoking God’s Blessing upon your work, your projects and the Congress in which you are taking part, I join in the hope that enlivens you: “May the Word of the Lord make progress” (cf. 2 Thessalonians 3:1) to the very ends of the earth, so that through the proclamation of salvation the whole world through hearing it may believe, through belief it may hope, and through hope it may come to love (cf. “Dei Verbum,” n. 1). I thank you with all my heart!

[Translation issued by the Holy See]

Here are excerpts from address Benedict XVI delivered in the courtyard of the papal summer residence of Castel Gandolfo, on Sept. 16, 2005 to 400 participants in the international congress on “Sacred Scripture in the Life of the Church.” The Sept. 14-18 congress, in Rome, attracted 400 experts, including about 100 bishops. The initiative commemorated the 40th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council’s dogmatic constitution on divine Revelation, “Dei Verbum.”

Pope Benedict XVI

Joseph Ratzinger, the future Pope Benedict XVI, was born in Bavaria, Germany, on April 16, 1927, Holy Saturday, and baptized the very same day, in the newly blessed Easter water. This special baptism was seen from the beginning of his life as a very special blessing of Divine Providence. Josef and his brother George entered the seminary and were ordained priests together on June 29, 1951. After receiving his doctorate in theology from the University of Munich in 1953, Fr. Joseph Ratzinger became a professor of dogmatic theology at the University of Bonn. When Vatican Council II began in 1962, Fr. Ratzinger, only 35 years old at the time, was named chief “peritus” or theological advisor to the Archbishop of Cologne, Joseph Cardinal Frings and accompanied him to all four sessions of the council, having input on the writing of several of the Council Documents. From 1969 until 1977 he taught theology at the University of Regensburg and, from 1969 until 1980, he was a member of the Vatican’s International Theological Commission. Fr. Joseph Ratzinger was ordained archbishop of Munich-Freising on May 28, 1977 and was created a cardinal priest by Pope Paul VI on June 27, 1977, his titular church in Rome being St. Mary of Consolation (in Tiburtina). On April 5, 1993 Cardinal Ratzinger was transferred by Pope John Paul II to the order of cardinal bishops as titular bishop of the suburbicarian see of Velletri-Signi. In 1981 Cardinal Ratzinger became the Prefect (head) of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican department in charge of protecting the sacred deposit of the faith handed on from the apostles. As such, he was Pope John Paul II’s chief assistant in the formulation of the Pope’s teaching and writing. There is perhaps no one who worked more closely with Pope John Paul II during the course of his pontificate. Cardinal Ratzinger would generally have lengthy private meetings with the Pope twice per week. Before his election as Pope Benedict XVI, Cardinal Ratzinger also served president of the Pontifical Biblical and Theological Commissions. On November 6, 1998, Cardinal Ratzinger was appointed Vice-dean of the Sacred College of Cardinals. Prior to the death of Pope John Paul II, he served as a member of the Congregation of Bishops, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, the Congregation for Catholic Education, the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, the Council for Christian Unity, the Council for Culture, the Commission Ecclesia Dei, and the Commission for Latin America. As prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Ratzinger had a decisive role in the writing of the “Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification,” signed in October 1999 by the Holy See and the World Lutheran Federation in Augsburg, Germany. The declaration, one of the most important ecumenical steps since Martin Luther’s split with the Catholic Church in the 16th century, took place thanks to the dialogue held in November 1998 between Cardinal Ratzinger and Lutheran Bishop Johannes Hanselman in Munich. As he approached his mid-seventies, Cardinal Ratzinger attempted to retire several times, but Pope John Paul II would not accept his resignation. It seems Pope John Paul II knew God had other plans for the German Cardinal. At 78, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was elected as Pope Benedict XVI on April 19, 2005, only the second day of the conclave. This speedy election demonstrates a remarkable consensus on the part of the 115 Cardinals who elected him by a two-thirds majority. Their vote was for a defender of the truth, a man of prayer, a humble servant of the servants of God. Besides his academic articles and official Church documents, the new Pope Benedict XVI provides us with a window into his mind and heart through several books, the Ratzinger Report (1996), The Spirit of the Liturgy (2000), God and the World (2002) and Introduction to Christianity. For those who have had the privilege of knowing him personally, what is most striking about him is his simplicity, humility, and childlike wonder at things. His self-effacing manner is combined, however, with a firm but gentle courage in defending the faith in all its fullness and integrity. In his resolute opposition to error, he is however, never personally defensive since he has no ego to protect. It is worth noting that on his coat of arms, Benedict replaced the traditional papal tiara with a bishop’s miter with three stripes representing the Church’s three-fold mission to teach, sanctify, and govern. At his inaugural Mass, he took the time to explain the importance of the pallium which symbolizes the shepherd’s mission and the yoke of Christ.