Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Verbum Domini 5

We continue with our reading of Verbum Domini. We've been concentrating on what the Holy Father is saying about our encounter with the Word (Jesus Christ) in different ways, and our response to this encounter (namely, ongoing conversion). Paragraph 15 introduces the Holy Spirit's role in this dynamic of encounter and conversion:

In fact there can be no authentic understanding of Christian revelation apart from the activity of the Paraclete. (15)

Note the compelling summary of the Holy Spirit's activity throughout the New Testament which follows. For Christ Himself, for the disciples and Mary, for Paul and the earliest Christians, the Holy Spirit is always present and active. So too for us.

The word of God is thus expressed in human words thanks to the working of the Holy Spirit. The missions of the Son and the Holy Spirit are inseparable and constitute a single economy of salvation. (15)

This means that:

...without the efficacious working of the “Spirit of Truth” (Jn 14:16), the words of the Lord cannot be understood.... Just as the word of God comes to us in the body of Christ, in his Eucharistic body and in the body of the Scriptures, through the working of the Holy Spirit, so too it can only be truly received and understood through that same Spirit. (16)

Pope Benedict notes that this same unity also works liturgically. Firstly, we need the present action of the Holy Spirit in order to hear, receive, and respond to the proclamation of the Word in the readings and homily. From there, this unity of Spirit and Son is the very essence of "Tradition:"

Indeed, since God “so loved the world that he gave his only Son” (Jn 3:16), the divine word, spoken in time, is bestowed and “consigned” to the Church in a definitive way, so that the proclamation of salvation can be communicated effectively in every time and place. (17)

The root of all ministry in the Church, whether priestly, diaconal, or lay, is our fidelity to the real and compelling communion of Spirit and Son in the one economy of salvation. What the Son does and commands us to do, the Spirit likewise does and supports. We cannot follow Christ coherently without the following of the Holy Spirit. (As a tangent, this is why the argument about "spiritual but not religious" is always wrong-headed; it divides the grace of the Son from the grace of the Spirit, into two separate economies of salvation.) But what has the Son commanded us to do?

Jesus Christ himself “commanded the Apostles to preach the Gospel – promised beforehand by the prophets, fulfilled in his own person and promulgated by his own lips – to all as the source of all saving truth and moral law, communicating God’s gifts to them. This was faithfully carried out; it was carried out by the Apostles who handed on, by oral preaching, by their example, by their ordinances, what they themselves had received – whether from the lips of Christ, from his way of life and his works, or by coming to know it through the prompting of the Holy Spirit...” (17, quoting Dei Verbum 7)

This "all" is all-encompassing of the life of the Church. It is the whole of Tradition. It includes the full panoply of Word, Sacrament, and Charity, and all of our charisms and states of life. Notice especially here the implication of unity of communion with the bishops as successors of the Apostles, and of course with the Successor of Peter as head of that College. Apart from that communion, there is no full and comprehensive fulfillment of Christ's command to preach, baptize, and "do this," but only bits and pieces of that single diakonia.

This communion is not the thrust of his development here, but worth our noticing more closely, certainly. This is where he wants to go from here:

Ultimately, it is the living Tradition of the Church which makes us adequately understand sacred Scripture as the word of God. (17)

And, lest we be overwhelmed by such a demanding expectation, the heart of that statement is here:

...sacred Scripture presents itself to us, in the variety of its many forms and content, as a single reality. Indeed, “through all the words of sacred Scripture, God speaks only one single word... (18)

Scripture, despite its complexity of form and content and composition, and no matter what kind of theory one uses to approach it, must always conform to this overarching truth: its meaning is always one, never plural (though that one meaning can of course have many parts, and many different applications). And that one meaning is always the person of Jesus Christ.

In short, by the work of the Holy Spirit and under the guidance of the magisterium, the Church hands on to every generation all that has been revealed in Christ. The Church lives in the certainty that her Lord, who spoke in the past, continues today to communicate his word in her living Tradition and in sacred Scripture. Indeed, the word of God is given to us in sacred Scripture as an inspired testimony to revelation; together with the Church’s living Tradition, it constitutes the supreme rule of faith... (18, citing Dei Verbum 21).

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