Summary of Verbum Domini by Pope Benedict XVI

Pope Benedict XVI. Verbum Domini. Vatican City: 
Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2010. Print.
Pope Benedict XVI’s purpose for writing Verbum Domini
  • “In this way I wish to point out certain fundamental approaches to a rediscovery of God’s word in the life of the Church as a wellspring of constant renewal. At the same time I express my hope that the word will be ever more fully at the heart of every ecclesial activity” (1).

Part One: Verbum Dei

Christianity is the “religion of the word of God” (7). 
  • “[W]hile in the Church we greatly venerate the sacred Scriptures, the Christian faith is not a “religion of the book”: Christianity is the “religion of the word of God”, not of “a written and mute word, but of the incarnate and living Word. Consequently the Scripture is to be proclaimed, heard, read, received and experienced as the word of God, in the stream of the apostolic Tradition from which it is inseparable” (7).
  • “The novelty of biblical revelation consists in the fact that God becomes known through the dialogue which he desires to have with us” (6)… “the God who speaks teaches us how to speak to Him” (24).

Since God’s eternal Word “became flesh” (John 1:14) in the person of Jesus Christ, “the divine Word [can now be] truly expressed in human words” (11). As Dei Verbum put it, “in sacred Scripture, God speaks through human beings in human fashion” (12).

  • “Since he has given us his Son, his only word (for he possesses no other), he spoke everything at once in this sole word—and he has no more to say … because what he spoke before to the prophets in parts, he has spoken all at once by giving us this All who is his Son” (St. John of the Cross). 
  • “Now the word is not simply audible; not only does it have a voice, now the word has a face, one which we can see: that of Jesus of Nazareth” (12).

Since the incarnate Word, who “precedes and exceeds sacred Scripture” (17), fulfills all of Scripture, we can have a “Christology of the word” (13).

  • “All divine Scripture is one book, and this one book is Christ, speaks of Christ and finds its fulfilment in Christ” (Hugh of St. Victor).
An ecclesial dimension of biblical interpretation

Since “the Bible was written by the People of God for the people of God, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit” (30), “authentic biblical hermeneutics can only be had within the faith of the Church” (29). By the authority of the Magisterium, which is the servant of the Word, we come to a more comprehensive canonical exegesis (interpreting a text in light of the whole of Scripture) and greater “unity and interrelation between the literal sense and the spiritual sense” (37). 

The living Tradition of the Church allows us to understand the specific “truth which God, for the sake of our salvation, wished to see confided to the sacred Scriptures” (19). 

  • “as the word of God became flesh by the power of the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary, so sacred Scripture is born from the womb of the Church by the power of the same Spirit” (19).
  • Whenever our awareness of its inspiration grows weak, we risk reading Scripture as an object of historical curiosity and not as the work of the Holy Spirit in which we can hear the Lord himself speak and recognize his presence in history. 19

Our response to the God who speaks

The word of God speaks, challenges, and calls us to enter into a dialogue of love.

  • The word of God “does not stifle our authentic desires, but rather illuminates them, purifies them and brings them to fulfillment” (23).
  • “In this dialogue with God we come to understand ourselves and we discover an answer to our heart’s deepest questions” (23).

In responding to the God who speaks, we look to Mary as the model of obedient faith to God’s word. Her entire life was completely attuned and shaped by the word as the treasure in her heart. 

The saints, like Mary, show us that “Scripture can only be understood if it is lived” (47).

The saints allowed themselves to “be shaped by the word of God through listening, reading and assiduous meditation” (48). In Scripture, they saw the “most perfect norm for human life” (St. Benedict). As a result, “every saint is like a ray of light streaming forth from the word of God” (48). 

  • “All the evil in the world is derived from not knowing clearly the truths of sacred Scripture” — St. Teresa of Avila
  • “No sooner do I glance at the Gospel, but immediately I breathe in the fragrance of the life of Jesus and I know where to run” — St. Therese of Lisieux

Part 2: Verbum in Ecclesia

The Church is “the home of the word” (52).

The Church “is a community that hears and proclaims the word of God. The Church draws life not from herself but from the Gospel, and from the Gospel, she discovers ever anew the direction for her journey” (51).

The liturgy and the Word

The liturgy is the privileged setting in which God speaks to us in a complete and effective manner (performative character of the word of God). Every liturgical action is by its very nature steeped in sacred Scripture.

  • “Word and Eucharist are so deeply bound together that we cannot understand one without the other: the word of God sacramentally takes flesh in the event of the Eucharist. The Eucharist opens us to an understanding of Scripture, just as Scripture for its part illumines and explains the mystery of the Eucharist. Unless we acknowledge the Lord’s real presence in the Eucharist, our understanding of Scripture remains imperfect” (55).
  • “the Church has honoured the word of God and the Eucharistic mystery with the same reverence, although not with the same worship” (55).
The sacramentality of the word
  • “We are reading the sacred Scriptures. For me, the Gospel is the Body of Christ; for me, the holy Scriptures are his teaching. And when he says: whoever does not eat my flesh and drink my blood (Jn 6:53), even though these words can also be understood of the [Eucharistic] Mystery, Christ’s body and blood are really the word of Scripture, God’s teaching. When we approach the [Eucharistic] Mystery, if a crumb falls to the ground we are troubled. Yet when we are listening to the word of God, and God’s Word and Christ’s flesh and blood are being poured into our ears yet we pay no heed, what great peril should we not feel?” (St. Jerome)
Lectio Divina and the Eucharist

Just as Eucharistic adoration leads us to the liturgy of the Eucharist, so too does lectio divina lead us to the liturgy of the Word.

  • “The privileged place for the prayerful reading of sacred Scripture is the liturgy, and particularly the Eucharist, in which, as we celebrate the Body and Blood of Christ in the sacrament, the word itself is present and at work in our midst. In some sense the prayerful reading of the Bible, personal and communal, must always be related to the Eucharistic celebration. Just as the adoration of the Eucharist prepares for, accompanies and follows the liturgy of the Eucharist, so too prayerful reading, personal and communal, prepares for, accompanies and deepens what the Church celebrates when she proclaims the word in a liturgical setting. By so closely relating lectio and liturgy, we can better grasp the criteria which should guide this practice in the area of pastoral care and in the spiritual life of the People of God” (86).

In order for the liturgy to continually be a place of encounter with the word of God, the faithful must prepare, deepen, and assimilate the word of God through a prayerful and faith-filled reading of the Bible.

Outline for Lectio Divina

  1. Lectio = to go beyond our own ideas and understand the true context of the reading… what does the biblical text say in itself?
  2. Meditatio = let yourself be moved and challenged (both individually and communally)… what does the biblical text say to us?
  3. Oratio = prayer, as petition, intercession, thanksgiving & praise, is the primary way by which the word transforms us… what do we say to the Lord in response to his word?
  4. Contemplatio = during which we take up, as a gift from God, his own way of seeing & judging reality, and ask ourselves… what conversion of mind, heart, and life is the Lord asking of us?
  5. Actio = a specific decision to make your life a gift for others in charity.

Part 3: Verbum Mundo

We are called to discover anew the urgency and the beauty of the word, to be servants of the Word sent on mission, to authentically proclaim the Gospel by our way of life.

The word of God sheds light on human existence and stirs our conscience to take a deeper look at our lives and our role in this world (to create a more just and more liveable world, etc).

  • “The Gospel reminds us that every moment of our life is important and must be lived intensely, in the knowledge that everyone will have to give an account of his or her life” (99).
  • “If human words seem to fall silent before the mystery of evil and suffering, and if our society appears to value life only when it corresponds to certain standards of efficiency and well-being, the word of God makes us see that even these moments are mysteriously “embraced” by God’s love” (106).
The Word Of God And Culture

Since the Word became flesh, there is an inseparable bond between God’s word and the human words by which He communicates with us. As a result, “the Church is firmly convinced that the word of God is inherently capable of speaking to all human persons in the context of their own culture” (114).

  • This “inculturation” of the Gospel not only gives rise to a unique expression of the word of God in various languages but also overcomes the limits of individual cultures to create true communion among different peoples (116).

Conclusion

“We must never forget that all authentic and living Christian spirituality is based on the word of God proclaimed, accepted, celebrated and meditated upon in the Church” (121).

  • “May the Holy Spirit awaken a hunger and thirst for the word of God, and raise up zealous heralds and witnesses of the Gospel” (122).

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