VATICAN CITY, APRIL 23, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI is affirming the importance of the Word of God as the soul of theology and the inspiration of Christian life, emphasizing a correct study of Scripture enlightened by faith.
The Pope said this today in an audience with representatives from the Pontifical Biblical Commission during their annual plenary assembly, which began Monday and runs through Friday.
The group is focusing on the theme of “Inspiration and Truth in the Bible,” drawing from the October synod of bishops on the Word of God.
The work of the commission, which is overseen by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, is being directed by Jesuit Father Klemens Stock, secretary, and the prefect of the congregation, Cardinal William Levada.
The Pontiff emphasized the importance of the commission’s focus, as it “concerns not only believers, but the Church herself, because the Church’s life and mission necessarily rest upon the Word of God, which is the soul of theology and, at the same time, the inspiration of all of Christian life.”
He added that “the interpretation of sacred Scripture is of vital importance for Christian faith and for the life of the Church.”
The Holy Father stated: “From a correct approach to the concept of divine inspiration and truth in sacred Scripture derive certain norms that directly concern its interpretation.
“The Constitution ‘Dei Verbum,’ having affirmed that God is the author of the Bible, reminds us that in sacred Scripture God speaks to mankind in a human manner. For a correct interpretation of Scripture we must, then, carefully examine what the hagiographers really sought to say and what God was pleased to reveal with their words.”
He reminded his listeners how the Second Vatican Council identified “three perennially valid criteria for interpreting sacred Scripture in accordance with the Spirit that inspired it.”
The Pope explained: “In the first place, great attention must be given to the content and unity of the whole of Scripture. Indeed, however different the books it contains may be, sacred Scripture is one by virtue of the unity of God’s plan, of which Jesus Christ is the center and the heart.”
“In the second place,” he continued, “Scripture must be read in the context of the living tradition of the entire Church.”
Benedict XVI noted that the Church, in its tradition, “carries the living memory of the Word of God, and it is the Holy Spirit who provides her with the interpretation thereof in accordance with its spiritual meaning.”
He continued, “The third criterion concerns the need to pay attention to the analogy of the faith; that is, to the cohesion of the individual truths of faith, both with one another and with the overall plan of Revelation and the fullness of the divine economy enclosed in that plan.”
The Pontiff affirmed that the task of scholars is to “contribute, following the above-mentioned principles, to a more profound interpretation and exposition of the meaning of sacred Scripture.”
He added: “The academic study of the sacred texts is not by itself sufficient. In order to respect the coherence of the Church’s faith, Catholic exegetes must be careful to perceive the Word of God in these texts, within the faith of the Church.”
“The interpretation of sacred Scriptures cannot be merely an individual academic undertaking,” the Holy Father said, “but must always be compared with, inserted into, and authenticated by the living tradition of the Church.”
He added: “This norm is essential in order to ensure a correct and reciprocal exchange between exegesis and Church magisterium.
“Catholic exegetes do not nourish the individualistic illusion that biblical texts can be better understood outside the community of believers. The opposite is true, because these texts were not given to individual scholars ‘to satisfy their curiosity or to provide them with material for study and research.’
“The texts inspired by God were entrusted to the community of believers, to the Church of Christ, to nourish the faith and to guide the life of charity.”
Benedict XVI explained: “Sacred Scripture is the Word of God in that is written down under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
Tradition, on the other hand, integrally transmits the Word of God as entrusted by Christ the Lord and by the Holy Spirit to the Apostles and their successors so that they, illuminated by the Spirit of truth, could faithfully conserve, explain and spread it through their preaching.”
“Only within the ecclesial context,” he continued, “can Sacred Scripture be understood as the authentic Word of God which is the guide, norm and rule for the life of the Church and the spiritual development of believers.”
The Pope pointed out that this means “rejecting all interpretations that are subjective or limited to mere analysis [and therefore] incapable of accepting the global meaning which, over the course of the centuries, has guided the Tradition of the entire people of God.”