September 26, 2008


Synod focuses on the Bible

The Bible will be getting an unusual amount of attention from Oct. 5-26 as representatives of bishops throughout the world meet in Rome for the Synod of Bishops on the theme “The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church.”

Besides the bishops, there will also be biblical experts (including six female scholars) and 37 observers (including 19 women) at the synod.

Scripture has been an important part of the Church even before St. Paul’s letters to local churches were gathered in the first century.

Many of those early Christians were Jews who were familiar with the Jewish Scriptures, which we now know as the Old Testament. When the Gospels were composed, they were added to the Christian Scriptures. Eventually, the Church decided which Christian documents should comprise the New Testament.

The Bible is the world’s best-seller. It has been translated into 2,454 languages, according to Archbishop Nikola Eterovic, secretary-general of the Synod of Bishops.

When he presented the synod’s instrumentum laboris (working paper) at a press conference in June, he said, “The Bible is the most translated and disseminated book in the world but, unfortunately, it is not read much.”

That’s the problem.

The bishops’ synod wants to change that. One of the objectives of the synod, according to the working paper, is “to bring about a deep love for sacred Scripture, so that the faithful, by having greater access to the Bible, might come to know the unity between the bread of the word and the Body of Christ so as to fully nourish the Christian life.”

It is dangerous to predict what the bishops will say during the synod, but the working paper indicates that emphasis will be given to Scripture in the Liturgy of the Word, the relationship of the Bible to science, the problem of biblical fundamentalism, better teaching of the Bible in catechesis, the prayer practice of “lectio divina,” and the role of the Bible in ecumenical and interreligious dialogue. All that certainly should keep the bishops busy for three weeks.

Catholics, of course, hear Scripture at every Mass. But we should not think that we are well versed on the Bible if all we know is what is read at Sunday Mass—or even at all the weekday Masses. Surely the bishops will emphasize the need for good homilies based on the biblical readings.

As for the Bible and science, the bishops certainly will point out that the Bible is not meant to be a scientific treatise, and that science and the Church’s theology cannot be in opposition since God is the author of both.

Catholics are not biblical fundamentalists. We are aware that there are many varieties of literary forms in the collection of books we call the Bible, including four books of fiction—specifically Tobit, Judith, Esther and Jonah.

This is something that fundamentalists do not accept. They fear that admitting that the Bible contains fiction is an attack on the veracity of the Bible.

Catholic teaching, on the other hand, sees no incompatibility between recognizing the truth of the biblical witness and the fact that it is expressed in many forms of literary expression. Poetry, hymns, stories, myths and other literary forms can communicate theological truth.

We can all see the need for better biblical literacy, and it will be interesting to see what proposals the bishops make concerning better teaching of the Bible in catechesis. Many of our “separated brethren,” especially evangelical Christians, know the Bible better than many Catholics do.

We are glad to see that the bishops will discuss “lectio divina,” which the working paper describes as “a reading, on an individual or communal level, of a more or less lengthy passage of Scripture, received as the Word of God and leading, at the prompting of the Spirit, to meditation, prayer and contemplation.”

We believe that the working paper is correct when it says that more attention is being given to this form of prayer.

Finally, the bishops will discuss the role of the Bible in ecumenical and interreligious dialogue. Obviously, the Bible must figure prominently in such meetings.

Naturally, The Criterion and our Web site will report on what happens at this synod.

— John F. Fink

Local site Links: