Such a testimony is decisive for anyone approaching the word of God. By trusting in the testimonials of the Church, a believer becomes part of the living subject in the sacred Scriptures—namely, the People of God, the Church—and is able to experience them as words that are alive in the living subject. “As such, it is important to read and experience sacred Scripture in communion with the Church, that is, with all the great witnesses to this word, beginning with the earliest Fathers up to the saints of our own day, up to the present-day magisterium” (§86.2). The Pope turns to the famous maxim of St. Augustine which recapitulates this general theme of Verbum Domini: “I would not believe the Gospel, had not the authority of the Catholic Church led me to do so” (§29.2).
The essential content of the testimony of Verbum Domini is that God himself speaks in history to his children and responds to their questions. Arguably, this is the central theme of this Apostolic Exhortation. This content expresses the sheer novelty of Christian, biblical revelation: “God becomes known through the dialogue which he desires with us” (§6). This dialogue is rooted in the eternal, trinitarian dialogue of love between God and his Word—the eternal, personal Word. One of the first things in Verbum Domini that the Pope draws our attention to is the various ways in which God speaks his Word. God speaks in creating the world; he speaks through the inner call within the heart of man; he speaks his Word throughout salvation history. Most of all, the trinitarian God speaks through his Son, the incarnate Word, the definitive Word of God (Jn 1:14)….In Christ, creation, new creation, and salvation history are unified—they are all one Word.
When a believer reads the written word of God, he encounters a person—Jesus, the incarnate Word—not merely an idea, philosophy, or moral code. God the Father is the origin and source of this one Word. Benedict highlights how “God, the source of revelation, reveals himself as Father and brings to completion the divine pedagogy which had previously been carried out through the words of the prophets and the wondrous deeds accomplished in creation and in the history of his people and all mankind” (§20.2). Thus, the Trinity speaks to the children of God through the Word; the Father communicates his Word to us in human words through the action of the Holy Spirit. Essential to the dynamics of God’s spoken word, is our response to him. Not only does Christian, biblical revelation reveal that the triune God speaks to his children, but it enables his children to speak with him….The reception and response to the word of God is transformative— through it a believer becomes a child of God (John 1:12).
In taking up the all-important question of how we can understand the word that God speaks to his children…Pope Benedict is very clear that what is at root in biblical interpretation is the acceptance in faith of the apostolic, faith-filled testimonies to the word of God given by the Church from the first Apostles to Synod Fathers. Only through the obedience of faith to the Church’s testimony does the interpreter arrive at an authentic and full understanding of the word of God wherein God speaks to his children and responds to their questions….
Pope Benedict boldly and emphatically claims that an authentic understanding of the word of God essentially involves “faith-filled contact with the word of God” (§104.2). Echoing the words of St. Bonaventure and St. Thomas Aquinas, the Pope insists, “without faith there is no key to throw open the sacred text” (§29.1)….
Although each believer is encouraged to read the word of God and appropriate it personally, one must avoid the risk of an individualistic approach which closes one off to the ecclesial community. The relationship between the word of God, faith, and the Church is key for Pope Benedict. He confidently and repeatedly claims that “a communal reading of Scripture is extremely important, because the living subject in the sacred Scriptures is the People of God, it is the Church… Scripture does not belong to the past, because its subject, the People of God, inspired by God himself, is always the same, and therefore the word is always alive in the living subject” (§86.2). Therefore, “the sacred text must always be approached in the communion of the Church” (§86.2; see §17.3). Since the faith of the Apostles and their companions, inspired by the Holy Spirit, formed the living context for their literary activity, then it follows logically that “authentic biblical hermeneutics can only be had within the faith of the Church” (§29.1)….He concludes, “the Bible was written by the People of God for the People of God, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Only in this communion with the People of God can we truly enter as a ‘we’ into the heart of the truth that God himself wishes to convey to us” (§30.1)….
Benedict takes up the thoughts of Origen who was convinced that “the best way to know God is through love, and that there can be no authentic scientia Christi apart from growth in his love” (§86.1). Pope Benedict sums up this central theme of Verbum Domini through the inspiring and beautiful thought of St. Ambrose, “when we take up the sacred Scriptures in faith and read them with the Church, we walk once more with God in the Garden” (§87.3).
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