The Ecumenical Movement and the Transmission of the Word of God in Vatican II's Dei Verbum

By Mullins, Patrick | The Ecumenical Review, October 2005 | Go to article overview
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The Ecumenical Movement and the Transmission of the Word of God in Vatican II's Dei Verbum

Mullins, Patrick, The Ecumenical Review


This article explores the influence of the ecumenical movement on the way the transmission of God's self-communication was understood and presented in Vatican II's Constitution on Divine Revelation, Dei verbum (1965). It outlines the report on "Scripture, Tradition and the Guardians of Tradition" adopted by the Consultation for Church Union in the United States at its meeting at Oberlin, Ohio in March 1963, and the document on "Tradition" adopted by the World Conference on Faith and Order of the World Council of Churches at Montreal in July 1963. In the light of those documents, the article describes the important shift of perspective between Vatican II's first (1962) and second (1963) session schemas on Revelation, and in particular, the way in which the Council distanced itself from the so-called "two-source" theory. The new mixed commission given the task of preparing the second session schema included members of the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity and there are some remarkable points of convergence between the presentation of Scripture, Tradition and Magisterium in the resulting schema and the emerging consensus within the ecumenical movement on the relationship between Scripture, Tradition, and those responsible for preserving the Tradition.

The Oberlin meeting oil the Consultation on Church Union (March 1963)

On 4 December 1960, the Rev. Eugene Carson Blake, the stated clerk of the United Presbyterian Church in the USA, preached a sermon entitled "Toward the Reunion of Christ's Church" in Episcopal Grace Cathedral in San Francisco for the triennial meeting of the National Council of Churches. He suggested that representatives of the United Presbyterian, the Episcopal, and the Methodist churches, together with the United Church of Christ, form "a plan of church union both catholic and reformed". This was followed by a request in May 1961 from the general assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the USA to the Protestant Episcopal Church to join with it in inviting the Methodist Church and the United Church of Christ "to explore the establishment of a united church truly catholic, truly reformed, and truly evangelical", each group appointing a nine-person committee to "negotiate a plan of union". (2) In October 1961, the planning committee of the Consultation on Church Union met in Washington to prepare the way for a plenary meeting with representatives of the four groups, also in Washington, in April 1962. Since the United Church of Christ was in negotiation with the International Convention of Christian Churches (Disciples of Christ), and since the Methodist Church was in merger negotiations with the Evangelical United Brethren Church, the first plenary meeting in Washington invited these two bodies to join the Consultation on Church Union.

The second plenary meeting, with delegations of nine persons each from the six churches in the Consultation, was held in Oberlin, Ohio, on 19-21 March 1963. At the plenary meeting, the reports that had been prepared in advance by study commissions were "torn apart in committees, re-written in the late hours in hotel rooms, presented for vote, some written again, and then finally adopted, not as the authoritative judgment of these churches on these matters but as the consensus reached by fifty-four responsible representatives elected by their denominations to represent them in these deliberations". (3) The first and longest (4) of the three reports issued after the meeting was called "Scripture, Tradition, and the Guardians of Tradition". (5) It was divided into four subsections, the first on Scripture, the second on Tradition, the third on the relationship between Scripture and Tradition, and the last on the guardianship of the apostolic testimony by the whole Church.

This report began by noting that the six churches represented "recognize and acknowledge that the Holy Scriptures have a unique authority", and that the Scriptures "witness to God's revelation, fulfilled in Jesus Christ, and to man's response to the divine revelation".

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The Ecumenical Movement and the Transmission of the Word of God in Vatican II's Dei Verbum


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