Academic journal article Theological Studies

Scripture Reading Urged Vehementer (DV No. 25): Background and Development

Academic journal article Theological Studies

Scripture Reading Urged Vehementer (DV No. 25): Background and Development

Article excerpt

THIS CONTRIBUTION PRESENTS the main stages in the genesis of Dei verbum (DV), the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, no. 25, in which Vatican Council II states a central pastoral consequence of biblical inspiration by issuing a forceful and specific exhortation directed to all the faithful to engage in frequent and prayerful Scripture reading. Added to this presentation are five appendixes giving draft texts formulated along the itinerary to DV no. 25, which include De verbo Dei: Schema decreti pastoralis prepared by the Secretariat for the Promotion of the Unity of Christians. At the end, I offer my initial reflections on this Vatican II word to Christians. But I begin well before the council, with the promotion of biblical reading in Venice in 1956 by the future Pope John XXIII. (1)


In 1956, the Archdiocese of Venice celebrated the fifth centenary of the death of its proto-patriarch, St. Lorenzo Giustiniani (1381-1456). In his Lenten pastoral letter of 1956, Cardinal Patriarch Angelo G. Roncalli called attention to St. Lorenzo's deep immersion in Scripture and urged the Venetian faithful to turn to Bible reading as a way to follow the counsels and example of their first patriarch. Roncalli made the centenary into a pastoral call to take up Scripture. (2)

Roncalli's pastoral opens by celebrating the biblical books as grand monuments to divine relations with humanity, being God's testimony that, in the Scriptures of Israel, prepares for the union of divinity with humanity in the incarnation. The further biblical narratives, especially the Gospels, manifest sublimity and the fullness of holiness, as they teach humans to worship God in spirit and truth. His episcopal consecration had impressed on Roncalli his duty to teach Scripture and to inculcate in people a familiarity with the sacred book. While church measures that restricted biblical reading during the Reformation era were conditioned by particular circumstances, under recent popes the promotion of Bible reading has become a characteristic mark of the Catholic apostolate.

Roncalli's letter then offers a brief anthology of citations from St. Lorenzo Giustiniani to impress on readers the beauties of Scripture and to stir their desire to taste and see the solid and life-giving spiritual nourishment that the biblical books offer. The letter closes with a concise appeal to turn to the biblical wellsprings of the Christian life so as to further the spread of evangelical truth, which is the living substance of the two Testaments of the Bible.

This action of 1956 gives us a good example of what Pope John XXIII had in mind later, when he named the spiritual reinvigoration of the faithful as a primary aim of Vatican II, which came to expression in the initial paragraph of the council's first promulgated document, Sacrosancturn concilium.


To begin work on the schema De fontibus revelationis, Sebastian Tromp, secretary of the Preparatory Theological Commission, composed on July 18, 1960, a primum tentamen of theses treating Scripture and tradition (the sources of revelation), biblical inerrancy, literary genres, gospel historicity, and the Protestantizing danger of a theology based solely on Scripture to the neglect of tradition and the Magisterium. (3) Tromp's Thesis 2 stated that Scripture, being in many passages obscure, has not been given by God to individual believers, but to the Church's Magisterium for explaining the text. After a meeting of a small group of Rome-based consultors on July 20, the text had a new thesis, no. 3, on biblical reading, which stated that while Scripture reading should be highly commended, it is not appropriate for every believer, because of the obscurity of many passages and because the religion and morality of the Old Testament has been raised by Christ to a higher perfection. …

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