'God’s Way of Coming to Us'

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1/31/2008
Scripture, Tradition and the Magisterium Back to Top

Editor’s Note: This is the second installment of Supreme Chaplain Bishop William E. Lori’s faith formation program for Knights. Using the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church as his primary source, Bishop Lori will explore Church teaching to help members become more knowledgeable about the faith and live it more completely. This column corresponds to Questions 10-24 of the Compendium.

Recently, I was traveling by train from New York to Washington, D.C. A passenger boarded at Newark and sat next to me. Observing my Roman collar, we started discussing religion. We agreed on the importance of achieving greater understanding among the great world religions. We also discussed the Holy Father’s sustained efforts to reach out to the Islamic and Jewish communities in these perilous times. I tried very hard to convince my fellow traveler that one religion simply is not as good as another — that the Christian religion is the true faith and that Catholicism is the fullest and truest expression of the Christian faith. I may have succeeded if the train were going to Florida and we had more time to discuss the matter.

The key point I was trying to make is that the Christian religion is not, in the first instance, our approach to God but rather God’s way of coming to meet us. God revealed himself to us. He spoke and acted in human history. Although human reason can conclude that God certainly exists, we can truly know and love God only because he chose to reveal himself to us. So the Christian religion is not merely a matter of personal conjecture and preference. It is based on God’s revelation. The Glossary of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) describes revelation as “God’s communication of himself, by which he makes known the mystery of his divine plan to save the world.” God manifests himself in history by words and deeds that go together to convey his truth and love.

The high point of revelation occurred when God the Father sent his only Son, the Second Person of the Trinity, into the world. In the Incarnation, God’s only Son assumed our human nature by the power of the This column covers Questions 10-24 in the Compendium Holy Spirit, becoming “like us in all things but sin” (Heb 4:15). Humanity became the means by which God would most fully reveal and communicate himself to us. Or, as the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy put it, “[Christ’s] humanity, united with the Person of the Word, was the instrument of our salvation” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 5). The liturgy itself drives home this same truth when, addressing God the Father, it says: “You came to our rescue by your power as God but you wanted us to be saved by one like us” (Preface for Sundays in Ordinary Time III). God has revealed himself in ways entirely suited to our humanity so that we might share in his divinity in an eternal relationship of love.

The Bible: Unified and Coherent Back to Top

Revelation — that is, God’s self-communication— comes to us in two interrelated ways. The first way isthrough the Scriptures. As you know,the Bible is not one book but a collection of books accepted by the Church as the authentic, inspired record of God’s revelation of himself to humanity and his will to bring about the salvation of all. It is divided between the Old Testament and the New Testament. The Old Testament contains 46 books “which record the history of salvation from creation through the old alliance or covenant with Israel, in preparation for the appearance of Christ as Savior of the world” (CCC, Glossary). The New Testament contains the 27 books of the Bible written during the time of the Apostles. These books include the four Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, the letters of Sts. Paul, James, Peter, John and Jude, and the Book of Revelation. They record and communicate what Christ, the Incarnate Son of God, said and did to save us. They tell us how he established the new and eternal covenant by dying on the cross and rising from the dead.

Although there are two major divisions in the Bible, there is a remarkable unity and coherence in the Bible as it relates to us God’s plan of redemption and shows the path to reconciliation between God and man. (This unity is demonstrated by the Liturgy of the Word at Sunday Mass; try to notice how the Old Testament reading and the Gospel fit together).

Tradition Back to Top

The second way in which God’s revelation reaches us is tradition. Tradition, in this context, means much more than merely old customs. Rather, it has to do with handing on and transmitting the living message of the Gospel in and through the Church. The Apostles, shared the Father’s ultimate revelation of his life and love in his Son, Jesus Christ, by their inspired preaching, by their example — especially martyrdom — and by the institutions they established. As the Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation explained, the Apostles shared what they had received from the lips of Christ, from his way of life and his works, and from what they had learned through the prompting of the Holy Spirit (see Dei Verbum, 7). in human history. What a crucial message “…[i]n a world where the name of God is sometimes associated with vengeance or even a duty of hatred and violence” (Pope Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est, 1).

God’s Plan Back to Top

In many ways, God’s plan to save us and draw us to himself is what this whole series of articles in Columbia is about. It is about “the intrinsic link” between God’s love and human love (Deus Caritas Est, 1). The Compendium of Catechism of the Catholic Church sums up God’s plan in one breathtaking sentence. It speaks of a plan “of sheer goodness” in which God “freely created man to make him share his own blessed life. In the fullness of time, God the Father sent his Son as the Redeemer and Savior of mankind, fallen into sin, thus calling all into his Church and, through the work of the Holy Spirit, making them adopted children and heirs of his eternal happiness” (Compendium, 1). This is God’s plan: to go in search of us in spite of our tendency to substitute our possessions and false loves for him The Scriptures and the preaching of the Apostles are “conserved and handed on” as the living heritage of the Church’s faith, known as the “deposit of faith.” Thus we receive the Word of God, “…the entire content of revelation as contained in the Holy Bible and proclaimed by the Church” (CCC, Glossary). “Both Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture make up a single deposit of the Word of God which is entrusted to the Church” (DV, 10).

At The Service of God's Word Back to Top

The Lord made yet another provision to ensure that his life-giving Word would reach us untainted by error. He provided for the magisterium, the living teaching office of the Church. The magisterium alone has the task of providing an authentic interpretation of the Word of God, whether in the form of Scripture or tradition. Its authority is exercised in the name of Christ (DV, 10; CCC, 85). The task of authentically interpreting the Word of God continues to be exercised by the Holy Father and the bishops throughout the world in union with him. The magisterium fulfills this task by being the servant of God’s Word. Obedient to God’s command and guided by the Spirit, the magisterium listens to the Word of God with reverence, guards it with dedication, and explains it faithfully (CCC, 86). Although many people today think of the magisterium as outof- touch or authoritarian, in fact it is great gift that guides us toward a right understanding of what God himself has revealed. By studying the faith, we are better positioned to accept the Holy Spirit’s invitation to understand and accept the revelation of God in Jesus Christ. Revelation is God’s way of making it possible for us to respond to him — truly knowing and loving him in a way that goes beyond our natural powers of understanding. For that we hope to be eternally grateful!

Discussion/Reflection Questions for Council Use Back to Top

1. Many people today claim that all of the world religions are basically the same, or that one is no better than the other — they are just “different ways of approaching the same God.” Is Christianity unique among all other religions? If so, why? What does it mean to say that Catholicism is the fullest and truest expression of the Christian faith?

 

2. In the person of Jesus Christ, God assumed our human nature and became one “like us in all things but sin” (Heb 4:15).What significance does this have for us today? When professing the Creed,we are asked to bow at the mystery of the Incarnation.Why might that be?

 

3. The Bible, as the Word of God, is an essential way that God reveals himself to us. St. Jerome said,“Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ” (See Catechism of the Catholic Church, 133 and Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 24). How much time in a given week do you devote yourself to lectio divina and Scripture study?

 

4. What is the relationship between Scripture, tradition and the magisterium? (See Compendium, 17) Are the teachings of the Catholic Church just one perspective among many?