In speaking of the homilies in our Masses, St. Justin in the Second Century described them as efforts by the one presiding to encourage people to practice the beautiful lessons in the Scripture readings. In these homilies I present day after day I strive to follow St. Justine’s formula. I try to put emphasis on what the day’s Bible lessons tell us.
Today, however, I would like to turn from today’ readings, to speak instead about Vatican II’s “Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation.” The official name for Vatican II’s published documents comes from the opening Latin words of each. The opening words of the Bible document, “Dei Verbum,” or “The Word of God,” is meant to tell us that the Bible is God’s way of introducing himself to us.
From 1700 on scholars, applying literary criticism to the Bible, began coming up with conclusions that went against our traditions. For instance, our tradition held that Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible in Hebrew. However, scientists came up with evidence that written Hebrew only came into being five centuries after Moses. Until 1950 our Church, going against the evidence, stubbornly insisted that Moses wrote the Pentateuch. I like telling about a cynical old priest back then who told me, “Sully, you have to hold that Moses wrote them books, but its okay if you say five other guys named Moses wrote them.”
Vatican II, while insisting on seeing God as the author of the books of the Bible, also held that each also had its human author. Vatican II’s document told us that the human author did his own research, and sometimes used genres other that factual narrative to teach his lesson. Like, he could use poetry, myth, or even fable to teach us. For instance, the ancient world loved fables about giants who guarded river fords. Chapter 33 of Genesis tells of Jacob struggling with such a giant. The story conveys a wonderful Bible lesson, but we are not meant to take it as factual.
Many people have had the idea that they must take every word of the Bible as factual. I think that hang-up prevents them from getting at the meaning intended by God and the human author. Using the teaching of Vatican II as a guide we can become sincere lovers of the Bible.