Revolution in understanding of the Bible

Dianne Bergant

'A revolution has taken place in the Roman Catholic Church’s understanding of the Bible,' St Agnes Sr Dianne Bergant said last week. 'As a result, the life and mission of the Church have been transformed,' reports NCR Online.

Sr Dianne spoke at the third annual assembly of the Association of US Catholic Priests in St Louis in the US. The theme of the assembly was Dei Verbum, Revelation in our Lives and Times. The association, made up of some 1,000 priests who were formed by the Second Vatican Council and want to see it fully implemented, is studying a council document at each of its annual meetings. Dei Verbum was promulgated at the Council and opened the Church door to serious scripture study.

Bergant is the Carroll Stuhlmueller, CP, Distinguished Professor of Old Testament studies at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago and is viewed as one of the nation’s leading Catholic scripture scholars.

Before the Second Vatican Council and dating back to the Protestant Reformation, Church authorities were highly suspicious of independent scripture study and interpretation, she told her audience. Authorities silenced these scholars, forcing them underground.

The first official Church move, she said, to recapture the life, energy and meaning of the sacred word came in Pius XII’s encyclical Divino Afflante Spiritu ('On Promoting the Study of Sacred Scripture') in 1943. Bergant said that document represented a dramatic change in Church teaching on the Bible. That document finally ended the defensive Catholic reaction to the Protestant embrace of scripture.

Vatican II was the next – and largest step.

While Catholic biblical scholars were still not to be trusted and many of them had been silenced, this was now about to change. In an ironic twist the very Church authorities that had banned these scholars were now seeking them out, going to hear them talk, and gaining insights from their work. 'This prepared them [the authorities] to consider biblical revelation as they made decisions at the Council,' Bergant said.

It was Vatican II that fully embraced scripture and opened the scholarship floodgates. 'The Second Vatican Council threw the door to biblical study wide open. It was almost as if the Bible had been rediscovered, and in a matter of decades hundreds of years of [Catholic] unfamiliarity with the Bible were quickly spanned.'

FULL STORY When biblical understanding became vital (NCR Online)