Wednesday, November 5, 2008

“THE VOLUMES ARE IN OUR HANDS; THE FACTS BEFORE OUR EYES”


INTERVENTION OF FR. JULIÁN CARRÓN for the Synod of Bishops, "The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church"

Holy Father, Venerable Fathers, Brothers and Sisters:

Instrumentum Laboris and the General Report have pointed out that the interpretation of the Bible is one of the most pressing concerns in the Church today (Instrumentum Laboris 19–31). The essence of the challenge raised by the question of modern interpretation of Holy Scripture was identified some years ago by then-Cardinal Ratzinger: “How can I reach an understanding that is not based on the judgment of my own presuppositions, a comprehension that permits me truly to understand the message of the text, giving me something that comes not from myself?” (“L’interpretazione biblica in conflitto. Problemi del fondamento ed orientamento dell’esegesi contemporanea,” in J. Ratzinger et al., L’Esegesi cristiana oggi, Casale Monteferrato, 1991, pp. 93–125.)
The Church’s recent Magisterium offers us some elements for avoiding any possible reduction regarding this difficulty.
It was the Second Vatican Council’s merit to have recuperated a concept of revelation as the event of God in history. In fact, Dei Verbum allows us to understand revelation as the event of the self-communication of the Trinity in the Son, both the mediator and the fullness of all revelation,” in whom “the deepest truth about God and the salvation of man shines out” (DV 2), through the Holy Spirit in human history. It is Christ who “perfected revelation by fulfilling it through His whole work of making Himself present and manifesting Himself: through His words and deeds, His signs and wonders, but especially through His Death and glorious Resurrection from the dead and final sending of the Spirit of truth” (DV 4). The encyclical Deus Caritas Est quite rightly recalls, “Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction” (DCE 1; cf. FR 7).
This event does not belong only to the past, to one moment of time and space, but remains present in history, communicating itself through the whole life of the Church that welcomes it. For “Christ’s relevance for people of all times is shown forth in His body, which is the Church” (VS 25; cf. FR 11). As the Apostles transmitted “what they had received from the lips of Christ, from living with Him, and from what He did” (DV 7), so the Church “in her teaching, life, and worship, perpetuates and hands on to all generations all that she herself is, all that she believes” (DV 8). Precisely because of this character of event proper to revelation and to its transmission, the Conciliar Constitution stresses that though “expressed in a special way in the inspired books” (cf. DV 8), the event of revelation does not coincide with Holy Scripture. The word of the Bible witnesses Revelation, but does not contain it in such a way as to be able to exhaust it in itself. For this reason, “it is not from Sacred Scripture alone that the Church draws her certainty about everything which has been revealed” (DV 9).
If revelation has the character of an historical event, when it comes into contact with man it cannot fail to strike him, provoking his reason and his freedom. The Gospel narratives in their simplicity show this, witnessing to the wonder that Jesus’ person aroused in those who met Him (cf. Mk 1:27; 2:12; Lk 5:9). Jesus’ presence widens our vision so we can see and recognize what is before us (cf. Lk 24, Emmaus). The encyclical Fides et Ratio insists on this when it affirms that men “can make no claim upon this truth [of revelation], which comes to them as gift and which, set within the context of interpersonal communication, urges reason to be open to it and to embrace its profound meaning” (FR 13).
So the encyclical characterizes the impact that revealed truth provokes in man who encounters it with a twofold impulse: a) it widens reason so as to make it adequate to the object; b) it facilitates the acceptance of its deep meaning. Instead of mortifying man’s reason and freedom, revelation enables both to grow to the fullness of their original condition.
Relationship with the tradition living in the Church’s body enables each and every man to share in the experience of those who encountered Jesus. Astounded by His unique exceptionality, these began a journey that enabled them to reach certainty about His absolute claim, that of being God. Those who make this journey do not accept naively the tradition they meet, but on the contrary put it to the test, thus enabling their reason to grasp its truth.
The experience of encounter with Christ present in the Church’s living tradition is an event and becomes, therefore, the determining factor in the interpretation of the biblical text. It is the only way to enter into harmony with the experience witnessed by the text of Scripture, for “correct knowledge of the biblical text is accessible only to those who have a lived affinity with what the text speaks of” (PCB 70). I was able to document this hermeneutical principle in a simple but meaningful episode that occurred some years ago in Madrid. There was a young man who had had no contact with Christianity; when he met a living Christian community he began to participate and to attend Holy Mass. After the first occasions of hearing the Gospel, he commented, “What happened to us happened to them!” It was the ecclesial present that disclosed the meaning of the Gospel account.
In synthesis, “[The Apostles’] capacity to believe was completely sustained and activated by the revealing person of Jesus,” according to the fine expression of H. U. von Balthasar, enabling them to grasp the mystery of His person and adhere to Him. Analogically, today our reason needs the Event present in the tradition of living witnesses so as to open up to the Mystery of Christ, who comes toward us in them. But we will be able to recognize the unmistakable features of Jesus Christ only if we are familiar with the unique, canonical witness of His absolutely original features offered by the Sacred Scriptures. St. Augustine summarized it well: “In manibus nostris sunt codices, in oculis nostris facta.”

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Dumbstruck by the Mystery

...our temptation is always to impose our prejudices or our measure on reality -- except when we are faced with a fact that leaves us dumbstruck, and instead of dominating the fact ourselves, we are dominated, overcome by it. If there were no moments of this kind, the Mystery could do anything, but in the end, we would reduce everything to the usual explanation. But not even a Nobel Prize winner can stop himself from being dumbstruck before an absolutely gratuitous gesture. If there were not these moments, we would find answers, explanations, and interpretations to avoid being struck by anything. It is good that some things happen that we cannot dominate, then we have to take them seriously, and this is the great question of philosophy. If the conditions for the possibility of knowledge (see Kant) impose themselves on reality or if there is something that is so powerfully disproportionate that it does not let itself be "grasped" by the conditions of possibility, then the horizon opens. If this were not the case, then we could dominate everything and be in peace, or at least without drama. Instead, not even the intelligence of a Nobel Prize winner could prevent him from coming face-to-face with a fact that made him dumbstruck -- instead of dominating, it was he who was dominated. Here begins the drama, because I am called to answer. It is the drama that unfolds between us and the Mystery, through certain facts, certain moments, in which the Mystery imposes itself with this evidence. These are facts that we cannot put in our pocket, which we cannot reduce to antecedent factors.
-- Julian Carron in "Friends, that is, Witnesses."