Scott Hahn on the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine
ROME, 27 MAY 2003 (ZENIT).
Forty years after the Second Vatican Council, ZENIT is asking Church
leaders and prominent laity to reflect on the main documents of the
Here, ZENIT spoke with Scott Hahn about "Dei
Verbum," the dogmatic constitution on divine
Hahn is professor of Scripture and theology at Franciscan University of
Steubenville and holds the Pio Cardinal Laghi Chair at the Pontifical
College Josephinum. He is founder and president of the St. Paul Center
for Biblical Theology, and founder and director of the Institute of
Applied Biblical Studies.
Q: Where has the greatest progress in the understanding of Scripture
within the Church?
Hahn: I'm tempted to say that the greatest progress is "Dei Verbum"
The document is a remarkable development — a positive, constructive,
integral, holistic approach to the ways that God reveals himself. There
were three major renewals in the Church in the years leading up to
Vatican II: in Scripture studies, in patristics [the study of the Church
Fathers] and in liturgy. "Dei Verbum" was a synthesis of all
The document in turn inspired many further developments. I think the
greatest was the pure distillation of "Dei Verbum's" teaching
that appears in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, especially Nos.
The Catechism distills the essence of the document and shows us a
practical, pastoral, Catholic approach to the Scriptures, as they are
read in the liturgy and in accord with tradition. The Catechism takes
its cue from "Dei Verbum" and calls us all to read the Bible
from the heart of the Church.
Q: What are the major points of "Dei Verbum"?
Hahn: It's all about divine Revelation, which is more than propositions
and data — it's more than just facts we have to learn. The major point
of the document is our salvation. Salvation is more than avoiding hell
and getting into heaven. It's sharing the power of divine love with the
Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
The new covenant is the life-giving love of the Trinity that spilled out
of eternity and into time, out of Israel and into the nations. The
Trinity is the source and the fulfillment of Revelation, the beginning
and the end.
What is revealed is the eternal mystery of God's inner life. By
revealing himself, God empowers us to share his life forever. This is
what Christ came for. This is why we receive the Holy Spirit. This
triune personalism is at the heart of "Dei Verbum."
The document then provides a golden setting for the jewel of the
Scriptures when it speaks about Tradition. What comes across most
clearly is the fact that Tradition is alive. As Catholics, we don't see
Tradition as archaic or arcane. It's not an antique heirloom. We speak
of "living Tradition," "sacred Tradition." It's
something organic, something dynamic.
And where does Tradition possess its greatest vitality? In the liturgy,
where the Scriptures are proclaimed each day. Tradition, then, is not
something we fall back on when we can't find a doctrine in the
No, "Dei Verbum" shows us that Scripture and Tradition are
interdependent. The apostolic preaching, which is expressed in a special
way in the inspired books, was to be preserved by an unending succession
of preachers until the end of time. It is Tradition that defined the
canon of the sacred books. It's in the communion of saints that we find
our Bible-study group, our interpretive community.
So sacred Scripture is the Word of God; sacred Tradition takes the Word
of God and hands it on in full purity; and Scripture and Tradition
together form one sacred deposit of the faith.
Q: How does the magisterium fit in?
Hahn: The magisterium is that "unending succession of
preachers" in our own time. Again, like Tradition, the magisterium
is not something reactionary or reliquary. It's a living, breathing part
of the sacred mystery of divine Revelation.
The magisterium carries on the task of the apostles with the same divine
power they possessed. So it's not a hanging judge, not an umpire, not a
traffic cop. Its task is to proclaim the Gospel.
"Dei Verbum" says that the magisterium alone has the
responsibility of authentically interpreting the Word of God.
Non-Catholics and dissenting Catholics have sometimes presented this as
a demotion — having to submit to authority outside themselves — but
it's not a demotion. It's actually a promotion.
Who, after all, is more powerful, the mayor of a village or the
vice-president of a nation? We are actually more powerful when we place
ourselves in the service of a greater power.
So Catholic interpreters are not prevented from going deeper; they're
empowered to go deeper. Since we're able to avoid certain errors, we can
explore the Bible with greater freedom, power and assurance.
Q: What is the greatest challenge still ahead of us?
Hahn: The Pope himself threw down the challenge in 1994, in his
apostolic letter "Tertio Millennio Adveniente."
He called for an "examination of conscience" over how the
Church has received the teachings of the Second Vatican Council.
"To what extent," he asked us, "has the word of God
become more fully the soul of theology and the inspiration of the whole
of Christian living, as 'Dei Verbum' sought?" Those are sobering
Since I am a professor of Scripture and theology, I suspect that they're
the words I'll be judged by. Have I done all I can to promote biblical
literacy among lay people and biblical fluency among the clergy? God
help me if I haven't.
Q: As someone who came from a Protestant background, what do you think
has been the effect of "Dei Verbum" on ecumenical relations?
Has it helped to bring people into the Church, for instance?
Hahn: Yes, it's helped. I'm a living testimony to this, and I know so
"Dei Verbum" is helpful because it touches directly upon the
matters that precipitated the Protestant Reformation. I think
Protestants are especially impressed with the notion that the
magisterium is subordinated to Scripture but empowered by it, and that
Scripture, Tradition and magisterium all receive their authority from
the same Spirit.
Catholics need to become conversant in these ideas and to present them
with charity and clarity.
Q: What advice would you give someone who wants to make the most of the
Bible in his or her life?
Hahn: Read the Bible from the heart of the Church. Read the Bible along
with the Church, with the Old and the New Testaments as they appear
together in the lectionary. Listen to them in the liturgy, but read them
too, either before Mass in preparation or afterward in meditation.
Taking the Scriptures in devotional reading and participating in the
Mass creates a sort of feedback loop. The more you do one, the better
you do the other. And read "Dei Verbum"! Its language is
actually very simple and accessible to lay readers. I've read it dozens
of times. It doesn't get old; it gets better. ZE03052721