Proposals for Implementing Consiliar Constitution on Divine Revelation

Author: Walter M. Abbott, S.J.


Walter M. Abbott, S.J.

The Conference of Catholic Biblical Associations stresses need of Biblical apostolate among priests and people.

For two years, in accordance with a mandate given by Pope Paul to His Eminence Augustin Cardinal Bea, the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity has been making studies concerning cooperation between Catholics and others Christians in translating the Bible and in providing "easy access to sacred Scripture" for both Christians and non-Christians. In the course of these studies, which concern the implementation of sections in Chapter Six of the Vatican II Dogmatic Constitution an Divine Revelation (Dei Verbum), it soon became evident that, whatever may have been the case in the past, there now are realistic possibilities of collaboration with the United Bible Societies, a worldwide federation which, for the most part, has been serving Protestant Churches by providing the Scriptures without doctrinal comment in more than a thousand languages at a price people can afford to pay.

Bible to be available to all

The work of providing the Scriptures for a world that has an annual population increase of more than 70 million is an enormous task that exceeds the present capacities of the Catholic Church as well as the United Bible Societies. To find out what could be done to improve the situation, the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity recently brought together leaders of Catholic Biblical Associations, secretaries of some Bishops’ Bible Commissions, and directors of religious order publishing houses specializing in low-cost editions of the Scriptures, together with experts of the United Bible Societies. Representatives of the Congregation for Evangelization participated in the conference since, as was foreseen in Pope Paul's mandate for the overall project, much of the work of providing easy access to the Scriptures would involve areas of the world committed to the care of that Congregation. As Cardinal Bea noted in his opening address, it was the first time such a group had been called together at the Vatican to discuss implementation of Dei Verbum.

Extension of Biblical Apostolate

It was evident from the very beginning of the conference, which took place April 22-24, that the Catholic participants felt the first and major task of their organizations should be to deepen and extend the biblical apostolate within the Catholic Church. The role of the United Bible Societies was clarified as that of translation, production and supply specialists. Similar work is done by a few Catholic Biblical Associations, notably those of Germany and the Netherlands, and by same religious orders, such as the Daughters of St. Paul, the Society of the Divine Word (e.g., Editorial Verbo Divino in Spain, specializing in providing the Scriptures for Latin America), the Congregation of the Holy Cross (Editions Fides in Canada), the Dominicans (Editions du Cerf in France). But the Catholic conference participants felt much stronger stress should be put on pastoral care concerning the Bible in Catholic communities. Only then, they felt, would the Bible live within the liturgy and the lives of the faithful, and only than would cooperative biblical work with other Christians thrive.

Among the forty conference participants at the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity there was a general desire that bishops everywhere might use the channels at their disposition to give more attention to Scripture and to encourage Bible reading by priests and people, and that each bishop might appoint at least one man to take care of all questions regarding Chapter Six of Dei Verbum and one man, a biblical expert or one with biblical formation, to see to the training of priests and teachers for work in the biblical apostolate.

The conference members, in a final resolution presented to Cardinal Bea and the Secretariat, offered to serve the bishops in the task of promoting better understanding and use of the Scriptures by joining the various organizations represented at the conference in an International Catholic Federation of the Biblical Apostolate.

Agreed Bible translations

As a step in carrying out the immense task of providing accurate, easily understood translations of the Bible for all, the conference asked that the possibility be seriously studied whether the various Churches could, country by country, mutually recognize one another's Bible translations as acceptable renderings of the word of God. This request was obviously based on the fact that in recent years translations of the Scriptures have generally adhered faithfully to the original texts without distortion or bias. The conference also asked if, country by country, the Churches could eventually come to one uniform cycle of Scripture readings in the liturgy, which would mean that those Scripture passages could be more effectively used for presentation of the Christian message to the non-Christian world. It was envisaged that an eventual joint Bible translation in each language and even some joint pastoral work connected with the Bible, would go far toward helping the work of Christian unity.

"Easy Access for All"

It was proposed that a further meeting be held in Rome in 1969 to consider formation of the Federation recommended by the group, and the conference resolutions concluded with an "earnest desire" that any such future international organization "should from its inception work in the closest association and collaboration with the United Bible Societies". The stress on the biblical pastoral apostolate within the Catholic Church was welcomed by the three observers from the United Bible Societies, one of whom expressed the hope that the conference and the idea of the Federation for the Biblical Apostolate might stimulate other Churches to give similar attention to the pastoral work that should follow Bible production and distribution.

The conference participants were pleased that in his address to them, in an audience after the conference, Pope Paul said, "We earnestly desire the fulfillment of the Conciliar exhortation that 'easy access to Sacred Scripture should be provided for all the Christian faithful'". They were pleased, too, that he renewed and strengthened another Conciliar exhortation by recalling that the Council Fathers urged there should be specially prepared editions of the Scriptures for non-Christians and that "pastors of souls and Christians generally should see to the wise distribution of these in one way or another". Significantly, His Holiness said it would be "a highly desiderable consequence" if all Christians could have and use what the Council recommended, "translations produced in cooperation with the separated brethren as well". In light of the conference's stress on pastoral formation of priests and people in knowledge and use of the Bible, it was particularly appropriate that the Holy Father ended by quoting this passage from the Vatican II document on the Bible. "Just as the life of the Church grows through persistent participation in the Eucharistic mystery, so we may hope for a new surge of spiritual vitality from intensified veneration for God's word, which 'lasts forever’."  

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
23 May 1968, page 7

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