“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—the life was made manifest, and we saw it, and testify to it, and proclaim to you the eternal life which was with the Father and was made manifest to us—that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you may have fellowship with us; and our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing this that our joy may be complete” (1 Jn 1:1-4).
1. “In the beginning was the Word” (Jn 1:1). “The Word of our God will endure for ever” (Is 40:8). The Word of God, present at the creation of the world and humankind, initiates history: “God spoke” (Gn 1, 3,6ff.). The Incarnation of God’s Son, Jesus Christ, the most decisive moment in history, is announced by the Word of God: “And the Word became flesh” (Jn 1:14). The Word of God will bring history to a close with the sure promise of meeting Christ in everlasting life: “Surely, I am coming soon” (Rev 22:20).
The Word of God is the ultimate surety which God, in his infinite love, gives to people of every age and time, enabling them to become witnesses to his Word. The Synod wishes to reverently contemplate this mystery of the Word, God’s greatest gift, to render thanks for it, to meditate upon it and to proclaim it to all members of the Church and all people of good will.
2. In an increasing number of ways, people today are displaying a great need to listen to God and speak with him. At present, Christians are eagerly seeking the Word of God as the source of life and as a means of encountering the Lord in a personal manner.
Clearly, the unseen God interacts in this personal encounter “out of the abundance of his love; [he] speaks to humankind as friends and lives among them, so that he may invite and take them into fellowship with himself.”1 This generous act of God’s Revelation is an ongoing, grace-filled event.
This communication takes place through the action of the Holy Spirit, who, through the Word, seeks to renew the life and mission of the Church, to call her to an ongoing conversion and to send her to bring the message of the Gospel to all peoples, so “that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (Jn 10:10).
3. The Person of Christ the Lord is at the core of the Word of God. Throughout her history, the Church has constantly experienced and mirrored the mystery of the Word. “What do you believe the Scriptures to be, if not the Word of God? Certainly, many words are penned by the prophets; yet the Word of God is one, uniting the whole of Scripture. The faithful conceive this unique Word from a seed given by God as a lawful spouse, and fruitfully bring it forth from their mouths, so to speak, by giving it birth and recording it in characters, so it can be passed on, even to us.”2
In the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation Dei Verbum, the Second Vatican Council set forth the Church’s solemn Magisterium on the Word of God, explaining its teaching and indicating its practise. This document completed the long study and development of three Encyclical Letters: Providentissimus Deus of Leo XIII, Spiritu Paraclitus of Benedict XV and Divino Afflante Spiritu of Pius XII.3 It also represented a stage in the process of renewal in exegesis and theology which was further enriched by the spiritual experience of the faithful and opportunely treated in the Synod of Bishops of 19854 and the Catechism of the Catholic Church. In the years following the Council, the Magisterium of the universal and local Churches placed greater insistence on an encounter with the Word, convinced that this “will bring the Church to a new spiritual Spring.”5
In the continuing process of God’s breathing forth his Word, this Synodal Assembly is being convoked in close connection with preceding Synods of Bishops (1965-2006). It looks to the foundations of faith and seeks to present how the Word has been encountered in the Bible (cf. Josh 24; Neh 8; Acts 2) and throughout the history of the Church.
4. More specifically, this Synod wishes to set forth, in continuity with the preceding one, the intrinsic connection between the Eucharist and the Word of God, since the Church must receive nourishment from the one “bread of life from the table of both God's word and Christ's body.”6 This is the Synod’s underlying purpose and primary goal, namely, to fully encounter the Word of God in Jesus the Lord, present in the Sacred Scriptures and the Eucharist. St. Jerome observes: “The Lord’s flesh is real food and his blood real drink; this is our true good in this present life: to nourish ourselves with his flesh and to drink his blood in not only the Eucharist but also the reading of Sacred Scripture. In fact, the Word of God, drawn from the knowledge of the Scriptures, is real food and real drink.”7
Forty years after the Second Vatican Council, questions arise as to what are the fruits of the conciliar document, Dei Verbum, in our Church communities and whether this Dogmatic Constitution has really been taken to heart. With regard to the Word of God, many positive things have clearly taken place in the People of God: for example, biblical renewal in the liturgy, theology and catechesis; the distribution and practise of the Bible by the biblical apostolate and efforts of communities and ecclesial movements; and the increased use of the instruments of today’s communication media.
Some things, however, pose problems or still remain an open question. The lack of knowledge and uncertainty regarding the teachings of Revelation are a deep concern. Many Christians remain without any contact with the Bible and the danger is always present that it will not be used properly. Without the truth of God’s Word, relativism becomes alluring in people’s lives and thinking. This situation urgently warrants a total and complete knowledge of the Church’s teachings concerning the Word of God. It also requires employing suitable methods in providing all Christians with opportunities to encounter Sacred Scripture. The Church must take up the new ways suggested by the Spirit today to ensure that the various manifestations of the Word of God be known, discerned, loved, and more profoundly grounded and lived in the Church, thereby becoming the Word of Truth and Love for all people.
5. The purpose of this Synod is primarily pastoral, namely, spreading and strengthening encounters with the Word of God by thoroughly examining its doctrinal underpinnings and allowing them to show the manner in which this is to be done. This will lead to experiencing the Word of God as the source of life in everyday circumstances and devising true and readily available ways in which Christians and all people of good will can listen to God and speak with him.
In a concrete sense, the Synod intends among its many objectives: to help clarify the basic truths of Revelation as the Word of God, Divine Tradition, the Bible and the Magisterium, which prompt and guarantee an authentic and effective living of the faith; to spark an appreciation and deep love of Sacred Scripture so that “the faithful might have easy access” to it;8 to renew listening to the Word of God, in the liturgy and catechesis, specifically through lectio divina, duly adapted to various circumstances; and to offer a Word of consolation and hope to the poor of the world.
This Synod desires to give the Word of God as bread to the People of God. Its aim is to foster a proper approach to biblical hermeneutics and to correctly direct the process of evangelization and inculturation. It also intends to encourage ecumenical dialogue, which is closely linked to listening to the Word of God and to promote an encounter and dialogue of not only Christians and Jews9 but also those engaged in interreligious and inter-cultural dialogue. The synod proposes to achieve this task by treating the following three areas:
— Revelation, the Word of God, the Church (Chapter I)
— The Word of God in the Life of the Church (Chapter II)
— The Word of God in the Mission of the Church (Chapter III).
In this way, the foundational elements of the Word of God might be united to its operation in the Church.
The Lineamenta does not intend to treat every demand and application of encountering the Word of God. Rather, drawing on the teachings of the Second Vatican Council, this document will describe the essential characteristics of the Word of God, emphasizing both its doctrinal content and that drawn from experience and inviting the reader to provide further detailed information.