Monday, July 21, 2014
Review: The Word of God at Vatican II by Fr. Ronald Witherup
Now, while there have certainly been scholarly volumes devoted to Dei Verbum, very little has been published for the average Catholic. Yet, with the 50th anniversary of its publication coming in 2015, we are beginning to see some fine resources being published. I am very happy to report that Little Rock Scripture Study's The Word of God at Vatican II: Exploring Dei Verbum is extremely helpful and easily applicable to either personal or group study.
Written by noted Catholic biblical scholar Fr. Ronald D. Witherup, who was one of the main editors on the lovely Little Rock Catholic Study Bible, this 85 page volume provides a short overview of all the main points concerning the council document. It is broken into three sections: 1) A Brief History of Dei Verbum; 2) A Brief Commentary on Dei Verbum; 3) Ongoing Interpretation and the Fruits of Dei Verbum. Scattered throughout are various charts that cover a wide range of topics, most notably the different theories on Inspiration, comparison of the two main drafts of the document, the major scripture documents that led up to Vatican II, and church documents after Vatican II. Witherup does an admirable job in providing context and content to this document. He reminds us that "virtually all church documents have been influenced in one way or another by previous church teachings. Dei Verbum is no exception (7)." His chart on the documents that led up to Vatican II begin with Trent and Sancta Mater Ecclesia of 1964. In each case, he gives a brief summary of each document and indicates which paragraphs of Dei Verbum were influenced by them.
In addition, he also recognizes many of the important figures who contributed to this document. A certain Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict) is mentioned more than once. He notes that Pope Benedict's poetic Verbum Domini is the most "comprehensive and important" document since the council (68). Other works of scholars like Brown, Murphy, and Fitzmyer are rightly noted as being some of the great fruits of Vatican II. (Little Rock Scripture Study is of course mentioned as well.) I would have perhaps liked to see others mentioned as well, for example some of those scholars associated with the Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture.
I will conclude with what I think is the real heart of Witherup's work, that being his paragraph by paragraph commentary of Dei Verbum found in chapter 2. The commentary is aided by the fact that Witherup included the actual document. So, you don't need to flip between this book and the council document. It is right there for you. (And yes, the footnotes from Dei Verbum are included as well.)Encompassing over 40 pages, Witherup takes you through each section of the document providing helpful commentary on the main issues. These range from one to five or more paragraphs each depending on the issue. As you can guess, there is more of an extensive commentary on the interpretation of paragraph 11. As Witherup notes, the issue of inerrancy is an issue still being debated and discussed today. Pope Benedict asked for the issue to be studied by the Pontifical Biblical Commission, and its finding are due to be released quite soon.
The Word of God at Vatican II is a great resource. It comes with a study guide for individual or group study. An answer book can be purchased as well. I plan to use this throughout the year and next. If I had my wish, I would love to see a collection of essays published by contemporary Catholic scripture scholars, from a wide variety of schools, looking back at the importance of Dei Verbum.
Thank you to the fine folks at Liturgical Press for providing me a review copy.