A Re-reading of the Gospel in Light of Contemporary Culture

One of the fundamental documents of Vatican Council II teaches that ‘the Church has always had the duty of scrutinizing the signs of the times and interpreting them in the light of the Gospel.’ Francis, in turn, insinuates that the Gospel should be re-read in light of modern culture.
Should the Church submit herself to the principles of modern civilization, or rather enlighten it with Her teachings?

Francis

Vatican II was a re-reading of the Gospel in light of contemporary culture. Vatican II produced a renewal movement that simply comes from the same Gospel. Its fruits are enormous. Just recall the liturgy. The work of liturgical reform has been a service to the people as a re-reading of the Gospel from a concrete historical situation. Yes, there are hermeneutics of continuity and discontinuity, but one thing is clear: the dynamic of reading the Gospel, actualizing its message for today—which was typical of Vatican II—is absolutely irreversible. Then there are particular issues, like the liturgy according to the Vetus Ordo. I think the decision of Pope Benedict [his decision of July 7, 2007, to allow a wider use of the Tridentine Mass] was prudent and motivated by the desire to help people who have this sensitivity. What is worrying, though, is the risk of the ideologization of the Vetus Ordo, its exploitation. (Interview with Antonio Spadaro sj, August 19, 2013)

The celebration of 100 years of the Faculty of Theology of the Catholic University is an important moment for the Church in Argentina. The anniversary coincides with that of fifty years from the closing of the Second Vatican Council, which was an update, a re-reading of the Gospel in the perspective of contemporary culture. (Letter to the Grand Chancellor of the ‘Pontifical Catholic University of Argentina’ on the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Faculty of Theology, March 9, 2015)

Teachings of the Magisterium

Table of Contents

Vatican Council II
– The light of the Gospel should illuminate the Church’s action today
– The mission of the Church is to teach the truth, of which it is the depository

Council of Trent
– Only the Church may validly interpret the Scripture

CELAM
– It is the Gospel that enlightens the temporal sphere, not the other way around

Benedict XVI
– The great risk involved in reading the Gospel without the light of faith
– Scripture enlightens human existence
– The Word of God should be an inspiration for temporal authorities

Gregory XVI
– The Church is an institution that is not to be renewed according to human criteria

Pius IX
– The great danger of seeking an accord between the Church and the World
– Condemnation of the doctrine that promotes an alliance with Modernity

Pius X
– Condemnation of the doctrine that promotes an adaptation of Revelation to modernity

Paul VI
– The influence of the Gospel should enlighten all spheres of human activity
– The Gospel is capable of enlightening, regenerating and enriching any culture

Vatican Council II

  • The light of the Gospel should illuminate the Church’s action today

To carry out such a task, the Church has always had the duty of scrutinizing the signs of the times and of interpreting them in the light of the Gospel. Thus, in language intelligible to each generation, she can respond to the perennial questions which men ask about this present life and the life to come, and about the relationship of the one to the other. (Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes, no. 4, December 7, 1965)

  • The mission of the Church is to teach the truth, of which it is the depository

In the formation of their consciences, the Christian faithful ought carefully to attend to the sacred and certain doctrine of the Church. (Pius XII, Radio message, March 23, 1952: AAS 44 (1952) pp. 270-278) For the Church is, by the will of Christ, the teacher of the truth. It is her duty to give utterance to, and authoritatively to teach, that truth which is Christ Himself, and also to declare and confirm by her authority those principles of the moral order which have their origins in human nature itself. (Declaration Dignitatis Humanae, no. 14, December 7, 1965)

Council of Trent

  • Only the Church may validly interpret Scripture

Furthermore, in order to curb impudent clever persons, the synod decrees that no one who relies on his own judgment in matters of faith and morals, which pertain to the building up of Christian doctrine, and that no one who distorts the Sacred Scripture according to his own opinions, shall dare to interpret the said Sacred Scripture contrary to that sense which is held by holy mother Church, whose duty it is to judge regarding the true sense and interpretation of holy Scriptures. (Denzinger-Hünermann 1507. Council of Trent, session IV, Decree on the Sacred Books and the Traditions of the Apostles, April 8, 1546)

CELAM

  • It is the Gospel that enlightens the temporal sphere, not the other way around

No. 559 The tendency of other groups, on the contrary, is to consider certain political aspects as imperative, as a preceding condition for the Church to fulfill her mission. This is to identify the Christian message with an ideology and to submit it to the latter, appealing to a ‘re-reading’ of the Gospel starting out from a political option (cf. John Paul II, Inaugural speech I, 4. AAS 71, p. 190). In reality, it is necessary to reflect on politics starting from the Gospel and not the other way around. (CELAM – III Latin American Episcopal General Conference, Puebla, no. 559, 1979)

Benedict XVI

  • The great risk involved in reading the Gospel without the light of faith

Another major theme that emerged during the Synod, to which I would now like to draw attention, is the interpretation of sacred Scripture in the Church. The intrinsic link between the word and faith makes clear that authentic biblical hermeneutics can only be had within the faith of the Church, which has its paradigm in Mary’s fiat. Saint Bonaventure states that without faith there is no key to throw open the sacred text: ‘This is the knowledge of Jesus Christ, from whom, as from a fountain, flow forth the certainty and the understanding of all sacred Scripture. Therefore it is impossible for anyone to attain to knowledge of that truth unless he first have infused faith in Christ, which is the lamp, the gate and the foundation of all Scripture’ (Breviloquium, Prol.). And Saint Thomas Aquinas, citing Saint Augustine, insists that ‘the letter, even that of the Gospel, would kill, were there not the inward grace of healing faith’ (STh, I-II, q.106, a.2). (Benedict XVI, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Verbum Domini, no. 29, September 30, 2010)

  • Scripture sheds light on human existence

The word of God sheds light on human existence and stirs our conscience to take a deeper look at our lives, inasmuch as all human history stands under God’s judgment. (Benedict XVI, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Verbum Domini, no. 99, September 30, 2010)

  • The Word of God should be an inspiration for temporal authorities

In the light of the Lord’s words, let us discern the ‘signs of the times’ present in history, and not flee from a commitment to those who suffer and the victims of forms of selfishness. The Synod recalled that a commitment to justice and to changing our world is an essential element of evangelization.[…] For this reason, the Synod Fathers wished to say a special word to all those who take part in political and social life. Evangelization and the spread of God’s word ought to inspire their activity in the world, as they work for the true common good in respecting and promoting the dignity of every person. (Benedict XVI, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Verbum Domini, no. 100, September 30, 2010)

Gregory XVI

  • The Church is not an institution that may be renewed according to human criteria

To use the words of the fathers of Trent, it is certain that the Church ‘was instructed by Jesus Christ and His Apostles and that all truth was daily taught it by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit’ (Council of Trent, sess. 13, prooemium). Therefore, it is obviously absurd and injurious to propose a certain ‘restoration and regeneration’ for her as though necessary for her safety and growth, as if she could be considered subject to defect or obscuration or other misfortune. Indeed these authors of novelties consider that a ‘foundation may be laid of a new human institution,’ and what Cyprian detested may come to pass, that what was a divine thing ‘may become a human church’ (cf. St. Cyprian, epis. 52) […]
It is the proud, or rather foolish, men who examine the mysteries of faith which surpass all understanding with the faculties of the human mind, and rely on human reason which by the condition of man’s nature, is weak and infirm. (Gregory XVI, Encyclical Mirari Vos, n. 10, 22, August 15, 1832)

Pius IX

  • The great danger of seeking accord between the Church and the world

In these times of confusion and disorder, it is not unusual to see Christians, Catholics —even within the secular clergy and cloisters— who constantly have a word of conformity, of conciliation and negotiation on their lips. Very well! I do not hesitate to declare: these men are in error, and do not consider them to be the lesser enemies of the Church. We live in a corrupt and pestilent atmosphere and we must know how to preserve ourselves from it. Let us not allow ourselves to be contaminated by false doctrines, which lose all things under the pretext of saving all. (Pius IX. Speech in the Church of Aracoeli, September 17, 1861)

  • Condemnation of the doctrines that advocate an alliance with modernity

[Proposition condemned:] The Roman Pontiff can and should reconcile and adapt himself to progress, liberalism, and the modern civilization. (Denzinger-Hünermann 2980. Pius IX, Syllabus of Errors Condemned, no. 80: Errors related to modern liberalism, December 8, 1864)

Pius X

  • Condemnation of the doctrines that advocate adapting Revelation to modernity

[Proposition condemned:] The progress of the sciences demands that the concepts of Christian doctrine about God, creation, revelation, the Person of the Incarnate Word, the Redemption, be recast. (Denzinger-Hünermann 3464, Pius X, Encyclical Lamentabili Sane – Syllabus of Errors of the Modernists, no. 64, July 3, 1907)

Paul VI

  • The influence of the Gospel should enlighten all spheres of human activity

For the Church it is a question not only of preaching the Gospel in ever wider geographic areas or to ever greater numbers of people, but also of affecting and as it were upsetting, through the power of the Gospel, mankind’s criteria of judgment, determining values, points of interest, lines of thought, sources of inspiration and models of life, which are in contrast with the Word of God and the plan of salvation. (Paul VI. Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi, no. 19, December 8, 1975)

  • The Gospel is capable of enlightening, regenerating and enriching any culture

The Gospel, and therefore evangelization, are certainly not identical with culture, and they are independent in regard to all cultures. Nevertheless, the kingdom which the Gospel proclaims is lived by men who are profoundly linked to a culture, and the building up of the kingdom cannot avoid borrowing the elements of human culture or cultures. Though independent of cultures, the Gospel and evangelization are not necessarily incompatible with them; rather they are capable of permeating them all without becoming subject to any one of them. The split between the Gospel and culture is without a doubt the drama of our time, just as it was of other times. Therefore every effort must be made to ensure a full evangelization of culture, or more correctly of cultures. They have to be regenerated by an encounter with the Gospel. But this encounter will not take place if the Gospel is not proclaimed. (Paul VI. Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi, December 8, no. 20, 1975)

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