I’m very happy that Todd has already begun reflecting on Dei Verbum here. His first post raised the question of its relationship with Gaudium et Spes. In a conference last year to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Dei Verbum, Cardinal Walter Kasper touched on this rather important question. Here is the relevant excerpt – it is rather long, I have to say, but I do think that it will deepen our reflection:
The opening sentence of the Constitution makes it clear that the Council is concerned with much deeper and more comprehensive questions than those which are in dispute between theologians and which must be debated within that arena. The Council is concerned with the essence and significance of the word of God understood as praeconium salutatis, a message of salvation and of life. With this formulation the Council refers back to the first Epistle of John: “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the world of life” (1 John 1,1).
It is striking that this quotation not only speaks of hearing but also of seeing and touching, and that it means revelation not only through words but also through deeds. According to the Council too, God’s word issues forth in word and deed, which reciprocally interpret one another (DV2). God’s speaking is creative and therefore also always action. “Dicere Dei est facere” says Thomas Aquinas. There he expresses exactly the original meaning of the Hebraic word dabar, which can mean both word and deed. The theology of the church fathers as well as the theology of the early and the high Middle Ages therefore knew that revelation occurs as part of the history of salvation. Only later was the history of salvation transported into an abstract doctrinal system or reduced to a personalistic and existential interpretation.
During the Council it was above all two Protestant theologians, Kristen E. Skydsgaard and Oscar Cullman, who emphatically highlighted this salvatory character and found a hearing above all from Pope Paul VI. Revelation is neither an unhistorical myth nor an abstract speculation, it takes place within history, which reaches its completion and its fulfillment in Jesus Christ (DV 2;4;7;13).
This Christological intensification and concentration of course also makes clear another deeper dimension. Through word and deed God does not reveal something; he reveals himself. Referring to Eph. 1,9 and other Bible passages (Col 1,26; 1 Tim 3,16) the Council speaks of a “seipsum revelare et notum facere sacramentum voluntatis suae” (“to reveal himself and proclaim the mystery of his will”). With this statement the Council achieved a breakthrough from an understanding based on instruction theory – as Max Seckler defines it – to an understanding based on communication theory. That means: the word of God is not intended as instruction on some supernatural facts or doctrines to which mankind has no access through the intellect alone; it is instead a communicative process from person to person. In His revelation God speaks to us as friends out of the abundance of His love (DV 2)(cf. Ex. 33,11; John 15,14f).
The consequence of the personal understanding of revelation is the personal understanding of faith. Speaking of the “obedience of faith” (Rom 16,26) which mankind renders to the self-revealing God, the Council says: “Thereby man entrusts his whole self freely to God, offering the full submission of intellect and will to God who reveals and freely assenting to the truth revealed by Him” (DV 5). Ultimately faith relates neither to the heard word nor to the experience of the salvation event but solely to God who reveals Himself in word and deed. …
In essence the process of revelation is a dialogic communication process. Communication both becomes and effects participation. The word of God wants to cause that which it says to become present reality. It is an efficacious word (verbum efficax) which also effects and grants that which it says (Heb 4,12). Ultimately it does not give us “something,” it gives us access to the Father (Eph 2,18) and allows us to participate in the divine nature (2 Pet 1,4). That expresses the intention of the revelation process, quoting the 1st Epistle of John: “In order that you also may have fellowship with us, and that our fellowship may be with the Father, and with his son Jesus Christ (1 John 1,3). The word of God as praeconium salutatis is therefore the message of communion, communio with God and with one another. As such it is the word of life (DV 1).
This message of salvation is directed at the whole world. Therefore the preface of Dei verbum defines the aim of the whole document by quoting Augustine: “so that by hearing the message of salvation the whole world may believe; by believing it may hope; and by hoping it may love” (DV 1). This universal goal orientation is taken up again later in the text, where the Constitution speaks of revelation in creation, and referring back to the 1st Vatican Council speaks of the possibility of acknowledging God by the natural light of reason through created realities (Rom 1, 20)(DV 3,6). It is however indicative that the Second Vatican Council thereby clearly goes further than the First Vatican Council, in that it does not simply see creation as the natural order, but categorises it christologically. It speaks of the fact that God has created all things through the word (John 1,3), thus relating creation also to Christ and in Christ (1 Cor 8,6; Col 1,16f; Heb 1,2).
Unfortunately the consequences of this important idea are not developed further in Dei verbum. It was the pastoral constitution Gaudium et spes which succeeded in demonstrating that from Jesus Christ and his word light falls on the whole of reality, it is through Christ that the ultimate vocation of mankind, the meaning of his life, but also the riddle of pain and death is illuminated (GS 10;22;32;45 et al). In a felicitous formulation the pastoral constitution says that God in his word not only reveals Himself but also “man to man himself” (GS 22). In this sense the theological explanation of the word of God as the word of life and as praeconium salutatis must also always be an existential interpretation and an interpretation of worldly reality, in which we and our world and our life must be at stake, naturally in such a way that eternal life and complete communion with God are not lost from view but remain fixed before our eyes as the true goal of mankind.