Bishops discuss integrating doctrine and scripture

MISHAWAKA, Ind. – Continuing a discussion begun at the Second Vatican Council, about 40 U.S. bishops gathered at the convent of the Sisters of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration in Mishawaka for a Feb. 11-13 seminar exploring the relationship between doctrine and Scripture in Catholic teaching, especially in homilies.

In his keynote presentation, U.S. Cardinal William J. Levada noted that the trend to eliminate catechetical homilies after Vatican II was not really in the spirit of “Dei Verbum,” the council document on divine revelation.

He said the Scripture commentary aspect of the homily was emphasized because it had been so lacking prior to the council.

The cardinal, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, said the church should now seek to integrate these two aspects.

Titled “Eloquence of Teaching: Doctrine, Scripture and Preaching in the Life of the Church,” the seminar was a follow-up to a 2005 conference at the University of Notre Dame marking the 40th anniversary of “Dei Verbum.”

It was sponsored by the U.S. Catholic bishops’ Committee on Doctrine and Notre Dame’s Institute for Church Life.

The seminar looked at the problem faced by priests who feel they must choose between preaching on the Scriptures or preaching on the church’s doctrines and moral teachings.

“Dei Verbum,” as noted at the seminar, does not see the two as mutually exclusive, but rather as two components that can work well together.

“We have to find ways to improve homilies so that they are at one and the same time genuinely exegetical – genuinely interpretative of Scripture – and genuinely catechetical,” said another speaker, John Cavadini, chair of the theology department at Notre Dame.

He gave a talk on how the Catechism of the Catholic Church can be a resource to priests by helping to identify Scripture passages related to certain doctrinal or catechetical themes.

According to Cavadini, this integration of Scripture and doctrine should not be so difficult.

“All of the major doctrines of the Catholic faith were articulated in defense of Scripture and with scriptural language, while the canon of Scripture itself – what books were chosen and what books preserved – was a function of doctrinal considerations,” he said.

In other words, “Scripture itself has a doctrinal shape, and doctrine has a scriptural context,” Cavadini said.

Preaching his homily on the final afternoon of the seminar, Cardinal Levada recalled how God called upon Jonah to save the people of Nineveh by preaching his word.

“If Jonah could be eloquent under those circumstances,” said Cardinal Levada of the reluctant prophet, “how much more eloquent, brother bishops, can you and I be? An eloquence not from our own skills, but from the Spirit teaching us.”

He continued, “Only Jesus can lead us in the Spirit and make us sharers in the Holy Trinity. It’s not what we say or do, but the person of the risen Christ, present in the word and the sacrament. This is how we are drawn into communion with God.”

Later Bishop John M. D’Arcy of Fort Wayne-South Bend said the bishops were “very positive” about the seminar. He noted it was effective for helping the bishops to better exercise their ministry.

“The bishop is a preacher of the word of God,” he told Today’s Catholic, the diocesan newspaper. “If you look at the Second Vatican Council, it’s very clear that part of his role is to preach. (The purpose of the seminar) was to help us preach and to help our priests to preach.”

Originally, the seminar was to take place on the Notre Dame campus, but the bishops made a collective decision to move it off-campus to nearby Mishawaka because of the likelihood the play “The Vagina Monologues” would be presented on campus.

Contributing to this story was Diane Freeby.

Catholic Review

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.