At the conclusion of the three week World Synod of Bishops on the Word of God on 25 October, Benedict XVI spoke to the crowd gathered in St Peter's Square for the midday Angelus on the relationship between God's Word and 'the Scripture that expresses it.'
Citing the Second Vatican Council, Benedict said that 'a good biblical exegesis requires both the historical-critical method and the theological one, because sacred Scripture is the Word of God in human words.'
This meant, he said, that every text should be read while keeping in mind the unity of all Scripture, the living tradition of the Church and the light of faith. 'If it is true that the Bible is also a literary work, even more, the great code of universal culture, it is also true that it should not be robbed of its divine element, but rather should be read in the same spirit in which it was written'.
At the start of the synod, Cardinal Marc Ouellet, Archbishop of Quebec, relator-general of the synod, observed that theology faculties and Biblical scholars (exegetes) do not always conform with the Magisterium's vision of the Bible. In this scenario, he said, there is 'an excessive variance of interpretations' where 'the internal connection of exegesis with the faith is no longer unanimous and the tensions increase among exegetes, pastors and theologians.
'After many decades of concentration on the human mediation in Scripture, shouldn't we rediscover the divine depth of the inspired text without losing sight of the valuable acquisitions of the new methodologies?'
In this regard, he thought 'an encyclical on the interpretation of Scripture in the Church' would be opportune, and coming from the Pope would carry more weight.
Benedict took up this theme during his address at one of the synod sessions - an address which he said was based on his present work on volume two of his book Jesus of Nazareth. He cited the criteria offered for the interpretation of Scripture by Vatican II in Dei Verbum (12): '[S]ince Holy Scripture must be read and interpreted in the sacred spirit in which it was written no less serious attention must be given to the content and unity of the whole of Scripture if the meaning of the sacred texts is to be correctly worked out. The living tradition of the whole Church must be taken into account along with the harmony which exists between elements of the faith.'
Benedict said that, in general, exegetes take into account the first principle - the unity of Scripture. But, they often neglect the second - the living tradition of the whole Church. Neglect of this principle led to the Bible becoming merely a book from the past - 'Exegesis becomes historiography.'
The life and mission of the Church, he concluded, demands overcoming such a dualism between exegesis and theology. They are, rather, dimensions of the same reality.
At the end of the synod, the 244 participating bishops - with remarkable unanimity - approved 55 propositions to present to the Pope who has ordered the publication of a provisional and unofficial Italian- language version of the propositions. It is the second time he has allowed the publication of the closing propositions of a synodal assembly.
Normally the propositions are presented privately to the Pope, who considers them as he prepares the official closing document of a synod, the Apostolic Exhortation.
The first part of the list of propositions, 'The Word of God in the Faith of the Church,' focuses on the duty of priests to educate the faithful to help them strengthen their relationship with Jesus Christ, through reading and meditating upon Scripture.
The synod asks priests to be 'sensitive to the rediscovery of natural law and its function in the formation of consciences,' saying the 'great progress of science' in its knowledge of the natural world can obscure the ethical message of nature.
In the second section, focused on the theme 'The Word of God in the Faith of the Church,' the Synod Fathers suggest that the Bible be placed in a visible position inside churches. They emphasise that the Word of God must be clearly proclaimed by people who have 'familiarity with the dynamics of communication.'
The synod propositions stress that a homily must be well-prepared, keeping in mind the day's biblical readings, what the readings mean to the priest, and what he must say to the community in response to their situation. Though the liturgy of the Word is a privileged place for encountering Christ, they caution that it must not be confused with the liturgy of the Eucharist.
The final part of the list of propositions, 'The Word of God in the Mission of the Church,' discusses the Word of God and liturgical art and the translation and interpretation of the Bible. While warning against sects and fundamentalist readings of the Bible, the propositions highlight the importance of the communications media for evangelisation.
Next, discussing dialogue with Jews and Muslims, the Synod Fathers call for inter-religious dialogue to be strengthened, insisting 'that all believers be effectively guaranteed the liberty to profess their religion in private and in public, and that freedom of conscience be recognised.' In regard to these, 'reciprocity' is vital to dialogue with Muslims.
The final proposition of the Synod is dedicated to the Virgin Mary as the model of the Church's faith. This proposition suggests that the faithful be further encouraged to pray the Angelus and the Rosary.
Benedict has announced that preparation of his post synodal Apostolic Exhortation is already under way.