Archbishop Gianfranco Ravasi is a biblical expert and president of the Pontifical Council for Culture. The 12th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops has begun in Rome. Bishops from all over the world will discuss the theme “The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church.” The theme was chosen to respond to “a need for Catholics to live and breathe the richness of the Bible.” The synod convenes Oct. 5 with Mass at St. Paul Outside the Walls.
On Sept. 18, Archbishop Gianfranco Ravasi spoke with Register Correspondent Edward Pentin about the synod.
What is the main purpose of this synod? Why is it relevant to the Church?
This synod has a particular relevance in that it’s been almost 40 to 50 years since the Second Vatican Council. Therefore, this is a great opportunity to be able to focus on a key point that needs reconciling: namely, the return, the re-appropriation, of the Bible to the Christian community. There was, in fact, immediately after the Council, a fervent return to Scripture, both by individuals within the Christian community and the Church in its official capacity.
Together with liturgical reform, we began to rediscover the beauty of the Bible, to see it again as significant and to understand what it means. For this reason, it’s now necessary to take stock, partly because at certain times, after so many years, things have become a little tired, and there are also new questions that society is presenting the Church in its function as a guide, as a pastor.
For this reason, I believe that the Synod of Bishops now taking place will be a great way to look at the past, to assess, to consider and reflect. But above all, it will look ahead to the future to ensure that the Word of God, as the Bible says, is the light “that illuminates the darkness of the paths of history.”
In your opinion, what will be the most important aspects of the synod?
There are three significant aspects. Firstly, to reintroduce reading of the Bible, the study of the Bible, within the liturgy, as part of the Celebration of the Eucharist where the heart of the Bible beats.
Don’t forget that the Second Vatican Council in its document Dei Verbum (Divine Revelation) clarified a significant parallel between the two presences of God when we celebrate the liturgy: the presence of the Word and that of the broken bread of the Eucharist, the body of Christ. Like on the road to Emmaus: First they hear the word, then they break the bread.
The second challenge that the synod will tackle is also vast, with a broad range of possibilities: the role of the Bible in lectio divina [prayerful reading of Scripture], catechesis and theology, and what we think of the Bible in relation to general spiritual formation.
There are many areas where we need to make it flourish, and this requires the faithful and the Christian community to make a serious study of the Bible — a study of rediscovery that allows the correct understanding and realization of the texts.
The third aspect is the need to go beyond the perimeters of the Church. Let’s not forget that the Bible, as the great literary critic Northrop Frye said, is the great code, the guiding star of art, thought, culture and music. The painter Marc Chagall said: “For centuries, painters have dipped their brush into the alphabet of colors of the Bible.” Here we must return again to revive the Bible as a fundamental cultural root of the West, to rediscover that the Bible is needed to understand Western identity.
T.S. Eliot said that if we lose the Bible, our fundamental roots, then we leave our own face, the face of the West; because all of us — believers and nonbelievers — have been conditioned, exalted, sometimes also embittered, in our experience of the Bible. We also think of the confrontations nonbelievers have had in the moral sphere in relation to the Decalogue.
There’s been much discussion in recent years about the historical Jesus and the Christ of faith. Will this be a major issue of the synod?
It is likely that this issue will be discussed at the synod, because it is at the basis of the concept of the Bible, not just the Old Testament. The New Testament says “The divine word became flesh” (see John 1:14), where flesh means futility, fragility, weakness, according to history.
So we understand that there are two elements. The solemn Word of God expressed in the language of antiquity, words that are weak and changeable. So the relationship between the historical Jesus and the Christ of faith is part of the Biblical perspective, not only the Christian one.
Here then is the problem: Some people think — and especially did so in the past — that Christ was the true spirit of the Logos, the mystery of the true Christ, while others think only of the Christ of history: the revolutionary, the social worker, Christ as the Son of Man and not the Son of God.
Of course, these two concepts have separated and divided Christ, as you said. The current intent — not only in theology but also in historical-critical research — is to find the real Jesus, who is partly the historical Jesus and is the Christ of faith, the risen Christ.
This work is very complex and delicate, and made continuously so by the Gospels. The Gospels tell a story that can be critically examined from a historical point of view. But they are also theological texts; they present Christology, the figure of Christ, but their aim is to present a person who in himself is someone very close to you and me in looks, in language, in suffering, death. But there is also a mystery in him that is a transcendent mystery. This is the real Jesus.
Edward Pentin is
based in Rome.