In the years leading up to the Second Vatican Council, the preparatory commission had drafted a document titled “De Fontibus Revelationis.” Many people expected it to be whisked through the approval process shortly after the council began. And why not? The drafters represented a variety of theological and exegetical viewpoints, and they had achieved an admirable consensus on a number of controversial points. The draft did what the drafters thought a council document should do. It prescribed rules, and it issued condemnations. It hewed to the manualist tradition that had defined the mainstream since the Counter-Reformation.
“De Fontibus” was sent out to the bishops in August 1962, in anticipation of the council’s inauguration in October. But a funny thing happened on the way to the council. On October 10, 1962, the very day before the council’s solemn inauguration, a young German peritus, Father Joseph Ratzinger, presented his analysis of “De Fontibus” in a lecture to the German-speaking bishops. His critique was even-toned, fair-minded, thorough—and devastating.
The problems he identified were not tonal or stylistic. They were theological and doctrinal. He argued that the schema had absolutized the manualist tradition. It had confused propositions about revelation with the content of revelation. It represented not abiding truths of faith, but rather the peculiar characteristics of post-Reformation polemic.
Father Ratzinger’s lecture made a profound impression on the bishops. The 16-page text was circulated widely and became the basis of Cardinal Josef Frings’ November 14 oral intervention at the beginning of the debate about “De Fontibus.” From the discussion that followed came “Dei Verbum,” the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, which in its final form fulfilled all the prescriptions of Father Ratzinger.
Father Ratzinger recast the discussion in terms of sacramentality. Through the council and after the council, he would continue his reflection on this foundational point. Father Ratzinger recast the discussion in terms of sacramentality. Through the council and after the council, he would continue his reflection on this foundational point. The culmination of that reflection would indeed be magisterial. What the young theologian had begun in the shaping of “Dei Verbum” would find fulfillment in the seasoned pope’s post-synodal apostolic exhortation “Verbum Domini”—which speaks at length about the “sacramentality of the word.” The same document tells us that the “New Testament…presents the paschal mystery as being in accordance with the sacred Scriptures and as their deepest fulfillment.”
It is in the paschal mystery that humankind encounters this God—present in history, present in liturgy, present in the church. Present in the word; present as the Word.
Hahn then powerfully reminds us that to speak of 'New Testament' is to first refer to paschal mystery and sacrament, not text:
In all of Jesus’s sayings, we find just one instance when he used the phrase we translate as “New Testament,” and he used it to describe neither a will nor a book, but rather a sacramental bond ...
In the text of the New Testament, then, the phrase “New Testament” denotes not a text, but an action—not a document, but a sacrament.
He concludes with a quotation from Benedict XVI:
The sacramentality of the word can thus be understood by analogy with the real presence of Christ under the appearances of the consecrated bread and wine. By approaching the altar and partaking in the Eucharistic banquet we truly share in the body and blood of Christ. The proclamation of God’s word at the celebration entails an acknowledgment that Christ himself is present, that he speaks to us.
A few brief points on excellent essay, given in order of ascending importance. Firstly, it reminds us that outside of the ecclesial politics of the RCC and the ironically shared perception of RC left and right that he was a 'traditionalist', Benedict XVI was an innovative theologian whose work has deeply enriched contemporary Christian reflection. This was recognised by ++Justin when he praised BXVI as a "creative theological mind". Secondly, it brought to mind Hooker's reflections on the sacramentality of the act of reading Scripture in the daily office, what his Geneva-school critics - lacking a sacramental and liturgical imagination - condemned as 'bare reading'. Thirdly, it both points to and suggests a way for catholic Anglicans to model how the church can imaginatively re-engage with Scripture beyond both the rationalisms of biblical criticism and Neo-Calvinism.