God has chosen to reveal Himself to His people. He speaks to us through creation and in our hearts, but He also makes Himself known through Divine Revelation. Catholics understand that Divine Revelation passes down through both Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture and that the Church's Magisterium, or teaching office, has the right and responsibility to preserve and expound Divine Revelation to the faithful. In Dei Verbum, or the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, the Vatican II Fathers addressed the nature and use of Divine Revelation. Dei Verbum is, in my opinion, the most beautiful document of Vatican II. In fact, even if you never read any other Vatican II documents, please take some time to peruse this one. You won't regret it.
Here are some of the topics and ideas you'll find in Dei Verbum.
* The council seeks to set forth “authentic doctrine” about the nature of Divine Revelation and how it has been passed down in the Church.
* The message of salvation contained in Divine Revelation leads to faith, hope, and love.
Chapter I – Revelation Itself
* God has chosen to reveal Himself and His will so that humans can have access to Him and even share in His divine nature.
* In Divine Revelation, God speaks to His people as friends and “lives among them” in fellowship.
* God's words and deeds have “an inner unity.” The deeds confirm the words, and the words proclaim and explain the deeds.
* Throughout salvation history, from the very beginning, God has cared for humanity and “prepared the way for the Gospel.”
* In Jesus Christ, God has given perfect revelation, for Jesus has shown humanity the “innermost being of God” even when He lived on earth.
* Jesus initiated the “new and definitive covenant,” and there will be no further public revelation.
* Humans must give God the obedience of faith; they must submit their whole selves to God in “full submission of intellect and will” and freely assent to the truth. God assists with His grace, and the Holy Spirit brings faith to fullness.
* God actually gives Himself through Divine Revelation so that people may know Him with ease and certitude and without error.
Chapter II – Handing on Divine Revelation
* God sees to it that His revelation is handed on perpetually and with full integrity.
* The Gospel was proclaimed by the preaching, example, and observances of the Apostles, who, inspired by the Holy Spirit, recorded the message of salvation in writing.
* The Apostles handed on Divine Revelation to their successors, the bishops, in the forms of Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture.
* Sacred Tradition is that which was handed down by the Apostles including “everything which contributes toward the holiness of life and increase in faith of the people of God.” It is the Church's “teaching, life and worship.”
* Understanding of Sacred Tradition develops with the help of the Holy Spirit as believers contemplate and study, experience spiritual realities, and hear the preaching of the bishops.
* In Sacred Tradition, God converses with the Church. The Holy Spirit sounds “the living voice of the Gospel” in the Church.
* Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture flow from the “same divine wellspring” and form one sacred deposit of Divine Revelation. Both are necessary to receive God's Word whole and entire.
* The Magisterium serves the Word of God, “listening to it devoutly, guarding it scrupulously and explaining it faithfully” with the Holy Spirit's help.
* Sacred Tradition, Sacred Scripture, and the Magisterim cannot be separated.
Chapter III – Sacred Scripture, Its Inspiration and Divine Interpretation
* The Scriptures have God as their Author, for they were written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
* The human authors of Scripture are true authors. God acted in them that they might write “everything and only those things which He wanted” even as they used their own “powers and abilities.”
* The Scriptures are without error, for God is their Author.
* In the Scriptures, God speaks “through men in human fashion.” In His gentle kindness, He adapts His language to our needs. Interpreters, therefore, must examine both the meaning the human authors intended and what God wanted to communicate through their words.
* Exegetes should explore the literary forms, genres, and contexts of the human authors of Scripture.
* They must also read the Scriptures in the same Spirit Who wrote them, paying close attention to the “content and unity” of Scripture, to its relationship to Sacred Tradition, and to its position in the analogy of faith.
* The Magisterium guides Scriptural interpretation and has the final word in it. Exegetes serve the Church that all the faithful might better understand God's Word.
Chapter IV – The Old Testament
* God has a plan for the salvation of all humanity. He chose a people for Himself and made a covenant with them. This covenant history is recorded in the Old Testament.
* The Old Testament is divinely inspired and “permanently valuable.” It prepared for the coming of Jesus thorough prophecy, typology, and divine pedagogy.
* The New Testament is hidden in the Old and the Old is made manifest in the New.
Chapter V – The New Testament
* Jesus Christ is the Word of God made flesh. The New Testament bears witness to His saving work and “words of eternal life.”
* The Gospels occupy pride of place in the New Testament, for they are the primary witnesses to the life and teaching of Jesus.
* The four-fold Gospel is of apostolic origin and inspired by the Holy Spirit. It is historical and faithfully hands on what Jesus did and taught. The Apostles told the “honest truth about Jesus” even as they selected their material, synthesized some things, and explained things with the clearer understanding they had gained after the Resurrection.
* The other books of the New Testament, also inspired, confirm the teaching of the Gospels and explain it more fully.
Chapter VI – Sacred Scripture in the Life of the Church
* “The Church has always venerated the divine Scriptures just as she venerates the Body of the Lord,” and in the liturgy, “she unceasingly receives and offers to the faithful the bread of life from the table both of God's Word and of Christ's Body.”
* In the Scriptures, the Father meets His children and speaks with them lovingly.
* The Scriptures support and energize the Church, provide spiritual food, strengthen faith, and nourish spiritual life.
* The faithful must have easy access to the Scriptures.
* The Church seeks deeper understanding of the Scriptures so that they may provide even greater nourishment to the faithful.
* Sacred Theology is always based on the Scriptures, which it studies in the “light of faith.”
* All Christians are called to read and study Sacred Scripture with prayer.
* Appropriate translations and study materials should be readily available.
* Divine Revelation is a treasure that should “fill the hearts” of human beings and stimulate “the life of the Spirit” in them.
The full text of Dei Verbum is available online at the Vatican website.