Bp. Fisichella at the Synod

I am interested in the intervention of H.E. Rino Fisichella whose background is in fundamental theology.  (Rene Latourelle)

–  H.E. Most. Rev. Salvatore FISICHELLA, Titular Bishop of Voghenza, President of the Pontifical Academy for Life; Rector of the Pontifical Lateran University (VATICAN CITY)

The Dei Verbum had still not been discovered and developed in its great intuition that constituted an authentic dogmatic progress; the Council fathers in fact had recovered the Biblical concept of the uniqueness of the source. This allowed Sacred Scripture to be understood within the life of the Church which does not just live by it but is responsible for its being alive, complete and fruitful. Many believers when asked what they mean by “Word of God” reply: the Bible. This is not a wrong answer, but it is incomplete or at least it shows an incomplete perception of the richness present in the expression and leads, as a consequence, to identifying Christianity as the “religion of the book”. It is necessary that in our language we do not fall into the uncertain expression “the three religions of the book”. Christianity is the religion of the “word”. It is important to strive for the construction of a culture that sees sacred Scripture as a living word, dynamically open to the truth of the revelation it contains. If we do not present this teaching in its totality in the various instruments we possess for the training of our people, we risk humiliating the Word of God because we reduce it exclusively to a written text without the provocative force to bring meaning to life any longer. As the Apostle reminds us: “God’s message cannot be chained up” (2 Tm 2:9).

What we are always faced with is the inexhaustibility of the Word of God; it is like the bush that burns without going out. We are called to exercise a ministry that permits this Word of Life to spread so that everyone in every part of the world can grasp its profound meaning in such a way as to obtain salvation. In a time like ours filled with attempts to marginalize the sacred texts as bearers of meaning only insofar as they are myths , with no historical character and destined only for the naïve, it is important that they find the necessary forms to restore historical value and provocativeness about the sense of existence. We really are faced with a teaching emergency that brings back to the center of our life of faith the theme of salvation. Again Dei Verbum reminds us how much has been transmitted and written on the “salvation announcement” (DV 7). The various cultural tendencies present in the modern world have not only perverted the meaning of salvation but they have marginalized it as useless and illusionary. Representing the Word of God in its totality means pointing the scope of its teaching towards the theme of our salvation.



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  1. Commentator says:

    I’m glad to hear that the ‘3 religions of the book’ nonsense has been hit on the head. Yet it was trotted out today at the Synod by Rev. Gunnar STÅLSETT, the emeritus Lutheran ‘bishop’ of Oslo: ‘All the three religions of the Book – Judaism, Christianity and Islam…blah, blah, blah.’

  2. Fr. K says:

    I should be reading these interventions! My thoughts when I first heard the synod topic, “Word of God”, were of the council document, Dei Verbum, specifically, the two sources or fonts. I suspected Pope Benedict had a strategy in beginning his Wednesday audiences going the through the powerful witness of the Early Church Fathers without which we would have difficulty understanding the written Word of God.

  3. Twenty-one years ago, I was a student of then Father Fisichella at the Gregorian University, and his lectures were as obscure and circular as this intervention! But his doctrine was always orthodox. I think what he (and others among the Synod Fathers) is driving at is something like this:

    1. The primary meaning of the Word of God is the Father’s eternal Word, who is God from God. The Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity, God the Son, is the primordial Word by Whom, for Whom, and through Whom all things were made, and He would be the Word of God even if creation, the Incarnation, or divine Revelation had never occurred. He is the Logos tou Theou.

    2. In the fullness of time, the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and so the Lord Jesus is the Incarnate Word. So in the secondary sense, Jesus Christ is the Word of God, and because the sacraments of the New Covenant are the privileged place in which we meet Christ, it is the incarnate Word of God we encounter in the sacred liturgy. This means, of course, that we hear the Word of God in the authentic preaching of the Gospel, and so even before the first word of the New Testament was written, the Word of God was being proclaimed by the Church in the celebration of the sacraments.

    3. Only in the tertiary sense, then, are the Sacred Scriptures the Word of God, and they serve principally to introduce us to the Word of God in the primary and secondary senses. To reduce the concept of “the Word of God” to the Bible is to sunder the Scriptures from their source and purpose and to make that which is tertiary into something primary.

    So, we have the eternal Word, the incarnate Word, and the written Word of God–in that order.

    And yes, there is only one religion of The Book: the false religion of Islam. The reason why the Quran cannot be translated from the original Arabic to any other language is that the Quran holds essentially the same place in Islam as the Lord Jesus holds in Christianity: the Incarnate Word of God.

    We could say that Judaism is the religion of Torah, and Islam is the religion of The Book. But Christianity is the religion of the Word: eternal, incarnate, and written. This is among the many reasons Protestantism ends up without the means to transmit the Gospel: by trying to make Christianity into a religion of the Book, Protestants sever the written Word of God from the eternal and incarnate Word of God (especially in the sacraments) and so ask the Bible to bear a burden it was not intended to bear in the eternal plan of salvation.

  4. Ohio Annie says:

    I have a Koran printed in Saudi Arabia by the official press of King Fahd University which has the Arabic on one side and the English on the facing page so I don’t know why you say the Koran can’t be translated into another language. It has been translated and distributed in lots of languages to help them evangelize. That particular edition is very helpful because it hasn’t been sanitized of its anti-Christian sayings like some of the “poetic” type translations. People like to claim the Moslems respect Mary and Jesus but the opposite is actually the case. Those people use the other types of translations to prove their case. It’s a very repetitive book and not helpful at all in being a good person in my opinion. Most of it has to do with the obligation to kill everybody who isn’t Moslem.

    It’s one thing to have a Book and quite another to have The Word Made Flesh.

  5. Fr. Jay, that was excellent…that was my first thought when I heard that the topic for the synod was going to be the Word of God…I’m thinking Jesus? = Word.

  6. brendon says:


    My understanding is that the Koran is only the literal word of Allah in its original Arabic, since it was supposedly dictated to Muhammad in this language. Translations are, at best, considered helpful in understanding what Allah said, but they are not in themselves the word of Allah. Thus to Muslims, a translated Koran is not technically a Koran, but is rather an aid for use in understanding the Koran.

    I am, of course, no expert on what Muslims believe and could very well be mistaken.

  7. Fr. Clécio says:

    Msgr. Filippo Santoro, episcopus petropolitanus in Brasilia, has the same backgrownd. He has been my professor of History of Ancient Philosophy and Fundamental Theology in the early 90′, before episcopacy. We´ve used Latourelle as main text. Take a look at his speech.

  8. Fabrizio says:

    I’m glad to hear that the ‘3 religions of the book’ nonsense has been hit on the head. Yet it was trotted out today at the Synod by Rev. Gunnar STÅLSETT, the emeritus Lutheran ‘bishop’ of Oslo: ‘All the three religions of the Book – Judaism, Christianity and Islam…blah, blah, blah.’

    well, time and again has the Magisterium of the Church repeated that the “religions of the book” drivel is unsupported by facts and is theologically unaccepptable. It’s just an adaption of a Muslim “theological” justifcation for the status of “dhimmis” in Muslim countries.

    As said in CCC 108:

    the Christian faith is not a “religion of the book”. Christianity is the religion of the “Word” of God, “not a written and mute word, but incarnate and living”.73 If the Scriptures are not to remain a dead letter, Christ, the eternal Word of the living God, must, through the Holy Spirit, “open (our) minds to understand the Scriptures.”74

  9. Todd Drain says:

    To Annie and all,

    The Qur’an is never translated, only “interpreted.” I have at least seven different “interpretations” of the Qur’an, which often vary wildly in the English that is used. There is a fundamental belief that “The Recitation” is perfect, and can then only be perfect in the original Arabic. Translation into any other language would be at best inferior, and at worse blasphemous or corruptive. Any attempt at translation is therefore to be seen only as an “interpretation” of the original.

    It is generally believed by Muslims that the Qur’an itself is a testament to its Divine origin because the Arabic is considered perfect in its diction, poetry and beauty, by all orthodox Muslims. My belief is that the Qur’an is only prater-naturally perfect, since it is a book dictated by an Angel of Light which gives a testament different from that of Jesus Christ.

    On the topic, Father Newman is clearly and undeniably correct in his assessment. We believe in the Word of God, the Divine Logos, Who became incarnate of the Virgin Mary as the Word Incarnate, and after Ascending back to the Father, sent the Holy Ghost to inspire Holy Scripture among every other thing He does, so the Old and New Testament are the holy words of God, not the Word as my former protestant brethren believe. I make the distinction with them, always, that Jesus is the Word and the Bible is Holy Scripture. Do NOT confuse the two.


  10. Annie et al,

    I did not mean to say that the Quran has never been translated; of course, it has. But to an orthodox Muslim a translation of the Quran is equivalent to the desecration of the Most Blessed Sacrament for a Catholic–it is a sacrilege and a crime against the holiness of God. For Christians, on the other hand, the Bible not only may be translated but must be translated, and although only the original languages are understood to be inspired by God and containing no errors in faith or morals, the translated text can nonetheless be called “The Word of God.” My point above was this is a fundamental difference between Christians and Muslims and illustrates why Islam can truly be called a religion of the Book but Christianity cannot be.

  11. Ohio Annie says:

    So that’s why my edition says “with interpretations,” that must refer to the English parts!

  12. John Polhamus says:

    “Many believers when asked what they mean by “Word of God” reply: the Bible. This is not a wrong answer, but it is incomplete…”

    Either the mere written word OR mere social action would indeed an incomplete expression of the Dei Verbum. I think that what he (H.E.) is getting at here is that to perceive the word intellectually, whether by eye, ear or touch, is to be a “hearer of the word”, but not necessarily a “doer” of the word, and to therefore be “deceiving yourselves” according to the verse in the Letter of St. James.

    I have heard this theme very well elaborated upon by Sheridan Gilley, at the London “Faith of our Fathers” conference some years ago. His lecture was upon the use of scripture in Catholic liturgy, and the importance of the enactment of the word by the priest in prayer acting with the willful consent of the faithful, as opposed to the passive intellectual reception of the word in Protestant services, where the emphasis is on homiletics and reading.

    We must therefore both have our priests enact the Word both sacramentaly in our liturgies (in which we actually participate), and as members of the Mystical Body we must carry the enactment of the word out into the world amongst our fellow men.

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