Fr. David Norman says Vatican II overcame a narrowly intellectual understanding of faith.


Fr. David Norman says Vatican II overcame a narrowly intellectual understanding of faith.

October 22, 2012

Vatican II's document on divine revelation presents Jesus as the source of all revelation while Scripture and Church Tradition are mirrors that reflect Jesus to believers, says a professor at Newman Theological College.

The first draft of the document presented to the Second Vatican Council in 1962 was much different. It portrayed Jesus "as a conduit for revelation" and claimed there are two sources of revelation, Franciscan Father David Norman said in an Oct. 10 talk at the Catholic Pastoral and Administration Offices.

It also showed "the magisterium almost usurping the role of the Church and the role of Jesus," said Norman, a systematic theologian.

Norman spoke as part of a series on Vatican II After 50 Years sponsored by the archdiocesan office of catechesis. About 30 people attended the talk which is also available on a webcast through the archdiocese's website,

The first draft of what in 1965 became the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation (Dei Verbum) described revelation as "a top-down movement" from God through the Old Testament, through Jesus, then through the apostles and evangelists, and finally through the magisterium, the teaching office of the Church, Norman said.

"Revelation is seen primarily as word; it's seen as preaching and teaching," he said. The draft document, then, seeks to establish the authority of those who are preaching the word.

There is, however, not much explanation in the document of who or what the word is, he said.

The first draft also presented revelation as a mix of Scripture and Tradition, failing to realize that Jesus is the one source of revelation, he said.


It further shows believers of today at a great distance from Jesus because of the passing of 2,000 years, Norman said. Revelation is thus a collection of truths contained in a case that is passed down from one generation to the next. "The major concern is not to lose any of it."

"One point that is missing in this text is that revelation is a witness to the mystery of God and the mystery of God can never be completely known or captured."

The document that the fathers of Vatican II approved in 1965 was radically different from the one presented to them three years earlier.

Norman said that from the first words of Dei Verbum, it was clear "the Holy Spirit was at work at Vatican II."

"Revelation is all about God appearing to us and it is about our witnessing this appearing," he said. Rather than convincing of intellectual truths, it aims to establish a fellowship among us and between us and the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Instead of passing on "truths," revelation is about truth "because it is Jesus and no one can chop Jesus up into little truths."


While there is continuity in Church teaching with the past, Dei Verbum also speaks of progress in our understanding, he said.

As well, revelation is not simply about words, but primarily about the deeds of salvation history, he said. Our salvation comes through Jesus' suffering, death, resurrection, sending of the Spirit and sending out of the disciples. "That is all deed."

The result is a faith that is not purely intellectual, Norman said. In the first draft, one who believes all the truths has a complete faith.

"The council fathers here wanted to show that the obedience of faith is something more than giving intellectual assent to a body of truths. Our faith is involved with a person; we're in a relationship with Jesus."

Thus being a person of faith means giving your whole self, not just your mind, to Jesus.

As well, the Church's magisterium is not mentioned until article 10 of Dei Verbum where it is maintained that, rather than being above Scripture and Tradition, the magisterium is the servant of God's revelation, Norman said.