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Gospels tell us what Jesus did, taught

Deacon Owen Cummings

Q — Paragraph 19 of Dei Verbum, Vatican II’s document on scripture says regarding the history contained in the four gospels; “whose historical character the Church unhesitatingly asserts.” This, of course, would be very significant regarding the teachings and deeds of Jesus that they contain. But at Vatican II, Cardinal Franz Koenig of Vienna arose and charged that there were errors in what is reported in the New Testament. Several other bishops supported him and no opposition was expressed to his remarks. Were Cardinal Koenig and the other bishops in error or is Dei Verbum wrong regarding the historical accuracy of the New Testament?

A — You are quite right to say that Vatican II’s Constitution on Divine Revelation, paragraph 19, states unequivocally the historical character of the Gospels. “Holy mother church has firmly and constantly held, and continues to hold and unhesitatingly assert, that the four Gospels are historical documents and faithfully communicate what Jesus, the Son of God, during his life among men and women, actually did and taught for their eternal salvation, until the day when he was taken up (Acts 1:1-2).” That is not to say, of course, as the remainder of paragraph 19 goes on to state and/or to imply, that every event or every saying recorded in the Gospels is equally historically exact. The Constitution insists on a developmental process from the teaching of Jesus himself, through a period of oral tradition that lasted decades, up to the final redaction of the Gospels in the form that we now have them. That process necessarily involves the creative work of the evangelists. I am not familiar with every debate or discussion in the aula of the Council prior to the final promulgation of the text. It would be strange if different points of view were not registered by the Episcopal participants. However, it is the final text of the Constitution that is the teaching of the church, and not the prior remarks in aula of the bishops.

Reader Comments

Posted: Wednesday, April 9, 2014
Article comment by: Bethany Hunt

Thanks to Deacon Owen Cummings for an interesting and accurate reply!

Indeed, Cardinal Koenig was controversial throughout his life, on numerous topics of far-reaching consequence. Some would perhaps say he was in error in many of his most ardent views.

The repercussions of "progressive" ideas such as Cardinal Koenig's we find trickling down to our current day and sowing confusion, even occasionally in the Sentinel.

You rightly point out there were many debates in the Council, and these also are discussed today. Let us pray they are resolved in similar manner, with extremists such as the Cardinal, high-minded though he was, fading into the distance as Holy Mother Church irrevocably asserts God's truth.

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