Friday, August 24, 2007

Scripture: Five Church Documents on Scripture

As a precursor to my treatment of Historia Salutis, I will summarize the five documents I have read prior to it, which are, to the best of my knowledge, primary referential sources for the lineamenta of the upcoming Synod of Bishops.

1. Dei Filius - Conciliar Constitution on the Catholic Faith, First Vatican Council (April 24, 1870)

In six parts -- an introduction, four chapters, and a section of canons based on the four chapters -- this document summarizes the fruits of the Council of Trent (1545-1563), while lamenting the state of affairs that brought it about (cf. nos. 3, 5-7). Against this background it establishes continuity with the Council and purposes to "profess and declare from this chair of Peter before all eyes the saving teaching of Christ, and, by the power given us by God, to reject and condemn the contrary errors" (no. 10). One such error is that heretics springing from the Reformation no longer held the Holy Bible, "which they at one time claimed to be the sole source and judge of the Christian faith [...] to be divine [but] began to assimilate it to the inventions of myth" (no. 6).

Chapter 2 ("On Revelation") professes that "supernatural revelation [...] is contained in written books and unwritten traditions, which were received by the apostles from the lips of Christ himself, or came to the apostles by the dictation of the Holy Spirit, and were passed on as it were from hand to hand" (c. 2, no. 5). Furthermore, it reaffirms the contents of sacred Scripture: "The complete books of the old and the new Testament with all their parts, as they are listed in the decree of the [Council of Trent] and as they are found in the old Latin Vulgate edition" (c. 2, no. 6). The Church recognizes these as "sacred and canonical not because she subsequently approved them by her authority after they had been composed by unaided human skill, not simply because they contain revelation without error, but because, being written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they have God as their author, and were as such committed to the Church" (c. 2, no. 7). It also affirms that "Holy mother Church" is the rightful "judge of the true meaning and interpretation of the Holy Scripture" (c. 2, no. 8).

2. Providentissimus Deus - On the Study of Holy Scripture, Pope Leo XIII (November 18, 1893)

This encyclical of Pope Leo XIII urges the whole Church -- clergy and laity -- to approach Holy Scripture with enthusiasm, respect, and a desire to learn from the Holy Spirit. The Pope desires "that this grand source of Catholic revelation should be made safely and abundantly accessible to the flock of Jesus Christ" (no. 2) and wishes that "all, therefore, especially the novices of the ecclesiastical army, understand how deeply the sacred Books should be esteemed, and with what eagerness and reverence they should approach this great arsenal of heavenly arms" (no. 3). The Church recognizes that renewed interest in the original languages of the Scriptures "gave a strong impetus to Biblical studies" (no. 8; cf. no. 17), and that history shows the "the Church has never failed in taking due measures to bring the Scriptures within reach of her children" (no. 8).

The Holy Father admonishes as "foolish and improvident [those preachers] who, in speaking of religion and proclaiming the things of God, use no words but those of human science and human prudence, trusting to their own reasonings rather than to those of God" (no. 4); he intones the warning of St. Augustine that "vainly does the preacher utter the Word of God exteriorly unless he listens to it interiorly" (no. 5).

Then he writes about the proper way to study Holy Scripture, as opposed to "relying on private judgment and repudiating the divine traditions and teaching office of the Church" (no. 10). First and foremost is the necessary belief in the inspiration of Scripture and the reality of revelation and miracles, in the face of Rationalists who deny the existence of "revelation" or "inspiration", who see Scripture as "stupid fables and lying stories", who regard "the prophecies and the oracles of God" as written after the fact, and who relegate miracles to "mere tricks and myths" (ibid).

When it comes to the matter of interpretation of the Scriptures, Pope Leo XIII quotes St. Irenaeus, that "where the charismata of God were, there the truth was to be learnt, and that Holy Scripture was safely interpreted by those who had the Apostolic succession" (no. 14). As regards what has not yet been definitively interpreted, "such labors may, in the benignant providence of God, prepare for and bring to maturity the judgment of the Church"; as regards what has been definitively interpreted, "the private student may do work equally valuable, either by setting them forth more clearly to the flock and more skilfully to scholars, or by defending them more powerfully from hostile attack" (ibid). Thus the first objective of a Catholic commentator should be "to interpret those passages which have received an authentic interpretation [...] in that identical sense, and to prove, by all the resources of science, that sound hermeneutical laws admit of no other interpretation" (ibid). This is not a tactic to prevent the pursuit of Biblical science, but rather to protect it from error and to provide it a real opportunity for progress.

It is advised to follow in the footsteps of the Church Fathers and Doctors and make use of their commentaries; but to pass by the Catholic exegesis and "have recourse to the works of non-Catholics" for the purpose of finding alternative explanations to those passages "on which Catholics long ago have successfully employed their talent and labor" is "most unbecoming" (no. 15). It is not that there is no value to be found in non-Catholic studies ("used with prudence") but "the sense of Holy Scripture can nowhere be found incorrupt outside of the Church, and cannot be expected to be found in writers who, being without the true fatih, only gnaw the bark of the Sacred Scripture, and never attain its pith" (ibid). This sentiment is found in the writings of many of the early Christian (St. Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, and St. Hilary just to name a few).

In order to maintain the authority of the Church's interpretation of the Bible, it is necessary, from Scripture, to produce evidence for that authority: "since the divine and infallible magisterium of the Church rests also on the authority of Holy Scripture, the first thing to be done is to vindicate the trustworthiness of the sacred records at least as human documents, from which can be clearly proved [...] the Divinity and mission of Christ our Lord, the institution of a hierarchical Church and the primacy of Peter and his successors" (no. 17).

His Holiness also covers the issue of error in the Bible. First, he deals with "those who [...] minutely scrutinize the Sacred Book in order to detect the writes in a mistake" (no. 18) and thereby discount Scripture in its entirety; exposure to such attacks can mortally wound the faith of the masses, especially the young. He quotes St. Augustine: "Whatever they can really demonstrate to be true of physical nature, we must show to be capable of reconciliation with our Scriptures; and whatever they assert in their treatises which is contrary to these Scriptures of ours, that is to Catholic faith, we must either prove it as well as we can to be entirely false, or at all events we must, without the smallest hesitation, believe it to be so" (no. 18; De Gen. ad litt. i, 21, 41). St. Augustine continues this thought and writes that the Holy Spirit "Who spoke by [the sacred writers] did not intend to teach men these things (that is to say, the essential nature of the things of the visible universe), things in no way profitable unto salvation" (no. 18; ibid ii., 9, 20). The Pope explains thus: "they did not seek to penetrate the secrets of nature, but rather described and dealt with things in more or less figurative language, or in terms which were commonly used at the time" (no. 18).

It is "impossible that God Himself, the Supreme Truth, can utter that which is not true" (no. 20), so when an error is found, it must be accounted for. One crack through which error can seep is "that copyists have made mistakes in the text of the Bible" (ibid). However, the Pope cautions that this cannot be "too easily admitted, but only in those passages where the proof is clear" (ibid). In other words, the "scribal error" defense cannot be the first recourse when a difficulty is encountered. But it is forbidden "either to narrow inspiration to certain parts only of Holy Scripture, or to admit that the sacred writer has erred" (ibid). In explicitly defining what this inspiration entails, he states that "He so moved and impelled them to write -- He was so present to them -- that the things which He ordered, and those only, they, first rightly understood, then willed faithfully to write down, and finally expressed in apt words and with infallible truth" (ibid). As St. Augustine wrote to St. Jerome, "if in these Books I meet anything which seems contrary to truth, I shall not hesitate to conclude that the text is faulty, or that the translator has not expressed the meaning of the passage, or that I myself do not understand" (no. 21; Epistle 82, i, 3).

The Pope speaks of the necessity for cooperation from "all those Catholics who have acquired reputation in any branch of learning whatsoever" (no. 22), for "the bitter tongues of objectors will be silenced [...] when they see that scientific men of eminence in their profession show towards faith the most marked honor and respect" (ibid).

He summarizes by restating that all the faithful should "loyally hold that God, the Creator and Ruler of all things, is also the Author of the Scriptures -- and that therefore nothing can be proved either by physical science or archeology which can really contradict the Scriptures" (no. 23), and that when contradictions appear to arise, "truth cannot contradict truth" -- that is, the truth in the Scripture and the truth in the natural world, as they are the work of the same Creator -- "and we may be sure that some mistake has been made either in the interpretation of the sacred words, or in the polemical discussion itself" (ibid). Finally, he urges us "the Church always to approach the Sacred Writings with reverence and piety" (no. 24).

3. Divino Afflante Spiritu - On Promoting Biblical Studies, Pope Pius XII (September 30, 1943)

This encyclical, issued on the fiftieth anniversary of Providentissimus Deus, affirms and clarifies the position of Pope Leo XIII. It recognizes the previous encyclical as "the supreme guide in biblical studies" (no. 2). Pope Pius XII then goes on to summarize the work of his predecessors in the field of biblical study. He completes this summary by drawing attention to the fact that "the conditions of biblical studies and their subsidiary sciences have greatly changed" (no. 10) since Providentissimus Deus, mentioning in particular the excavations in Palestine. He also explains the situation that brought about the dependency on the Latin Vulgate translation: "knowledge even of the Greek language had long since become so rare in the West, that even the greatest Doctors of [the middle ages], in their exposition of the Sacred Text, had recourse only to the Latin version" (no. 14).

The Holy Father brings this up because of the increasing availability of the Scriptures in their original languages. Indeed, "the original text [...] written by the inspired author [...] has more authority and greater weight than any even the very best translation, whether ancient or modern" (no. 16). He then clarifies that the Council of Trent's declaration "that the old Latin Vulgate Edition, which, in use for so many hundred years, has been approved by the Church, be in public lectures, disputations, sermons and expositions held as authentic" (Council of Trent, Session IV, Decree Concerning the Edition and Use of the Sacred Books) "applies only to the Latin Church and to the public use of the same Scriptures; nor does it, doubtless, in any way diminish the authority and value of the original texts" (no. 21). The Council also did not forbid the making of "translations into the [common language], even directly from the original texts themselves" (no. 22).

As pertains to interpretation, he writes that the "foremost and greatest endeavor [of interpreters] should be to discern and define clearly that sense of the biblical words which is called literal" (no. 23), and that as what took place in the Old Testament "was ordained and disposed by God with such consummate wisdom, that things past prefigured in a spiritual way those that were to come" (no. 24), the exegete must also search to understand the "spiritual sense, provided it is clearly intended by God [Who] alone could have known this spiritual meaning and have revealed it to us" (ibid). He writes with hope for the present studying of Scripture to produce fruits, since "not a few things, especially in matters pertaining to history, were scarcely at all or not fully explained by the commentators of past ages" (no. 31). He also notes the "oft-repeated efforts of many of [the Fathers] to explain the first chapters of Genesis" (ibid).

Then Pope Pius XII treats of the nature of the inspiration of the human writers, and recognizes how Catholic theologians have "explained the nature and effects of biblical inspiration more exactly and more fully than was wont to be done in previous ages" (no. 33). The level of precision offered by the Pope is thus: "the inspired writer, in composing the sacred book, is the living and reasonable instrument of the Holy Spirit [using] his faculties and powers" (ibid). It is important, therefore, for the exegete to determine "the peculiar character and circumstances of the sacred writer, the age in which he lived, the sources written or oral to which he had recourse and the forms of expression he employed" (ibid) as well as "to whom and why he wrote" (no. 34; Athanasius, Contra Arianos I, 54).

On the topic of apparent error in Scripture, frequently when one comes across "historical error or inaccuracy in recording of facts, on closer examination it turns out to be nothing else than those customary modes of expressions and narration peculiar to the ancients" (no. 38). This can be detected by paying attention to the "manner of expression or the literary mode adopted by the sacred writer [leading] to a correct and genuine interpretation" (ibid). To aid this genuine interpretation, those who study the Scriptures should also pay attention to discoveries in the "domain of archeology or in ancient history or literature, which serve to make better known the mentality of the ancient writers, as well as their manner and art of reasoning, narrating and writing" (no. 40).

His Holiness also offers wisdom when particular puzzles in Scripture seem too difficult to solve: "perhaps a successful conclusion may be reserved to posterity [so] let us not wax impatient thereat" (no. 45). He also draws from St. Augustine the possibility that "God wished difficulties to be scattered through the Sacred Books inspired by Him, in order that we might be urged to read and scrutinize them more intently" (ibid). He also readily admits that "in the immense matter contained in the Sacred books [...] there are but few texts whose sense has been defined by the authority of the Church, nor are those more numerous about which the teaching of the Holy Fathers is unanimous" (no. 47). But he then reminds us that Scripture was not "given by God to men to satisfy their curiosity or to provide them with material for study and research" (no. 49) but to "instruct us to salvation, by the faith which is in Christ Jesus [...] that the man of God may be perfect, furnished to every good work" (no. 49; 2 Tim 3:15,17).

He gives instruction to priests (such as giving sound Scriptural homilies, cf. no. 50) and bishops (such as helping those associations which seek to spread copies of the Bible -- translated, as liturgical laws permit -- to the faithful, cf. no. 51). Finally, he affirms that "men more fully know, more ardently love and faithfully imitate [Christ] in proportion as they are more assiduously urged to know and meditate the Sacred Letters, especially the New Testament" (no. 57). There, in the Holy Gospels, "Christ, the highest and greatest example of justice, charity and mercy, is present to all" (no. 58).

4. Sancta Mater Ecclesia - On the Historicity of the Gospels, Pontifical Commission for Biblical Studies (April 21, 1964)

This instruction is addressed to commentators, seminary teachers, preachers, and biblical associations, and provides them with exegetical norms. In its preface, it states that there "will never be a lack of problems in explaining God's word and trying to solve vexing difficulties" (Preface), but instead of being frustrated, the Catholic exegete "should strive diligently to clarify the true meaning of Scripture, relying on his own forces and, most of all, on God's help and the Church's guiding light" (ibid). It reminds the exegete that "even such illustrious commentators as St. Jerome sometimes had relatively little success in explaining more difficult questions" (ibid, "Progress in Catholic Exegesis"). The primary focus of this document is addressing "many writings in circulation [which] question the truth of the events and sayings reported in the Gospels" (ibid, "Exegesis Important Today").

It establishes general guidelines for exegetes, describing the historical method, suggested by Pope Pius XII, which "thoroughly investigates the sources, and analyzes their nature and value, relying on the help of textual criticism, literary criticism, and linguistic knowledge" (I, "The Historical Method"; cf. Divino Afflante Spiritu, no. 38). Caution is raised about the use of "form criticism" which "is often interlaced with inadmissible philosophical and theological principles" (I, "Form Criticism"). In particular, the Pontifical Commission for Biblical Studies states that there are rationalistic proponents of this method who "refuse to recognize the existence of a supernatural order", "deny the intervention of a personal God", "reject the possibility or actual occurrence of miracles and prophecies", "deny [a priori] the historical nature and historical value of the documents of Revelation", and "minimize the authority of the Apostles as witnesses to Christ" (I, "Erroneous Premises").

The instruction identifies three stages of the tradition through which the Gospel message comes to us. The preaching of Jesus was done in the "forms of thought and expression prevailing at that time" (II, 1, "Our Lord's Teaching"); in this way Jesus "adapted Himself to the mentality of His audience so that His teaching would be firmly impressed on their minds and easily remembered by His disciples" (ibid). The Apostles "faithfully set forth His life and His words, adapting the format of their preaching to the condition of their audience" (II, 2, "The Apostles' Teaching). In their preaching, they did not "transform Him into a 'mythological' figure, or distort His teaching" (ibid). As Jesus interpreted "His own words and those of the Old Testament" to the disciples on the road to Emmaus, so did the Apostles explain "His deeds and words according to the needs of their audience" (ibid). The Apostles employed distinguishable literary genres in their preaching: "catechetical formulas, narrative reports, etewitness accounts, hymns, doxologies, [and] prayers" (ibid). Finally, the Evangelists wrote down the "primitive instruction [which] was passed on orally at first" (II, 3, "The Four Evangelists"); in doing so, each used "all approaches suited to his specific purpose" (ibid). "From the material available to them the Evangelists selected those items most suited to their specific purpose and to the condition of a particular audience [and] narrated these events in the manner most suited to satisfy their purpose and their audience's condition" (ibid).

In order to emphasize a particular meaning of Christ's deeds or words, "the Evangelists reported [them] in varying contexts, choosing whichever one would be of greatest help to the reader in trying to understand a particular utterance" (II, "Context"). However, the truth of the Gospel account "is not compromised because the Evangelists report the Lord's words and deeds in different order [nor because] they report His words, not literally but in a variety of ways, while retaining the same meaning" (II, "Order of Treatment"; cf. St. John Chrysostom, in Mat., Hom. 1, 6; cf. St. Augustine, De consensu Evang., 2, XII, 28). St. Augustine offers this rationale:
[It] is reasonable enough to suppose that each of the evangelists believed it to have been his duty to relate what he had to relate in that order in which it had pleased God to suggest to his recollection the matters he was engaged in recording. At least this might hold good in the case of those incidents with regard to which the question of order, whether it were this or that, detracted nothing from evangelical authority and truth. But as to the reason why the Holy Spirit, who divideth to every man severally as He will, (1 Cor 12:11) and who therefore undoubtedly, with a view to the establishing of their books on so distinguished an eminence of authority, also governs and rules the minds of the holy men themselves in the matter of suggesting the things they were to commit to writing, has left one historian at liberty to construct his narrative in one way, and another in a different fashion, that is a question which any one may look into with pious consideration, and for which, by divine help, the answer also may possibly be found. (De consensu Evang., 2, XXI, 51-52)
So then it is the duty of the exegete to consider "all the factors involved in the origin and composition of the Gospels" (II, "Consequences for the Exegete"). In his analysis, "he should always be prepared to obey the Magisterium of the Church" (ibid). It must also be remembered that, as "the apostles were filled with the Holy Spirit when they preached the good news [so too] the Gospels were written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, who preserved their authors from every error" (ibid).

The chief concern of seminary teachers should be "to teach Scripture in accordance with the seriousness of the subject and the needs of the day" (III; Apostolic Letter of Pope Pius X Quoniam in re biblica). They should teach their students to identify literary devices in Scripture and show them "how these devices help us understand revealed doctrine more clearly, or if the occasion arises, to refute errors" (III, "Use of Literary Criticism").

Of preachers, the Commission demands "the highest degree of prudence [giving] first place to solid doctrine" (IV). Preachers are reminded of the words of St. Paul in 1 Tim 4:16: "Take heed to yourself and to your teaching, be earnest in them. For in so doing you will save both yourself and those who hear you." They are to "abstain completely from advancing vain new theories or ones which lack sufficient proof" (IV). Prudence is also to be cultivated by "those whose writings are circulated among the faithful" (IV, "Writers"). They should "bring out the divine riches contained in God's word" (ibid) and "scrupulously avoid departing, at any time or in any way, from the common doctrine and tradition of the Church" (ibid). The Commission reminds people that "books and articles in magazines and newspapers, which deal with biblical topics, are also subject to the authority and jurisdiction of Ordinaries" (IV, "Books and Articles").

5. Dei Verbum - On Divine Revelation, Pope Paul VI (November 18, 1965)

This is the Second Vatican Council's decree on Divine Revelation; in a preface and six chapters it summarizes the Church's understanding of revelation and how it pertains to Tradition, Scripture, and its interpretation. The preface states the goal of the document is to "set forth authentic doctrine on divine revelation and how it is handed on, so that by hearing the message of salvation the whole world may believe, by believing it may hope, and by hoping it may love" (Preface; cf. St. Augustine, De Catechizandis Rudibus, c. IV 8). Belief (faith), hope, and love (charity) are the fruits of revelation.

The first chapter treats of revelation itself. Through God's revelation of Himself through Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, to us, man has access to the Father through the Holy Spirit (cf. no. 2). This revelation makes known to us "the deepest truth about God" and as a result "the salvation of man shines out for our sake in Christ, who is both the mediator and the fullness of all revelation" (no. 2). God "prepared the way for the Gospel down through the centuries" (no. 3), starting with our first parents. Even when they fell, "His promise of redemption aroused in them the hope of being saved" (ibid; cf. Gen 3:15). Finally, "after speaking in many and varied ways through the prophets" (no. 4), God spoke to us clearly in His Son (cf. Heb 1:1-2).

Jesus therefore "perfected revelation by fulfilling it through his whole work [...] especially through His death and glorious resurrection from the dead and final sending of the Spirit of truth" (no. 4). Therefore, the New Covenant in Christ is "the new and definitive covenant [that] will never pass away" (ibid); furthermore, we expect "no further public revelation before the glorious manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ" (ibid). While God Himself "can be known with certainty from created reality" (no. 6; cf. Rom 1:20), God makes His will known to us through divine revelation: "He chose to share with [us] those divine treaures which totally transcend the understanding of the human mind" (no. 6).

The second chapter explains how divine revelation is handed on. In order that all generations may have access to Him through Jesus Christ, "God has seen to it that what He had revealed for the salvation of all nations would abide perpetually in its full integrity and be handed on" through the Apostles and their successors, kpeeing the Gospel "forever whole and alive within the Church" (no. 7). The revelation possessed by the Church "includes everything which contributes toward the holiness of life and increase in faith of the peoples of God" (no. 8). Coming from the Apostles, this tradition "develop[s] in the Church with the help of the Holy Spirit" (ibid). As time goes on, "the Church constantly moves forward toward the fullness of divine truth until the words of God reach their complete fulfillment in her" (ibid).

This does not mean that the Church does not have "the fullness of divine truth", but rather that it will only be completely realized (i.e. made real) when all that God has decreed has come to pass. For example, the early Church (before Cornelius in Acts 10) did not include Gentiles, but the divine truth in the Church of the plan of salvation included Gentiles. It was only when the authority of the Church realized this that Gentiles were baptized into Christ.

This "mov[ing] forward toward the fullness of divine truth" means we have a "living tradition", through which (in the fullness of time) "the Church's full canon of the sacred books" was made known, as well as our growing understanding of Scripture (ibid). Scripture and Tradition, then, are closely linked, "flowing from the same divine wellspring" (no. 9). Scripture "is the word of God inasmuch as its is consigned to writing under the inspiration of the divine Spirit", while Tradition "takes the word of God entrusted by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit to the Apostles, and hands it on to their successors in its full purity" (ibid). The task authentically interpret both Scripture and Tradition "has been entrusted exclusively to the living teaching office of the Church" (no. 10; cf. Humani Generis, nos. 8, 18, 21). Scripture, Tradition, and Authority "in accord with God's most wise design, are so linked and joined together that one cannot stand without the others, and that all together and each in its own way under the action of the one Holy Spirit contribute effectively to the salvation of souls" (no. 10).

The third chapter talks about Scripture, its inspiration, and divine interpretation. First and foremost, it reaffirms that the "divinely revealed realities which are contained and presented in Sacred Scripture have been committed to writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit" (no. 11). The humans responsible for penning Scripture where chosen by God and "while employed by Him they made use of their powers and abilities so that with Him acting in them and through them, they, as true authors, consigned to writing everything and only those things which He wanted" (ibid). Thus, "the books of Scripture must be acknowledged as teaching solidly, faithfully and without error that truth which God wanted to put into sacred writings for the sake salvation" (ibid).

It also recognizes the human elements of their composition: their language, their words, their idioms, their literary styles (cf. no. 12). It is necessary to understand these things for Holy Scripture to be "read and interpreted in the sacred spirit in which it was written" (no. 12). Thus, "while the truth and holiness of God always remains intact [...] the words of God, expressed in human language, have been made like human discourse" (no. 13). This is done to the same degree as was the Incarnation. God "took to Himself the flesh of human weakness" (ibid) and was like in us in every way except sin; so His word (i.e. revelation) takes to itself the language of humans, like our language in every way except error.

The fourth and fifth chapters deal separately with the Old and New Testaments. God "chose for Himself a people to whom He would entrust His promises", and this "plan of salvation foretold [...] is found as the true word of God in the books of the Old Testament" (no. 14). The books of the Old Testament then, being divinely inspired, "remain permanently valuable" (ibid). The revelation of the old covenant "was directed to prepare for the coming of Christ, the redeemer of all and of the messianic kingdom, to announce this coming by prophecy, and to indicate its meaning through various types" (no. 15). They contain the "mystery of our salvation [...] in a hidden way" and thus "Christians should receive them with reverence" (ibid): as St. Augustine wrote in Quest. in Hept., 2, 73, "Novum in Vetere latet et in Novo Vetus patet" ("The New [Testament] is in the Old concealed, the Old is in the New revealed"), since God is the Author of both (cf. no. 16).

The message of salvation "is set forth and shows its power in a most excellent way in the writings of the New Testament", because the mystery was manifested to the Apostles in a way surpassing the manifestations to earlier prophets (no. 17). The Gospels are preeminent in this regard, because "they are the principal witness for the life and teaching of the Incarnate Word, our Savior" (no. 18). The Church has held throughout its history and continues to hold "that the four Gospels are of apostolic origin", because "what the Apostles preached in fulfillment of the commission of Christ, afterwards they themselves and apostolic men, under the inspiration of the divine Spirit, handed on to us in writing: the foundation of faith, namely, the fourfold Gospel" (ibid).

The four accounts of the Gospel -- by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John -- have a "historical character [which] the Church unhesitatingly asserts [and] faithfully hand on what Jesus Christ, while living among men, really did and taught for their eternal salvation" (no. 19). Their authors "wrote the four Gospels, selecting some things from the many which had been handed on by word of mouth or in writing, reducing some of them to a synthesis, explaining some things in view of the situation of their churches and preserving the form of proclamation but always in such fashion that they told us the honest truth about Jesus" (ibid). In addition to the Gospels, the Church recognizes the letters of Paul and other works of apostolic origin, just as divinely inspired, "by which, according to the wise plan of God, those matters which concern Christ the Lord are confirmed, His true teaching is more and more fully state, the saving power of the divine work of Christ is preached, the story is told of the beginnings of the CHurch and its marvelous growth, and its glorious fulfillment is foretold" (no. 20).

The sixth chapter deals with Scripture in the life of the Church (which is intrinsically related to the topic of the upcoming Synod of Bishops). The Church venerates Scripture in the same way that she venerates the Eucharist, since they convey to us the "bread of life from the table both of God's word and of Christ's body" (no. 21). The Church wishes that all the faithful have easy access to Scripture, which in the past has resulted in the Vulgate translation (among others), and today is sen by her care "that suitable and correct translations are made into different languages, especially from the original texts of the sacred books" (no. 22). In addition, "should the opportunity arise and the Church authorities approve, if these translations are produced in cooperation with the separated brethren as well, all Christians will be able to use them" (ibid). In addition to Scripture, the Church highly esteems and "encourages the study of the holy Fathers of both East and West and of sacred liturgies" (no. 23).

The foundation of our theology is "the written word of God, together with sacred tradition" (no. 24). Scripture, which is the "soul of sacred theology", nourishes all "pastoral preaching, catechetics and all Christian instruction, in which the liturgical homily must hold the foremost place" (ibid). Therefore, "all clergy must hold fast to the Sacred Scriptures through diligent sacred reading and careful study", especially those who preach, "since they must share the abundant wealth of the divine word with the faithful committed to them" (no. 25). This study of Scripture should always be accompanied by prayer, for "we speak to Him when we pray; we hear Him when we read the divine saying" (ibid; St. Ambrose, On the Duties of Ministers I, 20, 88).

To aid non-Christians (and the faithful as well), "editions of the Sacred Scriptures, provided with suitable footnotes, should be prepared" (no. 25) and distributed generously. For, "as the life of the Church is strengthened through more frequent celebration of the Eucharistic mystery, similar we may hope for a new stimulus for the life of the Spirit from a growing reverence for the word of God" (no. 26).

3 comments:

preacherman said...

God is truth.
His word is truth.
We must respect the Word of God because it is truth. Pure. Holy.
Is this what all this is trying to say?

japhy said...

That's some of what these documents say. Let me try to give some bullet points. (When I say "human author" below, I mean the original man to whom the revelation from God was given, recognizing that God Himself is the true Author of Scripture.)

* ALL Scripture is EQUALLY inspired by God and is therefore IMMUNE from error; one cannot limit the inspiration to only parts of Scripture (PD 20; DAS 38; SME II; DV 11-13)

* The Old Testament is just as inspired and valuable to Christians as the New Testament, ALTHOUGH the revelation of God in Christ is manifest most clearly in the New Testament (DF 2.6-7; DAS 24, 57; DV 14-18)

* While God is the Author of Scripture, His words take on characteristics of our words (much as the Word took on our nature when He became flesh), which is why Scripture is written in the styles and phrases common to their human authors (DAS 38-40; SME I-II; DV 12)

* The human authors were moved to write that which God ordered and nothing besides (PD 20; DV 11)

* The human authors wrote (as directed) to particular audiences and for particular reasons that are made evident in the way in which they have written (SME II; DV 19)

* It is important to study Scripture in the context of the living history of the Church, but not ignoring the current offerings of literary sciences; authentic interpretation of Scripture is granted to the teaching Magisterium of the Church (PD 10, 14; DAS 10, 40; SME II; DV 23)

preacherman said...

Japhy,
Thanks for making it clear.
I appreciate it.