Appeared in Spring 1997, Vol. XXIII, No. 1 Download PDF here  

I. Was Spiritus Paraclitus Rendered Obsolete by Divino Afflante Spiritu?

September 1995 marked the seventy-fifth anniversary of a highly significant document of the Catholic Church’s Magisterium: the Encyclical Letter Spiritus Paraclitus, issued by Pope Benedict XV on September 15, 1920, to mark the 1500th anniversary of the death of the greatest Scripture scholar of the ancient Church, St. Jerome.1The Pontiff took advantage of that landmark centenary for laying down in this encyclical further norms and guidelines for exegetes, a quarter-century after the promulgation of the great magna carta of modem Catholic biblical studies, Leo XIII’s Encyclical Providentissimus Deus (November 18, 1893).

The Catholic press made little if any mention of the anniversary of Spiritus Paraclitus, which in truth is now an almost forgotten encyclical. Indeed, on the rare occasions when it is remembered at all by today’s most prominent Scripture scholars, the context usually appears to be one of disdain for its doctrine and regret for its allegedly negative effect on biblical scholarship. For instance, Fr. Joseph A. Fitzmyer, in a recently published commentary on the 1993 document of the Pontifical Biblical Commission, feels it appropriate to express quite the opposite of gratitude for Spiritus Paraclitus. He does not find Benedict XV’s encyclical worthy of mention in the main text of his historical account of the Catholic biblical movement, but writes in a footnote:

If we are grateful today for the encyclicals of Popes Leo XIII and Pius XII on biblical studies, we have to recall that between them there also appeared the encyclical of Pope Benedict XV, Spiritus Paraclitus,… commemorating the fifteenth centenary of the death of St. Jerome. In its reaction to the Modernism of the early decades of the century, this encyclical developed a negative approach to Scripture, insisting on its inerrancy and, in effect, denying that one had to interpret the Bible according to its literary forms. The impact of the encyclical of Pope Benedict XV was stifling.2

In spite of this currently fashionable disqualifying of Spiritus Paraclitus-or perhaps because of it-its message has arguably never been more relevant than it is now. We will therefore examine Pope Benedict’s encyclical, and the reasons why it has lately fallen into oblivion and even disrepute, in the wider context of the recent history of Catholic biblical studies-and, in particular, of the very one-sided version of that history which, although it has reigned practically unquestioned among Catholic Scripture scholars since the 1960s, stands in need of critical examination.

Pope Benedict XV

A. The Revisionist Reading of Divino afflante Spiritu

Among exegetes and teachers of Scripture over the last three or four decades, it has become a commonplace observation that the year 1943 marked a watershed in the history of the Catholic Church’s approach to the Bible. The vast heritage of biblical exegesis and commentaries produced by the great Fathers and Doctors of the Church over nineteen centuries tends to be regarded mainly as a collection of pious but “pre-critical” museum-pieces of little practical use to the modem student of Scripture; and, although Leo XIII’s landmark encyclical Providentissimus Deus of 1893 is recognized as having begun a new chapter by prompting a more serious Catholic response to the challenges resulting from nineteenth-century scientific and historical research, scholarly progress is said to have been generally suffocated by the `anti-modernist reaction’ of Church authorities initiated by Pope St. Plus X in 1907, until Pius XII supposedly flung wide the gates of free enquiry and opened the door to `scientific’ biblical studies with his 1943 encyclical Divino afflante Spiritu. After a period of sometimes tense debate within the Church regarding the validity of these new and even `revolutionary’ orientations, Pius XII’s `liberating’ vision, we are told, was vindicated triumphantly at Vatican Council II with the promulgation of the Constitution on Divine Revelation, Dei Verbum.3

But what, exactly, was supposed to have been so radically new about Divino afflante Spiritu? It is significant that this characterization of Pius XII’s encyclical seems not to have been expounded publicly before his death in 1958. Had there perhaps been some awareness, while Pius XII was still alive and active, that the Pope who had issued Humani generis not long after Divino afflante Spiritu, as a severe warning against new and perilous trends in theology and exegesis, might be more than a little displeased at being depicted as a bold innovator in biblical scholarship, intent on relaxing his predecessors’ restrictions? Certainly, when Pius XII was first prominently portrayed in that light two years after his death (in an editorial in the prestigious Roman review La Civilta Cattolica4), this `revisionist’ reading of his encyclical on Scripture studies proved to be very controversial5

Now, although such controversy appears to have long since subsided, with the revisionist view having now become totally conventional, this view is in fact historically very questionable, not only in regard to Divino afflante Spiritu itself, but also in regard to the relationship of this document to the two preceding papal encyclicals dedicated to Scripture studies. Admittedly, this writer has no particular quarrel with conventional modern accounts of the first of these, since they usually recognize the factthat Pope Leo XIII’s aim in promulgating Providentissimus Deus (1893) was a balanced one: he sought to combat liberal interpretations of Scripture which effectively denied its inspiration and inerrancy; but at the same time he wished to promote sound critical scholarship as a means of refuting these attacks on the Bible’s divine origin.6


Pope Pius XII

The trouble begins with what today’s biblical scholars usually say about the half-century after the publication of Providentissimus-in the middle of which period came Spiritus Paraclitus of Benedict XV We are commonly presented with a starkly polarized view of the pre- and post-1943 periods respectively. Fr. Fitzmyer’s portrayal of this contrast is rather typical by virtue of its exaggerations, and by the nonchalance with which it dismisses decades of grave magisterial teaching with pejorative labels. He writes:

It is difficult, however, for us today to realize the dark cloud of reactionism that hung over the Catholic interpretation of the Bible in the first half of the twentieth century. Part of it was occasioned by the Church’s general reaction to the rationalism of the nineteenth century, especially to the Modernism that developed within the Church at that time. Part of it was the result of specific Church documents that stemmed from the highest authorities in the Church, from the Pope, Sacred Congregations, and the Biblical Commission.7

At this point Fr. Fitzmyer adds a footnote in which, after making the uncomplimentary remarks about Spiritus Paraclitus quoted at the beginning of this essay, he speaks with little respect about the original Pontifical Biblical Commission. This, unlike the body which bears that title today, was an organ of the Magisterium whose decrees were (and arguably still are, de jure if not de facto8) binding in conscience on all Catholics. Our author asserts:

Between the encyclicals of Popes Leo XIII and Pius XII there was also the activity of the watchdog Biblical Commission with its responsa, issued over more than thirty years. They created fear and suspicion about everything connected with the Bible so that clergy and faithful alike suspected anyone who tried to interpret it as dangerous and almost unorthodox. The Apostolic Letter by which Pope Leo XIII set up the Biblical Commission was entitled Vigilan tice,… a title which set the tone and summed up the work of the Commission for close to forty years.9

Now, it is a historical fact that the overwhelming majority of the many learned articles, books and lectures produced everywhere by Catholic exegetes during that period loyally obeyed the pertinent magisterial documents and were never “suspected” of being “dangerous and almost unorthodox.”” Fr. Fitzmyer’s remarks therefore imply that, from his `critical’ standpoint, the magisterially-approved professors responsible for that extensive array of biblical material never even “tried to interpret” Scripture-much less succeeded in interpreting it! He cites no evidence in support of this aspersion cast upon a whole generation of his scholarly forerunners-probably because he is aware that his intended audience will need no convincing on this point. Those Catholics who question the `established’ thesis of a complete magisterial volte-face on Scripture after 1943 are few and far between.

While Fr. Fitzmyer sees gloom and trepidation as having surrounded Catholic Scripture studies everywhere before the time of Pius XII, he applauds this pontiff as the author of the great “liberating document,”” Divino afflante Spiritu. Still seeking an answer to the question we have already raised as to why this intervention is now judged to have been so “liberating” and “revolutionary” after the “stifling” and “negative” influence of Spiritus Paraclitus, we read:

Fifty years later [i.e., after Providentissimus Deus] Pope Pius XII composed another important encyclical on the promotion of biblical studies, Divino afflante Spiritu, issued on the feast of St. Jerome, 30 September 1943. That writing of Pius XII was likewise occasioned by the needs of the time, but they were of a different sort. They stemmed mainly from people within the Catholic Church, especially those who sought to steer the faithful away from the use of a critical-scientific method of interpreting the Bible toward a more “meditative” or “spiritual” type of exegesis. Pius XII’s encyclical was in reality far more significant than that of Leo XIII and was, in fact, revolutionary. It set the Catholic Church on a path of Scripture interpretation that has borne great fruit.12

B. What Motivated the Publication of Divino afflante Spiritu?

This conventional view of what principally motivated Pius XII to publish his celebrated biblical encyclical also deserves scrutiny. For, on reading Divino afflante Spiritu itself, we do not find any indication that the Pontiff saw the “needs of the time” as stemming mainly from the trouble caused by ultra-conservatives opposed to scientific biblical scholarship. Indeed, the only one of such “people within the Catholic Church” of whom we have any specific and concrete evidence was a lone Italian priest, Dolindo Ruotolo, who in 1941 penned a pseudonymous and anti intellectual attack on current biblical scholarship which he cir culated to the Pope and Italian Church leaders.13But Pius XII’s overriding motivation in issuing Divino afflante Spiritu, accord ing to the encyclical itself,14was simply to celebrate the 50thanniversary of Providentissimus Deus, to confirm its teaching and that of other subsequent Popes, and to offer new encouragement and guidance for all students of Scripture. Far from providing the “main” stimulus for Pius XII’s encyclical, the follies of Fr. Ruotolo (and of any others who might happen to agree with him) were alluded to in only two brief sentences of this 28-page document.

One of these occurs in the context of exhorting exegetes to remember that their just concern to establish the literal sense of Scripture should not become an occasion for neglectingits true spiritual sense. Among the many positive effects of giving due attention to the latter, said the Pope, would be that of “reducing to silence” those who complain that they find no spiritual nourishment in modem exegesis, and hence over-react by dismissing the importance of the literal sense and taking refuge in a vague, subjective and symbolic reading of Scripture: “a certain spiritual and, as they say, mystical interpretation.”15The other passage is better known because although, when understood in its true historical context, it is no more “revolutionary” than the expression just cited, it has since been honed into a sharp apologetic weapon by exegetes who use it to strike withrighteous indignation those members of the faithful who express alarm at their rationalistic theses (theses, in many cases, which are substantially the same as those condemned by Pius XII himself in his subsequent encyclical Humani generis of 1950). We are referring to the frequently quoted sentence in which the Pope calls on all Catholics to show charity and justice in evaluating the work of exegetes (those “strenuous workers in the Lord’s vineyard”16), adding that everyone “ought carefully to avoid that insufficiently prudent zeal which judges whatever is new to be, for that very reason, deserving of attack or suspicion.”17

This one sentence has been elevated into a major locus theologicus in the conventional modem re-reading of Divino afflante Spiritu-a “magnificent principle,” as Frs. Raymond Brown and Thomas Aquinas Collins call it.18Catholics have been assured by Fr. Brown that by these words Pius XII in effect censures the “right-wing vigilanteeism” of those “literalists,” “ultra-rightists,” and “fundamentalist editorial and column writers”19who dare to query the doctrinal soundness of the revisionist biblical scholarship which he so prominently represents. He goes on to charge such critics with constituting “a danger for the continuing progress of Catholic biblical studies in this century” and threatening “to frustrate the vision of Pius XII who may well prove to be the greatest Pope-theologian of the century.”20

One cannot but marvel at Fr. Brown’s audacity in claiming the implicit backing of Pope Pius XII for the kind of exegesis which casts doubt on the historical reliability of the Gospel Resurrection Narratives, and on whether the Virginal Conception of Christ can really be proved from Scripture. The gulf which separates, this claim from historical reality in regard to Divino afflante Spiritu becomes even clearer when we realize what the encyclical’s author really did have in mind in briefly warning Catholics not to be over-zealous in criticizing whatever is new in biblical studies. The truth is that the doctrinal position of the maverick Italian priest alluded to here by Pius XII had virtually nothing in common with that of those post-conciliar Catholic publications which habitually take issue with Fr. Brown and his like-minded colleagues.

Already in 1941, two years before the encyclical was published, Fr. Ruotolo’s pamphlet was actually rebutted by a minor document of the Pontifical Biblical Commission, published only in Italian and sent out to the same audience to which the priest had distributed his own diatribe. From this rebuttal of his work we learn not only that he wanted exegetes almost to ignore the literal sense of Scripture in order to excogitate arbitrary allegorical and “mystical” interpretations; he also berated their “modern” zeal for studying ancient Oriental languages and literature, and for patiently comparing manuscripts to arrive at a text as close as possible to the original inspired one. Why? Because according to this “traditionalist” priest, all such “worldly” and “unspiritual” pursuits went contrary to the Council of Trent! Misconstruing that Council’s teaching on the status of the Latin Vulgate version of the Bible, Fr. Ruotolo denounced all these modem scientific studies as worse than useless, because he thought the Vulgate text was already as perfect a version as one could ever wish for, and considered it dangerous to even contemplate correcting the Vulgate by reference to the original Greek or Hebrew.21

In the light of this background information, we can readily see how completely unfounded is the claim that Pius XII’s brief admonition to Catholics who might be over-suspicious of anything new indicates some sort of “revolutionary” and “liberating” change of direction on the part of the Magisterium, and that a supposed conservative threat to “a critical-scientific method of interpreting the Bible” was what “mainly” motivated the Pope to produce his encyclical. Indeed, so minor was that threat perceived to be by Church authorities back then that the Biblical Commission’s letter began by almost apologizing to the Italian Bishops for taking up their valuable time in rebutting the anonymous pamphlet they had all received a few weeks earlier”22 And since that letter in any case took care of the matter quite adequately in 1941, how could it be credibly maintained that two years after this local storm in a teacup had duly been calmed, the Supreme Pontiff saw this issue as the “main” problem among those “needs of the times” which called for a full-scale encyclical addressed to the universal Church?23

In conclusion, it is worth noting that shortly after Divino afflante Spiritu was published, that is, years before revisionist scholars began to portray it as predominantly ‘anti-conservative’ in content and motivation, a noted `progressive’ exegete, Fr. Jean Levie, who was certainly seeking to give full weight to anything innovative he could find in the encyclical,24acknowledged that, while Dolindo Ruotolo’s recent attack on approved scientific exegesis was indeed implicitly alluded to and rebuked by Pius XII, it was only a “local incident” with no significant parallels outside Italy, and “was not the essential motivation for the publication of the encyclical Divino afflante Spiritu.”25

C. Did Pius XII Relax His Predecessors’ Prohibitions?

It is of course true that Divino afflante Spiritu includes some observations and recommendations which had not been explicitly formulated in previous magisterial documents. It notes that many biblical questions remain open for future resolution, and that the meaning of only a few passages touching faith and morals has been authoritatively decided already by the Magisterium or by the consensus of the Fathers.26 In particular, the encyclical states that exegetes should pay particular attention to the discernment of what literary genre is being employed by the inspired writer.27

It is significant, however, that, at the time the encyclical was published, none of the scholarly commentators saw anything particularly radical or “liberating” in this papal recommendation, as if the Pope had thereby permitted some previously forbidden exegetical novelty. This was hardly surprising in view of the fact that Pius XII repeatedly insisted in the first part of the encyclical that he wished to confirm and reinforce all that his predecessors since Leo XIII had laid down regarding Scripture studies.28In other words, it is obvious that the Pope intended his observations on the discernment of literary genres to be understood in harmony with, and not in opposition to, the previous statements of the Magisterium on such matters.

Even scholars who subsequently became a good deal more (or more openly) liberal in their exegesis were unable, in the period immediately after the promulgation of Pius XII’s encyclical, to find anything in it which permitted what had hitherto been forbidden. Fr. Jean Levie had by the late 1950s become known as a definitely “progressive” biblical scholar; but, in his own commentary on Divino afflante Spiritu published in 1946, Levie made no claims that it was opening any hitherto closed doorsmuch less that Pius XII had consciously intended to open them. While indeed using such adjectives as “progressive” and “broadening” to describe its general spirit,29Fr. Levie’s extensive analysis of the encyclical uncovered nothing radical in it. In treating of an increasing tendency among exegetes over the previous half-century to appreciate better the “incarnational” and historically-conditioned aspects of biblical language and its various literary genres, he sums up the import of Pius XII’s intervention by saying that it “consecrates” the “victory” of this approach over the older and excessively literalist approach. But he quickly adds that this “victory” is one which “was already virtually won many years ago.”30 Referring to the Magisterium’s gradual change in this direction since the beginning of the century, when the Pontifical Biblical Commission first explicitly recognized the possibility-albeit very cautiously-that some parts of Scripture hitherto considered historical might turn out to belong to a non-historical genre, Levie recognizes that the progress has certainly been in the same direction and without any contradiction. Since 1905, he notes, certain applications of the principle of literary genres had been recognized as legitimate; but it is only in 1943 that it has been proposed formally by the Magisterium itself as the great means of “resolving many objections to the truth and historical value of the Sacred Writings.”31

‘How can one speak of this as a “revolution” or “liberation” when it is a question of developments which not only have been “in the same direction and without any contradiction,” but had in any case already been admitted years earlier by the Magisterium, and are now merely being “proposed formally” by the 1943 encyclical? It goes without saying that Pius XII, while giving greater stress than his predecessors to the importance of determining the literary genre of a given biblical passage, had not the remotest intention of rescinding or contradicting the 1905 Biblical Commission decision on this topic, which affirmed that the non-historical character of a book or passage hitherto considered historical is “not to be admitted easily or rashly,” and needs to be “proved by solid arguments.”‘32

In the name of the study of “literary genres” and “literary forms,” we are commonly told today that perhaps the greater part of the Gospels-including certainly the Infancy and Resurrection Narratives-are quite unreliable guides to what the historical Jesus really did and said, because they have been thoroughly “reworked” by the “creative theological” input of the anonymous primitive Christian communities and redactors. Even more doubt is cast on the historical reliability of the Pentateuch and of virtually every other historical book of the Old Testament. The conclusion is drawn-quite logically-that the attempt to defend the historicity of any concrete affirmation in either the Old or New Testament, in the light of apparently conflicting profane sources or a seeming contradiction somewhere else in Scripture, is a futile and unscientific “concordism.” Why? Because, so it is said, the “literary genres” used by the ancient authors required little concern for `mere’ historical facts: those authors were happy to Ire-shape’ and ‘re-read’ the facts according to their overriding `theological’ concerns.

How far this kind of hermeneutic was from Pius XII’s intentions becomes obvious from those very passages of Divino afflante Spiritu where he stresses the importance of discerning literary genres. One result of recent scholarship in this area, he says, is the following:

The inquiry itself has demonstrated lucidly that among the nations of the ancient Orient, the people of Israel held an extraordinary eminence in the writing of history, in regard to both its antiquity and its faithful narration of the facts (ob fidelem rerum gestarum relationem). Such high quality, indeed, is what one can deduce from the charism of divine inspiration and from the specifically religious finality of biblical history (ex peculiari historice biblicce fine, qui ad religionem pertinet).33

In other words, the Pope regards it as evident that the religious finality of biblical history, far from rendering the human authors more lax or indifferent regarding `mere facts,’ was an added motivation for recording the facts faithfully. History written for God had to be history written as truthfully as possible! In the next paragraph, when Pius XII goes on to stress that the discernment of literary genres cannot be neglected without great harm to exegesis, the one illustration he gives makes his thinking on this point very clear: such discernment is essential, not-as we are assured today-in order to relieve exegetes of the task of defending each specific historical affirmation in Scripture (the supposedly out-dated ‘concordism’), but precisely in order to help them fulfill that task more effectively:

Indeed-to give just one example-it not uncommonly happens that when certain critics charge the sacred authors with error in some historical matter, or with having reported something incorrectly, the alleged mistake turns out to be nothing other than a case of that native manner of speaking or narrating which the ancients customarily used in their human ways of exchanging ideas, and which were in truth regarded as legitimate in common usage…. Thus, assisted by this knowledge and correct evaluation of these ancient forms of speaking and writing, it will be possible to answer many objections raised against the truth and historical reliability of the Divine Writings (multa dissolvi poterunt, qucz contra Divinarum Litterarum veritatem fidemque historicam opponuntur). No less valuable will such studies be as a means of arriving at a fuller and more luminous under standing of the inspired writers’ thinking.34

The Pope also mentioned in this context “certain characteristics typical of Semitic languages, certain approximate, hyperbolical, and sometimes even paradoxical forms of expression, which serve to impress what is said more deeply on the mind.”35So non-revolutionary was all this that Fr. Jean Levie felt constrained to express a certain disappointment at the Pope’s caution:

There is in fact in the encyclical a real disproportion between the breadth of the principles laid down (la largeur des principes poses)-which deeply affect extensive and essential parts of the Old Testament-and the simplicity, indeed, banality, of the examples adduced by way of illustration (la simplicite, voire la banalite des exemples de-ci de-la alle gues); without doubt this page was attentively examined and carefully reworked-as was appropriate-while taking into account various opinions, and with the concern to exclude in advance every excessive interpretation (et avec le souci d’ecarter d’avance toute interpretation excessive).36

Fr. Levie insinuates here his personal opinion that the principle of literary genres has more radical implications for Old Testament history (today the New Testament is treated similarly); he is honest enough to recognize, however, that Pius XII, whose mind, is manifested in the very cautious illustrations he gives of that principle in Divino afflante Spiritu, is not opening any new doors along those lines, and “in no way intends to give a carte blanche to exegetes as regards the extent and breadth of the applications.”‘37

This is not to imply that Plus XII was ruling out the idea that longer passages, or even whole books, of the Old Testament (as distinct from mere words and phrases here and there) might also be shown, in the light of solid argumentation, to belong to a genre less strictly historical than classical commentators had supposed. But the point we are stressing is that this had already been recognized in principle by the Church’s Magisterium ever since 1905, and was by no means an innovation of Pius XII. Fr. Alonso Schokel, for instance, in his memorable 1960 enunciation of the revisionist thesis,38hinted that one of the “novelties” now able to enter the exegetical door thanks to Divino afflante Spiritu was permission to question the full and literal historicity of the Book of Judith. But Msgr. Romeo’s rebuttal pointed out that the literary genre of this book had long been recognized as obscure and debatable by approved Catholic authors, and that already in 1933 the renowned biblical scholar G. Ricciotti “was able to write … with full ecclesiastical approval: `Today scholars in every field agree on this as a minimum, that the Book of Judith makes no sense if we interpret it literally.”39

That Pius XII did not teach anything “revolutionary” in his 1943 encyclical is also borne out by the best-informed commentary on Divino afflante Spiritu that has ever been published, namely, an article by Father (later Cardinal) Augustin Bea which appeared in La Civilta Cattolicain the same issue as the Italian version of the encyclical itself, thus being clearly presented as an authoritative commentary.40It is quite likely that the Pope himself read Fr. Bea’s article before it was published. The latter was at that time Rector of the Pontifical Biblical Institute and was in constant personal contact with Pius XII by virtue of being his regular confessor. Moreover, it was no secret in Rome that he had been the main biblical scholar whose assistance the Pontiff had sought in the preparation and drafting of his new document on Scripture.

Nobody, therefore, was better situated than Fr. Bea to know and explain what purposes the Pope had in mind in promulgating Divino afflante Spiritu. Yet he gave not the slightest hint that Pius XII had any intention of “opening doors” that had hitherto been closed to Catholic exegetes by the Magisterium. On the contrary, Bea began his article by pointedly affirming that Providentissimus Deus, the fiftieth anniversary of which was the occasion for the new encyclical, “fixed for all time the fundamental lines of biblical studies in the Catholic Church.”41

Bea’s commentary is basically a review of the progress made in the last half-century along those same “fundamental lines,” and stresses that the main difference between Divino afflante Spiritu and Leo XIII’s great encyclical is one of emphasis and tone. The new document, Bea observes, is indeed more serene and less apologetic in tone than Providentissimus, precisely because the principles laid down by Pope Leo to defend Scripture against the nineteenth-century rationalist attack have since been faithfully and fruitfully implemented by a generation or more of erudite studies under the vigilance of the Magisterium. Now that so many old and new objections to the truth of Scripture have thus been effectively answered, Pius XII feels it opportune to confirm this progress of the last fifty years, and to stress the importance of recent scientific advances (in textual criticism, archaeology, linguistics and knowledge of ancient Near Eastern literary forms) not only for their value in defending biblical inerrancy, but now, more positively, as a means of understanding the sacred texts more profoundly.42

Far from providing any support for today’s conventional wisdom, in which Pius XII is depicted as a proto-liberal “mainly” or “primarily” concerned to combat the dire threat to `critical-scientific’ exegesis posed by ‘ultra-conservative’ and `fundamentalist’ obscurantism, Bea spends only half a page in commenting on the encyclical’s brief warnings about a false “mystical” reading of Scripture, and simply mentions in passing, without comment, the Pope’s admonition against an over-zealous suspicion of anything new. That amounts to just 5% of his thirteen pages of commentary. Bea concludes his article with words which, by stressing Divino afflante Spiritu’s continuity with the unchangeable teaching of previous Successors of Peter, present the encyclical unmistakably as a decidedly non-revolutionary document. He affirms that “its doctrine will certainly enter into the series of those pontifical documents which will forever remain the guide and norm of biblical teaching.”43

Someone might wish to argue that the publication of Divino afflante Spiritu in 1943, considered as a historical event within a continuing nexus of causes and effects, proved during the succeeding years to be an important factor favoring a far wider circulation of form-critical and other radical biblical theories than was ever possible in the Catholic Church before World War II. Similarly, it is not merely arguable, but undeniable, that Vatican Council II has, de facto,been the historical occasion for a great relaxation of Church discipline and for a radical pluralism of doctrinal theses, liturgical practices and ecclesial lifestyles that was unheard of before the Council. But just as this by no means proves that such a state of affairs was the one intended and objectively inculcated by the Council Fathers in their sixteen magisterial documents, so the historical effects of Divino afflante Spiritu-whatever careful research may reveal them to have been-cannot simply be presumed, by virtue of their de facto occurrence, to reflect faithfully the objective teaching of that encyclical.

Now, the thesis sustained in the present essay is that, if any “revolutionary” trends in post-war Catholic exegesis were in part caused by Divino afflante Spiritu,they were in no way whatever justified by that encyclical, but rather, resulted from selective and abusive interpretations of it. But the revisionist thesis commonly advanced by modern biblical scholars is precisely the opposite of ours: such scholars maintain that the kind of thoroughgoing criticism they now apply to both Old and New Testaments”revolutionary” indeed when compared with the traditional Catholic exegesis that prevailed until about mid-century-is in fact a perfectly faithful application or logical outcome of hermeneutical principles consciously laid down by Pius XII, who, we are told, knowingly permitted-and even mandated!-what earlier Popes such as Benedict XV had forbidden. Fr. Raymond Brown, for instance, manages to find in Pius XII’s teaching a flat contradiction of his predecessors’ position: we are told that his pontificate saw “a complete about-face in attitude” on the part of the Magisterium, given that Divino afflante Spiritu “instructed Catholic scholars to use the methods of scientific biblical criticism that had hitherto been forbidden them.”44

It should be clear from the documentary evidence already adduced that all such self-serving interpretations of the encyclical are flagrantly unhistorical. Let Pius XII himself have the last word in this regard. Only seven years after Divino afflante Spiritu, his encyclical on contemporary errors in theology and exegesis denounced, among other things, those currents of scholarship which minimized or restricted biblical inerrancy, belittled the approved Patristic and ecclesial interpretations of Scripture, and abandoned the very attempt to defend the truth of the literal sense of Old Testament history.45 Having drawn attention to these opinions-and they are much the same as those now propagated in the name of Divino afflante Spiritu!-the Pope went on:

Everyone can see how far these opinions depart from the principles and hermeneutical norms justly laid down by Ourpredecessors of happy memory: by Leo XIII in the encyclical Providentissimus Deus, by Benedict XV in the encyclical Spiritus Paraclitus, and in Our own encyclical Divino afflante Spiritu.46

IT The Contemporary Relevance of Spiritus Paraclitus

We have dwelt at length on the conflicting interpretations given to Pope Pius XII’s encyclical Divino afflanteSpiritu in recent decades because it is the correct (although now generally forgotten) interpretation of that encyclical-that is, the ‘nonrevolutionary’ reading given to it by Fr. Augustin Bea in 1943which enables us to see more clearly the continuing value of Pope Benedict XV’s encyclical of a quarter-century earlier. For if, indeed, Pius XII’s much-heralded observations about the discernment of literary genres in Scripture was intended as little more than a formal, explicit and more detailed recognition of hermeneutical principles which had already been accepted in essence by his predecessors (and increasingly employed by approved exegetes), then this certainly suggests that the teachings of those predecessors remain perennially worthy of close attention.

For, while today’s conventional revisionist view would have us see Divino afflante Spiritu as pointing only `forward,’ toward an ill-defined but `liberated’ exegetical future in which the pre1943 magisterial rulings on Scripture would recede ever further into a well-deserved oblivion, the truth is that Pius XII was more concerned to look backward than forward. Those very passages of his encyclical which today’s “progressive” Scripture scholars love to quote ceaselessly and selectively were intended not to `liberate’ exegetes of the future, but to celebrate exegetes of the past. The Pope had in mind, that is, those biblical scholars whose patient, scientific, and yet faith-filled erudition had already accomplished so much since 1893 under the inspiration of Leo XIII’s magna carta and in strict obedience to his successors. While he certainly wanted to encourage present and future exegetes to grapple with still-unresolved problems and obscurities, and to press on toward an ever more profound understanding of Sacred Scripture, Pius XII made a point of stressing that this program could be implemented not by relaxing or discarding the caveats and prohibitions of his predecessors, but only by scrupulously adhering to them!47In a key passage of Divino afflante Spiritu, wherein he sums up his appreciation for the pastoral and scholarly advances up till that moment as well as his hopes for the future, the Pontiff affirms:

These and other accomplishments, which every day are becoming more widely diffused and more firmly established…. give Us firm hope that in the future the veneration, use, and knowledge of the Sacred Writings will make constant progress, for the good of souls. But this will happen only as long as the program of biblical studies prescribed by Leo XIII, and explained still more admirably and completely by his successors, is upheld by everyone with increasing firmness, eagerness and confidence. For that program, confirmed and extended by Us, is in fact the only one which is safe and proved by experience.48

The Pope of Divino afflante Spiritu, therefore, exhorts us to return with careful attention to the encyclical of Benedict XV, since this was certainly the most authoritative among those documents of Leo XIII’s successors which “explained still more admirably and completely” the program laid down in Providentissimus. Spiritus Paraclitus was issued in the middle of that half-century between 1893 and 1943, at a time when the progress of the new biblical movement set in motion by Leo XIII could be duly evaluated in the light of experience, and when the resulting hermeneutical developments later recommended by Pius XII were being carefully delineated and purified from rationalistic distortions and exaggerations.


Pope Leo XIII

A. Positive and Pastoral Aspects

In the first place, a fair-minded reader of Spiritus Paraclitus will be struck by the fact that the general spirit and content of this document reflect quite the opposite of that “negative approach to Scripture” which many modern exegetes tend to find in it. Pope Benedict certainly takes a “negative approach” to false interpretations of Scripture and of Providentissimus Deus; buteven this corrective or apologetic section (which we shall consider shortly) occupies only 13 of the encyclical’s 68 numbered sections (nos. 18-30)49-less than one-fifth of the whole. By far the greater part of the encyclical is dedicated to a highly positive presentation of the inestimable value and the great spiritual fruits to be gained from a deeper knowledge of Scripture on the part of all Catholics.

To begin with, this encyclical teaches us much about St. Jerome’s perennial relevance to all students of Sacred Scripture. Apart from the introductory section, which gives a brief biography of the Saint, Benedict XV accomplishes this purpose mainly by direct quotation: no less than 127 passages are cited from this great Doctor of the Church whose fifteenth centenary the encyclical is honoring. Now, in the 1990s, when the highest ecclesiastical authorities are drawing attention to “new attempts to recover Patristic exegesis and to include renewed forms of a spiritual interpretation of Scripture,”50Spiritus Paraclitus provides,a succinct and instructive overview of some of the key thoughts of this most outstanding of all the Fathers in matters of Scripture. Jerome’s teaching is presented on the Bible’s truth, its inerrancy, its historical value, the Church as its authentic interpreter, the need for spiritual preparation in studying Scripture, the importance of loving, reading daily and meditating constantly on the divine Word, and its practical value for lay people as well as for clergy who are charged with preaching and expounding Scripture. Indeed, Pope Benedict’s call for more Scripturally-based homilies anticipates that of Vatican Council II and the post-conciliar liturgical reform.

His encyclical on St. Jerome turns out to be `modern’ in another and perhaps even more unexpected way. Today, when militant feminist forces are wont to charge the Catholic Church with having traditionally spurned women, keeping them marginalized and ignorant, Spiritus Paraclitus is a welcome reminder of the honor in which women were held by this eminent Father of the ancient Church, who made a special apostolate of inculcating the love and knowledge of Scripture among Roman girls and ladies. The encyclical is liberally sprinkled with examples of Jerome’s advice to maidens and matrons such as Demetrias, Paula, Lxta, Eustochium, Fabiola and Marcella. We learn, for instance, the suggested program for a Catholic girl’s biblical education which he set out in a letter to Lxta, who was homeschooling her daughter:

Every day she should give you a definite account of her Bible-reading…. For her the Bible must take the place of silks and jewels…. Let her learn the Psalter first, and find her recreation in its songs; let her learn from Solomon’s Proverbs the way of life, from Ecclesiastes how to trample on the world. In Job she will find an example of patient virtue. Thence let her pass to the Gospels; they should always be in her hands. She should steep herself in the Acts and the Epistles. And when she has enriched her soul with these treasures she should commit to memory the Prophets, the Heptateuch, Kings and Chronicles, Esdras and Esther: then she can learn the Canticle of Canticles without any fear.51

The admiration which Jerome had for the astonishing erudition, as well as the sanctity, of another lady, Paula, is recalled by the Pope in his citation of an epitaph written on the occasion of Paula’s death. Here the great Doctor also seems concerned, in passing, to rebut the contemporary prejudices of those who would belittle the intellectual capacities of women:

I will tell you another thing about her, though evil-disposed people may cavil at it: she determined to learn Hebrew, a language which I myself, with immense labor and toil from my youth upwards, have only partly learned, and which I even now dare not cease studying lest it should quit me. But Paula learned it, and so well that she could chant the Psalms in Hebrew, and could speak it, too, without any trace of a Latin accent. We can see the same thing even now in her daughter Eustochium.52

Benedict XV’s repeated appeals to St. Jerome’s insistence on the value of regular Bible study for all Christians, lay men and women as well as clerics, also strikes another distinctly modern note; or, rather, it reminds us that what some Catholics regard as a brand-new achievement of the `modern’ Church is really very traditional. For the revisionist biblical scholars we have already criticized often seek to `revolutionize’ Vatican Council II as much as Divino afflante Spiritu. How often have we heard it asserted, for instance, that until the Council promulgated its pastoral recommendations on Scripture,53Catholic Church authorities had for centuries taken a negative and `fearful’ approach towards the use of the inspired Books by the laity, because of a`Counter-Reformation mentality’ that associated emphasis on the Bible with the danger of Protestant heresy!

One of the most egregious examples of this kind of mythmaking is found in the widely-diffused `Abbott’ edition of the Vatican II documents. In commenting on the statement in Dei Verbum 22, that “Easy access to sacred Scripture should be provided for all the Christian faithful,” Fr. Roderick MacKenzie tells his readers, “This is perhaps the most novel section of the Constitution. Not since the early centuries of the Church has an official document urged the availability of the Scriptures for all.”54 Fr. MacKenzie had evidently forgotten Spiritus Paraclitus, whose author not only enthusiastically recommended the widest possible diffusion of Scripture among the laity, but even sponsored the founding of an international society to further that aim! Let Benedict XV speak for himself-over forty years before Vatican IL


Hence, as far as in us lies, we, Venerable Brethren, shall, with St. Jerome as our guide, never desist from urging the faithful to read daily the Gospels, the Acts and the Epistles (numquam desinemus, ut (Christifideles omnes] … Evangelia, itemque Acta Apostolorum et Epistolas cotidiana lectione pervolutare … studeant), so as to gather thence food for their souls.

Our thoughts naturally turn just now to the Society of St. Jerome, which we ourselves were instrumental in founding; its success has gladdened us, and we trust that the future will see a great impulse given to it. The object of this Society is to put into the hands of as many people as possible the Gospels and Acts, so that every Christian family may have them and become accustomed to reading them. This we have much at heart, for we have seen how useful it is. We earnestly hope, then, that similar Societies will be founded in your dioceses and affiliated to the parent Society here. Commendation, too, is due to Catholics in other countries who have published the entire New Testament, as well as selected portions of the Old, in neat and simple form so as to popularize their use. Much again must accrue to the Church of God when numbers of people thus approach this table of heavenly instruction which the Lord provided through the ministry of his Prophets, Apostles and Doctors for the entire Christian world .55

We hear a good deal today about the post-conciliar “biblical renewal” which has supposedly brought a much better and more widely diffused knowledge of Scripture to the laity. Let us hope that this is so-although this writer has doubts about the value of many recent courses in Scripture, whose presenters have often seemed more interested in “updating” lay Catholics with the latest unapproved critical speculations, or in promoting a leftwing “liberationist” or feminist reading of Scripture, than in explaining the life and authentic teaching of Our Lord. Whatever about that, it remains true that Benedict XV was no less zealous than any Church leader of the modem conciliar era in encouraging Bible reading among the laity. And we suspect that the modest, but eminently practical, program outlined in Spiritus Paraclitus-simply distributing copies of the most important and readily intelligible parts of the New Testament to as many Catholics as possible, and encouraging them to read God’s Word for themselves-may well have been more educationally and spiritually fruitful than many of our much-vaunted post-conciliar seminars and adult education courses on Scripture. (These in any case tend to reach only an elite of already-committed lay people, not the masses of merely nominal Catholics who most need to become acquainted with the Gospel.)

Let us return to the `Abbott’ edition of the Vatican II documents. When the Council goes on to say that translations of the Scriptures “from the original texts” are especially favored,56Fr. MacKenzie’s comment reflects the revisionist tendency to exaggerate the novelty of Pope Pius XII’s encyclical on Scripture. He writes: “This draws the practical consequence from the affirmation of ‘Divino Afflante Spiritu’: `The original text has more authority and more weight than any translation, old or new. “57 But Benedict XV, more than two decades earlier, had already reminded the Church that this norm is as old as the Patristic age. He recalls that, when St. Jerome, at the behest of Pope St. Damasus, began correcting the received Latin texts in the light of the original Greek and Hebrew, he had to endure the narrow-minded attacks of “little men” (the Dolindo Ruotolos of the fourth century!) who accused him of presuming to “make corrections in the Gospels in the face of the Fathers and of general opinion.”58Pope Benedict continues:

Jerome’s first rule is careful study of the actual words so that we may be perfectly certain what the writer really does say. He was most careful to consult the original text, to compare various versions, and, if he discovered any mistake in them, to explain it and thus make the text perfectly clear.59

Another emphasis of ‘post-conciliar’ Scripture studies which we find anticipated in Spiritus Paraclitus is the human or “incarnational” aspect of the inspired Word in Scripture. In the most recent important statement of the Church’s Magisterium on Sacred Scripture, Pope John Paul II’s allocution of 23 April 1993 on the hundredth anniversary of Providentissimus Deus and the fiftieth of Divino afflante Spiritu, this is the principal theme, expounded mainly in the section entitled “The Harmony between Catholic Exegesis and the Mystery of the Incarnation.”60 The Holy Father sums up the true sense in which this “harmony” is to be understood in what could well be seen as the most important statement of the allocution-a reference to Pius XII’s encyclical and the Vatican Constitution on Divine Revelation:

The strict relationship uniting the inspired biblical texts with the mystery of the Incarnation was expressed by the Encyclical Divino afflante Spiritu in the following terms: “Just as the substantial Word of God became like men in every respect except sin, so too the words of God, expressed in human languages, became like human language in every respect except error” (EB, 559). Repeated almost literally by the conciliar Constitution Dei Verbum (13), this statement sheds light on a parallelism rich in meaning.61

This appreciation of the “condescension” of God in speaking within the confines and limits of human language-and yet without error-was notably expressed in antiquity by St. John Chrysostom, as Pius XII noted further on in the passage cited here by John Paul IL It has also attracted renewed attention by some of the best pre- and post-conciliar Scripture scholars of this century.62 But if we depend on those writers who accept the contemporary revisionist view of recent exegetical history, we will again be left with the impression that nothing of much value on this subject was admitted by the Church’s Magisterium before Divino afflanteSpiritu-or even before Vatican II.

Take, for instance, what is said about the human characteristics of Scripture in a recent and authoritative book on “Christian Exegesis Today,”63edited by Fr. Ignace de la Potterie, one of the “elder statesmen” of post-conciliar biblical studies, and generally considered to be a conservative exegete within the contemporary spectrum. Besides two essays by Fr. de la Potterie himself, the book contains contributions by (among others) Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and Msgr. Giuseppe Colombo, a wellknown Italian theologian. Both Fr. de la Potterie and Msgr. Colombo make the extraordinary mistake of asserting that before Vatican II the Magisterium had never described the inspired writers as “authors” of the biblical books. Once asserted, this non-fact then becomes the foundation upon which is constructed a theological sand-castle about `new doors’ being opened by the Council which will lead to valuable new insights about the`human’ or ‘incarnational’ side of Scripture.

Fr. de la Potterie seems quite enthused by this `discovery,’ which he attributes to the Spanish Scripture scholar A. M. Artola. After making the required revisionist genuflection to Divino afflante Spiritu for having “put an end” to the disputes that broke out “during the dark era of modernism” because of Leo XIII’s “obsession with inerrancy,”64he continues:

Vatican II, however, … opened up new vistas, but these have not been’ used to advantage; they have not even been noticed. … We note in the first place a novelty in the use of the word “author” in Dei Verbum. In continuity with Vatican I, the Constitution affirms that the sacred books “have God as their author” (11, 1). But this formula, more than in the past, must be understood in an analogical sense, since, in thesame context, and for the first time in a document of the Magisterium, the word “author” is also applied to the inspired writers. Indeed, the Constitution insists on this point: when the biblical authors, under the action of God, have produced their written texts, they have acted as “true authors” (here the contribution of Divino afflante Spiritu is integrated).65

Msgr. Colombo uses the same “novelty” of Vatican II as a key point in his argument that Artola is correct in discerning a “trajectory” between Vatican I and Vatican II which can be described by the slogan “from `God, author of the sacred books’ to `the Bible as a literary work.”66Referring to the points in Vatican II which supposedly manifest this “trajectory,” he writes:

First of all there is the explicit attribution of the quality of “author” to the inspired writer, reinforced in the final redaction of the text … by the adjective “true,” and hence to beunderstood in the proper sense of literary author, or writer. A consequence of this is that it renders problematical the attribution [of authorship] to God – the onlyauthorship recognized in the texts of the preceding Council and the preceding magisterium.67

Then, building a house of cards on top of this castle of sand, Msgr. Colombo gravely informs us that this and other supposedly novel “elements” in Vatican II’s teaching

now render fatally obsolete (fatalmente obsolete), because fundamentally improper, such expressions (which are still current) as `the divine book’ (‘libro divino’) to describe the Bible. Insofar as it is taken to mean that God is the author of the Bible, this expression is now seen as not very coherent with the intention of the Council (meno coerente con l’intenzionalita del Concilio).68

It is not explained why the same Council document, apart from explicitly repeating that the books of Scripture “have God as their author” (even citing in witness two of those “negative” and “stifling” magisterial decrees from the anti-modernist era),69goes on to use no less than seven times the kind of language which (according to Msgr. Colombo) is “not very coherent” with its own intention.70Much more important, however, is the fact that he, Artola, and de la Potterie are all making a theological mountain, not out of a molehill (which would be the case if Dei Verbumwere indeed the first magisterial document to call the inspired writers “authors”), but out of nothing at all (because in fact it is not).

The truth is that the Magisterium has never had any scruple about calling the inspired writers “authors” of the biblical books, since it has been understood from the analogy with the Incarnation that this no more makes their divine authorship “problematical” than Christ’s humanity makes his divinity “problematical.” (Such intimate union between the divine and human is mysterious, of course, but not “problematical,” a word which insinuates inappropriateness or doubt of some kind.) For the record. the word “author(s)” is used to describe the human writers at least five times by Leo XIII in his great encyclical of 1893,71and by speaking of God in another passage as the “primary author,”72it implies that they are “secondary authors”-which is certainly all that Vatican II allows them to be, even though it does not use that term.73The Pontifical Biblical Commission repeatedly called the human writers of Scripture “authors” from 190674onward, at times even in the very titles of its Responses.75 So did Spiritus Paraclitus.76But lest it be insisted that Vatican II was at least “novel” in calling these men “true”(veri)authors-an insistence which would at best have little weight, since it would be gratuitous to assume that the earlier documents had meant they were “authors” but not true authors-it should be pointed out that the 1920 encyclical whose anniversary we are honoring gives a much fuller description ofthe truly human and incarnational character of the inspired writers’ authorship than does Vatican II itself! Was Benedict XV the real “revolutionary,” then? Not at all. He gave this description in the context of showing how it was the teaching of none other than Saint Jerome. After recalling Jerome’s insistence that the Scriptures indeed “have God for their Author,” the Pope pointed out that the great Doctor nonetheless saw their production as the result of a “partnership of God with man” (Dei cum homine communitatem laboris). That is:

He never questions but that the individual authors of these Books (singuli eorum auctores) worked freely under the Divine afflatus (operam afflanti Deo libere naverint), each of them in accordance with his individual nature and character (pro sua quisque natura atque ingenio). Thus he is not merely concerned to affirm as a general principle – what indeed pertains to all the sacred writers – that they followed the Spirit of God as they wrote, in such sort that God is the principal cause of all that Scripture means and says; but he also accurately describes what pertains to each individual writer. In each case Jerome shows us how, in composition, in language, in style and mode of expression, each of them uses his own gifts and powers (quemque facultatibus ac viribus usos esse); hence he is able to portray and describe for us their individual character, almost their very features; this is especially so in his treatment of the Prophets and of St. Paul.77

After this, what remains of the “novelty”-supposedly fraught with such far-reaching and “problematical” implications for the divine authorship of Scripture-which revisionist scholars claim to have found in Vatican Council II? The Council’s reference to God’s use of the human authors’ “gifts and powers” is itself a quotation from the above passage of Spiritus Paraclitus; but since the relevant part of that passage was quoted by Pius XII in Divino afflante Spiritu, and since the Council in turn cited only this quotation,78those who think that serious Catholic biblical scholarship really only began in 1943 may never learn its ultimate source. Even when Spiritus Paraclitus is explicitly cited by Vatican II, Fr. de la Potterie seems to ignore the footnote reference. When Dei Verbum speaks of the need to read and interpret Scripture “in the same Spirit in which it was written,” he assures us:

Certainly, this principle was already invoked before Vatican II (fin da prima del Vaticano I1), but in a secularized manner: “in the spirit (with a small `s’)of the human author” (“nellospirito {con laminuscola} dell’autore humano”) … In Dei Verbum, 12, 3 Spiritu has a capital letter, and designates the Holy Spirit.79

Now, in the Council’s footnote 9 to this statement, both Spiritus Paraclitus and St. Jerome are cited, referring to EB 469;but on turning to that passage we find that these authoritiesboth of them decidedly pre-Vatican II-in fact use a capital `S,’ signifying the Holy Spirit. One final example: Fr. de la Potterie claims to have unearthed yet another conciliar novelty, that of proposing to “integrate Scripture with Revelation,” and tells us that, with this end in view, Vatican II “goes so far as to make the audacious statement (giunge fino a dire audacemente) that the study of Sacred Scripture should be like the soul of theology.”80“Audacious”? Perhaps “venerable” or “time-honored” would be more apt descriptions, for at this point (note 3 to Dei Verbum, 24) Vatican II refers us not to one, but two pre-conciliar encyclicals, Providentissimus Deus and Spiritus Paraclitus,81as precedents for recommending Scripture as the “soul of theology.”


Vatican II

B. Corrective and Apologetic Aspects

If, as we hope to have shown, Spiritus Paraclitus is for the most part a serene, spiritual, and eminently pastoral documentone which in some ways anticipates and even `outdoes’ Vatican II’s teaching on Scripture-then why is it now upbraided for its “negative” approach to Scripture by prominent modem exegetes? The answer, clearly, is to be found in that relatively short section of the encyclical82in which St. Jerome’s principles for interpreting Scripture are contrasted with certain dangerous tendencies which Benedict XV felt it necessary to reprove in the liberal exegetical circles of his time-tendencies which in some cases remain widespread today. As we saw at the beginning of this essay, the two charges laid to this Pontiff’s door by Fr. Joseph Fitzmyer are those of “insisting on [the] inerrancy” of Scripture and of “in effect, denying that one had to interpret the Bible according to its literary forms.”83We shall consider these criticisms in turn.

B.1. The Question of Biblical Inerrancy.

To the first of the above charges Benedict XV would certainly have pleaded guilty-defiantly so! So would all of his predecessors and successors in the See of Peter. Indeed, there could surely be no more eloquent symptom of the malaise afflicting contemporary Catholic Scripture scholarship than the fact that a leading modem exegete can not only depict “insistence” on biblical inerrancy as a vice, not a virtue, but can do so without apology or explanation, evidently on the calm assumption that the great majority of his readers will unhesitatingly agree with him. The integral truth, or inerrancy, of Scripture-a necessary and ineluctable consequence of its divine inspiration-seems in fact to have become a kind of new `taboo’ subject among many contemporary exegetes: one avoids all mention of it, as far as possible.

Consider, for instance, the approach of Fr. Ignace de la Potterie. While Vatican II insists (like all previous magisterial documents) that “everything asserted by the inspired authors or sacred writers must be held as asserted by the Holy Spirit” (who cannot err),84 Fr. de la Potterie evidently does not hold this position. In fact, he unambiguously rejects it when he criticizes“the concordist tradition of the nineteenth century” for “attribut[ing] the absence of error to all the assertions of the biblical authors.”85  

Moreover, what he calls the “concordist tradition”-namely, the commitment of Scripture scholars to search for the correct reconciliation between specific biblical affirmations (whether on history, science, or any other matter) which might appear to be incompatible-is by no means just a “nineteenth century” tradition. Can Fr. de la Potterie, a scholar justly distinguished in the field of Patristic exegesis, have forgotten momentarily that all the ancient Fathers, as well as all subsequent Doctors and theologians before thenineteenth century, believedsuch “concordism” to be their sacred duty when explaining the sacredBooks? And has he also forgotten how Vatican II’s theological Commission responded to the objections of some Fathers who feared that mentioning the Bible’s “salvific” purpose in connection with the consequences of divine inspiration might be taken as leaving its specific statements about `profane’ matters with no guarantee of inerrancy? In the final revision of this passage in Dei Verbum, the Commission sought to dispel those fears by adding to the pertinent footnote, among other things, a reference to Pope Leo XIII’s explicit insistence on what is now slightingly called “concordism.” In this passage of Providentissimus Deus, now confirmed explicitly by Vatican II, that Pontiff affirmed:

All the Fathers and Doctors were so utterly convinced that the divine Writings … are absolutely immune from all error that they laboured with no less ingenuity than devotion to harmonize and reconcile those many passages which might seem to involve some contradiction or discrepancy (and these are for the most part the same passages as are now raised as objections in the name of modern science). They professed unanimously that these Books, entire and in their parts, were equally inspired by God Himself, who, in speaking through the sacred authors could not have uttered anything at all which was foreign to the truth. What Augustine wrote to Jerome is equally valid for all: “For I confess to your charity that I have learnt to regard those books of Scripture now called canonical-and them alone with such awe and honour that I most firmly believe none of their authors has erred in writing anything. And if I come across anything in those Writings which troubles me because it seems contrary to the truth, I will unhesitatingly lay the blame elsewhere: perhaps the copy is untrue to the original; or the translator may not have rendered the passage faithfully; or perhaps I just do not understand it.”86

The whole thrust of Fr. de la Potterie’s highly questionable reading of Vatican II is to downplay and minimize the `profane’ aspects (history, cosmology, and so on) of the biblical record, distinguishing them so sharply from the supernatural or “heavenly” aspects-which are supposedly the only concern of “biblical truth”-that he leaves the former open to error. Fr. de la Potterie displays a certain joyous relief at having been dispensed by Vatican II (so he thinks) from the arduous and “concordist” task of having to defend the truth of all these merely earthly or human assertions in the Bible:

… the pre-conciliar problematic of the absolute inerrancy of all the Bible’s propositions has been completely transcended (completamente superata). This does not mean that the idea of the Bible’s truth has been abandoned. On the contrary! But the “truth” is now seen on another plane, which is no longer just that of historical truth (la “verita” e vista ormai su un altro piano, che non e piu quello della sola veritk storica)…. Truth, taken in this biblical sense, designates here divine Revelation…. to the order of which the reality of “salvation” also belongs…. It can therefore be seen that from this perspective we are clearly going beyond (si supera chiaramente) the level of the human sciences, among which is the science of language; we are also going beyond the level of the mere historical truth of the biblical accounts (il livello della sola yenta storica dei racconti biblici); the”truth” of Scripture is that of its deep meaning (senso profondo), of the revelatory and divine meaning of the Word of God, which goes “beyond” (“al di la “) the literal and his torical sense of the individual texts, because it unveils the plan of salvation, the mystery of Revelation.87

It is in reading such passages that one can see the pressing relevance today of Spiritus Paraclitus; for it is not easy to see how a hermeneutical approach which identifies “the `truth’ of Scripture” with its salvific, “revelatory,” “deep,” and “divine” meaning could be very different in its practical applications from another approach rebuked long ago by Benedict XV’s encyclical. In Providentissimus,his predecessor Leo XIII had already clearly and repeatedly rejected the idea that error of any sort could be found in Scripture; but because in one passage he associated this false opinion with the idea that “divine inspiration extends only to those things regarding faith and morals,”88some Catholic exegetes in the following decades developed an ingenious theory which professed an unlimited extension of the Bible’s inspiration, but not of its inerrancy. Pope Benedict gave this more sophisticated-but still sophistical-theory short shrift:

Yet no one can pretend that certain recent writers really adhere to these [i.e., Leo XIII’s] limitations. For while conceding that inspiration extends to every phrase-and, indeed, to every singleword of Scripture-yet, by endeavouring to distinguish between what they style the primary or religious and the secondary or profane element in the Bible, they claim that the effect of inspiration-namely, absolute truth and immunity from error-are to be restricted to that primary or religious element. Their notion is that only what concerns religion is intended and taught by God in Scripture, and that all the rest-things concerning “profane knowledge,” the garments in which Divine truth is presented-God merely permits, and even leaves to the individual author’s greater or lesser knowledge. Small wonder, then, that in their view a considerable number of things occur in the Bible touching physical science, history and the like, which cannot be reconciled with modem progress in science!89

Benedict XV was not, of course, the only Pope to condemn this exaggerated and perilous distinction between the divine and human (or sacred and profane) aspects of the Bible’s contentalthough it is his condemnation which is the most pointed, detailed and explicit. We have already seen that Pope Pius XII made clear his wholehearted endorsement of the teaching of Spiritus Paraclitus, as well as of Providentissimus.90But it is worth adding that, in recalling Leo XIII’s original censure of rationalistic errors, Pius XII added his own personal condemnation of the misleading distinction we are considering. This is found right at the beginning of Divino afflante Spiritu, in a passage which is rarely, if ever, quoted by the revisionist exponents of this encyclical. After referring to Vatican I’s solemn affirmation of the plenary inspiration of Scripture, Pius XII recalled the continued undermining of that doctrine which prompted his predecessor’s intervention in 1893:

Subsequently, however, certain Catholic writers dared to restrict the truth of Sacred Scripture to matters of faith and morals alone, relegating everything else, whether of a physical or historical character, to the status of “obiter dicta” which (so it was claimed) are in no way connected to the faith. But since this was opposed to [the First Vatican Council’s] solemn definition of Catholic doctrine, which insists that the biblical books, “entire and with all their parts,” are endowed with such divine authority as to enjoy freedom from all error, Our Predecessor of immortal memory Leo XIII responded in the Encyclical Letter Providentissimus Deus by justly and fittingly striking down those erroneous opinions, while at the same time laying down very wise precepts and norms for the study of the Divine Books.91

In short, it seems rather disingenuous for Fr. de la Potterie to describe the “pre-conciliar” position which affirmed “the absolute inerrancy of all propositions in the Bible” as being nothing more than the ephemeral opinion of a particular theological school (“the concordist tradition of the nineteenth century”). Benedict XV’s ample exposition of the thought of St. Jerome made it clear that this was the great Doctor’s firmly held faith,92and Leo XIII, whose encyclical was confirmed unreservedly by his successors, declared that it is no less than “the ancient and constant faith of the Church, which, after also having been defined by solemn judgments of the Councils of Florence and Trent, was at length confirmed and more expressly declared by the [First] Vatican Council.”93


Fr. Raymond Brown

Nevertheless, did not Vatican Council II change all that? Not at all. Indeed, it is important to note that itcouldnot have done so; for it would be impossible, in view of Christ’s promises to his Church, that the Spirit of Truth could allow an ecumenical council to contradict what had been repeatedly declared by Peter’s Successors to be “the ancient and constant faith of the Church.” Nevertheless, that developing and increasingly dominant historical revisionism which we are questioning in this essay has been proclaiming for decade after decade that Dei Verbum’s teaching on the truth of Scripture substantially changed traditional Catholic doctrine so as to limit biblical inerrancy to “that truth which God wanted put into the sacred writings for the sake of our salvation.”94This and other similar translations of Dei Verbum, 11, lend themselves to the idea that the Catholic Church now views the Bible as a collection of writings into which a certain precious leaven of revealed, spiritual and moral teaching has, as it were, been injected or diffused by God “for the sake of our salvation”; and that since only this “salvific” element is guaranteed to be free from error, Scripture may contain errors when it speaks of other matters. This has every appearance of being just another form of the false opinion we have already examined at length, and which, according to Pius XII in 1950, had been “so often condemned already.”95Nonetheless,Fr. Raymond Brown is quite blunt in presenting this opinion as the teaching of Vatican II:

In the last hundred years we have moved from an understanding wherein inspiration guaranteed that the Bible was totally inerrant to an understanding wherein inerrancy is limited to the Bible’s teaching of “that truth which God wanted put into the sacred writings for the sake of our salvation.” In this long journey of thought the concept of inerrancy was not rejected but was seriously modified to fit the evidence of biblical criticism which showed that the Bible was not inerrant in questions of science, of history, and even of time-conditioned religious beliefs.96

Ambiguous and misleading translations do nothing to promote an understanding of the Council’s true meaning. Within the next year or so the present writer hopes to publish a detailed study of this conciliar passage in which (on the basis of its textual history, the relator’s official explanations to the Council Fathers,97 certain generally ignored nuances of the Latin terminology and syntax, and the rigorously traditional doctrine contained in the references given in footnote 598)it will be argued that the true meaning of Vatican II’s teaching on biblical inerrancy is expressed in the following translation of the last two sentences of Dei Verbum, 11:

Therefore, since everything affirmed by the inspired authors, or sacred writers, must be held as affirmed by the Holy Spirit, we must in consequence acknowledge that the books of the Bible teach the truth firmly, faithfully, and without error-keeping in mind that it was for the sake of our salvation that God wanted this truth recorded in the form of Sacred Scripture. Thus, “all Scripture is inspired by God, and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction and for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16-17).99   

Few readers are likely to dispute that this version presents the Council’s teaching in a rather different light from that suggested by the standard translations of this passage. This new (and, I think, more faithful) translation makes much clearer Vatican II’s harmony with the traditional doctrine of inerrancy-and thus, its discord with the very diluted version of that doctrine which for thirty years has been so widely propagated in the name of the Council.

B.2. The Question of Literary Genres in Scripture.

Among the , various errors rebuked by Benedict XV in Spiritus Paraclitus, there were two which have been long since dropped from the liberal exegete’s armory, since they were rather inept and transparently sophistical methods of “saving” the Bible’s inerrancy in cases where its historicity seemed problematical for one reason or another. One was the theory of “relative”rather than “absolute” historical truth, according to which the truth of a historical narrative in Scripture is supposed to be sufficiently upheld provided one can show that it faithfully reflects what was commonly held as historical truth among the unsophisticated Israelites, regardless of how well it tallies with the facts as they actually occurred.”‘ The other theory, closely related, was the abusive appeal to “tacit” or “implicit” quotations. What the Pope rejected here was the attempt to deal with apparent historical contradictions or errors in Scripture by the facile expedient of postulating that the author was not really affirming the problematical statements himself, but was merely reporting (without error) someone else’s statements – in the absence, however, of any serious literary evidence that this is in fact what the inspired author was doing.101

Much more enduring than these two censured approaches in the repertoire of modern exegetes has been another one which cannot simply be rejected-for it is valid and important in itself-but which is nonetheless very open to abuse and manipulation. It is arguable that there is no area of biblical scholarship in more urgent need of further clarification, even though the subject has been discussed, debated and pronounced upon by Catholic exegetes and the Magisterium since the beginning of the century. This is the question of Scripture’s varying literary genres, which have to be taken into account in evaluating the truth, meaning, and historicity of the various books (or parts thereof) forming the biblical canon. The main difficulty consists in deciding under what circumstances one can be justified in concluding that certain parts of Scripture, presented in narrative form and traditionally presumed to be straightforward accounts of historical fact, were not really intended as such by their respective authors.

As we have seen, Fr. Joseph Fitzmyer accuses Spiritus Paraclitus of “in effect, denying that one had to interpret the Bible according to its literary forms.” From the evidence already presented in this essay, it should be clear that Pope Pius XII would not have agreed with this criticism of his predecessor.Pius XII certainly emphasized in Divino afflante Spiritu the importance of taking literary forms into account; but he insisted at the same time that the Magisterium of his predecessors retained its full and perennial validity. Indeed, far from seeing any inconsistency or discontinuity between what he was recommending in 1943 and what had already been permitted in the ’20s and ’30s, when Spiritus Paraclitus was, as it were, the “reigning” biblical encyclical, Pius XII was conscious that his own teaching on literary genres was merely a more explicit and formal magisterial approval of the progress that had been made in that period, with the full blessing of his predecessors.

The fact is that right from the beginning of the century the Magisterium had admitted cautiously the possibility that Scripture could contain “narratives which are historical only in appearance.” The Pontifical Biblical Commission decided in 1905 that as a rule the existence of such genres should not be admitted in Scripture; but it allowed that there might be exceptions (“not to be easily or rashly admitted”) if there turned out to be cases where it could be “proved with solid arguments that the inspired writer did not intend to write history in the true and proper sense, but rather, under the appearance and form of history, to propose a parable, an allegory or some other meaning distinct from the proper literal or historical meaning of the words.”102

And, indeed, was not this decision (even though coming from what Scripture scholars now commonly consider the anti-modernist `Dark Ages’) a perfectly sane and measured response to the problem? After all, would even the most `progressive’ exegete today want to maintain with a straight face that responsible scholarship could actually reject the Commission’s advice on this point? Since when can researchers in any field of science or scholarship feel free to dispense with “proofs” and “solid arguments” before asserting new conclusions, particularly if these happen to be contrary to what other experts in the field have long held? Benedict XV simply maintained this prudent norm, and in no way “denied”-either in theory or “in effect”-that the Bible should be “interpreted according to its literary forms.”

In fact, as Fr. Jean Levie (by no means a conservative exegete) recognized half a century ago, Spiritus Paraclitus had, if anything, the opposite of a “stifling” or “negative” impact on biblical studies. Unlike Fr. Fitzmyer, Fr. Levie (born c. 1880) was already active as a Scripture professor during the inter-war period and so could speak from personal experience. In the historical part of his 1946 commentary on Divino afflante Spiritu, he saw the 1920 encyclical as part of a trajectory of gradually increasing recognition of biblical literary genres by the Magisterium, beginning from the 1905 decision. The French scholar recalled that after a “temporary halt on discussions” of this difficult theme at the height of the anti-modernist conflicts following Pascendi and Lamentabili(1907), Benedict XV’s encyclical “accepted more explicitly the principle of `literary genres’ in history, while reproving the excessive use of that principle.”103Indeed, as we have seen, its application to the Book of Judith was accepted widely in the inter-war period by the most thoroughly approved and trusted exegetes; and during the same period it was already commonplace for exegetes to appeal without hindrance from the Holy Office, the Biblical Commission, or the Pope-to ancient Semitic forms of language and expression in order to explain, for instance, the apparently conflicting genealogies in Matthew and Luke, and to argue that it is debatable whether the Genesis author really intended to assert the true geographical (or even anthropological) universality of the Great Flood.104

What, then, did Benedict XV actually say about these matters? While it is true that he was concerned to issue a strong denunciation of the errors currently in circulation, he was also careful to preface his condemnations by positive encouragement for exegetes. Using the same sort of language which today’s conventional exegetical wisdom headlines as “boldly innovative” or “progressive” when it occurs in more recent magisterial statements,105the Pope said:

We fully approve, of course, the project of those who, in order to help themselves and others find a way out of difficulties in the sacred text, are using new avenues and new methods of investigation, relying on every means of assistance that can be afforded by critical scholarship in the effort to clear up those difficulties.106

The Pontiff immediately went on to add, however: “But we remind them that they will only come to miserable grief if they neglect our predecessor’s injunctions and overstep the limits set by the Fathers.”107 In regard to the specific question of literary genres, this was treated together with the theory of “tacit quotations” which we have already mentioned. The Pope rebuked

… those who, in appealing to certain principles which indeed are valid if kept within certain definite limits, abuse them to the extent of shaking the foundations of biblical truth and undermining the common Catholic doctrinehanded down from the Fathers. If Jerome were alive now, he would certainly be hurling his sharpest verbal missiles at those who set aside the mind and judgment of the Church and take refuge too readily in the appeal to “implicit quotations” and “narratives historical only in appearance.” No less severe would he be with those who claim to have found in the sacred Scriptures certain literary genres which would be incompatible with the integral and perfect truth of God’s word; or with those who speculate about the origins of the biblical books in such a way as to weaken their authority, or    even destroy it altogether.108

Thus, it is not the principle of “literary genres” (or of “narratives historical only in appearance”) which the Pope condemns, but only the abuse of that principle, either by abandoning too quickly one’s confidence in the historical intention of the sacred author as a facile means of explaining away difficulties, or of pretending to find “literary genres” which in any case would be incompatible with the Bible’s divine inspiration and inerrancy. (These would include, for instance, `legends’ and ‘folkloric history’, which are by nature misleading or deceptive: they are stories about events believed by simple or primitive people to have really taken place in the past, but which never in fact took place.)

One of the basic fallacies or dangers in this area had been accurately spotted already by the beginning of the century, as Fr. Bea recalled in his authoritative 1943 commentary on Divino afflante Spiritu. He quoted the German exegete Goettsberger, who in 1905 criticized certain of his colleagues as follows: “Here the direction of the argument seems to be inverted: no longer do they deduce the non-historical character of the content from an independent knowledge of the literary genre; instead, they are deducing the existence of the literary genre from the very fact that the content is considered non-historical.”109

That, clearly, was a sophistical approach which Pope Benedict was right to condemn as an “abuse” of a valid principle. Instead of effectively defending the doctrine of biblical inerrancy from the attacks of secular historians, such an approach only exposes that doctrine to greater ridicule on their part. For, if we have before us a text (biblical or otherwise) which shows every sign of having been written as history – that is, it is in narrative form and has no literary devices or other stylistic or structural traits signaling to its original readers that the genre was intended as imaginative rather than historical110-and if this text turns out to contain assertions on the part of the author which demonstrably do not correspond to past events as they are known to have actually occurred,111then correct scientific historical method will require us to conclude that the author has either lied or made honest mistakes. Therefore, if such a text were to be found in the Bible-and faithful Catholics must believe firmly that such never has been nor ever will be found therein-that same scientific method would require us to abandon belief in the fundamental Christian dogma of the Bible’s divine authorship, since God can neither deceive nor’ fall into error. To cling to one’s Christian faith, under those circumstances, by taking refuge in the hypothesis of a`non-historical genre’ would be gratuitous and unscientific. One would thereby `save’ the divine inspiration and inerrancy of the text only at the expense of falling prey to a reductio ad absurdum rebuttal from the scientific historian: he would be quick to point out that by resorting to this ploy (i.e., by taking non-correspondence with the known facts as being in itself sufficient evidence of an imaginative literary genre in which no such correspondence was ever intended) one could uphold with the greatest of ease the “inerrancy” of any piece of narrative prose ever written! Which would plainly be ridiculous.

This abuse of the `literary genres’ concept can in fact be seen as a theological counterpart to the abuse of narcotic drugs. That alluring two-word formula holds out to the typical postconciliar exegete the beguiling promise of an escape-route-a `quick fix’-by which he can have his cake and eat it too. That is, it seems to offer him the attractive prospect of being able to continue believing in the divine inspiration of Scripture (and so avoid the trauma of losing his faith) while easily relieving himself of the faith-challenging difficulties, uncertainties and perplexities involved in the painstaking work of defending the truth of Scripture’s concrete historical statements. As we all know, the euphoric sense of peace and well-being produced by a stiff dose of narcotics is achieved only at the cost of slipping into a hazy world of illusion and unreality. Similarly, in smiling with condescension at the ‘pre-critical’ and `futile’ efforts at ‘concordism’ of all those pre-1943 Catholic exegetes (and present-day `fundamentalists’) with no access to the instant relief which he can now enjoy at will, today’s revisionist Scripture scholar basks in the relaxing glow of his `literary genre’ panacea for all objections to biblical inspiration only at the risk of letting his faith decompose into the groundless illusion of fideism. Having surrendered to rationalist criticism the high ground of Scripture’s historical reliability, he not only empties divine inspiration of its true meaning, but opens himself to being left with a “faith” un-grounded in historical reality, and, hence, with no rational basis. 112

In arguing that the historicity of the Gospel Infancy Narratives is “extremely dubious ,”113Fr. Raymond Brown seems to have adopted this fallacious and perilous `inversion’ we have been analyzing. For he evidently takes it for granted, as a methodological principle, that if a Catholic exegete thinks he has discovered significant historical improbabilities in a biblical narrative, then on this basis alone he is entitled-as a believer in the divine inspiration of that narrative-to presume that it was written according to a non-historical literary genre. After summarizing in two pages what he calls the “principal reasons” for doubting the historical reliability of the Infancy Narratives-and these “reasons” all turn out to be drawn from the affirmations or silences of contemporary Roman and Jewish historians, or from other supposedly problematical affirmations and silences of these two Gospels themselves-Fr. Brown shouts his doubts at the reader in block letters: “THE BURDEN OF PROOF LIES ON THOSE WHO AFFIRM HISTORICITY.”114In other words, we are to act on the assumption that these narratives belong to a “non-historical genre” unless the contrary should one day be proven.


“Song Angels” by William Bouguereau

Raising one’s voice, however, does nothing to strengthen a weak argument. To begin with, careful analysis of the “reasons” given for the alleged historical improbability of Matthew’s and Luke’s narratives would undoubtedly show that they are not such serious reasons as Fr. Brown claims they are.”115 The point being emphasized, however, is that even if they were as serious as he claims they are, reasons of that sort would still in no way be sufficient to justify him, as a Catholic scholar, in doubting the actual historical reliability of the Infancy Narratives, and in postulating that they belong to some less-than-historical literary genre. For Fr. Brown, who acknowledges in these same pages both the divine inspiration of the Infancy Narratives116 and the inconclusive nature of the objections he has raised,117is obliged by the exigencies of faith (as well as those of reason) to avoid carefully that abusive appeal to `literary genres’, condemned by Benedict XV, which leads toward the disastrous dissolution of rational Christian faith which we have outlined above.

First, what are the exigencies of reason? Given the fact that these early chapters of Matthew and Luke indisputably appear in the form of historical narratives recording events related to Jesus’ birth and childhood, sound literary theory requires us to presume that they were written with the intention of persuading readers that the said events really did take place, unless it can perhaps be shown that the authors indicated the contrary intention to their prospective readership by some kind of literary device. In the absence of any such device, the literary critic will be left with only two real possibilities: either the authors intended to write true history, i.e., to use the literary genre of true history,118or (conceivably) they meant to deceive their readers by writing propaganda, i.e.,either pure fabrication or a plausible mixture of truth and falsehood.

Secondly, what are the exigencies of faith? For the Catholic, these derive from what Vatican II confirms as the “apostolic faith” of Holy Mother Church that her canonical books, “entire and with all their parts…. have God as their author.”119This consideration clearly rules out immediately the possibility of deceptive propaganda as the `literary genre’ of the Infancy Narratives. With equal immediacy it rules out the possibility that the human authors honestly intended to write true history about Our Lord’s birth and childhood, but got some of their factual statements wrong; for God was also the author of each of those statements.

As a faithful Catholic commentator on the Infancy Narratives, therefore, Fr. Brown is now left with only two possibilities: either these Gospel accounts are completely reliable as history in spite of the difficulties he has noted (difficulties which in any case he has freely admitted are not overwhelming), or else Luke and Matthew both indicate clearly to their intended readership by some means or other that they do not intend everything stated in these narratives to be understood as historically true. But, since Fr. Brown has not made the slightest attempt in these pages to show that the inspired authors gave the original readers of the Infancy Narratives any such indication, his Capitalized Conclusion (i.e., that in the present state of scholarship their non-historicity is to be presumed) is plainly a non sequitur.

Indeed, how would Fr. Brown argue plausibly that Matthew and Luke did somehow signal a non-historical intention to their readers? For both of them actually signaled the exact opposite! Luke unambiguously spells out his historical intention at the beginning of his Gospel (1:1-4), as does Matthew, in typically Semitic fashion, by commencing his Gospel with a genealogy, and then asserting the continuing factual reality of what follows: “Now the generation of Christ was in this wise” (L18, Douay Rheims version).120 In short, far from the burden of proof’s lying on those Catholics who affirm the historicity of the Infancy Narratives, there is a crushing burden of proof lying on those Catholics who deny it, or even doubt it. All the more so since Vatican Council II declared, in one of the most solemn doctrinal affirmations to be found in any of its documents, that the “historicity” of the four Gospels 121 is something which “Holy Mother Church” has not only “held firmly and with absolute constancy, and continues to hold,” but also “unhesitatingly asserts.” Nothing in the text or debates suggests that the Fathers meant to exclude the Infancy Narratives when they referred to the historicity of the Gospels. On the contrary, they quoted Acts 1:1-2 (i.e.,Luke’s retrospective reference to his Gospel as a whole-‘from the beginning until the day he … was taken up into Heaven”), to make it clear that this historicitas refers to the Infancy Narratives as well as the Resurrection Accounts.122

It is precisely in regard to such disputes over the historicity of the Gospels that Spiritus Paraclitus seems at its freshest and most relevant seventy-five years after its publication. Neither Providentissimus Deus nor Divino afflante Spiritu devoted much specific attention to this grave issue; but Benedict XV wrote at a time when, under the influence of German liberal Protestant exegesis, the fallacies of form-criticism were starting to gain ground, dissecting the canonical texts into a jig-saw puzzle of supposed literary unitswelded together gradually byunknown “communities” and anonymous “redactors.” The result of such pseudoscientific criticism was-and is-an all-pervasive skepticism as to which Gospel passages (if any) represent the true actions or teachings of Our Lord, since each form-critical scholar inevitably has his own shifting and tentative personal opinions about such matters.

The seductiveness of this method lay (and still lies) above all in the magic of the word “science.” Modern form-criticism claims to be “objective” and “scientific” just like physics or chemistry, it would seem. But precisely in its attempt to imitate the natural sciences, this method fails to observe the proper norms of historicalscience, which knows nothing of this chopping-up of homogeneous texts into “early” and “later” strata on the basis of certain alleged “laws” or predictable stages of formation. Moreover, whereas the natural sciences can test their working hypotheses by experiment and direct observation, the innumerable form-critical hypotheses as to how each passage of the Gospels gradually reached its present form can never (given the unavailability of time machines) be tested by that sort of onthe-spot enquiry, and so be either proved or disproved. They remain forever speculations, and indeed, gratuitous speculations, because they were not even arrived at by well-reasoned historical methodology. Yet because their protagonists label them `science’; because they are constantly changing and being `updated’ (as all good scientific investigations are supposed to be); and because of a strong secular bias which renders them overtly or covertly skeptical about the supernatural, they have gained an unmerited aura of incontestable and `objective’ validity.

How refreshing, then, are the following astringent and prophetic words of Benedict XV, which might well be employed today as a complement to the more irenic but doctrinally harmonious affirmations of Dei Verbum, 19!

What can we say of men who in expounding the very Gospels so whittle away the human trust we should repose in them as to overturn Divine faith in them? They refuse to allow that the things which Christ said or did have come down to us unchanged and entire through witnesses who carefully committed to writing what they themselves had seen and heard. They maintain-and particularly in their treatment of the Fourth Gospel-that much is due of course to the Evangelists-who, however, added much from their own imaginations; but much, too, is due to narratives compiled by the faithful at other periods, the result, of course, being that the twin streams now flowing in the same channel cannot be distinguished from one another. Not thus did Jerome and Augustine and the other Doctors of the Church understand the historical trustworthiness of the Gospels.123

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, in the recent Italian publication which has repeatedly been cited in these pages, recognizes the severity of that “state of emergency” (stato d’emergenza)124in which the Church’s faith now finds itself as a result of the revisionary approach of many biblical scholars to Tradition and the Magisterium. He writes: “Dogma, deprived of its scriptural foundation, is no longer holding up. The Bible, which has separated itself from dogma, has become a document of the past which belongs to the past.”125Today, therefore, in the effort to overcome this crisis, should we not all heed the lessons taught by Benedict XV’s encyclical? Its assertive vigilance against errors which today are once again widespread, combined with its eminently pastoral approach, its spiritual emphasis, and its encouragement of Scripture scholars to adopt what would be in effect a neo-Patristic method (i.e., a synthesis of modern historical and scientific knowledge with the basic hermeneutical approach of St. Jerome and the other great Fathers)-all this would furnish a harmonious complement to Vatican Council II’s doctrinal and pastoral teaching on the Bible. If seriously implemented, it would surely do much to lead the People of God to a truer, more extensive, and more fruitful knowledge of Sacred Scripture-ignorance of which, as Jerome insisted, “is ignorance of Christ.”

It was, in fact, Vatican II which brought that saying of the ancient Church’s champion of Scripture back to our attention; and it did so in a context that might surprise many biblical scholars today. Those exegetes who now remember Benedict XV’s teaching only in order to disparage it could do worse than reflect for a moment on the fact that, in recalling St. Jerome’s dictum, the Council which they claim was bent on canonizing the final victory of their own revisionism over the “negative” and “stifling” attitude of the pre-war Magisterium has directed us all, in its footnote, to consult one page of Divino afflante Spiritu (1943)-but four pages of Spiritus Paraclitus (1920).126



N.B: Translations from Latin, Italian and French originals in this paper are those of the present writer unless otherwise stated.

1Cf.AAS 12 (1920), pp. 385-422, and EB 440-495. “Enchiridion Biblicum,” abbreviated as “EB” in this paper, refers to the latest edition of this standard collection of Church documents on Scripture: Enchiridion Biblicum: Documenta della Chiesa sulla Sacra Scrittura, Bologna, Edizioni Dehoniane Bologna, 1994 (second bilingual edition, in Latin and Italian). The numbers refer to the paragraphs, not the pages, of EB.

2J.A. Fitzmyer (ed.), The Biblical Commission’s Document, “The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church “: Text and Commentary (Rome: Editrice Pontificio Istituto Biblico, 1993), p. 20, n. 10.

3For typical expositions of this interpretation of the recent history of Catholic biblical studies, see R.E. Brown, The Virginal Conception and Bodily Resurrection of Jesus (New York: Paulist Press, 1973), pp. 3-9;also R.E. Brown & T.A. Collins, “Church Pronouncements,” Jerome Biblical Commentary (London: Geoffrey Chapman, 1969), pp. 624-626;New Jerome Biblical Commentary (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall, 1990), pp. 1167-1168.

4 Cf. L. Alonso Schokel, “Dove va 1’esegesi cattolica?”, La Civilta Cattolica, III, quad. 2645, 3 September 1960, pp. 449-460. Fr. Alonso claimed that back in 1943 Pius XII himself “was very conscious of opening a new and wide door through which many novelties would be entering the precincts of Catholic exegesisnovelties that would have surprised excessively conservative minds (… si rese ben conto di aprire una nuova ed ampia porta, e che attraverso di essa sarebbero entrate nel recinto dell’esegesi cattolica molte novita, che avrebbero sorpreso gli animi eccessivamente conservatori)” (p. 456).

5Another prominent Scripture scholar, Msgr. Antonino Romeo, quickly published a detailed and indignant rebuttal of Fr. Alonso’s thesis (“L’enciclica ‘Divino afflante Spiritu’ e le ‘Opiniones Novx,”‘ Divinitas,4 [1960], pp. 387-456). This heated exchange produced repercussions which echoed around Rome and abroad for years afterwards.

6As Fr. Fitzmyer rightly observes, “That encyclical responded in part to problems that were raised by the rationalistic interpretation of the Bible in the nineteenth century and to many historical and archaeological discoveries, scientific advances, progress in textual criticism, and by the comparative study of ancient religions. But Leo XIII was also moved in part by a desire `to give an impulse to the noble science of Holy Scripture and to impart to Scripture study a direction suitable to the needs of the present day”‘ (op. cit., pp. 17-18).


8In the latest edition of the Enchiridion Biblicum (cf. note 1 above), all the early decrees of the Pontifical Biblical Commission are reproduced in full, together with Pope St. Pius X’s Motu Proprio Praestantia Scripturae (18 November 1907), which declares the Commission’s decisions “binding in conscience on everyone (universos omnes conscientice obstringi officio)” (EB 271). No subsequent official document has ever hinted at any rescinding of any of these decisions: they are simply no longer enforced. (The Commission’s 1948 Letter to the Cardinal Archbishop of Paris on the early chapters of Genesis made it clear, in response to the Archbishop’s request that one or more of the early decisions be rescinded, that the 1905, 1906 and 1909 decisions still remained in force. Cf. EB 579.) Indeed, Vatican II cited the Commission’s Response of 18 June 1915 on the nature and effects of Scripture’s divine authorship-obviously considering it still valid (cf. note I to Dei Verbum, 11, citing EB 420 1415 in 1994 edn.}).

It is sometimes said that Pius X himself quickly mitigated his initial rigour in the subsequent Motu Proprio Illibatce custodiendcP of 29 June 1910, which promulgated the text of an oath to be taken by all those about to receive doctoral degrees in Sacred Scripture. In this text the words of the 1907 Motu Proprio are included in the oath, but with a slight change: the decrees of the Biblical Commission now said to be binding in conscience are those “pertaining to doctrine (ad doctrinam pertinerrtibus)” (EB 341). Thus, it is said, the Pope was already in effect ruling that every exegete could henceforth feel free to dissent from past (and future) decrees of the Commission in matters which he might feel do not involve doctrine of faith and morals. But this cannot be the true interpretation of the 1910 Motu Proprio, because: (a) it would be absurd to suppose that the post-1910 decisions of the Commission, worded in exactly the same form as those before 1910 (i.e., with clear-cut affirmative and negative answers as to what opinions could be sustained) were intended to be subject to the personal judgment of each exegete; (b) the Commission itself continued to regard the 1907 Motu Proprio as still in force even after its 1910 counterpart, citing the wording of the former (i.e., without the three additional words) as binding in a 1923 decree (cf. EB 503); and (c) it was not until 1954 that the Biblical Commission considered the proposal-supported by its Prefect, Cardinal Eugene Tisserant-of limiting the binding force of the previous decrees in this way (cf. F. Spadafora,Leo XIII e gli Studi Biblici, Rovigo, Istituto di Arti Grafiche, 1976, p. 178). The Commission in plenary session actually rejected this proposal, but in 1955 the Secretary and Undersecretary of the Commission both published articles claiming that its decrees could be considered no longer binding except insofar as faith and morals might be involved. This was considered by some to be “semiofficial” (cf. ibid., 178-180, and Fitzmyer, op. cit., p. 21, n. 11), even though these articles have no juridical force whatever. Significantly, Vatican Council II did not accede to the unanimous plea of the professors of the Pontifical Biblical Institute, who had formally requested in 1960 that the forthcoming Council declare the Church’s position to be that published in these articles by the Secretary and Undersecretary-a fact which shows that the professors themselves recognized at that time that the articles had no juridical force (cf. Acta et documenta Concilio Oecumenico II apparando, Rome: 1961, IV, I, 1, pp. 133-134). The true import of the altered wording in the later Motu Proprio comes to light when it is recalled that by 1910 it was foreseen that the Biblical Commission would sometimes be bringing out purely administrative documents, like the 1911 decree setting out examination procedures for degrees in Scripture (cf. EB 344-382). It appears that the words “pertaining to doctrine” (i.e., to biblical interpretation as such) were added to the 1907 wording in the 1910 oath simply in order to exclude such merely administrative documents from the category of those which were binding in conscience on exegetes.

9Fitzmyer, op. cit., p. 20, n. 10.

10Many theses were censured in decrees of the early Pontifical Biblical Commission; but such decrees did not of themselves silence any particular author or prohibit any particular book. Indeed, of all the thousands of works on Scripture published round the Catholic world throughout that pre-1943 period, only four books and two articles were ever specifically censured by name in decisions published by the Holy See.

11Op. cit., p. 20.

12Ibid., pp. 18-19.

13Cf. ibid., p. 19,n.9.

14Cf. EB 538.

15“…spiritualem quamdam et mysticum, ut aiunt, interpretationem” (EB 552).

16 “…strenuorum in vinea Domini operariorum” (EB 564).

 17“. .. qui quidem ab illo haud satis prudenti studio abhorrere debent, quo quidquid novum est, ob hoc ipsum censetur esse impugnandum, aut in suspicionem adducendum” (ibid).  

18 Op. cit. (cited in n. 3 above), p. 626.

19 R.E. Brown, op. cit. (cited in n. 3), p. 13.

20Ibid.,pp. 13-14.

21Cf. the Pontifical Biblical Commission’s Letter to the Bishops of Italy, Un opusculo anonimo denigratorio (“An anonymous and defamatory pamphlet”) (20 August 1941), EB 522-533. Because of their doctrinal defects, Fr. Ruotolo’s own 13 volumes of Scriptural commentaries (Genesis to Sirach), entitled La Sacra Scrittura, psicologia-commento-meditazione,had been placed on the Index of Forbidden Books donec corrigatur (“until corrected”). Cf. AAS 32 (1940), p. 554.

22The letter admitted that even the inept way in which this anonymous diatribe was presented had probably been sufficient to demonstrate immediately to many or most Bishops that it was something inconsequential, and “could well dispense one from making further remarks about it” (potrebbero dispensare da altri rilievi). However the letter went on to explain that the Commission was taking the trouble of responding to the pamphlet in case “some Shepherd or other” (qualche Pastore)might have been disturbed by its denunciations. Cf. EB 522.

23Unfortunately, this historically unfounded view has succeeded in distorting the official English translation of Pope John Paul II’s allocution of 23 April 1993 celebrating the 100th anniversary of Providentissimus Deus and the fiftieth of Divino afflante Spiritu (EB 1239-1258). The allocution is reproduced at the beginning of the Vatican-published booklet giving the text of the Biblical Commission’s 1993 document (The Interpretation of ‘the Bible in the Church, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1993). On p. 9 of the booklet, as in Fitzmyer, op. cit., p. 3, we read that His Holiness said: “Divino afflante Spiritu was primarily concerned with defending Catholic interpretation from attacks that opposed the use of science by exegetes and that wanted to impose a non-scientific, so-called `spiritual’ interpretation of Sacred Scripture.” The word “primarily” is an unjustifiable translation of the French original, the word davantage,which means “rather,” or “more” (correctly translated into Italian as piuttosto in EB 1241). The context of the Pope’s observation is a passage wherein he is comparing a certain part of Pius XII’s encyclical (not the whole document) with the corresponding part of that of Leo XIII, namely, “the polemical, or to be more exact, the apologetic part of the two Encyclicals.” John Paul II says that while the apologetic aspect of Providentissimus Deus was concerned “to protect Catholic interpretation of the Bible from the attacks of rationalists,” that of Divino afflante Spiritu “was more (davantage) concerned” with protecting it from the opposite sort of attacks, namely, those “that opposed the use of science by exegetes.” While the Holy Father alludes to the antiscientific pamphlet by Fr. Ruotolo, he never says that rebutting it was the “main” or “primary” concern of his predecessor in writing Divino afflante Spiritu.   

24See p. 37 below.

 25“. . . ce n’est pas cet incident local qui a motive, pour 1’essentiel, la publication de l’encyclique ‘Divino afflante Spiritu’.” J. Levie,”L’Encyclique sur les Etudes Bibliques” (Part I), Nouvelle Revue Theologique, Vol. 68, No.6, Oct. 1946, p. 652.

26Cf. EB 565. In speaking of these “few” passages whose meaning has already been decided, Pius XII says he is speaking of the “legal, historical, sapiential and prophetic” books. This choice of words suggests that he had in mind principally the Old Testament.

27Cf. EB 555-561.

28 Cf. EB 539-545.

29“. .. progressiste, elargissante,” see Levie, op. cit., p. 655.

30. “C’est la victoire de cette seconde mentalite, deja virtuellement ac quise depuis bien des annees, que consacre l’encyclique” (op. cit. [n. 26 above], Part II, Vol. 68, No.7, Nov.-Dec. 1946, p. 781).

31“Certes le progres est dans la meme ligne et sans contradiction aucune; des 1905 certaines applications du principe des genres litteraires avaient ete reconnues legitimes; mais ce West qu’en 1943 qu’il est propose formellement par l’autorite elle-meme comme le grand moyen de `resoudre beaucoup d’objections contre la verite et la valeur historique des Saintes Lettres”‘ (ibid., p. 782-emphasis in original).

32 Cf. the Pontifical Biblical Commission’s response of 23 June 1905, dealing with “narratives which are historical only in appearance” (EB 161). The Commission decided that as a rule the existence of such genres should not be admitted in Scripture, but it allowed that there might be exceptions, if it could be proved with solid arguments that in particular books or passages “the inspired writer did not intend to write history in the true and proper sense.”

33Divino afflante Spiritu, EB 559.

34Ibid., EB 560.

35Ibid., EB 559.

36 Levie,op. cit., pp. 787-788 (emphasis added).

37“.. n’entend nullement donner carte blanche aux exegetes quant a

l’etendue et k la largeur des applications” (ibid., p. 788).

38 Cf. note 4 above.

39 Cf. Alonso, op. cit., p. 457, and Romeo, op. cit., pp. 434-43 5, n. 113 (cited in notes 4 and 5 above). Ricciotti was undoubtedly referring to such facts, for instance, as that the Book of Judith depicts Nebuchadnezzar as king of Assyria, living at Nineveh (1:1), when he was in fact King of Babylon-and at a time when Nineveh had already been destroyed (in 612 B.C.) by his father Nabopolassar. Furthermore, Judith 4:3 and 5:19 state that by the time the events described in the book took place, the Jews had already returned from the Babylonian exile. But that return was in fact nearly a century after the fall of Nineveh. These elementary historical facts would surely have been well-known to the ancient scholars who admitted Judith to the canon, so it seems entirely plausible to maintain that certain striking discrepancies from history were deliberately included as a literary device for letting readers know that the book is not intended as true history, even though it would almost certainly have a historical basis. The commentary on Judith in A. Jones (ed.), The Jerusalem Bible (New York: Doubleday & Co., 1966) states: “The author seems deliberately to have defied history to distract the reader’s attention from the historical context and focus it exclusively on the religious conflict and outcome” (p. 603).

40Cf. A. Bea, “L’enciclica `Divino afflante Spiritu,”‘ La Civiltd Cattolica, No. IV, quad. 2242,10 November 1943, pp. 212-224.

41“…fisso per sempre le linee fondamentali dello studio biblico nella Chiesa cattolica” (ibid., p. 212).

42Cf. ibid., pp. 216-217.

43“. . . entrera certamente nella serie di quei documenti pontifici, che rimarranno per sempre guida e norma dell’insegnamento biblico” (ibid., p. 224).

44Brown,The Virginal Conception. .., op. cit., p. 4.

45 Cf. Encyclical Humani generis (12August 1950), EB 613.


47After recalling and summing up the insistence of Providentissimus Deus on the absolute inerrancy of Scripture, Pius XII affirmed: “This, therefore, was the doctrine expounded with such gravity by Our Predecessor Leo XIII; We too by Our authority propose this doctrine, and insist that it be scrupulously held by all. (Hanc igitur, quam Decessor Noster Leo XIII tanta cum gravitate doctrinam exposuit, Nos quoque auctoritate Nostra proponimus et, ut ab omnibus religiose teneatur, inculcamus)” EB 540.  

48 “Ex hisce igitur aliisque inceptis, quce in dies latius propagantur et invalescunt, … spem concipimus haud dubiam fore, ut in posterum et reverentia et usu et scientia Sacrarum Litterarum etiam atque etiam ad animorum bonum ubique proficiant, dummodo studiorum biblicorum rationem a Leone XIII prcescriptam, ab eius Succesoribus luculentius perfectiusque declaratam, a Nobis vero confirmatam et auctam-quce quidem unice tuta est atque experimento comprobata-firmius, alacrius, fidentiusque retineant omnes” (EB 545emphasis added).

49We shall give English quotations of Spiritus Paraclitus (SP) from the translation found in Rome and the Study of Scripture (Grail Publications, 1953), pp. 43-78, which is reproduced in Claudia Carlen (ed.), The Papal Encyclicals 1903-1939 (McGrath Publishing Co., 1981), pp. 177-194. The section numbers used in this version are not found in the original Latin text (cf. EB 440-495).

50Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, “Preface to the Biblical Commission Document,” cited in Fitzmyer, op. cit., p. 14. In his allocution for the centenaryof Providentissimus Deus, Pope John Paul II also noted with satisfaction that “exegetes of various confessions”-that is, not only Catholics-are now “being more attentive to the contributions of patristic exegesis” (ibid.,p. 7).

51Jerome, Epist. ad Laetam, 107, 9, 12, cited in SP 41 (EB 475).  

52Jerome, Epist. 108, sive Epitaphium S. Pauka, 26, cited in SP 42 (EB 475).

53Cf. Constitution on Divine Revelation, Dei Verbum, Chapter VI.

54W .M. Abbott (ed.), The Documents of Vatican II (London: Geoffrey Chapman, 1967), pp. 125-126, n. 50.Fr. MacKenzie is not identified as the author of the comments on Dei Verbum in or near the conciliar text itself. However, his signature appears on the introductory essay preceding the text of the Dogmatic Constitution (ibid., p. 110), and an editorial note at the beginning of the book says that the unofficial notes to each conciliar document are the work of the scholar “whose name is at the end of the essay introducing the document” (ibid.,p.xiv).

 55Sp 43-44(EB 477-478).

 56Dei Verbum, 22.

  57Abbott (ed.), op. cit., p. 126, n. 52.

58Jerome,Epist. ad Marcellam,27, 1, 1,cited in SP 13 (EB 450).

59SP 50 (EB 485).

60Cf. Fitzmyer, op. cit., pp. 4-8 (EB 1245-1252).

61Ibid., p. 4 (EB 1245).

62Cf., for instance, the review of 20th-century studies on this theme M.A. Tabet, “Ispirazione, condiscendenza ed incarnazione nella te• ologia di questo secolo,” Annales Theologici, 8 (1994) pp. 235-28~

63I. de la Potterie (ed.), Lesegesi cristiana oggi (Casale Monferrato: Edizioni Piemme, 1991).

64  “E stato soprattutto a causa di questa ‘ossessione dell’inerranza’ (A.M. Artola) che e scoppiata la famosa ‘questione biblica’, durante l’oscura epoca del modernismo. Ed e stato merito di Pio XII l’avere posto fine a tale questione con la sua enciclica Divino afflante Spiritu (1943).” I. de la Potterie, “L’esegesi biblica, scienza della fede,” ibid., p. 140 (emphasis in original).

65Ibid., p. 141 (emphasis added). The Italian original of the emphasised words is “. . . e per la prima volta in un documento del Magistero, la parola ‘autore’ e applicata anche agli agiografz.”   

66” . do Dio autore dei libri sacri’ al `la Scrittura come opera letteraria.”‘G. Colombo, “Intorno all”Esegesi Scientifica,”‘ in I. de la Potterie (ed.), L’esegesi cristiana oggi (Casale Monferrato: Edizioni Piemme, 1991), p. 198.

67lbid., p. 201(emphasis added). The Italian original of the emphasised words is “. . . con la conseguente problematizzazione dell’attribuzione a Dio, esclusiva nei testi del Concilio e del magistero precedenti.”

68lbid., p. 202.

69Note 1 to Dei Verbum, 11, cites not only Vatican Council I’s solemn statement of this truth, but also its emphatic and rigorous reassertion in the Biblical Commission’s Response of 18 June 1915 on the parousia in St. Paul’s Epistles (EB 415 in the latest edition), and in the 1923 Holy Office condemnation of a modernistic biblical manual (EB 499).

70Dei Verbum, 21 (the beginning of Chapter VI), starts conspicuously with the words “The divine Scriptures” (Divinas Scripturas). No. 23 speaks of the “divine Writings” (divinas Litteras) and, in the next line, of the “divine word” (divini verbi). Then the Council Fathersproduce a passage positively brimming over with that language which, according to our distinguished theologian, they themselves have rendered “fatally obsolete”: no. 25 speaks again of Scripture as the “divine word” (verbi divini), the “divine Scriptures” (divinarum Scripturarum), and the “divine oracles” (divina oracula). It then finishes off with the selfsame expression which Msgr. Colombo uses as his archetypal example of what “is not very coherent with the intention of the Council”: the “divine books” (divinorum librorum). Who, we must ask, is likely to be a better judge of the Council’s “intention”: the Council itself, or Msgr. Colombo?

71Cf. the following passages in Providentissimus Deus: EB 109 (“sacros auctores” and “inspiratos auctores”); EB 120 (“auctoribus”); EB 124 (“sacrum … auctorem”); EB 127 (“sacros auctores”).

72Cf. ibid., EB 125 (“primario auctori”).

73Dei Verbum, 11, reaffirms that the books of Scripture “have God as their author,” and no. 12 states that “God speaks in Sacred Scripture through men in human fashion.”

74The Biblical Commission then ruled that, while one could not simply deny that Moses was the “author” (auctorem)of the Pentateuch (EB 181), one could nevertheless admit that some editing and additions to the text were carried out after the time of Moses “by an inspired author” (ab auctore inspirato) (EB 184).

75Cf. De libri IsaicP indole et auctore, 28 June 1908 (EB 276-280) and De auctoribus et de tempore compositionis Psalmorum, 1 May 1910 (EB 332-339).

76 Cf. SP8 (EB 448).


78 That is, EB 556,cited in note 2to Dei Verbum, 11.

79I. dela Potterie, op. cit., (cited in notes 65 and 66 above),p. 144 (emphasis        in original). Fr. de la Potterie’s insistence on reading Scripture “in the Spirit,”   while of course perfectly correct per se, needs to be evaluated in the light of his          project of sharply distinguishing the human sense of Scripture from its divine    sense, implying that the former can be in error (cf. ibid.,pp. 139-144).See    discussion of this point below, pp. 63-66.

80Ibid., p. 131,emphasis in original.

81EB 114 and EB 483respectively. In the passage from Leo XIII’s 1893encyclical, the editors of EB have placed this phrase in bold type at the top of the page: “La Scrittura anima della teologia.”

82SP 18-30 (EB 453-463).

83Fitzmyer(ed.), op. cit.,p. 20, n. 10.

84 Dei Verbum, 11.

85 “La tradizione concordista del sec. XIX, la cui mentalita si manifestava ancora nella schema preconciliare, era dominata quasi esclusivamente dal problema dell’inerranza assoluta della Bibbia. Attribuiva l’assenza di errore a tutte le asserzioni degli autori biblici.” I. de la Potterie, “II Concilio Vaticano II e la Bibbia,” in I. de la Potterie (ed.), loc. cit. (cited in n. 65 above),p. 33 (emphasis in original). How is it possible that a scholar of such international standing should thus show himself forgetful of the fact that it was not only the “preconciliar schema,” but also the finally promulgated text of Dei Verbum, that made the “attribution” he criticizes? The reason he finds it untenable is that it would (so he says, quoting Fr. Pierre Grelot) require us to accept “the cosmology of the sacred authors, their geography, their botany, etc…………………………………………………………… as being equally the Word of God (accolti come altrettante Parole di Dio)” (ibid). But this is to caricature the traditional position (which Vatican II reaffirmed), since it insinuates that the said position requires us to accept all that the ancient authors believed or took for granted about cosmology, geography, etc. In fact, it requires us to accept only what they assertedabout such topics, taking into account, moreover, the popular approximations, prescientific forms of speech, and descriptions “according to appearances” by which the ancients commonly described such matters.

86 This is the complete paragraph EB 127, cited in note 5 to Dei Verbum, 11 (with emphasis added). The original of the emphasised words is: “. ., non pauca illa, quce contrarii aliquid vel dissimile viderentur afferre (eademque fere sunt qucc nomine novce scientia: nunc obiiciunt), non subtiliter minus quam religiose componere inter se et conciliare studuerint.” The following passage from St. Augustine’s letter (Epist. 82, 3) was also included in the conciliar footnote separately and inits own right, as part of this final revision; and since the sentence preceding Leo XIII’s quotaton of it (i.e.,”They professed … to the truth”) adds nothing to what was already included in other footnote references, it follows that the Commission’s-and the Council’s – specific purpose in citing EB 127 can only have been to recall the first part of that paragraph, viz., Leo XIII’s praise of “all the Fathers and Doctors” for their commitment to what is now called “concordism.”

87 I. de la Potterie, “L’esegesi biblica………………………………….. loc. cit. (cited in n. 66 above), pp. 142-143 (emphasis in original).

88EB 124.

89SP 19(EB 454).

90Cf. citation over n. 47 above.

91EB 538.

92 Cf. SP 13-15(EB 448-451).

93 EB 125, referring to the Bull Cantate Domino of the Council of Florence (EB 47),the first Decree of the Council of Trent on Sacred Scripture (EB 57), and the Constitution Dei Filius, ch. 2, of Vatican I (EB 77-78).

94Abbott (ed.), op. cit. (cited in n. 56 above), p. 119.

95Less than a decade after Divino afflante Spiritu, Pius XII had occasion to reprobate yet again the same basic error which, in slightly different words and with minor variations, is being propagated as the teaching of Vatican II by not a few contemporary commentators. On reading the 1950 encyclical Humani generis, one can sense the Pontiffs irritation at having to insist time and again on the same point: “Some are boldly perverting the sense of the [First] Vatican Council’s words which define God to be the author of Sacred Scripture, and are reviving the opinion-so often condemned already-that would restrict the inerrancy of Scripture to what concerns God, and matters of religion and morals. Indeed, they speak falsely of a human sense of the Bible, under which is supposed to lie hidden the divine sense-the only infallible one, they claim” (EB 612).

96Brown, op. cit. (cited in n.3 above), pp. 8-9. There are other less direct ways which can be used to expound what in practice amounts to the same view. To avoid openly contradicting Dei Verbum by saying that an inspired writer-and therefore the Holy Spirit!-may at times “affirm” what is erroneous, some commentators argue that the question as to whether or not the author does in fact “affirm,” (or “assert,” or “teach”) a given expression appearing in the Bible is to be decided not by the normal criteria of vocabulary, syntax, literary genre, and the analogy of faith, but on the basis of the reader’s prior judgment as to whether that expression has any salvific value or not. If he decides it has not, then he is to conclude that, notwithstanding all possible linguistic appearances to the contrary, such a statement or proposition is not really “affirmed” by its author. Hence, it may be freely admitted as erroneous without prejudice to the Catholic doctrine of biblical inerrancy! This procedure seems nothing more than thinly-veiled sophistry, because it will “defend” biblical inerrancy only at the cost of allowing words to mean whatever one wants them to mean. (Q: What looks like an affirmation, walks like an affirmation and talks like an affirmation-but isn’t an affirmation? A: a non-salvific biblical proposition!) This hermeneutical sleight-of hand seems to be implied by Fr. Roderick MacKenzie’s exegesis of Dei Verbum, 11. He tells readers of the `Abbott’ Documents that the whole text of Scripture “is authoritative and inerrant in what it affirms about the revelation of God and the history of salvation. According to the intentions of its authors, divine and human, it makes no other affirmations.” (Abbott {ed.}, op.cit., p. 119, note 31).

97The Council Fathers were officially informed, for instance, that the inclusion of the references to Scripture’s salvific purpose must not be taken to imply the kind of limitation on biblical inerrancy which the pre-conciliar Magisterium had repeatedly condemned. Rather, they were told, “it indicates Scripture’s formal specification, the nature of which must be kept in mind in deciding in what sense everything affirmed in the Bible is true-not only matters of faith and morals and facts bound up with the history of salvation. (… indicat eius specificationem formalem, cuius ratio habeatur in diiudicando quo sensu non tantum res fidei et morum atgue facta cum historia salutis coniuncta … sed omnia guce in Scriptura asseruntur sunt vera),” Acta Synodalia IV, V, 708 (emphasis in original).

98This is note 32 in the Abbott edition (p. 119).

99 The original of these two sentences in Dei Verbum, 11, is: “Cum ergo omne id, quod auctores inspirati seu hagiographi asserunt, retineri debeat assertum a Spiritu Sancto, inde Scripturce libri veritatem, quam Deus nostrca salutis causa Litteris Sacris consiguari voluit, firmiter, fideliter et sine errore docere profitendi sunt. Itaque, ‘omnis Scriptura divinitus inspirata et utilis ad docendum, ad arguendum, ad corripiendum, ad erudiendum in iustitia: ut perfectus sit homo Dei, ad omne opus bonum instructus’ (2 Tim 3:16-17, gr.).” The case for the above translation cannot be argued in full here.

100 Cf. S