Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Handout with Citation

The following is an excerpt from my Master's Thesis. It discusses the historical documents of the Church concerning the Bible. What we find is that there are significant tensions between the documents. Most of this can be explained by placing these documents in their original historical context. The tension found within these documents will be the point of discussion for our class.

Here is a book with all of these documents collected together:

B├ęchard, Dean P., S.J., ed. The Scripture Documents. Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 2002.

Providentissimus Deus by Leo XIII in 1893:

Providentissimus Deus (hereafter PD) "represents the magisterium's first treatment of the questions raised by modern Bible criticism." Leo XIII wanted to encourage the study of the Bible without sacrificing the tenets of the faith. Nonetheless, this document is quite restrictive in its approach to modern biblical criticism: "it is absolutely wrong and forbidden, either to narrow inspiration to certain parts only of Holy Scripture, or to admit that the sacred writer has erred."
Leo wrote that the books of Scripture "are written wholly and entirely, with all their parts, at the dictation of the Holy Ghost; and so far is it from being possible that any error can co-exist with inspiration." In the face of rationalism, Leo emphasized the divine inspiration of the text against those who stressed only the human composition. But, while this document restricted the overly-scientific aspects of exegesis, it called biblical scholars to defend the Church's teachings by studying the original languages of the Bible and by employing the art of criticism. According to Leo, this art was to investigate the historical development and transmission of the text. Although, he took seriously the human aspect when he admitted the possibility of exploring the composition and transmission of the text, when reading the document, one notices a pronounced emphasis on divine inspiration.

Divino Afflante Spiritu by Pius XII in 1943:

In Divino Afflante Spiritu (hereafter DAS) Pius presented again Leo's notion that the truth of the Bible is safeguarded by its divine inspiration, affirming that the truth of Sacred Scripture extends to all parts of the text. But unlike Leo, Pius stressed the unique stamp the human writers place upon the Bible: "the inspired writer, in composing the sacred book, is the living and reasonable instrument of the Holy Spirit."
Pius paid attention to the human side of the tension, noting that the unique contribution of each human author should be explored in order to better understand the text. Pius encouraged the use of literary science but also encouraged biblical scholars to examine the questions posed by biblical criticism, to defend the inerrancy of the text by exploring the historical background of the material, and to admit the possibility that apparent errors can result from our not knowing how to understand an ancient text. Pius XII, like Leo XIII, emphasized the divine aspect of the text; however, he does pay attention to the unique contribution of the human authors.

Sancta Mater Ecclesia by the Pontifical Biblical Commission in 1964:

Santa Mater Ecclesia (hereafter SME) addressed the historical truth of the gospels. It is best known as the document that distinguished the three levels of tradition found in the Gospels. First, there is the life of Jesus himself as he walked upon earth, suffered on the cross, rose from the dead, and ascended into heaven, i.e. both his actions and his words. Second, when the disciples received the promised Advocate, they began to preach Christ, and him crucified. Everything they said about Christ in this second stage was affected by the resurrection of Jesus. The Jesus they proclaimed was not limited to the historical Jesus; rather, the Risen Son of God was the subject of the Apostolic preaching. The third stage in the Jesus tradition was the committing of the apostolic witness to paper for the benefit of the future generations. In doing this, the sacred writers took all of the information available, a large sum of data, and set about "drawing up a narrative." Regarding the truth of this narrative, the Commission states, "The truth of the Gospel account is not compromised because the Evangelists report the Lord's words and deeds in different order. Nor is it hurt because they report His words, not literally but in a variety of ways, while retaining the same meaning." The truth of the text is maintained, even if the words of the Gospel go beyond the very letter of the matter. Both the divine and human aspects are maintained here, for the process of composition and transmission of the text is referred to as a human phenomenon. Still, the document shows that the original sense was maintained, bespeaking the divine guidance of the Holy Spirit. So, SME argues for both the divine inspiration and human composition of the Bible.

Dei Verbum by the Second Vatican Council in 1965:

Paragraph 11 of Dei Verbum (hereafter DV) begins: "The divinely revealed things, which are contained and put forward in the writings of Sacred Scripture, were consigned by the inspiration (afflante) of the Holy Spirit." It also addresses human composition: "in the composing of the sacred books, God chose men, whom he invited to make use of their own faculties and powers." The authors used their powers and faculties at the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, so that "everything which the inspired or Holy Writers assert must be retained as asserted by the Holy Spirit."
This outline of a carefully developed theology states that the Bible was written through human composition, which includes human freedom, at the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Due to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, everything asserted by those human authors is to be held as having been asserted by the Holy Spirit. DV does not hold that everything in the past tense is to be held as historically accurate. Rather, it says that everything asserted by the human author is to be held asserted by the divine author: if the human author did not assert historicity, neither, then, should it be held as asserted by God. Finding out what the inspired author asserted, then, is essential to biblical interpretation. If the assertions of the human author are to be held as asserted by the divine author, we want to be sure we do not attribute something to the divine author that was never asserted by the human author. In DV 12 it is argued that since God has spoken to us in a human way, we must, in order to understand what God wants to say, understand what the human authors wanted to say. So, DV taught that God worked in and through the human authors of the Bible; but, he did so in such a way as to maintain the authors' complete human capacities: this is the mystery of the Bible, namely that it is a divinely inspired text that was written through all of the complex processes of human composition.

Interpretation of the Bible in the Church by the Pontifical Biblical Commission in 1993:

Interpretation of the Bible in the Church (hereafter IBC) begins by acknowledging that the Bible is an ancient text and that it was hard to understand even in ancient times. Today, the interpretation of the text is even more difficult given the passage of time. The methods for understanding ancient texts must be employed in order to read the Bible. The Pontifical Biblical Commission recognizes that many among the Catholic faithful have grown dissatisfied with historical exegesis, since they "judge the method deficient from the point of view of faith." The IBC goes on to say that the faithful "insist that the result of scientific exegesis is only to provoke perplexity and doubt upon numerous points which hitherto had been accepted without difficulty… scientific exegesis, they claim, is notable for its sterility in what concerns progress in the Christian life." The Commission wrote IBC to address these concerns.

The Commission discussed the historical critical method. Since the Bible is the Word of God put into human language, it "has been composed by human authors in all its various parts and in all the sources that lie behind them. Because of this, its proper understanding not only admits the use of this method but actually requires it." To sum up, "the goal of the historical-critical method is to determine, particularly in a diachronic manner, the meaning expressed by the biblical authors and editors," as a way to reach the literal meaning of the text. It is precisely in reaching the literal meaning of the text, and doing so by use of the historical critical method, that we arrive at the divine aspect of the Scripture. The divine aspect of the text never overpowers the human aspect; instead, the divine aspect becomes apparent only in, through, and with the human aspect. There can be a false dichotomy established between the human composition and divine inspiration of the Bible that must be avoided: the Bible is not either human or divine; rather, it is both humanly composed and divinely inspired.

Summary of the Documents:

Leo XIII noted that there were human authors to whom the Spirit dictated what he wanted written. Pius XII confirmed the divine inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture, but demanded a better look at the manner in which the text was given to us, namely as the Word of God in human language. Dei Verbum describes best the interplay of human and divine authors when it argued that God, "making full use of the faculties and powers" of the human authors in such a way that they can be called true authors, "inspired them to write all and only what he wished." "Consigned to writing, the Scripture teaches the truth which God wished to reveal for our salvation, firmly, faithfully, and without error." The Pontifical Biblical Commission, in IBC, noted that the historical critical method is indispensable for interpreting the Bible, since it is an ancient text. Placing these documents in their historical contexts we see that each one was offered by the Church as a corrective to the prevailing emphasis of its time. Reading these documents out of their context seems to place them in tension with one another.

But, there is a tension found in the fact that the Bible is the humanly composed divinely inspired Word of God. There is a parallel tension found in the recent magisterial documents when it speaks about the Bible. In Leo XIII we find a complete rejection of the possibility of error in the text, and in the Instrumentum we find a teaching that says inerrancy is circumscribed. Pius XII emphasized the divine aspect, while he is aware of the human aspect. The Pontifical Biblical Commission emphasized the human aspect, while cognizant of the divine. Yet, standing in the middle of all these documents we find Dei Verbum, which captures the divine/human tension: God and the human authors are both authentic authors of the Sacred Scriptures. Since this is the definitive teaching of the Church, which holds the human and divine aspect in tension, it should come as no surprise that this same tension is expressed in all the documents, with a varying degree of emphasis placed on one or the other aspect. As long as the two aspects are held in tension, error can be avoided. It is only when one aspect is emphasized over the other that error can result.

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