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Catholics and the Bible


  1. 1 Introduction
  2. 2 Pope Leo XIII
    1. 2.1 The Excellence and Dignity of the Scriptures
    2. 2.2 Benefits of Scripture
    3. 2.3 The Example of Our Lord
    4. 2.4 Apostles Quoted the Scriptures
    5. 2.5 A Teacher's Greatest Aid
    6. 2.6 Bulwark of the Church
    7. 2.7 Lends Power to Preaching
    8. 2.8 Catholics Always Treasured the Bible
    9. 2.9 Not a New Catholic Attitude
    10. 2.10 The Church Is Our Guide
    11. 2.11 Council of the Vatican
    12. 2.12 Scope for Scholarship
    13. 2.13 Advance of Natural Science
    14. 2.14 The Use of Common Expressions
    15. 2.15 Opinions and the Obligation of Faith
    16. 2.16 A Wise Conservatism
    17. 2.17 Unsound Historians
    18. 2.18 Do the Scriptures Err?
    19. 2.19 The Bible Is Inspired
    20. 2.20 Instruments of the Holy Spirit
    21. 2.21 Error Impossible
  3. 3 Pope Benedict XV
    1. 3.1 Most Precious Instructions
    2. 3.2 Life of St. Jerome
    3. 3.3 Eager for Learning
    4. 3.4 Comes to the Notice of Pope Damasus
    5. 3.5 His Pursuit of Knowledge
    6. 3.6 Unflagging Labors
    7. 3.7 St. Jerome Strictly Catholic
    8. 3.8 God the Author: the Writer His Instrument
    9. 3.9 False Modern Criticism
    10. 3.10 Scripture Cannot Lie
    11. 3.11 The Mistake Is Ours; Not the Author's
    12. 3.12 Insane Freedom
    13. 3.13 Christ Is Our Example
    14. 3.14 The Bible Is a Treasure
    15. 3.15 Meticulous Study
    16. 3.16 The Bible and Rome
    17. 3.17 Controversy to Be Settled by Rome
    18. 3.18 Peter's Chair
    19. 3.19 The Bible and Peace of Mind
    20. 3.20 Spiritual Delights
    21. 3.21 Christian Sanity
  4. 4 Pope Pius XII
    1. 4.1 The Bible a Heaven-sent Treasure
    2. 4.2 The Church, Guardian of the Bible
    3. 4.3 Scientific Approach of the Church
    4. 4.4 Catholic Biblical Scholarship
    5. 4.5 Insufficient Resources
    6. 4.6 Exhaustive Analysis Now Possible
    7. 4.7 Importance of Languages
    8. 4.8 A Field for the Catholic Commentator
    9. 4.9 Contribution of Science and the Arts
    10. 4.10 Antiquity Answers the Critics
    11. 4.11 Science Has Proved to Be an Ally
    12. 4.12 The Church Is the Final Interpreter of the Word of God
    13. 4.13 True Progress Welcomed
    14. 4.14 Forms of Expression
    15. 4.15 Expressed in Human Language
    16. 4.16 Our Constant Comfort
    17. 4.17 Restore All Things in Christ
    18. 4.18 Source of Consolation
    19. 4.19 Only True Attitude Toward the Bible
  5. 5 Citations


The Catholic attitude towards the Bible has for so long been so misrepresented by those outside the Church, and so inadequately understood by Catholics themselves, that it is of extreme importance to know just what is the true and official attitude of the Catholic Church towards the Bible. To discover this we can turn to no more sound and authoritative sources than the encyclical letters of three famous popes on this very subject. Pope Leo XIII in the encyclical Providentissimus Deus, Pope Benedict XV in Spiritus Paraclitus, and Pope Pius XII in Divino Afflante Spiritu, have furnished for us a comprehensive statement of the Catholic position as regards the Bible.

Editor's Notes 

This collection of commentary is from the Catholic Action Edition of the Holy Bible. It is reproduced here in accordance with United States Fair Use copyright law, for scholarly research only. This document was assembled primarily by scanning the text electronically, as such, textual errors may be present in the document. See the welcome page for information on contacting me with notification of typographical errors so I can make the appropriate changes. The full text of the Encyclicals discussed here are available for download at the bottom of this document.

On Citations

Citations throughout the text are listed numerically at the end of this document.

Pope Leo XIII

The Excellence and Dignity of the Scriptures

In His encyclical letter Providentissimus Deus, which he issues in November 1893, Pope Leo XIII reminds us of the "excellence and dignity of the Scriptures," and reasons, therefore, that the branch of sacred theology which treats of these works has a proportionate excellence and dignity. He emphasizes the incomparable value of the Bible in teaching doctrine.

Benefits of Scripture

"Among the reasons for which the Holy Scripture is so worthy of commendation--in addition to it's own excellence and to the homage which we owe to God's Word--the chief of all is, the innumerable benefits of which it is the source; according to the infallible testimony of the Holy Spirit Himself, who says: 'All Scripture is inspired by God and useful for teaching, for reproving, for correcting, for instructing in justice; that the man of God may be perfect, equipped for every good work' (2 Tim. 3:16-17).

The Example of Our Lord

That such was the purpose of God in giving the Scripture to men is Shown by the Example of Christ our Lord and of His Apostles, For He Himself who 'obtained authority by miracles, merited belief by authority, and by belief drew to Himself the multitude'1 was accustomed in the exercise of His divine mission, to appeal to the Scriptures. He used them at times to prove that He is sent by God, and is God Himself. From them he cites instructions for His disciples and confirmation of His doctrine. He vindicates them from the calumnies of objectors; He quotes them against the Sadducees and Pharisees and retorts from them upon Satan himself when he dares to tempt Him. At the close of His life His utterances are from the Holy Scripture, and it is the Scripture that He expounds to his disciples after His resurrection, until He ascends to the glory of His Father.

Apostles Quoted the Scriptures

Faithful to His precepts, the Apostles, although He Himself granted 'signs and wonders to be done by their hands' (Acts 14:3), nevertheless used with the greatest effect the sacred writings, in order to persuade the nations everywhere of the wisdom of Christianity, to conquer the obstinacy of the Jews, and to suppress the outbreak of heresy. This is plainly seen in their discourses, especially in those of St. Peter; these were often little less than a series of citations from the Old Testament making in the strongest manner for the new dispensation. We find the same thing in the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. john and in the Catholic Epistles; and most remarkably of all in the words of him who 'boasts that he learned the law at the feet of Gamaliel, in order that, being armed with spiritual weapons, he might afterwords say with confidence, "the arms of our warfare are not carnal but mighty unto God'"2

A Teacher's Greatest Aid

Let all, therefore, especially the novices of the ecclesiastical army, understand how deeply the sacred books should be esteemed, and with what eagerness and reverence they should approach this great arsenal of heavenly  arms. For those whose duty it is to handle Catholic doctrine before the learned or the unlearned will nowhere find more ample matter or more abundant exhortation, whether on the subject of God, the supreme Good and the All-perfect Being, or of the works which display His glory and His Love. Nowhere is there anything more full or more express on the subject of the Savior of the world than is to be found int he whole range of the Bible.

Bulwark of the Church

As St. Jerome says. 'to be ignorant of the Scripture is not to know Christ.'3 In it's pages His Image stands out, living and breathing; diffusing everywhere around consolation in trouble, encouragement to virtue, and attraction to the love of God. And as to the Church, her institutions, her nature, her office, and her gifts, we find in Holy Scripture so many references and so many ready and convincing arguments, that as St. Jerome again most truly says: 'A man who is well grounded in the testimonies of the Scripture is ht e  bulwark of the Church.'4 And if we come to morality and discipline, and apostolic man finds in the sacred writings abundant and excellent assistance; most holy precepts, gentle and strong exhortation, splendid example of every virtue, and finally the promise of eternal reward and the threat of eternal punishment, uttered in terms of solemn import, in God's name and in God's own words."

Lends Power to Preaching

Pope Leo XIII also stresses the oratorical value of the Bible, it's inspired words imparting to the orator an authority which sheer eloquence could never give, and lending a "force and power" to his delivery that it could summon from no other source.
 "For those who infuse into their efforts the spirit and strength of the Word of god speak 'not in word only but in power also, and in the Holy Spirit, and in much fullness' (1 Thess. 1:5). Hence, those preachers are foolish and improvident who, in speaking of religion and proclaiming the things of God, use no words but those of human science and human prudence, trusting their own reasonings rather than those of God. Their discourses may be brilliant and fine, but they must be feeble and they must be cold, for they are without the fire of the utterance of God5 and they must fall far short of that mighty power which the speech of God possesses: 'for the Word of God is living and effectual, and keener than any two-edged sword; and extending unto the division of the soul and the spirit' (Heb. 4:12). But, indeed, all those who have a right to speak are agreed that there is in the Holy Scripture an eloquence that is wonderfully varied and rich, and worthy of great themes. This St. Augustine thoroughly understood and has abundantly set forth.6 This, also, is confirmed by the best preachers of all ages who have gratefully acknowledged that they owed their repute chiefly to te assiduous use of the Bible, and to devout meditation on it's pages."

Catholics Always Treasured the Bible

Such a use of the Scriptures is not, we are re­minded, something new in the Catholic outlook, for the Fathers of the Church saturated their writings with quotations from the Sacred Writ­ings.
 "The holy Fathers well knew all this by practical experience, and they never cease to extol the sacred Scripture and its fruits. In in­numerable passages of their writings we find them applying to it such phrases as 'an inex­haustible treasury of heavenly doctrine,'7 or 'overflowing fountain of salvation,'8 or putting it before us as fertile pastures and beautiful gardens in which the flock of the Lord is marvelously refreshed and delighted.9 Let us listen to the words of St. Jerome, in his Epistle to Nepotian: 'Often read the divine Scriptures; yea, let holy reading be always in thy hand; study that which thou thyself must preach. . . . Let the speech of the priest be ever seasoned with scriptural reading.'10 St. Gregory the Great, than whom no one has more admirably described the pastoral office, writes in the same sense. 'Those,' he says, 'who are zealous in the work of preaching must never cease the study of the written Word of God.'11 St. Au­gustine, however, warns us that 'vainly does the preacher utter the Word of God exteriorly un­less he listens to it interiorly';12 and St. Gregory instructs sacred orators 'first to find in Holy Scripture the knowledge of themselves, and then to carry it to others, lest in reproving others they forget themselves.' "13 

Not a New Catholic Attitude

Again emphasizing the point that this is no new attitude on the part of the Catholic Church, the Pope tells us that the use of the Bible by Catholics has constantly been advocated throughout the centuries.
 "It is in this that the watchful care of the Church shines forth conspicuously. By admi­rable laws and regulations, she has always shown herself solicitous that 'the celestial treas­ure of the sacred books, so bountifully bestowed upon man by the Holy Spirit, should not he neglected.'14 She has prescribed that a consid­erable portion of them shall be read and piously reflected upon by all her ministers in the daily of the sacred psalmody. She has ordered in cathedral churches, in monasteries, and in other convents in which study can conven­iently be pursued, they shall be expounded and interpreted by capable men; and she has strictly commanded that her children shall be fed with die saving words of the Gospel at least on Sun-.ind solemn feasts.15 Moreover, it is ow­ing to the wisdom and exertions of the Church that there has always been continued, from cen­tury to century, that cultivation of Holy Scrip­ture which has been so remarkable and has borne such ample fruit." 

The Church Is Our Guide

Striking a note of warning regarding the use of Scripture, the encyclical, with that wisdom so typical of such documents, calls attention to the need for a guide in the study of Scripture. Just as the Constitution of the United States, for instance, requires interpretation by the Su­preme Court, so also the Scriptures need in­terpretation by a guide furnished us by God Himself, Whose Word the Scriptures are. "Wherefore, it must be recognized that the sacred writings are wrapped in a certain reli­gious obscurity, and that no one can enter into their interior without a guide;16 God so dispos­ing, as the holy Fathers commonly teach, in order that men may investigate them with greater ardor and earnestness, and that v/hat is attained with difficulty may sink more deeply into the mind and heart, and, most of all, that they may understand that God has delivered the Holy Scripture to the Church, and that in reading and making use of His Word, they must follow the Church as. their guide and their teacher. St. Irenaeus long since laid down, that where the charismata of God were, there the truth was to be learned, and the Holy Scrip­ture was safely interpreted by those who had the apostolic succession.17 

Council of the Vatican

His teaching, and that of other holy Fathers, is taken up by the Council of the Vatican, which in renewing the decree of Trent declares its 'mind' to be this—that 'in things of faith and morals, belonging to the building up of Christian doctrine, that is to be considered the true sense of Holy Scripture, which has been held and is held by our Holy Mother the Church, whose place it is to judge of the true sense and inter­pretation of the Scriptures; and, therefore, that it is permitted to no one to interpret Holy Scripture against such sense or also against the unanimous agreement of the Fathers.'18 By this most wise decree the Church by no means prevents or restrains the pursuit of biblical science, but rather protects it from error, and largely assists its

Scope for Scholarship

From this it can be seen, then, that the guid­ance of the Church in the interpretation of the Bible, does not restrict the free use of private and individual talent. The Church in this matter, as in other matters which pertain to her discharge of the function entrusted to her by her divine Founder, Jesus Christ, does not re­strict freedom, but the abuse of freedom. Es­tablished to guard the teachings of Christ, her God-given role is to insure that no interpretation of God's Word which is false or foolish, be accepted. She must see to it that any interpre­tation which would involve disagreement be­tween the Sacred Writers, or conflicts with the doctrines of God's Church, be rejected. 

Advance of Natural Science

The remarkable advance of Natural Science carries with it certain dangers, not of itself, but on account of those who seek to pervert its important contribution to the sum of human knowledge. Leo XIII proceeds to prove to those who may need proof, that the Church is in no way obscurantist.
 "It need not be pointed out how the nature of science, just as it is so admirably adapted to show forth the glory of the Great Creator, pro­vided it be taught as it should be, so, if it be perversely imparted to the youthful intelligence, it may prove most fatal in destroying the principles of true philosophy and in the corruption of morality. Hence, to the professor of sacred Scripture a knowledge of natural science will be of very great assistance in detecting such attacks on the sacred books, and in refuting them. There can never, indeed, be any real discrepancy between the theologian and the physicist, as long as each confines himself within his own fines, and both are careful, as St. Augustine warns us, 'not to make rash asser­tions, or to assert what is not known as known.'19 If dissension should arise between them, here is the rule also laid down by St. Augustine for the theologian:

Whatever they can really demonstrate to be true of physical nature we must show to be capable of recon­ciliation with our Scriptures; and whatever they assert in their treatises, which is contrary to these Scriptures of ours, that is to Catholic faith, we must either prove it as well as we can to be entirely false, or at all events we must, without the smallest hesitation, believe it to be so.20

The Use of Common Expressions

 To understand how just is the rule here formulated we must remember, first, that the sacred writers, or to speak more accurately, the Holy Spirit 'who spoke by them, did not intend to teach men these things (that is to say, the essential nature of the things of the visible universe), things in no way profitable unto salvation.'21 Hence they did not seek to pene­trate the secrets of nature, but rather described and dealt with things in more or less figurative language, or in terms which were commonly used at the time, and which in many instances are daily used at this day, even by the most eminent men of science. Ordinary speech pri­marily and properly describes what comes under the senses; and somewhat in the same way the sacred writers—as the Angelic Doctor also re-minds us—'went by what sensibly appeared,'22 or put down what God, speaking to men, signi­fied, in the way men could understand and were accustomed to.

Opinions and the Obligation of Faith

 The unshrinking defense of the Holy Scrip­ture, however, does not require that we should equally uphold all the opinions which each of the Fathers or the more recent interpreters have put forth in explaining it; for it may be that, in commenting on passages where physical matters occur, they have sometimes expressed the ideas of their own times, and thus made statements which in these days have been abandoned as incorrect. Hence, in their interpretations, we must carefully note what they lay down as be­longing to faith, or as intimately connected with faith—what they are unanimous in. For 'in those things which do not come under the obli­gation of faith, the saints were at liberty to hold divergent opinions, just as we ourselves are,'23 according to the saying of St. Thomas. And in another place he says most admirably:

When philosophers are agreed upon a point, and it is not contrary to our faith, it is safer, in my opinion, neither to lay down such a point as a dogma of faith, even though it is perhaps so presented by the philoso­phers, nor to reject it as against faith, lest we thus give to the wise of this world an occasion of despising our faith.24

A Wise Conservatism

The Catholic interpreter, although he should show that these facts of natural science which investigators affirm to be now quite certain are not contrary to the Scripture rightly explained, must, nevertheless, always bear in mind, that much which has been held and proved as cer­tain has afterwards been called in question and rejected. And if writers on physics travel out­side the boundaries of their own branch, and carry their erroneous teaching into the domain of philosophy, let them be handed over to philosophers for refutation." 

Unsound Historians

The wisdom of these words, issued so long ago, is even more striking now, when we re­member how many scientific theories have in the interim been summarily discarded. Stu­dents of history in particular know well the folly of hasty conclusions from new evidence, since further evidence often cancels the excitement over new theories, and proves the wisdom of conservativism.

"The principles here laid down will apply to cognate sciences, and especially to history. It is a lamentable fact that there are many who with great labor carry out and publish investi-gations on the monuments of antiquity, the manners and institutions of nations, and other illustrative subjects, and whose chief purpose in all this is too often to find mistakes in the sacred writings and so to shake and weaken their authority. Some of these writers display not only extreme hostility, but the greatest un­fairness; in their eyes a profane book or ancient document is accepted without hesitation, whilst the Scripture, if they only find in it a suspicion of error, is set down with the slightest possible discussion as quite untrustworthy. It is true, no doubt, that copyists have made mistakes in the text of the Bible; this question, when it arises, should be carefully considered on its merits, and the fact not too easily admitted, but only in those passages where the proof is clear."

Do the Scriptures Err?

With regard to the Catholic stand on the pos­sibility of error in the Scriptures, Leo XIII is quite explicit.
"It may also happen that the sense of a pas­sage remains ambiguous, and in this case good hermeneutical methods will greatly assist in clearing up the obscurity. But 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. As to the system of those who, in order to rid them­selves of these difficulties, do not hesitate to concede that divine inspiration regards the things of faith and morals, and nothing beyond, because (as they wrongly think) in a question of the truth or falsehood of a passage we should consider not so much what God has said as the reason and purpose which He had in mind in saying it—this system cannot be tolerated.

The Bible Is Inspired

For all the books which the Church receives as sacred and canonical are written wholly and entirely, with all their parts, at the dictation of the Holy Spirit; and so far is it from being possible that any error can coexist with inspira­tion, that inspiration not only is essentially in­compatible with error, but excludes and rejects it as absolutely and necessarily as it is impos­sible that God Himself, the supreme Truth, can utter that which is not true. This is the ancient and unchanging faith of the Church, solemnly defined in the Councils of Florence and of Trent, and finally confirmed and more expressly formulated by the Council of the Vatican. These are the words of the last:

The books of the Old and New Testament, whole and entire, with all their parts, as enumerated in the decree of the same Council (Trent) and in the ancient Latin Vulgate, are to be received as sacred and canon­ical. And the Church holds them as sacred and canonical not because, having been composed by hu­man industry, they were afterwards approved by her authority; not only because they contain _ revelation without errors, but because, having been written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they have God for their Author.25

Instruments of the Holy Spirit

Hence, because the Holy Spirit employed men as his instruments, we cannot, therefore, say that it was these inspired instruments who, perchance, have fallen into error, and not the primary author. For, by supernatural power, He so moved and impelled them to write—He so assisted them when writing—that the things which He ordered, and those only, they, first, rightly understood, then willed faithfully to write down, and finally expressed in apt words and with infallible truth. Otherwise, it could not be said that He was the Author of the en­tire Scripture. Such has always been the per­suasion of the Fathers. 'Therefore,' says St. Augustine, 'since they wrote the things which He showed and uttered to them, it cannot be pretended that He is not the writer; for His members executed what their head dictated.'26 And St. Gregory the Great thus pronounces: 'Most superfluous it is to inquire who wrote these things—we loyally believe the Holy Spirit to be the author of the book. He wrote it who dictated it for writing; He wrote it who inspired its execution.'27

Error Impossible

It follows that those who maintain that an error is possible in any genuine passage of the sacred writings either pervert the Catholic no­tion of inspiration or make God the author of such error. And so emphatically were all the Fathers and Doctors agreed that the divine writings, as left by the hagiographers, are free from all error, that they labored earnestly, with no less skill than"reverence, to reconcile with each other those numerous passages which seem at variance—the very passages which in great measure have been taken up by the 'higher criticism'; for they were unanimous in laying it down that those writings, in their entirety and in all their parts were equally from the afflatus of Almighty God, and that God, speak­ing by the sacred writers, could not set down anything but what was true. The words of St. Augustine to St. Jerome may sum up what they taught:

On my own part I confess to your charity that it is only to those books of Scripture which are now called canonical that I have learned to pay such honor and reverence as to believe most firmly that none of their writers has fallen into any error. And if in these books I meet anything which seems contrary to truth, I shall not hesitate to conclude either that the text is faulty, or that the translator has not expressed the meaning of the passage, or that I myself do not under­stand."28

Pope Benedict XV

Most Precious Instructions

In 1920, Pope Benedict XV reaffirmed the teaching of Leo XIII on the Catholic at­titude to the Bible, providing us with further wise counsel on this subject. Taking St. Jerome as the subject of his encycli­cal letter entitled Spiritus Paraclitus, Pope Benedict proposes to us the "most precious instructions" of St. Jerome, the greatest Doctor of the Church, referred to by the Pope as "di­vinely given . . . for the understanding of the Bible." The encyclical letter begins by giving us a short biography of St. Jerome which must surely provide us with the highest edification, and at the same time convince us that here in­deed was a man, given us by God, for such wonderful work.

Life of St. Jerome

"No need to remind you, Venerable Brethren, that Jerome was born in Stridonia, in a town 'on the borders of Dalmatia and Pannonia'29 that from his infancy he was brought up a Catholic;30 that after his baptism here in Rome he lived to an advanced age and devoted all his powers to studying, expounding, and defending the Bible. At Rome he had learned Latin and Greek, and hardly had he left the school of rhetoric than he ventured on a Commentary on Abdias the Prophet. This 'youthful piece of work'31 kindled in him such love of the Bible that he decided—like the man in the Gospel who found a treasure—to spurn 'any emolu­ments the world could provide,'32 and devote himself wholly to such studies. Nothing could deter him from this stern resolve. He left home, parents, sister, and relatives; he denied himself the more delicate food he had been ac­customed to, and went to the East so that he might gather from studious reading of the Bible the fuller riches of Christ and true knowledge of his Savior.33 Jerome himself tells us in several places how assiduously he toiled:

Eager for Learning

An eager desire to learn obsessed me. But I was not so foolish as to try and teach myself. At Antioch I regularly attended the lectures of Apollinarius of Laodicea; but while I learned much from him about the Bible, I would never accept his doubtful teachings about its interpretation.34

From Antioch he betook himself to the des­ert of Chalcis, in Syria, to perfect himself in his knowledge of the Bible, and at the same time to curb 'youthful desires' by means of hard study. Here he engaged a convert Jew to teach him Hebrew and Chaldaic.

What a toil it was! How difficult I found it! How often I was on the point of giving it up in despair, and yet in my eagerness to learn took it up again! Myself can bear witness of this, and so, too, can those who had lived with me at the time. Yet I thank God for the fruit I won from that bitter seed.35 

Comes to the Notice of Pope Damasus

Lest, however, he should grow idle in this desert where there were no heretics to vex him, Jerome betook himself to Constantinople, where for nearly three years he studied Holy Scripture under St. Gregory the Theologian, then Bishop of that See and in the height of his fame as a teacher. While there he translated into Latin Origen's Homilies on the Prophets and Eusebius' Chronicle; he also wrote on Isaias' vision of the Seraphim. He then returned to Rome on ecclesiastical business, and  Pope Damasus admitted him into his court.36 However, he let nothing distract him from continual occupation with the Bible,37 and the task of copying various manuscripts,38 as well as answering the many questions put to him by students of both sexes.39
 Pope Damasus had entrusted to him a most laborious task, the correction of the Latin text of the Bible. So well did Jerome carry this out that even today men versed in such studies ap­preciate its value more and more. But he ever yearned for Palestine, and when the Pope died he retired to Bethlehem to a monastery nigh to the cave where Christ was born. Every mo­ment he could spare from prayer he gave to Biblical studies. 

His Pursuit of Knowledge

 Though my hair was now growing gray and though I looked more like professor than student, yet I went to Alexandria to attend Didymus' lectures. I owe him much. What I did not know I learned. What I knew already I did not lose through his different pres­entation of it. Men thought I had done with tutors; but when I got back to Jerusalem and Bethlehem how hard I worked and what a price I paid for my night­time teacher Baraninus! Like another Nicodemus he was afraid of the Jews!40

 Nor was Jerome content merely to gather up this or that teacher's words; he gathered from all quarters whatever might prove of use to him in his task. From the outset he had ac­cumulated the best possible copies of the Bible and the best commentators on it, but now he worked on copies from the synagogues and from the library formed at Caesarea by Origen and Eusebius; he hoped by assiduous compari­son of texts to arrive at greater certainty touch­ing the actual text and its meaning. With this same purpose he went all through Palestine. For he was thoroughly convinced of the truth of what he once wrote to Domnio and Rogatian:

 A man will understand the Bible better if he has seen Judaea with his own eyes and discovered its ancient cities and sites either under the old names or newer ones. In company with some learned Hebrews I went through the entire land, the names of whose sites are on every Christian's lips.41

Unflagging Labors

He nourished his soul unceasingly on this most pleasant food: he explained St. Paul's Epistles; he corrected the Latin version of the Old Testament by the Greek; he translated afresh nearly all the books of the Old Testament from Hebrew into Latin; day by day he dis­cussed Biblical questions with the brethren who came to him, and answered letters on Biblical questions which poured in upon him from all sides; besides all this, he was constantly refuting men who assailed Catholic doctrine and unity. Indeed, such was his love for Holy Scripture that he ceased not from writing or dictating till his hand stiffened in death and his voice was silent for ever. So it was that, sparing himself either labor nor watching nor expense, he con­tinued to extreme old age meditating day and night beside the Crib on the Law of the Lord; of greater profit to the Catholic cause by his life and example in his solitude than if he had passed his fife at Rome, the capital of the world."

From the foregoing biography it is clear that Benedict XV could have chosen no more fitting subject, through which to expound Catholic reaching on the Bible. Obviously the authority of St. Jerome, a Catholic, must have the highest value for any one who reverences the Scriptures.


St. Jerome Strictly Catholic

Pope Benedict reminds us that St. Jerome's attitude towards the Bible was strictly Catholic as regards the question of inspiration. "You will not find a page in his writings which does not show clearly that he, in common with the whole Catholic Church, firmly and con­sistently held that the Sacred Books—written as they were under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit—have God for their Author, and as such were delivered to the Church. Thus he asserts that the Books of the Bible were composed at the inspiration, or suggestion, or even at the dictation of the Holy Spirit; even that they were written and edited by Him. Yet he never ques­tions but that the individual authors of these Books worked in full freedom under the Di­vine afflatus, each of them in accordance with his individual nature and character. Thus he is not merely content 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; 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. This partnership of God and man, in the production of a work in common, Jerome illustrates by the case of a workman who uses instruments for the production of his work for he says that whatsoever the sacred authors say 'Is the word of God, and not their own; and ^vhat the Lord says by their mouths He says as it were, by means of an instrument.'42

God the Author: the Writer His Instrument

If we ask how we are to explain this power and action of God, the principal cause, on the sacred writers we shall find that St. Jerome in nowise differs from the common teaching of the Catholic Church. For he holds that God, through His grace, illumines the writer's mind regarding the particular truth which, 'in the person of God,' he is to set before men; he holds, moreover, that God moves the writer's will—nay, even impels it—to write; finally, that God abides with him unceasingly, in unique fashion, until his task is accomplished. Whence the Saint infers the supreme excellence and dignity of Scripture, and declares that knowledge of it is to be likened to the 'treas­ure'43 and the 'pearl beyond price,'44 since in them are to be found the riches of Christ and 'silver wherewith to adorn God's house.' "45 

False Modern Criticism

In these modern times when man has set the human mind on a pedestal, proclaiming it to be the final arbiter of what is right or wrong, true or false; and has applied this criterion to the Bible, it is important for us to know the attitude of St. Jerome, the scholar who devoted his life­time to the Bible, on the subject of the inerrancy of the Scriptures.

 "Jerome further shows that the immunity of Scripture from error or deception is necessarily bound up with its Divine inspiration and su­preme authority. He says he had learned this in the most celebrated schools, whether of East or West, and that it was taught him as the doc­trine of the Fathers, and generally received. Thus when, at the instance of Pope Damasus, he had begun correcting the Latin text of the New Testament, and certain 'manikins' had vehemently attacked him for 'making correc­tions in the Gospels in face of the authority of the Fathers and of general opinion,' Jerome briefly replied that he was not so utterly stupid nor so grossly uneducated as to imagine that the Lord's words needed any correction or were not divinely inspired.46 Similarly, when ex­plaining Ezechiel's first vision as portraying the Four Gospels, he remarks:

That the entire body and the back were full of eyes will be plain to anybody who realizes that there is nought in the Gospels which does not shine and il­lumine the world by its splendor, so that even things that seem trifling and unimportant shine with the majesty of the Holy Spirit.47 

Scripture Cannot Lie

What he has said here of the Gospels he applies in his Commentaries to the rest of the Lord's words; he regards it as the very rule and foundation of Catholic interpretation; indeed, for Jerome, a true prophet was to be distin­guished from a false by this very note of truth:48 'The Lord's words are true; for Him to say it, means that it is.'49 Again, 'Scripture cannot lie'50; it is wrong to say Scripture lies,51 nay, it is impious even to admit the very notion of error where the Bible is concerned.52 'The Apostles,' he says, 'are one thing; other writers' —that is, profane writers—'are another'; 'the former always tell the truth; the latter—as being mere men—sometimes err,'53 and though many things are said in the Bible which seem incred­ible, yet they are true;54 in this 'word of truth' you cannot find things or statements which are contradictory, 'there is nothing discordant nor conflicting';55 consequently, 'when Scripture seems to be in conflict with itself both passages are true despite their diversity.'56

The Mistake Is Ours; Not the Author's

Holding principles like these, Jerome was compelled, when he discovered apparent dis­crepancies in the Sacred Books, to use every endeavor to unravel the difficulty. If he felt that he had not satisfactorily settled the prob­lem, he would indeed return to it again and again, not always, indeed, with the happiest results. Yet he would never accuse the sacred writers of the slightest mistake—'that we leave to impious folk like Celsus, Porphyry, and Ju­lian.'57 Here he is in full agreement with Augustine, who wrote to Jerome that to the Sacred Books alone had he been wont to accord such honor and reverence as firmly to believe that none of their writers had ever fallen into any error; and that consequently, if in the said books he came across anything which seemed to run counter to the truth, he did not think that that was really the case, but either that his copy was defective or that the translator had made a mistake, or again, that he himself had failed to understand. He continues:

Nor do I deem that you think otherwise. Indeed, I absolutely decline to think that you would have people read your own books in the same way as they read those of the Prophets and Apostles; the idea that these latter could contain any errors is impious."58

Insane Freedom

 Clearly alarmed by the attitude of many "moderns" who refuse to treat anything as sacred, Pope Benedict proposes the example of Our Blessed Lord Himself to be our guide in the use of the Bible.
 "All this shows us how earnestly we must strive to avoid, as children of the Church, this insane freedom in ventilating opinions which the Fathers were careful to shun. This we shall more readily achieve if you, Venerable Brethren, will make both clergy and laity com­mitted to your care by the Holy Spirit realize that neither Jerome nor the other Fathers of the Church learned their doctrine touching Holy Scripture save in the school of the Divine Mas­ter Himself. We know what He felt about Holy Scripture when He said, 'It is written,' and 'the Scripture must needs be fulfilled;' we have therein an argument which admits of no exception and which should put an end to all controversy.

Christ Is Our Example

 Yet it is worth-while dwelling on this point a little: when Christ preached to the people, whether on the Mount by the lakeside, or in the synagogue at Nazareth, or in His own city of Capharnaum, He took His points and His arguments from the Bible. From the same source came His weapons when disputing with the Scribes and Pharisees. Whether teaching or disputing He quotes from all parts of Scrip­ture and takes His example from it; He quotes it as an argument which must be accepted. He refers without any discrimination of sources to the stories of Jonas and the Ninivites, of the Queen of Sheba and Solomon, of Elias and Eliseus, of David and of Noe, of Lot and the Sodomites, and even of Lot's wife. (Cf. Matt. 12:3, 39-42; Luke 17:26-29, 32.) How solemn His witness to the truth of the sacred books: 'One jot, or one tittle shall not pass of the Law till all be fulfilled' (Matt. 5:18); and again: 'The Scripture cannot be broken' (John 10:35); and consequently: 'He therefore that shall break one of these least commandments, and shall so teach men shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven' (Matt. 5:19). Before His Ascension, too, when He would steep His Apostles in the same doctrine: 'He opened their understanding that they might understand the Scriptures. And He said to them: thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise again from the dead the third day' (Luke 24:45).
In a word, then: Jerome's teaching on the superexcellence and truth of Scripture is Christ's teaching." 

The Bible Is a Treasure

The Bible for us is not simply a history which we accept and respect. It is the inspired Word of God, a legacy gifted to us by God Himself, which we must treasure and love. Here again St. Jerome is our model.
"Now, if we make use of the 'Greatest of Doctors' as our guide and teacher we shall de­rive from so doing not only the gains signalized above, but others too, which cannot be regarded as trifling or few. What these gains are, Vener­able Brethren, we will set out briefly. At the outset, then, we are deeply impressed by the intense love of the Bible which St. Jerome ex­hibits in his whole life and teaching: both are steeped in the Spirit of God. This intense love of the Bible he was ever striving to kindle in the hearts of the faithful, and his words on this subject to the maiden Demetrias are really ad­dressed to us all: 'Love the Bible and wisdom will love you; love it and it will preserve you; honor it and it will embrace you; these are the jewels which you should wear on your breast and in your ears.'59

Meticulous Study

His unceasing reading of the Bible and his painstaking study of each book—nay, of every phrase and word—gave him a knowledge of the text such as no other ecclesiastical writer of old possessed. It is due to this familiarity with the text and to his own acute judgment that the Vulgate version Jerome made is, in the judg­ment of all capable men, preferable to any other ancient version, since it appears to give us the sense of the original more accurately and with greater elegance than they." 

The Bible and Rome

We Catholics are so often chided for turning to the Church and to Rome for guidance in faith and morals, and so often told that this was not the case in the early days of Christian­ity, St. Jerome's attitude on this very point is well worth recalling.
"As he trusted to God's grace, so, too, did he rely upon the authority of his predecessors: 'What I have learned I did not teach myself— a wretchedly presumptuous teacher!—but I learned it from illustrious men in the Church.'60 Again: 'In studying Scripture I never trusted to myself.' To Theophilus, Bishop of Alex­andria, he imparted the rule he had laid down for his own student life: 'It has always been my custom to fight for the prerogatives of a Chris­tian, not to overpass the limits set by the Fa­thers, always to bear in mind that Roman faith praised by the Apostle.'61

Controversy to Be Settled by Rome

He ever paid submissive homage to the Church, our supreme teacher through the Roman Pontiffs. Thus, with a view to putting an end to the controversy raging in the East concerning the mystery of the Holy Trinity, he submitted the question to the Roman See for settlement, and wrote from the Syrian desert to Pope Damasus as follows:

I decided, therefore, to consult the Chair of Peter and that Roman faith which the Apostle praised; I ask for my soul's food from that city wherein I first put on the garment of Christ. ... I, who follow no other leader save Christ, associate myself with Your Blessed­ness, in communion, that is, with the Chair of Peter. For I know the Church was built upon that Rock. ... I beg you to settle this dispute. If you desire it I shall not be afraid to say there are Three Hypostases. If it is your wish let them draw up a Symbol of faith subsequent to that of Nicaea, and let us orthodox praise God in the same form of words as the Arians employ.62

Peter's Chair

And in his next letter: 'Meanwhile I keep crying out, "Any man who is joined to Peter's Chair, he is my man.'" 63 Since he had learned this 'rule of faith' from his study of the Bible, he was able to refute a false interpretation of a Biblical text with the simple remark: 'Yes, but the Church of God does not admit that.'64 When, again, Vigilantius quoted an Apocryphal book, Jerome was content to reply: 'A book I have never so much as read! For what is the good of soiling one's hands with a book the Church does not receive?'65 With his strong insistence on adhering to the integrity of the faith, it is not to be wondered at that he at­tacked vehemently those who left the Church; he promptly regarded them as his own personal enemies. 'To put it briefly,' he says, 'I have never spared heretics, and have always striven to regard the Church's enemies as my own.'66 To Rufinus he writes: 'There is one point in which I cannot agree with you: you ask me to spare heretics—or, in other words—not to prove myself a Catholic.'67 Yet at the same time Jerome deplored the lamentable state of heretics, and adjured them to return to their sorrowing Mother, the one source of salva­tion;68 he prayed, too, with all earnestness for the conversion of those 'who had quitted the Church and put away the Holy Spirit's teaching to follow their own notions.' "69

The Bible and Peace of Mind

In our times when every other doctor is a psychiatrist, and the world is gasping for peace of mind, not knowing where to turn to find it, and men are constantly striving to rid them­selves of their confusion, we are reminded that we have a sure remedy within our reach. Pope Benedict refers us to St. Jerome on this matter, underlining the spiritual delight to be found in the study of the Bible.
 "It only remains for us, Venerable Brethren, to refer to those 'sweet fruits' which Jerome gathered from 'the bitter seed' of literature. For we confidently hope that his example will fire both clergy and laity with enthusiasm for the study of the Bible. It will be better, how­ever, for you to gather from the lips of the saintly hermit rather than from our words what real spiritual delight he found in the Bible and its study. Notice, then, in what strain he writes to Paulinus, 'my companion, friend, and fellow-mystic': 'I beseech you to live amidst these things. To meditate on them, to know nought else, to have no other interests, this is really a foretaste of the joys of heaven.'70

Spiritual Delights

He says much the same to his pupil Paula:

Tell me whether you know of anything more sacred than this sacred mystery, anything more delightful than the pleasure found herein? What food, what honey could be sweeter than to learn of God's Provi­dence, to enter into His shrine and look into the mind of the Creator, to listen to the Lord's words at which the wise of this world laugh, but which really are full of spiritual teaching? Others may have their wealth, may drink out of jewelled cups, be clad in silks, enjoy popular applause, find it impossible to exhaust their wealth by dissipating it in pleasures of all kinds; but our delight is to meditate on the Law of the Lord day and night, to knock at His door when shut, to receive our food from the Trinity of Persons, and, under the guidance of the Lord, trample under foot the swelling tumults of this world.71

And in his Commentary on the Epistle to the Ephesians, which he dedicated to Paula and her daughter Eustochium, he says: 'If aught Could sustain and support a wise man in this life or help him to preserve his equanimity amid the conflicts of the world, it is, I reckon, medi­tation on and knowledge of the Bible.' "72 

Christian Sanity

Living as we do amongst these "conflicts of the world", meditation on the Bible is a neces­sity, to preserve in us that sanity which each of us desires, amidst the unreality of the paganism that surrounds us. Through familiarity and intimate knowledge of the Scriptures, we, like St. Jerome can build up in ourselves that per­sonal love for the Person of Christ and His teaching, which is the surest antidote against the world's infection.

Pope Pius XII

The Bible a Heaven-sent Treasure

Writing the encyclical letter en­titled Divino Afflante Spiritu on the fiftieth anniversary of Providentis-simus Deus, the letter which we have already found most helpful as a guide to the official Catholic attitude towards the Bible, Pope Pius XII re-emphasizes the role of the Church as guardian of the Holy Scriptures. God has committed the Divine Word to His Church as custodian, and, therefore, in modern times, just as she was on receiving the Scriptures from the Apostles, will she be constantly vigilant in her duty to preserve the Bible intact.

The Church, Guardian of the Bible

"Inspired by the Divine Spirit, the Sacred Writers composed those books, which God, in His paternal charity towards the human race, deigned to bestow on them in order 'to teach, to reprove, to correct, to instruct in justice: that the man of God may be perfect, furnished to every good work.'73 This heaven-sent treas­ure Holy Church considers as the most precious source of doctrine on faith and morals. No wonder therefore that, as she received it intact from the hands of the Apostles, so she kept it with all care, defended it from every false and perverse interpretation and used it diligently as an instrument for securing the eternal sal­vation of souls, as almost countless documents in every age strikingly bear witness. In more recent times, however, since the divine origin and the correct interpretation of the Sacred Writings have been very specially called in question, the Church has, with even greater zeal and care, undertaken their defense and protection. The sacred Council of Trent or­dained by solemn decree that 'the entire books with all their parts, as they have been wont to be read in the Catholic Church and are con­tained in the old vulgate Latin edition, are to be held sacred and canonical.'74 In our own time the Vatican Council, with the object of condemning false doctrines regarding inspira­tion, declared that these same books were to be regarded by the Church as sacred and ca­nonical 'not because, having been composed by human industry, they were afterwards approved by her authority, nor merely because they con­tain revelation without error, but because, hav­ing been written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they have God for their author, and as such were handed down to the Church herself.' "75

Scientific Approach of the Church

Pius XII, recalling the many contributions of his more recent predecessors, reminds us of the impressive Catholic resources in the field of biblical research and scholarship. Pius X founded the Pontifical Biblical Institute, which he wished to be endowed with a "superior pro­fessorial staff and every facility for biblical re­search." Pius XI laid it down that "no one should be appointed professor of Sacred Scrip­ture in any Seminary . . . unless he had obtained the academic degrees before the Biblical Com­mission or the Biblical Institute." This same Pope founded, and endowed with a library and other means of research, the monastery of St. Jerome in Rome, so that the Benedictine monks, to whom had been entrusted the enor­mous work of preparing a new edition of the Vulgate, might be the better equipped for their task. As Catholics, therefore we can be justly proud of the scientific approach of the Church to the study of Scripture, confident that the highest scholarship is being applied to this science.

Catholic Biblical Scholarship

Pope Pius XII, manifesting a characteris­tically scholarly treatment of the subject, gives us an indication of how sound the Church ex­pects Catholic scholarship to be, in its biblical investigations.

Insufficient Resources

"The Fathers of the Church in their time, especially Augustine, warmly recommended to the Catholic scholar, who undertook the inves­tigation and explanation of the Sacred Scrip­tures, the study of the ancient languages and recourse to the original texts.76 However, such was the state of letters in those times, that not many—and these few but imperfectly—knew the Hebrew language. In the middle ages, when Scholastic Theology was at the height of its vigor, the knowledge of even the Greek lan­guage had long since become so rare in the West, that even the greatest Doctors of that time, in their exposition of the Sacred Text, had recourse only to the Latin version, known as the Vulgate.

Exhaustive Analysis Now Possible

On the contrary in this our time, not only the Greek language, which since the humanistic renaissance has been, as it were, restored to new life, is familiar to almost all students of antiq­uity and letters, but the knowledge of Hebrew also and of other oriental languages has spread far and wide among literary men. Moreover there are now such abundant aids to the study of these languages that the biblical scholar who, by neglecting them would deprive himself of ac­cess to the original texts, could in nowise escape the stigma of levity and sloth. For it is the duty of the exegete to lay hold, so to speak, with the greatest care and reverence of the very least expressions which, under the inspiration of the Divine Spirit, have flowed from the pen of the sacred writer, so as to arrive,at a deeper and fuller knowledge of his meaning.

Importance of Languages

Wherefore let him diligently apply himself so as to acquire daily a greater facility in biblical as well as in other oriental languages and to support his interpretation by the aids which all branches of philology supply. This indeed St. Jerome strove earnestly to achieve, as far as the science of his time permitted; to this also aspired with untiring zeal and no small fruit not a few of the great exegetes of the sixteenth and seven­teenth centuries, although the knowledge of languages then was much less than at the pres­ent day. In like manner therefore ought we to explain the original text which, having been written by the inspired author himself, has more authority and greater weight than any even the very best translation, whether ancient or mod­ern; this can be done all the more easily and fruitfully, if to the knowledge of languages be joined a real skill in literary criticism of the same text.

A Field for the Catholic Commentator

Hence the Catholic commentator, in order to comply with the present needs of biblical stud­ies, in explaining the Sacred Scripture and in demonstrating and proving its immunity from all error, should also make a prudent use of this means, determine, that is, to what extent the manner of expression or the literary mode adopted by the sacred writer may lead to a cor­rect and genuine interpretation; and let him be convinced that this part of his office cannot be neglected without serious detriment to Catholic exegesis. Not infrequently—to mention only one instance—when some persons reproach­fully charge the Sacred Writers with some his­torical error or inaccuracy in the recording of facts, on closer examination it turns out to be nothing else than those customary modes of ex­pression and narration peculiar to the ancients, which used to be employed in the mutual deal­ings of social life and which in fact were sanc­tioned by common usage.
When, then, such modes of expression are met with in the sacred text, which, being meant for men, is couched in human language, justice demands that they be no more taxed with error than when they occur in the ordinary inter­course of daily life. By this knowledge and ex­act appreciation of the modes of speaking and writing in use among the ancients many diffi­culties can be solved, which are raised against the veracity and historical value of the Divine Scriptures; and no less efficaciously does this study contribute to a fuller and more luminous understanding of the mind of the Sacred Writer. 

Contribution of Science and the Arts

Let those who cultivate biblical studies turn their attention with all due diligence towards this point and let them neglect none of those discoveries, whether in the domain of archae­ology or in ancient history or literature, which serve to make better known the mentality of the ancient writers, as well as their manner and art of reasoning, narrating and writing. In this connection Catholic laymen should consider that they will not only further profane science, but moreover will render a conspicuous service to the Christian cause if they devote themselves with all due diligence and application to the exploration and investigation of the monuments of antiquity and contribute, according to their abilities, to the solution of questions hitherto obscure.
For all human knowledge, even the non-sacred, has indeed its own proper dignity and excellence, being a finite participation of the infinite knowledge of God, but it acquires a new and higher dignity and, as it were, a consecra­tion, when it is employed to cast a brighter light upon the things of God.

Antiquity Answers the Critics

The progressive exploration of the antiquities of the East, mentioned above, the more accurate examination of the original text itself, the more extensive and exact knowledge of languages both biblical and oriental have, with the help of God, happily provided the solution of not a few of those questions, which in the time of Our Predecessor Leo XIII of immortal memory, were raised by critics outside or hostile to the Church against the authenticity, antiquity, in­tegrity and historical value of the Sacred Books. For Catholic exegetes, by a right use of those same scientific arms, not infrequently abused by the adversaries, proposed such interpretations, which are in harmony with Catholic doctrine and the genuine current of tradition, and at the same time are seen to have proved equal to the difficulties, either raised by new explorations and discoveries, or bequeathed by antiquity for solution in our time.

Science Has Proved to Be an Ally

Thus has it come about that confidence in the authority and historical value of the Bible, somewhat shaken in the case of some by so many attacks, today among Catholics is com­pletely restored; moreover there are not want­ing even non-Catholic writers, who by serious and calm inquiry have been led to abandon modern opinion and to return, at least in some points, to the more ancient ideas. This change is due in great part to the untiring labor, by which Catholic commentators of the Sacred Let­ters, in no way deterred by difficulties and obstacles of all kinds, strove with all their strength to make suitable use of what learned men of the present day, by their investigations in the domain of archaeology or history or philology, have made available for the solution of new questions." 

The Church Is the Final Interpreter of the Word of God

Having shown his anxiety for the highest scholarship in biblical science, Pius XII pro­ceeds to give the scholars a fatherly word of warning, that in this science they are dealing with no ordinary subject, but with the Word of God Itself, so that in their final conclusions the Church as custodian of that Word has to be consulted.
 "The commentators of the Sacred Letters, mindful of the fact that here there is question of a divinely inspired text, the care and interpre­tation of which have been confided to the Church by God Himself, should no less dili­gently take into account the explanations and declarations of the teaching authority of the Church, as likewise the interpretation given by the Holy Fathers, and even 'the analogy of faith' as Leo XIII most wisely observed in the Encyclical Letter Providentissimus Deus77 With special zeal should they apply themselves, not only to expounding exclusively these mat­ters which belong to the historical, archaeo­logical, philological and other auxiliary sciences —as, to Our regret, is done in certain commen­taries,—but, having duly referred to these, in so far as they may aid the exegesis, they should set forth in particular the theological doctrine in faith and morals of the individual books or texts so that their exposition may not only aid the professors of theology in their explanations and proofs of the dogmas of faith, but may also be of assistance to priests in their presentation of Christian doctrine to the people, and in fine may help all the faithful to lead a life that is holy and worthy of a Christian."

True Progress Welcomed

Having given his wise advice regarding con­clusions in biblical studies, Pius XII goes on to demonstrate to any one who may need such proof, that the Catholic attitude towards the Bible does not involve a horror of new scien­tific discoveries. The custodian of truth need never fear the discovery of new truths. Indeed the Pope goes on to urge zealous application to all and any related sciences which might help in the development of biblical studies. History has shown most clearly that true progress in these scientific fields has routed the critics and confirmed the validity of the Church's guard­ianship.
"What is the literal sense of a passage is not always as obvious in the speeches and writings of the ancient authors of the East, as it is in the works of our own time. For what they wished to express is not to be determined by the rules of grammar and philology alone, nor solely by the context; the interpreter must, as it were, go back wholly in spirit to those remote centuries of the East and with the aid of history, archae­ology, ethnology, and other sciences, accurately determine what modes of writing, so to speak, the authors of that ancient period would be likely to use, and in fact did use.

Forms of Expression

For the ancient peoples of the East, in order to express their ideas, did not always employ those forms or kinds of speech which we use to­day; but rather those used by the men of their times and countries. What those exactly were the commentator cannot determine as it were in advance, but only after a careful examination of the ancient literature of the East. The in­vestigation, carried out, on this point, during the past forty or fifty years with greater care and diligence than ever before, has more clearly shown what forms of expression were used in those far off times, whether in poetic descrip­tion or in the formulation of laws and rules of life or in recording the facts and events of his­tory. The same inquiry has also clearly shown the special pre-eminence of the people of Israel among all the other ancient nations of the East in their mode of compiling history, both by reason of its antiquity and by reason of the faithful record of the events; qualities which may well be attributed to the gift of divine in­spiration and to the peculiar religious purpose of biblical history.

Expressed in Human Language

Nevertheless no one, who has a correct idea of biblical inspiration, will be surprised to find, even in the Sacred Writers, as in other ancient authors, certain fixed ways of expounding and narrating, certain definite idioms, especially of a kind peculiar to the Semitic tongues, so-called approximations, and certain hyperbolical modes of expression, nay, at times, even paradoxical, which even help to impress the ideas more deeply on the mind. For of the modes of ex­pression which, among ancient peoples, and especially those of the East, human language used to express its thought, none is excluded from the Sacred Books, provided the way of speaking adopted in no wise contradicts the holiness and truth of God, as, with his custom­ary wisdom, the Angelic Doctor already ob­served in these words: 'In Scripture divine things are presented to us in the manner which is in common use amongst men.'78 For as the substantial Word of God became like to men in all things, 'except sin,'79 so the words of God, expressed in human language, are made like to human speech in every respect, except error. In this consists that 'condescension' of the God of providence, which St. John Chrysostom ex­tolled with the highest praise and repeatedly declared to be found in the Sacred Books."80

Our Constant Comfort

Turning to the practical question of how we, in these modern times, should use the Bible, Pius XII proposes to us constant meditation of the Sacred Letters, to refresh ourselves in our own troublous days.
 "If these things which We have said, Vener­able Brethren and beloved sons, are necessary in every age, much more urgently are they needed in our sorrowful times, when almost all peoples and nations are plunged in a sea of calamities, when a cruel war heaps ruins upon ruins and slaughter upon slaughter, when, owing to the most bitter hatred stirred up among the nations, We perceive with greatest sorrow that in not a few has been extinguished the sense not only of Christian moderation and charity, but also of humanity itself. Who can heal these mortal wounds of the human family if not He, to Whom the Prince of the Apostles, full of confidence and love, addresses these words: 'Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life.'81

Restore All Things in Christ

To Our most merciful Redeemer we must therefore bring all back by every means in our power; for He is the divine consoler of the af­flicted; He it is Who teaches all, whether they be invested with public authority or are bound in duty to obey and submit, true honesty, ab­solute justice and generous charity; it is He in fine, and He alone, Who can be the firm founda­tion and support of peace and tranquility: 'For other foundation no man can lay, but that which is laid: which is Christ Jesus.'82 This the author of salvation, Christ, will men more fully know, more ardently love and more faith­fully imitate in proportion as they are more assiduously urged to know and meditate the Sacred Letters, especially the New Testament, for, as'St. Jerome the Doctor of Stridon says: 'To ignore the Scripture is to ignore Christ';83 and again: 'If there is anything in this life which sustains a wise man and induces him to main­tain his serenity amidst the tribulations and ad­versities of the world, it is in the first place, I consider, the meditation and knowledge of the Scriptures.'84

Source of Consolation

There, those who are wearied and oppressed by adversities and afflictions will find true con­solation and divine strength to suffer and bear with patience; there-—that is in the Holy Gospels—Christ, the highest and greatest ex­ample of justice, charity and mercy, is present to all; and to the lacerated and trembling human race are laid open the fountains of that divine grace without which both peoples and their rulers can never arrive at, never establish, peace in the state and unity of heart; there in fine will all learn Christ, 'Who is the head of all prin­cipality and power'85 and 'Who of God is made unto us wisdom and justice and sanctification and redemption.' "86

Only True Attitude Toward the Bible

Such then is the authoritative attitude of the Catholic Church towards the Bible. And such, we may add, is the only true attitude towards the Bible, since from the Church alone, to which the Bible was committed by God to be preserved and interpreted, can we legitimately expect the official answer to this question. As has been seen it is an attitude character­ized by wisdom, prudence, and consistency, throughout the many centuries during which the Church has discharged its duty in regard to Sacred Scripture. In this matter, as in all other matters pertaining to the discharge of the divine commission to teach, the guidance of the Holy Spirit is very clear, and the fulfillment of the promise "Behold I am with you all days" (Matt. 28:20) evident to all who want to see.



01. St. Aug. de VOL Cred. xiv, 32.
02. St. Hier. de Stud. Script, ad Paulin. ep. liii, 3.
03. In Isaiam, Prol.
04. In Isaiam, 54:12.
05. Jerem. 23:29.
06. De Doctr. Chr. iv, 6,7.
07. S. Chrys. in Gen. Horn, xx, 2; Horn., Ix, 3; S. Aug. de Disc. Christ, ii.
08. S. Athan. Ep. Fest. xxxix.
09. S. Aug. serm. xxvi, 24; S. Ambr. in Ps. 118, serm. xix, 2.
10. S. Hier. de Vita Cleric, ad Nepot.
11. S. Greg. M., Regul. past, ii, 11 (al. 22); Moral. xvii, 26 (al.14)
12. S. Aug. serm. clxxix, 1.
13. S. Greg. M., Regul. past., iii, 24 (al. 48)
14. Cone. Trid. sess. v, Decret. de reform., 1.
15. Ibid. 1-2.
16. S. Hier. de Stud. Script, ad Paulin. ep. liii, 4.
17. Contra Haereses, iv. 26, 5.
18. Sess. iii, cap. ii, de Revel; cf. Cone. Trid. sess. iv,Decret. de Edit, et Usu Sacr. libr.
19. In Gen. op. Imperf. ix, 30.
20. De Gen. ad Litt., i, 21, 41.
21. S. Aug. ib. ii, 9, 20.
22. Summa Theol. p. i, q. lxx, a. 1, ad 3.
23. In Sent, ii, Dist. 2, q. i, a. 3.
24. Opusc. x.
25. Sess. Ill, cap. ii, de Revel.
26. De Consensu Evangel, i, 35.
27. Moral, in lib. Job, praef. 1, 2.
28. Ep. Ixxxii, 1, et alibi.
29. Vir Illustr, exxxv.
30. Epist. 82, 2.
31. Praef. in Abdiam.
32. In Matt. 13:14.
33. Epist. 22, 30.
34. Epist. 84. 3.
35. Epist. 125, 12.
36. Epist. 123, 9: 127, 7.
37. Epist. 127, 7.
38. Epist. 36, 1. cf. 32, 1.
39. Epist. 45, 2. cf. 126, 3: 127, 7.
40. Epist. 84, 3.
41. Praef. in 1 Paral.
42. Tract, in Ps. 88.
43. Comment, in Matt. 13:4.
44. Ibid. 13:45.
45. Comment, in Agg., 2:1. cf. in Gal. 2:10.
46. Epist. 27, 1.
47. In Ezech. 1:15.
48. In Mich. 2:11; 3:5.
49. In Mich. 4:1.
50. In Jer. 31:35.
51. In Nah. 1:9.
52. Epist. 57, 7.
53. Epist. 82, 7.
54. Epist. 72, 2.
55. Epist. 18, 7. cf. 46, 6.
56. Epist. 36, 11.
57. Epist. 51, 9.
58. Inter Epp. S. Hier., 116, 3.
59. Epist. 130, 20.
60. Epist. 108, 26.
61. Epist. 63, 2.
62. Epist. 15, 1.
63. Epist. 16, 2.
64. In Dan. 3:37.
65. Adv. Vigil, 6.
66. Dial, contra Pelagianos, Prol. 2.
67. Contra Rutin., 3:43.
68. In Mich. 1:10.
69. In Is. 16:115.
70. Epist. 53, 10.
71. Epist. 30, 13.
72. Prol. in Eph.
73. 2 Tim. 3:16-17.
74. Sess. IV deer. 1.
75. Sess. Ill, Cap. 2.
76. Cf. ex gr. St. Jerome, Praef. in IV Evang. ad Damasum; S. Aug., De Doctr. christ. II, 16.
77. Leonis XIII Acta XIII, pp. 345-346.
78. Comment, ad Hebr. cap. I, lectio 4.
79. Hebr. 4:15.
80. Cf. In Gen. I, 4; In Gen. II, 21; Horn. 15 in Joann., ad. I, 18.
81. Jn. 6:69.
82. 1 Cor. 3:11.
83. St. Jerome, In Isaiam, prologus.
84. Id'., In Ephesios, prologus.
85. Col. 2, 10.
86. 1 Cor. 1:30.

Paul Swonger,
Jun 25, 2009, 2:53 AM
Paul Swonger,
Jun 25, 2009, 2:46 AM
Paul Swonger,
Jun 25, 2009, 2:45 AM