Choose a topic from Vol 5:

Awareness of God

Awareness of God

The Faith of Israel

The Faith of Israel

The Importance of Man

The Importance of Man

Origin of the Gospels

Origin of the Gospels

The Divine Redeemer

The Divine Redeemer

The Catholic Church

The Catholic Church

The Papacy

The Papacy

The Biblical Tradition

The Biblical Tradition

The Blessed Virgin Mary

The Blessed Virgin Mary

Liturgy and Sacraments

Liturgy and Sacraments

Moral Problems

Moral Problems

Final Realities

Final Realities

The Ecumenical Movement

The Problem of Disunity
Reactions Among Non-Catholics
Bewildered Catholics
Combined Unity Services
Mutual Bible Study
Prospects of Reunion

The Biblical Tradition

314. Do Catholics regard the Bible as the inspired Word of God?

It is part of the Catholic Faith that the Bible from beginning to end, both the Old and the New Testaments, that is, from the Book of Genesis to that of the Apocalypse or Revelation, contains the inspired Word of God. But, as regards the meaning of any particular passage of Scripture, a Catholic has to hold that no interpretation which would conflict with any defined dogma or "Article of Faith" in the Catholic religion can be right. That, however, leaves a wide field open for possible interpretations which do not conflict with the authoritative teachings of the Church. Positively, of course, where the Church has infallibly defined the sense of certain passages, we are obliged to acknowledge that as their true meaning; but such cases are very few and are limited to the doctrinal content of such passages whether from the viewpoint of faith or of morals, leaving unaffected historical or literary questions concerning them. Scholars may discuss those to their heart's content, observing of course such practical rules of prudence as the Church may from time to time prescribe. Normally speaking any Catholic of intelligence and common sense with an average background knowledge of his religion, will find by far the greater part of Scripture sufficiently clear and helpful, if he reads it in a spirit of faith and piety. Occasionally, as 2 Pet., 3:16 puts it, he will come across "certain things hard to be understood"; but he will be preserved by his faith as a Catholic from joining the ranks of those who, "unlearned and unstable wrest the scriptures to their own destruction."

315. Are not Catholics bound to believe the teachings of their Church even where these are not to be found in the Bible?

Catholics are bound to accept any definitions or decisions of the Church which involve her divinely-given teaching-authority. For example, the Catholic Church has defined the Canon of the Scriptures or the list of books which must be held to constitute the Bible as the inspired Word of God. Nowhere in the Bible itself it there any information given as to what the full list of its books should be. Again, the solemn Canonisation of a Saint involves an infallible decision by the Church. No Catholic could admit the possibility of the Church being mistaken in a final and solemn Decree of such a kind. For here the Church definitely commits herself to the declaration that the one canonised attained to a life perfectly conformed to the teachings and precepts of the Gospels. That proclaims the Saint to all the faithful as a practical rule of faith and morals; and the Church can be no more liable to error in this matter than in defining the principles themselves which sound faith and morals involve. It is to be noted that, apart from infallibility, the Church has an ordinary, non-infallible but authoritative teaching-authority in prescribing standards of belief and behaviour which normally Catholics are obliged in conscience to accept.

316. In explaining Christian doctrine, you quote the Bible at times but repeatedly appeal to what tradition teaches and the Church authoritatively declares.

In the 16th century most of the Protestant reformers introduced the idea that the Bible, and the Bible only, was the one final court of appeal in all religious matters. "Show it to me in the Book" was the standard challenge, and an explicit text was wanted for everything. To avoid this extreme, some Anglican writers devised the formula: "The Church to teach and the Bible to prove." But this supposed a teachingauthority in their Church which few acknowledged and which, when pressed, could only lead to final decisions by the Privy Council, a secular tribunal, as in the famous Gorham case in 1847 when the Privy Council decided that an Anglican clergyman's views on the Sacrament of Baptism were sound, although the Bishop of Exeter had insisted that they were not. As for "the Bible to prove", the accepted right of private interpretation meant that individuals were free to make up their own minds about what could or could not be proved from its pages. In the "Merchant of Venice" Shakespeare, even in his day, put on the lips of Bassanio the famous words: "In religion, what damned error, but some sober brow will bless it and approve it with a text."

317. At the Second Vatican Council violent dissension on "the Bible and Tradition" was avoided only by the intervention of Pope John XXIII.

For the newspapers, any strongly expressed differences of opinion among the Council Fathers became "violent dissensions." But in the Council discussions the Fathers were there to express their different viewpoints. At the risk of over-simplifying things, I will try to put the complex problem as clearly as possible. During the First Session of the Council in 1962 it was proposed that the ordinary Catholic doctrine of Scripture and Tradition as the basic sources of our knowledge of divinelyrevealed truths should be simply reaffirmed as it stood. But many Bishops present said that, while Catholics understood what was meant, others did not. On hearing the word tradition most non-Catholics thought at once of merely human traditions and quoted Christ's rebuke to the Pharisees: "You hold the traditions of men . . . making the Word of God of no effect." Mk., 7:8-13. These Bishops argued that the Council should make it clear that the Catholic Church intended no reference to merely human traditions, and that it would be better not to speak of two sources of divinely-revealed truth but of one source only, the revealed Word of God as manifested in the traditions contained in the written Scriptures and in recollections of the preachings of the apostles handed on faithfully in the teachings of the Church. In the ecumenical interests of unity, these Bishops declared, it should be made clear that there was no question of humanly-invented traditions distinct from and opposed to the teachings of Christ and the apostles. The discussion continued for six days, for the subject was much more complex than I have been able to indicate. As things seemed likely to go on endlessly, a vote was taken as to whether it would not be better to terminate the discussion and ask for another and revised document than the one originally prepared for the Council's consideration. The vote did not gain the necessary majority and the discussion would have continued had not Pope John XXIII intervened, ignoring the majority vote and saying that a new document must be prepared, this time not only by the Theological Commission, but by that Commission together with the Secretariat for Christian Unity. The revised statement followed the lines proposed by those Bishops who had suggested a document on "Divine Revelation" instead of one dealing with the "Two Sources of Revelation." Pope John's intervention came on Nov. 20th, 1962. He himself had said earlier, on Nov. 4th, during the celebration of the Anniversary of his Coronation as Pope, that the living substance of the Church's teaching must always conform perfectly to "the pure evangelical and apostolic truths." That excluded as a basis for our faith all merely human traditions which were over and above those contained in the teachings of the apostles, whether written or oral.

318. What exactly was the problem?

That I have explained. The Council finally declared, in its "Constitution on Divine Revelation," that "Sacred Tradition and Holy Writ are a single holy deposit of the Word of God entrusted to the Church." We can say, for example, that the four Gospels, written between 65 A.D. and 100 A.D., that is, between thirty and seventy years after the death of Christ, embody the early traditions preserved in the Church about His life and work. The apostolic preaching (some of it, not all of it, written in other New Testament books) contained, amplified and explained the message recorded in the Gospel accounts. Scripture and Tradition (in this sense) have preserved for us between them the divinelyrevealed Truth, although much is explicit in Tradition which is only implicitly contained in Scripture. Protestants themselves, who proclaimed the sufficiency of Scripture alone, are becoming more and more conscious of the need of the authoritative traditional teachings of the Church, inherited from the apostles, as a safeguard against the erratic interpretations resulting from unbridled religious individualism; and today among them there is developing a better understanding of the Catholic position.

319. In what way does the Church retain the unwritten apostolic traditions?

Not in the sense of a whole body of unwritten apostolic teachings additional to Scripture being handed down in the Church by oral transmission from generation to generation. No one can point to such a stereotyped set of doctrines and rules. The position was well stated in a quotation from St. Augustine to which Pope Paul VI (who had succeeded the late Pope John XXIII) drew the attention of the Preparatory Commissions. As St. Augustine put it: "There are many things which the entire Church holds, and they are therefore correctly believed to have been taught by the apostles even though they are not to be found in written form." The principle there stated is that Scripture and Tradition between them provide us with the fulness of the faith entrusted to the keeping of the Church. Holy Scripture is indeed a permanent record in writing of divinely-revealed Truth. It has a unique place in the Church. But it must be read in the light of her traditional and official teachings which, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and as part of her apostolic inheritance, are never opposed to, but ever in harmony with the Written Word of God, giving a deeper insight into its meaning and application in our lives. To ignore the traditional teachings of the Church is to run the risk of lapsing into one or other of the almost limitless aberrations into which independent Bible-readers have fallen.

320. Can you provide grounds for believing in the handing on of such apostolic traditions?

There is little difficulty in doing so. Christ Himself wrote no books. He founded His Church on the Apostles, trained them personally, and sent them to teach all nations whatsoever He had made known to them. From the very beginning, the "Apostolic Preaching" constituted the Tradition to be handed on in the Church. Twenty years elapsed before the first of the writings in the New Testament appeared, and those were not the Gospels, but the Epistles of St. Paul. In his Second Epistle to the Thessalonians, written about 52 A.D., St. Paul wrote: "Stand fast and hold the traditions which you have learned, whether by word or by our epistle." 2 Thess., 2:14. To provide for the handing on of the traditions he wrote to Timothy: "The things which you have heard of me by many witnesses, the same commend to faithful men who shall be fit to teach others also." 2 Tim., 2:2. In an earlier letter to Timothy he had written: "Know how you ought to behave yourself in the house of God, which is the Church of the Living God, the pillar and mainstay of truth." I Tim., 3:15. The admonition of Jude, 3: "Contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints," refers therefore to that traditional body of doctrine committed to the care of the Catholic Church by Christ and the Apostles. In its completed document on "Revelation", then, the Second Vatican Council declared, in n.9, "The Church does not derive through scripture alone her certitude about all that has been revealed;" and in n.10 added that "sacred tradition, sacred scripture and the teaching-authority of the Church are so linked that one cannot stand without the others. All, each in its own way, under the action of the Holy Spirit, contribute effectively to the salvation of souls."

321. On what do you base your confidence in such an explanation?

Ultimately, it is based on our faith in Christ Himself who promised to be with His Church founded upon the Apostles "all days even till the end of the world." Matt., 28:20, and who pledged Himself to bestow upon the Apostles for their mission the Holy Spirit who, He said, "will teach you all things and bring to your mind whatsoever I shall have said to you." Jn., 14:26. It was the faith which made St. Paul describe the Church of the Living God as "the pillar and mainstay of truth," and which impells Catholics to look to their Church for their immediate guidance in all the essentials of the Christian religion, seeing in her the one of whom Christ still says: "He who hears you, hears me." Lk., 10:16.

322. I am afraid the Catholic way is not my way of thinking. For me, the Bible interprets itself.

Such a position is scarcely tenable. The Bible, as a written book, cannot speak. It cannot say to a given reader: "Just a minute. You have mistaken me there." Also we have the disconcerting fact that, were the Bible its own interpreter, it would be interpreting itself to different and equally sincere readers of it in different and conflicting ways. The truth is that, not the Bible, but the readers of it do the interpreting of it as best they can. They are not always able to grasp the real significance of the passages they read. So, in the New Testament, we find the Ethiopian, who was reading the scriptures, saying to Philip the deacon who had asked whether he understood what he was reading: "How can I, unless some man show me?" Acts, 8:31. Granted that the Bible contains divinely-revealed truth, it needs authentic interpretation. We must remember that the Word of God for the first Christians, before a line of the New Testament had been written, was the preaching of the Apostles. Thus St. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians: "You received the Word of God by hearing it; and you received it not as the word of man but (as it is indeed) the Word of God." I Thess., 2:13.

323. To my mind, every believer is able to interpret scripture for himself. It tells us in 2 Tim., 2:15, "Study to show yourself as one approved of God . . . rightly proclaiming the word of truth."

Those words were an instruction addressed to Timothy himself, not to "every believer;" and they concern Timothy's personal character and the nature of his teaching. The sense is: "Aim at pleasing God only, fulfilling your office blamelessly before Him, rightly proclaiming the truth." In 2 Tim., 1:16 St. Paul told him: "Stir up the grace of God which is in you by the imposition of my hands." Thus ordained to the priesthood by St. Paul, his duty was, as in 2 Tim., 4:2, to "preach the word . . . rebuke, exhort with all patience and doctrine." In 2 Tim., 1:13 St. Paul bade him: "Hold the form of sound words which you have heard from me in faith." Obviously, even as the first converts "continued steadfastly in the doctrine of the Apostles" (Acts, 2:42), so Timothy was commissioned to preach faithfully the same doctrine of the Apostles. There is no reference here to everyone studying and interpreting Scripture for himself.

324. Is not the Word of God an empowering, judging and healing Word, telling us we have been unfaithful? And must not the Church respond to this Word?

Church respond to this Word? If I say yes to that, I will mean one thing and you will understand quite another. For I am thinking of the Word of God as the revelation of God however it may be made known to us, while you are thinking of the Bible as a written book. Also, you are thinking of the Church solely in terms of the individuals comprising it, while I think also of the Church as a living organic body indwelt by the Holy Spirit and sent by Christ with a guaranteed perpetuity and infallibility, but with its teaching-authority vested in lawfully and validly constituted successors of the Apostles. It was to such successors, in Acts, 20:28, that St. Paul at Ephesus addressed his parting words: "Take heed to yourselves and to the whole flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you guardians, to feed the Church of God." It is the living voice of the Church, expressed through those endowed with teaching-authority within her, which makes clear what the Word of God demands of us; and it is the duty of all members of the Church without exception teachers and taught alike to respond to the Word of God thus proclaimed in the Church by fidelity to her doctrines and precepts. The Bible nowhere gives every independent reader of it the right to decide for himself what it means and to tell the Church what she ought to teach and the kind of conduct she ought to prescribe whether in the worship of God or in the living of our individual lives.

325. Why is there so much in the Bible that is obscure and difficult to understand?

It would be strange if such were not the case. The Bible is a collection of different books written at different times by different authors in Hebrew or Aramaic or Greek, and dating, as we have it, from between 1000 B.C. to 100 A.D. In the words of the Anglican biblical scholar Dr. Lowther Clarke: "To understand the Bible thoroughly one needs an equipment of wide and varied knowledge compared with which that needed by, say, a Shakespearean scholar is modest." But that is from the viewpoint of scholastic attainments and quite apart from the insight of faith and the enligthening of the Holy Spirit which enable the Church to grasp clearly and to teach with certainty at least the essential message of salvation contained in the Bible's various books.

326. Biblical scholars seem to use expediency and raise the smokescreen of symbolism to do away with the truth as it really is and should still be acknowledged.

However applicable that might be to some biblical scholars - as it is - it cannot be applied to all. The vast majority of biblical scholars are not actuated by any unworthy motives of human expediency. They have no desire to do away with anything that ought to be maintained. They would never dream of using mental imagery or symbolism when they encounter it in the Bible as a smokescreen of any kind. These scholars, profoundly convinced of the truth of Sacred Scripture as the Word of God, realise that an excessively literal interpretation of all its statements taken at their face value does not make sufficient allowance for the fact that this Word of God is given us in the words of men who were conditioned by the ways of thinking, speaking and writing of the particular times in which they lived. These scholars, therefore, gather all the background information they can from archaeology, philology or the study of ancient languages, and from the study of literary forms employed in past ages - all of which help to throw light on the mind of each of the biblical writers. They seek to explain Scripture, not to explain it away; and we need the help of their scholarly findings if we are to avoid what has been called "the danger of thinking for oneself about things one has not been trained to think about." Only an unreasonable fundamentalism would reject their findings out of hand, preferring superficial views too easily taken for granted. A simple faith is good; but it need not be the faith of a simpleton - although even a simpleton may receive from God the grace of a very deep and sound spirit of faith. Not for a moment would I wish to suggest that heaven is for clever people just because they are clever, and that the less intellectually gifted ones are less able to qualify for it.

327. Does Pope Paul VI himself understand everything in the Bible?

I have no hesitation in saying that he does not; nor is it essential that he should. He has, of course, a thorough grasp of the essentials of the Christian religion. He completed before ordination as a priest the normal studies in Scripture, History, Dogmatic and Moral Theology, Liturgy, Canon Law and Ascetical Theology or the Theory and Practice of the spiritual life. After he was ordained, he was engaged in duties of administration, became later Cardinal Archbishop of Milan, and later still was elected as Pope. His election as Pope, however, did not confer on him miraculously all forms of specialist knowledge which he had not previously acquired; and he had not specialised in biblical studies. Where particular and difficult biblical problems are concerned, he would turn for advice to biblical scholars. As Pope Pius XII said in his Encyclical "Divino Afflante Spiritu" (1943), guidance for Christians in matters of faith and morals is to be found in the teachings and laws of the Catholic Church; but the explanation of many important problems is not covered directly by the Church's official teachings, and this she leaves to the wisdom and insight of her biblical scholars.

328. If the Pope does not understand everything in the Bible, who does?

There is no living human being in the world today who understands fully every individual statement or passage contained in the Bible. As the Word of God in the words of men who were the product of thenown times, the Bible must be full of difficulties. Some of the ideas the writers were inspired by God to set down expressed a mysterious revealed truth which they themselves, with their limited capacities, only partly understood. Other things were already naturally known to them; but even these can baffle us because of the difficulty we have in getting back into the mind of writers of thousands of years ago. Again, the Bible is a record of God's dealings with men, each inspired writer having a message for his own generation. As a result, while much of what he wrote might be applicable to men of all times, part of it could be applicable to men only of his own times although, of course, we can always learn something from the lessons of past history. One should read the Bible by all means. If he does so in the spirit of faith, humility and prayer, he will find it a source of grace. Many passages will be clear enough and very moving. But some passages are difficult beyond the understanding of the most learned of modern biblical scholars, and it would be foolish to take literally and at its face value everything one reads.

329. Why does not the Pope have the Bible written in plain words so that we can all understand everything in it?

Firstly, it is a matter of translating ancient Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek documents into modern languages; and the task is not easy. In 1952 one of the best modern translations was published. Fifty Protestant biblical scholars with the highest qualifications had laboured for fifteen years in the making of that translation, known as the "Revised Standard Version." But they declared their translation to be only their inadequate best. They said that, owing to a lack of familiarity with customs and ways of thinking and speaking in olden times, they ran into many problems they could not solve, and that often they could give only approximately what they thought the meaning would have been. Some passages, they said, would probably forever remain unintelligible. Now if difficulties and obscurities remained for them, how much more for the vast majority of readers who have had no training at all as biblical scholars? Then, too, of what use would any written words be, however plain, for the more than 700 millions of illiterate people in the world who can neither read nor write? Yet the Christian religion is intended for all people. So Christ sent His Apostles and His Church to teach all nations the whole story of His work for our salvation and the essentials of revealed truth He had taught them. It is far more important to be taught Catholic doctrine and how to live one's religion, sharing in the worship of the Church and receiving the Sacraments even the illiterate can be taught in such a way than to devote oneself to Bible-reading, granted one's ability to read. Even then many passages of Scripture are liable to be misunderstood, however helpful others may be.

330. How are the Church's authoritative interpretations of difficult biblical passages known?

As regards interpreting the Bible the authority of the Church is exercised in different ways. In comparatively few cases have any official decrees been issued concerning the meaning of particular passages. But the mind of the Church certainly finds expression in the unanimous teachings of the early Fathers in regard to such sections of Scripture with which they do expressly deal. Where the Fathers are not at least morally unanimous, the question is left an open one within the limits, of course, of the Catholic Faith. We then turn to reputable Catholic scripture scholars and theologians who realise that no interpretation could be correct which would contradict any defined article of the Catholic Faith and who, with all the aids of modern scholarship try to discern the most likely of all the meanings that can be harmonised with such doctrines as have been authoritatively taught by the Church. For the most part, the Church is content that we should rely on their guidance.

331. My "Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture" says: "There is no official view on any but a minute handful of biblical texts."

That is true as regards direct and authoritative declarations by the Church about the meaning of particular texts. So Pope Pius XII, in his 1943 Encyclical on Scripture said that the meaning of very few individual texts have been expressly determined by infallible decisions of the Church. There are not more than about twenty such instances. But there are certain things here to be noted. Where the Church has authoritatively declared that a given sense must be attributed to a particular text, that does not mean that the prescribed interpretation exhausts the whole of its meaning. It may be far richer in content than the specified aspect suggests. What must be held is that it at least includes the sense determined by the Church whatever other meanings one may also find in it. Secondly, the mind of the Church in regard to Scripture passages is indirectly yet still authoritatively manifested by her official doctrines in other areas of the Faith. No text may be interpreted in such a way as to conflict with her defined teachings on any matters. This rule is known as that of the "analogy of faith," demanding that we interpret Scripture in the light of our faith and in harmony with it. Of course we must be sure that what we take to be a doctrine of the faith is indeed an essential article of it and not merely some current and more or less probable opinion held by only some Catholic theologians. Outside these two rules there is a very large field for biblical interpretation, the findings of which are worth no more than the arguments advanced for them; and here there is room for differences of opinion even among Catholic biblical scholars who may or may not find each other's viewpoints at all convincing.

332. What are all the biblical texts infallibly interpreted by the Catholic Church?

I will do my best for you in the time at my disposal, listing them rather in an order of doctrines than of their occurrence in the Bible. They are as follows: (1) Romans 5:12 ("By one man sin entered into this world") refers to original sin. (2) I Corinthians 4:7 ("What hast thou that thou hast not received") proves divine grace to be a sheer gift of God. (3) Isaiah 7:14 ("Behold a virgin shall be with child, etc.") must be regarded as prophetic of a Redeemer to come. (4) Genesis 3:15 ("I will put enmity between thee and the woman"), and Luke 1:28 ("Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee") contain at least implicitly the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. (5) Philippians 2:6 ("Christ Jesus, being in the form of God, did not prize being equal with God, etc.") refers to the existence of the Person of Christ as the Second Divine Person of the Holy Trinity before He became man in the Incarnation. (6) Matthew 16:16-19 ("Thou art Peter and upon this rock I will build my Church") and John 21:15-17 ("Feed my lambs . . . Feed my sheep") contain the doctrine of Papal Supremacy. (7) Luke 22:32 ("I have prayed for thee that thy faith fail not and do thou . . . confirm thy brethren") must be interpreted as providing a basis for the doctrine of Papal Infallibility. (8) John 3:5 ("Unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God") shows the necessity of the Sacrament of Baptism with water. (9) Luke 22:19 and I Corinthians 11:24, recording our Lord's words at the Last Supper: "Do this for a commemoration of THE BIBLICAL TRADITION 177 me", indicate the institution of the Sacrament of Holy Orders, the apostles being ordained as priests to offer the Sacrifice of the Mass or Holy Eucharist. (10) Matthew 26:26-28; Mark 14:22-24; Luke 22:19-20; I Corinthians 11:23-29, demand the literal and not merely a symbolical interpretation of our Lord's words at the Last Supper: "This is my body," "This is my blood," so that we must hold they teach the Real Presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist or Blessed Sacrament. (11) Malachi 1:11 ("From the rising of the sun even to the going down, my name is great among the Gentiles; and in every place there is sacrifice") is a prediction of the Sacrifice of the Mass. (12) John 6:54-57 ("unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink His blood") does not require Communion in both kinds instead of under the form of bread only. (13) Matthew 18:18 ("Whatsoever you shall loose upon earth shall be loosed also in heaven") and John 20:23 ("Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them") prove the Sacrament of Penance and the power of priests to forgive sins in confession. (14) James 5:14 ("Is any man sick . . . let him bring in the priests of the Church . . . anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord") teaches the existence of the Sacrament of Extreme Unction. (15) Deuteronomy 6:5 and Matthew 22:37 ("Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart and soul and mind and strength") do not require a love so spiritual and out of this world as to exclude all human emotional feelings and desires based on devotional sentiments. Those are, as it were, fifteen categories - some of them containing more than one text - covered by the infallible teaching-authority of the Catholic Church. And that bare outline is all I can offer in the timelimits of my session.

333. I cannot accept that the Catholic Church is the only one capable of interpreting the Bible.

The Catholic Church does not ask anyone to accept that. What Catholics must hold is that no interpretation will be correct if it conflicts with any of her defined teachings on matters of faith or morals; and that, if any doubts arise concerning the meaning of any particular passage in the Bible, the final decision rests with her, should a definitive judgment be thought warranted. It must be remembered that Christ neither wrote nor ordered to be written any of the books contained in our New Testament. He called His Apostles, founded His Church upon them, and commissioned His Apostles and through them His Church, to teach all nations in His name. Years later, the Holy Spirit inspired the Apostles and others associated with them, as St. Mark and St. Luke, to set down in writing the basic traditions and convictions of the primitive Christian community. The New Testament should be regarded as containing "the family papers" of the Church, written by members of the family, which has inherited the traditional sense of them. Outsiders, without the intuitions or sense of the faith, and who take the writings at their face value, are to say the least less able to grasp their significance that members of the family to which they owe their origin and belong; and the right interpretation of them is to be sought within the Catholic Church, not from strangers to the family traditions. The words of Deut., 32:7 still apply: "Remember the days of old; consider the years of many generations; ask thy father and he will show thee; thy elders and they will tell thee."

334. Why did not God make everything in the Bible so clear that no one could mistake its meaning?

That would be impossible. It does not allow for different human mentalities. Into almost any written sentences people can read meanings according to their own preconceived ideas. It is not to be denied, of course, that a Christian who reads his Bible in a spirit of faith and piety will gain a deeper understanding of much of the divinely-revealed truth it contains. But there will be difficult passages where even the sincerest, devout and scholarly men arrive at conflicting conclusions; and at least in really vital matters clarification

335. How do we know the Bible writings, but not others, to be the inspired Word of God?

Only by the infallible teaching-authority of the Catholic Church. There are some who wish to by-pass that authority, saying that the Bible is self-authenticating. But innumerable readers of it do not find it so. Some have said: "I find the Word of God in the Bible because the Bible finds me." But again, there are innumerable readers who neither find the Word of God in the Bible, nor are found by it. Such a purely subjective standard won't do. An objective test is necessary. And that is found in the apostolic tradition manifesting God's witness to His inspiration of the writings contained in the Bible, a tradition handed down through the ages and guaranteed by the infallible teaching-authority of the Catholic Church declaring that the books contained in the Old and New Testaments and no others are to be accepted as the inspired Word of God. It must be kept in mind that the Church had existed for some twenty years at least before any of the New Testament books were written; and all its books were written within the Church and by members of the Church. It was when certain fictitious writings began to be circulated with the claim that they were also divinely inspired that the Church had to decide authoritatively which books were truly the Word of God and which were not; and her decisions were given as needed by different Synods of Bishops. A Council held at Rome under Pope Damasus in 382 A.D. gave the full list of the forty-six books in the Greek Septuagint Old Testament and the twenty-seven books of the New Testament as being the officially accepted Bible for Christians.

336. Is it not a vicious circle to accept the Bible on the word of the Church, and then prove the Church from the Bible?

If a non-Catholic who already believes in the Bible, no matter on what grounds, enters into a discussion of religion with a Catholic, the Catholic can logically start from that person's faith in the Bible, merely pointing out that without the authoritative decision of the Catholic Church in the fourth century one would not know precisely which books are rightly held to belong to the Bible as the inspired Word of God. It " is another matter, however, when dealing with a person who has no faith at all. Then it would be a vicious circle to ask the unbeliever to accept the Bible because the Church says it's true, and the Church because the Bible says it's true. One could go round and round forever in that circle, making no real progress at all. With an unbeliever, granted his interest in the subject, the thing to do is to ask him to consider the Gospels, not as the inspired Word of God, but just as documents stating the facts that Christ lived, made remarkable claims, did things making it at least not unreasonable to accept these claims, and founded a Church, promising His protection of it always as a reliable guide in His name. Only if the man admitted, not only that it would be reasonable to believe in these things, but, stepping up from the lower level of reason alone to the higher level of faith, professed his faith in Christ and in His Church, could one ask him to accept the verdict of the Church that the Gospels are not merely reliable as documents, but that they are indeed the inspired Word of God, and that her voice is the final court of appeal as to what their interpretation should be. Such a process does not begin from faith, but from a reasonable judgment. If the unbeliever cannot bring himself to step upstairs to the level of faith, further progress for the time being is not possible. But if he does, then one can go on to what faith requires us to believe. From a logical point of view, no vicious circle occurs there. It is a legitimate spiral process. One has not gone round and round, but round and up, as one who ascends by a spiral staircase from lower to higher levels.

337. Are the Scriptures above the Church, or is the Church above the Scriptures?

Here we must be careful. Absolutely speaking, the Scriptures, having their own inherent authority as God's inspired Word, are above the Church. The Church, even though she decided between the claims of spurious books and those which really contained the inspired Word of God, did not give the really inspired ones their authority. God gave them that, and the Church has to conform her doctrines to the truth they contain. But while the Church is not above the Bible in that sense, her authority is definitely above private interpretations of it by individual readers of it - a very different thing. After all, it is the Church which Christ commissioned to "teach all nations" (Matt., 28:19) and to which He said: "If a man will not hear the Church, let him be as the heathen" (Matt., 18:19).

338. It is commonly said that Roman Catholics accept, not the teachings of the Bible, but those of their Church.

We accept both. The Catholic Church cannot contradict Scripture. But her teachings, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, tell us how the Christian community through the ages has understood Scripture. The early Church Fathers, some of whom knew the Apostles personally, reflect the faith of the first Christians. In the life and thought of the Church during succeeding ages, biblical teaching was further clarified, misinterpretations being rejected and right interpretations proclaimed. A so-called purely "biblical theology" which would ignore almost two thousand years of Christian teaching developed in accordance with Scripture would be quite inadequate. That is why, in its "Document of Revelation", n.10, the Second Vatican Council declared: "Sacred tradition, sacred Scripture, and the teaching-authority of the Church, in accord with God's most wise design, are so linked and joined together that one cannot stand without the others; and all together act each in its own way under the action of the Holy Spirit, and contribute effectively to the salvation of souls." The Bible, then, can be rightly understood only in the light of the official doctrines of the Church doctrines we accept through faith in the Church as our divinely-appointed guide in religious matters. That others who lack the Catholic faith should develop ideas differing from the teachings of the Catholic Church is not disconcerting to Catholics, nor even a matter of surprise to them.

339. How is reunion possible from the Catholic point of view, since Protestants claim to base their religion on the Bible only?

Better-informed Protestants no longer accept that over-simple formula. They realise that no complete New Testament as we know it was acknowledged by Christians until about four centuries after Christ - as long a time as between the 16th century Reformation and our own times! Initially, as we are told in Acts 2:42, Christians adhered "steadfastly to the teaching of the Apostles." Between the years 50 and 100 A.D. the different books of the New Testament were written, being circulated separately. Finally, in the 4th century, the Church gathered them into the one New Testament. The test of which books were indeed the inspired Word of God was the Church's judgment both of their apostolic origin and their conformity with her own teachings from the very beginning. For the first 400 years, therefore, the rule of faith was not the full New Testament as we have it, which did not then exist, but the teaching-authority of the Church which did exist. This question of the relationships between the Church and the Bible constitutes one of the problems confronting the ecumenical movement; but it is only one of the many problems, each to be solved in its own good time; and the very existence of these problems, far from being a reason for discontinuing the movement, are a reason for persevering with it. Its very purpose is to see clearly what hinders the reunion of all Christians in one and the same visible Church and how such hindrances can be overcome. Merely to point out the differences is not to prove them insuperable. We must allow for the Holy Spirit having something to say about that.

340. Personally, I believe we get the indwelling of the Holy Spirit only by reading the Bible daily for oneself, and that is good enough for me.

I do not doubt your sincerely religious dispositions. It was to one of similar dispositions that our Lord said: "You are not far from the kingdom of God." Mk., 12:34. But that statement implies that the good man had not yet attained to the kingdom of God as Jesus had come to establish it. Meantime, your principle surely cannot be a sound one. Firstly, nowhere does the Bible itself say that the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is got only by daily Bible-reading. Secondly, Christ did not order a line of the New Testament to be written, which would be a strange neglect were daily Bible-reading the only way to gain the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Thirdly, millions of Christians had the indwelling of the Holy Spirit during the many centuries before the invention of the printing-press by Gutenberg in 1448 A.D. made the possession of Bibles for daily reading generally available; and to this day the Christian religion is still being preached in many mission areas to illiterate people who attain a deep faith in it and to lives in accordance with its requirements which would put to shame many professing Christians in our sophisticated and secularised so-called civilisation. For the rest, it is the divine plan, as St. Paul wrote to the Ephesians, that "through the Church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known." Eph., 3:10. Those are words deserving of much more attention and thought than many are prepared to devote to them.

341. Your explanations would seem to discourage rather than to encourage Bible-reading at all.

What I have had to say has necessarily been dependent on the nature of the questions put to me. The Second Vatican Council, in its Decree on Ecumenism, n.21, said that Christians separated from us, while believing with us in the divine authority of the Scriptures as the Word of God, think differently from us about the relationship between the Scriptures and the Church, the teachings of which play an important part in helping us to understand God's written Word. They are those differences which have prompted most of the inquiries sent to me and with which I have had to deal. But the Council, in its "Constitution on Divine Revelation," n.25, urged all the faithful to learn by their frequent reading of Scripture "the knowledge of Christ Jesus which surpasses in value all other knowledge (Phil., 3:8). It is my duty, therefore and not only my duty but my desire also far from discouraging, to encourage all able to do so to devote time, daily if possible, to the prayerful reading of the Bible, and especially of the Gospels in which we meet our Lord and find in His teaching and example an inspiration to love God and our neighbour, and grow personally in virtue and holiness of life. Nor, as regards good Christians separated from us, would I for a moment deny that from the viewpoint of their spiritual lives the reading of the Holy Scripture has made a great impact upon them, enkindling in them an ever greater desire to love and serve God, to trust in Christ as their Saviour, providing them with comfort and courage to live as committed Christians in the midst of the largely secularised and often hostile environment of the world of today. But a subjective and personal religious contentment is not all that Christianity in its fulness is meant to provide. It has a body of revealed truth to be explicitly believed; a community and public worship to be offered to God, we "not forsaking our assembly", as Heb., 10:25 puts it; and sacramental means of grace to be used throughout our lives. To by-pass these elements of the Christian religion is to be content with much less than our Lord requires of us as a duty and intends for our own greater spiritual welfare.

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