Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Happy 43rd Anniversary to Dei Verbum!

It just so happens that on this very day, the 43rd Anniversary of the promulgation of Dei Verbum, the topic of discussion in my class on Scripture and Its Interpretation was the famously ambiguous section 11.

Boniface has already addressed the ambiguity present in this section, and the two possible interpretations of it (one in accord with Catholic tradition, the other in opposition). I hope Boniface will excuse me if I merely cut and paste his words:

Take the famous example of Dei Verbum 11, which states that the Bible "teaches, without error that truth which God wanted put into the sacred writings for the sake of our salvation." Now, it can be interpreted in one of two ways: (1) the Bible is immune from error in everything it says, and everything it says God wanted there for the sake of our salvation, and (2) The Bible is immune from error in so far as it teaches about salvation, but can err when it treats of other topics.

Why do I bring this up again? In class today, when this topic arose, the Prof. passed on to us some interesting words of Augustin Cardinal Bea that further confirm position #1 (as outlined by Boniface above).

In his commentary on Dei Verbum, Augustin Cardinal Bea, who made significant contributions in the drafting of this constitution, comments on the extent of inerrancy implied in this passage: "An earlier schema (the third in succession) said that the sacred books teach 'truth without error'. The following schema, the fourth, inspired by words of St. Augustine, added the adjective 'saving', so that the text asserted that the Scriptures taught 'firmly, faithfully, wholly and without error the saving truth.' In the voting which followed one hundred and eighty-four council fathers asked for the adjective 'saving' to be removed, because they feared it might lead to misunderstandings, as if the inerrancy of Scripture referred only to matters of faith and morality, whereas there might be error in the treatment of other matters. The Holy Father, to a certain extent sharing this anxiety, decided to ask the Commission to consider whether it would not be better to omit the adjective, as it might lead to some misunderstanding." (Augustin Cardinal Bea, The Word of God and Mankind (Chicago: Franciscan Herald Press, 1967), 188.

Bea then proceeds to raise the question: "Does the inerrancy asserted in this document cover also the account of these historical events?", which he answers: "For my own part I think that this question must be answered affirmatively, that is, that these 'background' events also are described without error. In fact, we declare in general that there is no limit set to this inerrancy, and that it applies to all that the inspired writer, and therefore all that the Holy Spirit by his means, affirms.... This thought, which re-occurs in various forms in the recent documents of the Magisterium of the Church (cf. E.B. 124, 279, 450 et seq., 539 et seq., 559) is here clearly understood in a sense which excludes the possibility of the Scriptures containing any statement contrary to the reality of the facts. In particular, these documents of the Magisterium require us to recognize that Scripture gives a true account of events, naturally not in the sense that it always offers a complete and scientifically studied account, but in the sense that what is asserted in Scripture - even if it does not offer a complete picture - never contradicts the reality of the fact. If therefore the Council had wished to introduce here a new conception, different from that presented in these recent documents of the supreme teaching authority, which reflects the beliefs of the early fathers, it would have had to state this clearly and explicitly. Let us now ask whether there may be any indications to suggest such a restricted interpretation of inerrancy. The answer is decidedly negative. There is not the slightest sign of any such indication. On the contrary everything points against a restrictive interpretation." (189-190).


Boniface said...


This is an amazing find, and from the man who drafted Dei Verbum!

This makes it all the more appalling that the recent Synod on the Word of God chose to go with the heretical, broad interpretation.

Ben said...

What do you think of Cardinal Newman's take on this, Boniface? He believed that Scripture was only inspired and inerrant in matters of faith and morals, apparently. I found this from him:

And now comes the important question, in what respect are the Canonical books inspired? It cannot be in every respect, unless we are bound de fide to believe that 'terra in æternum stat,' and that heaven is above us, and that there are no antipodes. And it seems unworthy of Divine Greatness, that the Almighty should in His revelation of Himself to us undertake mere secular duties, and assume the office of a narrator, as such, or an historian, or geographer, except so far as the secular matters bear directly upon the revealed truth. The Councils of Trent and the Vatican fulfil this anticipation; they tell us distinctly the object and the promise of Scripture inspiration. They specify 'faith and moral conduct' as the drift of that teaching which has the guarantee of inspiration. What we need and what is given us is not how to educate ourselves for this life; we have abundant natural gifts for human society, and for the advantages which it secures; but our great want is how to demean ourselves in thought and deed towards our Maker, and how to gain reliable information on this urgent necessity.

12. Accordingly four times does the Tridentine Council insist upon 'faith and morality,' as the scope of inspired teaching. It declares that the 'Gospel' is 'the Fount of all saving truth and all instruction in morals,' that in the written books and in the unwritten traditions, the Holy Spirit dictating, this truth and instruction are contained. Then it speaks of the books and traditions, 'relating whether to faith or to morals,' and afterwards of 'the confirmation of dogmas and establishment of morals.' Lastly, it warns the Christian people, 'in matters of faith and morals,' against distorting Scripture into a sense of their own. http://www.newmanreader.org/works/miscellaneous/scripture.html

Ben said...

It seems to have been condemned by the Popes though. Pius XII even refers to obiter dicta like Newman

When, subsequently, some Catholic writers, in spite of this solemn definition of Catholic doctrine, by which such divine authority is claimed for the "entire books with all their parts" as to secure freedom from any error whatsoever, ventured to restrict the truth of Sacred Scripture solely to matters of faith and morals, and to regard other matters, whether in the domain of physical science or history, as "obiter dicta" and - as they contended - in no wise connected with faith, Our Predecessor of immortal memory, Leo XIII in the Encyclical Letter Providentissimus Deus, published on November 18 in the year 1893, justly and rightly condemned these errors and safe-guarded the studies of the Divine Books by most wise precepts and rules.

Boniface said...

Hi Ben! I wanted to acknowledge receipt of this message. I'm mulling it over and will answer when I have time. Pax.

Ben said...

Thanks a lot! Sorry to be a pain :-)

Boniface said...


Hey, so I have been thinking about this. I am uncomfortable with one of Newman's statements here:

"And now comes the important question, in what respect are the Canonical books inspired? It cannot be in every respect, unless we are bound de fide to believe that 'terra in æternum stat,' and that heaven is above us, and that there are no antipodes."

He seems to be confusing inspiration with literalness. He is making the obvious point that not everything in the Bible is to be understood literally and then making the assumption that therefore these passages are not inspired. I don't know why he felt the need to introduce this dichotomy.

The traditional understanding that everything in the Bible is inspired and therefore true in some sense (but that there are different "senses") of Scripture - seems to make much more sense.

As to his comments about Trent and Vatican I supporting his assertion, given Leo XIII's teaching on this matter in Providentissimus Deus, I have to assume Newman is misunderstanding what the Councils taught here.