Living Tradition
Editor: Msgr. John F. McCarthy, J.C.D., S.T.D.Distributed several times a year to interested members.
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No. 59 Roman Theological Forum | Article Index | Study Program July 1995


by Brian W. Harrison

        In December 1995 the Catholic Church will celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of the end of the Second Vatican Council - a moment for reflection about its profound significance for the life of the Church, and, in particular, about its correct interpretation, at a time when conflicting readings of the Council continue to be the occasion of much division and tension. One passage that is of fundamental importance - it deals with the very foundations of Christian faith - has been given widely differing readings, for its precise import is not immediately obvious. The scope of this essay is to consider the meaning of this passage, which regards certain essential attributes of Sacred Scripture, in the light of its redactional history during the Council, the official explanations of successive drafts given to the Council Fathers, the personal intervention of Pope Paul VI, and, in particular, certain key footnote references. These were added with the purpose of making it clear that the text was to be understood in harmony with previous documents of the Magisterium, but they have very often been neglected in post-conciliar commentaries. Their importance will be brought out in the context of examining critically the respective interpretations given to this passage by two well-known biblical scholars, Fr. Raymond E. Brown and Fr. Roderick A.F. MacKenzie, author of the commentary on this Dogmatic Constitution in the popular 'Abbott' edition of the Vatican II documents.

        1. The Text and Footnotes of Dei Verbum, §11  
        In the Vatican II Constitution on Divine Revelation, Dei Verbum, we find in article 11 a relatively short but very vital sentence regarding the consequences of the Bible's divine inspiration. It is significant that the Catechism of the Catholic Church, in reproducing this sentence, places it in the context of a section ("Inspiration and the Truth of Sacred Scripture," Nos. 105-108) which begins by stressing the Bible's divine authorship over its human authorship. The first words in No. 105 are italicized: "God is the author of Sacred Scripture." The sentence of Dei Verbum, §11, which interests us is then quoted in No. 107: "Since therefore all that the inspired authors or sacred writers affirm should be regarded as affirmed by the Holy Spirit, we must acknowledge that the books of Scripture firmly, faithfully, and without error teach that truth which God, for the sake of our salvation, wished to see confided to the Sacred Scriptures." No little confusion over the last thirty years has resulted from conflicting interpretations of the last part of that sentence (i.e., "that truth ... Sacred Scriptures"), which tells us what it is that is taught "without error" in the Bible. To appreciate the true meaning of this clause, some brief background information regarding the conciliar debates will be helpful.

        The earlier drafts of Dei Verbum contained a shorter formulation which simply affirmed the Bible to be "completely free of all error" (second draft) or that it "teaches the truth without any error" (third draft). 1 When the fourth draft was presented to the conciliar Fathers, no little controversy was aroused, because the word "any" (ullo) was omitted before "error" and the word "saving" or "salvific" (salutarem) was added to qualify "truth." The official explanation for these amendments given to the Fathers by the relator on behalf of the Council's Theological Commission was that they were intended to "express the effect of inspiration positively and to "circumscribe clearly the object of inerrancy." 2 In particular, he continued, the word salutarem was meant to indicate that the Bible's inerrancy covered, as well as matters of faith and morals, "the facts which are linked to the history of salvation in Scripture." 3

        Many tradition-conscious Fathers were concerned that this modification seriously weakened the text, because it seemed open to the interpretation that Scripture can be in error when it speaks of matters which (supposedly) are not of "salvific" importance. Indeed, the more liberal conciliar Fathers (who had some representation in the Theological Commission) had openly stated this on the floor of the Council. Cardinal Franz König of Vienna, for instance, had claimed on behalf of all the German-speaking bishops' conferences that modern advances in Oriental studies "demonstrate that the Bible's references to matters of history and natural science sometimes fall short of the truth," and went on to give three examples of such alleged errors in Scripture. 4 These bishops (influenced by theological advisers such as Karl Rahner, Edward Schillebeeckx and Hans Küng) openly recommended the removal of any reference whatever to the inerrancy of Scripture (i.e., its being "without error") so that the text would merely speak "positively" of the truth taught by the Bible. These Fathers claimed that "the difficulties [in Scripture] are better resolved and the authority of Sacred Scripture is better defended" 5 by admitting in this way the human deficiencies in the biblical text.

        Perhaps the most important speech countering this thrust to set aside biblical inerrancy - a thrust now reflected partially in the Commission's new proposed amendment - came from Archbishop Paul Philippe, Secretary of the Sacred Congregation for Religious and a consultor to the Holy Office. He warned:

If it is said that the sacred books teach "saving truth ... without error," this appears to restrict inerrancy to matters of faith and morals; all the more so because, according to the relator himself, this formula has been chosen in order to satisfy the requests of those Fathers who were asking that the effects of inspiration be expressed positively, and that the object of inerrancy be clearly circumscribed. The relator explains the mind of the Commission by saying that by the word salutarem we are also to understand the facts which in Scripture are linked to the history of salvation. But with that explanation, such a circumscription of the object of inerrancy is inadmissible, for it seems to me that such expressions cannot be reconciled with the firm doctrine of the Church's Magisterium. ... Therefore it should not be said that the sacred books "teach" salvific truth without error, because this insinuates a distinction among the Scriptural affirmations themselves, as if some of them taught without error truths pertaining to salvation, while others had no such content and were thus not necessarily immune from error. ... I request that we restore the expression "without any error," as in the previous draft, since the documents of the Magisterium ... always express themselves in such a way as to exclude completely from the sacred Scriptures every kind of error (cf. EB 124, 452, 538, 539, 560, 564). 6

        As matters turned out, the Commission did not accede to Archbishop Philippe's request, but it did revise its official explanation of the ambiguous amendment, making clear that it was to be understood in a more traditional sense. In this revised explanation, which is definitive for interpreting the Council's teaching correctly, the Fathers were told:

By the term "salvific" (salutarem) it is by no means suggested that Sacred Scripture is not in its integrity the inspired Word of God. ... This expression does not imply any material limitation to the truth of Scripture, rather, it indicates Scripture's formal specification, the nature of which must be kept in mind in deciding in what sense everything affirmed in the Bible is true - not only matters of faith and morals and facts bound up with the history of salvation. For this reason the Commission has decided that the expression should be retained. 7

        This explanation still did not satisfy a significant minority of Fathers, who asked Pope Paul VI himself to intervene personally so as to require the deletion of the controversial word salutarem. The Pope heard both sides of the question, considered the matter, and agreed that this word was ambiguous and inopportune. Accordingly, while he did not go so far as to order the word to be deleted, he did request that this be done. The request was communicated to Cardinal Ottaviani, President of the Theological Commission, via a letter of 18 October 1965 from the Secretary of State, Cardinal Cicognani. When the Commission reconvened, the Supreme Pontiff's request just failed to gain the necessary two-thirds majority of positive votes required by Council rules for this kind of last-minute change. It was agreed, however, to make two other changes which the Commission anticipated (correctly) would satisfy the Holy Father.

        The first of these changes, which were duly approved by the Pope and Council Fathers, is the best-known. In the main text of Dei Verbum, §11, the adjective salutarem was replaced by an adjectival clause, so that instead of ascribing the charism of inerrancy to the "salvific truth" taught by the Bible, the Council ascribes it, as we have seen, to the truth "which God, for the sake of our salvation, wished to see confided to the Sacred Scriptures." 8 This is less ambiguous than before, since the "salvific" idea is no longer directly adjectival, qualifying "truth," but adverbial, qualifying the verb "wished to see confided" (consignari voluit). In other words, the Council is saying that our salvation is the purpose God had in mind in giving us biblical truth - and this is certainly what the Church has always taught. Nevertheless, the ambiguity is not completely removed (and indeed, tends to be accentuated in the most common vernacular translations 9), because the whole clause is still adjectival, qualifying "truth." If taken out of its historical and literary context, therefore, it is also capable of being given that unorthodox interpretation which Archbishop Philippe warned against in his observations on the insertion of salutarem.

        The other last-minute change agreed on by the Commission is not only less obvious, but has been sadly neglected in the commentaries of liberal post-conciliar theologians. Nevertheless, this amendment - or rather, group of amendments - is of vital importance. Further quotations from the Fathers and the Church's Magisterium were included in footnote 5 at the end of the key sentence, 10 in order to provide an authentic interpretation. These quotations, as will be shown, make it clearer than ever that Vatican II cannot legitimately be understood as being open to the view which the German-speaking bishops had previously advocated, namely, that Scripture can err in matters of science and history. I say "clearer than ever," because, even before these final additions were made, the quotations already included in footnote 5 from the great biblical encyclicals Providentissimus Deus of Leo XIII (1893) and Divino afflante Spiritu of Pius XII (1943) plainly rule out Scriptural errors in these or any other matters. These already-existing footnote references are worth considering. From Divino afflante Spiritu the following passage had already been quoted:

The first and greatest care of Leo XIII was to set forth the teaching on the truth of the Sacred Books and to defend it from attack. Hence with grave words did he proclaim that there is no error whatsoever if the sacred writer, speaking of things of the physical order, "went by what sensibly appeared" as the Angelic Doctor says, speaking either "in figurative language, or in terms which were commonly used at the time, and which in many instances are in daily use at this day, even among the most eminent men of science." For "the sacred writers, or to speak more accurately - the words are St. Augustine's - the Holy Spirit, Who spoke by them, did not intend to teach men these things - that is, the intimate constitution of visible things - which are in no way profitable to salvation"; which principle "will apply to cognate sciences, and especially to history," that is, by refuting, "in a somewhat similar way the fallacies of the adversaries and defending the historical truth of Sacred Scripture from their attacks." Nor is the sacred writer to be taxed with error, if "copyists have made mistakes in the text of the Bible," or, "if the real meaning of a passage remains ambiguous." Finally, it is absolutely wrong and forbidden "either to narrow inspiration to certain passages of Holy Scripture, or to admit that the sacred writer has erred," since divine 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 constant faith of the Church." 11

        It is certainly arguable that by the last sentence in this quotation Pope Leo XIII, and Pope Pius XII who is quoting and confirming him, are in effect proclaiming that the absolute freedom from error of Sacred Scripture - including its treatment of science and history - is an infallible, de fide teaching of the ordinary Magisterium. 12

       The footnote to Dei Verbum, §11, which we are considering also referred already - that is, before the final amendments - to the paragraph EB 124, from Providentissimus Deus, which, in addition to the points quoted by Pius XII in the above passage of Divino afflante Spiritu, contains another admonition which is also highly pertinent to the conciliar debates over the difficulties raised by apparent errors in scientific or historical matters:

For 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 saying it - this system cannot be tolerated. 13

        What, now, were the additional authoritative statements included in the final version of the Vatican II footnote which made it even clearer, as we have said, that the Council was not to be understood as allowing for the view that Scripture can err on certain matters? As regards science, the main additional reference was to the paragraph EB 121 of Providentissimus Deus, part of which had already been cited indirectly in the footnote by virtue of its inclusion in the paragraph EB 539 from Divino afflante Spiritu which we have reproduced above. But, as well as what Pius XII had selected from that paragraph of his predecessor's encyclical, it contains a passage in which Leo XIII confirms St. Augustine's explicit negation of the possibility of any scientific error in Scripture:

No real dissension will ever arise between the scientist and the theologian, provided each stays within the proper bounds of his discipline, carefully observing St. Augustine's admonition 'not to assert rashly as known what is in fact unknown.' But if some dispute should arise, the same Doctor sums up the rule to be followed by the theologian: 'If they have been able to demonstrate some truth of natural science with solid proofs, let us show that it is not contrary to our Scriptures; but if they maintain anything in any of their treatises which is contrary to Scripture (that is, to the Catholic Faith), let us believe without hesitation that it is completely false, and, if possible, find a way of refuting it.' 14

The other added reference from Providentissimus Deus is the passage EB 126-127. In the first of these two paragraphs Pope Leo cites Augustine and Gregory the Great to the effect that God takes full responsibility for everything written in Scripture, so that "those who claim that anything false can be contained in authentic passages of the Sacred Books either pervert the Catholic notion of divine inspiration, or make God Himself the author of error." 15 In the second paragraph, EB 127, the Pope refers to an obvious corollary of this absolute freedom from error, namely, the necessary absence of self-contradiction in Scripture. Vatican II thus makes its own Leo XIII's appeal for exegetes to continue following the example of the Fathers and Doctors in painstakingly striving to reconcile apparent contradictions which might be found in the Bible. This is further unmistakable evidence that the Council's teaching on the truth of Scripture does not allow for the existence of historical errors in the Bible, because the majority of apparent or alleged contradictions within Scripture are in fact to be found in its historical books. The key sentence reads:

All the Fathers and Doctors were so utterly convinced that the original versions of the divine Scriptures are absolutely immune from all error that they laboured with no less ingenuity than devotion to harmonize and reconcile those many passages which might seem to involve some contradiction or discrepancy (and they are nearly always the same ones which today are thrust at us in the name of modern scholarship). 16

        Unfortunately, the prevailing trend among today's Catholic Scripture scholars is to dismiss and even ridicule this time-honored exegetical duty of harmonization as naive and even useless. The irony is that in disparaging this apologetic task as "concordism," such exegetes usually appeal to the authority of that very Council which followed Pope Leo XIII in confirming its perennial necessity.

        In short, when we take into account the official explanations of the text, Pope Paul VI's intervention and the reason for it, and the significance of the footnotes, the true meaning of Dei Verbum, §11, becomes clear. We cannot take the reference to "salvation" as implying that some things affirmed by the inspired writers in Scripture are not there "for the sake of our salvation," and so may contain errors. Rather, the Council means to reaffirm the perennial teaching of the Popes, Fathers and Doctors, namely, that every affirmation of those writers - on any subject whatever - has God for its principal author, and is therefore endowed with both the qualities under discussion: necessary truth and salvific relevance. Even seemingly unimportant statements of fact (many historical details in the Old Testament, for instance) are there "for the sake of our salvation": not because, when taken in isolation, they always tell us something we must know or practice in order to gain eternal life (faith and morals or "revelation" in the strict sense); but because cumulatively they make up larger narratives which teach us the story of God's interaction with his chosen people, culminating in the sending of His Son as the incarnate Savior. In this sense, all biblical history is salvation history. We shall now proceed to consider some concrete examples of how the true doctrine of Vatican Council II has been misinterpreted.

        2. Examples of Common Misinterpretations of Dei Verbum, 11  
        (a) The Admission of Biblical Errors on 'Non-Salvific' Topics.   Several references to the work of one of the best-known post-conciliar exegetes, Fr. Raymond E. Brown, will help to make it clear how Vatican II has been misunderstood as allowing for errors in Scripture. (Many similar commentaries, unfortunately, could easily be adduced from the works of other contemporary Scripture scholars.) Fr. Brown gives the impression that the Church's doctrine regarding inerrancy was substantially changed by the Second Vatican Council. He writes:

In the last hundred years we have moved from an understanding wherein inspiration guaranteed that the Bible was totally inerrant to an understanding wherein inerrancy is limited to the Bible's teaching of "that truth which God wanted put into the sacred writings for the sake of our salvation." In this long journey of thought the concept of inerrancy was not rejected but was seriously modified to fit the evidence of biblical criticism which showed that the Bible was not inerrant in questions of science, of history, and even of time-conditioned religious beliefs. 17

        By allowing the existence of biblical "errors" even in religious as well as profane matters, Fr. Brown goes beyond even the boldest and most innovative position voiced at the Council - that of the German-language bishops who claimed that Scripture sometimes errs in matters of science and history. 18 While the Pope and the Council as a whole refused to endorse even this more moderate admission of error in Scripture, Fr. Brown is claiming, in effect, that they endorsed his own still more radical view!

        Several pages later he returns to the same theme, going so far as to claim that Vatican II "reversed" the traditional understanding of Scripture as being inerrant on all subjects. Fr. Brown's use of the misleading 'Abbott' edition translation of the key sentence 19 helps him to show apparent conciliar support for this quite unwarranted claim. As well as the usual omission of the comma after "truth," which in this case should be kept in translation, this version speaks of God's truth being "put into the sacred writings," insinuating thereby that the Bible is a "container" for "salvific truth" as well as some other kind of truth which (supposedly) might be contaminated by error. Fr. Brown writes:

As we have said, the Second Vatican Council reversed a tendency of applying inerrancy to almost every aspect of the Bible and applied it only in a very general way: "The books of Scripture must be acknowledged as teaching firmly, faithfully, and without error that truth which God wanted put into the sacred writings for the sake of our salvation" (Dei Verbum, iii, 11). 20

        Fr. Brown not only depends on a questionable translation here, but has also neglected the official explanation of the 'salvific-purpose' amendment given by the Council's doctrinal Commission in reply to those Fathers (such as Archbishop Paul Philippe 21) who had astutely foreseen and warned against precisely that kind of "restricted-inerrancy" reading which Fr. Brown is now in fact proposing. The relator, as we saw, reassured the assembled Fathers that the new insertion regarding the Bible's salvific purpose should in no way be taken as a dilution of the Church's teaching that everything asserted in the Bible is true, "not only matters of faith and morals and facts bound up with the history of salvation." 22 Fr. Brown also takes no account of the footnote references which, as we have seen, were added at this point to reinforce and amplify the relator's explanation.

        As an example of how such a misrepresentation of the Council's teaching on biblical inerrancy can lead to hesitancy and confusion about Scriptural readings which have formed the basis of even articles of the Creed, it seems worthwhile considering the way Fr. Brown tries to apply Dei Verbum, 11, to the question of the Virginal Conception of Christ. Even though he acknowledges that Scripture presents or depicts Our Lord's conception as truly virginal (he admits, "It is lucidly clear that Matthew believed in Mary's bodily virginity before the birth of Jesus [1:25]" 23), his critical presuppositions and method lead him to doubt whether even such clear testimony from the Evangelist constitutes a true biblical teaching or assertion of the doctrine in question. Fr. Brown thus concludes that "the scientifically controllable biblical evidence leaves the question of the historicity of the Virginal Conception unresolved." 24 In other words, he does not admit that we can know on the basis of Scripture that the Virginal Conception was a historical fact.

        Several comments are in order here. In the first place it is clear that, in his appeal to "scientifically controllable" evidence, Fr. Brown is excluding from his notion of biblical science the norm of interpretation provided by the unanimous consent of the Fathers. For all the Fathers who ever commented on the pertinent Matthæan and Lucan statements were unanimous in their teaching that these statements presented Our Lord's conception as being truly and historically virginal. And according to the Catholic doctrine defined by two ecumenical councils, 25 and reiterated by Paul VI, 26 no one is permitted to depart from such unanimous consensus of the Fathers in interpreting Scripture.

        But even if we prescind from the authority of the Fathers, and consider only the evidence of the biblical text itself, why is Fr. Brown so reluctant to conclude that this text teaches the Virginal Conception as a historical fact? After all, what Matthew says in the verse cited by Fr. Brown is clearly an assertion (or affirmation), not just a hint or indirect allusion of some sort. After reporting the angel's reassurance to Joseph that the child Mary is carrying "is of the Holy Spirit" (v.20), the inspired writer states simply, directly, and unambiguously, in the principal clause - indeed, the only clause - of the sentence, that "he did not know her till she brought forth her first-born son" (v.25). Therefore, evaluating this verse according to a correct understanding of Dei Verbum, 11, faithful Catholics should conclude (as they have already been concluding for almost two millennia): (a) that the Holy Spirit himself is affirming, through the inspired writer's affirmation, that Mary had no intercourse before giving birth to Jesus; (b) that this affirmation is therefore true; and (c) that this miracle of the Virginal Conception has been recorded "for the sake of our salvation" - whether or not its precise salvific relevance is immediately obvious to us. It is true that the relator at the Council specified that this salvific purpose of Scripture must be kept in mind in order to judge "in what sense" a given biblical assertion is "free from error." But in the present case this hermeneutical precept gives rise to no difficulties or subtleties. In the first place, Matthew (as Fr. Brown himself recognizes) is not making a fictional, poetical or imaginative statement here; what he says in 1:25 belongs to the "genre," as it were, of "fact-statement." Secondly, there are no degrees or grades or different "senses" of physical virginity. Since a woman either has had intercourse with a man or she has not, there is only one possible "sense" in which the inspired writer's affirmation in Matthew 1:25 can be true, namely, the obvious one.

        As we have just seen, however, Fr. Brown (who has professed his personal acceptance of the Virginal Conception on the basis of Tradition and the Magisterium 27) will not admit in his capacity as an exegete that God has taught us plainly in Scripture that the conception of Christ was indeed without a human father. Instead of arguing straightforwardly from the fact of the Evangelist's evident assertion of this miracle to its assertion by the Holy Spirit, his hermeneutical procedure, as we shall see, is to appeal to Vatican II's supposed division of biblical themes into "salvific" and "non-salvific" categories in order to raise a doubt (without suggesting what possible criteria could be used to resolve it) as to which of those categories "the biological manner of Jesus' conception" would belong. The clear implication is that, if it should turn out to belong to the "non-salvific" category, we could not then regard the Bible's narration of this miracle as being truly an affirmation (or assertion) on the part of either the Evangelist or of the Holy Spirit; from whence it would in turn follow that this narration is not covered by the guarantee of biblical inerrancy. 28 Yet again the badly-translated sentence from Dei Verbum, 11, is invoked by Fr. Brown in support of this convoluted and artificial procedure. He writes:

In the Roman Catholic tradition, the acceptance of biblical criticism has caused a reinterpretation but not a rejection of the concepts of inspiration and inerrancy. Notice the qualified description of inerrancy in the Vatican II document Dei Verbum (iii, 11): "The Books of Scripture must be acknowledged as teaching firmly, faithfully and without error that truth which God wanted put into the Sacred Writings for the sake of our salvation." A faithful Catholic would have to ask: Should one rank the biological manner of Jesus' conception as a truth God wanted put into the Sacred Writings for the sake of our salvation? 29

        From our analysis of Vatican II's teaching so far, it should be clear that this is by no means the question a "faithful Catholic would have to ask." On the contrary, asking the purpose of Mark's and Luke's references to this miraculous "manner of Jesus' conception" seems exactly the same kind of question which the Council, quoting Pope Leo XIII in footnote 5 to the very passage cited here by Fr. Brown, rejects as illegitimate, based as it is on "the false opinion that when it is a question of the truth of biblical affirmations, one should not so much inquire into what God has said, but rather, into why He has said it." 30 Thus, the "faithful Catholic" who rightly understands Vatican II, if he is inquiring into the historical truth of the Virginal Conception as related in Scripture, will not ask why it is mentioned (i.e., whether "for the sake of our salvation" or for some other reason), but only whether it is indeed affirmed or asserted. And since it plainly is, he will conclude from this very fact both that the Virginal Conception is historically true and that it has been recorded "for the sake of our salvation."

        In criticizing Fr. Brown for being much too reluctant to admit that the Virginal Conception is indeed asserted in Matthew's Gospel, we have touched on another point which it will now be appropriate to consider a little more closely. Since Vatican II makes a point of teaching that it is only what the inspired writers assert or affirm (asserunt) 31 that is guaranteed to be "without error," then of course the question becomes crucially important as to how one is to decide what is in fact truly affirmed or asserted (assertum) in Scripture, and what is not.

        We have already implied how we think that question should be answered, 32 but it deserves more explicit attention, because a very different criterion for identifying a biblical assertio has been put forward in recent years by some Catholic scholars, and this requires critical analysis. Although this incorrect criterion seems to be presupposed or implied by Fr. Raymond Brown in some of the statements we have been criticizing, its clearest exposition to a very large English-speaking public has come from another well-known exegete, whose theory we shall now proceed to examine.

        (b) 'Salvific' Value as a Supposed Criterion of What Scripture Affirms.   The commentary on Dei Verbum, 11, by Fr. R.A.F. MacKenzie is of particular significance in the English-speaking world, because of the very wide circulation of Father Walter M. Abbott's edition of the Vatican II documents, in which it is found. In the Abbott edition, private theologians' and exegetes' comments on all the texts are freely interspersed among the Council's own official footnotes. This is a skilful communications technique, but it has probably helped to lend such comments an excessive aura of authority. And as a result, tens of thousands of seminarians, priests, religious and lay students of Catholic doctrine throughout the world have in recent decades been given the impression that Vatican II's own statement on biblical inerrancy (the precise meaning of which is by no means self-evident) should be understood to mean what Fr. MacKenzie says it means at the foot of the same page. 33 Evidently referring to the relator's clarification that salvific purpose is to be understood as a "formal specification" of biblical truth, not a "material limitation," he comments as follows:

The Bible was not written in order to teach the natural sciences, nor to give information on merely political history. It treats of these (and all other subjects) only insofar as they are involved in matters concerning salvation. It is only in this respect that the veracity of God and the inerrancy of the inspired writers are engaged. This is not a quantitative distinction, as though some sections treated of salvation (and were inerrant), while others gave merely natural knowledge (and were fallible). It is formal, and applies to the whole text. The latter is authoritative and inerrant in what it affirms about the revelation of God and the history of salvation. According to the intentions of its authors, divine and human, it makes no other affirmations. 34

        (i) Theological Objections. Much of Fr. MacKenzie's exposition here is undoubtedly in conformity with both Catholic tradition and with the official explanation given to the conciliar Fathers regarding the salvific purpose of Scripture. However the last two sentences in the above passage seem to raise serious problems. In the first place, they do not appear to be in harmony with the genuine meaning of the conciliar text, as this was officially explained to the Fathers who gave it their approval. The second-last sentence ("The latter ... salvation") neglects the doctrinal Commission's second and most authoritative explanation of the textual reference to the Bible's salvific purpose. What Fr. MacKenzie says here is substantially identical with the first explanation of Schema IV, in which the Fathers were told that the insertion of salutaris was meant to "circumscribe clearly" the object of inerrancy, and to express the idea that inerrancy covers revelation itself and "the facts which are linked to the history of salvation in Scripture." 35

        But, as we saw, the insufficiency of this statement, in the light of all three biblical encyclicals' insistence on the Bible's unrestricted inerrancy, created deep disquiet on the part of many Fathers, and ultimately, of the Supreme Pontiff himself. 36 A subsequent clarification from the doctrinal Commission therefore became necessary in order to reassure these Fathers that the modified text was to be understood as upholding the classical doctrine that "everything affirmed in the Bible is true - not only matters of faith and morals and facts bound up with the history of salvation." 37

        Hence, it is clear that this definitive explanation of the conciliar text excludes as inadmissible Fr. MacKenzie's interpretation as cited above. He reads Dei Verbum as saying that Scripture "makes no ... affirmations" other than those "about the revelation of God and the history of salvation," so that its inerrancy is in turn limited to what it has to say on those topics. But, in fact, the Council must be understood as teaching (in continuity with the unanimous insistence of the Church Fathers and Roman Pontiffs) that Scripture makes affirmations about other topics as well, 38 and that since these other affirmations have God for their author as much as those of more central or fundamental salvific import, they too are guaranteed to be true without exception.

        Indeed, insofar as those who adopt this theory claim that certain clear and direct biblical propositions, simply because they have to do with "non-salvific" points of history and science, are not truly "affirmed" or "asserted," but merely "expressed," "articulated," or "stated" - and hence open to error - such scholars are (whether they realize it or not) implicitly denying the revealed truth of plenary biblical inspiration. For we must ask these scholars, Who was the author of such "unaffirmed" propositions? Whether affirmed or not, somebody must have been their author: they did not appear on papyrus ex nihilo! Who, for instance, would Fr. Raymond Brown say is the author of the statement in Matthew 1:25 that Mary had no carnal intercourse before giving birth to Jesus? (Fr. Brown studiously refuses to say this proposition is "affirmed" or "asserted," even though he recognizes that Matthew "believed" it to be historical.) Since it is claimed that such mere "statements" (as distinct from "assertions") are not guaranteed to be true, the only possible answer to our question, on these premises, is that a fallible human being alone was their author. But this stands in inescapable contrast with what Vatican II, in the first part of Dei Verbum, 11, calls the "apostolic faith" regarding the Bible, namely, that "Holy Mother Church ... holds that the books of both the Old and New Testament in their entirety, with all their parts, are sacred and canonical because, having been written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit ..., they have God as their author and have been handed on as such to the Church herself." 39

        Yet another theological defect remains to be pointed out in the theory we are examining. By opening the way for the imposition of any number of subjective philosophical prejudices on the text, the "affirmed-only-if-salvific" hermeneutic effectively muddies the living waters of the inspired Word, making the Scriptures appear to many as practically unusable by virtue of being well-nigh incomprehensible. But the only seeming escape-route from this morass is an equally un-Catholic reaction in the opposite direction, in which Tradition (interpreted by the Magisterium) would in effect be the only source of revelation. In other words, this hermeneutic runs the risk of provoking a dangerous divorce between Scripture and Tradition.

        In order to see why this is so, let us first retrace the steps involved in the sane, traditional hermeneutical procedure which the Council (rightly understood) in fact reasserted in Dei Verbum, 11. Within this scenario, the Catholic who is about to begin studying the sacred text seriously and in detail can already know in a formal and general way that everything affirmed in the Bible has been put there "for the sake of our salvation," for Tradition and the Church's magisterium make this clear to him (to say nothing of II Tim. 3:16-17 - itself quoted by Vatican II). However, such a Catholic, ex hypothesi, does not as yet know much of the actual content of all this potentially salvific information that God has affirmed in Scripture. That is precisely what he needs to learn. And in order to learn it he will need an attitude of humility and openness - a willingness to have his own preconceptions and prejudices judged and corrected, where necessary, by whatever the inspired Word may turn out to affirm.

        Clearly, such an open and humble attitude will be incompatible with any a priori claim to know in advance just what sorts of ideas or material could or could not in principle have some salvific value or relevance. After all, it is not as though the quality "salvific" were always so clear and self-evident that even a beginner in the divine mysteries could unfailingly and intuitively recognize it 'on sight,' as soon as he spots it in Scripture. On the contrary, since he knows he cannot presume himself competent to judge in advance what could or could not have salvific relevance, our traditional Catholic student of Scripture recognizes that what does in fact have salvific relevance is something he can learn only by listening to what the divine and human authors themselves affirm. Hence, what he needs in the first place is simply the ability to spot an affirmation when he sees it, not some a priori ability to spot salvific material when he sees it. He learns what is salvific in Scripture (although perhaps not immediately why or how or to what extent it is salvific) through first finding the Bible's affirmations by the normal rules of language and literary analysis, and then striving to understand them as well as possible in the light of appropriate linguistic and historical-critical investigation (and of the Church's magisterium, in cases where it has made relevant pronouncements), knowing in advance from that very magisterium that whatever the Bible affirms will turn out to have some salvific relevance. This reasonable and natural hermeneutical procedure is simply an application to biblical studies of what should be self-evident about any learning or communication process: a pupil cannot appreciate the value or importance of his teacher's views until he first learns and understands what the teacher is in fact saying.

        But the novel procedure we are considering 'puts the cart before the horse.' By pretending that we can only come to know what is 'truly affirmed' in a Scriptural book or passage by first deciding what salvifically-valuable material there is in it, this procedure presumes that said salvific material is something we can always in principle identify before listening to what God himself may have to say about the matter! And that, surely, is a very presumptuous presumption. It clearly opens the way for every exegete to set up his own subjective and a priori criteria as to what sort of content or subject-matter shall be admitted as having any salvific relevance or value. Fr. Brown, for instance, finds it questionable whether "the biological manner" of Jesus' coming into this world is the kind of thing that might have any salvific import. Others, in considering the Resurrection Narratives, will have very differing opinions about what elements therein could be "for the sake of our salvation" - and therefore capable of being truly asserted by an inspired writer.

        Some might feel that all the details in these narratives could be potentially salvific; others would exclude the relevance of the angels (but not of the other details); some would go further and opine that neither the angels nor the "physical" details of the appearances could have any salvific relevance; still others would claim that whether or not the Resurrection was of such a nature as to leave the tomb empty has no salvific import, since (they would say) all that really matters is that Jesus somehow "truly lives." The most radical demythologizers would say that even whether Jesus consciously survived death or not is of no salvific import, because "salvation" itself is to be seen as an existential self-fulfillment in this life. On this reading, all that is "truly affirmed" in the symbolical language of the Resurrection Narratives is that Jesus remains ever relevant as the supreme inspiration or challenge for us to attain this self-fulfillment, as he did.

        Clearly, what is happening here is that a false hermeneutical principle - "Nothing in Scripture can be known to be affirmed unless it is first known to be salvific" - becomes the occasion for every reader using that principle to impose subjectively his own prior philosophical or theological preconceptions on the biblical text. Exegesis (drawing out of the text what is really there) has been turned into "eisegesis" (reading into the text what each one thinks ought to be there).

        But now rises the opposite horn of the dilemma. A Catholic who has been persuaded that the theory we are criticizing is the right way to explain and defend biblical inerrancy since Vatican II, but is alarmed at the doctrinal confusion its practical application seems to be producing, is likely to recall that our faith relies on Tradition as well as Scripture. So he may then insist that the would-be interpreter of Scripture should, before he embarks on any serious study of the sacred volume, discover what is important for salvation by learning the Church's doctrine thoroughly from Tradition and the Magisterium; and that he should then use that knowledge, not his own a priori whims or prejudices, to decide what in the Bible is truly salvific - and therefore truly affirmed.

        But this seeming solution would in fact trivialize Scripture study, in effect replacing the Reformation heresy of sola Scriptura by the opposite heresy of sola Traditio. For on these terms Scripture could not really be for the Church a source of revelation at all. At any given point in history, no Catholic could ever learn anything new from the inspired text which might help us along the road to salvation and deepen our faith, because the only little oases of intelligible "affirmation" he could ever recognize as such in that vast and perilous biblical desert of obscure Oriental symbolism (in which many pages, it would seem, are frequently occupied in "affirming" hardly anything) would be those teachings he had already learnt from magisterial documents! (A Catholic living today would have to put aside even the early Fathers as being unreliable guides to Scripture, since they would now have to be seen, with all due respect, as pre-critical "fundamentalists" who naively supposed that the biblical writers meant to "affirm" as true almost everything they expressed in the indicative mood.) But why bother studying Scripture anyway, if we can only "learn" from it what we know already (which of course is really to learn nothing at all)? 40 All in all, it would seem safer, easier and more profitable to be content with Denzinger and L'Osservatore Romano!

        (ii) Philosophical Objections.    Apart from the theological unsoundness of reading Dei Verbum, 11, in a way which not only conflicts with the official explanation of the text but also undermines the dogma of biblical inspiration and leads toward a divorce between Scripture on the one hand and Tradition/Magisterium on the other, there are problems of a strictly philosophical nature in Fr. MacKenzie's approach. We shall attempt now to explain why this approach is indefensible from the point of view of strictly rational hermeneutics, that is, prescinding from its implications regarding revealed truth.

        It would seem that, if Catholic doctrine on biblical inerrancy is not to be turned into mere sophistry, the criteria for deciding what is in fact being "affirmed" in a biblical text must be the same as those used for making a similar decision about any non-biblical text, namely, formal rather than material criteria. That is to say, one cannot decide whether the author of a given text (biblical or otherwise) is making a genuine affirmation or not by asking what theme or subject-matter he is discussing; but rather, what form or manner he uses to discuss it. It is a question of the author's choice of words, grammar, syntax, style, and the literary genre being employed. That is, it is not a question of whether his discourse is about history, philosophy, religion, science, politics, ... or 'salvation.' Since assertions or affirmations can be made by anyone at all about any subject-matter at all, it seems an elementary linguistic principle that whether or not an affirmation is being made in any given utterance depends on how the speaker or writer expresses his thoughts, not what those thoughts are about.

        Fr. MacKenzie, however, appears to neglect this principle - with serious logical consequences. Let us read once again his hermeneutical comment on Dei Verbum, 11: "[The whole Bible] is authoritative and inerrant in what it affirms about the revelation of God and the history of salvation. According to the intentions of its authors, divine and human, it makes no other affirmations." Since these words appear within a longer comment that seeks to point out limits to the scope of biblical inerrancy, 41 Fr. MacKenzie's clear implication is that, if the reader of Scripture is not aware beforehand of these limited "intentions" of the divine and human authors, he is likely to conclude ingenuously that they affirm certain things appearing in the text which - being without salvific value - they do not really affirm at all.

        So how, then (according to this theory), should the enlightened and forewarned Catholic make use of his prior knowledge of the authors' limited "intentions" in order to avoid this pitfall? The procedure implied would seem to consist of two steps. First, one must read the given biblical passage asking oneself, "Now, what is there in this passage that has to do with salvation?" Secondly, after this salvific content or message is discerned (together, perhaps, with one or more concrete historical facts on which it depends) one is to draw the conclusion that this salvific message, plus the implicated facts (if any), are the only things truly affirmed in this passage. 42 Then, having completed his interpretative procedure, the Catholic reader will accept this affirmed and salvific content as being taught "firmly, faithfully and without error," since it has God as well as a human being for its author.

        This hermeneutical approach to biblical inerrancy could be summarized as the following inference regarding any given idea X which is expressed or implied at first hand (not merely ascribed to another) by a biblical author: "If (and only if) we first know X to be salvific, then we can know that X is both affirmed and guaranteed to be true." Nevertheless, in spite of its adoption and promotion by widely-respected exegetes and theologians, I submit that this approach is rationally indefensible, and indeed, nonsense. It stands on its head the traditional inference - the only sound one from the standpoint of either faith or reason - which has in fact been confirmed by Vatican Council II: "If (and only if) we first know X to be affirmed, then we can know that X is both salvific and guaranteed to be true." 43

        The former inference is rationally indefensible because it strikes at the very root of all intelligent communication by means of language, namely, the principle (to safeguard which dictionaries exist) that words have a standard meaning. One cannot treat them the way Lewis Carroll's Humpty Dumpty did in Alice in Wonderland ("When I use a word, it means exactly what I choose it to mean!") For the inference we are criticizing implies in principle that no matter how emphatically and clearly a biblical author appears to be asserting that something is, was, or will be the case in reality (judging his utterance according to the normal linguistic and literary standards by which human language in general is understood), he is not really making such an assertion unless his theme or subject-matter falls within a certain pre-determined category. This amounts to the extraordinary claim that certain given linguistic expressions can mean something quite different in the Bible from what they would mean if they occurred anywhere else in comparable literature. 44

        Quite apart from the intrinsic absurdity of postulating such a linguistic double standard, this claim actually violates one of the main hermeneutical principles of the "historical-critical method" (in the very name of which this "re-interpretation" of biblical inerrancy is usually advocated). We are referring to the principle recognized, for instance, by the Pontifical Biblical Commission in affirming that the aforesaid method, in its efforts to discern as accurately as possible the meaning expressed by the sacred authors, "studies the biblical text in the same fashion as it would study any other ancient text and comments upon it as an expression of human discourse." 45 But no scholar would ever seriously interpret any other "expression of human discourse," whether ancient or modern, in the "same fashion" that the Catholic exegetes we are criticizing 46 interpret Scripture.

        For if their "affirmed-only-if-salvific" rule were applied, mutatis mutandis, to other merely human texts, it would quickly be exposed as sophistry - as a desperate piece of hermeneutical sleight-of-hand useful only in order to continue giving lip-service to the Catholic doctrine that there are no erroneous affirmations in the sacred text. This exposure could well take the form of a reductio ad absurdum refutation. As we know, an argument which "proves" too much really proves nothing at all. And just as the Marian dogmas of the Immaculate Conception and Assumption are made ridiculous if professed by someone who claims that human beings in general are conceived free of original sin and are resurrected bodily immediately after death, so the doctrine of biblical inerrancy will be made to look ridiculous if one 'defends' it with hermeneutical ploys that will serve equally well to uphold the 'inerrancy' of human literature in general (whether ancient or modern).

        But this is precisely the trouble with the "affirmed-only-if-salvific" principle which some Catholics today wish to enlist in the defence of the integral truth of Scripture. For if (as this principle implies) no amount of clarity, directness or emphasis in the formal structure and context of an expression couched in the indicative mood can make it count as an "affirmation" unless its subject-matter is deemed pertinent to a broadly-defined overall "intention" of the author (in this case, "salvation"), then ... what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander!

        A nihil obstat will now lie within easy reach of the Marquis de Sade or any pornographer, for instance, provided such an author sees the overall, general "intention" or "purpose" of his work as being that of, say, "affirming the healthiness, goodness and joy of human sexuality." 47 For then (proceeding along Fr. MacKenzie's hermeneutical lines) we shall have to admit that "According to the intention of its author," such a book "makes no affirmations" other than those which support, explain, or shed light on this overall intention - a noble, and indeed, Christian one. Never mind that contradictions of Catholic moral doctrine are found on every page: for all such expressions, no matter how clear or explicit, can now be brushed aside as mere "unaffirmed" obiter dicta, and the book will duly be pronounced free of doctrinal error. By an analogous process of reasoning, that classical and "inerrant" text on political economy, Mein Kampf, could safely be reintroduced into all German schools, in spite of its rabid but "unaffirmed" anti-semitism, on the grounds that the only thing it really teaches, according to the "intention" of its late author, is a healthy German patriotism and the need for economic independence. Such examples could, of course, be multiplied at will: for if, on these hermeneutical premises, a case can readily be made out for the 'inerrancy' of even this kind of literature, then still more readily will those premises serve to 'demonstrate' that the great mass of human writings - most of which would express rather more truth and goodness than those of de Sade and Hitler - are just as immune from error as the Bible.

        3. A Correct Reading of Dei Verbum, 11
        We have now considered critically what are probably the two most common methods of reading Dei Verbum, 11, in a way which sets it in opposition to the traditional doctrine of biblical inerrancy - a doctrine which is unambiguously affirmed in the footnote references which are included precisely to guide interpreters. The first of these methods is to maintain openly that Scripture sometimes errs on certain subjects; the second is the sophistical attempt to deny the "affirmed" status of certain biblical propositions, held to be untrue, which in fact are plainly affirmed by the inspired author. It for us remains to clarify several further points related to this question of "affirmation," and of the precise relevance of Scripture's salvific purpose to the question of its immunity from error.

        In the first place, it goes without saying that the teaching of article 11 of Dei Verbum on biblical inerrancy needs to be considered in conjunction with what is said in article 12 about the importance of discerning the inspired writer's true intention and the literary genre he is employing. If there are solid arguments drawn from literary criticism to show that a non-historical genre is being used in a particular book or passage - for instance, the expression of didactic teaching in the garb of narrative prose - then, clearly, not all the individual propositions in such prose have to be defended as historically true. However, this principle of 'non-historical genres,' like the use of narcotic drugs, is something which should be resorted to only sparingly and in small doses if it is not to be transformed rapidly from a procedure which promotes health into one which destroys it. The experience of recent decades seems to show clearly that this principle has potentially addictive qualities: that dangerous habit which we might call 'genre-abuse,' arising from the yearning for a quick and easy escape-route when confronted by apologetic difficulties in Scripture, can all too easily change the Catholic exegete from a person who sees the Bible as it really is into one whose vision of the sacred volume is increasingly clouded by mists of subjective illusion which obscure his perception of its historical reliability. 48

        Closely related to the question of literary genres is that of what Vatican II means, precisely, by emphasizing that it is only what the biblical writers truly "affirm" which is guaranteed to be free from error. "Affirm" as opposed to what? Certainly the Council cannot mean (as some commentators seem to suppose) that only what the inspired authors "affirm," as opposed to what they merely "state," is immune from the possibility of error. The absolute and categorical rejection of all error which Leo XIII and Pius XII insist upon, along with their insistence that inspiration cannot be "narrowed to certain passages," in effect rules out the opinion that, while an inspired author cannot indeed err when he makes an affirmation (assertio), he may lapse into error when he makes a mere statement (enuntiatio); that is, when he writes that something is, was, or will be the case with less emphasis or deliberation than is characteristic of a full-fledged affirmation. For God is equally the author of all Scripture, and He can no more be the author of erroneous statements than of erroneous affirmations. God does not - indeed, cannot - make minor mistakes in passing, or when He is speaking of matters of secondary importance.

        The above considerations are surely sufficient to show that Dei Verbum cannot be interpreted in this light. However, a further reason for ruling out this interpretation is that it would make the Council's teaching self-contradictory. For, in the paragraph immediately preceding that sentence on biblical inerrancy whose meaning we are discussing in this essay, the Council recalls that the Magisterium has explicitly disqualified, as a proposed means of solving apologetic problems, any appeal to an alleged distinction between a biblical author's "affirmations" and his mere "statements." In clarifying what we are to understand by the de fide truth that the books of the Old and New Testaments, "entire and in all their parts ... have God as their author," the conciliar Fathers refer us in the footnote to two decisions (of the Pontifical Biblical Commission in 1915 and the Holy Office in 1923) which state that, according to "the Catholic dogma of the inspiration and inerrancy of the Sacred Scriptures, ... everything affirmed, stated, or implied by the sacred writers must be held as affirmed, stated or implied by the Holy Spirit." 49 This is also implicit in Vatican II's express assertion in the main text (quoting Leo XIII) that although the inspired writers acted as "true authors," they wrote down "all those things and only those things which God wanted." And God could no more "want" a false "statement" to be written down than a false "affirmation."

        If, therefore, Vatican II is not implying any opposition (or even distinction) between the inspired authors' "affirmations" and their "mere statements" when it stresses that the former are guaranteed to be "without error," what opposition is implied? "Affirmations" as opposed to what? In order to answer this question we must go back to an intervention at the Council made by Cardinal Raúl Silva Henríquez, who suggested the following amendment after the second schema had been distributed:

My proposal is to replace the words "therefore ... it follows" by "therefore the divinely inspired Scripture must be said to teach no error whatsoever." Reason: the doctrine of biblical inerrancy is better expressed by speaking of the formal criterion of teaching, since it is according to that criterion that no error can be found. For, in another sense, i.e., the material sense, it is possible for expressions to be used by the sacred writer which are erroneous in themselves, but which, however, he does not wish to teach. 50

        In presenting the third draft of the sentence on inerrancy, 51 the relator told the conciliar Fathers that the drafting Commission had accepted the Chilean Cardinal's proposal "in substance," 52 which implied that his reason for introducing the verb "teach" (docere) was seen as a sound one. That verb remained in the text from then on, and the relator also subsequently clarified that "affirm" (asserere), which is used in the same sentence, 53 is to be understood here to mean the same thing as "teach." 54 Now, the important point for our present purposes is expressed in the last sentence of Cardinal Silva's proposal, where he speaks of the contrast between expressions which are formally "taught" (i.e., "affirmed") by the biblical author, and others which are there only in the "material sense," i.e., they are merely "used" by him. Only the former are guaranteed to be free from error.

        The true sense of Dei Verbum, 11, then, is not that the guarantee of inerrancy covers those propositions which a biblical author affirms (or teaches) as opposed to those which he merely "states," i.e., with less force or deliberation, but still as an expression of his own judgment. Rather, it covers those propositions he affirms (or teaches) as opposed to those which he merely "uses materially," i.e., those in which what appears on paper, taken in isolation, or in its most superficially literal sense, does not express his own judgment in any way.

        These "materially used" (but not formally affirmed) propositions in Scripture would appear to be of three main kinds. First (and most obviously), there are those which the human author does not himself utter but attributes to someone else, in which case divine inspiration guarantees only the truthful reporting of such propositions, not the truth of the propositions themselves. Secondly, this category would include individual propositions used by the author as part of a parable or other imaginative literary composition, in which the formally affirmed teachings it sets out to convey emerge only from the story as a whole. Finally, there are propositions in which not every word is meant to be understood in the most immediate literal sense, since the author may be "using" hyperbole, metaphor, or other literary devices, even within a passage or book which is substantially 'straight' history or didactic teaching rather than fiction of some sort.

        In short, what is essentially guaranteed to be true by virtue of divine inspiration, according to the sentence of Dei Verbum, 11, we are considering, is not the isolated propositions taken in their 'surface' meaning and without regard to their historical and literary context, but rather (as the next article of Dei Verbum puts it) "that meaning which the sacred writers really intended, and which God, by their words, wanted to make known." 55 The discernment of that divine and human meaning is what the Church understands by a proper 'literal' interpretation of the text - which is not to be confused with a 'literalist' interpretation.

        Finally, how does the salvific purpose of Scripture relate to the inerrancy of this true literal sense? Why did the Council insist in this context that biblical truth has been set down in the Sacred Books "for the sake of our salvation"? Once again, let us recall the key explanation given by the spokesman for the theological Commission, who assured the conciliar Fathers that, by including a reference to this divine salvific purpose,

it is by no means suggested that Sacred Scripture is not in its integrity the inspired Word of God. ... This expression does not imply any material limitation to the truth of Scripture, rather, it indicates Scripture's formal specification, the nature of which must be kept in mind in deciding in what sense everything affirmed in the Bible is true - not only matters of faith and morals and facts bound up with the history of salvation. 56

        The Council, then, is not saying that some propositions affirmed by the inspired writers do not have God for their author, and hence may be false. That would be "material limitation" of biblical truth - the idea of dividing those propositions up quantitatively into "divine" ones (with salvific relevance) and "merely human" ones (with no such relevance). Rather, as we noted at the conclusion of section 1 above, the Council reaffirms the traditional teaching that all the sacred writers' affirmations are simultaneously of divine origin. The idea of salvific purpose as a "formal specification" simply means that the Bible sets out to be a book (or collection of books) whose master-plan or overall objective is to teach us what God has done in history for the salvation of the human race, and what we are to do and believe in order to attain that salvation. That is, Scripture does not set out to instruct us about science or history for their own sakes, as do textbooks dedicated purely to those branches of knowledge. In saying that this needs to be "kept in mind in deciding in what sense everything affirmed in the Bible is true," the relator for Dei Verbum was alluding to the fact that, when physical or historical matters are in question, one cannot require from the Bible, as a condition of its inerrancy, the same kind of precision in detail, or exactitude in terminology, as one would require in a textbook of natural science or history - particularly a modern academic text. As regards natural science, the classic case of neglecting the Bible's formal object of religious or salvific truth was probably that of Galileo's inquisitors when they pondered Psalm 18:6-7. This passage speaks "materially" of the sun moving across the sky and "running" its daily course around the earth:

He hath set his tabernacle in the sun, and he, as a bridegroom coming out of his bride chamber, hath rejoiced as a giant to run the way: his going out is from the end of heaven, And his circuit even to the end thereof.

        In seeking from this verse an answer to a strictly astronomical question - whether it is the sun which moves around the earth or vice versa - the inquisitors did not advert to the fact that such a question never entered the Psalmist's mind (even though he would presumably have taken for granted, like all other men of his time, that it was the sun that moved). His object in this Psalm was to praise the glory of God as reflected in the beauty of the heavens, and for that purpose it sufficed for him to affirm - truthfully - what appears to our eyes, while expressing that poetically with the metaphor of the sun as a giant athlete. 57

        In regard to history, the sacred writers sometimes select and condense their material, relate events in an order which is not strictly chronological, 58 give incomplete accounts, and so on. In a work dedicated to setting out the facts as clearly and methodically as possible in the interests of technically precise history, these might be judged as defects or errors. For instance, if we consider the end of Luke's Gospel (24:50-53) in isolation, we are certainly left with the impression that the Ascension took place within twenty-four hours of the Resurrection. After relating the first appearances of the risen Lord, the Evangelist concludes as follows from v. 46, in which the scene is still that of Jesus' appearance to the disciples just after the Emmaus incident on the first evening after the Resurrection:

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: (47) And that penance and remission of sins should be preached in his name, unto all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. (48) And you are witnesses of these things. (49) And I send the promise of my Father upon you: but stay you in the city till you be endued with power from on high. (50) And he led them out as far as Bethania: and lifting up his hands, he blessed them. (51) And it came to pass, whilst he blessed them, he departed from them and was carried up to heaven. (52) And they adoring went back into Jerusalem with great joy. (53) And they were always in the temple, praising and blessing God. Amen.

        However, we know from what Luke himself subsequently tells us in Acts 1:3 that "forty days" actually passed between the events of v. 49 and those he begins to relate in v. 50. Is there, then, a historical error here? Not if we remember that from the standpoint of the Bible's religious purpose the author is not obliged to explain all such chronological points with the greatest clarity - especially when, as in this case, he himself gives greater chronological precision in a subsequent account. It is important to note that, as the above Douay-Rheims translation expresses it, v. 50 begins with the word "And" (Greek as the second word). Thus, Luke does not affirm, or even rigorously imply, that the events reported from that point on took place immediately after what is reported in the preceding verses; only that they did indeed take place - which is true. 59

* * * * * * *

        The teaching of Vatican Council II in Dei Verbum, 11, is thus in complete harmony with the traditional Catholic understanding of the revealed truth that the books of Scripture are inspired by God and free from all error. When properly understood, this teaching also clarifies the hermeneutical criteria which need to be kept in mind in order to defend this dogma in its traditional sense. It is unfortunate and ironic that some scholars who are quick to claim the backing of Vatican II for their opinion that the biblical authors sometimes err (at least in their 'statements' if not in their 'affirmations' or 'teachings') are found to defend this opinion by appealing to that very text which anticipates and refutes it: the text, that is, which reminds us that, since biblical truth was given to us "for the sake of our salvation," and not in order to teach us natural science or history for their own sakes, Sacred Scripture cannot fairly be judged to be in error when it sometimes presents historical or scientific truth in a less complete, less detailed, more popular, or more imprecise (i.e., merely approximate) fashion than would be acceptable in modern texts dedicated formally to those disciplines.


1. The second draft of the schema said that the Bible is "... ab omni prorsus errore immune" (Acta Synodalia Sacrosancti Concilii Oecumenici Vaticani II {AS} I, III, p. 785), while the third said that the sacred Books "veritatem sine ullo errore docere profitendi sunt" (AS III, III, 89).

2. "... ut effectus inspirationis positive exprimatur ... [ut] obiectum inerrantiæ clare circumscribatur" (AS IV, I, 358).

3. "... facta quæ in Scriptura cum historia salutis iunguntur" (ibid.).

4. "Attamen ista scientia rerum orientalium insuper demonstrat in Bibliis Sacris notitias historicas et notitias scientiæ naturalis a veritate quandoque deficere" (AS III, III 275). In fact, the three examples chosen by Cardinal König (and presumably they were among the clearest he and his collaborators could think of) by no means "demonstrate" any "falling short of the truth" on the part of the sacred authors (cf. ibid., pp. 275-276). The first is Mark 2:26, where Jesus speaks of David's eating the loaves of proposition "in the time of Abiathar the High Priest," the alleged error being that his father Abimelech was in fact the High Priest at that moment (cf. 1 Sam 21:1 ff). The second is Matt 27:9, where the evangelist supposedly errs in attributing to Jeremiah a prophecy of Zechariah (11:12-13). The final example is an alleged error in Daniel 1:1, where it is said that Nebuchadnezzar besieged Jerusalem in the third year of King Jehoiakim's reign. Cardinal König, relying on a recently published work on ancient history, claimed that this event could not have taken place till three years after that date. As regards the first two difficulties, it is not true that they had arisen because of recent Oriental studies: they had been well-known since the Patristic age, and various plausible solutions had been suggested which can be found in the classic commentaries (e.g., Cornelius a Lapide, Commentaria in Scripturam Sacram [Paris: L. Vivès], vol. XIV, 1874, p. 495; vol. XV, 1877, p. 675). In regard to the third difficulty, not all modern experts agree with the chronology (that of Wisemann) which the Austrian cardinal was depending on. Others (e.g., G.L. Archer, Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1982], pp. 284-285) maintain that, taking into account the differing Jewish and Babylonian methods of counting the years of a king's reign (used in Jer 46:2 and Dan 1:1 respectively), the biblical chronology is accurate.

5. "Ita difficultates melius solvuntur et auctoritas Sacræ Scripturæ melius defenditur" (ibid., 276).

6. "Si dicatur libros sacros 'veritatem salutarem ... sine errore docere,' videtur inerrantia restringi ad res fidei et morum, eo vel magis quod, fatente Relatore, hæc formula electa est ut postulatis satisfieret Patrum qui petebant ut effectus inspirationis positive exprimeretur atque obiectum inerrantiæ clare circumscriberetur. Relator Commissionis mentem explicat dicendo quod verbo 'salutarem' cointelliguntur facta quæ in Scriptura cum historia salutis iunguntur. At, enim, cum illa explicatione, talis circumscriptio obiecti inerrantiæ admitti non potest. Censeo enim hæc dicta cum firma doctrina Magisterii Ecclesiæ componi non posse. Igitur, non est dicendum libros sacros veritatem salutarem sine errore 'docere,' quia tunc discrimen insinuatur inter ipsas Scripturæ assertiones, quasi aliæ veritates ad salutem pertinentes sine errore docerent, dum aliæ tale contentum non haberent ac proinde inerrantiæ non subessent. ... peto ut reassumatur verbum 'sine ullo errore' prioris textus, cum documenta Magisterii ... semper ita se exprimant, ut omnimodum errorem a Scripturis sacris penitus excludant (cf. EB 124, 452, 538, 539, 560, 564)" (AS IV, II, pp. 979-980 - emphasis in original). The initials EB refer to the paragraph numbers in Enchiridion Biblicum, a standard compendium of magisterial statements on Sacred Scripture.)

7. "Voce 'salutaris' nullo modo suggeritur S. Scripturam non esse integraliter inspiratam et verbum Dei. ... Hæc expressio nullam inducit materialem limitationem veritatis Scripturæ, sed indicat eius specificationem formalem, cuius ratio habeatur in diiudicando quo sensu non tantum res fidei et morum atque facta cum historia salutis coniuncta ... sed omnia quæ in Scriptura asseruntur sunt vera. Unde statuit Commissio expressionem esse servandam" (AS IV, V, 708 - emphasis in original). The final relatio, however, delivered after this meeting of the doctrinal Commission which we are discussing, made it clear that the distinction which alarmed Fathers such as Archbishop Philippe was not being implied, and that in fact an equation was being made between what Scripture "teaches" and what it "asserts" (or "affirms"). The Fathers were told: "The word teach, which refers to those things which are truly affirmed, is to be retained." In the final relatio a clarification was also made in regard to Archbishop Philippe's objection about the word "teach" (docere): that word was to be kept on the understanding that it meant the same as "affirm" (asserere). That is, Scripture is to be understood as "teaching" whatever it "truly affirms." ("Servetur vox docere, quæ agit de illis quæ proprie asseruntur" (AS IV, V, 709).

8. "... veritatem, quam Deus nostræ salutis causa Litteris Sacris consignari voluit."

9. The above translation, once again, is that used by the Catechism of the Catholic Church in No. 107, where it quotes the conciliar statement. In a subsequent issue of Living Tradition, I hope to suggest a more exact translation which removes the remaining ambiguity.

10. This is note 31 in W.M. Abbott (ed.), The Documents of Vatican II (London: Geoffrey Chapman, 1967), p. 119.

11. Encyclical Divino afflante Spiritu, 30 September 1943, EB 539 (emphasis added). This is §3 of the English translation used here, found in Rome and the Study of Scripture (Grail Publications, 1953), pp. 79-107, which is reproduced in Claudia Carlen (ed.), The Papal Encyclicals 1939-1958 (McGrath Publishing Co., 1981), pp. 65-79. I have altered this translation in one expression, rendering intimam adspectabilium rerum constitutionem more literally as "the intimate constitution of visible things."

12. Cf. Vatican II, Lumen Gentium, §25.

13. This is from §20 of the English translation in The Tablet, 83 (January 6, 1894), reproduced in Carlen (ed.), op. cit., volume with 1878-1903 encyclicals, pp. 325-339. Before Leo XIII published his magna carta for biblical studies, the papal Magisterium had never intervened explicitly regarding the precise extent of biblical inspiration and inerrancy, with the result that there was honest uncertainty about this even among a few great and orthodox theologians. No less than Cardinal Newman, in 1883, became involved in a famous debate in the pages of The Nineteenth Century, after venturing the opinion that the least important statements in Scripture might not be divinely inspired, and hence, not immune from error. An Irish bishop-theologian, Dr. Healy, rebutted Newman on the basis of the consensus of the Fathers and Doctors. Today nobody has heard of Healy, but it was recognized after the publication of Providentissimus Deus that on this point he had been right and Newman wrong. Cf. J. MacRory, "The Nature and Extent of Inspiration," The Irish Ecclesiastical Record, Vol. XVI, March 1895, pp. 193-208.

14. "Nulla quidem theologum inter et physicum vera dissensio intercesserit, dum suis uterque finibus se contineant, id caventes, secundum S. Augustini monitum, 'ne aliquid temere et incognitum pro cognito asserant.' Sin tamen dissenserint, quemadmodum se gerat theologus, summatim est regula ab eodem oblata: 'Quidquid, inquit, ipsi de natura rerum veracibus documentis demonstrare potuerint, ostendamus nostris Litteris non esse contrarium; quidquid autem de quibuslibet suis voluminibus his nostris Litteris, idest catholicæ fidei, contrarium protulerint, aut aliqua etiam facultate ostendamus, aut nulla dubitatione credamus esse falsissimum'" (EB 121 - present writer's translation).

15. "Consequitur, ut qui in locis authenticis Librorum sacrorum quidpiam falsi contineri posse existiment, ii profecto aut catholicam divinæ inspirationis notionem pervertant, aut Deum ipsum erroris faciant auctorem" (Providentissimus Deus, EB 126 - present writer's translation).

16. "Atque adeo Patribus omnibus et Doctoribus persuasissimum fuit, divinas Litteras, quales ab hagiographis editæ sunt, ab omni omnino errore esse immunes, ut propterea non pauca illa, quæ contrarii aliquid vel dissimile viderentur afferre (eademque fere sunt quæ nomine novæ scientiæ nunc obiiciunt) non subtiliter minus quam religiose componere inter se et conciliare studuerint" (EB 127 - present writer's translation). It is sad to note that the accuracy of Pope Leo's parenthesized remark was unwittingly verified by the spokesman for a whole group of bishops at Vatican II (cf. n. 4 above).

17. R.E. Brown, The Virginal Conception and Bodily Resurrection of Jesus (New York: Paulist Press, 1973), pp. 8-9.

18. Cf. n. 4 above.

19. It is even possible that Fr. Brown himself was responsible for this translation. The general translator for the Abbott edition, Joseph Gallagher, states in his "Preface to the Translation" that Brown was among those scholars who gave him "special translation help" (Abbott, op. cit., xii). Although Gallagher does not specify which document (or documents) Brown assisted him with, one would presume that such assistance covered Dei Verbum if nothing else, since this was the one document dealing with Brown's own specialty, Sacred Scripture as such, and the sentence under discussion was one of the most crucially important in Dei Verbum.

20. Brown, op. cit., p.19 (emphasis in original).

21. Cf. over n. 6 above.

22. Cf. over n. 7 above.

23. Brown, The Virginal Conception ..., op. cit., p. 31, n. 37.

24. R.E. Brown, The Birth of the Messiah (New York: Doubleday, 1977), p. 527 (emphasis in original).

25. Cf. Council of Trent, Decree of 8 April 1546, DS 1507 (EB 62); Vatican Council I, Dogmatic Constitution Dei Filius, 24 April 1870, DS 3007 (EB 78).

26. In a letter to Cardinal Michele Pellegrino commemorating the centenary of the death of Jacques-Paul Migne, editor of the standard text of the Latin and Greek Fathers, Paul VI said: "In fact, the Church, in her function as 'pillar and foundation of the truth,' has always referred herself back to the teaching of the Fathers, considering their consensus as a rule of interpretation for Holy Scripture. Saint Augustine had already formulated and applied this rule in his own time. Vincent of Lérins, in turn, had expounded it at length in his Commonitorium Primum. It was taken up again and solemnly proclaimed by the Council of Trent and by the First Vatican Council. (De fait l'Eglise, dans sa fonction de 'colonne et soutien de la vérité,' s'est toujours référée à l'enseignement des Pères, considerant leur accord comme un règle d'interprétation de la Sainte Ecriture. Saint Augustin avait de son temps formulé cette règle et l'avait appliquée. Vincent de Lérins, à son tour, l'avait longuement exposée dans son Commonitorium Primum. Elle fut réprise et solennellement proclamée par le Concile de Trente et par le premier Concile du Vatican.)" Insegnamenti di Paolo VI (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1975), p. 480.

27. "I think this is infallibly taught. ... I think this [Jesus' conception without human father] is so" (R.E. Brown, Biblical Exegesis and Church Doctrine, [London: Geoffrey Chapman, 1985], p. 27, n. 11, and p. 36, n. 25). If this "thinking" means not just tentative opinion, but firm assent to the Virginal Conception as historical on the basis of Tradition and Magisterium, then such assent would seem rather inconsistent. For Brown himself polemicizes ironically against the idea that modern Scriptural insights (such as his own) should not be allowed any significant impact on Church doctrine - even that proposed as "immutable." Referring to the "victory in the great biblical battle" which he says was won at Vatican II after "the abortive fundamentalist attempts around 1960 to reject [biblical] criticism," Brown writes: "Now, some who were opposed to this acceptance of biblical criticism within Catholicism found reassurance in this apparent defeat by contending that whatever this new breed of Scripture scholar might say about the Bible, the really important factor was the post-biblical Church dogma. In their outlook, modern scriptural investigations could illuminate (or, more likely, obscure) the biblical period that was preparatory for the Church's decision; but that decision, once reached, was immutable, whether it represented the theology of the 4th, or the 16th, or the 19th centuries. They conceived of the exchange between Scripture and tradition as proceeding on a one-way street: tradition could always correct Scriptural interpretation, but never vice versa. If the biblical scholar was going to insist on the freedom to play with his new-fangled toys of language and literary form, he was to be kept in the playpen and not let out to disturb the good order of the theological household" (The Virginal Conception ..., op. cit., pp. 5-6). Hence, if Brown still retains a firm belief in the Virginal Conception as Church doctrine even after having shown (at least to his own satisfaction) that the supposed biblical basis for that doctrine is quite uncertain, is he not thereby retreating to the "playpen" or "one-way street" whose confines he repudiates so forcefully in this passage? For this doctrine (unlike, say, those regarding Mary's Assumption and Immaculate Conception) was never traditionally understood to rest principally on Sacred Tradition for its probative force. If, as Brown thinks, Fathers, Doctors, Popes and Councils for nearly two thousand "pre-critical" years were all mistaken in basing this doctrine principally on the Scriptural witness of Matthew and Luke, would it not be more consistent for him to conclude that the truth of the doctrine itself is also uncertain? Can the house remain standing firm once its foundations have turned to sand?

28. Brown is evidently aware of Dei Verbum's clear insistence that "whatever is affirmed by the inspired author ... is to be held as affirmed by the Holy Spirit." Therefore, to be consistent with his professed agnosticism as to whether the Holy Spirit really affirms in Scripture the historicity of the Virginal Conception, he apparently deduces from this premise, in an a priori manner, a corresponding agnosticism as to whether Matthew really affirms it. (Normally, of course, an exegete would approach such a question on the basis of an a posteriori analysis of the language and syntax used by the human writer.) Now, any unbiased reader of Matt 1:20-25, using the ordinary, common criteria by which we evaluate human language, would have no hesitation in qualifying the Evangelist's clear and direct statement of the Virginal Conception as an "affirmation" (or "assertion"). Brown, however, scrupulously avoids describing it as such - but without offering any textual or philological (as distinct from theological) justification for this extreme reserve. He admits that Matthew "thought that Jesus had been virginally conceived" (The Birth of the Messiah, op. cit., p. 528); he opines that both Matthew and Luke "regarded the virginal conception as historical" (ibid., p. 517), and indeed that they "presuppose a biological virginity" (ibid., p. 529). He even admits it to be "lucidly clear" that Matthew, at least, "believed in Mary's bodily virginity before the birth of Jesus" (The Virginal Conception ..., op. cit., p. 31, n. 37). (The emphasis is added in all the foregoing citations.) Never, however, does Brown admit that what was so obviously inside the Evangelists' minds succeeded in making it through their pens and onto their papyrus in the form of an assertion (or affirmation). If he did admit that, he would plainly be obliged by Vatican II to repudiate his whole thesis, namely, that whether Scripture affords a sufficient basis for believing in the historicity of the Virginal Conception remains an "unresolved" question.

29. Brown, Birth of the Messiah, op. cit., p. 528, n. 28 (emphasis added).

30. Providentissimus Deus (EB 124).

31. It is assumed throughout this essay that the verbs "affirm" and "assert" can be used interchangeably as translations of the Latin asserere.

32. Cf. pp. 7-8 above.

33. MacKenzie is not identified as the author of the comments on Dei Verbum in or near the conciliar text itself. However, his signature appears on the introductory essay preceding the text of the Dogmatic Constitution (Abbott, op. cit., p. 110), and an editorial note at the beginning of the book says that the unofficial notes to each conciliar document are the work of the scholar "whose name is at the end of the essay introducing the document" (ibid., p. xiv).

34. Abbott, op. cit., p. 119, n. 31 (emphasis added).

35. "... quo verbo co-intellegitur facta quæ in Scriptura cum historia salutis iunguntur." Cf. n. 3 above.

36. Of course, none of these Fathers would have been troubled if the relator's statement had been made in the context of affirming that all the thousands of discrete "facts" stated in Scripture, from beginning to end, are in reality bound up with or somehow linked to (iunguntur) the history of salvation. The word iunguntur is flexible enough in meaning for this to be truly affirmed, since, as St. Paul reminds Timothy in the very passage cited in Dei Verbum, 11, all Scripture is indeed profitable in some way for our salvation. Moreover, in such a context, the relator's description of the extent of inerrancy would have implied, in effect, that all biblical statements without exception are true, which is precisely what the dissatisfied Fathers wanted the document to say. For if one claims inerrancy (as well as salvific value) for all the Bible's statements of revealed, supernatural mysteries as well as for all its "factual" ('this-worldly') statements, then that "covers everything," so to speak. It leaves no other class of biblical statements whose immunity from error one has not yet affirmed. (The Bible's many expressions of questions, emotions, supplications, wishes and commands are of course incapable of either truth or error, since they state nothing.) However, the real Sitz-im-Leben of this statement by the relator by no means made it clear that he had in mind such an extension of inerrancy to all the Bible's statements. On the contrary, he reported that the thinking of the Commission was that biblical inerrancy be "clearly circumscribed;" and this unclear expression is what provoked the reaction of Fathers such as Archbishop Philippe (cf. over n. 6 above).

37. "... non tantum res fidei et morum atque facta cum historia salutis coniuncta ... sed omnia quæ in Scriptura asseruntur sunt vera" (AS IV, V, p. 708 - emphasis on "asseruntur" in original, but added to "non tantum" ("not only") in translation).

38. It is evident that "res fidei et morum" is precisely the subject-matter MacKenzie has in mind in speaking of "the revelation of God," and that there is no significant difference in this context between the relator's expression "facta cum historia salutis coniuncta" and MacKenzie's phrase "the history of salvation." The observations in note 36 above regarding the inadequacy of the original relatio to Schema IV are also applicable to MacKenzie's very similar statements.

39. Abbott edition translation, op. cit., pp. 118-119 (emphasis added). The original reads: "Libros enim integros tam Veteris quam Novi Testamenti, cum omnibus eorum partibus, sancta Mater Ecclesia ex apostolica fide pro sacris et canonicis habet, propterea quod, Spiritu Sancto inspirante conscripti ..., Deum habent auctorem, atque ut tales ipsi Ecclesiæ traditi sunt." The implications of this divine authorship, according to the Church's Magisterium, will be dealt with below (see over notes 49 and 50).

40. As a matter of fact, the Catholic exegetes currently advocating the hermeneutical theory we are criticizing do not usually invoke the independent authority of Tradition in this way. On the contrary, they complain that pre-conciliar theologians invoked it. These theologians, says Raymond Brown, "conceived of the exchange between Scripture and tradition as a one-way street: tradition could always correct Scriptural interpretation, but never vice versa" (The Virginal Conception ... , op. cit., p. 6). Consistently with this complaint, Brown (unlike our hypothetical sola Traditio advocate) does not tell us that since Tradition and Magisterium teach us the historicity of the Virginal Conception as a salvific truth, we can therefore know that Matthew is indeed affirming its historicity in 1:20-25. Rather, as we saw, he calls in question whether Matthew 1:20-25 is affirming (as distinct from merely "presuppos[ing]") its historicity, on the a priori grounds that it seems to him at least debatable whether an issue such as "the biological manner of Jesus' conception" is the sort of thing that could in principle have salvific value or relevance (cf. The Birth of the Messiah, op. cit., p. 528, n. 28, and p. 529).

41. Cf. complete citation over n. 34 above.

42. Professor Germain Grisez, a theologian who follows MacKenzie's hermeneutical approach, spells out this step explicitly. In explaining the practical implications of biblical inerrancy, he writes, "The result of careful interpretation will be to discern as asserted by the sacred writers only propositions which do pertain to faith or morals, at least in some indirect way." The Way of the Lord Jesus, Vol. I: Christian Moral Principles (Chicago: Franciscan Herald Press, 1983), p. 839. This writer admires Grisez's work in moral theology, but cannot agree with this approach to biblical interpretation.

43. The word "salvific," here and throughout this discussion, is to be understood as a short-hand way of saying "expressed or implied in Scripture for the sake of our salvation."

44. Grisez, for instance, says: "In the last resort one will give up the supposition that apparently asserted propositions are really such. When necessary, one will do this with the help of what is found in other parts of the Bible, in the whole of tradition, and in current documents of the Church's teaching office" (loc. cit., n. 42). But on these terms, how could we be any more certain that what is "apparently asserted" in these "other parts of the Bible" is "really such"? Moreover, why should "help" be limited to the sources mentioned by Grisez? Once we concede, in effect, that the Bible does not always mean what it says, why not enlist the aid of profane science and history as well, in order to help us decide when it does and when it does not? But then, while still giving lip-service to biblical inerrancy, we will be in effect falling into the error condemned by Pius XII (referring to Leo XIII) in Divino afflante Spiritu: that of "certain Catholic writers [who] dared to restrict the truth of Sacred Scripture to matters of faith and morals alone, relegating everything else, whether of a physical or historical character, to the status of 'obiter dicta' which (so it was claimed) are in no way connected to the faith." AAS 35 (1943), p. 298; EB 538. The old and straightforward form of this false theory was to say openly that a determined "profane" proposition in Scripture is an error, while the new, sophistical form is to deny that it is an error even while admitting it is untrue, on the grounds that it is not "asserted." And this, even when all the appropriate criteria (i.e., the proposition's own formal characteristics and context) indicate that it is asserted.

45. Pontifical Biblical Commission, The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church (Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1993), I A 2.

46. In fact, very few practitioners of the "historical-critical method" outside the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches (that is, very few exegetes who are liberal Protestants, liberal Jews, or non-believers) would ever think of employing the "affirmed-only-if-salvific" inference as a hermeneutical rule for understanding Scripture itself - much less other writings. Indeed, one suspects that the only reason why any serious scholar could find such a rule plausible and helpful is that it appears to offer him or her an easier way of giving loyal assent to the dogmatic teaching of a Church which insists that everything affirmed by the biblical authors is free of error. (Of course, conservative or "fundamentalist" Protestant churches and orthodox Jewish groups also insist on that, but do not claim to practice - or even permit - the historical-critical method.) Unlike many contemporary Catholic exegetes, for instance, non-Catholic scholars who do use that method will seldom have any scruples or qualms about admitting, say, that the author of Matthew 1:20-25 "affirms" that Mary was truly a virgin when she gave birth to the infant Jesus, or that the author of Joshua 10:13 "affirms" that an astonishing solar prodigy really took place over Gedeon. But these non-Catholic biblical critics will nearly always hold at the same time that whether or not such miracles actually took place is quite open to debate, because they are personally under no obligations to a church institution which requires them to profess that everything "affirmed" in the Bible is in fact true.

47. No doubt most such writers do in fact see their literary activity along those lines. That is the way they like to formulate their "intentions" to themselves and others; and who but God can judge their sincerity? A faithful Catholic does not, of course, have to judge their consciences in order to be able to judge that their works are objectively a threat to public morality and can therefore rightly be prohibited by the civil power (cf. Vatican II, Dignitatis Humanæ, 7, on the just legal limitations which may be imposed on activity carried out in the name of religious liberty).

48. In Living Tradition nos. 60 & 61, September & November 1995, the problem of literary genres will be discussed more fully, in the light of pertinent statements of the Church's Magisterium.

49. "... dogmate item catholico de inspiratione et inerrantia sacrarum Scripturarum, quo omne id, quod hagiographus asserit, enuntiat, insinuat, retineri debet assertum, enuntiatum, insinuatum a Spiritu Sancto." Cf. DS 3629, EB 420 (415 in 1994 edn.) and EB 499, respectively, cited in n. 1 to Dei Verbum, 11, (emphasis added in translation). (The latter passage cites and reaffirms the former.) Apart from these strictly dogmatic considerations, the practical exegetical difficulty of determining with any certainty which of an author's propositions should be considered "affirmed," and which merely "stated," would in any case render this distinction wide open to abuse. To the addictive habit of 'genre abuse' among Catholic exegetes we should soon have to add that of 'affirmation abuse.'

50. "Loco verborum 'inde ... consequitur' proponitur: 'inde tota Scriptura divinitus inspirata nullum prorsus docere errorem dicenda est.' Ratio: doctrina de inerrantia Scripturarum melius exprimitur si de formali ratione docendi, secundum quam nullus error inveniri potest, loquitur, quia alio sensu, i.e. materiali, possunt locutiones de se erroneæ ab hagiographo adhiberi, quas tamen docere non vult" (AS III, III, p. 799, emphasis in original).

51. Cf. n. 1 above. This draft stated that the Sacred Books "are to be professed as teaching the truth without any error (veritatem sine ullo errore docere profitendi sunt)" (AS III, III, p. 89).

52. "quoad substantiam." ibid., p. 92.

53. Cf. p. 1 above for the text of the sentence as cited in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 107.

54. "The word teach is to be kept: it refers to those things which are truly affirmed (Servetur vox docere, quæ agit de illis quæ proprie asseruntur)" (AS IV, V, 709). Cf. also n. 7 above.

55. "... quid hagiographi reapse significare intenderint et eorum verbis manifestare Deo placuerit" (Dei Verbum, 12). In Abbott (ed.), op. cit., this sentence is rendered as though it had another "quid" between "et" and "eorum": the Council is made to say that interpreters should carefully investigate "what meaning the sacred writers really intended, and what God wanted to manifest by means of their words" (p. 120). This is inaccurate, for it makes a distinction between what God says in a given passage and what the human author says in it. That, plainly, could be used to undermine what the previous article (§11) has taught so clearly, namely, that God affirms everything which is affirmed by the human author. God may indeed at times say more than the human author intended (the so-called 'fuller sense,' sensus plenior, of Scripture, as well as its various spiritual senses), but certainly not less.

56. AS IV, V, p. 708 (emphasis in original). Cf. n. 7 above for the Latin text of this official explanation.

57. In the passages of Divino afflante Spiritu and Providentissimus Deus cited by Dei Verbum, 11, this question of science and Scripture is carefully explained, as we have already noted: cf. citations over notes 11 and 14 above.

58. Cf., for instance, the different order in which Matthew and Luke relate Our Lord's second and third temptations in the desert (Mt 4:5-10 and Lk 4:5-12). However, in the Greek original - reflected more accurately in the Douay-Rheims version than in many modern translations - it is clear that St. Luke, at least, is not affirming the order of those two temptations as such. He begins his account of the second and third temptations with "And" (Greek Kai) rather than "Then" or "Next," which is what a writer would naturally do if he is uncertain of the chronological order of two events (or wishes for some reason to use a non-chronological order) and simply wishes to affirm that both of them really did occur. It seems likely that Matthew's account gives the true chronological order of these temptations.

59. While the conjunction is often a weak form of allá ("but"), it is very commonly used to mean "and," especially in New Testament Greek. Lk 24:50 is clearly a case in point, since the adversative force of "but" would make no sense in this context. Here, as in the genealogy of Mt 1 (where it occurs 38 times to connect the respective records of acts of generation which were separated in time by many years), implies no rapid succession of one event after another. Modern translations (e.g., the Jerusalem Bible) which begin v. 50 with "Then," perhaps for purely stylistic reasons, make it unnecessarily difficult to defend the evangelist from the charge of error in that verse. For when we say that someone did one thing, "then" another, this normally implies immediate or at least fairly quick succession. It is curious, to say the least, that these allowances which need to be made in evaluating the truth of the Bible's historical accounts, in the light of their formally salvific (rather than academic) purpose, should be neglected by none other than Fr. Raymond Brown. He claims that the simultaneous historicity of both Matthew's and Luke's Infancy Narratives is "extremely dubious," because "The two birth stories do not agree with each other" (Biblical Exegesis ..., op. cit. {cited in n. 27 above}, p. 68). Space does not permit a detailed rebuttal of this claim, but the reader who cares to analyze the alleged incompatibilities which Fr. Brown thinks he finds between these two "stories" will discover that he takes no account here of what Vatican Council II went to such pains to teach. He repeatedly ignores the distinction between what these inspired writers actually affirm (or strictly imply) and what is merely the impression they tend to leave, when read individually, by their respective selection and/or ordering of the factual material. (It is very possible that neither evangelist was aware of the totality of this material, since each recounts only a part thereof.) It seems that Fr. Brown, having committed himself to the view that Scripture can err in matters of history (cf. quotations over notes 17 and 20 above), finds it easier to 'justify' this view if he sets up inappropriately and anachronistically rigorous standards of truth and error; that is, if he judges the historical merit of these biblical accounts as if he were a modern university professor of history judging a Ph.D. thesis. If Galileo's inquisitors were 'fundamentalist' in thinking that the Bible would be in error if the earth rotates every 24 hours, then Fr. Brown's reasons for thinking that either Matthew or Luke is indeed in error by virtue of contradicting the other (cf. loc. cit., paragraph numbered "4") seem to be 'fundamentalist' for similar reasons.

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