Home   |  About Us   |  Contacts   |  Products    
 News Items:
 News Briefs
 Word To Life
 More News:
 Special Sections:
 2007 in review
 Inside the Curia
 2006 in review
 Vatican II at 40
 John Paul II
 Other Items:
 Client Area
 Did You Know...

 The whole CNS
 public Web site
 headlines, briefs
 stories, etc,
 represents less
 than one percent
 of the daily news

 Get all the news!

 If you would like
 more information
 about the
 Catholic News
 Service daily
 news report,
 please contact
 CNS at one of
 the following:
 (202) 541-3250


 This material
 may not
 be published,
 rewritten or
 (c) 2007
 Catholic News
 Conference of
 Catholic Bishops.

 CNS Story:

SCHOLARSHIP-HISTORY (CORRECTED) Sep-10-2008 (540 words) With SCRIPTURE-SCHOLARSHIP. With logo posted Aug. 21. xxxn

Critical analysis of Scripture took centuries to develop

By Dennis Sadowski
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The quest to understand what God is saying in Scripture has been pursued for centuries. In the church's early days, Scripture was accepted largely on faith and any critical look was seen as distorting God's message.

However, a more critical look at Scripture began emerging among Catholic scholars by the 17th century. Father Richard Simon in France published the first "critical history" of the Old Testament in 1678. Liberal Protestant biblical experts adopted the critical approach for the next 200 years as scholars looked at the historical and cultural realities that may have influenced a particular writer. Such work was not welcomed by the Catholic Church, however.

By the 19th century the rise of natural science led to questions about the accuracy of the Bible. Darwin's theory of evolution was published in 1859; scientific research showed the earth was much older than the 6,000 years Genesis suggested; and the discovery of biblical manuscripts and records of ancient civilizations called into question long-held beliefs of biblical inspiration and revelation.

On Nov. 18, 1893, in an attempt to counter the challenges, Pope Leo XIII issued "Providentissimus Deus" ("The God of All Providence"), an encyclical in which he acknowledged that some errors in Bible passages could have been introduced by scribes. At the same time he prohibited any interpretation that led to conclusions that only part of Scripture was true while other segments were problematic. He also said there may be a need for Catholic biblical scholars to turn to authors outside the church, "especially in matters of criticism."

It would be 50 years before the church again addressed the issue of critical biblical analysis, but when it occurred, the field of biblical scholarship was altered tremendously. In 1943, Pope Pius XII opened a new era of Catholic biblical studies when he issued the encyclical "Divino Afflante Spiritu" ("Inspired by the Divine Spirit"). While Pope Pius did not promote the historical-critical method that had come into wide use in the first decades of the 20th century, he welcomed sound historical research in studying the Bible.

The widely known and at times controversial Sulpician Father Raymond Brown, who served on the Pontifical Biblical Commission and was one of the first American Catholic scholars to use the historical-critical method, called the encyclical the "Magna Carta for biblical progress."

It would not be until the Second Vatican Council that average Catholics were formally encouraged to study the Bible in the context of their own lives. One of the principal documents of Vatican II, "Dei Verbum," the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, stated that Scripture was produced by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and, as such, deserves to be studied widely using different forms of critical analysis.

More recently, Pope Benedict XVI, a biblical scholar himself, has cautioned that the historical-critical method has its limits even though it is a vital tool in biblical studies. He maintains the Bible should be viewed in whole as the word of God in which all parts relate to each other. He has said the Bible offers every reader the possibility of a spiritual journey rather than being strictly a "textbook" on divine matters.


Copyright (c) 2008 Catholic News Service/USCCB. All rights reserved.
This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or otherwise distributed.
CNS · 3211 Fourth St NE · Washington DC 20017 · 202.541.3250