Part II – Attitude of Rome since Vatican II

                      (For Part 1 click HERE)

In 1971, in pursuance of the new more open spirit following the Council, the status of the Pontifical Biblical Commission was changed to purely that of an advisory body. The new membership held a wide range of opinions. Cardinal Ratzinger in the preface to: ‘The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church’ issued in 1993 by the Pontifical Biblical Commission.

“The PBC, in its new form after the Second Vatican Coiuncil, is not an organ of the teaching office, but rather a commission of scholars who, …take positions on important problems of scriptural interpretation …”. ((PBCB)).

In 1990 Orchard had observed that at the time of the Council many had hoped that unpressured discussion of the gospel problem would lead to establishing the truth. ((BOD 8)).

But the mind of the Church, as expressed in her official statements and in the words of her representatives at the highest level, has consistently adhered to the teaching of the 1965 Council. There are many examples of this:

1. In April 1971 the Sacred Congregation of the Clergy issued ‘The General Catechetical Directory’. Paragraphs 12 and 13 read:

‘…the ministry of the word  … which has been given to us by Jesus himself and by the first disciples and especially the apostles, who were witnesses of the events’. : ‘ …the divine revelation which …was completed at the time of the apostles …’. ((GCD)).

2. In October 1979 Pope John Paul II issued ‘Catechesi Tradendae’. We read:

‘Saint John bears witness to this in his Gospel when he reports the words of Jesus’. ‘exegetes have a duty to take great care that people do not take for certainty what …belongs to the area of question and opinion’. ‘…the letters of Saint Paul to his  companions in the Gospel, Titus and Timothy, …’  ((JPCT 10, 61 and 62)).

3. In 1983 Cardinal Ratzinger, Head of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and President of the Pontifical Biblical Commission, said the mentality behind many of the current hypotheses about the ‘Christ of Faith’ etc:

‘… seems to be congealed within the framework of a particular intellectual world which may no longer even exist’. ((CTH  xiii)).

4. In 1984 the same Cardinal pointed out that the form of `Liberation Theology`, which was corrupting the Christian message in the third world, did not originate there. He said this theology was a creation of European and North American intellectuals combining Bultmann’s exegesis, of an historical Jesus separated from the Christ of Faith, with a Marxist interpretation of history.

The Cardinal’s full statement, implicating false exegesis as one of the roots of a false: ’Liberation Theology’, may be seen elsewhere ((JRA 174-186 or on the web at JRLT)).

5. In ‘The Ratzinger Report', published in 1985. ((JRA)), the Cardinal said:

'In fact a church without a credible biblical foundation is only a chance historical product, one organization among others ...'

A longer extract is available on the "Christendom Awake" web site. ((TMM [29])).

6.  During the same year Ratzinger wrote the Preface to a book by R. Laurentin

‘The continuity of tradition underwent a great shock in the Catholic Church at the time of Vatican II; … It became apparent then that traditional apologetics had been too simplistic in its opposition to the application of the methods of literary criticism …This naïve realism became untenable in the light of newly-acquired knowledge about these texts.

Thus, over the past several years, we have witnessed an almost total capitulation in the face of the thought patterns which arose out of the Enlightenment. The infancy Gospels came to be considered as theologoumena  [Expressing a theological idea in the form of a narrative], behind which one should not seek historical reality, since they are only imaged expressions of the Christology of the Evangelists’. ((RL xiii-xiv)).

[It is noteworthy that he saw the thought patterns of ‘The Enlightenment’, as promoted by the Deists, to be the source of modern problems].

7. In the same book, Laurentin expressed his own judgment:

‘The belated conversion of Catholics to scientific methodologies has often been accompanied by a conversion to the ideologies behind them. The slogan of theologoumena has enjoyed great popularity, without a reappraisal of its arguments or presuppositions. The infancy Gospels were reduced to the status of fable in the minds of certain people. Some priests, hastily `initiated` into these so-called scientific explanations, dared no longer to preach the Christmas Gospel, knowing that it was a myth’.

‘It is thus important to take up the scientific tools of exegesis in the service, not to the detriment, of the text. A century and a half of critical labour has not been lost; the gains are considerable. But it is necessary to eliminate the blunders and pretences which have often masked authentic discoveries. Discernment is an immense, a Herculean, task. How many learned stupidities, without foundation or future, have been repeated over and over again in articles and other publications whose ideologies distort the objective focus of the Gospel! ‘.  ((RL xviii and xix)).

8. At the 1985 Extraordinary Synod of Bishops, Cardinal William Baum, Prefect of the    Congregation for Catholic Education, dedicated almost his entire report to the grave situation in many Catholic seminaries and universities resulting from widespread trends in exegesis:

‘There is a rupture between Bible and Church, …in the name of Science, many exegetes no longer wish to interpret Scripture in the light of the faith, …The results of this so called scientific exegesis are being diffused in seminaries, faculties and Universities, and even among the faithful, also by means of catechesis and sometimes even in preaching …`.  ((LT, January 1997 page 2)).

9. At this time the Markans were claiming credit for the upsurge in biblical activity. But much of this upsurge was being deformed by them as they promote their own agendas. Both the 1985 Synod of Bishops ((ESB section B, a, 1, and in a CTS pamphlet)), and the Pope on 8th April 1986, ((LOR)), said Dei Verbum had been neglected for twenty years ((TMM [2], web ca)).

10. The 1986 Encyclical, ‘Dominum et Vivificantem’, Part 1; 3, reads:

“When the time for Jesus to leave this world had almost come, he told the Apostles of ‘another Counselor`. The evangelist John, who was present, writes that, during the Last Supper before the day of his Passion and Death, Jesus addressed the Apostles with these words”. ((JPDV part 1: 3)). [An extract from John’s Gospel is then quoted].

11.Section 12 of the 1987 Encyclical ‘Redemptoris Mater’ reads:

‘Immediately after the narration of the annunciation, the Evangelist Luke guides us in the footsteps of the Virgin of Nazareth towards “a city of Judah” (Luke 1: 39). According to scholars this city would be the modern Ain Karem, situated in the mountains, not far from Jerusalem’. ((JPRM 12)). [So the historicity of this section of the nativity passage is accepted].

12. During 1988 Monsignor Michael Wrenn, the leading Catechetical authority in the diocese of New York, translated Carmignac’s 1987 book and praised the work of John Robinson. Both were dating the four Gospels as pre-70 AD. He also publicly supported the judgment of Tresmontant that John wrote his Gospel prior to 70 AD. ((CTG 2)). Wrenn also quoted, with approval, an observation made by Carmignac:

‘If the Jesus of History is practically unattainable, then it will be the Christ of Faith who will very quickly be rejected!’ ((CTG 4)).

While Tresmontant does not appear to have taken a public stand regarding the ‘Order of the Synoptics’, on one page of his writings he refers to them four times in the order of Matthew-Luke-Mark ((CTG 14)).

13. On  the 27th January  1988, in the opening paragraphs of a lecture:  ‘Biblical Interpretation in Crisis’, Cardinal  Ratzinger said: 

‘To speak of the crisis of the historical-critical method today is practically a truism. This, despite the fact that it had gotten off to so optimistic a start, ... equipped with a methodology which promised strict objectivity, ... we were finally going to be able to hear again the clear and unmistakable voice of the original message of Jesus.

Gradually, however, the picture became more and more confused. The various theories increased and multiplied and separated one from the other and became a veritable fence which blocked access to the Bible for all the uninitiated. Those who were initiated were no longer reading the Bible anyway, but were dissecting it into the various parts from which it had to have been composed.

… No one should really be surprised that this procedure leads to the sprouting of ever more numerous hypotheses until finally they turn into a jungle of contradictions. In the end, one no longer learns what the text says, but what it should have said, ..’((JRL 1-4)).

14. The Apostolic Exhortation, ‘Redemptoris Custos’ of  1989 accepts the historicity of the narrative stories in the two Gospels.

In section 9 it describes the journey to Bethlehem and Jesus being registered in the census as: ‘this historical fact’.

In section 10: ‘Joseph … witnessed the homage of the magi’.

Section 14 has: ‘Herod learned from the magi’ and he ‘killed all the male children in Bethlehem …’

Section 21 speaks of: ‘The Holy Family’s life first in the poverty of Bethlehem, then in their exile in Egypt and later in the house of Nazareth’. ((JPRC)).

15. The 1992 Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 76, reads:

In keeping with the Lord`s command, the Gospel was handed on in two ways:

orally              by the apostles who handed on, by the spoken word…..”;

in writing        “by those apostles and other men associated with the apostles who, under the inspiration of the same Holy Spirit, committed the message of salvation in writing”

A footnote refers the reader to Dei Verbum, paragraph 7.  So the Catechism is reaffirming that some of the apostles themselves committed the message to writing.

Paragraph 126 reproduces nearly the whole of paragraph 19 of Dei Verbum. This includes such phrases as,

‘whose historicity she unhesitatingly affirms’;  ‘what Jesus … really did and taught …’;  ‘told us the honest truth about Jesus`.

When the English edition of the Catechism was published, a footnote to item 1864 referred to the gospels in the order of Mark, Matthew and Luke. In 1997, The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith corrected this by placing them in the traditional sequence. ((CCCC)).

16. In 1994 the Pontifical Biblical Commission, now a purely advisory body, issued:   ‘The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church’. The critical-historical method was encouraged as a valuable tool but, as the document was mainly concerned with the Old Testament, it added little concerning the gospels ((PBCB)).

17. In May 1996 Cardinal Ratzinger, at a meeting with CELAM in Mexico, observed that:

 ‘Relativism has thus become in fact the fundamental problem for faith in our time’.    He identified the underlying source of this faith–dissolving relativism as: ‘a combination of Kantian Philosophy and powerful trends in modern biblical exegesis’.  ((LT Jan 1997)).

18. The 1998 Encyclical: ‘Faith and Reason’, section 55, warned Scripture scholars:

‘Moreover, one should not underestimate the danger inherent in seeking to derive the truth of Sacred Scripture from the use of one method alone, ignoring the need for a more comprehensive exegesis which enables the exegete, together with the whole Church, to arrive at the full sense of the texts. Those who devote themselves to the study of Sacred Scripture should always remember that the various hermeneutical [interpretive] approaches have their own philosophical underpinnings, which need to be carefully evaluated before they are applied to the sacred texts’.

 In the same section we read a warning against fideism: ((JPFR)).

The Catholic Encyclopedia explains that: ‘Fideism owes its origin to distrust in human reason and follows from the logical sequence of such an attitude as scepticism. It is often based on the separation of reason and belief, between science and religion. Fideism is rejected by the Catholic Church, which upholds both reason and belief’. ((CE fideism)).     

19. The name of Irenaeus is not well known today because the Markans say his history, like that of others, is unreliable.  But the great esteem Irenaeus has in the eyes of the Church may be judged from the Documents of the Second Vatican Council, where he is the most quoted author apart from Augustine of Hippo. In, ‘The Catechism of The Catholic Church’, quotations from his writings are only exceeded by Thomas Aquinas and Augustine.

20. On 9th October 2002, Cardinal Ratzinger, celebrating the tenth anniversary of the Catechism, reported that it had been widely welcomed. But he then quoted the critics:

‘It was said that the Catechism failed to take into account …developments of the last century, particularly exegetical ….. Particularly strong attacks were directed against the use of Scriptures in the Catechism … it was said that this work did not take into account a whole century of exegetical work; for example, how could it be so naïve as to use passages from the Gospel of John to speak of the historical figure of Jesus; it would be shaped by a literalist faith which could be called fundamentalist, etc’. ((JRC)).

 The Cardinal continued:         ‘… the Council can be designated as a return to a moral teaching interpreted in an essentially biblical, Christocentric manner, nevertheless in the post-conciliar period a radical reversal soon took place’. [The critics said that] ‘The Bible could not absolutely convey any “categorical” moral teaching; the contents of moral teaching had always to be mediated in a purely rational manner. The importance of the Bible would be found on the level of motivation, not content’. ((JRC)).

It is interesting that the strongest attacks on the Catechism had come from biblical scholars.

21. Archbishop (Later Cardinal) Levada, Prefect of the CDF spoke on 10th October 2005, at the opening of the academic year of the Athenaeum of St. Anselm. He complained of inaccurate translations of Dei Verbum, such as Flannery’s rendering of Section 12. He confirmed that Abbott’s original translation had reflected the authentic meaning. ((vatican web site))

22. Following the 2010 Synod: The Word of God in the life and Mission of the Church, the Pope issued a Post-Synod Apostolic Exhortation: Verbum Domini.  Under: Tradition and Scripture we read:

‘As the Dogmatic Constitution Dei Verbum reminds us, Jesus Christ himself commanded the Apostles to preach the gospel … This was faithfully carried out, it was carried out by the Apostles  …  it was carried out by those Apostles and others associated with them, who committed the message of salvation to writing’.

This was a reference to Sections 7, 18 and 19 of Dei Verbum. These had made it clear that the Gospels were written by Apostles who had lived with Christ, and their close associates. It was a reminder that these verses must not be ignored when giving teaching regarding the Gospels.


Version:20th May 2013