The Biblical Commission on the Jews: Changes in Doctrine and New Anathemas Part I|
By Atila Sinke Guimarăes
Translated and edited by Marian Therese Horvat, Ph.D.
Following is the FIRST INSTALLMENT of a seven-part treatise and critique of the Pontifical Biblical Commission's document The Hebrew People and its Holy Scriptures in the Christian Bible. This is a comprehensive response by Atila Sinke Guimarăes to the entire document. Atila reviewed the original Italian work by the PBC titled "Il
populo ebraico e le sue Sacre Scritture nella Bibbia cristiana," Preface by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2001, 213 pp. which we
sent to him. He then wrote his review and translated the excerpts he used from
Italian to Portuguese. Dr. Marian has worked closely with him in
translating and editing his critique from Portuguese into English. Atila
and Marian have graciously accepted our request to critique the book while
all in the United States still wait for the English translation. The
response is too important to delay because what is contained in
the Vatican document will truly alarm you.
The Pontifical Biblical Commission (PBC) is an official part of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger is one of its 21 members, as well as its president. Everything in this book, therefore, was written under his personal direction, and counted upon his collaboration and approval. His Preface represents an extra seal of endorsement and support.
The book The Hebrew People… deals with the interpretation of the Holy Scriptures. It is divided into three parts, preceded by a small introduction and ending with two conclusions.
Regarding adherence of these parts to the perennial Catholic Magisterium, there are novelties of varying degrees. These innovations rise in a crescendo in gravity from the first part until they reach a startling apex in the conclusions. To make an honest critique of the whole, I will follow the same order in which the book was written, without anticipating the parts that are more shocking.
The book by the PBC takes a progressivist approach. This obliges the reviewer to set some presuppositions and explain certain new doctrines that are implicit in the expositions, but not accessible to the average reader. Given the importance of the subject and the fact that this book is not available in an English translation, I will present many excerpts to allow the reader to follow the PBC text. This will extend my review to a longer than normal length. It is a calculated risk.
The first presupposition the reader needs to understand the book is the historical-doctrinal panorama that follows.
I. Historical-Doctrinal Presuppositions
In the Catholic Church, the doctrine that held sway before Vatican II regarding the interpretation of Holy Scriptures was always the same. It is what was taught, for example, by Leo XIII:
"All the books which the Church received as sacred and canonical were written wholly and entirely, with all their parts, at the dictation of the Holy Ghost. It is impossible, therefore, that any error can co-exist with divine inspiration. For not only is divine inspiration per se incompatible with error, but also it excludes and rejects error absolutely and necessarily because it is impossible that God Himself, the Supreme Truth, can utter that which is not truth." 
Leo XIII added:
[ Leo XIII, Encyclical Providentissimus Deus, n. 82]
"Hence, because the Holy Ghost employed men as His instruments to write the sacred books, we cannot say that it was these inspired men who eventually have fallen into error, without saying that the primary author [God] also erred. For, by supernatural power, He moved and impelled them to write. He Himself assisted them during the writing in such a way that everything which He ordered them to write, they rightly understood, faithfully willed to write down, and finally, aptly expressed in words with infallible truth. Otherwise, it could not be said that God was the Author of the entire Scripture." 
[2. Ibid., n. 84.]
This perpetual doctrine, clear and secure with regard to the interpretation of the Holy Books, was put in jeopardy by a movement that installed itself in the Church in the 19th century, historicism.
This current of thought alleges that the official interpretation of the books of the Old and New Testament can be contested in that which does not speak directly to Faith and Morals. According to the "historic method of interpretation," there would be certain circumstances of the time that would have conditioned the sacred authors so that the traditional interpretation the Church gave to Holy Scriptures could be changed. What would be these circumstances? Among others, they would include: the historical knowledge the sacred authors had, the literary genre they were using, the testimonies of the witnesses upon which they based themselves, and the social and cultural influences of the times they lived in.
To properly understand the sacred texts, then, it would be necessary to apply to them the new criteria of the historical, archeological, and natural sciences, as well as to take into account the contemporary social and psychological theories that propose to explain the behavior of society and the individual.
However, these alleged new criteria for understanding the sacred texts have become so numerous that even matters regarding Faith and Morals are being relativized. That is to say, there would be errors in Sacred Scriptures, and not God, but men, would be their principal authors. Thus, by applying the "historical method of interpretation," the permanent teaching of the Church on this subject was essentially changed. Instead, a type of free interpretation of the Bible was installed.
In the Catholic milieu, the Dominican scholar Fr. Marie-Joseph Lagrange (1855-1938) was one of the most notable figures of this current and is considered the founder of the "historical method" in the interpretation of Scriptures.  In Protestant circles, a similar role was assumed by Adolph von Harnack (1851-1930), who is cited five times as "an eminent liberal theologian" by Cardinal Ratzinger in his Preface.
[3. On the role of Fr. Lagrange and his followers, see A.S. Guimarăes, Animus Delendi I (Los Angeles: TIA, 2000, pp. 355-360.]
Dealing generically with this movement, Pius XII defined it thus:
"The term 'historicism' indicates a philosophical system that acknowledges change and evolution in the whole spiritual reality, in the understanding of the truth, in religion, and in morality. As a consequence, it rejects everything that is permanent, eternally valid, and absolute. Such a system is certainly irreconcilable with the Catholic conception of the world." 
[4. Pius XII, Speech to the International Congress of Historical Sciences, September 7, 1955, in Discorsi i Radiomessagi di Sua Santitŕ Pio XII, Editrice Vaticana, vol. 17, p. 212.]
Notwithstanding, from the time of St. Pius X to that of Pius XII, historicism has infiltrated and established itself in innumerable ecclesiastic ambiences. At Vatican Council II it was "officially" accepted in flagrant opposition to the prior Pontifical Magisterium.
In my opinion, the key text that accepted the "historical method" is in Dei Verbum, the Constitution on Revelation of Vatican II. It reads:
"Those who search out the intention of the sacred writers must, among other things, have regard for 'literary forms.' For truth is proposed and expressed in a variety of ways, depending on whether a text is history of one kind or another, or whether its form is that of prophecy, poetry, or some other type of speech. The interpreter must investigate what meaning the sacred writer intended to express and actually expressed in particular circumstances as he used contemporary literary forms in accordance with the situation of his own time and culture. For the correct understanding of what the sacred author wanted to assert, due attention must be paid to the customary and characteristic style of perceiving, speaking, and narrating which prevailed at the time of the sacred writer, and to the customs men normally followed at that period in their everyday dealings with one another." 
[5. Vatican Council II, Constitution Dei Verbum, n. 12b.]
This paragraph opened the doors to innumerable excesses. Among them was the denial of the literal interpretation of the first chapters of Genesis. This blatantly conflicts with the judgment of St. Pius X set out by his Biblical Commission (June 30, 1909).  The 1909 declaration was considered the most serious reference point on the topic, and was confirmed by pontifical documents from Benedict XV up to Pius XII. 
[6. Denzinger-Schönmetzer, nn. 3512-3514; 3518.]
[7. Benedict XV, Encyclical Spiritus Paraclitus, nn. 17, 19-29; Pius XII, Encyclical Humani generis, nn. 37-8.]
One of the theologians who challenged this doctrine was Joseph Ratzinger, who stated:
"The form in which the creationist idea [expressed in the first chapters of Genesis] was rendered concrete in effect was swept away by the evolutionist theory.  With this, the faithful have to allow themselves to be taught by science, since the way they had imagined creation would correspond to the pre-scientific conception of the world, which today is no longer sustainable." 
That is to say, Ratzinger denied the traditional interpretation of the first chapters of Genesis and assumed a new one based upon the evolutionary theory.
[8. My concern here is not to demonstrate that the evolutionist theory lost credibility in the scientific world. It was reduced to a philosophical theory, which requires "faith" to be believed. If it will be the case, I could prove it without difficulty.]
[9. Joseph Ratzinger, "Fé en la creacion y teoria evolutiva," in Es esto Dios? (Barcelona: Herder, 1973), p. 234.]
It was under the responsibility of the same theologian, Joseph Ratzinger, today the Cardinal charged with maintaining the doctrine of the Faith and president of the PBC, that the work under analysis, The Hebrew People, came to light.
On Thursday I will begin to examine the PBC book, and afterward the Preface of Cardinal Ratzinger, so that what he is endorsing will be clear to the reader.
THURSDAY, April 18: Part Two An Extreme of Historicism
PREFACE by Cardinal Ratzinger
Monday, April 15, 2002
volume 13, no. 71
DEFENDING CATHOLIC TRUTH AND TRADITION