Saturday, May 28, 2016

A Chink in the Armor: An Appendix to A Crisis of Meaning

As I noted in an earlier post, I cut a lot of material from my first draft of the article published yesterday at OnePeterFive on the role of Sacred Scripture in the rise of Modernism. In the list of papal actions provided in Part II, the last item mentioned was Pope Pius XII's Divino Afflante Spiritu. Here's the part that explains how this document represents a turning point in the battle of the Popes against Modernism:

A Chink in the Armor:
Biblical Inerrancy and Divino Afflante Spiritu

That all 73 books included in the canon of Sacred Scripture are entirely free from error is the perennial teaching of the Catholic Church, having been universally proclaimed since the Age of the Fathers.[1] Pope Leo XIII restated this teaching, underscoring its infallibility as part of the Universal Magisterium, in his 1893 encyclical Providentissimus Deus as follows:
For all the books which the Church receives as sacred and canonical are written wholly and entirely, with all their parts, at the dictation of the Holy Ghost; and so far is it from being possible that any error can co-exist with inspiration, that 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 unchanging faith of the Church, solemnly defined in the Councils of Florence and of Trent, and finally confirmed and more expressly formulated by the Council of the Vatican.[2]
Commenting on this and related passages in Providentissimus Deus, Pope Benedict XV noted with grief in his encyclical Spiritus Paraclitus that, despite Leo XIII’s clear and emphatic instruction, attacks against the doctrine of biblical inerrancy were being launched from within the Church itself:
But although these words of Our predecessor leave no room for doubt or dispute, it grieves Us to find that not only men outside, but even children of the Catholic Church – nay, what is a peculiar sorrow to Us, even clerics and professors of sacred learning – who in their own conceit either openly repudiate or at least attack in secret the Church’s teaching on this point. We warmly commend, of course, those who, with the assistance of critical methods, seek to discover new ways of explaining the difficulties in Holy Scripture, whether for their own guidance or to help others. But We remind them that they will only come to miserable grief if they neglect Our predecessor’s injunctions and overstep the limits set by the Fathers. Yet no one can pretend that certain recent writers really adhere to these limitations. For while conceding that inspiration extends to every phrase – and, indeed, to every single word of Scripture – yet, by endeavoring to distinguish between what they style the primary or religious and the secondary or profane element in the Bible, they claim that the effect of inspiration – namely, absolute truth and immunity from error – are to be restricted to that primary or religious element. Their notion is that only what concerns religion is intended and taught by God in Scripture, and that all the rest – things concerning “profane knowledge,” the garments in which Divine truth is presented – God merely permits, and even leaves to the individual author’s greater or less knowledge. Small wonder, then, that in their view a considerable number of things occur in the Bible touching physical science, history and the like, which cannot be reconciled with modern progress in science![3]
As the above passage makes clear, Benedict XV was well acquainted with the Modernist plan to weaken the doctrine of biblical inerrancy by the introduction of a distinction between matter pertaining to faith and morals on the one hand and matter pertaining to the historical record and physical science on the other. It was a distinction called for by the Modernists of the late 19th century, such as Charles A. Briggs, A. Leslie Lilley and Alfred Loisy[4]– the last of whom was excommunicated by Pope St. Pius X (†1914) in 1908. Despite Benedict XV’s explicit rejection of this plan – the point-by-point refutation extends over several lengthy paragraphs[5] – the distinction upon which it turned nonetheless found explicit mention and, as the Modernists would later interpret it, implicit approval in Pius XII’s Divino Afflante Spiritu (1943):
Hence this special authority – or, as they say, authenticity – of the Vulgate was not affirmed by the Council [of Trent] particularly for critical reasons, but rather because of its legitimate use in the Churches throughout so many centuries; by which use indeed the same is shown, in the sense in which the Church has understood and understands it, to be free from any error whatsoever in matters of faith and morals [emphasis added].[6]
The limiting effect of the final clause – presumably appended by Augustin Cardinal Bea,[7] who, together with Jacques-Marie Voste, O.P., was largely responsible for the drafting of the encyclical – is as obvious as it is potentially devastating: if the inerrancy of the Latin Vulgate – i.e., the canonically approved normative edition of Sacred Scripture – is to be described as obtaining “in matters of faith and morals,” the question naturally arises as to whether it is equally free from error in matters not pertaining to faith and morals, e.g. those pertaining to the historical record and the natural world – a notion the very suggestion of which could only represent a tremendous victory for the Modernists.

It is certainly possible to argue that, as the passage in question is dealing with the critical estimation of the Latin Vulgate as one among many editions of Sacred Scripture, the phrase “in matters of faith and morals” does not intend to limit in any way the inerrancy of Holy Writ as regards its substance; rather, it merely intends to acknowledge that the received edition of the Vulgate – like all texts which have been passed down through countless generations – can be improved in regards to its form by careful critical evaluation – for example, through comparison with older or newly discovered manuscripts. This is doubtless the manner in which Pius XII understood and promulgated it, for he goes on to say that the exegete must undertake his interpretation of God’s word “in full accord with the doctrine of the Church, in particular with the traditional teaching regarding the inerrancy of Sacred Scripture, and which will, at the same time, satisfy the indubitable conclusion of profane sciences.”[8]

Nonetheless, the wording and placement of the phrase could not have been more opportune for the enemies of the traditional teaching on plenary inerrancy. It signaled a way around the dogma which did not require denying it outright. A chink in the armor which had been carefully crafted by every Pope since Gregory XVI to defend the inerrancy of Sacred Scripture had been found, and the Modernists knew exactly how to exploit it during the deliberations of the Second Vatican Council.

The original schema of the planned Dogmatic Constitution treating Divine Revelation, which was drawn up by the Preparatory Theological Commission in 1960 and presented to the Central Preparatory Commission for approval the following year, summarized the authentic magisterial teaching on biblical inerrancy as follows:
Because Divine Inspiration extends to everything, the absolute immunity of all Holy Scripture from error follows directly and necessarily. For we are taught by the ancient and constant faith of the Church that it is utterly forbidden to grant that the sacred author Himself has erred, since Divine Inspiration of itself necessarily excludes and repels any error in any matter, religious or profane, as it is necessary to say that God, the supreme Truth, is never the author of any error whatever.[9]
Three things are noteworthy in regard to this passage: (1) the perennial doctrine of plenary inerrancy was clearly and emphatically presented as such; (2) the phrase “in any matter, religious or profane,” an allusion to and rejection of the distinction proposed by the Modernists, was included; (3) the last phrase, i.e. “of any error whatever,” is actually drawn from Divino Afflante Spiritu – as indicated in footnote 7 of chapter 2 – but without the caveat “in matters of faith and morals.” It would appear that the members of the Preparatory Theological Commission, headed by the notoriously conservative Alfredo Cardinal Ottaviani, preferred to treat the dubious phrase as charitably as possible – by ignoring it completely.

When the schema was presented for deliberation by the Council Fathers in 1962, a fierce conflict broke out. Spearheaded by Franz Cardinal König of Vienna, who spoke on behalf of the Germanic contingent, a number of progressive prelates came forward to express their reservations regarding the traditional teaching on biblical inerrancy. Cardinal König himself was so brazen as to flatly assert that Sacred Scripture contains numerous positive errors pertaining to history and natural science, and that the Constitution must, as a result, limit the application of the doctrine of biblical inerrancy to matters of faith and morals alone.[10] More than 180 Council Fathers – a small but nonetheless significant minority – stood firmly against any caveat being added to the text which could be seen as limiting the scope of the teaching in the way proposed by Cardinal König. When the assembly eventually split into irreconcilable factions over this and similar matters, Pope John XXIII personally intervened by ordering a new schema be drafted under the joint supervision of Cardinal Ottoviani and Cardinal Bea. The document would go through a total of 5 major revisions – the third of which saw the participation of a young Fr. Joseph Ratzinger – before being passed in the Fourth Session by a vote of 2,344 to 6. The final version of the paragraph treating biblical inerrancy reads as follows:
Therefore, since everything asserted by the inspired authors or sacred writers must be held to be asserted by the Holy Spirit, it follows that the books of Scripture must be acknowledged as teaching solidly, faithfully and without error that truth which God wanted put into sacred writings for the sake of our salvation [emphasis added]. Therefore “all Scripture is divinely inspired and has its use for teaching the truth and refuting error, for reformation of manners and discipline in right living, so that the man who belongs to God may be efficient and equipped for good work of every kind.”[11]
As the final vote indicates, nearly all of those Council Fathers who initially objected to König’s proposal allowed themselves to be convinced that this phrasing was sufficiently amenable to an orthodox interpretation; the appending of 2 Timothy 3:16-17 to the paragraph apparently allayed all fears that “that truth which God wanted put into sacred writings for the sake of our salvation” was, in reality, nothing more than a different way of saying “in matters of faith and morals.” As for the more than 2,100 Council Fathers who didn’t object to Cardinal König’s proposal, it seems they were either unconcerned with or even approving of the possibility of the magisterial teaching on biblical inerrancy being effectively eviscerated in favor of a position previously condemned as heretical.[12]

In any case, the fact that a high-ranking prelate could stand in assembly with his brother bishops and speak out against an infallible teaching of the Magisterium, and have the overwhelming majority either agree with him or, at least, do nothing to contradict him, is a sobering indication of the breadth of the apostasy in the 1960's, and it confirms the suspicion that the dubious phrase contained in Divino Afflante Spiritu – 20 years before the opening of Vatican II – was not simply an example of poor wording, but was rather placed there as a signal to all who held with Modernism that the tide was turning in their favor. The long wait which began with Gregory XVI and Pius IX was nearing its end; soon, they could let fall the masks of obedience and piety and work openly to realize that dream of the Enlighteners which, as Leo Cardinal Suenens would later observe, really amounted to “the French Revolution in the Church:” Vatican II.


[1] St. Gregory of Nazianz: “We who extend the accuracy of the Spirit to every letter and serif will never admit, for it would be impious to do so, that even the smallest matters were recorded in a careless and hasty manner by those who wrote them down.” Orations, 2:105. Cf. St. Clement of Rome, First Letter to the Corinthians, 45:1-3; St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 2:28:2.
[2] Pope Leo XIII, Providentissimus Deus, §20. Cf. Council of Trent, Fourth Session (1546), Decree Concerning the Canonical Scriptures; First Vatican Council, Third Session (1870), Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic Faith Dei Filius, §13.
[3] Benedict XV, Spiritus Paraclitus, §§18-19.
[4] Cf. Briggs, Charles A. (1909). “Modernism Mediating the Coming Catholicism,“ in The North American Review, Vol. 189, pp. 879-880; Lilley, A. Leslie (1908). The Programme of Modernism, pp. 15-87; Loisy, Alfred (1912). The Gospel and the Church, pp. 23-52.
[5] Cf. Spiritus Paraclitus. §§17-25.
[6] Pius XII, Divino Afflante Spiritu, §21.
[7] Augustin Bea (1881-1968) was a German Jesuit biblical scholar who served as the first president of the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity. He also served as personal confessor to Pope Pius XII. He was the grand architect of modern ecumenism, and the driving force behind Nostra Aetate.
[8] Divino Afflante Spiritu, §46.
[9] Schema Constitutionis Dogmaticae de Fontibus Revelationis (1961), §12. Joseph A. Komonchak (Trans.)
[10] Cf. Grillmeier, Alois Cardinal (1989). "The Divine Inspiration and the Interpretation of Sacred Scripture," in Commentary on the Documents of Vatican II, Vol. 3, pp. 205-206. Also: Zia, Mark Joseph (2006). „The Inerrancy of Scripture and the Second Vatican Council,“ in Faith & Reason, pp. 175-192.
[11] Second Vatican Council, Fourth Session (1965), Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation Dei Verbum, §11.
[12] The clear parallel to the 2014-2015 Synod on the Family should be obvious to all.


  1. So we went from:

    1. The Bible is inerrant in all things, to

    2. The Bible is inerrant in matters of faith and morals, to

    3. The Bible is inerrant in all things it needs to be inerrant on.

    What's clever about 3 is that if you're not paying attention, it seems more broad than 2. But of course in reality it is so narrow as to threaten a Cheshire Cat vanishing of inerrancy itself.

    Correct me if I am wrong but I perceive a current stage 4. What's happening now is the detachment of the concept of inerrancy from the concept of truth. So if you ask, say, Bishop Barron whether Chapter X of the Old Testament is true, he'll shake his head sadly and tell you that's just like asking whether Moby Dick is true. Thus inerrancy becomes merely profundity or some such.!

  2. That sums it up the situation quite well. Actually, a Catholic priest and pioneer of the historical-critical method, Fr. Raymond E. Brown, said virtually the same thing:

    "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."

    And we all know that everything, including our faith in the Trinity itself, can be and has been cast as a "time-conditioned religious belief."

    The fourth stage already exists in Protestant circles, but has not yet reached our shores. It claims that, when we say the Bible is "inerrant," what we really mean is that it was written "in good faith," that is, without the intent to deceive its audience. The human authors thought they were writing the truth, you see. And it's this 'spirit of truthfulness' which is the touchstone of biblical inerrancy.

    Utter madness.

  3. Utter madness or planned attack? You have pointed out some of the critical information about the wily serpents, the Modernists, but the majority of Catholics have no idea, and it seems no desire, to dig into history to learn why the Catholic faith is under constant attack by the "shepherds" who are really wolves. One thing the sede's have done is provide extensive writings and documentation on the history of these heretics/apostates necessary to this understanding. In truth, their position seems more logical and closer to being faithful to the Catholic understanding of the primacy of the papacy and the Magisterium than the R&R groups.

  4. Dear Reader,

    Why not both? It seems to me that any attack on Holy Mother Church amounts to madness of one sort or another.

    I agree that most Catholics are ignorant of this material. But, then again, so was I before I started researching it. I share it with others in the hopes that one or two might be inspired to find out more on their own and grow in the authentic faith.

    The Sedes I've dealt with are very capable and pious people. But I cannot follow them in their conviction that a layman has the ability to declare the Chair of Peter vacant. 99% of their information and argumentation might be right, but I've yet to see that point - the one their entire position rests upon - satisfactorily demonstrated. That they tend to be rather obnoxious doesn't help, either.


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