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Synod Retrospective: Proposition 12 on Inspiration and truth in the Bible

Looking back to last month's Synod of Bishops on the Word of God in the life and mission of the Church, it was right that alarm and concern was raised by the controversial Proposition 17, that for the first time in the Church's history the ministry of lector be granted to women. But the Synod offered another proposal that is of especial interest:

Proposition 12: Inspiration and truth in the Bible

The synod proposes that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith clarify the concepts of “inspiration” and “truth” in the Bible, along with their reciprocal relationship, in order to better understand the teaching of Dei Verbum 11. In particular, it’s necessary to emphasize the specific character of Catholic Biblical hermeneutics in this area.



Unlike Proposition 17, which is not in any way desirable and nor needed for the life and health of the Church (quite the contrary), Proposition 12 is both desirable and necessary, on account of the confusion and erroneous interpretations of the teaching of Dei Verbum 11 that have become widespread in the Church in the past four decades. This confusion and error can even be found in Section 15(c) of the Synod's working document, which obviously was the occasion for Proposition 12. Section 15(c) had asserted, in apparent conflict with perennial Catholic teaching, that "inerrancy applies only to 'that truth which God wanted to put into sacred writings for the sake of salvation,'" (emphasis added) -- as if there was anything else in the Bible but truth for the sake of our salvation. It is encouraging that the Synod of Bishops has avoided the danger to Catholic doctrine occasioned by Section 15(c), instead calling on the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to clarify the question.

If the Holy Father acts on Proposition 12, it must be hoped that the CDF will renew Leo XIII's and Pius XII's clear and unequivocal rejection of the error of "limited inerrancy" in Providentissimus Deus and Divino afflante Spiritu. As Father Brian Harrison has explained in his study, "The Truth and Salvific Purpose of Sacred Scripture According to Dei Verbum, Article 11," the phrasing of DV11 was the result of attempts of advocates of "limited inerrancy" to eliminate the Catholic doctrine of the total inerrancy Holy Scripture from this dogmatic constitution. Although their attempts were not successful, the resulting text of DV11 is capable of being misinterpreted as support for "limited inerrancy," despite the Theological Commission's clarifying explanation and the footnotes that cite the very passages of PD and DaS that condemn "limited inerrancy." Ignoring the teaching of the Popes and disregarding the ruling interpretive framework of DV11's footnotes, many Catholic exegetes have made a false distinction between "that truth which God wanted to put into sacred writings for the sake of salvation" and other matters in the Bible that, it is alleged, may or may not be erroneous. As a result, disbelief in the divine inspiration and total inerrancy of Holy Scripture is rampant in the Church today, a calamitous situation that the Holy See must address sooner rather than later.

Proposition 12 rightly states that "it’s necessary to emphasize the specific character of Catholic Biblical hermeneutics in this area." Had the specific character of Catholic hermeneutics not been obscured, the papal magisterium of Leo XIII, Benedict XV, and Pius XII regarding biblical interpretaton would not have been distorted or forgotten by so many. God willing we will soon enough receive some very necessary guidance and clarification in this matter.