Rorate Caeli

"Sacred Scripture, inspiration and truth"

The post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation Verbum Domini, released by the Vatican yesterday, includes the Holy Father's first "official" response to Proposition 12 of the October 2008 Synod of Bishops on the Word of God in the life and mission of the Church. As reported here previously, Proposition 12 states:
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.
The Holy Father's response is found in Verbum Domini 19, under the heading, "Sacred Scripture, inspiration and truth":

A key concept for understanding the sacred text as the word of God in human words is certainly that of inspiration. Here too we can suggest an analogy: as the word of God became flesh by the power of the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary, so sacred Scripture is born from the womb of the Church by the power of the same Spirit. Sacred Scripture is “the word of God set down in writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.”66 In this way one recognizes the full importance of the human author who wrote the inspired texts and, at the same time, God himself as the true author. As the Synod Fathers affirmed, the theme of inspiration is clearly decisive for an adequate approach to the Scriptures and their correct interpretation,67 which for its part is to be done in the same Spirit in whom the sacred texts were written.68 Whenever our awareness of its inspiration grows weak, we risk reading Scripture as an object of historical curiosity and not as the work of the Holy Spirit in which we can hear the Lord himself speak and recognize his presence in history.
The Synod Fathers also stressed the link between the theme of inspiration and that of the truth of the Scriptures.69 A deeper study of the process of inspiration will doubtless lead to a greater understanding of the truth contained in the sacred books. As the Council’s teaching states in this regard, the inspired books teach the truth: “since, therefore, all that the inspired authors, or sacred writers, affirm should be regarded as affirmed by the Holy Spirit, we must acknowledge that the books of Scripture firmly, faithfully and without error, teach that truth which God, for the sake of our salvation, wished to see confided to the sacred Scriptures. Thus, ‘all scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction and for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be profi cient, equipped for every good work’ (2 Tim 3:16-17, Greek).”70

Certainly theological reflection has always considered inspiration and truth as two key concepts for an ecclesial hermeneutic of the sacred Scriptures. Nonetheless, one must acknowledge the need today for a fuller and more adequate study of these realities, in order better to respond to the need to interpret the sacred texts in accordance with their nature. Here I would express my fervent hope that research in this field will progress and bear fruit both for biblical science and for the spiritual life of the faithful.

63 Catechism of the Catholic Church, 102; Cf. also RUPERT OF DEUTZ, De Operibus Spiritus Sancti, I, 6: SC 131:72-74.
64 Enarrationes in Psalmos, 103, IV, 1: PL 37, 1378. Similar statements in ORIGEN, In Iohannem V, 5-6: SC 120, pp. 380-384.
65 Cf. SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation Dei Verbum, 21.
66 Ibid., 9.
67 Cf. Propositiones 5 and 12.
68 Cf. SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation Dei Verbum, 12.
69 Cf. Propositio 12.
What prompted Proposition 12 was a suggestion in the synod's working document that had expressed belief in "limited biblical inerrancy," an approach to the Catholic doctrine of biblical inerrancy that was explicitly and firmly criticised and rejected by Pope Leo XIII in his encyclical Providentissimus Deus. Section 15(c) of the Synod's working document had asserted that "inerrancy applies only to 'that truth which God wanted to put into sacred writings for the sake of salvation.'"

Verbum Domini 19 does not address the topic of "limited inerrancy" at all. This is not surprising, because Pope Benedict XVI has directed the the Pontifical Biblical Commission to prepare a study on the questions raised by Proposition 12, which should include analysis of the "limited inerrancy" question. The PBC had already gone over an early draft of that study by April 2009, but a final version (if there is one) has not yet been released. Consequently, although Verbum Domini 19 includes valid and beneficial observations, it does nothing more than reiterate the Church's doctrine on the inspiration and truth of the Scriptures as expressed in Vatican II's Dei Verbum. It does not explore those subjects in any depth, since to do so would be to pre-empt the PBC's study. We may surmise, however, that Verbum Domini 19 sketches the broad themes of the pending study.

Previous posts on this subject:

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

Pontifical Biblical Commission to take up Synod Proposition 12

Pope addresses PBC on the Divine Inspiration and Truth of Scripture

"One must then bear in mind the living tradition of the whole Church"

Does Vatican Council II Allow for Errors in Sacred Scripture?