Rorate Caeli

PBC study on "Inspiration and Truth of the Bible" to be completed

Once more for the record, here is the latest news on the Holy See's preparation of a response to a request for clarification of the doctrine of biblical inerrancy that had been made by the October 2008 Synod of Bishops on the Word of God in the life and mission of the Church. A Vatican news release dated 3 April 2013 says:

The Pontifical Biblical Commission will celebrate its annual plenary session from 8 to 12 April at the Domus Sanctae Marthae in Vatican City under the presidency of Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Muller. Fr. Klemens Stock, S.J., secretary general of the commission, will directing the assembly's work sessions.
During the course of the meetings, the study on the theme “Inspiration and Truth in the Bible” will be concluded. “For some years,“ reads a communique from that office, “the Commission has decided to concentrate its effort on verifying how the themes of inspiration and truth are manifested in the various books of Sacred Scripture. The aim of the reflection is to offer a positive contribution so that, in a deepened understanding of the concepts of inspiration and truth, the Word of God may be welcomed by all faithful in a way that is ever more suited to this unique gift in which God communicates himself and invites humanity to communion with him.”

Once the Pontifical Biblical Commission completes its study, which has been entitled "Inspiration and Truth of the Bible" (compare the news release, which says "in" rather than "of"), the study will be presented to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Much will depend upon whether the PBC study leads to a formal and authoritative document or a papal encyclical on the subject of biblical inspiration and inerrancy. Because the PBC is only an advisory body of biblical scholars who assist the CDF, the PBC is not a teaching organ of the Church, and its statements and publications carry no teaching authority of themselves.  (This is analogous to the International Theological Commission, which, for example, issued a study on the subject of the fate of infants who die without Baptism. The study has been erroneously read as a formal renunciation of Limbo, but in fact the study carries no magisterial weight at all and is at the level merely of theological opinion.)  Even unauthoritative declarations of the PBC are of interest and are useful, but they are not binding doctrinal statements unless explicitly presented as such by the pope.


I am not Spartacus said...

PBC: For thousands of years simple people from all ends of the earth have believed that the Bible is the inerrant world of God.

As the people of God on a pilgrimage to our Heavenly home we proudly proclaim that we love those simple people and, indeed, all people, including those who do not believe that the Bible is the inerrant word of God.

Subsisting as we do in the Church of Christ, we feel called upon, if not obligated by our friend, Jesus, to embrace all people of good will - especially those simple believers who become so angry when their most cherished beliefs are challenged.

We, the experts of this wonderful Commission, in service to the Bishop of Rome and, indeed, in service to all the people of the Earth, lovingly extend our joyful wish to all that the Bible continue to be treasured as a very important part of all of our lives but we wonder if at this particular time it would not be more important to, occasionally, put the Bible down and to pick-up a ladle and work at a Soup Kitchen.

These indeed are all weighty matters that must be continued to be considered and as we do not want to lord it over others but to serve others, we conclude by wishing every person on Earth a Blessed Easter or Passover or whatever the traditional practice of your peoples are in celebration of Spring - we wish you all a peaceful and prosperous Spring.

sam said...

As long as they stay away from the following heretical sources, we might get something out of it that is Catholic, or maybe not.

Heretical Sources:
-Nouvelle Théologie
-École biblique et archéologique française de Jérusalem
-Raymond E. Brown's Books
-The New Jerome Biblical Commentary

Common Sense said...

Well written, I'm not Spartacus. These criminals first tempered with the holy sacrifice of the Mass, now they attempt to do the same to the Sacred Sriptures and finaly they will openly challeenge the Faith itself. Is it going to happen under the patronage of 'poverty and humility'? Hurrey, we still have coke, chips and movies. So let's enjoy and be glad!

Ligusticus said...

Not-Spartacus : monumental!

ElFrancoLoco said...

Spats old boy, you nailed it.

paulus said...


Fr. Raymond Brown was appointed to the Pontifical Biblical Commission by Popes Paul VI and John Paul II, and was publicly praised by Joseph Ratzinger on more than one occasion.

You call his work "heretical."

Do you know something they didn't?

ElFrancoLoco said...

Ray Brown was practically the Pope of 20th century doublebass players. Fr. Raymond Brown was Ray Brown's contemporary, and equally well known for reharmonization.

Keep the melody, change the chords. You dig? As long as the people can hum the tune, they'll buy the record.

Wikipedia offers this interesting quote: "the Roman Catholic Church does not change her official stance in a blunt way. Past statements are not rejected but are requoted with praise and then reinterpreted at the same time. ... What was really going on was an attempt gracefully to retain what was salvageable from the past and to move in a new direction at the same time".

Papal praise notwithstanding: Blecch. In the Jewish world, this sort of thing is called Reconstructionism, and over there, it's infinitely more honest about its objectives.

JM said...


Papal appointments can be, ahem, problematic. If you want a stomach ache, go read Fr. George Kelly's "The New Biblical Theorists." Brown comes off not som much as a heretic as a saboteur.Really a shame.

Hank Igitur said...

Read Thomas Aquinas on limbo. Christ descended into Limbo to free the awaiting souls there. This is presumed to be where the poor victims of abortion end up also.

David Werling said...

Assuming that a person does not hold heretical doctrines just because they were appointed by Popes Paul VI and John Paul II, and spoken well of by Joseph Ratzinger, is gross naivety.

Fr. Shannon Collins said...

Complete inerrancy is a settled matter, for it has been the constant teaching of Holy Church. Dei Verbum #11, however, opened up the door to the unsound notion of limited inerrancy. Any PBC statement is worthless, really, considering that they are no longer an arm of the Ecclesia Docens. But if the CDF suggests limited inerrancy, i.e., inerrant only in regards to faith and morals, we are in big trouble.

Peter said...

I thought this was already defined several times. How long can it take to figure that out and how long can it take to put out a document on it? I can't imagine it needing more than a few words to answer in the affirmative to the Holy Scriptures being inerrant.

sam said...


Read the following article:

Read the following quotes:
The Virginal Conception: And Bodily : Resurrection of Jesus (by Raymond E. Brown)

... Let me note here only that, while Matthew and Luke apparently accepted the virginal conception as historical, we cannot be certain where they got their information on this point. ...

There are official Church statements pertaining to the bodily virginity of Mary, but none of them seems to meet the very strict requirements for a de fide exercise of the extraordinary magisterium. For instance, a) in AD 449 the letter of Pope Leo I to Bishop Flavian speaks of Mary's having conceived with her virginity intact and without carnal pleasure. b) In AD 649 the Lateran Council condemned anyone who would not confess that the holy, immaculate, and ever-virgin Mary conceived of the Holy Spirit without seed and gave birth without detriment to her virginity. ....

Gregorius said...

This ("limited inerrancy") was indeed the debate at the Council. Dei Verbum, as presented, left the door wide open for this interpretation. The explanatory note had to be added to close that door shut again.

jeff said...

They won't contradict clear dogmatic statements of the past. Dei verbum #11 went about as far as possible in promoting "limited inerrancy", which is to say no where. All DV #11 did was confuse the faithful due to its verbose and abstruse style.

Benedict Carter said...

I am not Spartacus:

I was halfway through a post in response to yours when I realised .... .

Well done, good wind-up.

There was just too much "hello birds, hello clouds, hello flowers" even for Nu-Church.

Matt said...

..."our friend, Jesus..."

Really, the one down the street you invite over once in a while? The Jesus Whom should be referred to as Lord and Savior? That Jesus?

"Wouldn't it be more important, occasionally, to put the Bible down and to pick up a ladle and work at a soup kitchen?"

Once again it's salvation by the ladel.

"Embrace all people of good will, especially those simple believers who become so angry when their most cherished beliefs are challenged."

Interesting. What "simple believers" are those? What constitutes "simple believers?" We anticipate these gushing moralistic commissioners have the same fair-minded attitude when it comes to Traditionalists having their cherished beliefs challenged.

"We, the experts of this wonderful Commission... (Well, that quite self-inflating.) in service to the Bishop of Rome... (As opposed to Sovereign Pontiff?)

"These indeed are all weighty matters..." (which mean you shouldn't be handling them at all.)

"We conclude by wishing every person on Earth a Blessed Easter or Passover or whatever the traditional practice of your peoples are in celebration of Spring, we wish you all a peaceful and prosperous Spring."

Yeah, or whatever. No problem endorsing heathen beliefs. They negated the inerrancy of the Bible they asserted they upheld.

JAK said...


"Subsisting as we do in the Church of Christ, we feel called upon, if not obligated by our friend, Jesus, to embrace all people of good will - especially those simple believers who become so angry when their most cherished beliefs are challenged."

I had to laugh this was so good!

Benedict Carter said...

Fr. Shannon Collins:

Would you mind educating at least one of us Father (me) as to the problems that would flow from the Bible being called "inerrant only in regards to faith and morals"?

Gratias said...

It is amazing how much of the Vatican is being run out of Domus Sanctae Marthae now. Built in the 1990s, it is a modern hotel of 120 rooms, "spartan" in the words of our dear Cardinal Mahony. Now it is also the papal residency. The Vatican has many wonderful buildings and palaces, which would probably provide Holy inspiration to the commissioners.

Sancrucensis said...

There is a wonderful treatment of the question of innerancy by a Benedictine of Norcia here:

He shows how recent theories don't make any sense, and how the somewhat ambiguous definition of inerrancy in Dei Verbum can and must be read in the light of the tradition.

Benedict Carter, the problem with limiting inerrancy to faith and morals is that it would make God a liar.

Wiseguy said...


Are you seriously suggesting that Popes Paul VI and John Paul II did not make a single appointment of a material heretic? Seriously???

GMMF said...

The CDF commentary on the Professio Fidei listed the following as de fide:

"the absence of error in the inspired sacred texts"

Of course, a lot of ink can be spilled discussing how this is actually the case in Scripture given modes of literary expression which if taken literally may contradict reasonable or empirical observation, etc.

Rodj said...


I'd like to ask you to clarify your response to BC.

How does limited inerrancy render God a liar? If the New Testament is not word-for-word dictation from God with the authors as nothing more than recording secretaries [the way the Quran is viewed in Islam] but is the work of human authors under divine inspiration, why can't there be inerrancy in faith and morals coming from God's inspiration, while other minor matters outside of faith and morals could [not saying definitely would] have error from the human authors, aspects of the text that are not essential to faith and morals and could, conceivably, not enjoy the inerrancy of divine inspiration?

Cyril said...


Your request is unreasonable as it would require a discussion not feasible through comboxes.

Permit me, however, an observation. It is accepted contemporary Catholic biblical exegesis that neither Noah nor Jonah are authentic historical figures. Yet our Lord in the Gospel speaks of them as authentic historical figures. This will have doctrinal implications as to what our Lord "knew" in his human nature. Indeed, already has been used for heretical positions that you would have had to have lived through in the 60s and 70s in order to fully appreciate.

But even more to the point: if you begin to be selective as to the historicity of any text, one leaves that decision (as to historicity) to the modern biblical exegetical elite. They will say: "See, just as the Scripture authors used 'myth' to unveil God's Revelation, we need to separate the 'myths' from the truths that the human authors were trying reveal. So, while we often thought that this [fill in the blank as to a reported historical narrative in the Bible] was the point of this particular passage of Scripture, we need to express this in such a way as to extricate 'fact' from 'fiction.' We need to insert our own contemporary historical narrative and unveil the truth to be relevant in own day and unique historical zeitgeist."

Been there, done that.

Cyril said...

Rodj, one more point: as Father Collins has noted, to introduce the concept of "limited inerrancy" which would contradict what heretofore has been considered settled Church teaching of the constant Magisterium, is to make God a liar as He works in the teaching office of the Church throughout history.

This would make God a liar. As a matter of fact, this is what Modernism essentially does: through contradictions of settled Church teaching through a reconfiguring of language, it makes the God of History to be a liar. Hasn't this been essentially what the battle within the Church since the Second Council of the Vatican has been about?

I am not Spartacus said...

Pope Leo XIII Providentissimus Deus.....

Inspiration Incompatible with Error

.. It is true, no doubt, that copyists have made mistakes in the text of the Bible; this question, when it arises, should be carefully considered on its merits, and the fact not too easily admitted, but only in those passages where the proof is clear. It may also happen that the sense of a passage remains ambiguous, and in this case good hermeneutical methods will greatly assist in clearing up the obscurity. But it is absolutely wrong and forbidden, either to narrow inspiration to certain parts only of Holy Scripture, or to admit that the sacred writer has erred. For the system of those who, in order to rid themselves of these difficulties, do not hesitate to concede that divine inspiration regards the things of faith and morals, and nothing beyond, because (as they wrongly think) in a question of the truth or falsehood of a passage, we should consider not so much what God has said as the reason and purpose which He had in mind in saying it-this system cannot be tolerated. 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. These are the words of the last: "The Books of the Old and New Testament, whole and entire, with all their parts, as enumerated in the decree of the same Council (Trent) and in the ancient Latin Vulgate, are to be received as sacred and canonical. And the Church holds them as sacred and canonical, not because, having been composed by human industry, they were afterwards approved by her authority; nor only because they contain revelation without error; but because, having been written under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, they have God for their author."(57) Hence, because the Holy Ghost employed men as His instruments, we cannot therefore say that it was these inspired instruments who, perchance, have fallen into error, and not the primary author. For, by supernatural power, He so moved and impelled them to write-He was so present to them-that the things which He ordered, and those only, they, first, rightly understood, then willed faithfully to write down, and finally expressed in apt words and with infallible truth. Otherwise, it could not be said that He was the Author of the entire Scripture. Such has always been the persuasion of the Fathers. "Therefore," says St. Augustine, "since they wrote the things which He showed and uttered to them, it cannot be pretended that He is not the writer; for His members executed what their Head dictated."(58) And St. Gregory the Great thus pronounces: "Most superfluous it is to inquire who wrote these things-we loyally believe the Holy Ghost to be the Author of the book. He wrote it Who dictated it for writing; He wrote it Who inspired its execution. "(59)

RipK said...

Regarding the audiences, yesterday was Piero Marini, today is Müller.

Yes, CONGRATURALTIONS RC! You are being known throughout the world!

Hieronymus in Canada said...

Benedict Carter and Rodj,
(I am not Spartacus has posted since I began this, and this serves to re-enforce his point).
Pius XII (Divinos Afflante Spiritu Section 3) and Benedict XV (Spiritus Paraclitus 5) both reiterated and amplified Leo XIII (Providentissimus Deus 40)on the point--I think Benedict XV the clearest. No limitting inspiration. In the Commentary on the Concluding Formula of the Professio Fidei in 1998, the next to last example given for the highest level of truth was "the absence of error in the inspired sacred texts."
At the same time, all have held for the possibility of errors in translation and copying--thus Pius XII in Divino Afflante Spiritu 14 notes that the Vulgate is free from errors with regards to faith and morals, but no guarantees on any other points with regards to the Vulgate. This re-enforces the point that the inerrancy of the original is something more.

I agree with Fr. Collins (as I have been doing since seminary) that nothing bad will make it to the magisterial stage, but the PBC is quite capable of giving me ulcers (I teach Scripture).

Edward said...

Too many priests playing theology over the last century not enough going out trying to save souls from hell!

Matt said...

Edward said, "Too many priests playing theology over the last century not enough going out trying to save souls from hell!"

Oh, no. Obviously not according to these "expert" commissioners, and possibly the Holy Father himself, not until poverty is eliminated. At odds with that though is Our Lord Himself said the poor we will always have with us. Maybe not enough ladles to go around.

Woody said...

Tangentially to the points much better made by Fr. Collins, IANS, and Hieronymous, I would just note that back when I was a Protestant these many years ago, the fight over inerrancy was just between the complete inerrantists and those (the moderates, in case you don't get the drift) who asserted that the Bible is inerrant only in matters of faith and morals. It seems to me that the big problem with the latter position is: what exactly in the bible is a matter of faith and morals and what is not? You can argue about the creation accounts in Genesis, but let's take another couple of examples: (1) the parable of the wicked tenants in Matt. 21:33-45, or (2) the cry of the Jews in Matt. 27:25: "His blood be on us and on our children" (RSV, taken from the Navarre Bible). I personally heard the now bishop of Austin, Texas say to a lunch group that the latter, and in fact much of the gospel account of the Passion, was not historical.

Well, then, if the written Word in untrustworthy, at least in the editions that we have it, then who is to tell us what is trustworthy? The PBC? Papal pronouncements in homilies or Wednesday audiences? The dicasteries promoting justice and peace, or ecumenism? A bishop here or there parroting the Democratic Party line? Bah!

I am not Spartacus said...

From the second book of the trilogy by then Pope Benedict XVI ...

In Mark's Gospel, the circle of accusers is broadened in the context of the Passover amnesty (Barabbas or Jesus): the "ochlos" enters the scene and opts for the release of Barabbas. "Ochlos" in the first instance simply means a crowd of people, the "masses". The word frequently has a pejorative connotation, meaning "mob". In any event, it does not refer to the Jewish people as such. In the case of the Passover amnesty (which admittedly is not attested in other sources, but even so need not be doubted), the people, as so often with such amnesties, have a right to put forward a proposal, expressed by way of "acclamation". Popular acclamation in this case has juridical character (cf. Pesch, Markusevangelium II, p. 466). Effectively this "crowd" is made up of the followers of Barabbas who have been mobilized to secure the amnesty for him: as a rebel against Roman power he could naturally count on a good number of supporters. So the Barabbas party, the "crowd", was conspicuous, while the followers of Jesus remained hidden out of fear; this meant that the vox populi, on which Roman law was built, was represented one-sidedly. In Mark's account, then, in addition to "the Jews", that is to say the dominant priestly circle, the ochlos comes into play, the circle of Barabbas' supporters, but not the Jewish people as such.

An extension of Mark's ochlos, with fateful consequences, is found in Matthew's account (27:25), which speaks of "all the people" and attributes to them the demand for Jesus' crucifixion. Matthew is certainly not recounting historical fact here: How could the whole people have been present at this moment to clamor for Jesus' death? It seems obvious that the historical reality is correctly described in John's account and in Mark's. The real group of accusers are the current Temple authorities, joined in the context of the Passover amnesty by the "crowd" of Barabbas' supporters.

Well, so much for the Gospel being real history

Rodj said...

Thank you all for the responses, and the biblical doctrinal tutorial lessons offered here.

Second Vatican just gets worse and worse and worse, doesn't it?

Fr. Shannon Collins said...

Just a quick note...the Holy Ghost is the Author of Sacred Scripture, but the human instrument should be referred to as the "writer."

Benedict Carter said...

Yes, like Rodj I'd like to thank posters very much for their responses, some of which I've bolted together in a cut and paste for re-reading. I know the subject can't be treated fully here but I'm grateful for the summaries of the Traditional Catholic position expressed here.

Hieronymus in Canada said...


Jesus of Nazareth was not by then-Pope Benedict--it is by Joseph Ratzinger writing as a private theologian. Thank God, he spells this out explicitly in the foreward:
"It goes without saying that this book is in no way an exercise of the magisterium, but is solely an expression of my personal search 'for the face of the Lord' (cf. Ps 27:8). Everyone is free, then, to contradict me. I would only ask my readers for that initial goodwill without which there can be no understanding." ( (Ignatius edition pp. xxiii-xxiv).

Putting "Pope Benedict XVI" in big letters on the cover may sell books, but it doesn't make it magisterial.

If one is looking for something magisterial, Verbum Domini 19 is the place--and it repeats, not weakens, Dei Verbum 11. Verbum Domini 35 is quite useful--for the first time since Benedict XV the Pope noted that there are serious problems in exegesis "even at the highest academic levels" (4th sentence of section 35) and maps out how these seep into the seminary and the pew.

Hieronymus in Canada said...

One further piece of consolation--the very first thing the re-organized non-magisterial PBC did was to meet and discuss women's ordination, reaching the conclusion that there were no scriptural grounds against it. The results were effectively forgotten--so there is precedent for bad things from the PBC to go away.

I am not Spartacus said...

Dear Hieronymus. That distinction is not lost on me and thee but it lost on average Joe he and Joan she who, when they read a book written by the Pope, understandably, believe they are reading Catholic Doctrine.

That is, me and thee have the "consolation" that only as a private theologian did the Pope write that Saint Matthew was not describing a historical reality.


That must be an example of the discontinuity within continuity that our previous Pope spoke about during this epoch of everything-is-different-nothing-has-changed ecclesiastical equivocation.

Patrick said...

"Permit me, however, an observation. It is accepted contemporary Catholic biblical exegesis that neither Noah nor Jonah are authentic historical figures."

This may be à la mode in the West but it certainly is not the case in the East.

Common Sense said...

"[...]Not in bread alone doth man live, but in every word that proceedeth from the mouth of God." - Matthew 4:4

Please notice how our Divine Master stipulates, 'by every word', and not just by some words. The Holy Ghost knows his mind infinitely more than some perverted "exegete".

Patrick Gray said...

"Permit me, however, an observation. It is accepted contemporary Catholic biblical exegesis that neither Noah nor Jonah are authentic historical figures."
Tripe! If the Bible is inerrant - which it is Catholic dogma that it is, inerrant in all matters, which is also Catholic dogma, ergo, every man mentioned in the Bible - Noah, Johna, but also Methuselah, Mesach, Shadrach and Abed-nego and so on all really existed.

Hieronymus in Canada said...


In the end, I think Ratzinger-the-private-theologian's words might be capable of defense, though to do so would first of all require recourse to the original German. Frankly, the hints of Marcan priority anoy me more, but if one begins distinguishing between Hebrew Matthew and Greek Matthew, there may be sufficient wiggle room as well.

That said, dialoguing with modern scholars is a complex business requiring complex statements that, taken out of full context, may be easily misunderstood. It may have been a relaxing hobby for Pope Benedict to undertake in private. Taking it public, whether it is well-done or badly done, ends up blurring the lines between speculative and dogmatic theology, at least on the practical level.

I would rather that the Pope only make public public teachings. I think that this is best, no matter who is Pope. It is also preferable that the teachings be in Latin so that theologians do not have to master the nuances of whatever language the Pope happens to feel comfortable working in.

You spoke of the average Joe or Joan. I know one theologian who thought that Jesus of Nazareth constitutes magisterial teaching, and I am sure that there are others out there as well--but it is not an area worth delving into in many instances.

But most ages have their problems. St. Augustine has some great lines about this. There is one that runs something along the lines that "The only reason why the past looks better is because we don't live there." If only I had been born in 1210.

LeonG said...

If The Holy Scriptures are inerrant then the post-conciliar church will have to reconcile itself with the creation history of Genesis. Unfortunately, which ever way we look at it darwinian volution just does not fit. Dawkins can use all the mind-twisting concepts he contrives and call us all the derogatory names he wishes but it is time The Church stood up to objective scientific method and challenged the evolution hypothesis for its fabulous assumptions.

Watching a recorded Australian TV chat programme the other evening in which various representatives from the main religions were represented, had I closed my eyes and listened only, the Catholic Cardinal sounded like a protestant darwinian apologising for being a Christian while the mohameten cleric gave a self-assured, almost perfectly Roman Catholic perspective on the matter.

My word, how times have changed!

Cyril said...

Patrick Gray -- I hope you realize that your position is my position. I just relate what is the prevalent point of view among the overwhelming majority of modern "Catholic" exegetes.

Woody said...

I think that it is nit necessary to assert the literal truth of every passage to be consistent with complete inerrancy. The creation account could well be undersood as a metaphor, i suppose. What is inerrant is what the sacred author inende to be undersiod by the passage, whether it is written as straight fact or ini one r other lterary device.