Pope on Understanding Scripture
Vatican City, Apr 23, 2009 / 11:00 am (CNA).- On Thursday morning, Pope Benedict addressed representatives of the Pontifical Biblical Commission following their plenary assembly and said that a correct understanding of Scripture does not come from "the individualistic illusion that biblical texts can be better understood outside the community of believers" but rather rises from the Tradition of the Church.
"Inspiration and truth in the Bible," the theme of the Pontifical Biblical Commissionís plenary assembly, is one that touches on a topic that biblical scholars have vigorously debated during the last century. Much of biblical scholarship, Catholic and non-Catholic, has developed into an academic study separated from the living memory of the Church.
This morning the Pope received thirty representatives of the Pontifical Biblical Commission who just held their full assembly, under the leadership of Cardinal William Joseph Levada, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
Benedict XVI began by underlining the importance of the chosen theme, which "concerns not only believers, but the Church herself, because the Church's life and mission necessarily rest upon the Word of God Ö ."
Recalling that the Constitution 'Dei Verbum' (The Word of God) affirmed that God is the author of the Bible, and that in Sacred Scripture God speaks to mankind in a human manner, the Holy Father laid out the three criteria that the Second Vatican Council prescribed for correctly interpreting Scripture.
"For a correct interpretation of Scripture we must, then, carefully examine what the hagiographers really sought to say and what God was pleased to reveal with their words," he explained.
First, "Sacred Scripture is one by virtue of the unity of God's plan, of which Jesus Christ is the center and the heart."
Second, "Scripture must be read in the context of the living Tradition of the entire Church. ... In her Tradition the Church carries the living memory of the Word of God, and it is the Holy Spirit Who provides her with the interpretation thereof in accordance with its spiritual meaning.
"The third criterion concerns the need to pay attention to the analogy of the faith; that is, to the cohesion of the individual truths of faith, both with one another and with the overall plan of Revelation and the fullness of the divine economy enclosed in that plan."
The task of scholars, the Holy Father said, "is to contribute, following the above-mentioned principles, to a more profound interpretation and exposition of the meaning of Sacred Scripture."
Pope Benedict, himself an academic, also warned Catholic biblical scholars that the study of Sacred Scripture cannot be reduced to a purely academic exercise but must involve a perception of "the Word of God in these texts."
"The interpretation of Sacred Scriptures cannot be a merely an individual academic undertaking, but must always be compared with, inserted into, and authenticated by the living Tradition of the Church.
"This norm is essential in order to ensure a correct and reciprocal exchange between exegesis and Church Magisterium," the Pope stated.
But the Holy Father went further, offering a corrective reminder to biblical scholars, saying, "Catholic exegetes do not nourish the individualistic illusion that biblical texts can be better understood outside the community of believers. The opposite is true, because these texts were not given to individual scholars 'to satisfy their curiosity or to provide them with material for study and research'. The texts inspired by God were entrusted to the community of believers, to the Church of Christ, to nourish the faith and to guide the life of charity."
The Pontiff also summarized the Church's understanding of Scripture and Tradition.
"Sacred Scripture is the Word of God in that it is written down under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Tradition, on the other hand, integrally transmits the Word of God as entrusted by Christ the Lord and by the Holy Spirit to the Apostles and their successors so that they, illuminated by the Spirit of truth, could faithfully conserve, explain and spread it through their preaching."
Benedict XVI closed his address to the commission by emphasizing the need to harmonize the Magisterium and academic scholarship. "Only within the ecclesial context can Sacred Scripture be understood as the authentic Word of God which is guide, norm and rule for the life of the Church and the spiritual development of believers. This means rejecting all interpretations that are subjective or limited to mere analysis [and hence] incapable of accepting the global meaning which, over the course of the centuries, has guided the Tradition of the entire people of God."