VATICAN CITY, 23 APR 2009 ( VIS ) – This morning the Pope received thirty representatives of the Pontifical Biblical Commission who have just held their plenary assembly, dedicated to the theme: “Inspiration and truth in the Bible”. The president of the commission is 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, which is the soul of theology and, at the same time, the inspiration of all of Christian life”. Moreover, “the interpretation of Sacred Scripture is of vital importance for Christian faith and for the life of the Church”.
“From a correct approach to the concept of divine inspiration and truth in Sacred Scripture derive certain norms that directly concern its interpretation”, said the Pope. “The Constitution ‘Dei Verbum’, having affirmed that God is the author of the Bible, reminds us that in Sacred Scripture God speaks to mankind in a human manner. 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”.
The Pope then recalled how Vatican Council II had identified “three perennially-valid criteria for interpreting Sacred Scripture in accordance with the Spirit that inspired it. In the first place, great attention must be given to the content and unity of the whole of Scripture. Indeed, however different the books it contains may be, Sacred Scripture is one by virtue of the unity of God’s plan, of which Jesus Christ is the centre and the heart.
“In the second place”, he added, “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 went on, “is to contribute, following the above-mentioned principles, to a more profound interpretation and exposition of the meaning of Sacred Scripture. The academic study of the sacred texts is not by itself sufficient. In order to respect the coherence of the Church’s faith, Catholic exegetes must be careful to perceive the Word of God in these texts, within the faith of the Church”.
“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. 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”.
“Sacred Scripture is the Word of God in that its 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”.
“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”.