"Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ."

St. Jerome

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The Holy Bible

"The Holy Bible is a collection of writings which the Church of God has solemnly recognized as inspired. The Bible itself is derived from the Greek expression “ta biblia” (the books), which came into use in the early centuries of Christianity to designate the whole sacred volume. In the Latin of the Middle Ages, the neuter plural for Biblia (gen. bibliorum) gradually came to be regarded as a feminine singular noun (biblia, gen. bibliae), in which singular form the word has passed into the languages of the Western world. It means "The Book", by way of eminence, and therefore well sets forth the sacred character of our inspired texts. Its most important equivalents are: "The Divine Library" (Bibliotheca Divina), which was employed by St. Jerome in the fourth century; "the Scriptures", "the Holy Scripture" — terms which are derived from expressions found in the Bible itself; and "the Old and New Testament", in which collective title, "the Old Testament" designates the sacred books written before the coming of Our Lord, and "the New Testament" denotes the inspired writings composed since the coming of Christ.

It is a fact of history that in the time of Christ the Jews were in possession of sacred books, which differed widely from one another in subject, style, origin and scope, and it is also a fact that they regarded all such writings as invested with a character which distinguished them from all other books. This was the Divine authority of every one of these books and of every part of each book. This belief of the Jews was confirmed by Our Lord and His Apostles; for they supposed its truth in their teaching, used it as a foundation of their doctrine, and intimately connected with it the religious system of which they were the founders. The books thus approved were handed down to the Christian Church as the written record of Divine revelation before the coming of Christ. The truths of Christian revelation were made known to the Apostles either by Christ Himself or by the Holy Ghost. They constitute what is called the Deposit of Faith, to which nothing has been added since the Apostolic Age. Some of the truths were committed to writing under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost and have been handed down to us in the books of the New Testament. Written originally to individual Churches or persons, to meet particular necessities, and accommodated as they all were to particular and existing circumstances, these books were gradually received by the universal Church as inspired, and with the sacred books of the Jews constitute the Bible.

In one respect, therefore, the Bible is a twofold literature, made up of two distinct collections which correspond with two successive and unequal periods of time in the history of man. The older of these collection, mostly written in Hebrew, corresponds with the many centuries during which the Jewish people enjoyed a national existence, and forms the Hebrew, or Old Testament, literature; the more recent collection, begun not long after Our Lord's ascension, and made up of Greek writings, is the Early Christian, or New Testament, literature.


Yet, in another and deeper respect, the Biblical literature is pre-eminently one. Its two sets of writings are most closely connected with regard to doctrines revealed, facts recorded, customs described, and even expressions used. Above all, both collection have one and the same religious purpose, one and the same inspired character. They form the two parts of a great organic whole the centre of which is the person and mission of Christ. The same Spirit exercised His mysterious hidden influence on the writings of both Testaments, and made of the works of those who lived before Our Lord an active and steady preparation for the New Testament dispensation which he was to introduce, and of the works of those who wrote after Him a real continuation and striking fulfilment of the old Covenant.

The Bible, as the inspired recorded of revelation, contains the word of God; that is, it contains those revealed truths which the Holy Ghost wishes to be transmitted in writing. However, all revealed truths are not contained in the Bible; neither is every truth in the Bible revealed, if by revelation is meant the manifestation of hidden truths which could not other be known. Much of the Scripture came to its writers through the channels of ordinary knowledge, but its sacred character and Divine authority are not limited to those parts which contain revelation strictly so termed. The Bible not only contains the word of God; it is the word of God. The primary author is the Holy Ghost, or, as it is commonly expressed, the human authors wrote under the influence of Divine inspiration. It was declared by the Vatican Council (Sess. III, c. ii) that the sacred and canonical character of Scripture would not be sufficiently explained by saying that the books were composed by human diligence and then approved by the Church, or that they contained revelation without error. They are sacred and canonical "because, having been written by inspiration of the Holy Ghost, that have God for their author, and as such have been handed down to the Church". The inerrancy of the Bible follows as a consequence of this Divine authorship. Wherever the sacred writer makes a statement as his own, that statement is the word of God and infallibly true, whatever be the subject-matter of the statement.

It will be seen, therefore, that though the inspiration of any writer and the sacred character of his work be antecedent to its recognition by the Church yet we are dependent upon the Church for our knowledge of the existence of this inspiration. She is the appointed witness and guardian of revelation. From her alone we know what books belong to the Bible."

(The Bible, Catholic Encyclopedia)

Canon of the Old Testament

The Greek kanon means primarily a reed, or measuring-rod: by a natural figure it was employed by ancient writers both profane and religious to denote a rule or standard. We find the substantive first applied to the Sacred Scriptures in the fourth century, by St. Athanasius; for its derivatives, the Council of Laodicea of the same period speaks of the kanonika biblia and Athanasius of the biblia kanonizomena. The latter phrase proves that the passive sense of canon — that of a regulated and defined collection — was already in use, and this has remained the prevailing connotation of the word in ecclesiastical literature.

Often, it is said that the expression "deuterocanonical books" was created by the Fathers of the Council of Trent (1545-1563). That is not correct. But it is true that the expression was used for the first time by a theologian connected with that council, Sixtus of Siena (1520-1569) in his De divinis nominibus bibliothecae sanctae published in 1566.1 Sixtus was a Jew converted to Christianity. He became a Franciscan, then a Dominican. In the beginning of his book, he asks the question: "what are the canonical and apocryphal Scriptures and authors" (canonicae et apocryphae scripturae et scriptores quid sint). In his answer, he makes a distinction between three categories of books:

  1. the canonical books of the first order, which he calls "protocanonical"
  2. the canonical books of the second order, in other words "deuterocanonical"
  3. and the "apocryphal" books, "apocryphae," the meaning of which is of two kinds, "duobus modis:" first, there are the canonical books the authors of which are uncertain; secondly, there are the books the authority of which is uncertain, such as 3-4 Ezra, 3-4 Maccabees, and others; they cannot be used either in the dogmatic field nor for public edification, but are reserved for private reading, at home, "privatim et domi."

According to Sixtus, the authority of the protocanonical books was never discussed in the Catholic Church and they have been always used in an authoritative manner in dogmatic problems; he does not list these books, except the five books of Moses and the four gospels. He gives many more details about the deuterocanonical books: in the Old Testament, those are Esther, Tobit, Judith, Baruch, Letter of Jeremiah, Wisdom of Solomon, Ben Sira, Prayer of Azariah, Hymn of the Three Children, Susanna, Bel, 1-2 Maccabees; according to him, those books were not known during the apostolic ages by all the Church; they were read by the catechumens at the time of Athanasius, then they were used for public edification, as Rufinus tells.2

Sixtus innovates. Before him, in conciliary decrees the books he calls protocanonical and deuterocanonical were mixed together. For instance, canon 36 of the Council of Carthage (397 AD) speaks about Solomon's books, which are said to be three, four or five according to the variant readings of the manuscripts. These books are quoted between the Psalter and the Twelve Prophets. If there are only three, these are necessarily Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Song of Songs, which are canonical books; but, if they are four, Wisdom, a deuterocanonical book, is included; if they are five, Wisdom and probably Ben Sira, both deuterocanonical, are included. In the same list, Tobit and Judith are quoted between Daniel and Esther. Nevertheless, the list finishes with 1-2 Maccabees.3 Much later, in 1442, one of the decrees of the council of Florence, the Bulla unionis coptorum, quotes Tobit and Judith between Nehemiah and Esther; Wisdom and Ben Sira between Song of Songs and Isaiah; Baruch between Jeremiah and Ezekiel.4 In 1546, the Council of Trent gives the same list.5

Before the word "deuterocanonical," was there another word for saying the same thing? Sixtus’ text furnishes an interesting indication: the theologian says that the books of the second order "were called in the past ecclesiastical, ecclesiastici, and called by us deuterocanonical." Who, in the past, has spoken about ecclesiastical books? In the days of the Council of Trent, two theologians, the Dominican Pietro Bertano and the Augustinian Girolamo Seripando, suggested that it is necessary to distinguish two categories of books. First, the authentic and canonical ones, on which our faith depends (authentici et canonici et a quibus fides nostra dependeat); secondly, the books merely canonical, which are suited to teaching and useful for reading in the churches (canonici tantum quique ad docendum idonei et ad legendum in ecclesiis utiles sunt).6 Certainly, here, the word "ecclesiastic" is not present. But in his treatise De libris sacrae scripturae (1546), the same Girolamo Seripando makes a distinction between the canonical and authentic books, the authority of which is able to confirm ecclesiastical dogmas (canonici et authentici [... ) quorum auctoritas valeat ad confirmanda dogmatica ecclesiastica), and the canonical and ecclesiastical books, which are to be read for edification, but are not authentic, that is are not sufficient in order to confirm ecclesiastical dogmas, (canonici et ecclesiastici [... }legendi scilicet ad aedificationem plebes, non autem [... ) authentici, hoc est tanquam sufficientes per se ad confirmanda dogmata ecclesiastica).7

To the second category belong Tobit, Judith, Wisdom, Ben Sira, Maccabees, 1-2 Ezra, Baruch. To establish this point, Girolamo Seripando quotes patristic authorities, above all Jerome's Prologus in libris Salomonis. In fact, in this text, speaking about Ben Sira and Wisdom, the Latin Father explains that

the Church reads Judith, Tobit and Maccabees, but does not receive them among canonical Scriptures; in the same way, the Church must read these two books for public edification, but not in order to confirm the authority of ecclesiastical dogmas (sicut ergo Iudith et Tobi et Machabeorum libros legit quidem eccIesia, sed inter canonicas scripturas non recipit, sic et haec duo volumina legat ad aediftcationem plebes, non ad auctoritatem eccIesiasticorum dogma tum confirmandam).8

Does Sixtus refer to Girolamo Seripando and, beyond him, to Jerome? In his text, he quotes only Rufinus and his Expositio symboli, in which Rufinus makes a distinction between canonical books (canonici), and ecclesiastical books (ecclesiastici, § 36).9 Those are: Wisdom, Ben Sira, Tobit, Judith, Maccabees. According to him, the churches agree that all those books are to be read, but they cannot be produced in order to confirm the authority of faith (quae omnia legi quidem in ecclesiis voluerunt, non tamen proferri ad auctoritatem ex his fidei confirmandam). Nevertheless, this idea is closely related to Jerome's proposal. One can even wonder whether Sixtus is not referring to Jerome, more than to Rufinus, when he makes a distinction between the confirmation of dogmas and the teaching of people (dogmatum confirmatio [...J populi instructio). These words are quite close to the distinction made by Jerome in his Prologus in libris Salomonis between the confirmation of the authority of ecclesiastical dogmas (auctoritas ecclesiasticorum dogmatum confirmanda) and public edification (aedificatio plebes).

However, a point must be underlined: Rufinus asserts that the books of the second category "have been called by the elders not canonical, but ecclesiastical" (non canonici, sed ecclesiastici a maioribus appel/ati sunt). Are the words "ecclesiastical books" attested before Rufinus? Unfortunately, they do not occur in any text, either Latin or Greek. That does not mean that Rufinus is a liar, but only that there are big gaps in our knowledge of ancient data. Then, is it possible to go back in time before Rufinus? In his Letter to Africanus, Origen reminds Africanus that the story of Susanna is "in circulation in all Christ's Church", as well as Bel and the Dragon (§ 3). He speaks also about the Christian manuscripts offering the hymn of the three children which are "in circulation in the churches", about the Greek additions to Esther (§ 5), about the end of Job (§ 6), and about Tobit and Judith, that the Jews do not use contrary to the churches (§ 19). Origen thinks that it is impossible to change the manuscripts and the texts that "are in circulation in the churches".10 Certainly, the Greek word ecclesiastikos does not occur in Origen' Letter, but the idea is present.

However, one thing is certain: the expression "ecclesiastical books" is Christian, not Jewish. But all the "ecclesiastical" books are Jewish. Some of them are translated from Hebrew, such as 1 Maccabees, Ben Sira, Judith and some passages of Tobit; others from the Aramaic language, such as most of Tobit and the beginning of 2 Maccabees; others have been written in Greek, such as Wisdom, most of 2 Maccabees and 3-4 Maccabees.11 Therefore, there is a contrast, perhaps a contradiction, between the Christian term and the Jewish origin. Is it possible to account for this contrast? Here, the patristic and rabbinic data have to be taken into account.


Facing the deuterocanonical/ecclesiastical books, the Fathers do not all behave in the same way. Some of them list them among the others biblical books, without classifying them in a special category. But more often, they enumerate them separately. In the second century, Melito of Sardis quotes Solomon's Proverbs, "alias Wisdom".12 Perhaps this book is really Proverbs; in that case, Melito does not list any deuterocanonical works. But maybe it is Wisdom, which, should then be the only deuterocanonical book indicated by Melito in his list. Around 400 AD, according to John Chrysostom, in the Protheoria of his Synopsis, the books belonging to the exhortative manner are Proverbs, Ben Sira (that is Ecclesiasticus), Ecclesiastes and Song of Songs.13 In the text which follows the Protheoria, 1-2 Chronicles is followed by 1-2 Ezra, Esther, Tobit, Judith, Job, Wisdom, Proverbs, Ben Sira, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezechiel, Daniel, and the Twelve. Among the Latins, Cheltenham's list and Gelasius' Decree quote the deuterocanonical books on a level equal with the canonical ones.14 The same occurs in Augustine: Tobit, Esther, Judith and 1-2 Maccabees are quoted between Job and 1-2 Ezra (De doctrina christiana II 8,13).15

When they comment on the Bible or give quotations of it, the Fathers often consider the deuterocanonical books as Scripture. Wisdom is quoted as Scripture by Clement of Rome, Tatian, the letter To Diognetus, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Cyprian and others. Here are the deuterocanonical books that Origen quotes as Scripture in his treatise De Principiis: 2 Maccabees 7:28 (in II 1,5); Wisdom 11:20 (in II 9,1 and IV 4,8) and 15:11 (in III 4,1); Tobit 5:4 (in III 2,4) and 13:18 (in II 3,5); Ben Sira 6:4 (in II 8,4); 16:21 (in IV 3,14); 43:20 (in II 8,3); Susanna 42 (in III 1,2 et III 1,17). More often, the Fathers deal with the deuterocanonical books separately. The lists that they give are more or less numerous. According to Origen, who describes the canon of the Hebrews, there is only one book "outside" the canonical books: the Maccabees, the Hebrew title of which is Sarbethsabanaiel a title on which much has been written.16 Thanks to Jerome who, in the so-called Galeatus prologue, tells that he has found 1 Maccabees in Hebrew and 2 Maccabees in Greek, one can identify the "Maccabees" with 1 Maccabees.17

A short list containing only two books appears in Epiphanius, Panarion I 8,6,1-4: Wisdom and Ben Sira, which are said to be "in dispute" and form a category that Epiphanius distinguishes from the apocryphal books.18 In his treatise De mensuris et ponderibus (§ 4), the same Epiphanius calls those two books "useful" and "beneficial".19 According to Josippus (end of the fourth century AD), Esther and Maccabees are "outside" the canonical books.20 During the first part of the eighth century, according to John Damascenus, the two Wisdoms, Solomon's and that of Ben Sira, are said to be "virtuous" and "beautiful", but they are not included among the canonical books.21 On the Latin side, Hilarius of Poitiers (middle of the fourth century AD) asserts that Tobit and Judith are "added" books (additi): they probably are deuterocanonical books.22

Another short list is attested around 600. According to the Barberinianus gr. 317, twenty-two books are common to Hebrews and Christians; then, the list criticizes "some" for not mentioning the "remaining" books, which are Solomon's Wisdom, called also Panaretos, Esther, Tobit and Judith.23 To the first short list, this list adds Wisdom and Esther. One can be surprised by the mention of Esther, since this book belongs to the Hebrew canon. But, in ancient Christianity, the status of this book is threefold. Esther often belongs to the Christian canon. Sometimes, among Greek and Syriac authors, such as Melito, Gregory Nazianzenus, Amphilochius Iconiensis and the ancient Peshitto, Esther does not belong to the canon.24 And last, according to Athanasius, Pseudo-Athanasius (§ 2,41-46,74), Josippus, and Pseudo-Nicephorus, Esther is neither canonical nor apocryphal: it belongs to the socalled deuterocanonical category.25 It even happens that a Father contradicts himself. Origen, who quotes Esther as Scripture in his De Principiis (III 2, 4), but, when he is living in Caesarea, refers to it on a level with Tobit, Judith and Wisdom.26

Athanasius enumerates five books: Wisdom, Ben Sira, Esther, Judith and Tobit.27 The same list is given by Pseudo-Athanasius (Synopsis, § 2 and 4146).28 Among the Latin Fathers, Rufinus enumerates what he calls the ecclesiastical books: the two Wisdoms, that is Solomon's and Ben Sira's, Tobit, Judith and "Maccabees' books," probably 1-2 Maccabees.29 In the Galeatus prologue, Jerome speaks about the two Wisdoms, Judith, Tobit, 1-2 Maccabees.30 Around 600, Isidorus of Seville tells that "the Hebrews do not receive" Tobit, Judith and 1-2 Maccabees, but adds that "the Church includes them among canonical Scriptures." He gives closely related information on Wisdom and Ben Sira.31

A large list with nine books is given by the Oxoniensis Baroccianus 206 list: here, the "outside" (feW) books are numbered from one to nine: Solomon's Wisdom, Ben Sira's Wisdom, 1 Maccabees, 2 Maccabees, 3 Maccabees, 4 Maccabees, Esther, Judith, Tobit.32

Another large lists are attested. Around 900, Pseudo-Nicephorus list 13 Maccabees, Wisdom, Ben Sira, Solomon's Psalms and Odes, Esther, Judith, Susanna and Tobit.33 He probably counted those ten books as eight, 1-3 Maccabees being only one book. According to Pseudo-Athanasius (fifth century?), there are thirteen deuterocanonical books (§ 74): Wisdom, Ben Sira, Esther, Judith, Tobit, 1-4 Maccabees, "Ptolemaics", Solomon's Psalms and Ode (in the singular), Susanna.34 This list offers two strange features: first, 1-4 Maccabees together with Ptolemaics, which is probably 3 Maccabees, since this book tells the story of a Ptolemaic king; second, Susanna, which, as a rule, goes with Daniel. One can notice that the same author, Pseudo-Athanasius, offers a medium list (§ 2 and 41-46) as well as a large one (§ 74).

In sum, the deuterocanonical books are characterized by variability. This point has been already underlined in the case of Esther, which either belongs to the canon or not, or is a deuterocanonical book. Other variations can be pointed out. First, there are changes among the titles: Proverbs is called Wisdom by Melito and Panaretos Sophia by Hegesippus, Irenaeus and "the entire choir of the Elders".35 Nevertheless, here, the book could be Wisdom. Conversely, Panaretos is the title given to Wisdom by Epiphanius (De mensuris et ponderibus 7), John Damascenus, Pseudo-Athanasius and Baroccianus gr. 317 list. Ben Sira is called Wisdom by Origen (De Principiis II 8,3), Panaretos by Jerome and Proverbs in a Hebrew manuscript that Jerome knows (Prologus in libris Salomonis).36 One can lose his way!


There are also variations in terminology. Jerome who, as a rule, distinguishes deuterocanonical books and apocryphal ones, eventually ranks the former among the latter in the Galeatus Prologue.37 In the Dialogus Timothei et Aquilae (fifth or sixth century), Timothy calls apocryphal Tobit, Wisdom and Ben Sira and asserts that Judith belongs to the Hebrew canon.38

PseudoAthanasius calls the deuterocanonical books "contested" ones. He borrows this word from Eusebius, but the latter used it only for books of New Testament and apostolic ages (Historia ecclesiastica III 3,6 and 25,3). Once, speaking about Tobit, Origen says that the Jews "contest" it, (De Oratione 14). Thus, a lot of confusion is created. A final variation and confusion is to be noted. The Fathers agree that the deuterocanonical books are "useful" and "beneficial" (Epiphanius, De mensuris et ponderibus 4). But they do not agree on how to define that usefulness. Origen, Athanasius and Pseudo-Athanasius advise the beginners or the catechumens to read these books. In the apostolic canon 85, their reading is recommended to young people, who are not necessarily the same as the catechumens.39 According to Rufinus (Expositio symboli 34-36) and Jerome (Prologus in libris Salomonis), the deuterocanonical books are of use for public edification, but not to confirm the authority of ecclesiastical dogmas. Therefore, maybe the readers of the deuterocanonical books have changed their views through time and space.


Is it possible to get out of this confusion? Eric Junod said twenty years ago that the Fathers distinguish three categories of books: the "testamentary" books, the "apocryphal" books, and the "other books", those that Catholics nowadays call deuterocanonical and Protestants, apocryphal.40 Junod has demonstrated that the words "testamentary" and "apocryphal" went back to the Greek-speaking Jews. But he says that he cannot draw the same conclusion with regard to the "other books," because the Fathers never give the name of that third category. Is that assertion sure? As has been said before, in his De oratione 14, Origen claims that the Jews "speak against Tobit as not being testamentary". That could suggest that, for Greek-speaking Jews, Tobit was a "contested book." But has that term a Jewish origin? First, the technical word “contested” does not occur in Origen, as it will later in Eusebius, but only the verb in the plural. Secondly, using this verb, Origen gives his point of view concerning the Jews, but he does not claim to quote their opinion literally. Therefore, it seems that this text does not give us definitive evidence.

Elsewhere, Origen is more useful. According to him, Josippus, Baroccianus gr. 206 list, and canon 85 quoted in the Constitutiones Apostolorum (VIII 47,85), there are books which are "outside" the deuterocanonical ones. Certainly, there is not any "outside" book in Hellenistic Judaism. But that expression points to the books which the rabbinic tradition calls םינֵּוֹציחִ, "outside". B.Sanhedrin 100b tells that, according to an anonymous tanna, those outside books were heretical. But the passage goes on to quote a saying from Rab Yosef ben Chiyya (around 320): "it is forbidden to read the book of Ben Sira," in other words Ecclesiasticus. Then a discussion between Yosef and his pupil Abaye follows on the reasons for that ban. Certainly, this passage has given rise to much debate: does it forbid only the public reading of Ben Sira, or also the private one? Are the םינֵּוֹציחִ books a homogeneous category or do they contain different kinds of books, for instance Jewish apocrypha, heretical books, Christian books? Whatever is said on these points, it is certain that Ben Sira belonged to the םינֵּוֹציחִ at the beginning of the forth century, and perhaps before. If one establishes a connection between this information and the patristic data, the םינֵּוֹציחִ books can be listed as follows: around the beginning of the fourth century, Ben Sira (according to Yosef), Esther (according to Josippus), Maccabees (according to Origen and Josippus). Here, Maccabees is either the first or the first and the second. During the sixth century, according to the list in Baroccianus gr. 206, there are nine: Wisdom, Ben Sira, 1-4 Maccabees, Esther, Judith, Tobit.

Another suggestion can be made. One can notice that several Fathers (Origen, Athanasius, Rufinus, Jerome) assert that deuterocanonical books are valid for reading. Pseudo-Athanasius (§ 2,41,74) even makes a distinction between the "canonical books". Therefore, the question is: could the expression "read books" or "only read books" be an ancient and Jewish technical indication? Apparently, in the rabbinic tradition, there is no category of books called םיאוֹרקֶ or םיאוֹרקֶם (possibly with the addition of ךְא), different from "written books" (םיבִוֹתּכֵ). Nevertheless, in the same rabbinic tradition, the verb "to write" contrasts with several other verbs. Some of those oppositions do not matter for our subject, as "to read" versus "to translate" or "to read" versus "to recite by heart" (y.Megillah 74d). On the other hand, there is a contrast between "to read" versus "to write", different from the opposition between ירקֶ and בִיתּכֵ in the t.Megillah 2,5, around 150, Rabbi Meir went to Assya to intercalate the year; in that place, he did not find a scroll of Esther written in Hebrew. So he wrote a scroll out of memory and then he went, probably to the synagogue, and read Esther from the new scroll. In b.Megillah (3b), around 200, Rabbi leaves the study of the Torah in order to listen to the reading of Esther and, according to rabbi Nahman b. Isaac (around 350), the reading of the Esther scroll is equivalent to the recitation of the Hallel. In the same treatise (7a), Mar Samuel, around 250, asserts that it has been said that Esther is for reading, not for being written. Thus, in those texts, it seems that there are two kinds of books: the former, such as the Torah, are available for public reading and study; the latter, such as Esther, are only valid for private reading and are not to be studied. Here, one must remember that Fathers of the first centuries had not written commentaries on deuterocanonical books nor pronounced homilies. Maybe they had inherited some Jewish practices. To summarize: perhaps, some of the deuterocanonical books are the result of Jewish books which were read, but not studied. Esther is one of those books; then, later, because of the development of the Purim liturgy, Esther became one of the so-called םיבִוֹתּכֵ; on the other hand, Ben Sira, which was written to be studied as the Greek translator's prologue tells, had exchanged its canonical status for the status of an unstudied book.

One can ask a last question: are deuterocanonical books a homogeneous category? Are the "outside" books identical to the "read books?" Do the Hebrew or Aramaic books belong to the same category as the Greek ones? In the list of Baroccianus gr. 206, all the deuterocanonical books are grouped together. But we are in a late period, around the sixth century. Two centuries before, according to Josippus, Esther and Maccabees belong to the same category: the "outside books." At the same time, according to rabbinic tradition, Ben Sira also belongs to that category. Some time before, Origen says the same about Maccabees. Here, there is an argument for the literary unity of some of the books. But can we generalize and assume that the other books, Judith, Tobit, Wisdom and the entire collection of Maccabees were also a unity? Judith and Tobit were written either in Hebrew or in Aramaic: perhaps these books can be put in the same category as Esther, 1 Maccabees and Ben Sira. But, the other books were written in Greek. Therefore, to come to the same conclusion, we must suppose that the Greek-speaking Jews read these books, but did not study them. This implies, first, that they behaved as the Hebrew-speaking Jews in Jerusalem and Babylon, secondly, that they had some "read" books, which Jerusalem and Babylon did not have. These two points are plausible, but not really demonstrated.

In conclusion, let us return to Sixtus of Siena. The deuterocanonical books he enumerated were Esther, Tobit, Judith, Baruch, Letter of Jeremiah, Wisdom of Solomon, Ben Sira, Prayer of Azariah, Hymn of the three children, Susana, Bel, 1 and 2 Maccabees. Apparently, six or seven of these thirteen books or biblical passages do not belong to the "outside" books or the "read" books: Baruch, Letter of Jeremiah, Prayer of Azariah, Hymn of the three children, Susanna, Bel, perhaps 2 Maccabees. But Origen explains that Susanna, Bel, Tobit and Judith were in circulation in the churches, and that Wisdom is useful for beginners.41 Moreover, 2 Maccabees perhaps belongs to the socalled "Maccabaics," about which Origen and Josippus spoke. Finally, Prayer of Azariah and Hymn of the three children are parts of Greek Daniel: 3:24-45 and 3:51-90. Nevertheless, there is a contrast between the deuterocanonical books of modem times and those of ancient times. It can be explained as follows: among the Christians, Baruch and the Letter of Jeremiah were grouped with Jeremiah and Lamentations; Susanna and Bel with Daniel. On the other hand, among the Jews, Baruch and the Letter of Jeremiah were probably autonomous books, but we have no information about their literary status.42 Were they "outside" books or "read" books? Were they connected to biblical books only by Christian Fathers? We do not know.

(The Books of the Maccabees: History, Theology, Ideology, Gilles Dorival, pp. 1-10)

1 G. Bedouelle, "Le canon de l' Ancien Testament dans la perspective du concile de Trente," in Le canon de I'Ancien Testament.

2 The beginning of Sixtus' text has been published again in Bedouelle, "Le canon," 280-82.

3 Conciliae Africae, a. 345-a. 525 (ed. C. Munier, CCSL 149, Turnhout: Brepols 1974) 43.

4 Les eoneiles reeumeniques. Les Deerets. Tome II-I : Nicee I II Latran V (ed. G. Alberigo, Paris: Cerf 1994) 1170-71.

5 Les eoneiles reeumeniques. Les Deerets. Tome II-2 : Trente II Vatican II (ed. G. Alberigo, Paris: Cerf 1994) 1350-53.

6 Bedouelle, "Le canon," 264-65. The text of the two theologians can be read in Societas Goerresiana, Coneilium Tridentinum (tome 5, Freiburg: Herder 1901ss.) 7, 1. 1114 (= Bedouelle, n . 32).

7 Text published by Bedouelle, "Le canon," 277-79.

8 Biblia sacra iuxta vulgatam versionem (ed. R. Weber and R. Gryson, Stuttgart: Deutsche BibelgeseUschaft 1969, 19944 ) 957.

9 Rufin d' AquiJee, Expositio symboli (ed. M. Simonetti, CCSL 20, Tumhout: Brepols 1961) 170-71.

10 Origene, La Lettre aAfricanus sur l'histoire de Suzanne (ed. N. de Lange, SC 302, Paris: Cerf 1983) 522-73.

11 M. Harl, G. Dorival and O. Munnich, La Bible grecque des Septante du judaj'sme hellt!nistique au christianisme ancien (Paris: Cerf 1988, 19942) 84-86. In fact, there is much debate among scholars on that point.

12 Melito, Eklogai, quoted by Eusebius of Caesarea, Ecclesiastical History IV 26,12-14 (ed. G. Bardy, SC 31, Paris: Cerf 1952).

13 John Chrysostom, Synopsis, PG 56: 313-85 (Protheoria, 313-317). The Synopsis and its authenticity are discussed by G. Dorival, Qu'est-ce qu'un corpus litteraire? Recherches sur Ie corpus biblique et les corpus patristiques (Leuven: Peeters 2005), 53-93: "chapitre 3. L' apport des Synopses transmises sous Ie nom d' Athanase et de Jean Chrysostome a la question du corpus litteraire de la Bible."

14 The list of Cheltenham has been published by T. Mommsen, "Zur lateinischen Stichometrie," Hermes 21 (1886) 142-46; Gelasius' Decree, by E. von Dobschiitz (TU XXXVIII 4, Leipzig: Hinrichs 1912).

15 Augustinus, De doctrina christiana (ed. J. Martin, CCSL 32, Turnhout: Brepols 1962) 39-40.

16 Origen, Commentary on Psalm 1 quoted by Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History VI 25 (ed. G. Bardy, SC 41, Paris: cerf 1955).

17 Biblia sacra iuxta vulgatam versionem, 365.

18 Epiphanius, Panarion (ed. K. H611, GCS 25, Leipzig: Hinrichs 1925) 191-192

19 Epiphanius, De mensuris et ponderibus, PG 43: 244.

20 Josippus, Hypomnesticon I 25, PG 106: 32.

21 John Damascenus, De fide orthodoxa, PG 94: 1180.

22 Hilarius, Tractatus super psalmos, Instructio psalmorum 15 (ed. A. Zingerle, CSEL 22, Turnhout: Brepols 1891) 3-19.

23 Dorival, Qu'est-ce qu'un corpus litteraire, 95-108: "chapter 5. Le document synoptique du Barberinianus gr. 317 (III 36)."

24 See Melito, Eklogai (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History IV 26,12-14); Gregory Nazianzenus, Poems I 12, PG 37: 472-74; Amphilochius Iconiensis, Iambs to Seleucos 251-319, PG 37:1577-1600.

25 Athanasius, Festal letter 39 (a. 394), PG 26: 1436-40 and 1176-80; Pseudo-Athanasius, Synopsis, PG 28: 284-437; Josippus, Hypomnesticon, PG 106: 32; Pseudo-Nicephorus, Chronographia (ed. T. Zahn, Geschichte des Neutestamentlichen Kanons, 2/1, Erlangen and Leipzig: Deichert 1890) 299.

26 Origen, Homelies on Numbers 27, 1, 3 (ed. L. Doutreleau, SC 461, Paris: Cerf 2002) 272-73.

27 Athanasius, Festal letter 39.

28 Pseudo-Athanasius, Synopsis, PG 28: 284-437.

29 Rufinus, Expositio symboli 36 (ed. Simonetti) 170-71.

30 Biblia sacra iuxta vulgatam versionem, 365.

31 Isidorus, In libros Veteris et Novi Testamenti Proemia, PL 83: 157-58.

32 Zahn, Geschichte, 291-92.

33 Pseudo-Nicephorus, Chronographia (ed. Zahn) 299.

34 Pseudo-Athanasius, Synopsis, PG 28: 288-437.

35 According to Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History IV 22, 9 (ed. G. Bardy, Paris: Cerf 1952).

36 Biblia sacra iuxta vulgatam versionem, 957.

37 Biblia sacra iuxta vulgatam versionem, 364-66.

38 Ed. F.e. Conybeare (Oxford: Clarendon 1898) 66.

39 Ed. B.M. Metzger, Constitutions apostoliques VIII 47,85 (SC 336, Paris: Cerf 1987) 306-09.

40 E. Junod, "La fonnation et la composition de l' Ancien Testament dans I'eglise grecque des quatre premiers siec1es," I.e canon de l'Ancien Testament, 105-51.

41 Origen, Letter to Africanus 3-6 and 19; Homelies on Numbers 271,3.

42 La Bible d'Alexandrie. Baruch, Lamentations, Lettre de ,bernie (eds. I. Assan-Dhote & J. Fine, Paris: Cerf 2005) 22, 50 and 297.

Biblical Inspiration

Nature of Inspiration:

(1) To determine the nature of Biblical inspiration the theologian has at his disposal a threefold source of information: the data of tradition, the concept of inspiration, and the concrete state of the inspired text. If he wishes to obtain acceptable results he will take into account all of these elements of solution. Pure speculation might easily end in a theory incompatible with the texts. On the other hand, the literary or historical analysis of these same texts, if left to its own resources, ignores their Divine origin. Finally, if the data of tradition attest the fact of inspiration, they do not furnish us with a complete analysis of its nature. Hence, theology, philosophy, and exegesis have each a word to say on this subject. Positive theology furnishes a starting point in its traditional formulae: viz., God is the author of Scripture, the inspired writer is the organ of the Holy Ghost, Scripture is the Word of God. Speculative theology takes these formulæ, analyses their contents and from them draws its conclusions. In this way St. Thomas, starting from the traditional concept which makes the sacred writer an organ of the Holy Ghost, explains the subordination of his faculties to the action of the Inspirer by the philosophical theory of the instrumental cause (Quodl., VII, Q. vi, a. 14, ad 5um). However, to avoid all risk of going astray, speculation must pay constant attention to the indications furnished by exegesis.

(2) The Catholic who wishes to make a correct analysis of Biblical inspiration must have before his eyes the following ecclesiastical documents: (a) "These books are held by the Church as sacred and canonical, not as having been composed by merely human labour and afterwards approved by her authority, nor merely because they contain revelation without error, but because, written under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, they have God for their author, and have been transmitted to the Church as such." (Concil. Vatic., Sess. III, const. dogm, de Fide, cap. ii, in Denz., 1787). (b) "The Holy Ghost Himself, by His supernatural power, stirred up and impelled the Biblical writers to write, and assisted them while writing in such a manner that they conceived in their minds exactly, and determined to commit to writing faithfully, and render in exact language, with infallible truth, all that God commanded and nothing else; without that, God would not be the author of Scripture in its entirety" (Encycl. Provid. Deus, in Dena., 1952).


Catholic view:

Inspiration can be considered in God, who produces it; in man, who is its object; and in the text, which is its term.

(1) In God inspiration is one of those actions which are ad extra as theologians say; and thus it is common to the three Divine Persons. However, it is attributed by appropriation to the Holy Ghost. It is not one of those graces which have for their immediate and essential object the sanctification of the man who receives them, but one of those called antonomastically charismata, or gratis datae, because they are given primarily for the good of others. Besides, inspiration has this in common with every actual grace, that it is a transitory participation of the Divine power; the inspired writer finding himself invested with it only at the very moment of writing or when thinking about writing.

(2) Considered in the man on whom is bestowed this favor, inspiration affects the will, the intelligence and all the executive faculties of the writer. (a) Without an impulsion given to the will of the writer, it cannot be conceived how God could still remain the principal cause of Scripture, for, in that case, the man would have taken the initiative. Besides that the text of St. Peter is peremptory: "For prophecy came not by the will of man at any time: but the holy men of God spoke, inspired by the Holy Ghost" (2 Peter 1:21). The context shows that there is question of all Scripture, which is a prophecy in the broad sense of the word (pasa propheteia graphes). According to the Encyclical Prov. Deus, "God stirred up and impelled the sacred writers to determine to write all that God meant them to write" (Denz., 1952). Theologians discuss the question whether, in order to impart this motion, God moves the will of the writer directly or decides it by proposing motives of an intellectual order. At any rate, everybody admits that the Holy Ghost can arouse or simply utilize external influences capable of acting on the will of the sacred writer. According to an ancient tradition, St. Mark and St. John wrote their Gospels at the instance of the faithful.

What becomes of human liberty under the influence of Divine inspiration? In principle, it is agreed that the Inspirer can take away from man the power of refusal. In point of fact, it is commonly admitted that the Inspirer, Who does not lack means of obtaining our consent, has respected the freedom of His instruments. An inspiration which is not accompanied by a revelation, which is adapted to the normal play of the faculties of the human soul, which can determine the will of the inspired writer by motives of a human order, does not necessarily suppose that he who is its object is himself conscious of it. If the prophet and the author of the Apocalypse know and say that their pen is guided by the Spirit of God, other Biblical authors seem rather to have been led by "some mysterious influence whose origin was either unknown or not clearly discerned by them." (St. Augustine, De Gen. ad litt., II, xvii, 37; St. Thomas, II-II.171.5 and II-II.173.4). However, most theologians admit that ordinarily the writer was conscious of his own inspiration. From what we have just said it follows that inspiration does not necessarily imply ecstasy, as Philo and, later, the Montanists thought. It is true that some of the orthodox apologists of the second century (Athenagoras, Theophilus of Antioch, St. Justin) have, in the description which they give of Biblical inspiration, been somewhat influenced by the ideas of divination then current amongst the pagans. They are too prone to represent the Biblical writer as a purely passive intermediary, something after the style of the Pythia. Nevertheless, they did not make him out to be an energumen for all that. The Divine intervention, if one is conscious of it, can certainly fill the human soul with a certain awe; but it does not throw it into a state of delirium.

(b) To induce a person to write is not to take on oneself the responsibility of that writing, more especially it is not to become the author of that writing. If God can claim the Scripture as His own work, it is because He has brought even the intellect of the inspired writer under His command. However, we must not represent the Inspirer as putting a ready-made book in the mind of the inspired person. Nor has He necessarily to reveal the contents of the work to be produced. No matter where the knowledge of the writer on this point comes from, whether it be acquired naturally or due to Divine revelation, inspiration has not essentially for its object to teach something new to the sacred writer, but to render him capable of writing with Divine authority. Thus the author of the Acts of the Apostles narrates events in which he himself took part, or which were related to him. It is highly probable that most of the sayings of the Book of Proverbs were familiar to the sages of the East, before being set down in an inspired writing. God, inasmuch as he is the principal cause, when he inspires a writer, subordinates all that writer's cognitive faculties so as to make him accomplish the different actions which would be naturally gone through by a man who, first of all, has the design of composing a book, then gets together his materials, subjects them to a critical examination, arranges them, makes them enter into his plan, and finally brands them with the mark of his personality — i.e. his own peculiar style. The grace of inspiration does not exempt the writer from personal effort, nor does it insure the perfection of his work from an artistic point of view. The author of the Second Book of Maccabees and St. Luke tell the reader of the pains they took to document their work (2 Maccabees 2:24-33; Luke 1:1-4). The imperfections of the work are to be attributed to the instrument. God can, of course, prepare this instrument beforehand, but, at the time of using it, He does not ordinarily make any change in its conditions. When the Creator applies His power to the faculties of a creature outside of the ordinary way, he does so in a manner in keeping with the natural activity of these faculties. Now, in all languages recourse is had to the comparison of light to explain the nature of the human intelligence. That is why St. Thomas (II-II:171:2 and II-II:174:2 ad 3um) gives the name of light or illumination to the intellectual motion communicated by God to the sacred writer. After him, then, we may say that this motion is a peculiar supernatural participation of the Divine light, in virtue of which the writer conceives exactly the work that the Holy Ghost wants him to write. Thanks to this help given to his intellect, the inspired writer judges, with a certitude of Divine order, not only of the opportuneness of the book to be written, but also of the truth of the details and of the whole. However, all theologians do not analyze exactly in the same manner the influence of this light of inspiration.

(c) The influence of the Holy Ghost had to extend also to all the executive faculties of the sacred writer — to his memory, his imagination, and even to the hand with which he formed the letters. Whether this influence proceed immediately from the action of the Inspirer or be a simple assistance, and, again, whether this assistance be positive or merely negative, in any case, everyone admits that its object is to remove all error from the inspired text. Those who hold that even the words are inspired believe that it also forms an integral part of the grace of inspiration itself. However that may be, there is no denying that the inspiration extends, in one way or another, and as far as needful, to all those who have really cooperated in the composition of the sacred text, especially to the secretaries, if the inspired person had any. Seen in this light, the hagiographer no longer appears a passive and inert instrument, abased as it were, by an exterior impulsion; on the contrary, his faculties are elevated to the service of a superior power, which, although distinct, is none the less intimately present and interior. Without losing anything of his personal life, or of his liberty, or even of his spontaneity (since it may happen that he is not conscious of the power which leads him on), man becomes thus the interpreter of God. Such, then is the most comprehensive notion of Divine inspiration. St. Thomas (II-II:171) reduces it to the grace of prophecy, in the broad sense of the word.


(3) Considered in its term, inspiration is nothing else but the biblical text itself. This text was destined by God, Who inspired it, for the universal Church, in order that it might be authentically recognized as His written word. This destination is essential. Without it a book, even if it had been inspired by God, could not become canonical; it would have no more value than a private revelation. That is why any writing dated from a later period than the Apostolical age is condemned ipso facto to be excluded from the canon. The reason of this is that the deposit of the public revelation was complete in the time of the Apostles. They alone had the mission to give to the teaching of Christ the development which was to be opportunely suggested to them by the Paraclete, John 14:26 (see Franzelin, De divina Traditione et Scriptura (Rome, 1870), thesis xxii). Since the Bible is the Word of God, it can be said that every canonical text is for us a Divine lesson, a revelation, even though it may have been written with the aid of inspiration only, and without a revelation properly so called. For this cause, also, it is clear that an inspired text cannot err. That the Bible is free from error is beyond all doubt, the teaching of Tradition. The whole of Scriptural apologetics consists precisely in accounting for this exceptional prerogative. Exegetes and apologists have recourse here to considerations which may be reduced to the following heads:

The original unchanged text, as it left the pen of the sacred writers, is alone in question.

As truth and error are properties of judgment, only the assertions of the sacred writer have to be dealt with. If he makes any affirmation, it is the exegete's duty to discover its meaning and extent; whether he expresses his own views or those of others; whether in quoting another he approves, disapproves, or keeps a silent reserve, etc.

The intention of the writer is to be found out according to the laws of the language in which he writes, and consequently we must take into account the style of literature he wished to use. All styles are compatible with inspiration, because they are all legitimate expressions of human thought, and also, as St. Augustine says (De Trinitate, I, 12), "God, getting books written by men, did not wish them to be composed in a form differing from that used by them." Therefore, a distinction is to be made between the assertion and the expression; it is by means of the latter that we arrive at the former.

These general principles are to be applied to the different books of the Bible, mutatis mutandis, according to the nature of the matter contained in them, the special purpose for which their author wrote them, the traditional explanation which is given of them, the traditional explanation which is given of them, and also according to the decisions of the Church.

Erroneous views proposed by Catholic authors

(1) Those which are wrong because insufficient.

(a) The approbation given by the Church to a merely human writing cannot, by itself, make it inspired Scripture. The contrary opinion hazarded by Sixtus of Siena (1566), renewed by Movers and Haneberg, in the nineteenth century, was condemned by the Vatican Council. (See Denz., 1787).

(b) Biblical inspiration even where it seems to be at its minimum — e.g., in the historical books — is not a simple assistance given to the inspired writers to prevent him from erring, as was thought by Jahn (1793), who followed Holden and perhaps Richard Simon. In order that a text may be Scripture, it is not enough "that it contain revelation without error" (Conc. Vatic., Denz., 1787).

(c) A book composed from merely human resources would not become an inspired text, even if approved of, afterwards, by the Holy Ghost. This subsequent approbation might make the truth contained in the book as credible as if it were an article of the Divine Faith, but it would not give a Divine origin to the book itself. Every inspiration properly so called is antecedent, so much so that it is a contradiction in terms to speak of a subsequent inspiration. This truth seems to have been lost sight of by those moderns who thought they could revive-at the same time making it still less acceptable — a vague hypothesis of Lessius (1585) and of his disciple Bonfrère.

(1) Those which err by excess

A view which errs by excess confounds inspiration with revelation. We have just said that these two Divine operations are not only distinct but may take place separately, although they may also be found together. As a matter of fact, this is what happens whenever God moves the sacred writer to express thoughts or sentiments of which he cannot have acquired knowledge in the ordinary way. There has been some exaggeration in the accusation brought against early writers of having confounded inspiration with revelation; however, it must be admitted that the explicit distinction between these two graces has become more and more emphasized since the time of St. Thomas. This is a very real progress and allows us to make a more exact psychological analysis of inspiration.

Extent of inspiration

The question now is not whether all the Biblical books are inspired in every part, even in the fragments called deuterocanonical: this point, which concerns the integrity of the Canon, has been solved by the Council of Trent (Denz., 784). But are we bound to admit that, in the books or parts of books which are canonical, there is absolutely nothing, either as regards the matter or the form, which does not fall under the Divine inspiration?


Inspiration of the whole subject matter

For the last three centuries there have been author-theologians, exegetes, and especially apologists — such as Holden, Rohling, Lenormant, di Bartolo, and others — who maintained, with more or less confidence, that inspiration was limited to moral and dogmatic teaching, excluding everything in the Bible relating to history and the natural sciences. They think that, in this way, a whole mass of difficulties against the inerrancy of the bible would be removed. But the Church has never ceased to protest against this attempt to restrict the inspiration of the sacred books. This is what took place when Mgr d'Hulst, Rector of the Institut Catholique of Paris, gave a sympathetic account of this opinion in "Le Correspondant" of 25 Jan., 1893. The reply was quickly forthcoming in the Encyclical Providentissimus Deus of the same year. In that Encyclical Leo XIII said:

It will never be lawful to restrict inspiration merely to certain parts of the Holy Scripture, or to grant that the sacred writer could have made a mistake. Nor may the opinion of those be tolerated, who, in order to get out of these difficulties, do not hesitate to suppose that Divine inspiration extends only to what touches faith and morals, on the false plea that the true meaning is sought for less in what God has said than in the motive for which He has said it. (Denz., 1950)

In fact, a limited inspiration contradicts Christian tradition and theological teaching.

Verbal inspiration

Theologians discuss the question, whether inspiration controlled the choice of the words used or operated only in what concerned the sense of the assertions made in the Bible. In the sixteenth century verbal inspiration was the current teaching. The Jesuits of Louvain were the first to react against this opinion. They held "that it is not necessary in order that a text be Holy Scripture, for the Holy Ghost to have inspired the very material words used." The protests against this new opinion were so violent that Bellarmine and Francisco Suárez thought it their duty to tone down the formula by declaring "that all the words of the text have been dictated by the Holy Ghost in what concerns the substance, but differently according to the diverse conditions of the instruments." This opinion went on gaining in precision, and little by little it disentangled itself from the terminology which it had borrowed from the adverse opinion, notably from the word "dictation." Its progress was so rapid that at the beginning of the nineteenth century it was more commonly taught than the theory of verbal inspiration. Cardinal Franzelin seems to have given it its definite form. During the last quarter of a century verbal inspiration has again found partisans, and they become more numerous every day. However, the theologians of today, whilst retaining the terminology of the older school, have profoundly modified the theory itself. They no longer speak of a material dictation of words to the ear of the writer, nor of an interior revelation of the term to be employed, but of a Divine motion extending to every faculty and even to the powers of execution to the writer, and in consequence influencing the whole work, even its editing. Thus the sacred text is wholly the work of God and wholly the work of man, of the latter, by way of instrument, of the former by way of principal cause. Under this rejuvenated form the theory of verbal inspiration shows a marked advance towards reconciliation with the rival opinion. From an exegetical and apologetical point of view it is indifferent which of these two opinions we adopt. All agree that the characteristics of style as well as the imperfections affecting the subject matter itself, belong to the inspired writer. As for the inerrancy of the inspired text it is to the Inspirer that it must be finally attributed, and it matters little if God has insured the truth of His Scripture by the grace of inspiration itself, as the adherents of verbal inspiration teach, rather than by a providential assistance.

Neo-Patristic Exegesis

A call for a new approach to exegesis


Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, in a programmatic article published originally in German in 1989, and subsequently in English and then in Italian, called for "a better synthesis between historical and theological methods, between criticism and dogma" in the exegesis of Sacred Scripture through self-criticism by exegetes of the "historical method" in use and by the employment of "a less arbitrary philosophy which offers a greater number of presuppositions favoring a true hearing of the text." The Cardinal observed that errors made in biblical exegesis over the preceding century "have virtually become academic dogmas," owing especially to the influence of Martin Dibelius and Rudolf Bultmann, whose "basic methodological orientations determine even to this day the methodology and course of modern exegesis," and he found it imperative at this juncture of time to challenge the fundamental ideas of their method. Bultmann the exegete, he said, "represents a background consensus of the scientific exegesis dominant today," even though Bultmann was not so much a scientific as a systematic worker, whose exegetical conclusions "are not the result of historical findings, but emerge from a framework of systematic presuppositions." Noting that, in the form-criticism of Bultmann and Dibelius, through the influence of Immanuel Kant, modern exegesis reduces history to philosophy, the Cardinal proposed some "basic elements for a new synthesis," which will require "the attentive and critical commitment of a whole generation." On the level of the integration of the biblical texts into their historical context, said the Cardinal, the time is ripe for a "radical new reflection on exegetical method, also in the sense that biblical exegesis must come to recognize its own history as part of what it is and to learn how the philosophical element influences the process of interpretation. And, on the level of their location "in the totality of their historical unfolding," that is, of their total meaning, he said, the biblical texts "must be integrated into a theological vision in the strict sense, based upon the experience of Revelation." To achieve this task he saw the need "to introduce into the discussion the great proposals of Patristic and medieval thought," as well as reflection upon "the fundamental options of the Reformation and on the choices it involved in the history of interpretation."


The four senses


The neo-Patristic approach is rooted in a radical and pervasive distinction between the literal and the spiritual sense of the inspired text and it proceeds by the use of an explicit framework of the traditional four senses, namely, the literal sense, the allegorical sense, the tropological, or moral, sense, and the anagogical, or eschatological, sense of the sacred text. The neo-Patristic method makes use of the insights of the Fathers of the Church, and of other early ecclesiastical writers, as well as the insights of medieval, modern, and contemporary exegetes and theologians, in the construction and use of a scientific framework of thought that is deemed adequate both on the level of faith and on the level of reason. The neo-Patristic approach arises from two general observations: a) the problems raised by historical-critical exegetes regarding the interpretation of Sacred Scripture, if resolved in a different mental framework, could occasion a positive development of Catholic exegesis; and b) the exegetical tradition of the Fathers of the Church, together with its elaboration in medieval and modern times, is the key to the synthesizing or rejecting of particular results of historical criticism. The neo-Patristic exegete finds material for his study in the historical-critical literature, and he finds the formality of his study in the Patristic literature, as expanded also into the commentaries of Catholic biblical scholars over the centuries, together with the input of contemporary neo-Patristic scholarship. The overall framework of the neo-Patristic approach is constructed according to the Patristic notion of the four senses of the inspired text of Sacred Scripture. The Fathers actually varied in their notion of the number and names of the senses of Sacred Scripture, and they often used the notion without speculating on this question. St. Augustine alludes to four senses of Sacred Scripture at the beginning of his De Genesi ad litteram, where he says: "In all the sacred books, we should consider the eternal truths that are taught, the facts that are narrated, the future events that are predicted, and the precepts or counsels that are given." St. Thomas Aquinas greatly developed the theory of the four senses and speculated on their relation to one another, and, for this reason, he could be considered to be the founder of the neo-Patristic approach. His teaching serves as a starting point for a more differentiated exposition of the method, beginning from the first big distinction between the literal sense and the spiritual sense. For St. Thomas this distinction arises from the fact that the rightly understood meaning of the words themselves is embodied in the literal sense, while the fact that the things expressed by the words signify other things produces the spiritual sense. But the central thing signified by these prefigurements is Jesus Christ Himself, who, as the God-Man, is the central focus of the spiritual sense and the subject of an extended symbolism which is known as the Allegory of Christ and his Church.

[Msgr. John F. McCarthy]