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Reflections: Scripture (Trthfl./Free of Err.)

Bible with Crucifix

Return to Scripture Reflections | Scr./Prbl. | Scr. Exch.


Holy Scripture:

Truthful / Free From Error

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Holy Scripture is Truthful / Free From Error



Holy Scripture is Truthful / Free From Error

Note: This topic refers to Holy Scripture in general and not to any particular translation of it.

"Brethren, be contentious and zealous for the things which lead to salvation! You have studied the Holy Scriptures, which are true and are of the Holy Spirit. You well know that nothing unjust or fraudulent is written in them." (Pope St. Clement of Rome, 1st century A.D.)

"We must neither doubt nor hesitate with respect to the words of the Lord; rather, we must be fully persuaded that every word of God is true and possible, even if our nature should rebel against the idea - for in this lies the test of faith." (St. Basil the Great, Doctor of the Church)

"[I hold Scripture] in such reverence and honor that I do most firmly believe that none of their authors has erred in anything that he has written therein. If I find anything in those writings which seems to be contrary to the truth, I presume that either the codex is inaccurate, or the translator has not followed what was said, or I have not properly understood it" (St. Augustine, Doctor of the Church, circa 406 A.D.)

"St. Jerome's teaching on this point serves to confirm and illustrate what our predecessor of happy memory, Leo XIII, declared to be the ancient and traditional belief of the Church touching the absolute immunity of Scripture from error: So far is it from being the case that error can be compatible with inspiration, that, on the contrary, it not only of its very nature precludes the presence of error, but as necessarily excludes it and forbids it as God, the Supreme Truth, necessarily cannot be the Author of error." (Pope Benedict XV, "Spiritus Paraclitus", 1920 A.D.)

"There can be no falsehood anywhere in the literal sense of Holy Scripture." (St. Thomas Aquinas, Doctor of the Church and "greatest theologian in the history of the Church")

"I will not have the effrontery at any time either to suppose or to say such a thing [that the Scriptures contradict each other]. If a Scripture which appears to be of such a kind be brought forward, and there be a pretext for regarding it as contradictory, since I am totally convinced that no Scripture is contradictory to another, I shall admit instead that I do not understand what is spoken of, and shall strive to persuade those who assume that the Scriptures are contradictory to be rather of the same opinion as myself." (St. Justin the Martyr, circa 155 A.D.)

"If, however, we are not able to find explanations for all those passages of Scripture which are investigated, we ought not on that account seek for another God besides Him who exists. This would indeed be the greatest impiety. Things of that kind we must leave to God, the One who made us, knowing full well that the Scriptures are certainly perfect, since they were spoken by the Word of God and by His Spirit." (St. Irenaeus, 2nd century A.D.)

"God, the Creator and Ruler of all things, is also the Author of the Scriptures - and...therefore nothing can be proved either by physical science or archaeology which can really contradict the Scriptures." (Pope Leo XIII, "Providentissimus Deus", 1893)

"If [the Evangelists] had not been lovers of truth, but, as Celsus says, inventors of fictions, they would not have written of Peter has having made a denial, nor of the disciples of Jesus as having been scandalized. For indeed, even if these things happened, who could have offered proof of their having happened as they did?" [Origen ("the greatest scholar of Christian antiquity" - although he would eventually be excommunicated and be regarded as a heretic), 3rd century A.D.]

"I think it is dangerous to believe that anything in the Sacred Books is a lie... For if we should admit in that supreme monument of authority even one 'polite' lie, no shred of those books will remain. Whenever anyone finds anything therein that is difficult to practice or hard to believe, he will refer to this most pernicious precedent and explain it as the idea or practice of a lying author." (St. Augustine, Doctor of the Church, 4th century A.D.)

Error CONDEMNED by Pope St. Pius X in "Lamentabili": "Divine inspiration does not so extend to all Sacred Scripture that it fortifies each and every part of it against all error." (Pope St. Pius X, This proposition was condemned in "Lamentabili", 1907 A.D.)

Error CONDEMNED by Pope St. Pius X in "Lamentabili": "In many narratives the Evangelists related not so much what is true, as what they thought to be more profitable for the reader, although false." (Pope St. Pius X, This proposition was condemned in "Lamentabili", 1907 A.D.)

Error CONDEMNED by Pope St. Pius X in "Lamentabili": "The Fourth Gospel exaggerated miracles, not only that the extraordinary might stand out more, but also that they might become more suitable for signifying the work and glory of the Word Incarnate." (Pope St. Pius X, This proposition was condemned in "Lamentabili", 1907 A.D.)

Error CONDEMNED by Pope St. Pius X in "Lamentabili": "The narrations of John are not properly history, but the mystical contemplation of the Gospel; the discourses contained in his Gospel are theological meditations on the mystery of salvation, devoid of historical truth." (Pope St. Pius X, This proposition was condemned in "Lamentabili", 1907 A.D.)

Error CONDEMNED by Pope St. Pius X in "Lamentabili": " Opposition may, and actually does, exist between the facts narrated in Sacred Scripture and the Church's dogmas which rest on them. Thus the critic may reject as false facts the Church holds as most certain." (Pope St. Pius X, This proposition was condemned in "Lamentabili", 1907 A.D.)

Error CONDEMNED by Pope Pius IX in the Syllabus of Errors: "The prophecies and miracles described and related in Sacred Scripture are the inventions of poets; and the mysteries of the Christian faith are the culmination of philosophical investigations; and in the books of both Testaments are contained mythical inventions; and Jesus Christ Himself is a mythical fiction." (Pope Pius IX, This proposition was condemned in the Syllabus of Errors, Dec. 8, 1864 A.D.)

Error CONDEMNED by Pope St. Pius X in "Lamentabili": "John, indeed, claims for himself the character of a witness concerning Christ; but in reality he is nothing but a distinguished witness of the Christian life, or of the life of the Christian Church at the end of the first century." (Pope St. Pius X, This proposition was condemned in "Lamentabili", 1907 A.D.)

"[Question:] Whether to solve the difficulties which occur in the epistles of St. Paul and of the other apostles, where there is mention of "parousia," as they say, or of the second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, a Catholic exegete is permitted to assert that the apostles, although under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, taught no error, nevertheless express their own human feelings in which error or deception can lie concealed? - Reply: In the negative." (Reply of the Biblical Commission, June 18, 1915 A.D.)

"[Question:] Whether, not withstanding the practice which flourished constantly in the whole Church from the earliest times, of arguing from the fourth Gospel as from a truly historical document, in consideration, nevertheless, of the peculiar nature of the same Gospel, and of the manifest intention of the author to illustrate and to prove the divinity of Christ from the very deeds and words of the Lord, it can be said that the deeds related in the fourth Gospel are totally or partially so invented that they are allegories or doctrinal symbols; but that the words of the Lord are not properly and truly the words of the Lord himself, but theological compositions of the writer, although placed in the mouth of the Lord? - Answer: In the negative." (Response of the Biblical Commission, May 29, 1907 A.D.)

"[Question:] Whether, when the nature and historical form of the Book of Genesis does not oppose, because of the peculiar connections of the three first chapters with each other and with the following chapters, because of the manifold testimony of the Old and of the New Testaments; because of the almost unanimous opinion of the Holy Fathers, and because of the traditional sense which, transmitted from the Israelite people, the Church always held, it can be taught that the three aforesaid chapters of Genesis do not contain the stories of events which really happened, that is, which correspond with objective reality and historical truth; but are either accounts celebrated in fable drawn from the mythologies and cosmogonies of ancient peoples and adapted by a holy writer to monotheistic doctrine, after expurgating any error of polytheism; or allegories and symbols, devoid of a basis of objective reality, set forth under the guise of history to inculcate religious and philosophical truths; or, finally, legends, historical in part and fictitious in part, composed freely for the instruction and edification of souls? - Reply: In the negative to both parts." (Response of the Biblical Commission, June 30th, 1909 A.D.)

"What [St. Jerome] has said here of the Gospels he applies in his Commentaries to the rest of the Lord's words; he regards it as the very rule and foundation of Catholic interpretation; indeed, for Jerome, a true prophet was to be distinguished from a false by this very note of truth: 'The Lord's words are true; for Him to say it, means that it is.' Again, 'Scripture cannot lie'; it is wrong to say Scripture lies, nay, it is impious even to admit the very notion of error where the Bible is concerned. 'The Apostles,' he says, 'are one thing; other writers' - that is, profane [secular] writers - 'are another;' 'the former always tell the truth; the latter - as being mere men - sometimes err,' and though many things are said in the Bible which seem incredible, yet they are true; in this 'word of truth' you cannot find things or statements which are contradictory, 'there is nothing discordant nor conflicting'; consequently, 'when Scripture seems to be in conflict with itself both passages are true despite their diversity.'" (Pope Benedict XV, "Spiritus Paraclitus", 1920 A.D.)

"Yet no one can pretend that certain recent writers really adhere to these limitations. For while conceding that inspiration extends to every phrase - and, indeed, to every single word of Scripture - yet, by endeavoring to distinguish between what they style the primary or religious and the secondary or profane element in the Bible, they claim that the effect of inspiration - namely, absolute truth and immunity from error - are to be restricted to that primary or religious element. Their notion is that only what concerns religion is intended and taught by God in Scripture, and that all the rest - things concerning 'profane [secular] knowledge,' the garments in which Divine truth is presented - God merely permits, and even leaves to the individual author's greater or less knowledge. Small wonder, then, that in their view a considerable number of things occur in the Bible touching physical science, history and the like, which cannot be reconciled with modern progress in science! Some even maintain that these views do not conflict with what our predecessor laid down since - so they claim - he said that the sacred writers spoke in accordance with the external - and thus deceptive - appearance of things in nature. But the Pontiff's own words show that this is a rash and false deduction. For sound philosophy teaches that the senses can never be deceived as regards their own proper and immediate object. Therefore, from the merely external appearance of things - of which, of course, we have always to take account as Leo XIII, following in the footsteps of St. Augustine and St. Thomas, most wisely remarks - we can never conclude that there is any error in Sacred Scripture. Moreover, our predecessor, sweeping aside all such distinctions between what these critics are pleased to call primary and secondary elements, says in no ambiguous fashion that 'those who fancy that when it is a question of the truth of certain expressions we have not got to consider so much what God said as why He said it,' are very far indeed from the truth. He also teaches that Divine inspiration extends to every part of the Bible without the slightest exception, and that no error can occur in the inspired text: 'It would be wholly impious to limit inspiration to certain portions only of Scripture or to concede that the sacred authors themselves could have erred.' Those, too, who hold that the historical portions of Scripture do not rest on the absolute truth of the facts but merely upon what they are pleased to term their relative truth, namely, what people then commonly thought, are - no less than are the aforementioned critics - out of harmony with the Church's teaching, which is endorsed by the testimony of [St.] Jerome and other Fathers." (Pope Benedict XV, "Spiritus Paraclitus", 1920 A.D.)

"Neither does Scripture falsify anything, nor does the Holy Spirit deceive His servants, the prophets through whom He is pleased to announce to men the will of God." (St. Hippolytus of Rome, circa 204 A.D.)

"Scripture cannot lie" (St. Jerome, Doctor of the Church)

"Just as in the biological and anthropological sciences, so also in the historical there are those who boldly transgress the limits and precautions established by the Church. And, We especially deplore a certain entirely too liberal manner of interpreting the historical books of the Old Testament, the supporters of which defend their case by reference without warrant to a letter given not long ago by the Pontifical Council on Biblical Affairs to the Archbishop of Paris. This Letter plainly advises that the eleven first chapters of Genesis, although they do not conform properly with the methods of historical composition which distinguished Greek and Latin writers of past events, or the learned men of our age have used, nevertheless in a certain sense, to be examined and determined more fully by exegetes, are truly a kind of history; and that the same chapters, in simple and figurative speech suited to the mentality of a people of little culture, both recount the principal truths on which the attainment of our eternal salvation depends, and also the popular description of the origin of the human race and of the chosen people. But if the ancient sacred writers draw anything from popular narrations (which indeed can be conceded) it must never be forgotten that they did so assisted by the impulse of divine inspiration, by which in selecting and passing judgment on those documents, they were preserved free from all error." (Pope Pius XII, "Humani generis", August 12, 1950 A.D.)

"[Narrations in Scripture may not be in the order of occurrence, but that] in no way diminish[es] the authority and truth of the gospel" (St. Augustine, Doctor of the Church)

"It can happen, indeed, that transcribers in copying manuscripts do so incorrectly. This is to be considered carefully and is not to be admitted readily, except in those passages where it has been properly demonstrated; it can also happen that the true sense of some passage remains ambiguous; the best rules of interpretation will contribute much toward the solution of this problem; but it would be entirely wrong either to confine inspiration only to some parts of Sacred Scripture, or to concede that the sacred author himself has erred. For the method of those is not to be tolerated, who extricated themselves from these difficulties by readily granting that divine inspiration pertains to matters of faith and morals, and nothing more. The books, all and entire, which the Church accepts as sacred and canonical, with all their parts, have been written at the dictation of the Holy Spirit; so far is it from the possibility of any error being present to divine inspiration, that it itself of itself not only excludes all error, but excludes it and rejects it as necessarily as it is necessary that God, the highest Truth, be the author of no error whatsoever. This is the ancient and uniform faith of the Church, defined also by solemn opinion at the Councils of Florence and of Trent, finally confirmed and more expressly declared at the Vatican Council, by which it was absolutely declared: 'The books of the Old and New Testament ... have God as their author'. Therefore, it matters not at all that the Holy Spirit took men as instruments for the writing, as if anything false might have slipped, not indeed from the first Author, but from the inspired writers. For, by supernatural power He so roused and moved them to write, He stood so near them, that they rightly grasped in mind all those things, and those only, which He Himself ordered, and willed faithfully to write them down, and expressed them properly with infallible truth; otherwise, He Himself would not be the author of all Sacred 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.' 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.. It follows that those who maintain that an error is possible in any genuine passage of the sacred writings, either pervert the Catholic notion of inspiration, or make God the author of such error. And so utterly convinced were all the Fathers and Doctors that the holy works, which were published by the hagiographers, are free of every error, that they were very eager, no less skillfully than reverently, to arrange and reconcile those not infrequent passages which seemed to offer something contrary and at variance (they are almost the very passages which are now thrown up to us under the name of the new science); and they professed unanimously that these books, both in whole and in part, were equally of divine inspiration, and that God Himself, speaking through the sacred authors, could have set down nothing at all at variance with the truth. Let what the same [St.] Augustine wrote to [St.] Jerome sum this up: '... If I shall meet anything in these works which seems contrary to truth, I shall not hesitate to believe anything other than that the text is faulty, or that the translator has net expressed the meaning of the passage, or that I myself do not understand.' ... For many objections from every kind of teaching have for long been persistently hurled against Scripture, which now, quite dead, have fallen into disuse; likewise, at times not a few interpretations have been placed on certain passages of Scripture (not properly pertinent to the rule of faith and morals) in which a more careful investigation has seen the meaning more accurately. For, surely, time destroys the falsities of opinions, but 'truth remaineth and groweth stronger forever and ever.'" (Pope Leo XIII, "Providentissimus Deus", 1893 A.D.)

"When, subsequently, some Catholic writers, in spite of this solemn definition of Catholic doctrine, by which such divine authority is claimed for the 'entire books with all their parts' as to secure freedom from any error whatsoever, ventured to restrict the truth of Sacred Scripture solely to matters of faith and morals, and to regard other matters, whether in the domain of physical science or history, as 'obiter dicta' and - as they contended - in no wise connected with faith, Our Predecessor of immortal memory, Leo XIII in the Encyclical Letter Providentissimus Deus, published on November 18 in the year 1893, justly and rightly condemned these errors and safe-guarded the studies of the Divine Books by most wise precepts and rules... This teaching, which Our Predecessor Leo XIII set forth with such solemnity, We also proclaim with Our authority and We urge all to adhere to it religiously." (Pope Pius XII, Divino Afflante Spiritu)

"[Question:] Whether the opinion can be admitted as a principle of sound exegesis, which holds that the books of Sacred Scripture which are held to be historical, either in whole or in part sometimes do not narrate history properly so called and truly objective, but present an appearance of history only, to signify something different from the properly literal and historical significance of the words? The answer (with the approbation of Pius X): In the negative, except in the case, however, not readily or rashly to be admitted, where without opposing the sense of the Church and preserving its judgment, it is proved with strong arguments that the sacred writer did not wish to put down true history, and history properly so-called, but to set forth, under the appearance and form of history a parable, an allegory, or some meaning removed from the properly literal or historical significance of the words." (Reply of the Biblical Commission, June 23, 1905 A.D.)

"But to return to the new opinions ... many things are proposed or instilled in the mind (of the faithful) to the detriment of the divine authority of Sacred Scripture. Some boldly pervert the meaning of the definition of the [First] Vatican Council, with respect to God as the author of Sacred Scripture; and they revive the opinion, many times disproved, according to which the immunity of the Sacred Writings from error extends only to those matters which are handed down regarding God and moral and religious subjects. Again, they speak falsely about the human sense of the Sacred Books, under which their divine sense lies hidden, which they declare is alone infallible. In interpreting Sacred Scripture they wish that no account be taken of the analogy of the faith and of 'the tradition' of the Church, so that the teaching of the Holy Fathers and of the holy magisterium is to be referred, as it were, to the norm of Sacred Scripture as explained by exegetes in a merely human manner, rather than that Sacred Scripture be interpreted according to the mind of the Church, which was established by Christ the Lord as the guardian and interpreter of the whole deposit of truth revealed by God. And besides, the literal sense of Sacred Scripture and its exposition, as elaborated by so many great exegetes under the watchful eye of the Church, according to their false opinions, should yield to the new exegesis which they call symbolic and spiritual; by which the Sacred Books of the Old Testament, which today are as a closed source in the Church, may be opened sometime to all. They declare that by this method all difficulties vanish, by which they only are shackled who cling to the literal sense of Scripture. Surely, everyone will see how foreign all this is to the principles and norms of interpretation rightly established by Our predecessors of happy memory, Leo XIII in the Encyclical Letter 'Providentissimus,' Benedict XV in the Encyclical Letter, 'Spiritus Paraclitus,' and also by us in the Encyclical Letter, 'Divino afflante Spiritu.' And it is not strange that such innovations, as far as pertains to almost all branches of theology, have already produced poisonous fruit. It is doubtful that human reason, without the aid of divine 'revelation' and divine grace, can demonstrate the existence of a personal God by arguments deduced from created things; it is denied that the world had a beginning, and it is disputed that the creation of the world was necessary, since it proceeds from the necessary liberality of divine love; eternal and infallible foreknowledge of the free actions of men is likewise denied to God; all of which, indeed, are opposed to the declarations of the [First] Vatican Council. " (Pope Pius XII, "Humani generis", August 12, 1950 A.D.) 

"Therefore, let the interpreter with all care and without neglect of the light which the more recent investigations have shed, strive to discern what the real character and condition of life of the sacred writer were; in what age he flourished; what sources he used whether written or oral, and what forms of expression he employed. Thus he will be able to know better who the sacred writer was, and what he wished to indicate by his writing. For it escapes no one that the highest norm of interpretation is that by which what the writer intends to say is perceived and defined, as St. Athanasius advises: 'Here, as it is fitting to do in all other passages of divine Scripture, we observe that it must be accurately and faithfully considered on what occasion the Apostle has spoken; what is the person and what is the subject on which he has written, lest anyone ignorant of these things, or understanding something else besides them, wander from the true meaning.' But what the literal sense is in the words and writings of the old oriental authors is very often not as clear as it is among the writers of our age. For what they wish to signify by words is not determined by the laws of grammar or philology alone, nor by the context of the passage alone; the interpreter should by all means return mentally, as it were, to those remote ages of the Orient, in order that rightly assisted by the aid of history, archaeology, ethnology, and of other disciplines, he may discern and perceive what so-called literary genres the writers of that age sought to employ and in fact did employ. For the old Orientals, to express what they had in mind, did not always use the same forms and the same modes of speaking as we do today, but rather those which were accepted for use among men of their own times and localities... Indeed, let no one who has a right understanding of Biblical inspiration, be surprised that among the Sacred Writers, as among the other ancients, certain definite ways of explaining and narrating are found; certain kinds of idioms especially appropriate to Semitic languages, so called approximations, and certain hyperbolic methods of speaking, yes, sometimes even paradoxes by which events are more firmly impressed upon the mind. For none of those methods of speaking is foreign to the Sacred Scriptures which among ancient peoples, especially among Orientals, human speech customarily used to express its thought, yet on this condition, that the kind of speaking employed be not at odds with the sanctity and truth of God, just as with his usual perspicacity the Angelic Doctor has noted in the following words: 'In Scripture divine matters are made known to us in the manner we customarily employ.'' For just as the substantial Word of God was made like man in all things 'without sin,' so also the words of God, expressed in human language, in all things have been made like human speech, without error, which Saint John Chrysostom has already extolled with highest praise as the ... condescension of a provident God; and which he has asserted again and again is the case in the Sacred Scriptures. Therefore, let the Catholic exegete, in order to satisfy the present day needs of Biblical matters, in explaining Sacred Scripture, and in showing and proving it free of all error, prudently use this aid, to inquire how the form of expression and the kind of literature employed by the Sacred writer, contribute to a true and genuine interpretation; and let him be convinced that this part of his office cannot be neglected without great harm to Catholic exegesis. For not uncommonly - to touch upon one thing only - when some propose by way of rebuke that the Sacred Authors have strayed away from historical truth, or have not reported events accurately, it is found to be a question of nothing other than the customary natural methods of the ancients in speaking and narrating, which in the mutual intercourse among men were regularly employed, and in fact were employed in accord with a permissible and common practice. Therefore, intellectual honesty requires that when these matters are found in divine speech which is expressed for man in human words, they be not charged more with error than when they are uttered in the daily use of life. By this knowledge and exact appreciation of the modes of speaking and writing in use among the ancients can be solved many difficulties, which are raised against the veracity and historical value of the Divine Scriptures, and no less efficaciously does this study contribute to a fuller and more luminous understanding of the mind of the Sacred Writer." (Pope Pius XII, "Divino afflante Spiritu", September 30, 1943 A.D.)

Also See: Author of Holy Scripture | Authorship of Various Books of Scripture | The Church's Traditional Interpretation of Holy Scripture Is Not Subject To Correction | Difficulties in Translating Scripture | Difficulty of Scripture | Importance of Scripture | Misinterpretation of Scripture | Private Interpretation / Twisting Scripture | Proper Interpretation of Scripture | Written / Oral Tradition

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