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Reflections: Scripture (Proper Interpretatn.)

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Reflections: 

Holy Scripture:

Proper Interpretation

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Proper Interpretation of Scripture

 

Category
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Proper Interpretation of Scripture

"...a humble and devout frame of mind is conducive to the understanding of Holy Scripture." (Pope Benedict XV, "Spiritus Paraclitus", 1920 A.D.)

"[W]hen discussing Holy Scripture it is not words we want so much as the meaning of words." (St. Jerome, Doctor of the Church)

"And let them remember that prayer should accompany the reading of Sacred Scripture, so that God and man may talk together, for 'we speak to Him when we pray; we hear Him when we read the divine saying'." (Second Vatican Council)

"For all of what has been said about the way of interpreting Scripture is subject finally to the judgment of the Church, which carries out the divine commission and ministry of guarding and interpreting the word of God." (Second Vatican Council)

Error CONDEMNED by Pope St. Pius X in "Lamentabili": The Church's interpretation of the Sacred Books is by no means to be rejected; nevertheless, it is subject to the more accurate judgment and correction of the exegetes." (Pope St. Pius X, This proposition was condemned in "Lamentabili", 1907 A.D.)

"The whole series of the divine Scriptures is interpreted in a fourfold way. In all holy books one should ascertain what everlasting truths are therein intimated, what deeds are narrated, what future events are foretold, and what commands or counsels are there contained." (St. Bede the Venerable, Doctor of the Church)

"I earnestly warn the prudent reader not to pay attention to superstitious interpretations such as are given cut and dried according to some interpreter's fancy. He should study the beginning, middle, and end, and so form a connected idea of the whole of what he finds written." (St. Jerome, Doctor of the Church)

"As for methods of expounding Holy Scripture - 'for amongst the dispensers of the mysteries of God it is required that a man be found faithful' - St. Jerome lays down that we have got to keep to the 'true interpretation, and that the real function of a commentator is to set forth not what he himself would like his author to mean, but what he really does mean.'" (Pope Benedict XV, "Spiritus Paraclitus", 1920 A.D.)

"[T]he rule so wisely laid down by St. Augustine - not to depart from the literal and obvious sense, except only where reason makes it untenable or necessity requires; a rule to which it is the more necessary to adhere strictly in these times, when the thirst for novelty and unrestrained freedom of thought make the danger of error most real and proximate." (Pope Leo XIII, "Providentissimus Deus", 1893)

"Furthermore, in order to restrain petulant spirits, It decrees, that no one, relying on his own skill, shall, - in matters of faith, and of morals pertaining to the edification of Christian doctrine, - wresting the sacred Scripture to his own senses, presume to interpret the said sacred Scripture contrary to that sense which holy mother Church, - whose it is to judge of the true sense and interpretation of the holy Scriptures, - hath held and doth hold; or even contrary to the unanimous consent of the [Church] Fathers; even though such interpretations were never (intended) to be at any time published. Contraveners shall be made known by their Ordinaries, and be punished with the penalties by law established." (Council of Trent)

"But, since the rules which the holy Synod of Trent salutarily decreed concerning the interpretation of Divine Scripture in order to restrain impetuous minds, are wrongly explained by certain men, We, renewing the same decree, declare this to be its intention: that, in matters of faith and morals pertaining to the instruction of Christian Doctrine, that must be considered as the true sense of Sacred Scripture which Holy Mother Church has held and holds, whose office it is to judge concerning the true understanding and interpretation of the Sacred Scriptures; and, for that reason, no one is permitted to interpret Sacred Scripture itself contrary to this sense, or even contrary to the unanimous agreement of the [Church] Fathers." (Vatican Council I, 1870 A.D.)

"But the task of authentically interpreting the word of God, whether written or handed on, has been entrusted exclusively to the living teaching office of the Church, whose authority is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ. This teaching office is not above the word of God, but serves it, teaching only what has been handed on, listening to it devoutly, guarding it scrupulously and explaining it faithfully in accord with a divine commission and with the help of the Holy Spirit, it draws from this one deposit of faith everything which it presents for belief as divinely revealed. It is clear, therefore, that sacred tradition, Sacred Scripture and the teaching authority of the Church, in accord with God's most wise design, are so linked and joined together that one cannot stand without the others, and that all together and each in its own way under the action of the one Holy Spirit contribute effectively to the salvation of souls." (Second Vatican Council)

"It always was, and is today, the usual practice of Catholics to test the true faith by two methods: first, by the authority of the divine Canon, and then, by the tradition of the Catholic Church. Not that the Canon is insufficient in itself in each case. But, because most [false] interpreters of the Divine Word make use of their own arbitrary judgment and thus fall into various opinions and errors, the understanding of Holy Scripture must conform to the single rule of Catholic teaching - and this especially in regard to those questions upon which the foundations of all Catholic dogma are laid." (St. Vincent of Lerins)

"[T]he Holy Fathers, We say, are of supreme authority, whenever they all interpret in one and the same manner any text of the Bible, as pertaining to the doctrine of faith or morals; for their unanimity clearly evinces that such interpretation has come down from the Apostles as a matter of Catholic faith. The opinion of the Fathers is also of very great weight when they treat of these matters in their capacity of doctors, unofficially; not only because they excel in their knowledge of revealed doctrine and in their acquaintance with many things which are useful in understanding the apostolic Books, but because they are men of eminent sanctity and of ardent zeal for the truth, on whom God has bestowed a more ample measure of His light. Wherefore the expositor should make it his duty to follow their footsteps with all reverence, and to use their labors with intelligent appreciation." (Pope Leo XIII, "Providentissimus Deus", 1893)

"To return, however, to the question of the formation of Biblical students. We must lay the foundations in piety and humility of mind; only when we have done that does St. Jerome invite us to study the Bible. In the first place, he insists, in season and out, on daily reading of the text. 'Provided,' he says, 'our bodies are not the slaves of sin, wisdom will come to us; but exercise your mind, feed it daily with Holy Scripture.' And again: 'We have got, then, to read Holy Scripture assiduously; we have got to meditate on the Law of God day and night so that, as expert money-changers, we may be able to detect false coin from true.'" (Pope Benedict XV, "Spiritus Paraclitus", 1920 A.D.)

"However, since God speaks in Sacred Scripture through men in human fashion, the interpreter of Sacred Scripture, in order to see clearly what God wanted to communicate to us, should carefully investigate what meaning the sacred writers really intended, and what God wanted to manifest by means of their words. To search out the intention of the sacred writers, attention should be given, among other things, to 'literary forms.' For truth is set forth and expressed differently in texts which are variously historical, prophetic, poetic, or of other forms of discourse. The interpreter must investigate what meaning the sacred writer intended to express and actually expressed in particular circumstances by using contemporary literary forms in accordance with the situation of his own time and culture. For the correct understanding of what the sacred author wanted to assert, due attention must be paid to the customary and characteristic styles of feeling, speaking and narrating which prevailed at the time of the sacred writer, and to the patterns men normally employed at that period in their everyday dealings with one another." (Second Vatican Council)

"[St.] Jerome then goes on to say that all interpretation rests on the literal sense, and that we are not to think that there is no literal sense merely because a thing is said metaphorically, for 'the history itself is often presented in metaphorical dress and described figuratively.' Indeed, he himself affords the best refutation of those who maintain that he says that certain passages have no historical meaning: 'We are not rejecting the history, we are merely giving a spiritual interpretation of it.' Once, however, he has firmly established the literal or historical meaning, Jerome goes on to seek our deeper and hidden meanings, as to nourish his mind with more delicate food. Thus he says of the Book of Proverbs - and he makes the same remark about other parts of the Bible - that we must not stop at the simple literal sense: 'Just as we have to seek gold in the earth, for the kernel in the shell, for the chestnut's hidden fruit beneath its hairy coverings, so in Holy Scripture we have to dig deep for its divine meaning.' When teaching Paulinus 'how to make true progress in the Bible,' he says: 'Everything we read in the Sacred Books shines and glitters even in its outer shell; but the marrow of it is sweeter. If you want the kernel you must break the shell.' At the same time, he insists that in searching for this deeper meaning we must proceed in due order, 'lest in our search for spiritual riches we seem to despise the history as poverty-stricken.' Consequently he repudiates many mystical interpretations alleged by ancient writers; for he feels that they are not sufficiently based on the literal meaning: When all these promises of which the Prophets sang are regarded not merely as empty sounds or idle tropological expressions, but as established on earth and having solid historical foundations, then, can we put on them the coping-stone of a spiritual interpretation." (Pope Benedict XV, "Spiritus Paraclitus", 1920)

"...the great error of those others as well who boldly venture to explain and interpret the words of God by their own judgment, misusing their reason and holding the opinion that these words are like a human work. God Himself has set up a living authority to establish and teach the true and legitimate meaning of His heavenly revelation. This authority judges infallibly all disputes which concern matters of faith and morals, lest the faithful be swirled around by every wind of doctrine which springs from the evilness of men in encompassing error. And this living infallible authority is active only in that Church which was built by Christ the Lord upon Peter, the head of the entire Church, leader and shepherd, whose faith He promised would never fail. This Church has had an unbroken line of succession from Peter himself; these legitimate pontiffs are the heirs and defenders of the same teaching, rank, office and power. And the Church is where Peter is, and Peter speaks in the Roman Pontiff, living at all times in his successors and making judgment, providing the truth of the faith to those who seek it. The divine words therefore mean what this Roman See of the most blessed Peter holds and has held. For this mother and teacher of all the churches has always preserved entire and unharmed the faith entrusted to it by Christ the Lord. Furthermore, it has taught it to the faithful, showing all men truth and the path of salvation." (Pope Pius IX, "Qui Pluribus", 1846 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. " (Pope Pius XII, "Divino afflante Spiritu", September 30, 1943 A.D.)

Also See: Authority of Church Fathers / Scripture Interpretation | The Church Existed Before the Bible | The Church's Traditional Interpretation of Holy Scripture Is Not Subject To Correction | Difficulty of Scripture | The Gospels Contain Only a Taste of Jesus' Teaching | Holy Scripture is Truthful / Free From Error | Learning From Holy Scripture | Literal / Spiritual Interpretation of Scripture | Misinterpretation of Scripture | Praise / Benefits of Scripture | Private Interpretation / Twisting Scripture | Those Who Deny the Supernatural in Holy Scripture | Vernacular Translations / Faulty Translations | Written / Oral Tradition

Note: Categories are subjective and may overlap. For more items related to this topic, please review all applicable categories. For more 'Reflections' and for Scripture topics, see links below.

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