Thursday, January 25, 2007

The Mind of the Individual Church

Catholic Encyclopedia: (a) Defined Texts.—The Catholic commentator is bound to adhere to the interpretation of texts which the Church has defined either expressly or implicitly. The number of these texts is small, so that the commentator can easily avoid any transgression of this principle. Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. V, Exegesis (New York: The Encyclopedia Press, Inc., 1913), p. 699, 2nd column.

Uh-huh. Let's put that to the test shall we?

Raymond E. Brown: To the best of my knowledge the Roman Catholic Church has never defined the literal sense of a single passage of the Bible. Raymond E. Brown, The Critical Meaning of the Bible (New York: Paulist Press, 1981), p. 40.

Raymond E. Brown, S.S.: Roman Catholics who appeal explicitly to Spirit-guided church teaching are often unaware that their church has seldom if ever definitively pronounced on the literal meaning of a passage of Scripture, i.e., what the author meant when he wrote it. Most often the church has commented on the on-going meaning of Scripture by resisting the claims of those who would reject established practices or beliefs as unbiblical. Raymond E. Brown, An Introduction to the New Testament (New York: Doubleday, 1997), p. 31.

Maurice Bévenot, S.J.: But very few indeed are the Scripture texts of which the Church authorities have defined the meaning, and even there, their intervention has generally been to say what Scripture does not mean, otherwise leaving open what it does. See his chapter “Scripture and Tradition in Catholic Theology” in F.F. Bruce and E.G. Rupp, eds., Holy Book and Holy Tradition (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1968), p. 181.

Joseph A. Fitzmyer, S.J.: When one hears today the call for a return to a patristic interpretation of Scripture, there is often latent in it a recollection of Church documents that spoke at times of the ‘unanimous consent of the Fathers’ as the guide for biblical interpretation.(fn. 23) But just what this would entail is far from clear. For, as already mentioned, there were Church Fathers who did use a form of the historical-critical method, suited to their own day, and advocated a literal interpretation of Scripture, not the allegorical. But not all did so. Yet there was no uniform or monolithic patristic interpretation, either in the Greek Church of the East, Alexandrian or Antiochene, or in the Latin Church of the West. No one can ever tell us where such a “unanimous consent of the fathers” is to be found, and Pius XII finally thought it pertinent to call attention to the fact that there are but few texts whose sense has been defined by the authority of the Church, “nor are those more numerous about which the teaching of the Holy Fathers is unanimous.” (fn. 24) Joseph A. Fitzmyer, Scripture, The Soul of Theology (New York: Paulist Press, 1994), p. 70.

R. C. Fuller: Again, Scripture texts are incorporated into Dogmatic decrees in proof or illustration of partiular doctrines. appears in the Bull Inffabilis Deus defining the Immaculate Conception. Infallibility however applies only to the dogma defined and not to any particular argument adduced in support of it; hence the interpretation of , though of great weight, is not infallible by reason of its inclusion in this decree (cf. Durand, art. Exégèse DTC 1838). The number of texts infallibly interpreted by the Church is small: for further examples see Mangenot-Rivière, art. cit. 2317-9. It has been estimated that the total of such texts is under twenty, though there are of course many others indirectly determined (cf. Corluy, 426; Durand art. cit. 1838). It should also be observed that an infallible interpretation of a text does not necessarily exhaust its full meaning. See Dom Bernard Orchard, M.A., ed., A Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture (London: Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1953), pp. 59-60.

R. C. Fuller: The number of texts determined by the consent of the Fathers is even smaller than that of the texts determined by the decrees of the Church. Dom Bernard Orchard, M.A., ed., A Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture (London: Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1953), p. 60.

Johann Adam Möhler: Except in the explanation of a very few classical passages, we know not where we shall meet with a general uniformity of Scriptural interpretation among the fathers, further than that all deduce from the sacred writings, the same doctrines of faith and morality, yet each in his own peculiar manner; so that some remain for all times distinguished models of Scriptural exposition, others rise not above mediocrity, while others again are, merely by their good intentions and love for the Saviour, entitled to veneration. Johann Adam Möhler, Symbolism: Exposition of the Doctorinal Differences between Catholics and Protestants as evidenced by their Symbolical Writings, trans. James Burton Robertson (New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 1997), pp. 301-302.

Johann Adam Möhler: Catholic theologians teach with general concurrence, and quite in the spirit of the Church, that even a Scriptural proof in favour of a decree held to be infallible, is not itself infallible, but only the dogma as defined. Johann Adam Möhler, Symbolism: Exposition of the Doctorinal Differences between Catholics and Protestants as evidenced by their Symbolical Writings, trans. James Burton Robertson (New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 1997), p. 296.

Stravinskas: In the only declared exercise of papal infallibility, Pope Pius XII, after consultation with all the bishops of the Catholic Church, on November 1, 1950, proclaimed the Assumption of the Virgin Mary a doctrine of the Faith.” Peter M.J. Stravinskas, Our Sunday Visitor’s Catholic Encyclopedia (Huntington: Our Sunday Visitor, Inc., 1991), p. 100-101.

Stravinskas: It is also worth noting that whenever a rare, definitive interpretation is given, it is done only after consultation with the best exegetes of the day, as well as allowing for the divine guidance promised by Jesus to His Church (see ; ).” Peter M. J. Stravinskas, The Catholic Church and the Bible (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1987), pp. 15-16.

Patrick Madrid on : . . . the dogma being defined here is Peter’s primacy and authority over the Church — not a formal exegesis of . The passages from and are given as reasons for defining the doctrine, but they are not themselves the subject of the definition. As anyone familiar with the dogma of papal infallibility knows, the reasons given in a dogmatic definition are not themselves considered infallible; only the result of the deliberations is protected from error. It’s always possible that while the doctrine defined is indeed infallible, some of the proofs adduced for it end up being incorrect. Patrick Madrid, Pope Fiction (San Diego: Basilica Press, 1999), p. 254.

Karl Von Hase: If the Catholic Church really believed in her infallibility, and did not prefer to hide the Divine pound in the earth, she would long ago have set forth a clear and well-defined list of all her teaching concerning the faith, instead of which we are now obliged to search for this, especially in its finer relations, from sources which in other respects are not irreproachable. On so many points are Catholic schools at variance with one another, and in rejoinder to every Protestant attack the appropriate subterfuge is of course that the Catholic teaching has been misunderstood or misrepresented.
It is only seldom that tradition, summoned to the support of newly arisen dogmas, corresponds to any extent with the rule upon which Vincentius laid stress, that it should have been believed everywhere, always, and by all. Karl Von Hase, Handbook to the Controversy with Rome, trans. A. W. Streane (London: The Religious Tract Society, 1909), Vol. 1, pp. 128-129.

Note carefully that what's being said is that the dogma, not the Scriptural proof of it is what is considered infallible. So, what, pray tell, is the mind of the church relative to any particular passage of Scripture, particularly John 6?

HT: James Swan & David King


  1. It seems as though the Roman Church is of the opinion that the best way to interpret a text infallibly is to not offer an interpretation at all.

  2. Egad, those chaps in the Magisterium are a rather cheeky lot.
    Makes me think of a recent comment by Steve, sthg along the lines of the Magisterium letting laymen like Dave A stick their necks out rather than the Magisterium doing it themselves. Quite cogent...