Tag Archives: History

The Passing of Steve Clark

Stephen B. Clark was a giant of the post-Vatican II era in American Catholicism. His name was synonymous with Cursillo, Charismatic Renewal and Covenant Community. I had the privilege of meeting him and interviewing him last year. He died two days ago on March 16, 2024.

Early Life

Steve Clark

Steve Clark

Steve was born in 1940 to a secular Jewish couple on Long Island. His parents were Louis Seidenstein and Estelle Edna Clark Seidenstein. His only sibling, Joseph, his older brother was nine years older. Steve was a talented student and got a scholarship to the elite Peddie School for Boys. From there, he achieved a full-ride General Motors Scholarship to Yale in 1958. At Yale he studied history and graduated in 1962 at the top of his class with “philosophical orations”–Yale’s equivalent to Summa cum Laude. JFK himself gave the graduation address. During his college years, his father passed away and his mother remarried and moved to Florida.

While at Yale, Steve started reading about Christianity. In particular, The Little Flowers of St. Francis struck him as particularly profound. He was attracted to radical Christianity rather than hum-drum seemingly “normal” Christianity. Soon he approached the student chaplain at the Catholic student center and asked for Baptism. He was baptized around 1960 (though I haven’t been able to pin down the date). He went on a couple summer mission trips to Mexico with the Catholic chaplaincy from Yale and met some people associated with the Cursillo movement from Spain whose faith impressed him. The Cursillo–a “little course” in Christianity–was and is a retreat movement that started in Mallorca in 1949. It had started making inroads in the United States in the 1950s.

Germany (1962–63)

After graduation, Steve went to Germany in 1962 on a Fulbright scholarship to study philosophy–mainly thinkers like Heidegger and Wittgenstein–at Freiburg with such scholars as Fr. Klaus Hemmerle and Fr. Bernhard Welte. He returned to the U.S. in the summer of 1963 and started to pursue a doctorate in philosophy at the University of Notre Dame. That Fall he “made Cursillo” and his life would never be the same. Soon he was teaching other students about Christianity, inviting people on Cursillo weekends and helping organize regular meetings of prayer and discipleship on campus. The cursillistas, as they were called, would have weekly and monthly meetings.

Cursillo and Charismatic Renewal (1964–1969)

By Christmas 1964, Steve had adopted an apostolic vision and vocation. During that break, he convinced one of his Cursillo friends, Ralph Martin (who had graduated from Notre Dame in 1964 and begun studies at Princeton), to drop out of school with him and pursue a life of evangelization and discipleship. The pair went on a long retreat at Mount Savior Monastery in the summer of 1965 to discern for the future. They soon became the “national research staff” for the Cursillo movement in East Lansing, Michigan where they worked closely with Bishop Green, an auxiliary at the time.

In 1966, Steve read the Cross and the Switchblade by David Wilkerson–a book that he soon passed along to his friends at the national Cursillo convention: Ralph Keifer and Bill Storey. These two theology academics at Duquense University would go on to lead the famous Duquense Weekend, a retreat in 1967 that ignited the Catholic Charismatic Renewal (CCR). Soon after the weekend, Ralph and Steve paid a visit to Pittsburgh to catch the fire. As 1967 rolled on, the CCR spread to Notre Dame’s campus and to Michigan State, where Ralph and Steve were serving. That summer, they were joined by two other ND students: Jim Cavnar and Gerry Rauch. The Four were invited to Ann Arbor by the Catholic chaplain to begin working with students at the University of Michigan there.

Their efforts on campus bore fruit in a prayer group that they eventually built into a “Christian base community” (drawing on ideas from philosophers like Wittgenstein, community organizers like Saul Alinsky, and the 1969 Medillin documents from the Latin American and Caribbean Episcopal Council or CELAM). This ecumenical community came to be known as “The Word of God.” It peaked at about 1,500 adult members in the 1980s. At the same time, Steve devoted his life to being “single for the Lord” and founded an ecumenical brotherhood called The Servants of the Word. This group of celibate men still exists today. During the 1970s, Steve was also deeply involved in what was called the “Shepherding Movement,” an American charismatic movement to regulate Christian life with strong “headship” structures.

The Word of God, the First Charismatic Covenant Community

During these early apostolic efforts, Steve wrote many books and papers in support of the new movements and their ideas, most notably Building Christian Communities: Strategies for Renewing the Church (1972); The Purpose of the Movement (co-authored with Ralph Martin, 1974); and Unordained Elders and Renewal Communities (1976). In Building Christian Communities, he states “Christians are complete only when they belong to a full Christian community, a community in which all the things which are ordinarily needed by anyone to grow as a Christian can be provided” (p. 48). Steve was not only the architect of the Word of God as the first charismatic “covenant community,” but he also was an effective national and international organizer of the movement. In 1975, the CCR had an international meeting at the Vatican and was received by Pope St. Paul VI at Pentecost.

Steve Clark and Ralph Martin at Harris Hall in Ann Arbor, Michigan

Steve Clark (left) and Ralph Martin at Harris Hall in Ann Arbor, Michigan (photo: Robert Chase, Ann Arbor News, 1974, donated to AADL)

Steve and Ralph moved to Belgium in 1976 at the behest of Cardinal Leon-Joseph Suenens. The Cardinal hoped that they could help establish the CCR in Europe. During these years, Steve organized an international ecumenical federation of covenant communities called The Sword of the Spirit, which boasts about 100 communities and about 10,000 members (though exact numbers are hard to find).

His most notable book, which came out around this time, was Man and Woman in Christ: An Examination of the Roles of Men and Women in Light of Scripture and the Social Sciences (1980). This deeply-researched and lengthy book was Steve’s response to the feminist movement and the changing nature of gender roles in American society. It preceded new developments in the Christian men’s movement like the formation of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (1987) and Promise Keepers (1990).

Later Years and Lawsuits

The Word of God community experienced a cataclysmic schism in 1990, with Ralph and Steve going separate ways. That’s another story, but Steve continued as head of the Sword of the Spirit.  He wrote additional books like How to Be Ecumenical Today (1996), Charismatic Spirituality (2004), Redeemer: Understanding the Meaning of the Life, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ (1992) and The Old Testament in the Light of the New: The Stages of God’s Plan (2017).

Steve has recently been a defendant in a few lawsuits related to sexual abuse committed by members of the Servants of the Word (additional link from WLNS). Some involved in communities led or inspired by Steve have expressed their hurt and disagreement with his pastoral practices and ideas. See, for example, “Leaving Bulwark” or the many documents critical of Steve Clark and the Sword of the Spirit posted on Scribd by John Flaherty.

Steve Clark’s Legacy

Steve Clark’s legacy will be hard to assess. He certainly influenced many people. As the architect of covenant community, as the leading thinker and community-builder in the CCR, as an ecumenist, as a Christian philosopher-theologian, Steve was not an armchair thinker; he implemented his ideas. Indeed, he gave up the promising future he could have had as a university professor to adopt a radical Christian lifestyle, to disciple other people and to lead a movement. He took concepts of community being discussed in philosophy classrooms and in bishops’ meetings and put them into practice. He connected people around the world to form a coherent movement. He answered the problems of the age with ideas, teachings, practices, communities. He did not just have insight into organizing Christian communities, he taught people how to work together to build a common vision, to “set direction,” and to adopt a common “approach.” His ideas will be important for years to come.

Steve Clark and me

Steve Clark and me


Two Ways to Calculate the Value of a Talent

Yesterday, I came across a helpful calculation of the sum of money that Tobit sent his son, Tobias, to retrieve from his relative: ten talents of silver. How much is ten talents actually worth?

Robert J. Littman’s commentary offers this helpful note:

“The only way to calculate the value of ten talents is to compare it to wages and buying power. At this period the wages for an individual were approximately one drachma per day. Ten talents would contain 60,000 drachmas, in comparative American wages of 2006, $6,000,000. In terms of silver value, a talent weighs approximately 20 to 40 kgs., and 26 kgs. in ancient Greece. At the 2006 price of silver at $11.50 per ounce, the value of one talent, weighing 26 kg, would be $10,547, and the value of 10 talents would be $105,468. In any case, this is an enormous sum of money.” (Source: Robert J. Littman, Tobit: Commentary, ed. Stanley E. Porter, Richard S. Hess, and John Jarick, Septuagint Commentary Series (Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2008), 57.)

Ok, so to re-work the calculation for today, a talent of silver works out to about 75 pounds (at least most of the reference books use this number–and it is within Pittman’s parameters at 34 kgs).

  • Calculation #1: By Weight
    Today’s spot-price on silver: $22.69/oz
    One talent = 1200 ounces = $27,228 (in 2022 dollars)
    Tobit’s stash of ten talents = $272,280
  • Calculation #2: By Wage
    Daily wage in ancient Greek world: One drachma
    Daily wage in 2022 America (I’m using a median hourly wage of $29.55 from data tables provided by the State of Washington multiplied by an 8 hour day): $236.40
    One talent = 6,000 drachma = 6,000×236.40 = $1,418,400
    Tobit’s stash of ten talents = $14,184,000

Here’s a chart showing the dramatic difference in the two calculations:

While I am not going to calculate out every possible instance here, take a look at this chart I’ve prepared of other biblical instances of talents of silver, calculated two different way:

Silver Talents Talents Ounces By Weight By Wage
Exod 38:25 100 120,000 $2,722,800 $141,840,000
Exod 38:29 70 84,000 $1,905,960 $99,288,000
1 Kings 10:10 120 144,000 $3,267,360 $170,208,000
1 Kings 10:14 666 799,200 $18,133,848 $944,654,400
1 Kings 16:24 2 2,400 $54,456 $2,836,800
2 Kings 5:5 10 12,000 $272,280 $14,184,000
2 Kings 5:23 2 2,400 $54,456 $2,836,800
2 Kings 15:19 1000 1,200,000 $27,228,000 $1,418,400,000
2 Kings 18:14 100 120,000 $2,722,800 $141,840,000
2 Kings 23:33 100 120,000 $2,722,800 $141,840,000

It is important to remember that some of the talents in the Bible are actually in gold, not silver. I don’t have a good way of translating gold talents to a daily wage, but we can easily measure them by weight using today’s spot price on gold of $1802.90. Take a look at these examples:

Gold Talents Talents Ounces By Weight
Exod 38:24 29 34,800 $62,737,440
1 Kings 9:14 420 504,000 $908,611,200
1 Kings 10:10 120 144,000 $259,603,200
1 Kings 10:14 666 799,200 $1,440,797,760
2 Kings 18:14 30 36,000 $64,900,800
2 Kings 23:33 1 1,200 $2,163,360

So, we have two different precious metals and two different ways of calculating the value of a talent. Even though we can perform these kinds of conversion, it’s worth saying that economic value in the ancient world isn’t exactly translatable to economic value today. The way that we can reduce the value of land, food, personal property, diamonds and oil to American dollars is not really the way things worked in Ecbatana in Tobit’s time. These calculations are fun, but not necessarily accurate. That is, they are as accurate as we can get, but we have to account for the giant gulf of centuries of time, economic and cultural change. For me, the importance of this observation–that there are two different ways to calculate the value of a talent–puts many of these biblical passages into perspective. There’s a big difference between $272,000 and $14 million (in the case of Tobit’s stash). Considering both sides of the calculation might help us reach a more nuanced view of many of these passages.

What is the Sword of Damocles?

For some reason, I keep hearing the phrase “the sword of Damocles” over and over. I’m not sure if everyone in the world decided to brush off their Latin and read some classics during the Covid quarantine or what. But somehow, this particular classical reference is back in vogue and you’ve probably heard it too. So what is this famous sword?

Who is “Damocles” Anyway?

Here’s a short entry on him from The Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology (1870):

DAMOCLES (Δαμοκλῆς), a Syracusan, one of the companions and flatterers of the elder Dionysius, of whom a well-known anecdote is related by Cicero. Damocles having extolled the great felicity of Dionysius on account of his wealth and power, the tyrant invited him to try what his happiness really was, and placed him at a magnificent banquet, surrounded by every kind of luxury and enjoyment, in the midst of which Damocles saw a naked sword suspended over his head by a single horse-hair—a sight which quickly dispelled all his visions of happiness. (Cic. Tusc. v. 21.) The same story is also alluded to by Horace. (Carm. iii. 1.17.) Source: Edward Herbert Bunbury, “DAMOCLES (Δαμοκλῆς),” Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology (Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1870) 935.

Just so we all have our bearings: Syracuse (today Siracusa) is in Sicily, not upstate New York. Cicero is the extremely famous Roman orator and senator.

Wait – Who is Dionysus?

Dionysus I the Elder was tyrant of Syracuse, a Hellenistic ruler. He lived about 432 to 367 BC. Let’s just say he was not famous for his kindness. In fact, Dante places him in the River Phlegethon made of boiling blood in the Inferno:

“These are the souls of tyrants, who were given
To blood and rapine. Here they wail aloud
Their merciless wrongs. Here Alexander dwells,
And Dionysius fell, who many a year
Of woe wrought for fair Sicily. …” (Harvard Classics 1909)

But, at least in the afterlife, Dionysus gets to suffer forever with his tyrant buddies like Alexander the Great.

Tell us About the Sword

Ok, but we really want to know more about the sword hanging from a single horse hair over the head of Damocles. Damocles was a sycophant–a member of Dionysus’ court who flattered him and enjoyed his largess. Well, sort of. Dionysus was cartoonishly fearful of plotters and assassins–a typical tyrant perhaps. He wouldn’t even let a barber shave him for fear that the razor would “slip”, so he had his daughters burn off his beard with red-hot walnut shells. In order to keep his people on their toes, Dionysus did not take it lightly when Damocles the flatterer paid him some nice compliments about how great his life as tyrant must be. Dionysus, in order to teach Damocles a lesson decided to give him a taste of the tyrant’s life.

The Sword of Damocles by
Giuseppe Piattoli, Metropolitan Museum of Art, public domain

He had a huge feast prepared for Damocles, put him on a golden couch, surrounded him with all of the luxuries of the day. And while Damocles was enjoying himself immensely, Dionysus had a sword suspended over his neck, hanging from only a single horse hair. (You might wonder how the geometry works here since we sit in chairs while we eat so a sword could only be suspended over our heads, not necks. But the Greeks and Romans reclined on couches while they ate, so the neck could be an easy target for such a sword.) Needless to say, Damocles found the situation rather uncomfortable and asked to be released from the bizarre situation. Dionysus had the satisfaction of teaching Damocles the lesson of his life: “that there can be no happiness for him over whom some terror is always impending.” That’s the moral of the story.

Let’s Hear it From Cicero

Here is how Cicero himself tells the tale:

When Damocles, one of his flatterers, in talking with him, recounted his forces, his power, the majesty of his reign, the abundance of his possessions, the magnificence of his palace, and said that there had never been a happier man, he replied, ” Damocles, since this life charms you, do you want to taste it yourself, and to make trial of my fortune ? ” He answering in the affirmative, Dionysius commanded the man to be placed upon a golden couch with a covering most beautifully woven and magnificently embroidered, and furnished for him several sideboards with chased silver and gold. Then he ordered boys chosen for their surpassing beauty to stand at the table, and watching his nod, to serve him assiduously. There were ointments, garlands. Perfumes were burned. The tables were spread with the most exquisite viands. Damocles thought himself favored of Fortune. In the midst of this array Dionysius ordered a glittering sword attached to a horse-hair to be let down from the ceiling, so as to hang over the neck of the happy man. After this, Damocles had no eye for the beautiful servants nor for the silver richly wrought, nor did he reach forth his hand to the table. The gar- lands were already fading. At length he begged the tyrant to let him go; for he no longer wanted to be happy. Does not Dionysius seem thus to have declared that there can be no happiness for him over whom some terror is always impending? Yet it was no longer possible for him to return to justice, and to restore to the citizens their liberty and their rights. In his youth, at an improvident age, he had so ensnared himself by wrong-doings, and had committed them to such an extent, that he could not be safe if he began to behave reasonably. (Source: Andrew P. Peabody, trans., Cicero’s Tusculan disputations, [Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1886] Book V, 21, pp. 286-88)

Is the Sword of Damocles on the Rise?

According to Google nGram, peak “sword of Damocles” usage was in 1996. Perhaps I’ve just heard it a lot recently. Maybe if we check back in a few years, we’ll see a new spike in usage of the term. Anyway, there you have it. Now you know what the Sword of Damocles is all about.

Ancient Near Eastern Texts and the Bible

There are quite a few ancient Near Eastern texts that shed light on our understanding of the Bible, especially the Old Testament. The documents come from Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Ugarit and other places. Their similarity in language, culture and historical context is immensely helpful in understanding the Old Testament more clearly. There have been two major publications of these texts in English translation to which scholars refer. The first collection, Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, was edited by James Pritchard and published first in 1950, with a revised edition in 1955. For many years, the “ANET” was a standard reference for Old Testament scholars. However, in the 1990’s the ANET was replaced by a three volume work called The Context of Scripture, edited by William Hallo. This “COS” is now the standard scholarly presentation of ancient Near Eastern texts in translation. However, as you could imagine, the ANET and COS are not identical. They offer mostly the same texts, but COS omits some texts included in ANET and ANET omits many texts included in COS. And what if you find a reference to ANET, but need to locate it in COS? Lots of confusion could result from all of this! Fortunately, a certain Kevin P. Edgecomb, has provided a very helpful cross index of ANET and COS with notations as to which texts are included and excluded from the two publications. If you ever find yourself comparing texts from these two translations, his cross index will be indispensible to you.

How did Philadelphia get its name?

Ok, so this is really bizarre. Philadelphia is mentioned once in the Bible, in Revelation 3:7 where Jesus conveys a letter to the Christians there. So, I got curious, why was the city named “Philadelphia.” Of course, everyone knows that Philadelphia is the city of brotherly love. And the original Philadelphia was in Asia Minor, modern day Turkey–not Pennsylavania! So the original Philadelphia was founded by a king of Pergamon named Attalus II Philadelphus (or “philadelphos” in Greek). “Philadelphos” was this king’s nickname because he loved his brother so much.

Right, so how does that work? How is your love for your brother famous? Well, here’s how the story goes: Attalus II’s brother, Eumenes II, was the king of Pergamon. Once, when he was traveling back from Rome, his convoy came under attack and he was presumed dead. Word got back to Pergamon and so Attalus II ascended to the throne and married his brother’s wife, Stratonice. Well, a little while later, Eumenes shows up alive at Pergamon! Attalus II returns Stratonice to Eumenes and the two brothers reign together as co-regents. At a certain point during their co-regency, the Romans approach Attalus and try to get him to betray his brother for their benefit. Attalus refuses the offer and thus becomes renowned for his faithfulness to his brother. Finally, two years after Eumenes brief disappearance, he actually dies. Attalus II becomes sole monarch over Pergamon and re-marries Eumenes’ widow, Stratonice. How bizarre is that?! How often does a queen marry a king’s brother twice?

The Early Responsa of the Pontifical Biblical Commission

I have recently become very interested in a twisted problem that has polarized debate among Catholic exegetes for the past 100 years. It is the question of the authority or non-authority of the early responsa of the Pontifical Biblical Commission.

The PBC was established by Pope Leo XIII in the document Vigilantiae studiique to undertake “the challenge of explaining and safeguarding” the Scriptures (sec. 3). It was made an official arm of the Magisterium with this statement, “Its work will have the happy result of providing the Apostolic See with the opportunity to declare what ought to be inviolably maintained by Catholics, what ought to be reserved for further research, and what ought to be left for the judgment of each individual.” (sec. 9)

Later, when the PBC’s authority was questioned, Pius X gave a formal pronouncement saying that “Wherefore we find it necessary to declare and to expressly prescribe, and by this our act we do declare and decree that all are bound in conscience to submit to the decisions of the Biblical Commission relating to doctrine, which have been given in the past and which shall be given in the future, in the same way as to the decrees of the Roman congregations approved by the Pontiff; nor can all those escape the note of disobedience or temerity, and consequently of grave sin, who in speech or writing contradict such decisions, and this besides the scandal they give and the other reasons for which they may be responsible before God for other temerities and errors which generally go with such contradictions.”(Praestantia Sacrae Scripturae 18 November 1907 text here)

The PBC convened and proceeded to answer specific questions addressed to it. Some of the answers it gave directly contradicted the “scholarly consensus” of its day and ours. Here is a simplified summary of their decisions:
13 February 1905 – Implied quotations of non-scriptural sources in Scripture have the same authority unless the sacred writer does not approve them or make them his own.
23 June 1905 – The Biblical narrative is historically accurate.
27 June 1906 – Moses is the author of the Pentateuch.
29 May 1907 – The Apostle John wrote the Gospel of John.
30 June 1909 – First three chapters of Genesis are historical, not mythical narratives.
1 May 1910 – The authorship of the Psalms
19 June 1911 – Matthew’s Gospel came first and was written in Aramaic.
26 June 1912 – The authorship of Mark and Luke
26 June 1912 – The Two-Source Hypothesis is wrong
12 June 1913 – Luke wrote Acts
12 June 1913 – Paul wrote 1 Tim, 2 Tim and Titus
24 June 1914 – The book of Hebrews
18 June 1918 – The Second Coming
17 November 1921 – Textual variants not in the Clementine edition of the Vulgate are acceptable for publication.
1 July 1933 – Ps. 15 and Matt. 16:26
(Full text of the PBC decisions here.)

After the publication of the Encyclical of Pope Pius XII, Divino afflante Spiritu, the curia set out to publish the Enchiridion Biblicum, which was a 1954 handbook of official Church statements on the Bible. But at the time of its publication Catholic scholars were feeling constrained by the PBC’s early 20th century pronouncements. Two members of the PBC, the secretary Athanasius Miller, OSB and subsecretary Arduin Kleinhans, OFM published nearly identical articles in two different journals clarifying that the PBC’s statements were not binding on Catholic exegetes. Miller’s article was published in German and Kleinhans’ was in Latin. The citations for the articles are below. (I got much of this info from Bechard, Dean P. The Scripture Documents: An Anthology of Official Catholic Teachings. Collegeville, MN: Litugical Press, 2002, pp.318-329.) The clarification article was also published in the American journal, Catholic Biblical Quarterly.

So the question is whether the semi-official clarification published in these journals truly repealed the statement of Pius X on Nov 18, 1907 which made the PBC decisions binding. Unfortunately this question has not been completely resolved. Catholic Bible scholars, effectively, do their work as if the responsa of the PBC are not longer binding on the faithful. But as is pointed out by Sean Kopcynski, the responsa have never been officially repealed or eliminated by an official statement or clarification. In the meantime, the PBC has lost its status as an official organ of the Magisterium and is now merely a consulting body (See Paul VI, Sedula cura, 27 June 1971).

Interestingly, the reality of the present-day irrelevance of the responsa is confirmed by some very important figures including Cardinal Ratzinger–now Pope Benedict XVI. Quoted Bechard’s book (p.328, footnote 38), Ratzinger regards some warnings of the Magisterium as statements which “their core remains valid, but the individual details influenced by the circumstances at the time may need further rectification” including “the statements of the Popes during the last century on religious freedom as well as the decisions of the Biblical Commission of that time.” Ratzinger made these comments in L’Osservatore Romano 2 July 1990. Update 3/27/08: I got the text of Ratzinger’s comments from L’Osservatore Romano 2 July 1990, p.5. Here’s a fuller quotation from his explanation on The Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian, “The text also offers different forms of binding which arise from different levels of magisterial teaching. It states–perhaps for the first time with such clarity–that there are magisterial decisions that cannot be intended to be (corrected 10/24/17 Thanks to reader Johannes!) the last word on the matter as such, but are a substantial anchorage in the problem and are first and foremost an expression of pastoral prudence, a sort of provisional disposition. Their core remains valid, but the individual details influenced by the circumstances at the time may need further rectification. In this regard one can refer to the statements of the Popes during the last century on religious freedom as well as the anti-modernistic decisions at the beginning of this century, especially the decisions of the Biblical Commission of that time. As a warning cry against hasty and superficial adaptations they remain fully justified; a person of the stature of Johann Baptist Metz has said, for example, that the antimodernist decisions of the Church rendered a great service in keeping her from sinking into the liberal-bourgeois world. But the details of the determinations of their contents were later superceded once they had carried out their pastoral duty at a particular moment.”

There is at least one Catholic biblical scholar who did not accept the majority view about the clarification. That was J.E. Steinmueller in The Sword of the Spirit (Waco, TX: Stella Maris, 1977). Update 3/24/08: Here’s a quote from Steinmueller f
rom 1941 showing his position before the semi-official clarification, “On October 30, 1902, Pope Leo XIII instituted the Pontifical Biblical Commission to promote and direct biblical studies, and on November 18, 1907, Pope Pius X in his Motu Proprio determined the authority of its decisions. From these it follows: (1) that the Decrees are neither infallible nor irreformable; (2) that they are of the same authority as the other Sacred Congregations; (3) that external as well as internal consent is required; (4) that this assent need not be absolute and irreformable; (5) that the formal object of these Decrees is either security or non-security of any doctrine.” (Steinmueller, J.E., A Companion to Scripture Studies [New York: Joseph F. Wagner, 1941] p. 245) There is a lot of technical language in Steinmueller’s summary, but I think it’s clear enough. (end update) Update 4/14/08: I finally got my hands on Steinmueller’s comments about the semi-official clarification of 1955. I quote two sentences and their footnote in full from his book Sword of the Spirit, p.7. First the sentences, “The Church has made no definite and dogmatic pronouncements as the the authorship of any book of the Bible. The decrees of the first Biblical Commission, however, should be regarded as directive norms, and it would be temerarious to disregard them, even though research may be carried further.” Now the footnote:

“I was consultor of the first Pontifical Biblical Commission from 1947 (after the publication of Divino afflante Spiritu) to 1971; and I never heard any intimation that any decrees of the Commission were ever revoked. At most they were clarified (cf. Letter to Cardinal Suhard of Paris, 1948). Recently some Catholic scholars have asserted that the decrees were implicitly revoked by Divino afflante Spiritu (1943) and that this is confirmed by two articles written in 1955 by A. Miller and A. Kleinhans, who seem to restrict the scope of the decrees to matters of faith and morals (cf. Jerome Biblical Commentary, Vol. II, p. 629). The articles referred to were unauthorized and were condemned by the voting Cardinal members of the Commission. A. Miller and A. Kleinhans were to be brought before the Holy Office because of the articles, but were saved from this ordeal through the personal intervention of Cardinal Tisserant before the Holy Father. It was my friend, Father Miller, O.S.B., who told me the whole story before his return to Germany.
“Decisions of this Pontifical Biblical Commission were sent to the Holy Father, who ratified them or sent them back for further consideration. The official decisions were published only at his command.
“This first Pontifical Biblical Commission as an independent commission came to an end by the apostolic letter issued ‘Motu Proprio’ by Pope Paul VI, June 27, 1971. As a new body the Biblical Commission was to be a dependent subcommission under the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith presided over by its Cardinal Prefect. Its members are appointed by the Supreme Pontiff, on the proposal of the Cardinal president after consultation with the episcopal conferences.”

Phew! Ok, so that was a really long quote, but I think it’s good to get this stuff out there. The only question I still have about Steinmueller’s story is who “Father Miller, OSB” actually is. I suppose it could be the same as Athanasius Miller, OSB but I’m not sure. I also wonder if Miller, Kleinhans or even Tisserant have published memoirs or recollections about this event. It would be very interesting to find more in writing about this. It is also fascinating that Steinmueller recounts the cardinals on the PBC voting to condemn the articles which were ostensibly semi-official PBC documents. True, Steinmueller does not actually say the articles were condemned by a vote, but that they were “condemned by the voting cardinal members of the commission.” This whole story keeps getting more convoluted! (end update)

So it seems to me that while the issue has never been officially resolved, the reponsa have been effectively sidelined as no longer binding. It seems unfortunate to me that the situation has never been officially clarified and Pius X’s warnings of grave sin on the part of those who disagree with the PBC’s statements is still out there. But I suppose that the issue may be resolved at some point, but maybe not.

Text of Pontifical Biblical Commission Responsa from Catholic Apologetics International (unofficial translation)
Leo XIII. Vigilantiae studiique. 30 October 1902.
Pius X. Lamentabili Sane. 3 July 1907.
Pius X. Pascendi dominici gregis. 8 September 1907.
Pius X. Praestantia Sacrae Scripturae. 18 November 1907.
Pius XII. Divino afflante Spiritu. 30 September 1943.
Paul VI, Sedula cura, 27 June 1971.

Bechard, Dean P. The Scripture Documents. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2002.
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian. 24 May 1990.
Kleinhans, Arduin. “De nova Enchiridii Biblici editione.” Antonianem 30 (1955): 63-65.
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