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Are Catholic Bible Translations Required to Work Directly From Biblical Languages?

In the promulgation of the new ESV-Catholic Edition, I’ve heard a lot of Internet chatter about various Bible versions in English. Many English-speakers have their favorite translation and will defend it to the hilt. I’d prefer everyone simply learn Greek and Hebrew, but since that’s not likely to happen anytime soon, we’re stuck with vernacular translations. Translation, by its nature is an imperfect science.

Read the Bible
Ok, wait–before going any further, I’ll just say that I’d much prefer that everyone simply read the Bible a lot in whatever translation they find useful! So if you like the RSVCE, the RSV2CE, the NABRE, the ESVCE, the Douay-Rheims, the JB, the NJB, the RNJB or whatever, keep on reading the Word of God and don’t give up. This book will transform your life. Translation concerns are secondary to the actual practice of reading the Bible.

Back in Time
It is too easy to over-simplify the history of the Bible in English with quick notes like, King James 1611 and Douay-Rheims 1610, but such notes are misleading. Bible translations are big, years-long processes involving lots of people and places. Over time, whether we like it or not, the editions actually printed vary and change whether on purpose or deliberately. The Douay-Rheims Bible, lauded by some as the best Catholic translation, started with a New Testament in 1582, and then an Old Testament in 1610, but it was later substantially revised by Bishop Richard Challoner in the 1700’s. It was translated from the Latin Vulgate of St. Jerome in the Clementine edition. Unexpectedly, Bishop Challoner was often revising the text of the Bible in order to conform to the King James Version familiar to all English-speakers. An American bishop, Francis P. Kenrick, launched his own revision of the Douay-Rheims in the 1850’s and its New Testament was published in 1862 shortly before his death. The American bishops debated making this version the new standard, but eventually the idea was abandoned. (See Gerald P. Fogarty, S.J., American Catholic Biblical Scholarship [San Francisco: Harper & Row 1989] 14-34).

The Origin of the Catholic Biblical Association
The need for a new Catholic Bible translation for the American Church was never abandoned. Indeed, it resurfaced in the 1930’s. Bishop Edwin Vincent O’Hara of Great Falls, MT organized an editorial board for a revision of the Challoner-Rheims edition, which invited all Catholic Scripture scholars to a meeting in New York for October 3, 1936 (Fogarty, 201). The meeting helped launch the Catholic Biblical Association, which produced a revision of the New Testament, published in 1941, the “Confraternity edition” (Fogarty, 206). Eventually, in light of Divino Afflante Spiritu and Dei Verbum, as I will explain below, the project of revising the Challoner-Rheims edition was abandoned and a completely new translation from the original languages was begun.

But what about the Vulgate?
The Vulgate, the Latin translation of St. Jerome, was preserved and printed in many editions. It really became its own textual stream in the tradition of biblical manuscripts, but was somewhat codified by the Sixto-Clementine Edition of 1592. It’s important to note that this edition replaced the 1590 Vulgata Sixtina hastily prepared by Pope Sixtus V, who was apparently still making changes after it went to press with his approval in the bull Aeternus Ille. This edition was forcefully recalled by Pope Clement VIII early in his papacy and replaced by the new Sixto-Clementine edition. If you seek out a Vulgate today, I’d recommend checking out the critical edition from the United Bible Societies. The official Sixto-Clementine Vulgate has been replaced by the Nova Vulgata (1979), which “is the point of reference as regards the delineation of the canonical text” (Liturgiam authenticam, sec. 37).

Translating to English from the Vulgate?
Most English-speaking Catholic authorities in the nineteenth century took it for granted that Catholic Bible translations into the vernacular be made from the Latin Vulgate. They were ignoring, perhaps, Bishop Challoner’s revisions of the Douay, which brought it more in line with the King James (translated from Greek and Hebrew). Even in 1859, a Catholic reviewer named Orestes Brownson would argue that “There is nothing in the decree of the Council of Trent, that requires our English translations to be made from the Vulgate…and a translation made directly from the original tongues into English will always be fresher, and represent the sense with its delicate shades, far better than a translation made from them through the Latin” (Brownson’s Quarterly Review; Fogarty, 22-23).  While Brownson might have been prescient, he was ahead of his time.
Later, in 1934, the Dutch bishops asked Rome about whether a translation from the original languages of Scripture, not the Vulgate, could be read in liturgy and the response from the Pontifical Biblical Commission (AAS 26, 1934, p. 315-warning! giant PDF!) was negative. Fogarty insists that this is “the first time” that the Vatican weighed in on the side of vernacular translations of the Vulgate over against translations from the original languages (p. 200). Whether he is right not, I’m not sure, but it would become a moot point in under ten years.

Pius XII and Original Languages — 1943-44
In 1943, Pope Pius XII would publish the encyclical Divino Afflante Spiritu, (drafted by Augustine–later Cardinal–Bea) where he would encourage translations directly from the original languages with the following sentences:

22. Wherefore this authority of the Vulgate in matters of doctrine by no means prevents – nay rather today it almost demands – either the corroboration and confirmation of this same doctrine by the original texts or the having recourse on any and every occasion to the aid of these same texts, by which the correct meaning of the Sacred Letters is everywhere daily made more clear and evident. Nor is it forbidden by the decree of the Council of Trent to make translations into the vulgar tongue, even directly from the original texts themselves, for the use and benefit of the faithful and for the better understanding of the divine word, as We know to have been already done in a laudable manner in many countries with the approval of the Ecclesiastical authority.

Just before this encyclical was released, the Pontifical Biblical Commission issued a clarification of its 1934 response cited above. This clarification (AAS 35, 1943, pp. 270-71–warning! giant PDF!) explicitly granted permission for biblical translations from the original languages. Taking its cue from this clarification from the Biblical Commission and from the new encyclical, the Catholic Biblical Association decided at its meeting in August 1944 at Notre Dame to abandon the project of revising the Challoner-Rheims edition and instead launched a new project to translate the whole Old Testament from the original Hebrew and Greek. This project would eventually become the New American Bible.

The CBA was additionally encouraged and congratulated on pursuing this project by the apostolic delegate, Archbishop Cicognani (his letter was published in  Catholic Biblical Quarterly 6 [October, 1944] 389-90: https://www.jstor.org/stable/43723781). The Archbishop lauds the CBA for its efforts, acknowledging that the association is “translating the Old Testament from the original languages into English” and that “This news is a source of great pleasure, since the deep learning which forms the background of their work, and their well-known devotion to the Holy See are already in themselves auguries of success in the monumental work to which they have so resolutely set themselves.” Later in the letter, he nods in the direction of Rome, showing his interpretation of Divino: “Conformably to the recommendations of His Holiness, the members of the Catholic Biblical Association are laudably engaged in translating the Old Testament from the original languages for the use of the laity.” Here we see that the Roman trend in the direction of the original languages is affirmed and made more explicit by the Archbishop.

Consilium 1964
This direction was affirmed, albeit softly, by the Sacred Congregation of Rites in its document, Inter Oecumenici (Sept 26, 1964), 40.a:

The basis of the translations is the Latin liturgical text. The version of the biblical passages should conform to the same Latin liturgical text. This does not, however, take away the right to revise that version, should it seem advisable, on the basis of the original text or of some clearer version.

This slim legal language emphasizes the importance of the Vulgate, but defers to the original languages for revision.

Dei Verbum 1965
The Second Vatican Council weighed in on the side of translating Scripture from the original languages:

“the Church by her authority and with maternal concern sees to it that suitable and correct translations are made into different languages, especially from the original texts of the sacred books” (Dei Verbum, sec. 22)

This statement by the Council affirms that the hierarchy was moving away from Vulgate-only translations toward focus on the original languages.

Liturgiam authenticam 2001
Pope St. John Paul II’s document, Liturgiam authenticam, will actually cite the 1964 law in extending the legal requirement to mandate that all biblical translations be made from the original languages, not from other translations.

Furthermore, it is not permissible that the translations be produced from other translations already made into other languages; rather, the new translations must be made directly from the original texts, namely the Latin, as regards the texts of ecclesiastical composition, or the Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek, as the case may be, as regards the texts of Sacred Scripture.

One might think that this instruction contradicts the very idea of JPII launching the Nova Vulgata in 1979, but the document anticipates such concerns, saying, “Furthermore, in the preparation of these translations for liturgical use, the Nova Vulgata Editio, promulgated by the Apostolic See, is normally to be consulted as an auxiliary tool, in a manner described elsewhere in this Instruction, in order to maintain the tradition of interpretation that is proper to the Latin Liturgy.” So the Nova Vulgata is normative for 1.) finding the canonical verses in the original language and for 2.) understanding the proper tradition of interpretation for the Latin Liturgy. However, it does not serve as the basis for the translations, but only as “an auxiliary tool.” Though it is true that Pope Francis issued a Motu proprio in 2017 which limits the application of Liturgiam authenticam, it seems to have little effect on the topic here.

Conclusions
The complex task of Bible translation cannot be distilled down to any one principle. Indeed, any good translator should have respect for all of the available textual traditions, whether Hebrew, Greek, Latin, Syriac, or otherwise, and have a good sense for the strengths and weaknesses of each tradition. In previous eras, access to good instruction in the original languages was scare, but now much more common. Also, good manuscripts and critical editions were harder to come by, but now they can be readily had in libraries and on the Internet. Much of the text-critical work being done in older editions of the Vulgate has been transferred to the guild of text critical scholars of the Greek New Testament (one thinks immediately of the committee put together by Kurt Aland). The relative values of the Masoretic text and the Septuagint have not yet been fully ironed out and I imagine biblical scholars will be arguing about which should have priority until the sun sets on history. Yet from the above historical overview, we can see very clearly that the Catholic Church has been moving away from a Vulgate-only translation philosophy and toward a legal requirement that all biblical translations be made directly from the original languages. But again, whatever translation you are using: Read the Bible!

Scripture as Food: Eating the Sacred Page

We have all heard that “man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.” (Deut 8:3 ESV) But this principle is developed further by several texts in Scripture and by quite a few important biblical commentators. For example, we find Ezekiel eating a scroll of God’s words (Ezek 3:3) and again, we find John eating a scroll in Revelation 10:10.  Also, the prophet Amos famously says, “Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord GOD, “when I will send a famine on the land– not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD.” (Amo 8:11 ESV) If we can have a famine of God’s word, then in some way, God’s word is food for us. It is a source of spiritual sustenance. But this idea grows even further.

For example, Pope Francis delivered a great St. Ephrem quote in his motu proprio today, about the great variety of ways of interpreting Scripture:

“Who is able to understand, Lord, all the richness of even one of your words? There is more that eludes us than what we can understand. We are like the thirsty drinking from a fountain. Your word has as many aspects as the perspectives of those who study it. The Lord has coloured his word with diverse beauties, so that those who study it can contemplate what stirs them. He has hidden in his word all treasures, so that each of us may find a richness in what he or she contemplates” (Commentary on the Diatessaron, 1, 18).

So, I suppose that St. Ephrem here focuses on thirst rather than hunger, but still, it’s the same idea. But wait, there’s more!

St. Thomas Aquinas, in his commentary on the Lord’s Prayer, is talking about the “daily bread” we pray for and explains it like this:

“One may also see in this bread another twofold meaning, viz., Sacramental Bread and the Bread of the Word of God” (Source: Expositio in orationem dominicam)

Pope Benedict XVI, in his apostolic letter, Verbum Domini, points to the hunger and thirst we have for God’s word, relying on Amos:

May the Lord himself, as in the time of the prophet Amos, raise up in our midst a new hunger and thirst for the word of God (cf. Am 8:11). It is our responsibility to pass on what, by God’s grace, we ourselves have received. (sec. 91)

St. Maximus of Turin, in contemplating Jesus’ quotation of Deut 8:3 in Matthew says:

“So, whoever feeds on the word of Christ does not require earthly food, nor can one who feeds on the bread of the Savior desire the food of the world. The Lord has his own bread; indeed, the bread is the Savior himself.” (ACCS, NT Ia, p. 60)

St. Ambrose, in commenting on the manna in the wilderness tells us

“This is the heavenly food…And this is the Word of God which God has set in orderly array. By it the souls of the prudent are fed and delighted; it is clear and sweet, shining with the splendor of truth, and softening with the sweetness of virtue the souls of those who hear it.” (Ambrose of Milan, Saint Ambrose: Letters, ed. Roy Joseph Deferrari, trans. Mary Melchior Beyenka, vol. 26, The Fathers of the Church [Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 1954], 117.)

St. Gregory the Great offers to parse the distinction between Scripture as food and Scripture as drink:

When the apostles see their souls starved of the food of truth, they nourish them with the banquet of God’s word. And so it is well said: to eat and drink with them, for Sacred Scripture is sometimes solid food for us, and sometimes drink. It is food in the more obscure passages, since it is broken into pieces when it is explained and swallowed after being chewed. It is drink in the more straightforward parts since it is absorbed just as it is found. (Robert Louis Wilken, Angela Russell Christman, and Michael J. Hollerich, eds., Isaiah, The Church’s Bible [Grand Rapids, MI; Eerdmans, 2007], 444.)

Got that? The Scripture food when it is obscure and you have to chew it up before swallowing, but it is drink in the easy, straightforward passages that you only have drink down easily.

St. Jerome himself insists:

 “The flesh of the Lord is true food and his blood true drink; this is the true good that is reserved for us in this present life, to nourish ourselves with his flesh and drink his blood, not only in the Eucharist but also in reading sacred Scripture. Indeed, true food and true drink is the word of God which we derive from the Scriptures” (Commentarius in Ecclesiasten, III: PL 23, 1092A quoted in Verbum Domini, n. 191).

We see in all these comments a shared idea, a common thread: that Scripture is a form of spiritual sustenance akin to the Eucharist. When we read Scripture, we eat Scripture. Of course, we’re not talking about ripping the pages out of your Bible and cooking them up into a stew, but a spiritual eating in which your “soul is satisfied as with fat and rich food” (see Ps 63:5). We have a need–a hunger or a thirst–for God, for spiritual life, for communion. Scripture is given to us in order to satisfy that hunger. So, um, eat up! And Happy Feast of St. Jerome!

The Splendor of Truth, St. Hildegard and the Sins of Priests

Here’s a thought, just a thought, a theory, maybe just a hypothesis:

On December 20, 2010, Pope Benedict gave a compelling speech to the cardinals and bishops in which he reviewed the Year for Priests and talked pretty frankly about the abuse crisis. In this context, he offered up a quotation from St. Hildegard von Bingen, where she gives voice to the Bride of Christ:

For my Bridegroom’s wounds remain fresh and open as long as the wounds of men’s sins continue to gape. And Christ’s wounds remain open because of the sins of priests. They tear my robe, since they are violators of the Law, the Gospel and their own priesthood; they darken my cloak by neglecting, in every way, the precepts which they are meant to uphold; my shoes too are blackened, since priests do not keep to the straight paths of justice, which are hard and rugged, or set good examples to those beneath them. Nevertheless, in some of them I find the splendour of truth. (Italian: splendore della verità)

She’s discussing the sins of priests and how they mar the face of Christ. Yet some priests remain faithful and in them is found the splendor of truth. The phrase struck me because it is the title of St. John Paul II’s most significant encyclical. In fact, a few paragraph later, Benedict highlights the significance of the encyclical Veritatis Splendor as denouncing with “prophetic force” the relativist moral philosophies that led to the pedophilia crisis in the first place: “The effects of such theories are evident today. Against them, Pope John Paul II, in his 1993 Encyclical Letter Veritatis Splendor, indicated with prophetic force in the great rational tradition of Christian ethos the essential and permanent foundations of moral action.”

What’s interesting about this to me is that Benedict seems to indicate, by putting these two things so close together—the Hildegard quote and the encyclical’s title—that it seems as if he is indicating that the encyclical was written precisely to address the sins of priests and that the title itself comes from St. Hildegard.

Just to make sure I wasn’t making things up, I checked the other languages. The speech was given in Italian and indeed in both the Hildegard quote and the first line of the encyclical, the phrase “splendore della verità” is used. (The title of an encyclical comes from its first line.) Now, of course, the encyclical belongs to the reign of St. John Paul II, but Ratzinger as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith certainly had a role in its drafting. In George Weigel’s magisterial biography of John Paul II, the author discusses possible contributors to Veritatis Splendor and states, “The extensive references to St. Augustine and the themes from St. Bonaventure reflect longstanding interests of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger” (p. 691).

The phrase, “splendor of truth,” is very rare. However, I did track down one use of it in the Collect (opening prayer at Mass) for the Monday after Epiphany: “…that he who appeared among us as the splendor of truth…” It shows up in Origen, St. Ambrose, St. Augustine, St. Leo the Great and in St. Bonaventure’s mystical writings, but the phrase is still very rare. The fact that Benedict XVI himself pairs up the title of the encyclical with the Hildegard quote and adds a discussion the “sins of priests” in both segments is more than a little remarkable.

So, to summarize my hypothesis, it seems to me that Pope Benedict XVI is indicating 1.) the title for Veritatis Splendor originated from a text by St. Hildegard and that 2.) the encyclical was specifically directed against the sins of priests, namely the abuse crisis. What do you think?

Lessons from the Life of St. Catherine of Siena

St_Catherine__San_Domenico

I just read the life of St. Catherine of Siena by Sigrid Undset (trans. Kate Austin-Lund; Sheed and Ward, 1954) and I want to consolidate a bit of the information that I learned here in no particular order:

  1. The famous fact that Catherine miraculously fasted on the Eucharist alone for much of her life was no saccharine act of devotion nor a merely nice favor from the Lord. Rather, she was unable to eat other food without vomiting and considered the miracle a punishment for her sins of gluttony:

    “Later Catherine complained sometimes that she wished with all her heart that she could eat like other people, so that she could avoid causing annoyance. When it gave her the most terrible pain to swallow anything, and her stomach could not retain anything that she forced into it , she said that she believed it must be a punishment for her sins, and especially for the sin of gluttony, for she had been so greedy for fruit when she was little.” (p. 96)

  2. Jesus taught her how to read miraculously. Though she had taken a few lessons in Latin, one day she woke up knowing how to read so she could pray the Breviary. (p. 48)
  3. As is well known, she had an invisible engagement ring from Jesus on her finger that only she could see (p. 50) and she had the stigmata that no one could see.
  4. When Catherine would fall into ecstasy, she could feel nothing, so people would kick her to test her (p. 59)
  5. She would take wine from a wine barrel in her parents’ basement to give to the poor with the meals she brought them and it miraculously lasted many times longer than it should have. (61-62)
  6. Catherine cared for a leper named Cecca who would insult her violently every time she came to perform her nursing ministrations. Cecca was so covered in scabs and puss that she stank and no one else was willing to care for her. (pp. 70-71)
  7. Catherine cared for a woman with breast cancer named Andrea. To overcome her revulsion at the patient, against Andrea’s protestations, Catherine touched her mouth to her cancerous sores and even drank a bowl of water that had been used for washing her sores (p. 79). The next day, Catherine had a profound spiritual revelation where she was invited to drink from the side of Christ.
  8. She converted a man (Niccolo di Toldo) on death row, visited him in his cell, attended his execution and, after whispering reassurances of eternal life in his ear, literally caught his head as it fell from the chopping block. (p. 200)
  9. Her Letter to Cardinal Gerard de Puy (Pope Gregory XI’s nephew) about the Pope:

    “With regard to your first question about our love Christ on earth [the Vicar of Christ], I believe and consider that he would do good in the eyes of God if he hastened to right two things which corrupt the Bride of Christ. The first is his too great love and care for his relations. There must be an end of this abuse at once and everywhere. The other is his exaggerated gentleness, which is the result of his lenience. This is the cause of corruption among those members of the Church who are never admonished with severity. Our Lord hates above all things three abominable sins, covetousness, unchastity and pride. These prevail in the Bride of Christ, that is to say in the prelates who seek nothing but riches, pleasure and fame. They see demons from hell stealing the souls which have been put into their keeping, and are completely unmoved, for they are wolves who do business with divine grace. Strict justice is needed to punish them. In this case exaggerated mercy is in fact the worst cruelty. It is necessary for justice to go hand in hand with mercy to put a stop to such evil.” (p. 141)

  10. Her face transformed into the face of Jesus (still with Catherine’s voice) in the sight of her spiritual director, Fr. Raimondo (pp. 154-55).
  11. A quote from another letter to Gregory XI:

    “Oh, sweet and true knowledge, which dost carry with thee the knife of hate, and dost stretch out the hand of holy desire, to draw forth and kill with this hate the worm of self-love–a worm that spoils and gnaws the root of our tree so that it cannot bear any fruit of life, but dries up, and its verdure lasts not! For if a man loves himself, perverse pride, head and source of every ill, lives in him, whatever his rank may be, prelate or subject. If he is lover of himself alone–that is, if he loves himself for his own sake and not for God–he cannot do other than ill, and all virtue is dead in him. Such a one is like a woman who brings forth her sons dead. And so it really is; for he has not had the life of charity in himself, and has cared only for praise and self-glory, and not for the name of God. I say, then: if he is a prelate, he does ill, because to avoid falling into disfavour with his fellow-creatures–that is, through self-love–in which he is bound by self-indulgence–holy justice dies in him. For he sees his subjects commit faults and sins, and pretends not to see them and fails to correct them; or if he does correct them, he does it with such coldness and lukewarmness that he does not accomplish anything, but plasters vice over; and he is always afraid of giving displeasure or of getting into a quarrel. All this is because he loves himself. Sometimes men like this want to get along with purely peaceful means. I say that this is the very worst cruelty which can be shown. If a wound when necessary is not cauterized or cut out with steel, but simply covered with ointment, not only does it fail to heal, but it infects everything, and many a time death follows from it.

  12. Sigrid Undset summarizing Catherine’s views in her first letter to Pope Urban VI

    “Justice without mercy would be dark, cruel, more like injustice than justice. But mercy without justice would be like salve on a sore which should be cleansed with the red-hot iron; if the salve is applied before the wound is cleansed it only makes it smart, and it does not heal it.” (p.216)

  13. Pope Urban VI would insult the cardinals and bishops:

    “It was against Urban’s nature to show consideration for anyone, and decisions which were in themselves both good and wise led to nothing because he was so harsh and lacking in tact and the ability to understand men. It was too much for weak men, of more or less good will, who knew in their hearts that the Pope was right and that they ought to cooperate with him, when the Pope demanded, with harsh and angry words, that they should immediately change their way of life and give up all the small comforts they had grown accustomed to, in order to live in a state of self-denial suitable for the strictest ascetic. They were agreed that it was time for a reform within the Church. But if this were the reform…And the language he used when he broke into a rage! “Shut up!” he said to the cardinals. He shouted “Pazzo!”—Idiot—to Cardinal Orsini, and “Ribaldo!”—Bandit—to the Cardinal of Geneva. His electors began to regret their choice bitterly.” (p. 224)

  14. St. Bridget of Sweden (making a cameo appearance in St. Catherine’s biography) indirectly prayed for the death of her eldest son, Karl Ulfsson, since the Queen of Naples had fallen violently in love with him and both he and she were planning to abandon their spouses so they could marry each other. It would have been the Queen’s fifth marriage. St. Bridget wanted to prevent her son from falling into mortal sin. (pp. 242-43)
  15. St. Catherine:

    “Oh, we see in agony of soul how our sins against God rise and overpower us. I live in sorrow, and pray God in His mercy to take me from this dark life.” (p. 255)

  16. St. Catherine:

    “‘In Your nature, Eternal Divinity, I have learned to know my own nature,’ she whispered in one of the prayers which one of her disciples wrote down while she prayed in ecstasy. ‘My nature is fire.’” (p. 264)

catherinesiena1

Thomas a Kempis in Dei Verbum?

One of the famous phrases of the Second Vatican Council that has always stuck in my mind is from Dei Verbum, which teaches that “Holy Scripture must be read and interpreted in the sacred spirit in which it was written” (section 12). That is the translation from the Vatican website. The Latin reads, “Sacra Scriptura eodem Spiritu quo scripta est etiam legenda et interpretanda sit.” Notably, the phrase “eodem Spiritu” means “same Spirit” not “sacred Spirit.” The old Walter Abbot translation gets this right and so does the Catechism (section 111). But the point is, where does this principle come from?

Well, if you take a look at the footnote to the line, you’ll see this:

EDIT 1/6/2014 (deleted text struck out and added text maroon):

9. cf. Pius XII, encyclical “Humani Generis,” Aug. 12, 1950: A.A.S. 42 (1950) pp. 568-69: Denzinger 2314 (3886).

9. cf. Benedict XV, encyclical “Spiritus Paraclitus” Sept. 15, 1920:EB 469. St. Jerome, “In Galatians’ 5, 19-20: PL 26, 417 A.

Great, so we have to go back and look at Humani Generis for this idea. The Denzinger reference 3886 equates to the 21st paragraph of the encyclical which talks about the value of biblical exegesis, that it renews theological inquiry, giving it a constant freshness. The paragraph does refer to Pius IX’s letter Inter gravissimas from 1870, but the funny thing is that the phrase about the “same Spirit in which it was written” does not appear anywhere in the encyclical.

I made a mistake in this original post by associating a footnote belonging to Article 11 to Article 12, as was pointed out to me by a friendly reader. The correct footnote points to Benedict XV and St. Jerome. The relevant text from Benedict XV’s encyclical is this:

35. But in a brief space Jerome became so enamored of the “folly of the Cross” that he himself serves as a proof of the extent to which a humble and devout frame of mind is conducive to the understanding of Holy Scripture. He realized that “in expounding Scripture we need God’s Holy Spirit”;[55] he saw that one cannot otherwise read or understand it “than the Holy Spirit by Whom it was written demands.”[56] Consequently, he was ever humbly praying for God’s assistance and for the light of the Holy Spirit, and asking his friends to do the same for him. We find him commending to the Divine assistance and to his brethren’s prayers his Commentaries on various books as he began them, and then rendering God due thanks when completed.

I have bolded the most important text, which is really a couple citations from St. Jerome. The two references are: “55. Id., In Mich., 1:10-15” and “56. Id., In Gal., 5:19-21.” The drafters of Dei Verbum point us to the second citation, from Jerome’s commentary on Galatians, the phrase there reads in Latin, “Quicumque igitur aliter Scripturam intelligit, quam sensus Spiritus sancti flagitat, quo conscripta est…” (Source: p. 417)This can be rendered in English, “Whoever, therefore, understands Scripture in any other way than the sense of the Holy Spirit by whom they were written…” This phrase seems to be underlying Dei Verbum‘s statement, but the wording is actually closer in yet another text.

So, here’s where Thomas a Kempis comes in. In his famous book, The Imitation of Christ, he talks about reading Scripture in Book I, chapter 5 and says that “it should be read in the same spirit with which it was made” (Harold Gardiner translation, 1955). So, is Vatican II quoting Thomas a Kempis without attribution? It’s hard to say. You can read the original Latin text online from this 1486 publication of the Imitation of Christ. Here’s an image for you:

Kempis_Chap5For those of you without a magnifying glass, the underlined text reads “Omnis Scriptura Sacra eo Spu debet legi quo facta est.” (“Spu” here is an abbreviated form of “Spiritu.”) My translation is then: “All of Sacred Scripture ought to be read in the same Spirit in which it was made.” However, a translation from 1938 that was republished in 1959 reads quite freely, “Each part of the Scripture is to be read in the same spirit in which it was written.”  I’m not suggesting that the Council Fathers were reading this translation and then formulating their Latin text, but that Thomas a Kempis was on their minds when penning this line. I would be interested to see if there is further evidence for this in some of the background documents of the Council. I just stumbled across it, and thought you would like it if I’d share it with you.

John Paul II’s Words to the Man Elected Pope

“I also ask the one who is elected not to refuse, for fear of its weight, the office to which he has been called, but to submit humbly to the design of the divine will. God who imposes the burden will sustain him with his hand, so that he will be able to bear it. In conferring the heavy task upon him, God will also help him to accomplish it and, in giving him the dignity, he will grant him the strength not to be overwhelmed by the weight of his office.”

-John Paul II, Universi Dominici Gregis, sec. 86

Why Benedict XVI Will Serve One Year Later Into Life than John Paul II

My post on the “math” behind Pope Benedict’s resignation has garnered some attention, so I wanted to speculate as to why Benedict might have set it up this way. If you haven’t read my previous post, the basic gist is that Benedict will serve the Church exactly 365 days longer than John Paul II–not that Benedict’s pontificate will be longer (JPII reigned for almost 27 years, but B16 will reign for almost 8), but that he will be exactly one year older when he abdicates than John Paul was when he died.

My speculations are as follows:

1. Benedict wants to honor the legacy of John Paul II. Many people were calling for John Paul’s resignation in the last few years of his pontificate, arguing that his ill health and frailty made him incapable of serving as pope. But John Paul stuck it out to the end and really became an example for eldercare and the morality of late-in-life health choices, namely that the dignity of the human person must be preserved and no steps should be taken to hasten death. Benedict, while having a different perspective than John Paul (see #3 below), wants to honor John Paul’s witness and serve the Church late into his life. By serving exactly 365 days longer, he nods to John Paul’s legacy and the example he gave to us.

2. John Paul II’s former personal secretary, Stanislaw Cardinal Dziwisz, has made comments criticizing Benedict XVI’s abdication as “coming down from the cross.” (Newsmax story here) I think this is exactly the kind of criticism that Benedict was hoping to circumvent (at least in the history books) by the timing of his resignation. The counter could always be: I served the Church even later into my life than John Paul–by a year!

3. Benedict wants to honor John Paul, while at the same time disagreeing with him. In 2002, he reportedly made comments that it would be “very wise” for a pope to resign if he was incapacitated by ill health.

4. Cardinal Ratzinger submitted his original resignation to John Paul II in Spring 2002 on his 75th birthday. Now, just before his 86th birthday, he’ll have served the Church 11 years past the mandatory retirement age for bishops of 75. (Just another interesting note–Benedict will not be participating in the conclave to elect the new pope, but even if he did he would be unable to vote, being past his 80th birthday.)

5. Perhaps Benedict wanted to abdicate before the canonization of John Paul II, so as not to give the impression that he was granting sainthood for the sake of an old friend. The miracle needed for John Paul II’s canonization is in the hands of the Congregation for the causes of saints (Vatican Insider).

6. Lastly, I think that Benedict wants to set a precedent for future popes. He believes the Church needs energetic leadership and that ill health late in life can preclude a man from bringing this kind of leadership to the task of governing the Church. Benedict, perhaps, is suggesting to future popes that if their old age or ill health prevents them from doing the pope’s job well that they too should abdicate and allow a younger man to fulfill the role.

 

Pope Benedict XVI Resigns – What does Dante have to do with it?

Pope St. Celestine V

Pope St. Celestine V

Everyone is still shocked by the announcement made by the Pope today that he will resign, effective February 28, just 17 days from now. There are many commentators opining on the why’s and wherefores, but perhaps the most interesting strain in the commentary has to do with the last pope who resigned, St. Celestine V. Scott Hahn made an interesting post in which he mentions Pope Benedict’s two trips to pray by the tomb and relics (respectively) of Celestine V–notably the Pope left his pallium on Celestine’s tomb on April 29, 2009. (Interestingly, as Rocco Palmo notes, this pallium was the one with which Benedict was originally vested. The pope “retired” it from use and went to a smaller size of pallium. More here: Fr. Z, NLM)

St. Celestine resigned the papacy in 1294 after reigning for a mere six months. (Technically, the last Pope to resign was Gregory XII in 1415, but his situation was complicated by the Avignon papacy dispute.) St. Celestine was a Benedictine monk and hermit, who actually founded an order. He was famous for his ascetical practices. He was not a cardinal at the time of his election, but did send a letter to the conclave, which upon reading it, promptly elected him, even though he was 80 years old. It reminds me of Cardinal Ratzinger’s homily at the funeral of John Paul II in which he spoke against the dictatorship of relativism and described what the new Pope should be like. Apparently, anyone who tries to tell the cardinals how to go about the business of the Conclave becomes an immediate candidate!

Now, on to Dante! In his Inferno, Canto III, lines 58-63 (in Dorothy Sayers’ translation) we read:

And when I’d noted here and there a shade
Whose face I knew, I saw and recognized
The coward spirit of the man who made

The great refusal; and that proof sufficed;
Here was that rabble, here without a doubt,
Whom God and whom His enemies despised.

Now, Celestine is found in Hell’s “vestibule” here with the futile, who run around after meaningless banners, goaded by hornets. They are at the very “top” so to speak, of Dante’s Hell. Dante’s condemnation of Celestine V was rooted in the problematic reign of his successor, Boniface VIII, who imprisoned his predecessor. Apparently, Dante felt that Celestine should have embraced the office and out of cowardice or a faint heart, he abdicated, which led to very bad things in the reign of the next pope. Celestine died in a fetid jail cell. Interestingly, later on, Pope Clement V undid Dante’s literary condemnation and officially canonized Celestine V.

Later on, in the Inferno, Canto XXVII, lines 103-105, the character Guido is recounting Pope Boniface VIII’s words thusly:

Thou knowest I have the power to open or shut
The gates of Heaven, for those High Keys are twain,
    The Keys my predecessor cherished not.

Again here, Dante is condemning Pope Celestine V for his resignation of the papacy.

So, why would Benedict XVI identify with Celestine V?

  1. Both Celestine and Benedict practice Benedictine spirituality–Celestine as a hermit/monk and Benedict as an oblate (although I have had a hard time confirming that Ratzinger/Benedict is an oblate). Also, Benedict took on the name of St. Benedict and Benedict XV.
  2. Both hoped to retire from public life–Celestine as a hermit, Benedict to a quiet retirement with his brother in Germany.
  3. Both were elected very late in life–Celestine at 80 and Benedict at 78.
  4. Both saw themselves perhaps as short-term popes–Celestine for 6 months, Benedict now for 8 years.
  5. Both resigned–Celestine in 1294, Benedict in 2013.

I am glad, though, that Benedict XVI is able to trust in the Church’s wisdom in canonizing Celestine V rather than in the literary “wisdom” of Dante. In many things, Catholic thinkers and writers have deferred to Dante, but his judgment of Celestine V proved incorrect and may be shaped more by the travails of his era than by the actual facts of Celestine’s life. At this moment, it is best for all of us to pray for the conclave and the Holy Father’s sucessor. May the Holy Spirit guide the cardinals’ votes. St. Celestine V, pray for us!

Links on this topic:
Robert Moynihan, article
Robert Moynihan, lecture
Taylor Marshall
Mosaics

John Paul II on the Mission of Bible Scholars

John Paul II gave an address to the Pontifical Biblical Commission upon receipt of their document, the Interpretation of the Bible in the Church. In that speech, he outlined a few points regarding the mission of biblical scholars that I found helpful and motivating. Unfotunately, it’s not in English on the Vatican website, but it is in French. There’s an English translation of some excerpts here. Here are a couple quotes:

“To this end, it is obviously necessary that the exegete himself perceive the divine Word in the texts. He can do this only if his intellectual work is sustained by a vigorous spiritual life.” (sec. 9)

“In order better to carry out this very important ecclesial task [the explanation of Scripture], exegetes will be keen to remain close to the preaching of God’s word, both by devoting part of their time to this ministry and by maintaining close relations with those who exercise it and helping them with publications of pastoral exegesis.” (sec. 11)

-John Paul II, “Address on the Interpretation of the Bible in the Church,” In  The Scripture Documents: An Anthology of Official Catholic Teachings (trans Dean P. Bechard; Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2002) 175, 177.

In the first quote, John Paul highlights the importance of arriving at the meaning of the text intended by God, the so-called “divine meaning” or the “theological meaning” (a phrase often used by Fr. Frank Matera in describing the exegete’s aim). To me, this concept is very helpful in understanding what biblical exegesis is all about. It really does have a goal that is realizable. Sometimes it seems in the face of the immense stacks of exegetical books in theological libraries that no one will ever figure out the meaning of the Bible! I mean, if people have been seriously working on it for 2,000 years and still feel the need to publish more and more books about it, where’s the hope for a resolution? But the Bible does have meaning, one that can be discovered and related and believed in. John Paul also frames the task of exegesis well as a matter of “perception,” and a kind of perception that is informed by prayer, spiritual life. So the exegete could never be replaced by a robot. Rather, his personal spiritual life is somehow involved in the act of perception of the divine meaning of the biblical text.

In the second quotation above, John Paul highlights the pastoral dimension of the exegetical task. Exegetes, he says, either ought to be preachers themselves or to help preachers in their exposition of God’s word. Lots of Bible scholars, I think, do not see themselves this way at all. But here John Paul insists that biblical scholars ought to be engaged in publishing pastoral exegesis–i.e. popular works–not just scholarly works. He adds after the sentence I quoted above, “Thus they will avoid becoming lost in the complexities of abstract scientific research, which distances them from the true meaning of the Scriptures. Indeed, this meaning is inseperable from their goal, which is to put believers into a personal relationship with God.” (sec. 11, p. 177). So, in John Paul’s mind, there is a distinct possibility of BIble scholars becoming lost! That would not be good. However, I wonder if John Paul had some biblical scholars in mind that he had met in his lifetime–ones who were obsessed with weird little details of Hebrew poetry or archaeology and unable to inspire anyone’s faith. That would be a bad place to be, a lost, uninspiring Bible scholar, trapped in the ivory tower and unable to communicate what he knows to regular people who want to be in a personal relationship with God. I’ll have to think about this one for a while.

Egyptian Keys and the Pope

Egyptian Wooden Key

Photo from globalegyptianmuseum.org

A couple days ago I learned something new which shed light on at least two Bible passages for me.

What did I learn? That keys in Ancient Egypt were made out of wood and were very large–we’re talking two feet long or so. They were so big and heavy that they often had to be carried on the shoulder. Egyptian locks had pins just like modern locks, but the pins were a lot larger and made of wood. The key hole itself would have been very large–large enough to put a hand through. (See Paul Haupt, The Book of Canticles, 37).

So, where does this shed light on the Bible? First, Song of Songs 5:4 says “My lover put his hand through the opening; my heart trembled within me, and I grew faint when he spoke” (NAB). Now, this makes no sense if the keyhole is the size of modern ones, even skeleton key size. The keyhole has to be rather big to fit a hand through it. The poetic image makes no sense if the key hole is not big enough for fingers or a hand. Now did Israelites use Egyptian locks? Maybe not, but the technology was close at hand for over a thousand years in a bordering country so they could have easily used such locks.

The second place where this Egyptian key makes a difference is Isaiah 22. Here’s how the passage reads:

20 In that day I will call my servant Eliakim the son of Hilkiah,
21 and I will clothe him with your robe, and will bind your sash on him, and will commit your authority to his hand. And he shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and to the house of Judah.
22 And I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David. He shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open.

Woman holding egyptian key

Photo from Rice University

Now, many Catholic commentators have associated this description of Eliakim as at the al-bayit (over the house) with Peter in the New Testament. Eliakim is assigned to be over David’s house, not to be king himself, but to be more a prime minister. Peter’s assignment by Jesus is very similar. And if Jesus is the legitimate heir to David’s throne, as he claims to be, then this comparison of Eliakim to Peter makes all the more sense. In Matthew 16:19, Jesus tells Peter two things that reference this passage in Isaiah 22. Matthew 16:19 – “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed1 in heaven” (ESV). First, Peter will be given the “keys of the kingdom.” This sounds a lot like Eliakim getting the key to the House of David. Second, whatever Peter binds on earth will be bound in heaven and whatever he looses on earth will be loosed in heaven. This binding/loosing power sounds a lot like Eliakim’s power to open and shut, a power which cannot be overridden. That’s where the Pope comes in. Since he’s the successor of Peter, he gets the power of the keys. And it turns out these are big old keys! Makes me feel a bit more comfortable with the huge keys Peter normally carries in icons and statues.

St. Peter Huge Keys

Photo from Capernaum, Israel

Ok, so what about the Egyptian keys? Well, in Isaiah we hear that the key will be upon Eliakim’s shoulder. Why would anyone put a key on their shoulder? I mean, it would fall off, right? It’s too small, right? Turns out though, that ancient Egyptians, who had such huge wooden keys would carry them on their shoulders. Can you imagine if your house key, barn key, office key and car key were all 20 inches long?! It’s not exactly like you could slip those into your pocket on a little metal ring. You’d have to carry them on your shoulder!

I even found a drawing of a Cairo merchant carrying some of these keys on his shoulder. Check it out!
(Image from T. K. Cheyne, The Book of the Prophet Isaiah, 160)