It’s fair to ask what esteem Pope Francis holds the centuries long Tradition of the Church.

Pelagianism has been a much used word in Catholic circles of late.  Which is a surprising, because as a formal heresy, it was fairly well stamped out  1500 years ago or so. Arianism actually persisted longer than Pelagianism.

Certainly, the Holy Father seems much enamored of the word.  He used it a couple of weeks ago to describe traditionalists to some visitors from S. America. He just used it again yesterday, when he went a bit further:

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Hermeneutics: The collection of rules which govern the right interpretation of Sacred Scripture.

After removing what is foreign to hermeneutics, we are enabled to understand its proper object more thoroughly.

Its material object is the book or writing which is to be explained; its formal object is concerned with the sense expressed by the author of the book in question.

Thus, Biblical hermeneutics deals with Sacred Scripture as its material object, furnishing a complex set of rules for finding and expressing the true sense of the inspired writers, while the discovery and presentation of the genuine sense of Sacred Scripture may be said to be its formal object.

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Pope Benedict on the Bible: ‘Human words express the word of God.’

“It is possible to perceive the sacred Scriptures as the word of God” only by looking at the Bible as a whole, “a totality in which the individual elements enlighten each other and open the way to understanding,” the Pope wrote in a message to the Pontifical Biblical Commission.

“It is not possible to apply the criterion of inspiration or of absolute truth in a mechanical way, extrapolating a single phrase or expression,” the Pope wrote in the message released May 5 at the Vatican.

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Editor’s note: This does not mean that certain Bible passages cannot correctly transmit specific portions of God’s truth, in themselves. But in fact, such practice is often subject to substantial misinterpretation, especially by non-Catholics.

An example of a comparatively safe passage:

John 3:12-17  If I have spoken to you earthly things, and you believe not: how will you believe, if I shall speak to you heavenly things? And no man hath ascended into heaven, but he that descended from heaven, the Son of man who is in heaven. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him may not perish, but may have life everlasting. For God so loved the world, as to give his only begotten Son: that whosoever believeth in him may not perish, but may have life everlasting. For God sent not his Son into the world, to judge the world: but that the world may be saved by him.

The constant Tradition of the Catholic Church provides the only proper context for “looking at the Bible as a whole.”

Bishop Schneider: Proposals for a Correct Reading of the Second Vatican Council.

For a correct interpretation it is necessary to take account of the intention manifested in the conciliar documents themselves and in the specific words of the conciliar Popes John XXIII and Paul VI. Finally, it is necessary to discover the thread leading through all the work of the Council, which is the salus animarum, that is, the pastoral intention. This, in turn, depends on and is subordinate to the promotion of Divine worship and the glory of God, that is, it depends on the primacy of God. This primacy of God in the life and all the activity of the Church is shown unequivocally in the fact that the Constitution on the Liturgy intentionally and chronologically occupies the first place in the vast work of the Council. The seven essential notes for pastoral theory and practice are found exactly in the Constitution that deals with the worship of God and the sanctification of men, in n. 9 of Sacrosanctum Concilium, and they are: 1. The urgency to preach Christ to non-believers so that they may be converted; 2. The greatest care about preaching the doctrine of the faith; 3. The essential role of penitence in the life of the Church; 4. The sacraments as principal means of salvation and sanctification, where the Eucharist occupies the central and culminating place; 5. The integrity of moral doctrine; 6. The apostolate of the lay faithful in the Church and in human society; 7. The universal vocation to holiness.

The characteristic of rupture in the interpretation of the conciliar texts is shown in the most stereotypical and widespread way in the thesis of an anthropocentric, secularizing, or naturalistic shift by the Second Vatican Council in regard to the preceding ecclesial tradition. One of the most well-known manifestations of such a confused interpretation was, e.g., the so-called Theology of Liberation and the subsequent devastating pastoral practice. The contrast between that theology of liberation and its practice, and the Council, appears evident in the following conciliar teaching: “the proper mission that Christ has entrusted to His Church is not of the political, economic, or social order: in fact, the end that he has set is in the order of religion.” (GS, 42). The same document then says that the nature and the mission of the Church are not tied to any particular political, economic, or social system. (ibid.) The Constitution Gaudium et Spes quotes the following words of Pius XII:

Its divine Founder, Jesus Christ, has not given it any mandate or fixed any end of the cultural order. The goal which Christ assigns to it is strictly religious. . . The Church must lead men to God, in order that they may be given over to him without reserve…. The Church can never lose sight of the strictly religious, supernatural goal. The meaning of all its activities, down to the last canon of its Code, can only cooperate directly or indirectly in this goal. (Pius XII, Address to the International Union of Institutes of Archeology, History and History of Art, March 9, 1956: AAS 48 (1965), p. 212)

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The Method for Understanding the Proper Meaning of the Biblical Book of Genesis


A modern reader of Genesis must bear in mind the principles of biblical exegesis laid down by St. Augustine in his great work De Genesi Ad Litteram (On the Literal Interpretation of Genesis). Augustine taught that whenever reason established with certainty a fact about the physical world, seemingly contrary statements in the Bible must be interpreted accordingly. He opposed the idea of a “Christian account” of natural phenomena in opposition to what could be known by science. He viewed such accounts as “most deplorable and harmful, and to be avoided at any cost,” because on hearing them the non-believer “could hardly hold his laughter on seeing, as the saying goes, the error rise sky-high.”

As early as 410 A.D., then, the greatest of the Western Church Fathers was telling us that the Book of Genesis is not an astrophysics or geology textbook. Augustine himself was a kind of evolutionist, speculating that God’s creation of the cosmos was an instantaneous act whose effects unfolded over a long period. God had planted “rational seeds” in nature which eventually developed into the diversity of plants and animals we see today. St. Thomas Aquinas cites this view of Augustine’s more than once in the course of the Summa Theologiae. St. Thomas, author Etienne Gilson writes,

was well aware that the Book of Genesis was not a treatise on cosmography for the use of scholars. It was a statement of the truth intended for the simple people whom Moses was addressing. Thus it is sometimes possible to interpret it in a variety of ways. So it was that when we speak of the six days of creation, we can understand by it either six successive days, as do Ambrose, Basil, Chrysostom and Gregory, and is suggested by the letter of the text . . . Or we can with Augustine take it to refer to the simultaneous creation of all beings with days symbolizing the various orders of beings. This second interpretation is at first sight less literal, but is, rationally speaking, more satisfying. It is the one that St. Thomas adopts, although he does not exclude the other which, as he says, can also be held.

In this century, Cardinal Bea, who helped Pius XII draft Divino Afflante Spiritu, wrote that Genesis does not deal with the “true constitution of visible things.” It is meant to convey truths outside the scientific order.

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Why disbelievers can’t understand the Bible

To those who earnestly asked the way to heaven, Jesus candidly said, “I am the Way.” But to the rich young man who lied both to himself and to God, the Good Teacher responded craftily to the same question, “Keep the commandments.”

The Bible is simply not open to scrutiny by the insincere. The Scribes, the Pharisees and the Sadducees had read God’s word diligently every day of their lives. They didn’t have the context problem of the present-day disbeliever. They knew what kind of material they were looking at; they even revered it, in a way.

But when the Word-Made-Flesh, the Fulfillment of every prophecy, the long-expected Messiah stood right in front of them, they didn’t recognize Him. Jesus told them, “You search the Scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is these that bear witness of Me.” (John 5:39 NASB) They had scrutinized the sacred scrolls until their eyes bled, but missed the whole Point.

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Beware of Bible scholars spouting Greek

In some Evangelical circles, knowledge of the Biblical Greek language is seen as a trump card in any arguments regarding the interpretation of Scripture passages. When a debate occurs, someone just has to say, “well, in the original Greek, this means…” and the argument is won. But the reality is much different: although knowledge of Biblical Greek is helpful in many ways, it does not automatically give one knowledge of the “real” meaning of a passage. Greek is still a human language, and as such, it has its ambiguities just like any language. Furthermore, those who know Greek have their own biases and preconceptions which they bring to the text. Sometimes knowing the Greek can eliminate certain possible interpretations, but never does it alone give you sure knowledge of the meaning of a debated passage.

One of the most well-known Greek teachers in the Evangelical world is Bill Mounce. I myself have used his materials to learn Biblical Greek. Fortunately, even though he is an expert in the Biblical Greek language, Mounce does not fall into the fallacy of thinking that knowledge of Greek gives you some secret knowledge of the inner meaning of the Bible. He understands that proper interpretation includes many factors outside of just knowing the original language.

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