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"Chapter 1: A Revolution by Vatican II?"


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Has the Church in our times reversed many teachings about Scripture? This claim is made about the Scriptural Encyclical Divino afflante Spiritu of Pius XII, and still more about Vatican II, which is supposed to have revolutionized theology. The answer is: Definitely no. But we should see the specifics.

We are going to see the chief positive aspects of Scripture study. But first we must clear away some very serious objections.

We begin with Vatican II. The Constitution Dei verbum on Scripture had a stormy history at the Council, and was not finally approved until November 18, 1964.

The peak of the problem came on October 2, 1964, when Cardinal Koenig of Vienna rose and said that there are errors in Scripture in the matter of history. (Cf. A. Grillmeier, in H. Vorgrimler, ed., Commentary on the Documents of Vatican II, Herder & Herder, 1969, III, pp. 205-06). Sadly, many Bishops chimed in with him, and there was at least no public correction by Paul VI. Yet, the Holy Spirit was present. Really, considering the atmosphere at Vatican II, our faith in Divine Providence should be stronger, for the final documents left no trace of such unfortunate things (it is only the final texts that are divinely protected: floor speeches and debates are not protected. And the difference was evident at Vatican II, as also at the very first General Council, Nicea, in 325 AD, when about 15 Bishops denied the divinity of Christ).

We will answer every one of the specific cases Cardinal Koenig alleged presently, and also the broader charges made today in New Jerome Biblical Commentary which dares to assert, in reference to Cardinal Koenig's intervention, "pre-voting debates show an awareness of errors in the Bible" (p. 1169, 72:14 - which refers to other statements in 65:50 and 70-71 in the same vein).

But first, let us get the setting from the preface to DV where the Council said: "Following in the footsteps of the Councils of Trent and Vatican I, [this Council] intends to present the true doctrine about divine revelation and its transmission." This of course does not fit at all with an idea of reversal of previous teaching or an acceptance of error in Scripture.

We begin with the specifics from Cardinal Koenig, and then we will meet the broader charges just mentioned. There were three cases given by the Cardinal:

1) In Mark 2:26 we read that David had entered the house of God "under the High Priest Abiathar" and eaten the bread of the Presence. But really, 1 Samuel 21:1 ff. shows that it was not under Abiathar, but under his father Abimelech (Cf. Grillmeier, p. 205).

Reply: The Greek text of Mk 2:26 has epi Abiathar archiereos. Now that Greek preposition epi when used with the genitive case of the person can readily have the generic time meaning, that is, "in the days of... ." (Cf. H. W. Smyth, Greek Grammar for Colleges, American Book Co., NY, 1920, #1689, which reports such usages in various authors, e.g., Thucydides 7. 86). So the phrase really means "in the time of Abiathar". The reason for using Abiathar's name for the time period rather than that of Abimelech was that Abiathar was much more prominent and better known to readers of the Old Testament than his father, because of his close association with David under whom he became chief priest along with Zadok.

2) Matthew 27:9 says that in the fate of Judas, a prophecy of Jeremiah was fulfilled. Really, said Cardinal Koenig, it was Zechariah 11:12 ff. that was quoted (cf. Grillmeier, p. 205).

Reply: Even the hardly conservative original edition of the New American Bible has a note on this passage which says that Matthew's free quotation of Jeremiah 32:6-15 and Zechariah 11:13 shows that the Evangelist sees the death of Judas "as a divine judgment." Actually it was not unusual at all for the Rabbis to combine texts, and then give the name of the best known of the authors: cf. M. De Tuya, Biblia Comentada, V. Evangelios, 3d ed. Madrid, 1977, p. 441.

3) The Cardinal also charged that in Daniel 1:1 we read that King Nebuchadnezzar besieged Jerusalem in the third year of King Jehoiakim, which the Cardinal says was 607 B. C., whereas the authentic chronicle of the King that has been discovered shows that the siege must have taken place three years earlier (Cf. Grillmeier pp. 205-06).

Reply: If we were reading a modern historical novel about the Civil War, we would expect, and find, besides real history, also some fictional fill-ins. Finding these does not cause us to charge the author with ignorance or deception. No, that is the right way to write such a novel and we, as natives of this culture, know how to take it. There are many other patterns of writing in English, each with as it were, its own rules. But when we move into a very different culture stream, namely, ancient Semitic, it is foolish to think they used the same patterns. By accident they may at times, or may overlap. But we need to check what patterns were actually in use in that ancient culture at that time. Then and then only do we know how to take the various styles of writing. We often call these patterns literary genres. Now in Daniel, all agree there are two patterns or genres. One is apocalyptic - we will see about it later on. The other seems to be the edifying narrative. It contains much fact, but also free use of fill-ins, somewhat like what we know in the modern historical novel. The passages that one might mistakenly think were intended by the writer as our kind of history, are not such: they are the edifying narrative genre. We know for certain that such a genre was in use in the ancient Near East, e.g., in the story of Ahiqar.

Therefore, within such a framework, the author may or may not bother to observe historical precision. What is important is this question: What does he mean to assert? For example in our historical novel he does not assert that the fictional fill-ins really happened. Nor does a writer using the edifying narrative genre assert that all details are historical. In this vein, Pius XII, in his great Divino afflante Spiritu (Enchiridion Biblicum # 559) told us the ancient Semites often used more exaggeration than we do, and also, used mere approximation. No man then would ask his wife to meet him downtown at 4:15 PM. Such accurate time keeping then was out of the question.

But there is a different way, that is better. For there were two ways at that time of dating the first year of a king. In the non-accession year system the year in which a king actually began to reign was counted as his first year, even if he began to reign later in that year. In that system, the first year of Jehoiakim would be 608. This system was in use in Judah at the time (the northern kingdom had used the accession year system, but that kingdom came to an end with the fall of Samaria in 722.).

In the accession year system, the year in which the king actually began to reign was called his first year. In Babylon the accession year method was in use at this time. Thus in Babylonian reckoning the first year of Jehoiakim would be 607 and his third year would have been 605, the year of the siege of Jerusalem. So the problem vanishes if we suppose that Daniel, who was writing from Babylon, used the Babylonian system.

So any competent Scripture scholar should have known that the objections raised by Cardinal Koenig are all in vain.

We already mentioned that the New Jerome Biblical Commentary charges that Vatican II allows us to think there are all sorts of errors in Scripture: in science, in history, even in religion. Only the things needed for salvation are protected. They appeal to DV # 11 which says: "Since, then, everything that the inspired authors or hagiographers assert should be held as asserted by the Holy Spirit, hence the books of Scripture are to be considered as teaching firmly, faithfully, and without error, that truth which God, for the sake of our salvation, wanted to be confided to the Sacred Letters."

The writers of NJBC focus on the clause at the end, which we have underlined. They want to say that it means that ONLY things needed for salvation are protected. There may be error in all else.

Reply: NJBC claims the clause is restrictive, which is not impossible, but it is more normally taken as just descriptive. The charge is astounding, showing complete neglect of all normal rules of interpretation:

1) The Council itself adds notes on DV # 11 which refer us to older documents of the Magisterium, which flatly rule out the proposal of NJBC. First, it refers to Vatican I, DS 3006: "The Church holds those [books] as sacred and canonical not merely because they were approved by the Church, after being written by human efforts, nor merely because they contain revelation without error, but because since they were written by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they have God as their author, and as such, were handed down to the Church." Vatican II works most of this text into DV #11. And Pius XII, in Divino Afflante Spiritu, said the text of Vatican I, was a "solemn definition."

Now it is completely obvious that if God is the principal author, there can be no error of any type whatsoever. NJBC, p. 1169 comments that we now use "an a posteriori approach". An a posteriori approach is contrasted with an a priori approach. When we work a priori, we make a decision in advance, and say what we have just said: since God is the author, there of course can be no error. But the a posteriori approach would instead say: Look at the actual text and see all the errors. Thomas A. Hoffman, in an article in CBQ, July, 1982, pp. 447-69, says Scripture is so full of errors that to try to answer them all would be "basically patching holes on a sinking ship." In fact, he says that would be a lack of faith. We wonder on what that faith is based, if Scripture is so full of errors! He adds that when it is said that Scripture is inspired it means "simply a writing in which they experienced the power, truth etc. of the Spirit of Christ." Shades of Calvin, who said we know a book is inspired if the Holy Spirit interiorly tells us so!

In contrast, Pius XII, in Divino afflante Spiritu, cited the words of Vatican I which Vatican II cited, and said (EB # 538): "When certain Catholic authors, contrary to this solemn definition of Catholic doctrine... dared to restrict the truth of Holy Scripture to matters of faith and morals... our predecessor of immortal memory, Leo XIII, in the Encyclical, Providentissimus Deus... rightly and properly refuted those errors." So Pius XII, in an Encyclical greatly praised by the leftists, called the statement of Vatican I, that God is the Author of Scripture, which Vatican II quoted, a solemn definition. So the NJBC would ask us to think that Vatican II intended to contradict a solemn definition - and even referred us to that definition and quoted it!

Ironically such charges are made today when finally we have the new techniques that allow us to handle successfully charges of error which earlier in this century were insoluble. We will give some presentation of those techniques in this book. For more details, cf. Wm. G. Most, Free From All Error, Prow Books, Libertyville, IL, 2d ed. 1990.

DV # 11 also refers us to other older texts of the Magisterium, with the same general thought. Especially significant are the words of Leo XIII (EB 124): "It is altogether not permitted to either limit inspiration to only some parts of Sacred Scripture, or to say that the sacred author himself was in error. Nor is the method tolerable which, to get out of the difficulties just mentioned, does not hesitate to say that divine inspiration pertains to matters of faith and morals and nothing more... For all the books, the complete books, which the Church receives as sacred and canonical, were written, with all their parts, at the dictation of the Holy Spirit. It is so far from possible that any error could underlie divine inspiration that it of itself not only excludes any error, but excludes and rejects it as necessarily as it is necessary to say that God, the Supreme Truth, is the author of no error at all." A clearer and flatter rejection of the theory of NJBC could hardly be imagined -- yet Vatican II, in the very same passage, DV # 11, refers us to this passage along with others!

2) We notice the words of DV # 11 on genre, for it said -in words underlined in our quotation of the statement - that everything asserted by the human writer is also asserted by the Holy Spirit. When we explained genre briefly in answering Cardinal Koenig, we stressed that word assert. Not everything in a text is asserted by the Holy Spirit or the human writer. For example in the edifying narrative genre, some fill-in details are not asserted. Similarly, in a modern historical novel, the writer asserts that the mainline is history, and that the background descriptions fit the time. But the fill-ins are not asserted to be true. But whatever things are asserted, are asserted by the Holy Spirit, and so are free from every kind of error.

By observing this qualification, we can easily see that no error at all, of any kind, is possible.

With this approach - plus that of form and redaction criticism, which we will see after a bit - things that seem like errors can all be solved. Early in the 20th century, and before, Scripture scholars, both Catholic and Protestant, were well aware of many problems in Scripture, things that seemed like errors or contradictions. They could solve some problems; but many they could not. Yet they were men of faith, and lived and died saying: Even if we cannot find the answer, there must be one. Today thanks to great progress in techniques, we can solve the problems they could not solve. So it is strangely ironic that at the very time when we have the means to solve the formerly insoluble problems, so many today are claiming it is all hopeless. In fact, they say some things are hopeless whose solution was known before, e.g., as to the seeming contradictions in the three accounts of St. Paul's conversion in Acts, it is said that in 9:7 the men with Paul heard the voice, but saw no one, while in 22:9 it says they saw the light but did not hear the voice. The answer is so easy: in Greek, akouein has a broad span of meaning - so does English listen - so it can mean to perceive a sound, or to perceive it and also understand it (cf. John 12. 28-29). Again it is noted that in 26:14 the men all fell to the ground, while in 9:7 it says they stood amazed. One needs no Greek to solve this one: first they fall to the ground, but as soon as they could, scrambled to their feet and stood in amazement.

Our conclusion thus far: Vatican II is not guilty of the charge of contradicting earlier documents.