Online Edition: June-July 2011
Vol. XVII, No. 4
"Inspiration and Truth in the Bible"
Pope Benedict’s Message to the Pontifical Biblical Commission
“Inspiration and Truth in the Bible” was the topic of the annual meeting of the Pontifical Biblical Commission, an international group of twenty biblical scholars that advises the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The sessions were held May 2-6 at the Vatican. Cardinal William Levada, prefect of the CDF, is also president of the Biblical Commission. Father Klemens Stock, SJ, secretary general of the commission, chaired the sessions.
In his message to the commission on May 6, Pope Benedict stressed the importance of making known the Catholic position on the divine inspiration and truth of the Bible. “An interpretation of the sacred writings that disregards or forgets their inspiration does not take into account their most important and precious characteristic, that they come from God”, he said. The Holy Spirit inspired the biblical writers so that “human words express the word of God”.
[English translation by Zenit news agency: zenit.org]
To Venerable Brother
Cardinal William Levada
President of the Pontifical Biblical Commission
I am pleased to send you, the secretary and all the members of the Pontifical Biblical Commission my cordial greeting on the occasion of this annual plenary assembly. The commission gathers for the third time to reflect on the topic entrusted to it: “Inspiration and Truth of the Bible”.
This topic constitutes one of the main points of my postsynodal apostolic exhortation Verbum Domini, which treats it in the first part (cf. No. 19). I wrote in this document: “A key concept for understanding the sacred text as the word of God in human words is certainly that of inspiration”. It is precisely inspiration as the action of God that makes it possible to express the Word of God in human words. Consequently, the subject of inspiration is “decisive for an adequate approach to the Scriptures and their correct interpretation” (ibid.). In fact, an interpretation of the sacred writings that neglects or forgets their inspiration does not take into account their most important and valuable characteristic, their provenance from God.
Such an interpretation does not allow one to access the Word of God, and loses, therefore, the inestimable treasure that sacred Scripture contains for us. This kind of approach is concerned with merely human words, although they might be, in various ways according to diverse writings, words of extraordinary depth and beauty. The discussion on inspiration deals with the profound nature and decisive and distinctive meaning of sacred Scripture, namely, its quality as Word of God.
In the same apostolic exhortation, moreover, I reminded that “the Synod Fathers also stressed the link between the theme of inspiration and that of the truth of the Scriptures. A deeper study of the process of inspiration will doubtless lead to a greater understanding of the truth contained in the sacred books” (ibid.).
According to the conciliar constitution Dei Verbum, God addresses His word to us to “to reveal Himself and to make known to us the hidden purpose of His will (cf. Ephesians 1:9)” (No. 2). Through His Word, God wills to communicate to us all the truth about Himself and about the plan of salvation for humanity. The commitment to discover ever more the truth of the Sacred Books is equivalent therefore to seeking to know God more and more, and the mystery of His salvific will.
“Theological reflection has always considered inspiration and truth as two key concepts for an ecclesial hermeneutic of the sacred Scriptures. Nonetheless, one must acknowledge the need today for a fuller and more adequate study of these realities, in order better to respond to the need to interpret the sacred texts in accordance with their nature” (Verbum Domini, No. 19).
In addressing the subject “Inspiration and Truth of the Bible”, the Pontifical Biblical Commission is called to offer its specific and qualified contribution to this necessary study. In fact, it is essential and fundamental for the life and mission of the Church that the Sacred Texts be interpreted according to their nature: Inspiration and Truth are constitutive characteristics of this nature. That is why your commitment will have real usefulness for the life and mission of the Church.
Finally, I would like to refer to the fact that for a good interpretation, it is not possible to apply in a mechanical way the criterion of inspiration, nor that of absolute truth, extrapolating a single phrase or expression. The context in which it is possible to perceive Holy Scripture as the Word of God is that of the unity of the history of God, in a totality in which individual elements are mutually illumined and opened to understanding.
In wishing each one of you a fruitful pursuit of your works, I would like finally to manifest my heartfelt appreciation for the work carried out by the Biblical Commission to promote the knowledge, study, and reception of the Word of God in the world. With these sentiments I entrust each one of you to the maternal protection of the Virgin Mary, who with all the Church we invoke as Sedes Sapientiae [Seat of Wisdom], and from my heart I impart to you, Venerable Brother, and to all the members of the Pontifical Biblical Commission, a special Apostolic Blessing.
From the Vatican, May 2, 2011
BENEDICTUS PP. XVI