Vol. XIX, No. 3
Inspiration and Truth in the Scripture
Pope Francis addresses Pontifical Biblical Commission on the unbreakable unity between Scripture and Tradition
Pope Francis addressed members of the Pontifical Biblical Commission on April 12, at the end of their 2013 plenary assembly on the subject “inspiration and truth in the Bible,” the fourth annual session dedicated to this topic. In his address, Pope Francis made it clear that the Word of God “precedes and exceeds the Bible”; thus “it is for this reason that the center of our faith is not only a book, but a history of salvation and especially a Person, Jesus Christ, the Word of God made flesh.”
He stressed that Scripture and Tradition are inseparable. Interpretation of the Scripture cannot be an “individual scientific effort,” Pope Francis said, citing the Vatican II Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium, but must be “inserted within and authenticated by the living tradition of the Church,” which ensures “the very validity and effectiveness of biblical hermeneutics.” So interpretation of the Bible can never be merely “subjective or simply limited to an analysis incapable of embracing the global meaning that has constituted the Tradition of the entire People of God over the centuries.”
The Pontifical Biblical Commission was created by Pope Leo XIII in 1902, as an advisory group of cardinals to address emerging questions and controversy regarding Sacred Scripture. It was reorganized after Vatican II, and now serves as a consulting body of biblical scholars under the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF). Its president is the Prefect of the CDF, Archbishop Gerhard Müller. Membership consists of an international group of twenty biblical scholars who are appointed by the pope (at the proposal of the president) for renewable five-year terms.
In 2008, the Commission issued “The Bible and Morality: Biblical Roots of Christian Conduct,” at the conclusion of several annual meetings dedicated to this topic. Since 2008, the Commission’s annual meetings have focused on “Inspiration and Truth in the Scripture.”
A Vatican Radio translation of the full text of Pope Francis’s April address to the Pontifical Biblical Commission follows.
April 12, 2013
Dear Members of the Pontifical Biblical Commission,
I am pleased to welcome you at the end of your annual Plenary Assembly. I thank the President, Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller, for his greeting and summary of the topic that has been the subject of careful consideration in the course of your work. You have gathered again to study a very important topic: the inspiration and truth of the Bible. It is a matter that affects not only the individual believer, but the whole Church, for the life and mission of the Church is founded on the Word of God, which is the soul of theology and the inspiration of all Christian life.
As we know, the Holy Scriptures are the testimony in written form of God’s Word, the canonical memorial that attests to the event of Revelation. The Word of God, therefore, precedes and exceeds the Bible. It is for this reason that the center of our faith is not only a book, but a history of salvation and especially a Person, Jesus Christ, the Word of God made flesh. Precisely because the Word of God embraces and extends beyond Scripture, to understand it properly we need the constant presence of the Holy Spirit who “guides [us] to all truth” (Jn 16:13). It should be inserted within the current of the great Tradition which, through the assistance of the Holy Spirit and the guidance of the Magisterium, recognized the canonical writings as the Word addressed by God to His people who have never ceased to meditate and discover its inexhaustible riches. The Second Vatican Council has reiterated this with great clarity in the Dogmatic Constitution Dei Verbum: “For all of what has been said about the way of interpreting Scripture is subject finally to the judgment of the Church, which carries out the divine commission and ministry of guarding and interpreting the word of God” (n. 12).
As the aforementioned conciliar Constitution reminds us, there is an unbreakable unity between Scripture and Tradition, as both come from the same source: “There exists a close connection and communication between sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture. For both of them, flowing from the same divine wellspring, in a certain way merge into a unity and tend toward the same end. For Sacred Scripture is the word of God inasmuch as it is consigned to writing under the inspiration of the divine Spirit, while sacred tradition takes the word of God entrusted by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit to the Apostles, and hands it on to their successors in its full purity, so that led by the light of the Spirit of truth, they may in proclaiming it preserve this word of God faithfully, explain it, and make it more widely known. Consequently it is not from Sacred Scripture alone that the Church draws her certainty about everything which has been revealed. Therefore both sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture are to be accepted and venerated with the same sense of loyalty and reverence” (ibid., 9).
It follows, therefore, that the exegete must be careful to perceive the Word of God present in the biblical texts by placing them within the faith of the Church. The interpretation of the Holy Scriptures cannot be only an individual scientific effort, but must always confront itself with, be inserted within, and authenticated by the living tradition of the Church. This norm is essential to specify the correct relationship between exegesis and the Magisterium of the Church. The texts inspired by God were entrusted to the Community of believers, the Church of Christ, to nourish the faith and guide the life of charity. Respect for this profound nature of Scripture conditions the very validity and effectiveness of biblical hermeneutics. This results in the insufficiency of any interpretation that is either subjective or simply limited to an analysis incapable of embracing the global meaning that has constituted the Tradition of the entire People of God over the centuries, which “in credendo falli nequit” [cannot be mistaken in belief – ed.] (Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium, 12).
Dear Brothers, I wish to conclude my talk by expressing my thanks to all of you and encouraging you in your important work.
May the Lord Jesus Christ, the incarnate Word of God, the Divine Teacher who opened the minds and hearts of His disciples to understand the Scriptures (cf. Lk 24:45), guide and support you always in your endeavors.
May the Virgin Mary, model of docility and obedience to the Word of God, teach you to accept fully the inexhaustible riches of Sacred Scripture not only through intellectual pursuits, but in prayer and throughout your life of believers, especially in this Year of the Faith, so that your work will help to shine the light of Sacred Scripture in the hearts of the faithful.
Wishing you a fruitful continuation of your activities, I invoke the light of the Holy Spirit and impart my Apostolic Blessing upon you all. ¦