Pardon the departure from scholastic thought per se. I post this because I’m in a catholic moral theology class whose professor has loud and long lamented the loss of biblical reflection in catholic moral theology. I have been attempting to argue to some catholic colleagues concerned for my conversion that this is not a coincidence. There’s a good reason that most catholics didn’t really read the Bible much less engage in serious exegesis before the 60’s–because the church didn’t want them to. This post is meant to corroborate some of those claims as well as to bring forward some historical texts for our consideration.
[I wanted to post some quotes from the council of Trent about the relationship of Scripture and tradition and then supplement these with some quotes from Bellarmine and Melchior Cano. Alas, my hours trawling the sordid underbelly of the internet didn’t turn anything up. I wasn’t even able to find a Latin edition of the council of Trent. Where’s your wikipedia now, Jimmy Wales?]
At any rate, I did find the English translation of Trent.
Here are some quotes, followed by my brief interpretation of them:
“. . . this truth and discipline are contained in the written books, and the unwritten traditions which, received by the Apostles from the mouth of Christ himself, or from the Apostles themselves, the Holy Ghost dictating, have come down even unto us, transmitted as it were from hand to hand; (the Synod) following the examples of the orthodox Fathers, receives and venerates with an equal affection of piety, and reverence, all the books both of the Old and of the New Testament–seeing that one God is the author of both –as also the said traditions, as well those appertaining to faith as to morals, as having been dictated, either by Christ’s own word of mouth, or by the Holy Ghost, and preserved in the Catholic Church by a continuous succession.” p. 18
2 Interesting points: (1) The word “dictated.” Is a dictation theory of inspiration catholic dogma? (2) The phrase “unwritten traditions.” If there are unwritten but authoritative traditions this would seem to indicate that part of the deposit of faith is located in the written tradition (Scripture) and part of it in the unwritten oral teaching handed down from one bishop to another, no? I wanted to find some quotes from Cano and Bellarmine because I think they both believed that the Word of God was contained “partly” in the Bible and “partly” in the unwritten tradition, alas Google failed me. I’ll have to go to a real mortar and brick library and dig those quotes up later.
“But if any one receive not, as sacred and canonical, the said books entire with all their parts [previous paragraph listed the books of the Bible including the deuterocanon], as they have been used to be read in the Catholic Church, and as they are contained in the old Latin vulgate edition; and knowingly and deliberately contemn the traditions aforesaid; let him be anathema. Let all, therefore, understand, in what order, and in what manner, the said Synod, after having laid the foundation of the Confession of faith, will proceed, and what testimonies and authorities it will mainly use in confirming dogmas, and in restoring morals in the Church.” p. 19
1 interesting points: (1) The word “anathema”. If you don’t think Tobit is canonical, you are anathema, period. None of that wishy-washy Vatican II ‘separated brethren’ nonsense.
“Moreover, the same sacred and holy Synod,–considering that no small utility may accrue to the Church of God, if it be made known which out of all the Latin editions, now in circulation, of the sacred books, is to be held as authentic,–ordains and declares, that the said old and vulgate edition, which, by the lengthened usage of so many years, has been approved of in the Church, be, in public lectures, disputations, sermons and expositions, held as authentic; and that no one is to dare, or presume to reject it under any pretext whatever.” Ibid.
Interesting point: the word “authentic”. This is where I really wish I had a copy of the Latin. Because whatever the Vulgate is, it isn’t authentic. There are serious translation problems in the Vulgate, cf. Rom. 5.12 where Jerome translates eph’ho (because) as in quo (in whom) which got Augustine into all that trouble with original sin.
“Furthermore, in order to restrain petulant spirits, It decrees, that no one, relying on his own skill, shall,–in matters of faith, and of morals pertaining to the edification of Christian doctrine, –wresting the sacred Scripture to his own senses, presume to interpret the said sacred Scripture contrary to that sense which holy mother Church,–whose it is to judge of the true sense and interpretation of the holy Scriptures,–hath held and doth hold; [Page 20] or even contrary to the unanimous consent of the Fathers; even though such interpretations were never (intended) to be at any time published. Contraveners shall be made known by their Ordinaries, and be punished with the penalties by law established.” pp. 19-20
And here’s the nub. Why should a catholic moral theologian try to look in the Bible past proof texts? If the magisterium says that Romans 5.12 means that everybody sinned in Adam, and if the magisterium is always right, then that’s what Romans 5.12 means. You don’t need to be able to read Greek (the Vulgate is “authentic” enough) and you certainly don’t need to do a historical-critical exegesis of the text to try to figure out what it meant in its original context. If original sin is ever taught as a part of the universal and ordinary magisterium on the basis of Romans 5.12 (don’t have a quote handy, but it’s bound to be, right?) then that’s what Romans 5.12 means, exegesis and hermeneutics be damned. If you dare to form your own private judgment, based on your own skill and expertise (as a philologist, say) and point out that Jerome’s translation’s faulty and the dogma based on it questionable, then you should be punished in a court of law for usurping the prerogatives of holy mother church.
Well, color me a protestant, but it seem to me that the way infallibility and teaching authority works in the catholic church would incline aspiring young priests to read the Bible as a big handbook of prooftexts that just confirm what the magisterium infallibly teaches. I’m not trying to offend here–God knows I spent my teenage years reading the Bible as a handbook full of proof texts for a magisterium much less qualified than the catholic one–my point is merely that there is a very, very good reason that catholic laity didn’t read much of the Bible. That was the priest’s job. And there’s a good reason the priests didn’t exegete much of the Bible–the magisterium’s already done that authoritatively.