On the Catholic Interpretation of the Bible: Divino Afflante Spiritu

Inspired by the Divine Spirit, the Sacred Writers composed those books, which God, in His paternal charity towards the human race, deigned to bestow on them in order “to teach, to reprove, to correct, to instruct in justice: that the man of God may be perfect, furnished to every good work.” (2Tim 3:16-17) This heaven-sent treasure Holy Church considers as the most precious source of doctrine on faith and morals. No wonder herefore that, as she received it intact from the hands of the Apostles, so she kept it with all care, defended it from every false and perverse interpretation and used it diligently as an instrument for securing the eternal salvation of souls, as almost countless documents in every age strikingly bear witness.

– Pope Pius XII, Divino Afflante Spiritu

Pope Pius XII issued Divino Afflante Spiritu 65 years ago today, in 1943 on the feast of St. Jerome. Later described as a “Magna Carta for biblical progress,  the encyclical letter outlines a general approach to the Catholic understanding of the Bible and biblical studies. In particular Pope Pius reviews some of the prevailing œsecular  approaches to studying Scripture and outlines their proper use by Catholic scholars, so that modern scholars will “neglect none of those discoveries, whether in the domain of archeology or in ancient history or literature, which serve to make better known the mentality of the ancient writers.” (40)

Pius begins his letter by praising Pope Leo XIII’s 1893 encyclical Providentissimus Deus, which sought to safeguard the Scriptures against various modern readings (collectively referred to as “higher criticisms”). Leo was concerned about the use of the historical-critical method in interpreting Scripture and declared that true science will never contradict Scripture properly understood.

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