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The Pontifical Biblical Commission

From 1902-1968 the Pontifical Biblical Commission [Catholic Commentry on Holy Scripture (1952) 47b,c] had Cardinals as members and its decrees were understood by most [CCHS 47d] but not all [CCHS 47e] Catholic theologans to be binding on Catholics to internal assent. Rome now chooses to ignore many of them. In 1955 a clarification by A. Miller and A. Kleinhans, the secretary and assistant secretary of the Commission stated that the early PBC decisions could be ignored! However, according to a priestly correspondent:
"The document .... that seems to revoke the previous decrees had no authority behind it and the person who did it was disciplined for giving the appearance of speaking for the Biblical Commission. The weight that should be put on the decrees stated colloquially is 'that the burden of proof is on those who would disagree with the decrees and unless that can be done the decrees should be followed'."
Pius XII gave a huge boost to Catholic biblical scholarship with his encyclical "Divino Afflante Spiritu" [1943]. In it: While neither he nor any later pope ever revoked any of the decrees of the PBC, since his pontificate Rome has in practice adhered to the spirit of the Miller-Kleinhans clarification. No Catholic scholar who contradicted its decrees since 1955 has been criticized or disciplined.

Some of the most problematic decrees (with my comments) are:

These statements by an organ of the Ordinary Magisterium are all questionable. Some would find virtually no Catholic defenders today. While they have never been formally repudiated, Rome takes no action to defend them, and allows books such as the New Jerome Biblical Commentary - which attacks virtually every proposition - to be published with imprimaturs and nihil obstats.

My priestly correspondent continues:

"Despite what some scholars may think the decrees have not been disproved. It is interesting to note that Pope Paul VI changed the nature of the commission around 1968 and so it no longer has magisterial authority but merely presents theological opinions which are not binding on the faithful. The decrees up to that change around 1968 are still binding with the theological weight that I have tried to explain."
I strongly agree with him. The decrees are so carefully couched as to be un-disprovable. The issue is not whether the PBC objectively erred, but whether the manifest import of the teaching of the Ordinary Magisterium is in this case either an accurate or helpful guide as to what is true.

For example, it seems to me that whether or not

is of little importance. In the last analysis, all that is being asserted by the PBC (at a minimum) is that Moses was familiar with (virtually?) every source that eventually went towards constituting the Torah. Now this is a very cautious statement and certainly un-disprovable, failing any interrogation of the prophet himself! Nevertheless, the original and intended effect of the PBC statement was to outlaw any consideration of the idea that the Torah was not overwhelmingly authored by Moses, which was unfortunate, especially as the question of Mosaic authorship is one of historical not theological fact: in which case it does not fall within the ambit of magisterial authority.

See "New Jerome Biblical Commentary", 72:25-28 or (for a 1952 view) "A Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture".


This document was inspired by an earlier study by Paul Halsall to be found in his "Compedium of Errors" on the Gay Catholic Handbook website.

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