1. DOI /vx. Pontifical Encyclical Divino Afflante Spiritu () and Principle of Interpretation Bible. PhDr. ThDr. Daniel Slivka, PhD. DIVINO AFFLANTE SPIRITU Encyclical of Pope pius xii concerning the advancement of biblical studies. The document is dated Sept. 30, , feast of St. WHEN the Encyclical Letter Divino Afflante Spiritu appeared thirty years ago, it was the conclusion that in this field Pope P ius XII’s Encyclical was really.
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Inspired by the Divine Spirit, the Sacred Writers composed those books, which God, in His paternal charity towards the human race, deigned to bestow affalnte them in order “to teach, to reprove, to xfflante, to instruct in justice: 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 aflante an instrument for securing the eternal salvation of souls, as almost countless documents in every age strikingly bear witness.
In more recent times, however, since the encyclica, origin and the correct interpretation of the Sacred Writings have been very specially called in question, the Church has with spiriitu greater zeal and care undertaken their defense and protection. The sacred Council of Trent ordained by solemn decree that “the entire books with all their parts, as they have been wont to be read in the Catholic Church and are contained in the old vulgate Latin edition, are to be held sacred and canonical.
Since then it is fitting that We should commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the spiriut of this Encyclical Letter, which is considered the supreme guide in biblical studies, We, moved by that encylical for sacred studies, which We manifested from the very beginning of Our Pontificate, have considered that this adflante most opportunely be done by ratifying and inculcating all that was wisely laid down by Our Predecessor and ordained by His Successors for the consolidating and perfecting of the work, and by pointing out what seems necessary in the present day, in order to incite ever more earnestly all those sons of the Church who devote themselves to these studies, to so necessary and so praiseworthy an enterprise.
Hence with grave words did he proclaim that there is no error whatsoever if afflantf sacred writer, speaking of things of the physical order “went by what sensibly appeared” as the Angelic Doctor says, speaking either “in figurative language, or in terms which were commonly used at the time, and which in many divnio are in daily use at this day, even among the most eminent men of science.
Augustine’s –  the Holy Spirit, Who spoke by them, did not intend to teach men these things – that is the essential nature of the things of spiriut universe – things in no way profitable to salvation”; which principle “will apply to cognate sciences, and especially to history,” that is, by refuting, “in a somewhat similar way the fallacies of the adversaries and defending the historical truth of Sacred Scripture from their attacks.
This is the ancient and constant faith of the Church. No less earnestly do We inculcate obedience at the present day to the counsels and exhortations which he, in his day, so wisely enjoined. For whereas there arose new and serious difficulties and questions, from the wide-spread prejudices of rationalism and more especially from the discovery and investigation of the antiquities of the East, this same Our Predecessor, moved by zeal of the apostolic office, not only that such an excellent source of Catholic revelation might be more securely and abundantly available to the advantage of the Spiriut flock, but also that he might not suffer it to be in any way tainted, wished and most earnestly desired “to see an increase in the number of the approved and persevering laborers in the cause of Holy Scripture; and more especially that those whom Divine Grace has called to Holy Orders, should day-by-day, as their state demands, display greater diligence and industry in reading, meditating and explaining it.
Wherefore the same Pontiff, as he had already praised and approved the school for biblical studies, founded at St.
Stephen’s, Jerusalem, by the Master General of the Sacred Order of Preachers – encyclcal which, to use his own words, encycliccal science itself had received no small advantage, while giving promise of more” – so in the last year of his life he provided yet another way, by which these same studies, so warmly commended in the Encyclical Letter Providentissimus Deusmight daily make greater progress and be pursued with the greatest possible security. By the Apostolic Letter Vigilantiaepublished on October 30 in the yearhe founded a Council or Commission, as it is called, of eminent men, “whose duty it would be to procure by every means that the sacred texts may receive everywhere among us that more thorough exposition which the times demand, and be kept safe not only from every breath of error, but also from all inconsiderate opinions.
It may not spuritu out of place here to recall gratefully the principal and more useful contributions made successively by Our Predecessors toward this same end, which contributions may be considered as the complement or fruit of the movement spiditu happily initiated by Leo XIII. And first of all Pius X, wishing “to provide a sure way for the preparation of a copious supply of teachers, who, encyclicla by the seriousness and the integrity of their doctrine, might explain the Sacred Books in Catholic schools.
All this in fine Our immediate Predecessor of happy memory Pius XI brought to perfection, laying down among other things “that no one should be appointed professor of Sacred Scripture in any Seminary, unless, having completed spirigu special course of biblical studies, he had in due form obtained the academic degrees before the Biblical Commission or the Biblical Institute.
Seeing that, in the yearwith the benign approval of Pius X of happy memory, “to the Benedictine monks had been committed the task of preparing the investigations and studies on which might be based a new edition of the Latin version of the Scripture, commonly called the Vulgate, the same Pontiff, Pius XI, wishing to consolidate more firmly and securely this “laborious and arduous enterprise,” which demands considerable time and great expense, founded in Rome and lavishly endowed with a library and other means of research, the monastery of St.
Jerome, to be devoted exclusively to this work. Nor should We fail to mention here how earnestly these same Our Predecessors, when the opportunity occurred, recommended the study or preaching or in fine the pious reading and meditation on the Sacred Scriptures. Pius X most heartily commended the society of St. Jerome, which strives to promote among the faithful – and to facilitate with all its power – the truly praiseworthy custom of reading and meditating on the holy Gospels; he exhorted them to persevere in the enterprise they encylcical begun, proclaiming it “a most useful undertaking, as well as most suited to the times,” seeing that it helps in no small way “to dissipate the idea that the Church is opposed to or in any way impedes the reading of the Scriptures in the spirituu.
Jerome, the greatest Doctor of the Sacred Scriptures, after having most solemnly inculcated the precepts and examples of the same Doctor, agflante well as the principles and rules laid down by Leo XIII and by himself, and having recommended afflante things highly opportune and never to be forgotten in this connection, exhorted “all the children of the Church, especially clerics, to reverence the Holy Scripture, to read it piously and meditate it constantly”; he reminded them “that in these pages is to be sought that food, by which the spiritual life is nourished unto perfection,” afclante “that the chief use of Scripture pertains to the holy and fruitful exercise of the ministry of preaching”; he ebcyclical once again expressed his warm approval of the work of the society called after St.
Jerome himself, by means of which the Gospels and Acts of the Apostles are being so widely diffused, “that there is no Christian family spirifu more without them and that all are accustomed to read and meditate them daily. But it is right and pleasing to confess openly that it is not only by reason of these initiatives, precepts and exhortations of Our Predecessors that the knowledge and use of the Sacred Spirltu have made great progress among Catholics; for this is also due to the works and labors of all those who diligently cooperated with them, both by meditating, investigating and writing, as well as by teaching and preaching and by translating and propagating the Sacred Books.
For from the schools in which are fostered higher studies in theological and biblical science, and especially from Our Pontifical Biblical Institute, there have already come forth, and daily continue to come forth, many students of Encyclicaal Scripture who, inspired with an intense love for the Enycclical Books, imbue the younger clergy with this same ardent zeal and assiduously impart to them the doctrine they themselves have acquired.
Many of them also, by the written word, spirifu promoted and do still promote, far and wide, the study of the Bible; as when they edit the sacred text corrected in spirigu with the rules spirritu textual criticism or expound, explain, and translate it into the vernacular; or when they propose it to the faithful for their pious reading and meditation; or finally when they cultivate and seek civino aid of profane sciences which are useful for the interpretation of the Scriptures.
From these therefore and from other initiatives which daily become more wide-spread and vigorous, as, for example, biblical societies, congresses, libraries, associations for meditation on the Gospels, We firmly hope that in the future reverence for, as well as the use and knowledge of, the Sacred Scriptures will everywhere more and more increase for the good of souls, provided the method of biblical studies laid down by Leo XIII, explained more clearly and perfectly by his Successors, encyclidal by Us confirmed and amplified – which indeed is the only safe way and proved by experience – be more firmly, eagerly and faithfully accepted by all, regardless of the difficulties which, as in all human affairs, so in this most excellent work will never be wanting.
Divino afflante Spiritu – Wikipedia
There is no one who cannot easily encyclixal that the conditions of biblical studies and their subsidiary sciences have greatly changed within the last fifty years. For, apart from anything else, when Our Predecessor published the Encyclical Letter Providentissimus Deushardly a single place in Palestine had begun to be explored by means of relevant excavations.
Now, however, this kind of investigation is much more frequent and, since more precise methods and technical skill have been developed in the course of actual divinoo, it gives us information at once more abundant and more accurate. How much light has been derived from these explorations for the more correct and fuller understanding of the Sacred Books all experts know, as well as all those who devote themselves to these studies. The value of these excavations is enhanced by the discovery from time to time of written documents, which help much towards the knowledge afflantte the languages, letters, events, customs, and forms of worship of most ancient times.
And of no less importance is papyri which have contributed so much to the knowledge of the discovery and investigation, so frequent in our times, of letters and institutions, both public and private, especially of the time of Our Savior. Moreover ancient codices of the Sacred Books have been found and edited with spirritu thoroughness; the exegesis of the Fathers of the Church has been more widely and thoroughly examined; in fine the manner of speaking, relating and writing in use among the ancients spjritu made clear by innumerable examples.
All these advantages which, not without a special design of Divine Providence, our age has acquired, encycilcal as duvino were an invitation and inducement to interpreters of the Sacred Literature to make diligent use of this light, so abundantly given, to penetrate more deeply, explain more clearly and expound more lucidly the Encuclical Oracles.
If, with the greatest satisfaction of mind, We perceive that these same interpreters have resolutely answered and still continue to answer this call, this is certainly not divinno last or least of the fruits of the Encyclical Letter Providentissimus Deus, by which Our Predecessor Leo Ecnyclical, foreseeing as it were this new development of biblical studies, summoned Catholic exegetes to labor and wisely defined the direction and the method to be followed in that labor.
We also, by this Encyclical Letter, desire to insure that the work may not only proceed without interruption, but may also daily become more perfect and fruitful; and to that end We are specially intent on pointing out to all what yet remains to be done, with what spirit the Catholic exegete should undertake, at the present day, so great and noble a work, and to give new incentive and fresh courage to the laborers who toil so strenuously in the vineyard of the Lord.
The Fathers of the Church in their time, especially Augustine, warmly recommended to the Catholic scholar, who undertook the investigation and explanation of the Sacred Scriptures, the study of the ancient languages and recourse to the original texts. In the middle ages, when Scholastic Theology was at the height of its vigor, the knowledge of even the Greek language had long since become so rare in the West, enycclical even the greatest Doctors of that time, in their exposition of the Sacred Text, had recourse only to the Latin version, known as the Vulgate.
On the contrary in this our time, not only the Greek language, which since the humanistic renaissance has been, as it were, restored to new life, is familiar to almost all students of antiquity and letters, but the knowledge of Hebrew also and of their oriental languages has spread far and wide among literary men. Moreover there are now such abundant aids to the study of these languages that the biblical scholar, who by neglecting them would deprive himself of access to the original texts, could in no wise escape the stigma of levity and sloth.
For it is the duty of the exegete to lay hold, so to speak, with the greatest care and reverence of the very least expressions which, under the inspiration of the Divine Spirit, have flowed from the pen of the sacred writer, so as to arrive at a deeper and fuller knowledge of his meaning.
Wherefore let him diligently apply himself so as to acquire daily a greater facility in biblical as well as in other oriental languages and to support his interpretation by the aids which all branches of philology supply.
Jerome strove earnestly to achieve, as far as the science of his time permitted; to this also aspired with untiring zeal and no small fruit not a few of the great exegetes of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, although the knowledge of languages then was much less than at the present day. In like manner therefore ought we to explain the original text which, having been written by the inspired author himself, has more authority and greater weight than any even the very best translation, whether ancient or modern; this can be done all the more easily and fruitfully, if to the knowledge of languages be joined a real skill in literary criticism of the same text.
The great importance which should be attached to this kind of criticism was aptly pointed out by Augustine, when, among the precepts to be recommended to the student of the Sacred Books, he put in the first place the care to possess a corrected text. For its very purpose is to insure that the sacred text be restored, as perfectly as possible, be purified from the corruptions due to the carelessness of the copyists and be freed, as far as may be done, from glosses and omissions, from the interchange and repetition of words and from all other kinds of mistakes, which are wont to make their way gradually into writings handed down through many centuries.
It is scarcely necessary to observe that this criticism, which some fifty years ago not a few made use of quite arbitrarily and often in such wise that one would say they did so to introduce into the sacred text their own preconceived ideas, today has rules so firmly established and secure, that it has become a most valuable aid to the purer and more accurate editing of the sacred text and that any abuse can easily be discovered.
Nor is it necessary here to call to mind – since it is doubtless familiar and evident to all students of Sacred Scripture – to what extent namely the Church has held in honor these studies in textual criticism from the earliest centuries down even to the present day.
Today therefore, since this branch of science has attained to such high perfection, it is the honorable, though not always easy, task of students of the Bible to procure by every means that as soon as possible may be duly published by Catholics editions of the Sacred Books and of ancient versions, brought out in accordance with these standards, which, that is to say, unite the greatest reverence for the sacred text with an exact observance of all the rules of criticism.
And let all know that this prolonged labor is not only necessary for the right understanding of the divinely-given writings, but also is urgently demanded by that piety by which it behooves us to be grateful to the God of all providence, Who from the throne of His majesty has sent these books as so many paternal letters to His own children.
Nor should anyone think that this use of the original texts, in accordance with the methods of criticism, in any way derogates from those decrees so wisely enacted by the Council of Trent concerning the Latin Vulgate. And if the Tridentine Synod wished “that all should use as authentic” the Vulgate Latin version, this, as all know, applies only to the Latin Church and to the public use of the same Scriptures; nor does it, doubtless, in any way diminish the authority and value of the original texts.
For there was no question then of these texts, but of the Latin versions, which were in circulation at that time, and of these the same Council rightly declared to be preferable that which “had been approved by its long-continued use for so many centuries in the Church.
Wherefore this authority of the Vulgate in matters of doctrine by no means prevents – nay rather today it almost demands – either the corroboration and confirmation of this same doctrine by the original texts or the having recourse on any and every occasion to the aid of these same texts, by which the correct meaning of the Sacred Letters is everywhere daily made more clear and evident.
Nor is it forbidden by the decree of the Council of Trent to make translations into the vulgar tongue, even directly from the original texts themselves, for the use and benefit of the faithful and for the better understanding of the divine word, as We know to have been already done in a laudable manner in many countries with the approval of the Ecclesiastical authority. Being thoroughly prepared by the knowledge of the ancient languages and by the aids afforded by the art of criticism, let the Catholic exegete undertake the task, of all those imposed on him the greatest, that namely of discovering and expounding the genuine meaning of the Sacred Books.
In the performance of this task let the interpreters bear in mind that their foremost and greatest endeavor should be to discern and define clearly that sense of the biblical words which is called literal.
Aided by the context and by comparison with similar passages, let them therefore by means of their knowledge of languages search out with all diligence the literal meaning of the words; all these helps indeed are wont to be pressed into service in the explanation also of profane writers, so that the mind of the author may be made abundantly clear.
The commentators of the Sacred Letters, mindful of the fact that here there is question of a divinely inspired text, the care and interpretation of which have been confided to the Church by God Himself, should no less diligently take into account the explanations and declarations of the teaching authority of the Church, as likewise the interpretation given by the Holy Fathers, and even “the analogy of faith” as Leo XIII most wisely observed in the Encyclical Letter Providentissimus Deus.
By making such an exposition, which is above all, as We have said, theological, they will efficaciously reduce to silence those who, affirming that they scarcely ever find anything in biblical commentaries to raise their hearts to God, to nourish their souls or promote their interior life, repeatedly urge that we should have recourse to a certain spiritual and, as they say, mystical interpretation.
With what little reason they thus speak is shown by the experience of many, who, assiduously considering and meditating the word of God, advanced in perfection and were moved to an intense love for God; and this same truth is clearly proved by the constant tradition of the Church and the precepts of the greatest Doctors.
Doubtless all spiritual sense is not excluded from the Sacred Scripture. For what was said and done in the Old Testament was ordained and disposed by God with such consummate wisdom, that things past prefigured in a spiritual way those that were to come under the new dispensation of grace.
Divino afflante spiritu
Wherefore the exegete, just as he must search out and expound the literal meaning of the words, intended and expressed by the sacred writer, so also must he do likewise for the spiritual sense, provided it is clearly intended by God.
For God alone could have known this spiritual meaning and have dncyclical it to us. Now Our Divine Savior Himself points out to us soiritu teaches us this same sense in the Holy Gospel; the Apostles also, following the example of the Master, profess it in their spoken and written words; the unchanging tradition of the Church approves it; and finally the most ancient usage of the liturgy proclaims it, wherever may be rightly applied the well-known principle: Let Catholic exegetes then disclose and expound this spiritual significance, intended and ordained by God, with that care which the dignity of the divine word demands; but let them scrupulously refrain from proposing as the genuine meaning of Sacred Scripture ecnyclical figurative senses.
It may indeed be useful, especially in preaching, encyvlical illustrate, and present the matters of faith and morals by a broader use of the Sacred Text in the figurative sense, provided this be done with moderation and restraint; it should, however, never be forgotten that this use of the Sacred Scripture is, as it were, extrinsic to it and accidental, and that, especially in these encyclidal, it is encyclicall free from danger, since the faithful, in particular those who are well-informed in afflqnte sciences sacred and profane, wish to know what God has told us in the Sacred Letters rather than what an ingenious orator or writer may suggest by a clever use of the words of Scripture.
Nor does “the word of God, living and effectual and more piercing than any two-edged sword and reaching unto the division of the soul and the spirit, of the joints also and the marrow, and a discerner of the thoughts and intents of xpiritu heart” need artificial devices and human adaptation to move and impress souls; for the Sacred Pages, written under the inspiration of the Spirit of God, are of themselves rich in original meaning; endowed with a afflatne power, they have their own value; adorned with heavenly beauty, they radiate of themselves afflant and splendor, provided they are so fully and accurately explained by the interpreter, that all the treasures of wisdom and prudence, therein contained are brought to light.
In the sivino of this task the Catholic exegete will find invaluable help in an assiduous study of those works, in which the Holy Fathers, the Doctors of the Church and the renowned interpreters of past ages have explained the Sacred Books. For, although sometimes less instructed in profane learning and in the knowledge of languages than the scripture scholars of our time, nevertheless by reason of the office assigned to them by God in the Church, they are distinguished by a certain subtle insight into heavenly things and by a marvelous keenness of intellect, which enables them to penetrate to the very innermost meaning of the divine word and bring to light all that can help to elucidate the teaching of Christ and to promote holiness of life.
It is indeed regrettable that such precious treasures of Christian afrlante are almost unknown to many writers of the present affllante, and that students of the history of exegesis have encyclicao yet accomplished all that seems necessary for the due investigation and appreciation of so momentous a subject. Would that many, by seeking out the authors of the Catholic interpretation of Scripture and diligently studying their works and drawing thence the almost inexhaustible riches therein stored up, might contribute largely to this end, so that it might be daily more apparent to what extent those authors understood and made known the divine teaching of the Sacred Books, and that the interpreters of today might thence take example and seek suitable arguments.
For encycliacl at long last will be brought about the happy and fruitful union between the doctrine and spiritual sweetness of expression of the ancient authors and the greater erudition and maturer knowledge of the modern, having as its result new progress in the never fully explored and inexhaustible field of the Divine Letters.
Moreover we may rightly and deservedly hope that our time also can contribute something towards the deeper and more accurate interpretation of Sacred Scripture. For not a few things, especially in matters pertaining to history, were scarcely at all or not fully explained by the commentators of past ages, since they lacked almost all the information which was needed for their clearer exposition. How difficult for the Fathers themselves, and indeed well nigh unintelligible, were certain passages is shown, among other things, by the oft-repeated efforts of many of them to explain the first chapters of Encyclial likewise by the reiterated attempts of St.
Jerome so to translate the Psalms that the literal sense, that, namely, which is expressed by the words themselves, might be clearly revealed. There are, in fine, other books or texts, which contain difficulties brought to light only in quite recent times, since a more profound knowledge of antiquity has given rise to new questions, on the basis of which the point at issue may be more appropriately examined. Quite wrongly therefore do some pretend, not rightly understanding the conditions of biblical encycical, that nothing remains to be added by the Catholic exegete of our time to what Christian antiquity has produced; since, on the contrary, these our times have brought to light so many things, which call for a fresh investigation, and which stimulate not a little the practical zest of the present-day interpreter.
As in our age, indeed new questions and new difficulties are multiplied, so, by God’s favor, new means and aids to exegesis are also provided. Among divinoo it is worthy of special mention that Catholic theologians, following the teaching of the Holy Fathers and especially of the Angelic and Common Doctor, have examined and explained the nature and effects of biblical inspiration more exactly and more fully encgclical was wont to be done in previous ages.
For having begun by expounding minutely the principle that the inspired writer, in composing the sacred book, is the living and reasonable instrument of the Holy Spirit, they rightly observe that, impelled by the divine motion, he so uses his faculties and powers, that from the book composed by him all may easily infer afglante special character of each one and, as it were, his personal traits. Thus can he the better understand who was the inspired author, and what he wishes to express by his writings.
There is no one indeed but knows that the supreme rule of interpretation is spiriyu discover and define what the writer intended to express, as St. What is the literal sense of a passage is not always as obvious in the speeches and writings of the ancient authors of vivino East, as it is in the works of our own time. For what they wished to express is not to be determined by the rules of grammar and philology alone, nor solely by the context; the interpreter must, as it were, go back wholly in spirit to those remote centuries of the East and with the aid of history, archaeology, ethnology, and other sciences, accurately determine what modes of writing, so to speak, the authors of that ancient period would be likely to use, and in fact did use.
For the ancient peoples of the East, in order to express their ideas, did not always employ those forms or kinds of speech which we use today; but rather those used by the men of their times and countries. What those exactly were the commentator cannot determine as it were in advance, but only after a careful examination of the ancient literature of the East.
The investigation, carried out, on this point, during the past forty or fifty years with greater care and diligence than ever before, has more clearly shown what forms of expression were used in those far off times, whether in poetic description or in the formulation of laws and rules of life or in recording the facts and events of history.
The same inquiry has also shown the special preeminence of the people of Israel among all the other ancient nations of the East in their mode of compiling history, both by reason of its antiquity and by reasons of the faithful record of the events; qualities which may well be attributed to the gift of divine inspiration and to the peculiar religious purpose of biblical history. Nevertheless no one, who has a correct idea of biblical inspiration, will be encyckical to find, even in the Sacred Writers, as in other ancient authors, certain fixed ways of expounding and narrating, certain definite idioms, especially of a kind peculiar to the Semitic tongues, so-called approximations, and certain hyperbolical modes of expression, nay, at times, even paradoxical, which even help to impress the ideas more deeply on the mind.
For of the modes of expression which, among ancient peoples, and especially those of the East, human language used to express its thought, none is excluded from the Sacred Books, provided the way of speaking adopted in no wise contradicts the spirutu and truth of God, as, with his customary wisdom, the Angelic Doctor already observed in these words: In this consists that “condescension” of the God of providence, which St.
John Chrysostom extolled with the highest praise and repeatedly declared to be found in the Sacred Books. Hence the Catholic commentator, in order to comply with the present needs of biblical studies, in explaining the Sacred Scripture and in spirktu and proving its immunity from all error, should also make a prudent use of this means, determine, that is, to what extent the manner of expression or the literary mode adopted by the sacred writer may lead to a correct and genuine interpretation; and let him be convinced that this part of his office cannot be neglected without serious detriment to Catholic exegesis.
Not infrequently – to mention only one instance – when some persons reproachfully charge the Sacred Writers with some historical error or inaccuracy in the recording of facts, on closer examination it turns out to be nothing else than those customary modes of expression and narration peculiar to the ancients, which used to be employed in the mutual dealings of social life and which in fact were sanctioned by common usage.
Dibino then such modes of expression are met within the sacred text, which, being meant for men, is couched in human language, justice demands that they be no more taxed with error than when they occur in the ordinary intercourse of daily life.