Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Events prior to the Council


In our previous discussion of Sacrosanctum Concilium I noted a series of developments which lead up to the Constitution. A similar situation existed in the time period before the discussion of Dei Verbum by the Council. In 1893 Pope Leo XIII wrote the encyclical, Providentissimus Deus which reaffirmed traditional views on doctrinal issues relating to Scripture but encouraged a new emphasis on Biblical studies. The advents of new methods of historical-critical study, however, lead to clarifications or "Responses" by the Pontifical Biblical Commission (1905-1915). Many Catholic scholars were disciplined for their use of these new methods. When viewed from our current perspective, the reactions by the PBC appear extreme.[1]

In 1941 Pope Pius XII, who was himself a scholar and student of languages, set up a special committee of the Pontifical Biblical Commission "which rendered a favorable report in regard to critical Biblical scholarship." [2] Fr. Augustine Bea was a member of this special committee and personal confessor to the Pope. Bea assisted Pius XII in drafting the 1943 encyclical, Divino Afflante Spiritu. This encyclical opened the door for Catholic scholars to pursue historical-critical studies of Scripture in a responsible manner. There were still cautions and problems but Catholic scholars began to conduct genuine historical-critical research. In the first half of the Twentieth Century there was a "Biblical Movement" just like the Liturgical movement. Because this was such a new movement, many questions were still being asked about it.

Even at the time of the council Catholic Biblical scholars were still coming under suspicion for their methods. Many Catholic scholars and cardinals were spit over the validity of these new methods, particularly in light of past cautions and occasional excesses.

After Pope John XXIII announced the council the Cardinals in Rome and their assistants were charged with preparing the various schemata. A preparatory Theological Commission was set up under the leadership of Cardinal Ottaviani of prefect of the Holy Office (pictured above). A commission composed of numerous bishops and expert theologians prepared a draft schema which was expected to be passed quickly during the first session of the council (Oct 11-December 2, 1962). The schema was heavily influenced by the views of the "Roman School" of scholastic theology and was likely authored by Sebastian Tromp SJ. This school of theology was hostile to the new methods of the Biblical studies movement.

1 For the PBC texts see Dean P. B├ęchard, trans. and ed. The Scripture Documents: An Anthology of Official Catholic Teachings. Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2002) esp p. 187-211; for a contemporary reaction see Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger's, Erasmus lecture [Quaestio 117 Herder: 1989], "Biblical Interpretation in Conflict", reprinted in God's Word, (San Francisco, Ignatius Press, 2008).

2Jerome-Michael Verb, C.P. "Because he was a German!" Cardinal Bea and the Origins of Roman Catholic Engagement in the Ecumenical Movement. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006) p. 123.

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