Catholic Search
Custom Search

New Release! Chant Compendium 8 with beautiful Gregorian chant


How did these experiences affect American translations of the Bible? Just as quite a number of American bishops (and a comparitive minority of liberal bishops in other countries) questioned the definition of infallibility of the pope, they also began to question the limits of the authorship and inspiration of the bible. Did Moses actually hand write the Pentateuch, or was it a combined authorship many years after him? What exactly does inspiration mean - are all copies of the Bible inspired? If only the original writings are considered inspired, what of the many different renderings, with some parts apparently added or removed later on?

Although the American bishops relied to a great extent on one or other Douay-Rheims version, questions regarding the authorship of certain books of the bible were considered as early as the 1800's. One professor at St. Mary's Seminary in Baltimore was thrilled to learn that some German professors were denying the inspiration of various books, and were seeking natural explanations for the miracles of Jesus.

Bishop Francis Kenrick, having become sensitive to protestant criticism, began to consider their arguments concerning the nature and extant of inspiration as having a point. He attempted a revision that was never published, where he chose to use certain protestant terms for some of the books of the Old Testament, and placed the deuterocanonical works and the end of his book. He believed in taking (what he considered) the "positive" insights of Protestant scholars and showing their compatibility with Catholicism. A reasonable challenge, but one that should not have been embarked on singularly.

Rationalism, one of the errors addressed by The Syllabus of Errors, was a development of protestant theology in Germany. Rationalism is defined as a doctrine that human reason is the sole source and the final test of all truth. In the second sense rationalism denies the supernatural character of Revelation, and affirms that all religious truths are derived from human reason alone.

It should be self evident to most readers that Catholics cannot truly benefit from Protestant teachings. Although protestants in general have done their fair share of research and studying in regards to doctrine and history, it was the Catholic Church who defined and protected the Bible from the beginning of Christianity. The Bible is essentially a Catholic book, where the Old Testament in many instances prefigures the New Testament, and the Catholic Church is the fulfillment of God's plan in the New Testament for His creation. Ultimately, there are not too many protestants who are going to be capable of seeing this obvious conclusion, and those who do suffer much personal loss, but ultimately convert to the Catholic faith.

The battle against rationalism continued after the publication of the Syllabus of Errors - some American bishops involved in the struggle immediately searched for a way around it - inquiring whether it was dogma, and the French liberals concluding the syllabus was only a "thesis". Questions over the meaning of "God as author", and how that related to inspiration and the human authors involved continued to spread.

The Catholic University of America

1889 marked the opening of the Catholic University of America, designed in the hopes that it would be the intellectual center for the American church. It was decided as early as 1885 that the professor of Scripture for the university be a German, with no other concerns in regard to his training. George Mivart was chosen as the professor of science, although he was never officially offered a post. His work in biblical theology was listed on the Index of Forbidden Books before he had a chance to be offered a position, and he was excommunicated a few years later.

Bishop John Keane was the first rector of the Catholic University, and was counseled by such people as Archbishop John Ireland of St. Paul, who encouraged Keane to pursue "good sound liberalism", believing that confidence and the support of the American people would make his efforts successful. Bishop John Ireland and Fr. Issac Hecker, founder in 1858 of the Missionary Society of St. Paul the Apostle (The Paulists - Paulist Press) are primarily responsible for pushing the liberal agenda in the United States.

By this time, American bishops and professors involved in the university started to rely heavily on the liberal ideas in Europe (especially Germany), for guiding and directing their own biblical studies.

Catholic scholars, also continuing to enlist the aid of protestant theology, had already begun to relax the rule of traditional interpretation, which festered into a false view of inspiration, allowing that the Bible contained errors in matters of history and natural science.

These errors were the motivation for Pope Leo XIII's 1893 encyclical Providentissimus Deus. "The chief purpose of this encyclical is to set forth and defend the Church's doctrine on the absolute truth of the inspired Scriptures. There may be scribal errors in manuscripts, the meaning of a passage may be doubtful, a translator may be at fault; but in an original Scripture, as it left the hand of the hagiographer, there can be no lapse from truth. The ancient and constant faith of the Church peremptorily disallows any restriction of inspiration to certain parts of the Bible, such, for instance, as doctrinal parts only, and equally forbids the concesion that in some points - even a minor point or an obiter dictum - the sacred writer may have erred. The formula is that every Scripture is as necessarily inerrant as it is ecessarily impossible that God should be the Author of error."

"After laying down the principles guiding the solution of the main difficulties Pope Leo went on to insist not only on close adherence to the Catholic tradition of interpretation, but also on the use of all modern helps, and especially on the utility of up-to-date introduction, of a knowledge of biblical and other oriental languages, of the critical establishment of the true text, of the rigorous application of sound hermeneutical rules, and of the external illustration of the Bible by apposite crudition - with the proviso that the doctrinal contents of the Bible be not swamped in a flood of philology, history, archaeology and the like."

Like the Syllabus of Errors, many liberal theologians tried to ignore or explain away Providentissimus Deus. Adhering to the "Catholic tradition of interpretation" was something they were far from interested in. Two were forced to resign from their university positions - one from the Catholic Institute in Paris - the other, Bishop John Keane, rector of the Catholic University in America. He was dismissed in 1896.

But the battle wasn't over. There had also begun a new over-reliance on the holy spirit as a "personal guide" in biblical studies. Somehow, the same liberal professors in Europe and America who had originally taught the Bible was scientifically inacurate suddenly became mystical theologians more graced and gifted than the whole of the Teaching Church, as this reliance on "holy spirit as personal guide" was believed by these theologians to even outweigh the authority of the teaching Church. The sincerity of their claim is suspicious at the least, and could very easily lend itself to all kinds of conspiracy theories.

This error was addressed briefly during the First Vatican Council: "2. If anyone shall have said that the human sciences should be treated with such liberty that their assertions, although opposed to revealed doctrine, can be retained as true, and cannot be proscribed by the Church: let him be anathema . . . 3. If anyone shall have said that it is possible that to the dogmas declared by the Church a meaning must sometimes be attributed according to the progress of science, different from that which the Church has understood and understands: let him be anathema . . .

Evolution also became a hot topic of American thought. John Zahm, a Holy Cross Father, taught science at the University of Notre Dame and was developing his theory about the compatibility of evolution and Church teaching. Although a relatively new error, the council of Vatican I found time to address and condemn evolution, seeing within it only a more subtle form of pantheism. In 1898, Fr. John Zahm's Evolution and Dogma was headed for the Index of Forbidden Books and condemned, but the Congregation of the Index decided not to publish its decree after Zahm agreed to withdraw all copies of his book from sale.

By 1898, a verbal war between conservative and liberal theologians extended well into Europe, who accused Americans of individualism, Pelagianism and Gallicanism.

In 1899, in an apostolic letter to Cardinal Gibbons entitled Testem Benevolentiae, Pope Leo XIII condemned notions referred to as Americanism that erroneously taught that "In order that those who dissent may more easily be brought over to Catholic wisdom, the Church should come closer to the civilization of this advanced age, and relaxing its old severity show indulgence to those opinions and theories of the people which have recently been introduced. Moreover, many think that this should be understood not only with regard to the standard of living, but even with regard to the doctrines in which the deposit of faith is contained. For, they contend that it is opportune to win over those who are in disagreement, if certain topics of doctrine are passed over as of lesser importance, or are so softened that they do not retain the same sense the Church has always held." [Denz. 1967]

The letter went on to correct those who argued "that a certain liberty ought to be introduced into the Church so that, in a way checking the force of its power and vigilance, the faithful may indulge more freely each one his own mind and actual capacity." [Denz. 1969] This error, addressed by the apostolic letter, would have denied the right of the Church to protect Catholics from the spiritual dangers of the present times.

This Pope also corrected the errors previously mentioned concerning the role of the Holy Spirit, and reproached those who implied that theologians in previous ages had received a lesser outpouring of the Holy Spirit than those presently living.

For example, one American professor had begun referring to the Fathers of the Church as "scholars of their day" rather than the traditional "witnesses of the Church", a typical comment reflecting the attitude of liberal biblical scholars.

Although the apostolic letter was clearly right on target, Cardinal Gibbons in response to the apostolic letter, denied the opinions mentioned were being held by any American bishop. The apostolic letter was a blow to the American bishops, but it only lasted a short while.

Some biblical scholars believed they had still maintained some freedom within Leo's guidelines. It was felt they could still judge as extreme and question the story of creation or the Flood, and the date and authorship of the books of the Old and even New Testaments. The authorship of the Pentateuch had been almost universally rejected by the "highest biblical authorities", and "orthodox" Protestant teachers were quoted. While these positions had failed to win the approval of conservative theologians and were already suspect in Rome, they were openly assumed and studied in England, France and Germany.

The resentment over the definition of papal infallibility still shows itself in many magazine articles and books written today on subjects dealing with the bible. Liberal biblical theologians (who now sadly seem to be in the majority) dismiss statements from the Vatican as not being a dogmatic pronouncement, and therefore can be overlooked or ignored if the arguing opponent so chooses. Other Catholic authors and speakers attempt to find some fault, or imply errors and oversights in statements issued from Rome.


New Catholic Dictionary, Universal Knowledge Foundation, 1945.

American Catholic, Charles Morris, 1997

American Catholic Biblical Scholarship, Gerald P. Fogarty,