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To prove, to expound, to illustrate Catholic doctrine by the legitimate and skillful interpretation of the Bible is much; but there is a second part of the subject of equal importance and equal difficulty—the maintenance in the strongest possible way of its full authority. This cannot be done completely or satisfactorily except by means of the living and proper magisterium of the Church. The Church by reason of her wonderful propagation, her distinguished sanctity, and inexhaustible fecundity in good, her Catholic unity, and her unshaken stability, is herself a great and perpetual motive of credibility, and an unassailable testimony to her own Divine mission. [Conc. Vat. sess. III. c. II. de fide.] But since the divine and infallible magisterium of the Church rests also on Holy Scripture; the first thing to be done is to vindicate the trustworthiness of Sacred records, at least as human documents, from which can be clearly proved, as from primitive and authentic testimony, the Divinity and the mission of Christ our Lord, the institution of a hierarchical Church and the primacy of Peter and of his successors. It is most desirable, therefore, that there should be numerous members of the clergy well prepared to enter on a contest of this nature, and to repulse hostile assaults, chiefly trusting in the armor of God recommended by the Apostle, [Eph. 6:13, seqq.] but also not unaccustomed to modern methods of attack. This is beautifully alluded to by St. John Chrysostom, when describing the duties of priests: We must use every endeavor that the Word of God may dwell in us abundantly [Cfr., Coloss. III., 16.] not merely for one kind of a fight must we be prepared—for the contest is many-sided and the enemy is of every sort; and they do not all use the same weapons nor make their onset in the same way. Wherefore it is needful that the man who has to contend against all should be acquainted with the engines and the arts of all—that he should be at once archer and slinger, commandant and officer, general and private soldier, footsoldier and horseman, skilled in sea-fight and in siege; for unless he knows every trick and turn of war, the devil is well able, if only a single door be left open, to get in his fierce bands and carry off the sheep. [De Sacerdotio IV., 4.] The sophisms of the enemy and his manifold arts of attack we have already touched upon. Let us now say a word of advice on the means of defence. The first means is the study of the Oriental languages and of the art of criticism. These two acquirements are in these days held in high estimation, and, therefore, the clergy, by making themselves fully acquainted with them as time and place may demand, will the better be able to discharge their office with becoming credit; for they must make themselves all to all, [1 Cor. 9:22.] always ready to satisfy every one that asketh them a reason for the hope that is in them. [1 Peter 3:15.] Hence it is most proper that professors of Sacred Scripture and theologians should master those tongues in which the Sacred Books were originally written; and it would be well that Church students also should cultivate them, more especially those who aspire to academic degrees. And endeavors should be made to establish in all academic institutions—as has already been laudably done in many—chairs of the other ancient languages, especially the Semitic, and of subjects connected therewith, for the benefit, principally, of those who are intended to profess Sacred literature. These latter, with a similar object in view, should make themselves well and thoroughly acquainted with the art of true criticism. There has arisen, to the great detriment of religion, an inept method, dignified by the name of the higher criticism, which pretends to judge the origin, integrity and authority of each Book from internal indications alone. It is clear on the other hand, that in historical questions, such as the origin and handing down of writings, the witness of history is of primary importance, and that historical investigation should be made with the utmost care; and that in this matter internal evidence is seldom of great value, except as confirmation. To look upon it in any other light will be to open the door to many evil consequences. It will make the enemies of religion much more bold and confident in attacking and mangling the Sacred Books; and this vaunted higher criticism will resolve itself into the reflection of the bias and the prejudice of the critics. It will not throw on the Scripture the light which is sought, or prove of any advantage to doctrine; it will only give rise to disagreement and dissension, those sure notes of error, which the critics in question so plentifully exhibit in their own persons; and seeing that most of them are tainted with false philosophy and rationalism, it must lead to the elimination from the Sacred Writings of all prophecy and miracle, and of everything else that is outside the natural order.

In the second place, we have to contend against those who, making an evil use of physical science, minutely scrutinize the Sacred Books in order to detect the writers in a mistake, and to take occasion to vilify its contents. Attacks of this kind, bearing as they do on matters of sensible experience, are peculiarly dangerous to the masses, and also to the young who are beginning their literary studies; for the young, if they lose their reverence for the Holy Scripture on one or more points, are easily led to give up believing in it altogether. It need not be pointed out how the nature of science, just as it is so admirably adapted to show forth the glory of the Great Creator, provided it is taught as it should be, so, if it be perversely imparted to the youthful intelligence, it may prove most fatal in destroying the principles of true philosophy and in the corruption of morality. Hence, to the professor of Sacred Scripture a knowledge of natural science will be of very great assistance in detecting such attacks on the Sacred Books, and in refuting them. There can never, indeed, be any real discrepancy between the theologian and the physicist, as long as each confines himself within his own lines, and both are careful, as St. Augustine warns us, not to make rash assertions, or to assert what is not known as known. [In. Gen. op. imperf. IX., 30.] If dissension should arise between them, here is the rule also laid down by St. Augustine, for the theologian: whatever they can really demonstrate to be true of physical nature, we must show to be capable of reconciliation with our Scriptures; and whatever they assert in their treatises, which is contrary to these Scriptures of ours, that is to Catholic faith, we must either prove it as well as we can to be entirely false, or at all events we must, without the smallest hesitation, believe it to be so. [De Gen, ad litt., I., 21–41.] To understand how just is the rule here formulated we must remember, first, that the Sacred writers, or to speak more accurately, the Holy Ghost Who spoke by them, did not intend to teach men these things (that is to say, the essential nature of the things of the visible universe), things is no way profitable unto salvation. [S. Aug. ib. II., 9–20.] Hence they did not seek to penetrate the secrets of nature, but rather described and dealt with things in more or less figurative language, or in terms which were commonly used at the time, and which in many instances are in daily use at this day, even by the most eminent men of science. Ordinary speech primarily and properly describes what comes under the senses; and somewhat in the same way the Sacred writers—as the Angelic Doctor also reminds us—went by what sensibly appeared, [Summa theol. p. i. q. LXXX., a. 1. ad. 3.] or put down what God, speaking to men, signified, in the way men could understand and were accustomed to.

The unshrinking defence of the Holy Scripture, however, does not require that we should equally uphold all the opinions which each of the Fathers or the more recent interpreters have put forth in explaining it; for it may be that, in commenting on passages where physical matters occur, they have sometimes expressed the ideas of their own times, and thus made statements which in these days have been abandoned as incorrect. Hence, in their interpretations, we must carefully note what they lay down as belonging to faith, or as intimately connected with faith—what they are unanimous in. For in those things which do not come under the obligation of faith, the saints were at liberty to hold divergent opinions, just as we ourselves are, [In Sent. II., Dist. II., q. I., a. 3.] according to the saying of St. Thomas. And in another place he says most admirably: when philosophers are agreed upon a point, and it is not contrary to our faith, it is safer, in my opinion, neither to lay down such a point as a dogma of faith, even though it is perhaps so presented by the philosophers, nor to reject it as against faith, lest we thus give to the wise of this world an occasion of despising our faith. [Opusc. X.] The Catholic interpreter, although he should show that those facts of natural science which investigators affirm to be now quite certain are not contrary to the Scripture rightly explained, must, nevertheless, always bear in mind, that much which has been held and proved as certain has afterwards been called in question and rejected. And if writers on physics travel outside the boundaries of their own branch, and carry their erroneous teaching into the domain of philosophy, let them be handed over to philosophers for refutation.








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