Monday, April 11, 2011

Radio Replies Second Volume: Principle of Private Interpretation

466. Have not Catholics to read even their own Douay Version subject to the direction of their Church?

They read the Bible with the conviction that any sense which would be opposed to the express teaching of the Catholic Church would undoubtedly be an erroneous interpretation. And they know that their Church alone is the only ultimate and infallible interpreter of its pages. Individual readers are ever liable to be mistaken; but the Catholic Church cannot fall into error in any express definitions concerning the contents of Sacred Scripture. Our conviction is that God confided the inspired writings to the guardianship of a living and infallible Church. The written pages cannot explain themselves. The living voice of an authentic interpreter is necessary. And God has provided that in the Catholic Church.

467. Surely any person with the capacity to read and understand the law of our country would be able to read and understand the Bible.

How many men have the capacity to read and understand the law of our country? An ordinary man might manage some of the easier and simpler laws; but highly trained lawyers could wrangle for weeks over individual laws, and even then differ as to their right interpretation. Yet even though the average man could fully understand human legislation, the Bible is God's revelation of a supernatural order of truth far deeper than the product of human thinking; and conflicting conclusions are proof that men have not managed to understand it.

468. Can it be interpreted safely only by Catholic priests?

Not always by them. Priests have made mistakes again and again in the interpretation of Scripture. In many cases the only really safe guide is the authentic ruling of the Catholic Church, to which priests and laity alike must submit. The ordinary priests do not constitute the teaching authority of the Church. The Bishops collectively and in union with the Pope constitute the authoritative Catholic teaching body. And their guidance is often needed, even in what would seem to be most obvious. For example, the few words, "This is my body," seem clear enough. Yet men have proposed a dozen conflicting interpretations of those words!

469. If God is the Author of Scripture, was He incapable of making it so clear that no one could doubt its meaning?

To that I must say that even God could not make written words so clear that no one could doubt their meaning. But the fault is not on God's side. It is due to the limitations of men. I have studied Aristotelian philosophy for years, and have taught that subject. Whose fault would it be if I could not write a treatise on the metaphysics of Aristotle totally devoid of obscurity for a class of children whose ages ranged from eight to ten years old? The fault would lie in the lack of capacity in the children. And the distance between the supernatural mysteries of revelation and the highest natural wisdom is infinitely greater than between the metaphysics of Aristotle and the mind of an untrained child.

470. Did God designedly make the Bible so obscure that people would be forced to seek guidance of the Church to understand it?

No. The establishing of a teaching Church was not a consequence of the obscurity of Scripture, as if God had really intended the Bible to be the guide of men, but found that it would not work, and then decided to establish the Church. Scripture was never intended to be the final guide of men. God primarily intended to have a body of men appointed to teach in His name. Thus, in the Old Law, He says, "The lips of the priest shall keep knowledge, and they shall seek the law at his mouth." As long as the Old Law obliged, Christ referred the people to that authority. In Mt 23:2, He says, "The Scribes and Pharisees have sitten on the chair of Moses. All things whatsoever they shall say to you, observe and do." In the New Law He substituted the Apostolic body and their successors as teachers in His name. Some years after the Catholic Church had commenced her work of teaching mankind, a secondary record of some of the events of Christ's life, and of some of His teachings and of those of the Apostles was made. That secondary record is contained in the New Testament; and its collected Books are the "family papers" of the Catholic Church. She owns them, and alone has the right to give the authentic interpretation of their meaning.
Fathers Rumble & Carty
1940. Imprimatur Joannes Gregorius Murray, Archiepiscopus Sancti Pauli. The second of three. A classic. Often recommended and consulted source of apologetic material.

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