Regína sacratíssimi Rosárii, ora pro nobis!

January AD 2008
Our Lady of the Rosary
Parish Bulletin

Biblical Criticism?
TFP Public Square Rosary Rallies - Traditionalist?


Biblical Criticism?

    Question:  You spoke of “biblical criticism.”  How can a Catholic criticize the Bible?

    Answer:  “Criticism” in the literary sense does not mean “disapproval”—but there are a number of types of criticism that are applied to the Bible;  some more correctly than others.  Some are a valuable adjunct to biblical scholarship, but others are the attempt of Modernists and Rationalists to discredit the Bible and the authority of the Catholic Church.

    The most basic and useful type of criticism is “textual criticism.”  We are not aware of possessing any original (autograph) manuscripts of the Scriptures.  Most were written on papyrus and have long since disappeared.[1]  What we have are handwritten copies of copies, some of them in bad condition.  Copying is fraught with opportunities for error.  Copyists often wrote while someone else read from an exemplar manuscript, and might misunderstand what they heard.  A copyist reading directly from the exemplar might lose his place, particularly if the passage were repetitious, or the light were bad, or the hour late, or whatever.  Some copyists added marginal notes containing their opinions about the text, and later copyists might mistakenly add these notes to the body of the text.  Some even tried to “harmonize” the texts, making sure that Matthew, Mark, and Luke all said the same things even though they didn’t.  The truly ancient manuscripts contained no vowels, spaces, or punctuation!

    The textual critic seeks to take the various manuscripts and determine what the original said.  By comparing manuscripts, he can cull out the obvious repetitions and omissions.  Added comments are sometimes recognizable by their abrupt change in style or by their reference to the biblical author (e.g. “What Saint Mark means by this is....”)  He will make use of any data he has concerning the relative age of the manuscript families.  Textual criticism is of obvious importance to anyone who wants to read his Bible in an authentic version.  As with all forms of biblical criticism, the textual critic must be a person of the highest integrity, not subject to denominational bias, for his work forms the basis for all subsequent Bible criticism and translation.

    The Catholic Church has received the Scriptures from our Lord and the Apostles, on whose authority we know the books that make up the divinely inspired canon of the Bible.[2]  Given this assurance, the Church is not as concerned with questions of who authored the sacred books? and when? and where? as are those who reject the Church’s authority and who must have satisfactory answers to such questions it they are to accept a book as scriptural.  For example, we have received the book of Deuteronomy as scriptural because Jesus Christ accepted it as such.  It is of secondary importance to know whether or not it was written by Moses, during the Exodus, and in the Sinai desert.  Still, comprehensive scholarship asks for answers to these questions, and the correct answers are often valuable to defend the authenticity of the Scriptures against those non-Catholics who choose to assail them.[3]

    Historical criticism compares the biblical text with what we know from history.  This may provide some insight as to authorship or date, and may give additional insight into the matters related by scripture.  It is occasionally misused in attempts to find errors in the Bible, usually by not finding in history events that are described in the Bible.  That history has no record of a given person or place is no guarantee that it did not exist.  In the ancient world information is scarce for all but the most influential people and places.  There is, for example, no doubt that a town called Capharnaum existed in New Testament times, but for a number of years archeologists entertained some doubt as to which ruins visible today belonged to the ancient village.[4]

    Literary criticism seeks to distinguish the styles of various authors, sometimes within the same text.  Did a second author take over where Isaias left off?  Did Solomon, for example, write all of the books attributed to him?  The literary critic will seek to confirm or deny this attribution by finding (or not) different forms or writing styles in the books.  A goodly number of scholars accept the contention of the literary critics that the first five books of the Bible (the Torah or Pentateuch) are a patchwork, written by several authors with varying style and vocabulary.  This is rather subjective business, but some literary critics—based on writing style and the name used for God—claim to see as many as four separate narratives woven together by a fifth author, or “redactor,” to form the first six books of the Bible.

    Whether or not the literary critics are correct is, of course, impossible to determine.  Who is to say that a man we have never met was incapable of varying his writing style?  For many people consistency is more difficult than variation.  But thus far there is little that should disturb a Catholic, particularly if Moses is admitted to be the “redactor” mentioned above.

Reply of the Pontifical Biblical Commission
27 June 1906

III.  Without prejudice to the Mosaic authenticity of the Pentateuch, may it be granted that in the composition of his work Moses used sources, written documents namely or oral traditions, from which, in accordance with the special aim he entertained  and under the guidance of divine inspiration he borrowed material and inserted it into his work either word for word or in substance, either abbreviated or amplified?

Answer: In the affirmative.

    What does become problematic is the introduction of a positivist philosophy into the reasoning process.  This is often referred to by the arrogant sounding term “higher criticism,” although it is ambiguous—used by some to refer to anything after textual criticism, which they call “lower criticism.”  The rationalist higher critic adopts the fundamental postulate that there is no personal God—the only “god” is the god of the Marxists and Modernists that is identified with nature and the evolutionary forces immanent within it.

    This higher critic takes, for example, the four authors he claims to find in Genesis through Josue, and dates their work based on the assumption that the Jewish religion was not revealed by God (for there is no God in that sense), but, rather, that it evolved from a simple personification of the forces of nature, through a law making period during which natural law was codified, and on up to a priest-dominated religion.  All of this is a natural evolutionary process-it must be this way, for the existence of a transcendent God is rejected, and replaced with forces immanent in nature.

    The rationalist higher critic takes this a step farther by rejecting everything miraculous in Scriptures:  “There being no supernatural, miracles cannot happen, therefore they did not happen, and any miracle stories are merely symbols of people’s religious sentiment.  The “Christ of the Bible” is part of the people’s folk wisdom;  symbolic, perhaps inspirational or reassuring, but not real like the mortal, simply human Christ who is the “Christ of History.”

    Protestants turned Rationalist view every form of priesthood with suspicion—some seeing it as a racket that evolves to control the less clever.  At least one of the higher critics just wrote off the Torah—Deuteronomy, at least—as a “pious fraud,” claiming that it was not written until a few decades before the Babylonian captivity (c.623), by the High Priest Helcias, who attempted, successfully, to get King Josias to close down all of the places of false worship and bring about a Jewish revival.[5]

    Quite naturally, the higher critic is biased toward finding a later rather than an earlier date for the writing of the Gospels.  The longer the interval between the “Christ of History” and the written Scriptures, the more plausible the idea that the “miracle stories” are nothing more than well developed legends.  There is also an urgency to place the dates for the Synoptic Gospels—Matthew, Mark, and Luke—some time after 70 AD, for all three record our Lord’s prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem, which came to pass in that year—prophecy, of course is a form of miracle, and miracles simply “can’t happen.”

    Higher criticism has a number of theories as to how the Gospels were written in an order that will insure the latest dates of authorship—some even have recourse to a non-existent hypothetical “Q” document (“Q” from the German “quelle,” for “source”), which was necessary before Matthew and Luke could write;  each borrowing from Mark and “Q” to produce the Gospel bearing his name.

A “two source” theory of the origins
of the Synoptic Gospels.

    The Biblical Commission supports the idea that the Synoptic Gospels were composed by the authors traditionally assigned to them, but does allow that the relationship between these Gospels is still open for careful and reasoned discussion if evidence presents itself.

Reply of the Pontifical Biblical Commission
26 June 1912

I.  Provided all is safeguarded that according to previous decisions must be safeguarded, especially concerning the authenticity and integrity of the three Gospels according to Matthew, Mark, and Luke, the substantial identity of the Greek Gospel of Matthew with its original text, and the chronological order in which they were written, in order to explain their mutual similarities and dissimilarities, is it lawful for exegetes, given the many different and contradictory opinions proposed by writers, to discuss the question freely and to have recourse to hypotheses of tradition, whether written or oral, or also of the dependence of one Gospel on another or on others that preceded it?

Answer: In the affirmative.


II,  Ought those to be considered faithful to the above prescriptions, who without the support of any traditional evidence or historical argument readily embrace what is commonly called the “two document hypothesis,” the purpose of which is to explain the composition of the Greek Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke chiefly by their dependence on the Gospel of Mark and a so-called collection of the discourses of our Lord; and are they consequently free to advocate it?

Answer: In the negative to both parts.

    The higher critics were often men well educated in, middle eastern languages and culture, archeology, and the linguistic sciences—often holders or former holders of chairs of theology at Protestant universities.  Those lacking such education found themselves at an immediate disadvantage in an argument.  The higher critics set themselves up as unquestionable authorities.

    One cause of the influence exercised by negative criticism is the tone of assurance with which it draws its conclusions....  In setting forth their views these unbelievers say with a great air of confidence: “Science proves, criticism demonstrates,” and this assertion frequently takes the place of proof and demonstration.  As though science were incarnate in their person!  As though criticism did not exist outside the hypothesis invented by their imagination.[6]

    This argument ad verecundiam—a false appeal to authority—is a logical fallacy on the part of the higher critics.  No matter how well educated a man may be, his hypothesis remains a hypothesis until convincing proofs are offered, and, even then, might be subject to revision if new relevant information becomes available.  If one is reminded of modern day teachers of evolution and global warning, it is because they come from the same mold—rationalists who just know how it has to be, without regard to the available evidence.

    In summary, biblical criticism does not criticize the Bible in the pejorative sense.  Apart, perhaps, from textual criticism, it is not all that essential for Catholics who have the assurance of the Church that they are in possession of an authoritative text.  Nonetheless, the Popes have encouraged Catholic scholars to learn its legitimate methods, and to become fluent in the necessary language and archeological disciplines in order to present well reasoned responses to those who would undermine belief in the inspired character of the Sacred Scriptures.


TFP Public Square Rosary Rallies - Traditional?

    Question:  The November-December 2007 issue of Crusade, published by the American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property (TFP) has a number of letters from Novus Ordo bishops supporting the TFP’s Public Square Rosary Rallies.  Why do you suppose the American hierarchy suddenly jumped on the TFP bandwagon, and is all excited about the pre-Vatican II rosary?  (MJR)

    Answer:  More letters appear on the TFP’s website.  At least four of the letters indicated that they were in response to an August 3rd letter from the TFP publicizing their Rosary initiative.[7]  Many religious and political leaders will issue a pro forma response to announcements of just about any activity that doesn’t seem unreasonable—often, such correspondence is handled by the bishop’s (or the politician’s) staff, without it ever coming before his eyes.  Most, if not all, Novus Ordo bishops and their staffs are well aware that an unfavorable response, or no response at all, about the Rosary would alienate a significant part of their contribution$ base. 

    Nothing that I saw in Crusade or in the bishops’ letters said anything about “pre-Vatican II.”  The letter from Thomas G. Doran, Novus Ordo Bishop of Rockford, Illinois praises the recitation of the luminous mysteries.

    The TFP appears to be conservative in its politics and approach to family values, but nothing in its literature suggests that it is a “traditionalist” or “pre-Vatican II” organization.  A few things on its website suggest that it considers itself part of the New Order—for example, its citations of Canon Law all come from the 1983 Code;  and all of the other organizations and periodicals they recommend are either secular or “conservative” Novus Ordo..[8]  The ad for their calendar (2005) indicated that it “contains a liturgical calendar combining the official feast days of the Church and the saints’ days taken from Butler’s Lives of the Saints”—traditionalists would not make this distinction, for before the Novus Ordo the saints in the “official calendar” and the saints in Butler’s were the same.[9]



[1]   See “Early Bible Making”

[2]    Vatican Council, 24 April 1870, Session 3, Chapter 2, paragraph 7.

[3]   Pope Leo XIII, Providentissimus Deus, #11ff.

[5]   Cf. IV Kings xxii: 8 ff.

[6]   Abbé Vigouroux, in Cornelius Hagerty, CSC, The Authenticity of the Sacred Scriptures (Houston: Lumen Christi Press, 1969) p. 201.


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