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The professor may now safely pass on to the use of Scripture in matters of theology. On this head it must be observed that, in addition to the usual reasons which make ancient writings more or less difficult to understand, there are some which are peculiar to the Bible. For the language of the Bible is employed to express, under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, many things which are beyond the power and scope of the reason of man—that is to say, Divine mysteries and all that is related to them. There is sometimes in such passages a fulness and a hidden depth of meaning which the letter hardly expresses and which the laws of interpretation hardly warrant. Moreover, the literal sense itself frequently admits other senses, adapted to illustrate dogma or to confirm morality. Wherefore, it must be recognized that the Sacred Writings are wrapped in a certain religious obscurity, and that no one can enter into their interior without a guide; [S. Hier. ad. Paulin. de studio Script. ep. LIII., 4.] God so disposing, as the holy Fathers commonly teach, in order that men may investigate them with greater ardor and earnestness, and that what is attained with difficulty may sink more deeply into the mind and heart, and, most of all, that they may understand that God has delivered the Holy Scripture to the Church, and that in reading and making use of His Word, they must follow the Church as their guide and their teacher. St. Irenæus long since laid down, that where the charismata of God were, there the truth was to be learnt, and the Holy Scripture was safely interpreted by those who had the Apostolic succession. [C. haer. IV. 26, 5.] His teaching and that of other holy Fathers, is taken up by the Council of the Vatican, which, in renewing the decree of Trent declared its mind to be this—that in things of faith and morals, belonging to the building up of Christian doctrine, that is to be considered the true sense of Holy Scripture, which has been held and is held by our Holy Mother the Church, whose place it is to judge of the true sense and interpretation of the Scriptures; and, therefore, that it is permitted to no one to interpret Holy Scripture against such sense or also against the unanimous agreement of the Fathers. [Sess. III., cap. II., de revel.; cf. Conc. Trid. sess. IV. decret. de edit. et usu sacr. libror.] By this most wise decree the Church by no means prevents or restrains the pursuit of Biblical science, but rather protects it from error, and largely assists its real progress. A wide field is still left open to the private student, in which his hermeneutical skill may display itself with signal effect and to the advantage of the Church. On the one hand, in those passages of Holy Scripture, which have not as yet received a certain and definite interpretation, such labors may, in the benignant providence of God, prepare for and bring to maturity the judgment of the Church; on the other, in passages already defined, the private student may do work equally valuable, either by setting them forth more clearly to the flock or more skillfully to the scholars, or by defending them more powerfully from hostile attack. Wherefore the first and dearest object of the Catholic commentator should be to interpret those passages which have received an authentic interpretation either from the Sacred writers themselves, under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost (as in many places of the New Testament), or from the Church, under the assistance of the same Holy Spirit, whether by her solemn judgment or her ordinary and universal magisterium [Conc. Vat. sess. III., cap. II., de fide.]—to interpret these passages in that identical sense, and to prove by all the resources of science, that sound hermeneutical laws admit of no other interpretation. In the other passages the analogy of faith should be followed, and Catholic doctrine, as authoritatively proposed by the Church, should be held as the supreme law; for, seeing that the same God is the author both of the Sacred Books and of the doctrine committed to the Church, it is clearly impossible that any teaching can, by legitimate means, be extracted from the former, which shall, in any respect, be at variance with the latter. Hence it follows that all interpretation is foolish or false which either makes the Sacred writers disagree one with another, or is opposed to the doctrine of the Church. The professor of Holy Scripture, therefore, amongst other recommendations, must be well acquainted with the whole circle of Theology and deeply read in the commentaries of the Holy Fathers and doctors, and in other interpreters of mark. [Ibid.] This is inculcated by St. Jerome, and still more frequently by St. Augustine, who thus justly complains, If there is no branch of teaching, however humble and easy to learn, which does not require a master, what can be a greater sign of rashness and pride than to refuse to study the Books of the Divine mysteries by the help of those who have interpreted them? [Ad Honorat. de util. cred. XVII., 35.] The other Fathers have said the same, and have confirmed it by their example, for they endeavored to acqure the understanding of the Holy Scriptures not by their own lights and ideas, but from the writing and authority of the ancients, who, in their turn, as we know, received the rule of interpretation in direct line from the Apostles. [Rufinus Hist. eccl. LI., 9.] The holy Fathers to whom, after the Apostles, the Church owes its growth—who have planted, watered, built, governed, and cherished it, [S. Aug. C., Julian. II., 10. 37.] the holy Fathers, We say, are of supreme authority, whenever they all interpret in one and the same manner any text of the Bible, as pertaining to the doctrine of faith and morals; for their unanimity clearly evinces that such interpretation has come down from the Apostles as a matter of Catholic faith. The opinion of the Fathers is also of very great weight when they treat of these matters in their capacity of doctors unofficially; not only because they excel in their knowledge of revealed doctrine and in their acquaintance with many things which are useful in understanding the Apostolic Books, but because they are men of eminent sanctity and of ardent zeal for the truth, on whom God has bestowed a more ample measure of His light. Wherefore the expositor should make it his duty to follow their footsteps with all reverence, and to use their labors with intelligent appreciation.

But he must not on that account consider that it is forbidden, when just cause exists, to push inquiry and exposition beyond what the Fathers have done; provided he carefully observes the rule so wisely laid down by St. Augustine—not to depart from the literal and obvious sense, except only where reason makes it untenable or necessity requires; [De Gen. ad litt. LVIII. CC., 7. 13.] a rule to which it is the more necessary to adhere strictly in these times, when the thirst for novelty and the unrestrained freedom of thought make the danger of error most real and proximate. Neither should those passages be neglected which the Fathers have understood in an allegorical or figurative sense, more especially when such interpretation is justified by the literal, and when it rests on the authority of many. For this method of interpretation has been received by the Church from the Apostles, and has been approved by her own practice, as the holy Liturgy attests; although it is true that the holy Fathers did not thereby pretend directly to demonstrate dogmas of faith, but used it as a means of promoting virtue and piety, such as, by their own experience, they knew to be most valuable. The authority of other Church interpreters is not so great; but the study of Scripture has always continued to advance in the Church, and, therefore, these commentaries also have their own honorable place, and are serviceable in many ways for the refutation of assailants and the explanation of difficulties. But it is most unbecoming to pass by, in ignorance or contempt, the excellent work which Catholics have left in abundance, and to have recourse to the work of non-Catholics—and to seek in them, to the detriment of sound doctrine and often to the peril of faith, the explanation of passages on which Catholics long ago have successfully employed their talent and their labor. For although the studies of non-Catholics, used with prudence, may sometimes be of use to the Catholic student, he should, nevertheless, bear well in mind—as the Fathers also teach in numerous passages [Cfr. Clem. Alex. Strom. VII., 16; Orig. de princ. IV., 8; in Levit. hom. 4. 8; Tertull. de praescr. 15, seqq.; S. Hilar. Pict. in Matth. 13. 1.]—that the sense of Holy Scripture can nowhere be found incorrupt outside the Church, and cannot be expected to be found in writers who, being without the true faith, only gnaw the bark of Sacred Scripture, and never attain its pith.

Most desirable is it, and most essential, that the whole teaching of Theology should be pervaded and animated by the use of the Divine Word of God. This is what the Fathers and the greatest theologians of all ages have desired and reduced to practice. It is chiefly out of the Sacred Writings that they endeavored to proclaim and establish the Articles of Faith and the truths therewith connected, and it was in them, together with Divine Tradition, that they found the refutation of heretical error, and the reasonableness, the true meaning, and the mutual relation of the truths of Catholicism. Nor will any one wonder at this who considers that the Sacred Books hold such an eminent position among the sources of revelation that without their assiduous study and use, Theology cannot be placed on a true footing, or treated as its dignity demands. For although it is right and proper that students in academies and schools should be chiefly exercised in acquiring a scientific knowledge of dogma by means of reasoning from the Articles of Faith to their consequences, according to the rules of approved and sound philosophy—nevertheless the judicious and instructed theologians will by no means pass by that method of doctrinal demonstration which draws its proof from the authority of the Bible; for (Theology) does not receive her first principles from any other science, but immediately from God by revelation. And, therefore, she does not receive of other sciences as from a superior, but uses them as her inferiors or hand maids. [S., Greg. M. Moral. XX., 9 (al. 11).] It is this view of doctrinal teaching which is laid down and recommended by the prince of theologians, St. Thomas of Aquin; [Summ. theol. p. I., q. I., a. 5 ad 2.] who moreover shows—such being the essential character of Christian Theology—how she can defend her own principles against attack: If the adversary, he says, do but grant any portion of the Divine revelation, we have an argument against him; thus, against a heretic we can employ Scripture authority, and against those who deny one article, we can use another. But if our opponent reject Divine revelation entirely, there is no way left to prove the Articles of Faith by reasoning; we can only solve the difficulties which are raised against them. [Ibid a. 8.] Care must be taken, then, that beginners approach the study of the Bible well prepared and furnished; otherwise, just hopes will be frustrated, or, perchance, what is worse, they will unthinkingly risk the danger of error, falling an easy prey to the sophisms and labored erudition of the Rationalists. The best preparation will be a conscientious application to philosophy and theology under the guidance of St. Thomas of Aquin, and a thorough training therein—as We ourselves have elsewhere pointed out and directed. By this means, both in Biblical studies and in that part of Theology which is called positive, they will pursue the right path and make satisfactory progress.

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