Hunter/Dogmatic Theology/III/III

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Outlines of Dogmatic Theology


CHAPTER III: INSPIRATION OF SCRIPTURE.

135. Subject of the Chapter. – The two preceding chapters have shown us that the Books of Holy Scripture form a class apart from all others, and that the common character which thus distinguishes them is not found in anything internal to the books. We must now inquire what truly is the common character, and we shall find it in the truth that these books are the works of one and the same Author, and this Author is God. The present and two following chapters differ from the earlier chapters of this Treatise in being dogmatic, whereas the others were chiefly either historical or depended on simple inspection of the Bible. In our present discussion we shall use the truths that have already been established: that Christ being a Divine Messenger, all His utterances and those of all who spoke with His authority must be accepted without reserve: that the Books of the New Testament contain an historically credible account of some of these utterances: and that a knowledge of these utterances, so far as they concern us, is preserved by tradition among the followers of Christ, as was proved in our second Treatise, by arguments still founded on the Scripture considered as a human history. The Divine authorship of the Scripture will be established in the present chapter, and thenceforward all arguments drawn from Scripture will have a higher importance as being founded on the Word of God Himself.


136. Doctrine of the Church. – In the present chapter we speak of the Scripture in general terms, embracing in the word the Old Testament and the New, but not as yet entering on the controverted question, as to what Books constitute the collection; a question which will occupy us in the next chapter, on the Canon of Scripture. Subject to this remark, we may say that the doctrine of the present chapter is not substantially questioned by any prominent school of writers among those who cordially maintain the supernatural character of Christianity. Those who see in Christianity nothing but a product of the natural powers of the human mind cannot consistently admit the inspiration of Scripture, in the sense in which the expression has always been used; and they endeavour to attach a new sense to the word inspiration, for they do not venture to reject this word; we shall discuss their new meanings and show their insufficiency, when we have established our own doctrine, (n. 144.)


The system of doctrines and principles which has existed in various forms and which goes under the name of Manicheism, was for many centuries one of the chief opponents with whom the Church had to contend. A leading idea among the Manicheans was the intrinsically evil nature of matter, which they believed to owe its existence to a Being who was not the Supreme God, but a rival to Him. But the God of the Old Testament proclaims Himself the Creator of matter; wherefore, most Manichean sects rejected the authority of these Books, and accepted the New Testament alone, and they were forced to tamper even with this. In opposition to this error, the Church insisted on the truth that the Old and New Testaments came from the same God, and expressed this by saying that the same God was Author of both: a way of speaking which assured us not merely that the two Testaments are not contrary, one to the other, but that their harmonious agreement was a result of Divine authorship. And since these definitions cannot lead us astray, as was established in our Treatise on Tradition and will be more fully explained when we speak of the Church in our next Treatise, it follows that the form of expression used assures us of more than the point which was immediately before the minds of those that used it: the form in which they expressed themselves on the two Testaments disclosed their mind as to the common character of both.


A venerable expression of the truth is found in the Roman Pontifical, in the Order for the Consecration of Bishops. The candidate is interrogated as to his faith, in a form which was in use as long ago as the middle of the eleventh century (Denzinger, Enchir. xxxix.), and among the rest he avows his belief that there is one Author of the New and Old Testaments, the Law, Prophets, and Apostles, the Almighty God and Lord. In 1439, Pope Eugenius IV., in the Council of Florence, taught the same doctrine, with the addition of the reason. For the Saints of both Testaments spoke under the inspiration of the same Holy Spirit; and he pronounced an anathema on the madness of the Manicheans who said that one God was the God of the New Testament, and another of the Old. (Denz. 600.) The Council of Trent, in its fourth Session (1546), is content to mention parenthetically that one God is Author of both Testaments; the Vatican Council of 1870 (Constitut. I c. 2) teaches that the Books of Holy Scripture having been written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, have God for their Author. (Denz. 1636.)


137. The Teaching of Christ. – We learn the teaching of Christ Himself upon this matter in two ways: by His not correcting the belief held by the Jews, and by His own way of speaking. There are two contemporary Jewish writers, from whom we learn the views current among that people at the time, Philo and Josephus, and their testimony is the more valuable, because they give it in a merely incidental manner, as assuming something in which all readers would agree, and not as distinctly maintaining a doctrine which might be peculiar to themselves. It will be sufficient to quote a single passage from each. Philo quotes the law as to Cities of Refuge, given by God through Moses (Exodus xxi. 12), and he is embarrassed by observing what he considers to be a superfluous word: Shall die the death? Would it not be sufficient to say Shall die? Philo is, he says, at a loss, for he was sure that the Lawgiver would not have inserted a redundant word. (De Profugis, §10, vol. 3, p. 121 of Leipsig Edition of 1828.) Whatever else we may think of the passage, it at least shows clearly that Philo regarded God as the Author of the Scriptures, and responsible for the minutest details of the text. Josephus takes the same view when he says (Contra Apion. i, 7) that the Prophets wrote things as they learned them from God by inspiration; and he gives the name of Prophets to all the writers of the Old Testament. Our Lord Himself considered that which is related in the Scripture as having been said by God; for He treats the history of the apparition to Moses in the burning bush (Exodus iii. 6) as being spoken by God to the Sadducees of His own time (St. Matt, xxii. 31), which could not be unless God still spoke in the pages of His Book. As long as a book survives, an author speaks to his readers: but he does not speak in the pages of another.


138. Doctrine of the Apostles. – The teaching of the Apostles is in perfect accord. In Acts i. 16, St. Peter quotes the Scripture which the Holy Ghost spoke by the mouth of David. In Hebrews iv. 3 − 9, God is repeatedly treated as speaking by the Scriptures; and in Galat. iii. 8, the gift of foresight is ascribed to the Scripture; not surely to the material Book, but to its Author, the all-foreseeing God.


139. The Fathers. – Among a multitude of Patristic passages, we may be content with two: one derived from the East, the other from the West. St. Chrysostom (Hom. 2, in Gen. n. 2; P.G. 53, 23) says that God, wishing to put an end to a temporary estrangement, has sent letters to His absent friends; letters written by God and brought us by Moses. And St. Augustine sets forth God's authorship and the subordinate part played by the human writer in the following forcible manner: ”All that God wished us to know concerning His doings and sayings, He bade be written by man, as by His own hands." (De Consens. Evangel. I. c. 35, n. 54; P.G. 34, 1070.) There is no need to multiply citations, for the point is not disputed.


140. Man's part. The Intellect. – But although what has been said affords complete proof of the doctrine of the Church, that God is the Author of the Holy Scripture, yet this must not be understood as if the human writer had no part in the work. This is plain if we consider the literary style of each Book, which is found to be in accord with the character of the human writer, or at least different from that found in the works of different writers. Critics will find many differences of style in the Epistles of St. Paul, St. James, and St. Peter; in the Prophecies of Isaias and Amos; in the Psalms of David and those of Asaph. These differences are most naturally accounted for, by supposing that each human writer wrote according to his natural disposition and circumstances, in such style as he would have employed in a work which was completely his own; the only alternative is to suppose that the Holy Spirit, for no visible purpose, imitated the style of the man whom He employed as His secretary, to write from His dictation, an arbitrary supposition which has nothing to recommend it: when natural agency is sufficient to bring about a result, there is no reason to invoke supernatural influence.


At the same time, the Divine Authorship will not be preserved unless we attribute to the Holy Spirit the largest and most important part in the work of composition; the human writer is in the position of a secretary to the true Author of the letter. If we consider the relation between a secretary and him for whom he acts, we can see something of the nature of the Divine influence which is called inspiration. In the first place, a secretary will not do his work properly unless he be accurately informed on the subject of his discourse; in technical language, his intellect must be illuminated. It is immaterial whether we suppose the employer himself to impart the needful information to his secretary, or to put him in the way to gather it for himself, or whether he choose for the work one who is already fully informed. In like manner, God sometimes by His own direct action, revealed to the holy writers what He would have them write; as when the Prophets wrote their visions, and the Apostles and Evangelists wrote the things that they had seen and heard. (Acts iv. 20.) Sometimes the writer gathered his information from the best sources open to him, as when the unknown person who put together the Second Book of Machabees found that he had taken in hand no easy task in abridging the five books of Jason of Cyrene (2 Mach. ii. 24 − 33); he here speaks as any purely human writer might do, and the passage is sometimes made a ground for denying the inspiration of the Book; but in reality nothing more is here said than we find in St. Luke's preface to his Gospel, who tells us of his diligence in inquiring at the best sources (St. Luke i. 14); nor more than is implied in the references to the Book of the Just made by the writer of the Book of Josue (x. 13) and of the Second Book of Kings (i. 18), which references involved a certain labour; so that if the right of the Books of Machabees to be considered a part of Scripture is denied on this ground, the Old and New Testaments must be rejected with them.


Cases where a Book was written in the light of the information which the writer already possesses from natural sources, without special research, are found in the Epistles, and also apparently in the instance of Genesis. Moses would seem to have put into writing the traditions that had been preserved, perhaps in writing or perhaps in the memory of the people, and it is probable that the young children were taught the story by their parents, in the way in which it was ordered that the remembrance of the deliverance from Egypt should be kept alive. (Exodus xii. 26, 27.) The history of the Creation cannot have been known except by revelation; but there is no reason to suppose that this revelation was made to Moses. More probably it was made to Adam, and became known to Moses through human sources. When we speak thus of the history having come down to Moses by tradition, we do not mean to imply that there was any special guarantee that the whole of this traditional history should be preserved free from corruption; the case is not like that of the Tradition by which the knowledge of the Christian Revelation is preserved, free from admixture of error, in the Church; it is enough that God's providence preserved Moses from being misled by any errors that may have crept into the current account.


141. Man's part. The will. – It is not enough that the employer should take care that his secretary should be acquainted with the matter. If the secretary, of his own accord, and without being commissioned to do so, writes a treatise, this work is his own, and the employer cannot be said to be the author. The design must come from the author, and he must stir up his assistant to induce him to do his part; technically, he must inflame the will. The impulse to write must then have come to the inspired writers from God, for otherwise God could not be said to be the Author of the sacred Books. It follows that there is no reason to suppose that all that the Apostles committed to writing was inspired, even though, as we shall see hereafter, the Apostolate involved the privilege of inerrancy in matters of faith and morals. An Apostle may have written on indifferent subjects without being inspired; and they may even have written doctrinal treatises in the exercise of the natural powers of their will, without any special motion from God. It is even possible, for aught that we see, that they should at one time have written under inspiration and at another time not under inspiration, without being aware of the difference; it is, however, highly improbable that they ever wrote without knowing well the nature of the task on which they were engaged, and the influence under which they undertook it.


142. Supervision. – Lastly, before the employer finally adopts the secretary's work as his own, he must be careful to use such supervision as shall exclude all risk of matter having crept in for which he would not wish to make himself responsible; he must guard himself against the results of the mistakes or unfaithfulness of his servant. In the case of Holy Scripture we need not think of this as having required what we should conceive as being a distinct act of God, but it must have been involved in the illumination of the intellect and inflaming of the will; otherwise the work which is ascribed to the Divine Author would be liable to all the imperfections of the works of man.


This supervision, however, is far from being necessarily equivalent to dictation. If two secretaries write letters in the manner that has been described, each letter may well express the views of the principal, and may be adopted and signed by him, and so made his own; yet a competent person would easily see that there was a difference of style between the two. In the same way it is not difficult to distinguish those parts of the Scripture where St. Matthew played the part of secretary from those which we owe to St. John. The works are distinguishable in style, although they belong to the same Author Who stirred the writer to undertake the task, secured him the requisite knowledge, and superintended the work while it was in progress.


143. Verbal Inspiration. – Our doctrine is opposed to that which goes by the name of Verbal Inspiration, according to which every word of Scripture was as it were dictated by the Holy Spirit to the Prophets and Apostles, so that they acted as mere machines. The doctrine of Verbal Inspiration preserves the Divine Authorship to the full; to a greater fulness, in fact, than is needed. It is therefore unproved, and it is open to the grave objection that it fails to account for the varieties of style of which we have spoken. In regard to style, the Books of Scripture exhibit the same variety as might be expected in purely human books; but if each word was dictated by the Holy Spirit, there is no way of accounting for these varieties, they would seem to have been introduced for no other purpose than that of misleading the reader. There are cases where there may be room for doubt whether a particular turn of phrase was "intended” by the Holy Spirit – so far as this word can be used of God, to Whom all the results of His acts are known; in these cases it is the business of the critic to determine what teaching is contained in the passage; the question is often very subtle, and should not be approached except by those who feel themselves to be well equipped with the full array of necessary qualifications; among which we put in the front rank, thorough grounding in the theology of the Church, long familiarity with the Sacred Text, and the disposition to be ready to accept the truth from another rather than devise a novel view. In some cases the Author has Himself pointed out that a true meaning is conveyed by what might otherwise have been judged to be a casual omission, a notable instance of which we find in Hebrews vii. 3, where we read why it is that in Genesis xiv. 18, when Melchisedech is mentioned, the names of his parents are not made known.


144. False views of Inspiration. – It having been proved that the Books of Holy Scripture have God for their Author, and that this character marks them off from all other books, certain false views of the nature of inspiration fail of themselves. Two errors are noted and condemned by the Vatican Council (Constit. I. cap. 2, De Revelatione, Denz. 1636); one makes the essence of inspiration consist in adoption by the Church, even where the book so adopted had a purely human origin; whereas it is impossible for a book which is once written to change its author; the other view considers that it is enough that they contain Revelation without admixture of error; whereas this may be said of the "Capitula" of the Councils of Trent and the Vatican: the professor may watch over the student's work in such way as to secure him from committing himself to error, but without interfering with the authorship of his treatise. The word "inspiration" is sometimes used of the faculty that enables a man to write a book which stirs up religious emotions, but this is plainly not a character belonging to the whole Bible, as will be seen if the First Book of Paralipomena is read; nor is it confined to the Bible, for it is found also in such works as the Imitation of Christ; it therefore is not the sense in which the word Inspiration is used by the Church. The Church usage originates with St. Paul, who wrote to St. Timothy that all Scripture, inspired by God, is profitable to teach; it expresses the peculiar and definite character of Divine Authorship; and confusion is bred if it be used in any other sense.


145. Freedom from Error. – From the character of an author we judge the character of his book. If his reputation is low, we freely reject his teaching; if high, we receive what he says with respect, but with clear remembrance that every man is of himself fallible; if the Author be all-perfect, our only reasonable attitude of mind is that of absolute acceptance of His statements. Since then God is the Author of the Scripture, whatever the Scripture conveys to us is true. This principle holds without distinction of the nature of the matter disclosed: of its greater or less importance with reference to what we conceive to be the principal purpose of the writing. It is an imperfection in an author to insert irrelevant matter; still greater is the imperfection, and impossible in God, to insert what will lead the attentive reader into error. This inerrancy cannot, of course, be asserted of every word which is attributed in Scripture to the characters mentioned, as when we read the question of the Jews (St. Mark ii. 7): Who can forgive sins, save God only? We no more accept their doctrine, than we accept it when these same people in the same verse say of our Lord that He blasphemed; all that the inspired writer is pledged to is the use of these words on this occasion. In certain cases there may be a doubt whether what prima facie would seem to be the meaning of a passage is its true meaning, and commentators must apply all means of interpretation, and yet occasionally the doubt will remain. It is tolerably clear that Isaias in his fifth chapter is not writing about any particular existent vineyard, while commentators differ as to whether the Prophet Joel in his first chapter describes an actual visitation of locusts. Extrinsic knowledge may show ground for not accepting the surface-meaning of a passage, and the result is that there is now more difficulty than formerly in the way of a satisfactory explanation of the history of the Creation. The critic must also be on his guard against errors of translation and errors of transcription; but when all allowances are made, the principle remains true that the meaning conveyed to readers by the original document did not contain the smallest error. It is no less certain that Jacob divided his substance into two companies, as told in Genesis xxxii. 7, than that Absalom was slain as he hung in an oak. (2 Kings xviii. 14.)


The whole subject of the Catholic doctrine concerning the nature of Holy Scripture, its excellence, and the precautions to be observed in its study, will be found in the Encyclical of Pope Leo XIII., beginning Providentissimus Deus, and issued November 18,1893. We here learn that God by His supernatural influence so stirred and moved the human writers, and so assisted them, that they rightly conceived in their minds that, and that only, which He bade them write, and that they willed to write it faithfully, and that with unfailing truth they expressed themselves aptly; for otherwise God would not be the Author of the whole of the Sacred Scripture.


146. The Fathers. – The point which was insisted on in the last paragraph is of the highest importance, because there is a school of writers who think that they are at liberty to judge whether a given passage of Scripture is of doctrinal or moral importance, and if they find it to be of little weight, they will reject its historical authority. It will be worth while to cite a few passages of the Fathers, to show how far these great Saints and learned divines of early times were from admitting any such distinction in their conflicts with the rationalists of their time. The first shall be St. Justin Martyr, who in the course of his Dialogue with Trypho the Jew (n. 65; P.G. 6, 625), was challenged to reconcile two seemingly contradictory texts. He answers: " If you thought to lead me to acknowledge the existence of a contradiction in Scripture, you are mistaken. Never will I venture to entertain such a thought, or say such a thing; if anything be produced which has the semblance of being a contradiction in Scripture, and I am unable to clear it up, I will avow that I do not understand the passage, and will endeavour to persuade all who are in perplexity to make the same avowal." The great St. Augustine speaks with no less plainness: "In dealing with these Books you must not say that the Author was mistaken; but either the reading is corrupt or the translation faulty, or you fail to catch the meaning." (St. Aug. Contra Faustum, n, 5; P.L. 42, 249.) The same Saint expresses the same again in a letter to St. Jerome (Epist. 82, n. 3; P.L. 33, 277), and in another letter to the same, he expressly denies the possibility of irrelevant inaccuracies, or officious lies as he calls them, finding a place in Scripture (Epist. 28, c. 3, n. 3; P.L. 33, 113), and he adds the reason that if once it be allowed that such a thing can exist in Scripture, every one will set down what is distasteful to him as being irrelevant. This piece of foresight is fully justified by experience. St. Jerome expresses his horror at being supposed to wish to correct the Gospel narrative, while in reality his only wish was to restore the purity of the text (Epist. 27, ad Marcellam, n. I; P.L. 22, 431), and his testimony is all the more weighty because he elsewhere shows himself fully alive to the difficulties with which critics have to deal; and we will conclude with one more testimony from a Greek, St. Gregory of Nazianzum (Oratio 2, De Fuga, n. 105; P.G. 35, 504), who holds that the diligence of the Spirit reaches to the smallest points and words. If this looks like holding Verbal Inspiration, it is all the further removed from admitting error in Scripture.


147. Recapitulation. – In this chapter we have set forth the formal teaching of the Church on the inspiration of Scripture, and have proved it by the teaching of Christ, of the Apostles and the Fathers, all speaking as if God were the Author. The part of the human writer is then discussed, after which Verbal Inspiration is dealt with, and certain false views refuted, some of the Fathers being quoted to establish the absolute inerrancy of Scripture.

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