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A CATHOLIC AND THE BIBLE.
BY THE REVEREND JAMES J. FOX, D.D.
MY DEAR SIR :
The argument against the Bible, drawn from the existence of irreconcilable passages in the text itself, is not a new one. It had been raised before the time of St. Justin Martyr, who in treating of it wrote: “I will never dare to think or say that the Scriptures contradict themselves; but if any place in Scripture seems to be of this kind, and wears such an appearance, I, persuaded that no part of Scripture can contradict any other part, shall rather declare that I do not understand.” Ever since, theologians and scripturists have followed in St. Justin's footsteps; and by recurring to some sound general principles, or, in the case of some particular puzzles, to various less satisfactory resources, they very rarely found themselves reduced to his final alternative. .
The first and most inclusive fact that we may invoke is that there is no existing text which we can be sure is absolutely conformable to the original as it left the hand of the inspired author. Innumerable transcriptions intervene between us and him. Again, we depend, to a great extent, on translations. Hence many of the apparent contradictions may be the result of carelessness or ignorance on the part of the transcribers, or of inaccurate work done by translators. Such mistakes may have easily occurred, and, doubtless, did occur, especially in the case of numbers, dates, and proper names, precisely the subjects which provide most of the difficulties. The Scriptures as they exist to day,* “Have behind them a long history, and have undergone many vicissitudes. Faults of careless copyists, faults of unskilful correctors, involuntary errors, and voluntary ones, too; I know that all this sort of thing exists in the Sacred Books; I know that these variations multiply, the further we get from the originals, and that God has not intervened miraculously to prevent natural causes from introducing corruptions into the text, provided that religious
La Bisk et ? Histoire, p. 00,
truth is not endangered.” When the Church answers for the substantial accuracy of the Vulgate, she does not assert that it is absolutely exact in every detail. This plea alone bars out many of the objections.
But others remain. The older exegetes disposed of all, by hook or by crook. But their successors, who have to deal with a well-informed, critical age, admit that many of the solutions are merely verbal, and that after all legitimate deductions are made for errors of transcribers and copyists, when all is said and done, in many cases text stands in conflict with text, and narrative clashes with narrative.
Facing the situation boldly and straightforwardly, our present scholars, as strongly convinced as were their ancestors that the Bible is inspired and, therefore, the word of God, but convinced, also, that to meet the opponents of the Bible with ineffectual denials, gratuitous assumptions, or disingenuous evasions, is ruinous to the cause of truth, have sought and found a more excellent way. As we have seen, the scientific notions reflected in the Bible cannot be reconciled with the acknowledged science of our day, nevertheless the Bible is to be held free from error, because the erroneous notions are not affirmed or taught by the sacred writer. In like manner, when approaching the places that seem to offer grounds for the charge of self-contradiction against the Scriptures, we must distinguish between what is merely related, recited, quoted, and what is categorically affirmed by the writer. We must examine whether the author is merely drawing from some document, the veracity of which he does not guarantee, or is, on the contrary, making a statement for which he assumes full responsibility.* “ The historian," observes Father Prat, “ does not always speak in his own name; he often relates the opinions or the sayings of others. His rôle is then confined to being a faithful reporter, and, while he is always bound to be truthful, it is not necessary that all the things related by him be true. To impute to him the errors in some false statement, which he is merely reciting on the responsibility of another person, is to ignore the laws of history, and the nature of the human mind." An instance which just occurs to me will help to bring out the idea. The other day I picked up an old book of sermons, in which texts of Scripture are extensively employed with good effect. In one place the preacher says: My brethren, the Holy Ghost tells us that “ The congregation of the hypocrite is barren, and fire shall devour their tabernacles, who love to take bribes ” (Job. xv. 34). Now the ethical import of this declaration is unexceptionable ; the threat it carries has, sometimes, been made good. But the Holy Ghost, or the inspired writer, does not assert it. He merely states that it was part of the equivocal consolation administered to Job by his friend Eliphaz the Themanite. Now, this preacher's method of handling this text is only a little less critical than that of many assailants of the Bible, and, if the truth is to be told, of just as many defenders. Two incompatible texts are put side by side. Behold, says the rationalist, the Book of God asserting two contradictories. No, no; replies the orthodox opponent, these statements are not contradictories —and he talks of errors of copyists and mystic meanings, falls back upon a maybe, or, if driven to desperation, with a fine disregard for the meaning of words, he will, to borrow the example used by Cardinal Newman, prove to you that one blind man is two blind men, and coming out of Jericho is the same as going into Jericho. Neither party to the quarrel thinks of asking whether the inspired writer makes himself responsible for the conflicting statements; and the rationalist has the best of the argument.* “The historian,” says Father Prat, “makes a narrative his own only when he approves it expressly, or implicitly. When he does not thus pledge himself, the words recited may be true, they may be false ; and this is for the reader to decide according to the ordinary laws of historical criticism ; for while it is true that they were said, it is not sure that they are true.' The expression is from St. Augustine.”
* 10., p. 40.
The principle, therefore, is old enough, in itself, but it never before received the wide application that is made of it by the new exegesis, for it is now extended to cover not only the passages and narratives which the writer explicitly declares to be citations or compilations, but many others, where no source is mentioned. An instance of each kind from Father Prat will suffice to set forth the positions of the new and of the old school, with their respective values. “An enormous amount of erudition has been spent in solving the antilogies of the Book of Machabees. The intention was good, the task praiseworthy, but it might have been simplified by neglecting the objections, which fall of themselves. Is the eulogy passed on the Romans excessive, is the capture of Antiochus-entirely unknown to profane historians—controverted? Perhaps. But how will you prove that all this was not told to Judas Machabeus ? The reputed victory of six thousand Jews over one hundred thousand Galatians appears to you incredible. Very good; but the account of this feat is found in a discourse of the commander-in-chief who speaks on hearsay, or, perhaps, with a note of exaggeration. The story about the ark and the sacred fire preserved by Jeremias smacks, we are told, of the legendary. That is of no importance. The inspired author is not responsible for it. He confines himself to transcribing a letter addressed to the Egyptian Jews by their Palestinian brethren referring to some writing-authentic, or spurious, it matters not-of the prophet Jeremias.” The contradictory stories concerning the death of Epiphanes, a diffi. culty that floored honest commentators of the old school, disappears with the same explanation. This is a case of explicit citation.
* 16., p. 42.
But there are irreconcilable texts, it can be urged, in many places, where there is no mention, by the writer, of any document or oral authority. The difficulties in your friend's list are of this kind-the contradictory accounts of the meeting of Saul and David, and conflicting dates in the Books of Kings and Paralipomenon. The list might be indefinitely increased. It is true that the authors do not declare, in so many words, that they are merely citing, but, the new school holds, there are implicit citations. That is to say that, though very often, owing to translations and obscurities of language, and, on our part, want of knowledge that was common property in the time of the sacred writer, the indications have become almost obliterated for us, there did exist for his contemporaries ample notice that, in the places providing our difficulties, the sacred author was not making statements on his own account, but merely repeating what somebody else had said or written. The name of Cainan in the patriarchal genealogy, as given by St. Luke, is not found in the corresponding list in Genesis.* “This has been,” says Father Prat, “a veritable Chinese puzzle for the exegetes; they send the reader from Genesis to St. Luke, and from St. Luke to Genesis. If they touch the difficulty, it is often to tell us that they see no way out. And that is the last word of the honest Pereira on the subject.” What is Father Prat's solution ? Simply that St. Luke copies from the Septuagint without offering any guarantee for the accuracy of that translation of the original Hebrew. Implicit citations is the open sesame, which solves the problem of historical contradictions that refuse to be got rid of in any other way.
*16., p. 54.
The new school then, as you are now able to see, can meet victoriously all the attacks made on the Bible in the name of science, history, or criticism. To accept it, however, is to admit that modern criticism, much of which has been the work of non-Catholics, and even of non-Christians, has made good a great many of its contentions against traditional interpretation. No wonder, then, that with the strong tendency to conservatism everywhere dominating our theology, many should eye the, new leaders with suspicion, and consider their method a dangerous concession to the enemy, if not indeed an introduction of the fateful horse within the walls of Ilium. Hence the ideas of the school have been assailed with mutterings about “Protestant infiltrations"; "disguised rationalism"; and other cognate reproaches. So the leaders when presenting their methods are compelled frequently to speak in a key that suggests the surgeon urging that some proposed operation is safe; and warning the friends of the sick man who refuse their consent that unless decayed matter is removed the patient cannot regain his health. Father Lagrange reminds the ultraconservative that when St. Thomas introduced Aristotelianism he, too, was accused of innovation and of bringing the wolf into the fold. The Archbishop of Paris solemnly condemned the innovator, and the Dominican habit worn by the Archbishop of Canterbury did not impede that prelate's arm when he, too, launched a bolt against his audacious Sicilian brother.
Replying to a scholastic theologian who attacked him, Father Prat defines the logical situation : * "Naturally he (the theologian) will not hear of implicit citations. If the word itself is offensive to him, I shall not obstinately stick to it. But he forgets to tell us what he is to substitute for the thing, and, notwithstanding the repugnance he would feel in facing the real facts of the case, the reader expected him to do so. It is
• 13., p. 40