Vs. Pasqualucci Re Vatican II #6: Dei Verbum & the Bible

Vs. Pasqualucci Re Vatican II #6: Dei Verbum & the Bible July 16, 2019

[see the Master List of all twelve installments]

Paolo Pasqualucci (signer of three of the endless reactionary-dominated “corrections” of Pope Francis), a Catholic and retired professor of philosophy of the law at the University of Perugia, Italy, wrote “‘Points of Rupture’ of the Second Vatican Council with the Tradition of the Church – A Synopsis” (4-13-18), hosted by the infamous reactionary site, One Peter Five. It’s an adaptation of the introduction to his book Unam Sanctam – A Study on Doctrinal Deviations in the Catholic Church of the 21st Century.

Pope Benedict XVI, writing as Cardinal Ratzinger, stated that the authority of Vatican II was identical to that of the Council of Trent:

It must be stated that Vatican II is upheld by the same authority as Vatican I and the Council of Trent, namely, the Pope and the College of Bishops in communion with him, and that also with regard to its contents, Vatican II is in the strictest continuity with both previous councils and incorporates their texts word for word in decisive points . . .

Whoever accepts Vatican II, as it has clearly expressed and understood itself, at the same time accepts the whole binding tradition of the Catholic Church, particularly also the two previous councils . . . It is likewise impossible to decide in favor of Trent and Vatican I but against Vatican II. Whoever denies Vatican II denies the authority that upholds the other two councils and thereby detaches them from their foundation. And this applies to the so-called ‘traditionalism,’ also in its extreme forms. Every partisan choice destroys the whole (the very history of the Church) which can exist only as an indivisible unity.

To defend the true tradition of the Church today means to defend the Council. It is our fault if we have at times provided a pretext (to the ‘right’ and ‘left’ alike) to view Vatican II as a ‘break’ and an abandonment of the tradition. There is, instead, a continuity that allows neither a return to the past nor a flight forward, neither anachronistic longings nor unjustified impatience. We must remain faithful to the today of the Church, not the yesterday or tomorrow. And this today of the Church is the documents of Vatican II, without reservations that amputate them and without arbitrariness that distorts them . . .

I see no future for a position that, out of principle, stubbornly renounces Vatican II. In fact in itself it is an illogical position. The point of departure for this tendency is, in fact, the strictest fidelity to the teaching particularly of Pius IX and Pius X and, still more fundamentally, of Vatican I and its definition of papal primacy. But why only popes up to Pius XII and not beyond? Is perhaps obedience to the Holy See divisible according to years or according to the nearness of a teaching to one’s own already-established convictions? (The Ratzinger Report, San Francisco: Ignatius, 1985, 28-29, 31)

For further basic information about the sublime authority of ecumenical councils and Vatican II in particular, see:

Conciliar Infallibility: Summary from Church Documents [6-5-98]

Infallibility, Councils, and Levels of Church Authority: Explanation of the Subtleties of Church Teaching [7-30-99]

The Bible on Papal & Church Infallibility [5-16-06]

Authority and Infallibility of Councils (vs. Calvin #26) [8-25-09]

The Analogy of an Infallible Bible to an Infallible Church [11-6-05; rev. 7-25-15; published at National Catholic Register: 6-16-17]

“Reply to Calvin” #2: Infallible Church Authority [3-3-17]

“On Adhesion to the Second Vatican Council” (Msgr. Fernando Ocariz Braña, the current Prelate of Opus DeiL’Osservatore Romano, 12-2-11; reprinted at Catholic Culture) [includes discussion of VCII supposedly being “only” a “pastoral council”]

Pope Benedict on “the hermeneutic of reform, of renewal within continuity” (12-22-05)

The words of Paolo Pasqualucci, from his article, noted above, will be in blue:


7.   Paragraph 11.2 of the Dogmatic Constitution On Divine Revelation Dei Verbum may be interpreted as if implying the denial of the dogma of the absolute inerrancy of the Sacred Texts, because it affirms that “the books of Scripture must be acknowledged as teaching solidly, faithfully and without error that truth which God wanted put into sacred writings for the sake of salvation.” The expression “without error” can in fact be interpreted as referring only to the “truth” revealed “for our salvation” [nostrae salutis causa]; that is, only regarding religious and moral precepts only.

Here my work is done for me, in an article by Fr. Brian W. Harrison (himself a traditionalist), entitled “The Truth and Salvific Purpose of Sacred Scripture, According to Dei Verbum, Article 11″ (Roman Theological Forum, July 1995). He thoroughly demolishes the above interpretation of the text, in this marvelous piece of traditional defense of Vatican II.

His stellar and in-depth work on this question is a wonderful illustration of a maxim that I would apply to this entire series of mine: “Yes, there were theological liberals / modernists / dissidents at Vatican II, but God saw to it that their nefarious efforts to undercut Catholic tradition and orthodoxy failed, and that the final texts were orthodox.” Here is a prime example of that very thing. God was and is in control, and the liberals were a tiny minority.

All of the words below are his (I won’t bother to indent everything), excepting the very end, where I cite footnote 5 from Dei Verbum 11.2; footnotes will be in green, and incorporated into the flow of the text. Line breaks imply a break in the text:


In the Vatican II Constitution on Divine Revelation, Dei Verbum, we find in article 11 a relatively short but very vital sentence regarding the consequences of the Bible’s divine inspiration. It is significant that the Catechism of the Catholic Church, in reproducing this sentence, places it in the context of a section (“Inspiration and the Truth of Sacred Scripture,” Nos. 105-108) which begins by stressing the Bible’s divine authorship over its human authorship. The first words in No. 105 are italicized: “God is the author of Sacred Scripture.” The sentence of Dei Verbum, §11, which interests us is then quoted in No. 107: “Since therefore all that the inspired authors or sacred writers affirm should be regarded as affirmed by the Holy Spirit, we must acknowledge that the books of Scripture firmly, faithfully, and without error teach that truth which God, for the sake of our salvation, wished to see confided to the Sacred Scriptures.”

[ . . .]

In other words, the Council is saying that our salvation is the purpose God had in mind in giving us biblical truth – and this is certainly what the Church has always taught.

[ . . .]

The other last-minute change agreed on by the Commission is not only less obvious, but has been sadly neglected in the commentaries of liberal post-conciliar theologians. Nevertheless, this amendment – or rather, group of amendments – is of vital importance. Further quotations from the Fathers and the Church’s Magisterium were included in footnote 5 at the end of the key sentence, 10 in order to provide an authentic interpretation.

[Footnote 10: This is note 31 in W.M. Abbott (ed.), The Documents of Vatican II (London: Geoffrey Chapman, 1967), p. 119.]

These quotations, as will be shown, make it clearer than ever that Vatican II cannot legitimately be understood as being open to the view which the German-speaking bishops had previously advocated, namely, that Scripture can err in matters of science and history. I say “clearer than ever,” because, even before these final additions were made, the quotations already included in footnote 5 from the great biblical encyclicals Providentissimus Deus of Leo XIII (1893) and Divino afflante Spiritu of Pius XII (1943) plainly rule out Scriptural errors in these or any other matters. These already-existing footnote references are worth considering. From Divino afflante Spiritu the following passage had already been quoted:

The first and greatest care of Leo XIII was to set forth the teaching on the truth of the Sacred Books and to defend it from attack. Hence with grave words did he proclaim that there is no error whatsoever if the sacred writer, speaking of things of the physical order, “went by what sensibly appeared” as the Angelic Doctor says, speaking either “in figurative language, or in terms which were commonly used at the time, and which in many instances are in daily use at this day, even among the most eminent men of science.” For “the sacred writers, or to speak more accurately – the words are St. Augustine’s – the Holy Spirit, Who spoke by them, did not intend to teach men these things – that is, the intimate constitution of visible things – which are in no way profitable to salvation”; which principle “will apply to cognate sciences, and especially to history,” that is, by refuting, “in a somewhat similar way the fallacies of the adversaries and defending the historical truth of Sacred Scripture from their attacks.” Nor is the sacred writer to be taxed with error, if “copyists have made mistakes in the text of the Bible,” or, “if the real meaning of a passage remains ambiguous.” Finally, it is absolutely wrong and forbidden “either to narrow inspiration to certain passages of Holy Scripture, or to admit that the sacred writer has erred,” since divine inspiration “not only is essentially incompatible with error but excludes and rejects it as absolutely and necessarily as it is impossible that God Himself, the supreme Truth, can utter that which is not true. This is the ancient and constant faith of the Church. 11

[Footnote 11: Encyclical Divino afflante Spiritu, 30 September 1943, EB 539 (emphasis added). This is §3 of the English translation used here, found in Rome and the Study of Scripture (Grail Publications, 1953), pp. 79-107, which is reproduced in Claudia Carlen (ed.), The Papal Encyclicals 1939-1958 (McGrath Publishing Co., 1981), pp. 65-79. I have altered this translation in one expression, rendering intimam adspectabilium rerum constitutionem more literally as “the intimate constitution of visible things.”]

It is certainly arguable that by the last sentence in this quotation Pope Leo XIII, and Pope Pius XII who is quoting and confirming him, are in effect proclaiming that the absolute freedom from error of Sacred Scripture – including its treatment of science and history – is an infallible, de fide teaching of the ordinary Magisterium. 12

[Footnote 12: Cf. Vatican II, Lumen Gentium, §25.]

The footnote to Dei Verbum, §11, which we are considering also referred already – that is, before the final amendments – to the paragraph EB 124, from Providentissimus Deus, which, in addition to the points quoted by Pius XII in the above passage of Divino afflante Spiritu, contains another admonition which is also highly pertinent to the conciliar debates over the difficulties raised by apparent errors in scientific or historical matters:

For the system of those who, in order to rid themselves of these difficulties, do not hesitate to concede that divine inspiration regards the things of faith and morals, and nothing beyond, because (as they wrongly think) in a question of the truth or falsehood of a passage, we should consider not so much what God has said as the reason and purpose which he had in saying it – this system cannot be tolerated. 13

[Footnote 13: This is from §20 of the English translation in The Tablet, 83 (January 6, 1894), reproduced in Carlen (ed.), op. cit., volume with 1878-1903 encyclicals, pp. 325-339. Before Leo XIII published his magna carta for biblical studies, the papal Magisterium had never intervened explicitly regarding the precise extent of biblical inspiration and inerrancy, with the result that there was honest uncertainty about this even among a few great and orthodox theologians. No less than Cardinal Newman, in 1883, became involved in a famous debate in the pages of The Nineteenth Century, after venturing the opinion that the least important statements in Scripture might not be divinely inspired, and hence, not immune from error. An Irish bishop-theologian, Dr. Healy, rebutted Newman on the basis of the consensus of the Fathers and Doctors. Today nobody has heard of Healy, but it was recognized after the publication of Providentissimus Deus that on this point he had been right and Newman wrong. Cf. J. MacRory, “The Nature and Extent of Inspiration,” The Irish Ecclesiastical Record, Vol. XVI, March 1895, pp. 193-208.]

What, now, were the additional authoritative statements included in the final version of the Vatican II footnote which made it even clearer, as we have said, that the Council was not to be understood as allowing for the view that Scripture can err on certain matters? As regards science, the main additional reference was to the paragraph EB 121 of Providentissimus Deus, part of which had already been cited indirectly in the footnote by virtue of its inclusion in the paragraph EB 539 from Divino afflante Spiritu which we have reproduced above. But, as well as what Pius XII had selected from that paragraph of his predecessor’s encyclical, it contains a passage in which Leo XIII confirms St. Augustine’s explicit negation of the possibility of any scientific error in Scripture:

No real dissension will ever arise between the scientist and the theologian, provided each stays within the proper bounds of his discipline, carefully observing St. Augustine’s admonition ‘not to assert rashly as known what is in fact unknown.’ But if some dispute should arise, the same Doctor sums up the rule to be followed by the theologian: ‘If they have been able to demonstrate some truth of natural science with solid proofs, let us show that it is not contrary to our Scriptures; but if they maintain anything in any of their treatises which is contrary to Scripture (that is, to the Catholic Faith), let us believe without hesitation that it is completely false, and, if possible, find a way of refuting it.’ 14

[Footnote 14: “Nulla quidem theologum inter et physicum vera dissensio intercesserit, dum suis uterque finibus se contineant, id caventes, secundum S. Augustini monitum, ‘ne aliquid temere et incognitum pro cognito asserant.’ Sin tamen dissenserint, quemadmodum se gerat theologus, summatim est regula ab eodem oblata: ‘Quidquid, inquit, ipsi de natura rerum veracibus documentis demonstrare potuerint, ostendamus nostris Litteris non esse contrarium; quidquid autem de quibuslibet suis voluminibus his nostris Litteris, idest catholicæ fidei, contrarium protulerint, aut aliqua etiam facultate ostendamus, aut nulla dubitatione credamus esse falsissimum‘” (EB 121 – present writer’s translation).]

The other added reference from Providentissimus Deus is the passage EB 126-127. In the first of these two paragraphs Pope Leo cites Augustine and Gregory the Great to the effect that God takes full responsibility for everything written in Scripture, so that “those who claim that anything false can be contained in authentic passages of the Sacred Books either pervert the Catholic notion of divine inspiration, or make God Himself the author of error.” 15

[Footnote 15: “Consequitur, ut qui in locis authenticis Librorum sacrorum quidpiam falsi contineri posse existiment, ii profecto aut catholicam divinæ inspirationis notionem pervertant, aut Deum ipsum erroris faciant auctorem” (Providentissimus DeusEB 126 – present writer’s translation).]

In the second paragraph, EB 127, the Pope refers to an obvious corollary of this absolute freedom from error, namely, the necessary absence of self-contradiction in Scripture. Vatican II thus makes its own Leo XIII’s appeal for exegetes to continue following the example of the Fathers and Doctors in painstakingly striving to reconcile apparent contradictions which might be found in the Bible. This is further unmistakable evidence that the Council’s teaching on the truth of Scripture does not allow for the existence of historical errors in the Bible, because the majority of apparent or alleged contradictions within Scripture are in fact to be found in its historical books. The key sentence reads:

All the Fathers and Doctors were so utterly convinced that the original versions of the divine Scriptures are absolutely immune from all error that they laboured with no less ingenuity than devotion to harmonize and reconcile those many passages which might seem to involve some contradiction or discrepancy (and they are nearly always the same ones which today are thrust at us in the name of modern scholarship). 16

[Footnote 16: “Atque adeo Patribus omnibus et Doctoribus persuasissimum fuit, divinas Litteras, quales ab hagiographis editæ sunt, ab omni omnino errore esse immunes, ut propterea non pauca illa, quæ contrarii aliquid vel dissimile viderentur afferre (eademque fere sunt quæ nomine novæ scientiæ nunc obiiciunt) non subtiliter minus quam religiose componere inter se et conciliare studuerint” (EB 127 – present writer’s translation). It is sad to note that the accuracy of Pope Leo’s parenthesized remark was unwittingly verified by the spokesman for a whole group of bishops at Vatican II (cf. n. 4 above).]

[. . .]

In short, when we take into account the official explanations of the text, Pope Paul VI’s intervention and the reason for it, and the significance of the footnotes, the true meaning of Dei Verbum, §11, becomes clear. We cannot take the reference to “salvation” as implying that some things affirmed by the inspired writers in Scripture are not there “for the sake of our salvation,” and so may contain errors. Rather, the Council means to reaffirm the perennial teaching of the Popes, Fathers and Doctors, namely, that every affirmation of those writers – on any subject whatever – has God for its principal author, and is therefore endowed with both the qualities under discussion: necessary truth and salvific relevance. Even seemingly unimportant statements of fact (many historical details in the Old Testament, for instance) are there “for the sake of our salvation”: not because, when taken in isolation, they always tell us something we must know or practice in order to gain eternal life (faith and morals or “revelation” in the strict sense); but because cumulatively they make up larger narratives which teach us the story of God’s interaction with his chosen people, culminating in the sending of His Son as the incarnate Savior. In this sense, all biblical history is salvation history.
[. . .]
[I]t goes without saying that the teaching of article 11 of Dei Verbum on biblical inerrancy needs to be considered in conjunction with what is said in article 12 about the importance of discerning the inspired writer’s true intention and the literary genre he is employing. If there are solid arguments drawn from literary criticism to show that a non-historical genre is being used in a particular book or passage – for instance, the expression of didactic teaching in the garb of narrative prose – then, clearly, not all the individual propositions in such prose have to be defended as historically true. However, this principle of ‘non-historical genres,’ like the use of narcotic drugs, is something which should be resorted to only sparingly and in small doses if it is not to be transformed rapidly from a procedure which promotes health into one which destroys it.
[. . .]
Closely related to the question of literary genres is that of what Vatican II means, precisely, by emphasizing that it is only what the biblical writers truly “affirm” which is guaranteed to be free from error. “Affirm” as opposed to what? Certainly the Council cannot mean (as some commentators seem to suppose) that only what the inspired authors “affirm,” as opposed to what they merely “state,” is immune from the possibility of error. The absolute and categorical rejection of all error which Leo XIII and Pius XII insist upon, along with their insistence that inspiration cannot be “narrowed to certain passages,” in effect rules out the opinion that, while an inspired author cannot indeed err when he makes an affirmation (assertio), he may lapse into error when he makes a mere statement (enuntiatio); that is, when he writes that something is, was, or will be the case with less emphasis or deliberation than is characteristic of a full-fledged affirmation. For God is equally the author of all Scripture, and He can no more be the author of erroneous statements than of erroneous affirmations. God does not – indeed, cannot – make minor mistakes in passing, or when He is speaking of matters of secondary importance. . . .
[I]n the paragraph immediately preceding that sentence on biblical inerrancy whose meaning we are discussing in this essay, the Council recalls that the Magisterium has explicitly disqualified, as a proposed means of solving apologetic problems, any appeal to an alleged distinction between a biblical author’s “affirmations” and his mere “statements.” In clarifying what we are to understand by the de fide truth that the books of the Old and New Testaments, “entire and in all their parts … have God as their author,” the conciliar Fathers refer us in the footnote to two decisions (of the Pontifical Biblical Commission in 1915 and the Holy Office in 1923) which state that, according to “the Catholic dogma of the inspiration and inerrancy of the Sacred Scriptures, … everything affirmed, stated, or implied by the sacred writers must be held as affirmed, stated or implied by the Holy Spirit.” 49
[Footnote 49: “… dogmate item catholico de inspiratione et inerrantia sacrarum Scripturarum, quo omne id, quod hagiographus asserit, enuntiat, insinuat, retineri debet assertum, enuntiatum, insinuatum a Spiritu Sancto.” Cf. DS 3629, EB 420 (415 in 1994 edn.) and EB 499, respectively, cited in n. 1 to Dei Verbum, 11, (emphasis added in translation). (The latter passage cites and reaffirms the former.) Apart from these strictly dogmatic considerations, the practical exegetical difficulty of determining with any certainty which of an author’s propositions should be considered “affirmed,” and which merely “stated,” would in any case render this distinction wide open to abuse. To the addictive habit of ‘genre abuse’ among Catholic exegetes we should soon have to add that of ‘affirmation abuse.’]
This is also implicit in Vatican II’s express assertion in the main text (quoting Leo XIII) that although the inspired writers acted as “true authors,” they wrote down “all those things and only those things which God wanted.” And God could no more “want” a false “statement” to be written down than a false “affirmation.” . . .
[W]hen physical or historical matters are in question, one cannot require from the Bible, as a condition of its inerrancy, the same kind of precision in detail, or exactitude in terminology, as one would require in a textbook of natural science or history – particularly a modern academic text.
[. . .]
The teaching of Vatican Council II in Dei Verbum, 11, is thus in complete harmony with the traditional Catholic understanding of the revealed truth that the books of Scripture are inspired by God and free from all error. When properly understood, this teaching also clarifies the hermeneutical criteria which need to be kept in mind in order to defend this dogma in its traditional sense. It is unfortunate and ironic that some scholars who are quick to claim the backing of Vatican II for their opinion that the biblical authors sometimes err (at least in their ‘statements’ if not in their ‘affirmations’ or ‘teachings’) are found to defend this opinion by appealing to that very text which anticipates and refutes it: the text, that is, which reminds us that, since biblical truth was given to us “for the sake of our salvation,” and not in order to teach us natural science or history for their own sakes, Sacred Scripture cannot fairly be judged to be in error when it sometimes presents historical or scientific truth in a less complete, less detailed, more popular, or more imprecise (i.e., merely approximate) fashion than would be acceptable in modern texts dedicated formally to those disciplines.
Footnote 5 from Dei Verbum 11.2:
5. cf. St. Augustine, “Gen. ad Litt.” 2, 9, 20:PL 34, 270-271; Epistle 82, 3: PL 33, 277: CSEL 34, 2, p. 354. St. Thomas, “On Truth,” Q. 12, A. 2, C.Council of Trent, session IV, Scriptural Canons: Denzinger 783 (1501). Leo XIII, encyclical “Providentissimus Deus:” EB 121, 124, 126-127. Pius XII, encyclical “Divino Afflante Spiritu:” EB 539.
Photo credit: Page from the Epistle to Titus in a Gutenberg Bible (c. 1455). The Bodleian Libraries, Oxford [Wikimedia Commons /  Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license]

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