Common Bible Translations Proposed During Discussions on Revelation

93rd General Congregation
October 2, 1964

Cooperation with non-Catholic Christians in producing translations of the Bible has been proposed to the ecumenical council.

At its 93rd general meeting the last four chapters of the Revelation schema were distributed and reported on by the Theological Commission, which had drawn them up. In chapter six, which deals with the Bible’s role in the life of the Church, it was proposed that translations in various languages be undertaken with the aim of producing a common set of Scriptures in cooperation with non-Catholic churches.

The text of chapter six, as revealed at the U.S. bishops’ press panel, stated that “if these translations were made in a common effort with the separated brethren, they could be used by all Christians.” The proposal will not come up for debate until chapters one through five are discussed.

During the day, 16 speakers continued discussion on the schema’s first two chapters. Chapter one deals with the nature and object of Revelation. Chapter two deals with Revelation’s transmission under four headings: the apostles and their successors as heralds of the Gospels, tradition, the mutual relation of tradition and Scripture, and the deposit of Revelation in its relation to the whole Church and the Church’s teaching authority.

For the most part, speakers engaged for the third day in a debate on whether or not the council should deal with the question of whether tradition contains revealed truths not found in the Bible, and on whether tradition stopped with the death of the apostles, or whether it is to be understood in a broader meaning and therefore is still developing even today.

Abbot Christopher Butler, O.S.B., president of the Benedictine Confederation of England, denied that it is a defined dogma of the Church that Sacred Scripture is deficient and that tradition contains elements not found, in it. He supported the majority view of the Theological Commission, which had proposed avoiding the entire question since it is not theologically mature.

Almost all of the day’s speakers, however, if not directly in favor of a specific treatment of the problem, expressed dissatisfaction with the treatment of tradition in the schema.

After 16 Fathers had spoken on the subject, discussion on the third chapter — on the inspiration and interpretation of the Bible — was begun. A short introduction was made by Bishop Jan van Dodewaard of Haarlem, the Netherlands, a member of the Theological Commission. He presented briefly the background and general contents of chapters three, four, five and six. But discussion by two speakers, who took opposite positions, was limited to chapter three.

The speakers were Ernesto Cardinal Ruffini of Palermo, Italy, and Franziskus Cardinal Koenig of Vienna.

Cardinal Ruffini, usually the first to speak when any new subject comes up in debates because of his seniority, took issue with several portions of the third chapter.

He objected that too much freedom had been given to Catholic Biblical scholars and rejected the view that the Church’s understanding of the Bible is not complete.

On the other hand, Cardinal Koenig said there is great need for use of recent developments in scientific and natural history which have opened new doors to Biblical scholars. At the same time, he said, it should be stated that there are some geographical and historical mistakes in the Bible which only prove that God used men in their limited state.

The day opened with Mass celebrated by Bishop Niel Farren of Derry, Ireland, on the 25th anniversary of his consecration. Bishop Paul Hagarty of Nassau, Bahama Islands, enthroned the Gospels. Giacomo Cardinal Lercaro of Bologna, Italy, moderated the discussion of chapter two and Julius Cardinal Doepfner of Munich and Freising, Germany, moderated the third chapter debate.

At the meeting’s outset Archbishop Pericle Felici, council general secretary, outlined the method of voting proposed for the three chapters on the ecumenism schema. The voting is to begin Oct. 5. A standing vote later approved the proposed voting process.

Archbishop Felici also said that for the schemata on the lay apostolate and on the Church in the modern world there would be the usual general discussion first, followed by a vote to accept or reject each schema as a basis for detailed debate chapter by chapter.

Bishop van Dodewaard, speaking in the name of the Dutch bishops, was the first to speak on chapter two. He said that while it proclaims the apostles as the foundation of the episcopate, it should be made clear that the successors of the apostles do not have all the rights the apostles had in regard to Revelation. He said this distinction would be ecumenically pleasing.

Archbishop Casimiro Morcillo Gonzalez of Madrid objected to the interpretation given in the text to a quote from St. John, “The truth shall come to you,” as being too broad. He said this can be interpreted as referring to the apostles or to the faithful as a whole, but cannot be applied to individuals because of the possible confusion that could arise.

The day’s first speaker to touch on the question of tradition was Archbishop Octavio Beras of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. His attitude was that the postponement of discussion of the question should be based on opportuneness instead of on the idea that there is a doctrinal problem. As far as he is concerned, he said, it is within the scope of the council to confirm the traditional teaching on the subject, otherwise the council endangers the Marian dogmas of the Assumption and Immaculate Conception. He overran his time and was cut off.

Auxiliary Bishop Antonio de Castro Monteiro of Vila Real, Portugal, said the definition of tradition in the text was acceptable, but that he wanted more stress on the infallibility of tradition and also a clear statement that tradition’s teaching on faith and morals has been passed on without any corruption.

Bishop Angel Temino Saiz of Orense, Spain, objected to chapter two’s treatment of the transmission of Revelation because it ignores the role of reason. He stated further that it is clear that tradition encompasses more than what is found in the Bible.

Another Spaniard, Bishop Jacinto Argaya Goicoechea of Mondonedo-Ferrol, affirmed that tradition is certainly at work in the Church, guided by the Holy Spirit. He said it should be clear that Revelation is above the teaching authority of the Church.

Italian Archbishop Enrico Nicodemo of Bari said he wanted some listing of the elements contained in tradition. He added that many truths are not found in Revelation, including all of the seven sacraments, the Assumption, and valid baptism by heretics, as well as what are the true Scriptures and what are not.

Bishop Jose Alba Palacios of Tehauntepec, Mexico, asked that the title be changed from sacred tradition to divine tradition and said the text is not strong enough in stating the fact that preaching is the main form of transmitting the word of God. He also warned that St. Thomas should not be cited as the ultimate argument on all things, as his opinions have actually been ruled against by popes in various instances.

Bishop Jean Rupp of Monaco objected that two concepts of tradition were used interchangeably in the text. One is the concept of tradition as the revelation of truth. The other is the idea of tradition as the transmission of that truth. The word of God does not grow, he said, but its transmission develops. Therefore, there must be a distinction between the deposit of faith and its transmission in the world.

Archbishop Salvatore Baldassarri of Ravenna, Italy, maintained that the text, by its silence and by direct reference in its appended notes, implicitly affirms that the concept of the two sources of revelation is not mature. This is only a tradition, he said, and the council should act in this matter.

The prior general of the Order of St. Augustine, Father Luciano Rubio, called the text’s silence on the extension of tradition disturbing. He asked how it could be passed over since not all doctrines are in the Bible.

Abbot Butler took the opposite view. He stated that the Council of Trent did not intend to declare the Bible insufficient when it affirmed the equality of tradition and the Bible. This affirmation was repeated by the First Vatican Council, he said, and, if it pleases the Fathers, it can be repeated again at the Second Vatican Council.

But he said that it is wrong to affirm that the ordinary teaching authority of the Church defines that there are two separate sources of Revelation as a doctrine. Such a solemn doctrinal definition is proper only to the Church’s extraordinary teaching authority, he said.

In treating of both the Bible and tradition, Abbot Butler said the ordinary teaching authority of the Church has wanted to affirm that, in the spirit of these sources, what the Church has handed down is true. The question of whether there are two separate sources or only two aspects of one source of Revelation is a secondary question, he stated.

Abbot Butler said the Church’s teaching on the Bible in past centuries has been static rather than dynamic, that it has sought more to conserve and preserve than to explore. Today the approach is a dynamic one, and things are being seen in the Bible that were not obvious previously, he continued.

Therefore the intent of the ordinary teaching authority of the Church is not to affirm a deficiency in Sacred Scripture, he said. Rather it merely reflects the state of exegesis of that past time.

Abbot Butler said the discussion shows that the matter is not theologically mature, and stated that those who hold there are two separate sources still do not understand the arguments of their opposites.

Italian Archbishop Raffaele Calabria of Benevento said the text is acceptable but wanted a clear statement on the providential mission of the Church’s teaching authority in the transmission of tradition.

Archbishop Francois Marty of Rheims, France, said it is true that living tradition grows with time, but that the text fails to identify the source of this growth. He said that for missionary purposes, he wanted emphasis placed on the connection with the Church’s living tradition and the concrete history of peoples and cultures where the Church takes root.

The last speaker on chapter two was Archbishop George B. Flahiff of Winnipeg, Manitoba. He pointed out that divine tradition should not be identified with everything handed down by the Church and agreed with the statements on the previous day by Albert Cardinal Meyer of Chicago, Paul Cardinal Leger of Montreal and Juan Cardinal Landazuri Ricketts of Lima, Peru, that the Church is not automatically preserved in the purity and integrity of its doctrine, but must constantly examine its life in the light of the Bible and guided by tradition as already by the Church’s teaching authority.

The introduction on the remaining four chapters of the Revelation schema were made by Bishop van Dodewaard.

The bishop said in his report that the text had been carefully amended. He said it draws attention to the problems of modern exegesis and the extent to which certain systems can provide reliable guidance for understanding God’s word.

Chapter four on the Old Testament has been recast to show it as the history of salvation rather than the history of the chosen people only, he stated. He added that it shows that inspiration of the Old Testament gives it lasting value.

Chapter five on the New Testament, he said, has been revised to include all the books of the New Testament rather than the Gospels alone. He said it discusses the historical character of the New Testament.

Chapter five on the New Testament also refers to the Pontifical Commission for Biblical Studies’ instruction of May 14, 1964, which urged Catholic scholars to apply both traditional and modern means to discover the full meaning and significance of Revelation. The instruction dealt specifically with the three stages of the development of the Gospels: first, what Christ said and did; second, how the apostles represented this to fit the conditions of the listeners of the time; and third, how the evangelists reproduced this for their readers.

Chapter six had been entitled “Use of the Word of God,” and is now called “Sacred Scripture in the Life of the Church.” It recommends preparation of accurate translations of the Bible in various languages, he noted.

Chapter six further recommends that such translations of the Bible be made in collaboration with separated Christians.

It also touches on the duties of Catholic scholars and on the importance of Holy Writ for the study and teaching of theology, the bishop said.

Cardinal Ruffini began debate on chapter three by criticizing the text for ignoring the usual norms laid down to guide the research of Catholic Biblical scholars.

He said there is no reference to the norm of the analogy of faith, which in general means the fittingness and consistency of various teachings. Nor is there a reference to the teaching of the Fathers of the Church on specific matters, nor to the need of following the sense of the Church, he went on.

Cardinal Ruffini objected to what he called the exaggerated degree of freedom given Catholic Biblical scholars in the text and said he disagreed that the Church is only now learning about literary forms and the role they play in the way Scripture was written. He said it would be an exaggeration to think that the sacred books have not been understood up to now.

Cardinal Koenig said that great progress has been made by modern scholars in Eastern studies and that this must be taken into account when interpreting the Bible. Pointing to some factual errors in the Bible, he said they do not deprive the Bible of its authority, but show that God used men who were limited as to historical and other facts. Inspiration works in a very human way, he said.

James C. O’Neill
NCWC News Rome correspondent

* * * *

The schema on revelation currently before the ecumenical council “rises above all discussions of conflicting schools of theology on Scripture and tradition and the opposition between the Reformation and counter-Reformation,” a leading Belgian prelate said.

Bishop Andre Charue of Namur, a member of the doctrinal commission which helped frame the new schema, told a press conference (Oct. 3) that the welcome accorded the text has been generally positive.

“Nevertheless there is still some opposition to it,” he said. “Some Fathers would want to open debate again on the problem of two sources of revelation. But one may wonder if it is opportune to begin anew the discussion which caused so much disagreement in the first session. Especially since the very expression lends itself to confusion.

“Whether there is one source or two is not so important as affirming that Scripture and tradition together transmit to us the one Gospel preached by the apostles. In this way the Church is certain of remaining in close contact with the ‘living voice of the Gospel’ and of being able to make this voice heard.”

The opposition to the first text was so strong in the council’s first session that the majority voted on Nov. 20, 1962, to return it for revision. Although the majority vote was not the required two-thirds, Pope John XXIII intervened and directed the text to be reworked by a mixed commission.

Bishop Charue said the present schema provides an “irenic, positive and constructive explanation of the question to serve as a starting point for a better understanding of both revelation and tradition.”

Referring to the controversy over the relation between Scripture and tradition, Bishop Charue said “tradition refers without a break in continuity to Scripture, and Scripture in turn is made present in tradition. Neither can be had without the other, and together both work toward the same goal — the building up of the Mystical Body of Christ.

“The tradition of the Church is in contact with the tradition of the apostles. It was the apostles who opened to us the understanding of the Old Testament in its tendency toward Christ. Then came the books of the New Testament enriching apostolic tradition. The inspired character of Scripture guarantees its infallibility. Scripture permits us to situate the coming of Christ in the general picture of the history of salvation and provides a witness which prevents the people of God from wandering along aimlessly.”

Bishop Charue concluded by stressing the Christological perspective of the schema which “gives it its true unity and the reason for its richness.”

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