Bible and the Popes, The

The popes, both in their own persons, and through the various particular and ecumenical councils, have always manifested a profound interest in, and exercised a close and prudent guardianship over the Bible. The first popes whose connection with the Bible is noteworthy are those of the 4th, 5th, and 6th centuries. Of these the first is Pope Saint Damasus, who lived in the latter half of the 4th century. In the year 382 he convoked a synod in Rome to settle the question of the canonicity of the so-called Deutero-Canonical Books. This synod formulated and published the Damasan catalog of the Sacred Scriptures, a complete and perfect canon, whieh has ever since been received in the Church. In the following year, 383, he commissioned Saint Jerome to revise the text of the Old Latin version, then much in need of emendation, and it was, no doubt, this commission which later inspired Saint Jerome to give to the world his famous Latin Vulgate. During the two centuries following several Roman pontiffs, as witnessed by the letter of Innocent I to Saint Exsuperius (405), the Canons of Gelasius (496), and Hormisdas (523), republished the Canon of Damasus, lest the faithful be erroneously led into repudiating any of the Sacred Books. Nor did the popes of this period confine their interests in the Bible to the canonization of its various books, and to keeping pure its text, for several of them, notably Saint Leo the Great (461) and Saint Gregory the Great (604), have left numerous homilies which proved them profound students and splendid exegetes of Holy Writ. The invention of printing in the 15th century brought about not only a multiplicity of versions but also a great number of uncritical editions of Saint Jerome's Vulgate and the Greek Septuagint. But, through the tireless efforts of several popes of this time, namely, Popes Julius III (1555), Pius IV (1565), Gregory XIII (1585), Sixtus V (1590), and Clement VIII (1641), the celebrated revisions of the Vulgate and the Septuagint, which are still in common use, were begun and successfully completed.

Recent popes have vied with their distinguished predecessors as defenders and teachers of the Bible. Popes Leo XIII, Pius X, Benedict XV, and Pius XI have all issued scholarly and weighty pronouncements on the Bible and biblical studies. Of these the decrees and encyclical letters of Leo XIII and Pius X are especially worthy of mention. The encyclical letter, "Providentissimus Deus," of Leo XIII, dated 18 November 1893, has been justly styled the "Magna Carta" of Bible students. Therein the sovereign pontiff not only vindicates the inspired character and authority of the Bible against the nationalists and modernists of his day, but also lays down judicious norms to guide the interpreter of the Scriptures, and prescribes further that which in the mind of the Church constitutes the preparation and qualifications of the competent Catholic exegete. Not content with the effects of the "Providentissimus Deus" the same pontiff published another memorable letter, the "Vigilantire," in which he sounds a warning note against the insidious attacks of nationalistic and modernistic scholars. As a final safeguard against any future attacks or abuses, he created the Pontifical Biblical Commission to which he confided the supervision and direction of the work of Catholic scholars in connection with their study of the Bible. Pius X continued the work of his distinguished predecessor through the issuance of several letters, chief of which are the Apostolic letter of 18 November 1907, in which he gives instructions regarding the methods to be employed in the teaching of Sacred Scriptures in the seminaries; a letter written 3 December 1907, addressed to Abbot Gasquet, authorizing him to begin the revision of the Vulgate with a view to reproducing as far as was possible the original text of Saint Jerome; and the Apostolic letter, "Vinea Electa," 7 May 1909, through which medium he officially established the Pontifical Biblical Institute at Rome.

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