Catholic Interpretation of Scripture

Self-conscious reflection on the proper methods of interpretation of Scripture began already with the early Church Fathers. One of the most definitive patristic statements on interpretation is St. Augustine’s De Doctrina Christiana, “On Christian Doctrine.” While its title might lead the modern reader to expect a treatment of Church dogma in systematic form, De Doctrina is in fact a handbook for the interpretation of Scripture. This fact in itself is significant: for Augustine and the other fathers, Christian doctrine was the interpretation of Scripture. This truth continues to be affirmed by the Second Vatican Council: “the ‘study of the sacred page’ should be the very soul of theology” (DV §11), and by Pope Benedict XVI: “Dogma is by definition nothing other than an interpretation of Scripture” (Ratzinger 1983, 178).

Augustine’s De Doctrina represents a synthesis of patristic thinking on the interpretation of Scripture, and it continued to be used as a handbook for exegesis throughout the medieval period. In the following discussion of the Catholic interpretation of Scripture, we follow St. Augustine’s basic framework, fleshed out with more recent teachings of the Church and developments within biblical studies.

None of the Church Fathers was so naïve as to believe that interpretation could be reduced to a certain method which would yield consistent results regardless of the character of the interpreter applying it. Augustine was no exception: therefore his discussion of the exegesis of Scripture falls essentially into two..

Read on at The Sacred Page here. Follow the blog for the series will continue.

A nice academic read on a Saturday morning.

 

About Fr Stephen Smuts

TAC Priest in South Africa.
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2 Responses to Catholic Interpretation of Scripture

  1. Of course for the Reformers, both Catholic and Protestant, it was back to the classical Ad fontes: the Latin which means simply “to the sources”. And for the Protestant Reformation, it was back to the Bible as the primary source of the Christian faith and truth. And we should note too that the Reformers also approached biblical study still somewhat with the Medieval readers and thinkers. Biblical interpretation was to the text, with the literal or historical, doctrinal, and moral. And here the Medieval Church taught that the Holy Scripture had several layers of meaning, but for the Reformers we cannot violate the historical or the meaning of the author. In the NT, the apostolic writers were first moved by the Spirit of God, with the church as “a pillar and buttress of the truth.” (1 Tim. 3:15-16) But NOT that truth itself! This really is the simple essence of the Reformation. And today also, both Catholic biblical scholars, as too the Protestant, are basically on the same page. However of course for the Catholic, they must always measure the papal history and authority. Which to my mind anyway, is often just NOT Biblical! For both the EO as the Reformational, Rome does not have the last word. I think we can see this for example with the “filioque”.

  2. Mark Penrith says:

    Great post Stephen, I find Augustine fasinating; although I do admit I would struggle with the subjectiveness of allegory which he relied so heavily upon.

    Great comment irishanglican, I too would rally under the cry “to the sources”!

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