Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

The subject will be treated in this article under the four heads:

I. Belief in Inspired books;
II. Nature of Inspiration;
III. Extent of Inspiration;
IV. Protestant Views on the Inspiration of the Bible.

I. BELIEF IN INSPIRED BOOKS

A. Among the Jews

The belief in the sacred character of certain books is as old as the Hebrew literature. Moses and the prophets had committed to writing a part of the message they were to deliver to Israel from God. Now the naby (prophet), whether he spoke or wrote, was considered by the Hebrews the authorized interpreter of the thoughts and wishes of Yahweh. He was called, likewise, "the man of God," "the man of the Spirit" ( Hosea 9:7 ). It was around the Temple and the Book that the religious and national restoratiion of the Jewish people was effected after their exile (see 2 Maccabees 2:13-14 , and the prologue of Sirach in the Septuagint ). Philo (from 20 B.C. to A.D. 40) speaks of the "sacred books", "sacred word", and of "most holy scripture " (De vita Moysis, iii, no. 23). The testimony of Flavius Josephus (A.D. 37-95) is still more characteristic; it is in his writings that the word inspiration ( epipnoia ) is met for the first time. He speaks of twenty-two books which the Jews with good reason consider Divine, and for which, in case of need, they are ready to die (Contra Apion., I, 8). The belief of the Jews is the inspiration of the Scriptures did not diminsh from the time in which they were dispersed throughout the world, without temple, without altar, without priests ; on the contrary this faith increased so much that it took the place of everything else.

B. Among the Christians

The gospel contains no express declaration about the origin and value of the Scriptures, but in it we see that Jesus Christ used them in conformity with the general belief, i.e. as the Word of God. The most decisive texts in this respect are found in the Fourth Gospel , v, 39; x, 35. The words scripture, Word of God, Spirit of God, God , in the sayings and writings of the Apostles are used indifferently ( Romans 4:3 ; 9:17 ). St. Paul alone appeals expressly more than eighty times to those Divine oracles of which Israel was made the guardian (cf. Romans 3:2 ). This persuasion of the early Christians was not merely the effect of a Jewish tradition blindly accepted and never understood. St. Peter and St. Paul give the reason why it was accepted: it is that all Scripture is inspired of God ( theopneustos ) ( 2 Timothy 2:16 ; cf. 2 Peter 1:20 21). It would be superfluous to spend any time in proving that Tradition has faithfully kept the Apostolic belief in the inspiratiion of Scripture. Moreover, this demonstaration forms the subject-matter of a great number of works (see especially Chr. pesch, "De inspiratione Sacrae Scripturae", 1906, p. 40-379). It is enough for us to add that on several occasions the Church has defined the inspiration of the canonical books as an article of faith (see Denzinger, Enchiridion , 10th ed., n. 1787, 1809). Every Christian sect still deserving that name believes in the inspiration of the Scriptures, although several have more or less altered the idea of inspiration.

C. Value of this Belief

History alone allows us to establish the fact that Jews and Christians have always believed in the inspiration of the Bible . But what is this belief worth? Proofs of the rational as well as of the dogmatic order unite in justifying it. Those who first recognized in the Bible a superhuman work had as foundation of their opinion the testimony of the Prophets, of Christ, and of the Apostles, whose Divine mission was sufficiently established by immediate experience or by history. To this purely rational argument can be added the authentic teaching of the Church. A Catholic may claim this additional certitude without falling into a vicious circle, because the infallibility of the Church in its teaching is proved independently of the inspiration of Scripture ; the historical value, belonging to Scripture in common with every other authentic and truthful writing, is enough to prove this.

II. NATURE OF INSPIRATION

A. Method to be followed

(1) To determine the nature of Biblical inspiration the theologian has at his disposal a three fold source of information: the data of tradition, the concept of inspiration, and the concrete state of the inspired text. If he wishes to obtain acceptable results he will take into account all of these elements of solution. Pure speculation might easily end in a theory incompatible with the texts. On the other hand, the literary or historical analysis of these same texts, if left to its own resources, ignores their Divine origin. Finally, if the data of tradition attest the fact of inspiration, they do not furnish us with a complete analysis of its nature. Hence, theology, philosophy, and exegesis have each a word to say on this subject. Positive theology furnishes a starting point in its traditional formulae: viz., God is the author of Scripture, the inspired writer is the organ of the Holy Ghost, Scripture is the Word of God. Speculative theology takes these formulæ, analyses their contents and from them draws its conclusions. In this way St. Thomas, starting from the traditional concept which makes the sacred writer an organ of the Holy Ghost, explains the subordination of his faculties to the action of the Inspirer by the philosophical theory of the instrumental cause (Quodl., VII, Q. vi, a. 14, ad 5um). However, to avoid all risk of going astray, speculation must pay constant attention to the indications furnished by exegesis.

(2) The Catholic who wishes to make a correct analysis of Biblical inspiration maust have before his eyes the following ecclesiastical documents: (a) "These books are held by the Church as sacred and canonical, not as having been composed by merely human labour and afterwards approved by her authority, nor merely because they contain revelation without error, but because, written under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost , they have God for their author, and have been transmitted to the Church as such." (Concil. Vatic., Sess. III, const. dogm, de Fide, cap. ii, in Denz., 1787). (b) "The Holy Ghost Himself, by His supernatural power, stirred up and impelled the Biblical writers to write, and assisted them while writing in such a manner that they conceived in their minds exactly, and determined to commit to writing faithfully, and render in exact language, with infallible truth, all that God commanded and nothing else; without that, God would not be the author of Scripture in its entirety" (Encycl. Provid. Deus , in Dena., 1952).

B. Catholic View

Inspiration can be considered in God, who produces it; in man, who is its object; and in the text, which is its term.

(1) In God inspiration is one of those actions which are ad extra as theologians say; and thus it is common to the three Divine Persons. However, it is attributed by appropriation to the Holy Ghost. it is not one of those graces which have for their immediate and essential object the sanctification of the man who received them, but one of those called antonomastically charismata, or gratis datae , because they are given primarily for the good of thers. Besides, inspiration has this in common with every actual grace, that it si a transitory participation of the Divine power; the inspired wirter finding himself invested with it only at the very moment of writing or when thinking about writing.

(2) Considered in the man on whom is bestowed this favour, inspiration affects the will, the intelligence and all the executive faculties of the writer. (a) Without an impulsion given to the will of the writer, it cannot be conceived how God could still remain the principal cause of Scripture, for, in that case, the man would have taken the initiative. Besides that the text of St. Peter is peremptory: "For prophecy came not by the will of man at any time : but the holy men of God spoke, inspired by the Holy Ghost " ( 2 Peter 1:21 ). The context shows that there is question of all Scripture, which is a prophecy in the broad sense of the word ( pasa propheteia graphes ). According to the Encyclical Prov. Deus , " God stirred up and impelled the sacred writers to determine to write all that God meant them to write" (Denz., 1952). Theologians discuss the question whether, in order to impart this motion, God moves the will of the writer directly or decides it by proposing maotvies of an intellectual order. At any rate, everybody admits that the Holy Ghost can arouse or simply utilize external influences capable of acting on the will of the sacred writer. According to an ancient tradition, St. Mark and St. John wrote their Gospels at the instance of the faithful.

What becomes of human liberty under the influence of Divine inspiration? In principle, it is agreed that the Inspirer can take away from man the power of refusal. In point of fact, it is commonly admitted that the Inspirer, Who does not lack means of obtaining our consent, has respected the freedom of His instruments. An inspiration which is not accompanied by a revelation, which is adapted to the normal play of the faculties of the human soul, which can determine the will of the inspired writer by motives of a human order, does not necessarily suppose that he who is its object is himself conscious of it. If the prophet and the author of the Apcoalypse know and say that their pen is guided by the Spirit of God, other Biblical authors seem rather to have been led by "some mysterious influence whose origin was either unknown or not clearly discerned by them." (St. Aug., De Gen. ad litt., II, xvii, 37; St. Thomas II-II, Q. clxxi, a. 5; Q. cixxiii, a.4). However, most theologians admit that ordinarily the writer was conscious of his ow inspiration. From waht we have just said it follows that inspiration does not necessarily imply exstasy, as Philo and, later, the Montanists thought. It is true that some of the orthodox apologists of the second century ( Athenagoras, Theophilus of Antioch, St. Justin ) have, in the description which they give of Biblical inspiration, been somehat influenced by the ideas of divination then current amongst the pagans. They are too prone to represent the Biblical writer as a purely passive intermediary, something after the style of the Pythia. Nevertheless, they did not make him out to be an energumen for all that. The Divine intervention, if one is conscious of it, can certainly fill the human soul with a certain awe; but it does not throw it into a state of delirum.

(b) To induce a person to write is not to take on oneself the responsibility of that writing, more especially it is not to become the author of that writing. If God can claim the Scripture as His own work, it is because He has brought even the intellect of the inspired writer under His command. However, we must not represent the Inspirer as putting a ready amde book in the mind of the inspired person. Nor has He necessarily to reveal the contens of the work to be produced. No matter where the knowledge of the writer on this point comes from, whether it be acquired naturally or due to Divine revelation, inspiration has not essentially for its object to teach somethin new to the sacred writer, but to render him capable of writing with Divine authority. Thus the author of the Acts of the Apostles narrates events in which he himself took part, or which were related to him. It is highly probable that most of the sayings of the Book of Proverbs were familiar to the sages of the East, before being set down in an inspired writing. God, inasmuch as he is the principal cause, when he inspires a writer, subordinates all that writer's cognitive faculties so as to make him accomplish the different actions which would be naturally gone through by a man who, first of all, has the design of composing a book, then gets together his materials, subjects them to a critical examination, arranges them, makes them enter into his plan, and finally brands them with the mark of his personality -- i.e. his own pecualiar style. The grace of inspiration does not exempt the writer from personal effort, nor does it insure the perfection of his work from an artistic point of view. The author of the Second Book of Machabeees and St. Luke tell the reader of the pains they took to document their work ( 2 Maccabees 2:24-33 ; Luke 1:1-4 ). The imperfections of the work are to be attributed to the instrument. God can, of course, prepare this instrument beforehand, but, a the time of using it, He does not ordinarily make any change in its conditions. When the Creator applies His power to the faculties of a creature outside of the ordinary way, he does so in a manner in keeping with the natural activity of these faculties. Now, in all languages recourse is had to the comparison of light to explain the nature of the human intelligence. That is why St. Thomas (II-II, Q. clxxi, a. 2; Q. clxxiv, a. 2, ad 3um) gives the name of light or illumination to the intellectual motion communicated by God to the sacred wirter. After him, then, we may say that this motion is a pecualir supernatural participation of the Divine light, in virtue of which the writer conceives exactly the work that the Holy Ghost wants him to write. Thanks to this help given to his intellect, the inspired writer judges, with a certitude of Divene order, not only of the opportuneness of the book to be written, but also of the truth of the details and of the whole. However, all theologians do not analyse exactly in the same manner the influence of this light of inspiration.

(c) The influence of the Holy Ghost had to extend also to all the executive faculties of the sacred writer -- to his memory, his imagination, and even to the hand with which he formed the letters. Whether this influence proceed immediatley from the action of the Inspirer or be a simple assistance, and, again, whether this assistance be positive or merely negative, in any case everyone admits that its object is to remove all error from the inspired text. Those who hold that even the words are inspired believe that it also forms an integral part of the grace of inspiration itself. However that may be, there is no denying that the inspiration extends, in one way or aother, and as far as needful, to all those who have really cooperated in the composition of the sacred test, especially to the secretaries, if the inspired person had any. Seen in this light, the hagiographer no longer appears a passive and inert instrument, abased as it were, by an exterior impulsion; on the contrary, his faculties are elevated to the service of a superior power, whihc, although distinct, is none the less intimately present and interior. Without losing anything of his personal life, or of his liberty, or even of his spontaneity (since it may happen that he is not conscious of the power which leads him on), man becomes thus the interpreter of God. Such, then is the most comprehensive notion of Divine inspiration. St. Thomas (II-II, Q., cixxi) reduces it to the grace of prophecy, in the broad sense of the word.

(3) Considered in its term, inspiration is nothing else but the biblical text itself. This text was destined by God, Who inspired it, for the universal Church, in order that it might be authentically recognized as His written word. This destination is essential. Without it a book, even if it had been inspired by God, could not become canonical; it would have no more value than a private revelation. That is why any writing dated from a later period than the Apostolical age is condemned ipso facto to be excluded from the canon. The reason of this is that the deposit of the public revelation was complete in the time of the Apostles. they alone had the mission to give to the teaching of Christ the development which was to be opportunely suggested to them by the Paraclete, John 14:26 (see Franzelin, De divina Traditione et Scriptura (Rome, 1870), thesis xxii). Since the Bible is the Word of God, it can be said that every canonical text is for us a Divine lesson, a revelation, even though it may have been written with the aid of inspiration only, and without a revelation properly so called. For this cause, also, it is clear that an inspired text cannot err. That the Bible is free from error is beyond all doubt, the teaching of Tradition. The whole of Scriptural apologetics consists precisley in accounting for this exceptional prerogative. Exegetes and apologists have recourse here to considerations which may be reduced to the following heads:

  • the original unchanged text, as it left the pen of the sacred writers, is alone in question.
  • As truth and error are properties of judgment, only the assertiions of the sacred writer have to be dealt with. If he makes any affirmation, it is the exegete's duty to discover its meaning and extent; whether he expresses his own views or those of others; whether in quoting another he approves, disapproves, or keeps a silent reserve, etc.
  • The intention of the writer is to be found out according to the laws of the language in which he writes, and consequently we must take into account the style of literatur he wished to use. All styles are compatible with inspiration, because they are all legitimate expressions of human thought, and also, as St. Augustine says (De Trinitate, I, 12), " God, getting books written by men, did not wish them to be composed in a form differing from that used by them." Therefore, a distinciton is to be made between the assertion and the expression; it is by means of the latter that we arrive at the former.
  • These general principles are to be applied to the different books of the Bible , mutatis mutandis , according to the nature of the matter contained in them,the special purpose for which their author wrote them, the traditional explanation which is given of them, the traditional explanation which is given of them, and also according to the decisions of the Church.
C. Erroneous Views Proposed by Catholic Authors

(1) Those which are wrong because insufficient.

(a) The approbation given by the Church to a merely human writing cannot, by itself, make it inspired Scripture. The contrary opinion hazarded by Sixtus of Siena (1566), renewed by Movers and Haneberg, in the nineteenth centruy, was condemned by the Vatican Council. (See Denz., 1787).

(b) Biblical inspiration even where it seems to be at its minimum -- e.g., in the historical books -- is not a simple assistance given to the inspired writers to prevent him from erring, as was thought by Jahn (1793), who followed Holden and perhaps Richard Simon. In order that a text may be Scripture, it is not enough "that it contain revelation without error " (Conc. Vatic., Denz., 1787).

(c) A book composed from merely human resources would not become an inspired text, even if approved of, afterwards, by the Holy Ghost. This subsequent approbation might make the truth contained in the book as credible as if it were an article of the Divine Faith, but it would not give a Divine origin to the book itself. Every inspiration properly so called is antecedent, so much so that it is a contradiciton in terms to speak of a subsequent inspiration. This truth seems to have been lost sight of by those moderns who thought they could revive-at the same time making it still less acceptable -- a vague hypothesis of Lessius (1585) and of his disciple Bonfrère.

(1) Those which err by excess

A view which errs by excess confounds inspiration with revelation. We have just said that these two Divine operations are not only distinct but may take place separately, although they may also be found together. As a matter of fact, this is what happens whenever God moves the sacred writer to express thoughts or sentiments of which he cannot have acquired knowledge in the ordinary way. There has been some exaggeration in the accusation brought against early writers of having confounded inspiration with revelation ; however, it must be admitted that the explicit distinction between these two graces has become more and more emphasized since the time of St. Thomas. This is a very real progress and allows us to make a more exact psychological analysis of inspiration.

III. EXTENT OF INSPIRATION

The question now is not whether all the Biblical books are inspired in every part, even in the fragments called deuterocanonical: this point, which concerns the integrity of the Canon, has been solved by the Council of Tent (Denz., 784). but are we bound to admit that, in the books or parts of books which are canonical, there is absolutely nothing, either as regards the matter or the form, which does not fall under the Divine inspiration?

A. Inspiration of the Whole Subject Matter

For the last three centuries there have been author-theologians, exegetes, and especially aplogists -- such as Holden, Rohling, Lenormant, di Bartolo, and others -- who maintained, with more or less confidence, that inspiration was limited to moral and dogmatic teaching, excluding everything in the Bible relating to history and the natural sciences. They think that, in this way, a whole mass of difficulties against the inerrancy of the bible would be removed. but the Church has never ceased to protest against this attempt to restrict the inspiration of the sacred books. This is what took place when Mgr d'Hulst , Rector of the Institut Catholique of paris, gave a sympathetic account of this opinion in "Le Correspondant" of 25 Jan., 1893. The reply was quickly forthcoming in the Encyclical Providentissimus Deus of the same year. In that Encyclical Leo XIII said:

It will never be lawful to restrict inspiration merely to certain parts of the Holy Scripture , or to grant that the sacred writer could have made a mistake. Nor may the opinion of those be tolerated, who, in order to get out of these difficulties, do not hesitate to suppose that Divine inspiration extends only to what touches faith and morals, on the false plea that the true meaning is sought for less in what God has said than in the motive for which He has said it. (Denz., 1950)

In fact, a limited inspiration contradicts Christian tradition and theological teaching.

B. Verbal Inspiration

Theologians discuss the question, whether inspiration controlled the choice of the words used or operated only in what concerned the sense of the assertions made in the Bible . In the sixteenth century verbal inspiratiion was the current teaching. The Jesuits of Louvain were the first to react against this opinion. They held "that it is not necessary in order that a text be Holy Scripture , for the Holy Ghost to have inspired the very material words used." The protests against this new opinion were so violent that Bellarmine and Francisco Suárez thought it their duty to tone down the formula by declaring "that all the words of the text have been dictated by the Holy Ghost in what concerns the substance , but differently according to the diverse conditiions of the instruments." This opinion went on gaining in precision, and little by little it disentangled itself from the terminology which it had borrowed from the adverse opinion, notably from the word "dictation." Its progress was so rapid that at the beginning of the nineteenth century it was more commonly taught than the theory of verbal inspiration. Cardinal Franzelin seems to have given it its definite form. During the last quarter of a century verbal inspiration has again found partisans, and they become more numerous every day. However, the theologians of today, whilst retaining the terminology of the older school, have profoundly modified the theory itself. They no longer speak of a material dictation of words to the ear of the writer, nor of an interior revelation of the term to be employed, but of a Divine motion extending to every faculty and even to the powers of execution to the writer, and in consequence influencing the whole work, even its editing. Thus the sacred text is wholly the work of God and wholly the work of man, of the latter, by way of instrument, of the former by way of principal cause. Under this rejuvenated form the theory of verbal inspiration shows a marked advance towards reconcilation with the rival opinion. From an exegetical and apologetical point of view it is indifferent which of these two opinions we adopt. All agree that the characteristics of style as well as the imperfections affecting the subject matter itself, belong to the inspired writer. As for the inerrancy of the inspired text it is to the Inspirer that it must be finally attributed, and it matters little if God has insured the truth of His Scripture by the grace of inspiration itself, as the adherents of verbal inspiration teach, rather than by a providential assistance.

IV. PROTESTANT VIEWS ON THE INSPIRATION OF THE BIBLE

A. At the Beginning of the Reformation

(1) As a necessary consequence of their attitude towards the Bible , which they had taken as their only rule of Faith, the Protestants were led at the very outset to go beyond the ideas of a merely passive inspiration, which was commonly received in the first half of the sixteenth century. Not only did they make no distinction between inspiration and revelation, but Scripture, both in its matter and style, was considered as revelation itself. In it God spoke to the reader just as He did to the Israelites of old from the mercy-seat. Hence that kind of cult which some protestants of today call "Bibliolatry." In the midst of the incertitude, vagueness, and antinomies of those early times, when the Reformation like Luther himself, was trying to find a way and a symbol, one can discern a constant preoccupation, that of indissolubly joining religious belief to the very truth of God by means of His written Word. The Lutherans who devoted themselves to composing the Protestant theory of inspiration were Melanchthon, Chemzitz, Quenstedt, Calov. Soon, to the inspiration of the words was added that of the vowel points of the present Hebrew text. This was not a mere opinion held by the two Buxtorfs, but a doctrine defined, and imposed under pain of imprisonment, and exile, by the Confession of the Swiss Churches, promulgated in 1675. These dispositions were abrogated in 1724. The Purists held that in the Bible there are neither barbarisms nor solecisms; that the Greek of the New Testament is as pure as that of the classical authors. It was said, with a certain amount of truth, that the Bible had become a sacrament for the Reformers.

(2) In the seventeenth century began the controversies which, in course of time, were to end in the theory of inspiration now generally accepted by Protestants. The two principles which brought about the Reformation were precisely the instruments of this revolution; on the one side, the claim for every human soul of a teaching of the Holy Ghost , which was immediate and independent of every exterior rule; on the other, the right of private judgment, or autonomy of individual reasoning, in reading and studying the Bible . In the name of the first principle, on which Zwingli had insisted more than Luther and Calvin, the Pietists thought to free themselves from the letter of the Bible which fettered the action of the Spirit. A French Huguenot, Seb. Castellion (d. 1563), had already been bold enough to distinguish between the letter and the spirit; according to him the spirit only came from God, the letter was no more than a "case, husk, or shell of the spirit."

The Quakers, the followers of Swedenborg, and the Irvingites were to force this theory to its utmost limits; real revealation -- the only one which instructs and sanctifies -- was that produced under the immediate influence of the Holy Ghost. While the Pietists read their Bible with the help of interior illumination alone, others, in even greater numbers, tried to get some light from philological and historical researches which had received their decisive impulse from the Renaissance. Every facility was assured to their investigations by the principle of freedom of private judgment; and of this they took advantage. The conclusions obtained by this method could not be fatal to the theory of inspiration by revelation. In vain did its partisans say that God's will had been to reveal to the Evangelists in four different ways the words which, in reality, Christ had uattered only once; that the Holy Ghost varied His style accoring as he was dictation to Isaias or to Amos -- such an explanation was nothing short of an avowal of the ability to meet the facts alleged against them. As a matter of fact, Faustus Socinus (d. 1562) had already held that the words and, in general, the style of Scripture were not inspired. Soon afterwards, George Calixtus, Episcopius, and Grotinus made a clear distinction between inspiration and revelation. According to the last-named, nothing was revealed but the prophecies and the words of Jesus Christ, everything else was only inspired. Still further, he reduces inspiration to a pious motion of the sould {see "Votum pro pace Ecclesiae" in his complete works, III (1679), 672}. The Dutch Arminian school then represented by J. LeClerc, and, in France, by L. Capelle, Daillé, Blondel, and other, followed the same course. Although they kept current terminology, they made it apparent, nevertheless, that the formula, "The Bible is the Word of God," was already about to be replaced by "The Bible contains the Word of God." Morever, the term word was to be taken in an equivocal sense.

B. Biblical Rationalism

In spite of all, the Bible was still held as the criterion of religious belief. To rob it of this prerogative was the work which the eighteenth century set itself to accomplish. In the attack then made on the Divine inspiration of the Scriptures three classes of assailants are to be distinguished.

(1) The Naturalist philosophers, who were the forerunners of modern unbelief (Hobbes, Spinoza, Wolf); the English Deists (Toland, Collins, Woolston, Tindal, Morgan); the German Rationalists (Reimarus, Lessing); the French Encyclopedists (Voltaire, Bayle) strove by every means, not forgetting abuse and sarcasm, to prove how absurd it was to claim a Divine origin for a book in which all the blemishes and errors of human writings are to be found.

(2) The critics applied to the Bible , the methods adopted for the study of profane authors. They, from the literary and historic point of view, reached the same conclusion as the infidel philosophers ; but they thought they could remain believers by distinguishing in the Bible between the religious and the profane element. The latter they gave up to the free judgment of historical criticism ; the former they pretended to uphold, but not without restrictions, which profoundly changed its import. According to Semler, the father of Biblical Rationalism, Christ and the Apostles accommodated themselves to the false opinions of their contemporaries; according to Kant and Eichborn, everything which does not agree with sane reason must be regarded as Jewish invention. Religion restricted within the limits of reason -- that was the point which the critical movement initiated by Grotius and LeClerc had in common with the philosophy of Kant and the theology of Wegscheider. The dogma of plenary inspiration dragged down with it, in its final ruin, the very notion of revelation (A. Sabatier, Les religions d'autorité et la religion de l'espirit , 2nd ed., 1904, p. 331).

(3) These philosophical historical controversiers about Scriptural authority caused great anxiety in religious minds. There were many who then sought their salvation in one of the principles put forward by the earlly Reformers, notably by Calvin : to wit, that truly Christian certitude came from the testimony of the Holy Spirit. Man had but to sound his own soul in order to find the essence of religion, which was not a science, but a life, a sentiment. Such was the verdict of the Kantian philosophy then in vogue. It was useless, from the religious point of view, to discuss the extrinsic claims of the Bible ; far better was the moral experience of its intrinisc worth. The Bible itself was nothing but a hostory of the religious experiences of the Prophets, of Christ and His Apostles, of the Synagogue and of the Church. Truth and Faith came not from without, but sprang from the Christian conscience as their source. Now this conscience was awakened and sustained by the narration of the religious experiences of those who had gone before. What mattered, then, the judgment passed by criticism on the historical truth of this narration, if it only evoked a salutary emotion in the soul ? Here the useful alone was true. Not the text, but the reader was inspired. Such, in its broad outlines, was the final stage of a movement which Spener, Wesley, the Moravian Brethren, and, generally, the Pietists initiated, but of which Schleiermacher (1768-1834) was to be the theologian and the propagator in the nineteenth century.

C. Present Conditions

(1) The traditional views, however, were not abandoned without resistance. A movement back to the old idea of the theopneustia , including verbal inspiration, set in nearly everywhere in the first half of the nineteenth century. This reaction was called the Réveil. Among its principal promoters must be mentioned the Swiss L. Gaussen, W. Lee, in England, A. Dlorner in Germany, and, more recently, W. Rohnert. their labours at first evoked interest and sympathy, but were destined to fail before the efforts of a counter-reaction which sought to complete the work of Schleiermacher. it was led by Alex, Vinet, Edm. Scherer, and E. Rabaud in France ; Rich. Rothe and especially Ritschl in Germany ; S.T. Coleridge, F.D. Maurice, and Matthew Arnold in England. According to them, the ancient dogma of the theopneustia is not to be reformed, but given up altogether. In the heat of the struggle, however, university professors like E. Reuss, freely used the historical method; without denying inspiration they ignored it.

(2) Abstracting from accidental differences, the present opinion of the so-called progressive Protestants (who profess, nevertheless, to remain sufficiently orthodox ), as represented in Germany by B. Weiss, R.F. Grau, and H Cremer, in England by W. Sanday, C. Gore, and most Anglican scholars, may be reduced to the following heads: (a) the purely passive, mechanical theopneustia , extending to the very words, is no longer tenable. (b) Inspiration had degrees: suggestion, direction, elevation, and superintendency. All the sacred writers have not been equally inspired. (c) Inspiration is personal that is, given directly to the sacred writer to enlighten, stimulate, and purify his faculties. This religious enthusiasm, like every great passion, exalts the powers of the soul ; it belongs, therefore, to the spiritual order, and is not merely a help given immediately to the intellect. Biblical inspiration, being a seizure of the ntire man by the Divine virtue, does not differ essentially from the gift of the Holy Spirit imparted to all the faithful. (d) It is, to say the least, an improper use of language to call the sacred text itself inspired. At any rate, this text can, and actually does, err not only in profane matters, but also in those appertaining more or less to religion, since the Prophets and Christ Himself, notwithstanding His Divinity, did not possess absolute infallibility. (Cf. Denney, A Dict. of Christ and the Gospels , I, 148-49.) The Bible is a historical document which taken in its entirety contains the authentic narrative of revelation, the tidings of salvation. (c) Revealed truth, and, consequently, the Faith we derive from it are not founded on the Bible , but on Christ himself; it is from Him and through Him that the written text acquires definitely all its worth. But how are we to reach the historical reality of Jesus -- His teaching, His institutions -- if Scripture, as well as Tradition, offers us no faithful picture? The question is a painful one. To establish the inspiration and Divine authority of the Bible the early Reformers had substituted for the teaching of the Church internal criteria, notably the interior testimony of the Holy Spirit and the spiritual efficacy of the text. Most Protestant theologians of the present day agree in declaring these criteria neither scientific nor traditional; and at any rate they consider them insufficient. (On the true criterion of inspiration see CANON OF THE HOLY SCRIPTURES.) They profess, consequently, to supplement them, if not to replace them altogether, by a rational demonstration of the autheticity and substantial trustworthiness of the Biblical text. The new method may well provide a starting-point for the fundamental theology of Revelation, but it cannot supply a complete justification of the Canon, as it has been so far maintained in the Churches of the Reformation. Anglican theologians, too, like Gore and Sanday, gladly appeal tot he dogmatic testimony of the collective conscience of the universal Church ; but, in so doing, they break with one of the first principles of the Reformation, the autonomy of the individual conscience.

(3) The position of liberal Protestants (i.e. those who are independent of all dogma ) may be easily defined. The Bible is just like other texts, neither inspired nor the rule of Faith. Religious belief is quite subjective. So far is it from depending on the dogmatic or even historical authority of a book that it gives to it, itself, its real worth. When religious texts, the Bible included, are in question, history -- or, at least, what people generally believe to historical -- is largely a product of faith, whcih has transfigured the facts. The authors of the Bible may be called inspired, that is endowed with a superior perception of religious matters; but this religious enthusiasm does not differ essentially from that which animated Homer and Plato. This is the denial of everything supernatural, in the ordinary sense of the word, as well in the Bible as in religion in general. Nevertheless, those who hold this theory defend themselves from the charge of infidelity, especially repudiating the cold Rationalism of the last century, which was made up exclusively of negations. They think that they remain sufficiently Christian by adhering to the religious sentiment to which Christ ahs given the most perfect expression yet known. Following Kant, Schleiermacher, and Ritschl, they profess a religion freed from all philosophical intellectualism and from every historical proof. Facts and formulae of the past have, in their eyes, only a symbolic and a transient value. Such is the new theology spread by the best-known professors and writers especially in Germany -- historians, exegetes, philologists, or even pastors of souls. We need only mention Harnack, H.J. Holtzmann, Fried. Delitzsch, Cheyne, Campbell, A. Sabatier, Albert and John Réville. it is to this transformation of Christianity that "Modernism", condemned by the Encyclical Pascendi Gregis , owes its origin.

In modern Protestantism the Bible has decidely fallen from the primacy which the Reformation had so loudly conferred upon it. The fall is a fatal one, becoming deeper from day to day; and without remedy, since it is the logical consequence of the fundamental principle put forward by Luther and Calvin. Freedom of examination was destined sooner or later to produce freedom of thought. (Cf. A. Sabatier, Les religions d'autorite et la religion de l'espirité , 2nd ed., 1904, pp. 399-403.)


More Encyclopedia

The Catholic Encyclopedia is the most comprehensive resource on Catholic teaching, history, and information ever gathered in all of human history. This easy-to-search online version was originally printed in fifteen hardcopy volumes.

Catholic Encyclopedia

Designed to present its readers with the full body of Catholic teaching, the Encyclopedia contains not only precise statements of what the Church has defined, but also an impartial record of different views of acknowledged authority on all disputed questions, national, political or factional. In the determination of the truth the most recent and acknowledged scientific methods are employed, and the results of the latest research in theology, philosophy, history, apologetics, archaeology, and other sciences are given careful consideration.

No one who is interested in human history, past and present, can ignore the Catholic Church, either as an institution which has been the central figure in the civilized world for nearly two thousand years, decisively affecting its destinies, religious, literary, scientific, social and political, or as an existing power whose influence and activity extend to every part of the globe. In the past century the Church has grown both extensively and intensively among English-speaking peoples. Their living interests demand that they should have the means of informing themselves about this vast institution, which, whether they are Catholics or not, affects their fortunes and their destiny.

Copyright © Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company New York, NY. Volume 1: 1907; Volume 2: 1907; Volume 3: 1908; Volume 4: 1908; Volume 5: 1909; Volume 6: 1909; Volume 7: 1910; Volume 8: 1910; Volume 9: 1910; Volume 10: 1911; Volume 11: - 1911; Volume 12: - 1911; Volume 13: - 1912; Volume 14: 1912; Volume 15: 1912

Catholic Online Catholic Encyclopedia Digital version Compiled and Copyright © Catholic Online

Newsletters

Newsletter Sign Up icon

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers

Daily Readings

Reading 1, Ephesians 3:14-21
14 This, then, is what I pray, kneeling before the ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 33:1-2, 4-5, 11-12, 18-19
1 Shout for joy, you upright; praise comes well from ... Read More

Gospel, Luke 12:49-53
49 'I have come to bring fire to the earth, and how I ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for October 23rd, 2014 Image

St. John of Capistrano
October 23: St. John was born at Capistrano, Italy in 1385, the son of a ... Read More

Inform, Inspire & Ignite Logo

Find Catholic Online on Facebook and get updates right in your live feed.

Become a fan of Catholic Online on Facebook


Follow Catholic Online on Twitter and get News and Product updates.

Follow us on Twitter