The Pope, the Church, and the Bible

The first millennium in the history of the Catholic Church witnessed victory over the major persecutions by the Roman Empire, followed by the conversion of Rome and its becoming the champion of the Faith, the defender of the Church, and the center of missionary activity throughout the known world. Nation after nation was evangelized, and millions of people were being led to the way of salvation in century after century. Through the efforts of great saints and missionaries sent by Rome, such lands as Ireland, France, Spain, England, Germany, the Scandinavian countries, and the immense Slavic world, were made glorious parts of an ever-expanding Christian world, united in faith and discipline.

The very year 1000 saw the scholarly Pope Sylvester II united with his idealistic student, the young emperor Otto III. Both shared the happy vision of a united Christendom in which Church and state cooperate, each in its own sphere, in fulfilling God’s command to bring the way of salvation to all nations. Sylvester II — the pope who donated the famous crown of St. Stephen, king of Hungary, one of the last nations to be won for the Faith — had taken the papal name Sylvester in honor of St. Sylvester I, and in the hope of restoring the happy union and cooperation between that pope and his friend, the Emperor Constantine the Great.

However, in spite of the auspicious beginning of the second millennium, its subsequent unfolding proved to be less so. This millennium did not continue, as was expected, to extend God’s kingdom and to work out the only project of God on this earth, the salvation of souls. The second thousand years since Christ’s Birth is now coming to its close, witnessing the complete subjection of humanity to the plans and designs of anti-Christ: in the world, the triumph of Masonic power, Zionist intrigues, and secular humanism; and in the Church, Liberalism, Modernism, and false ecumenism. Knowing that what happens in the material world is inevitably a reflection of events in the spiritual, we must seek the ultimate causality of these consequences in the sphere of religion. Outstanding among these causes are major rebellions: a major schism during the first century of this second millennium, and a major revolt in its middle.

The Issue

The dialogue with these movements, the “Orthodox” in the East and the “Reformation” in the West (to give them the names they give to themselves) has lasted about half a millennium in the latter case, and a full millennium in the former. Yet, despite all that has been said on all sides of these controversies, the issues can be reduced to two: the pope and the Bible. Did God intend His religion to be an organized, disciplined teaching authority speaking in His name; or did He intend it to depend exclusively on a book to be read and interpreted by each individual on his own? And if he did intend a teaching authority, is it represented by one visible leader (the Pope) or by a group of more-or-less equal Bishops (the Patriarchs of the “Orthodox” churches)? If these two questions can be answered correctly, the Church of God will be able to continue successfully, in the third millennium, the admirable achievements of the first.

We of the Crusade of St. Benedict Center maintain that these two questions have very simple and clear answers. We also maintain that anyone of good will who prayerfully seeks the truth will be given the grace to know the answers and to cooperate freely with this grace. We further hold that a baptized person has, from his Baptism, a guaranteed sacramental grace for this purpose, in addition to the actual graces bestowed on all men.

It is no exaggeration to say that more has been written in answer to these two questions than on any other subject. A whole world of so-called apologetic literature is available. And yet one does not need to read one book of apologetics to find the answers. The slightest acquaintance with Holy Scripture and with prominent and incontrovertible facts of history would lead one to some firm conclusions helpful in reaching the answers.

  1. Our divine Lord and Savior Jesus Christ did not write one line of the Bible.
  2. Jesus unquestionably chose a definite group from among his disciples to be the teachers and leaders in His Church, and He said to them, “He that heareth you heareth me,” thus bestowing infallibility on His Church.
  3. When Jesus charged His Apostles to go and teach all nations, there was not in existence any written gospel to spread among the nations.

Catholic Love for Scripture

But we do have the Gospels now, and how grateful we are to God for them! In addition, we have the other twenty-three books of the New Testament and the forty-five books of the Old. We also know that these seventy-two books of Scripture form the one volume that is singly and uniquely God’s book. By Faith, we know that whoever was the human writer of each book was an instrument in the hand of God in such a way that what he wrote must be attributed more to God than to the human writer himself. We know all these important truths through the only authority on earth that can teach us such truths infallibly: the authority of the Holy Catholic Church. The saints of the Church, including the Fathers and Doctors, give us a vivid example of how we should receive these books and with what gratitude. It is said of some saints that had all the Scriptures been lost they could have restored them from memory!

That there exists on this earth a book which is truly God’s book, and that we know with absolute certainty this book is singular and unique, is indeed a very great gift from God to humankind. Yet, as with all gifts of God, we have, through the perversity of our fallen nature, abused it in a grand way! Every heresy claims to derive its doctrine from the Bible. We must therefore try to discover God’s intention in giving us this book, and how He wants us to use it.

We watch the providence of God at work over a period of about two thousand years, from the time Moses was inspired to write the first line of the Bible (about the fifteenth century before Our Lord) to the time in the fifth century after Our Lord when it was finally given to us complete, as we now have it, by a council of the Church ratified by a pope. This act, which was recognized and reaffirmed by later councils and popes, means that we have in the Bible all the genuine inspired writings, and those alone. All spurious writings that might have crept into it erroneously have been excluded, and all the genuine ones that could have been neglected are included. We are told all these things by the one authority which can make all these determinations, and make them infallibly. Without that authority, the Bible is like every other book on the face of the earth.

God’s Chosen Authority

We see that the Bible was in the making during a period of about twenty centuries During all that period it was constantly entrusted to a divinely instituted authority: the priesthood of Aaron in the Old Testament time, and the priesthood under Peter in the New. Apart from such divinely instituted authority, no man can determine what is or is not the word of God.

All the books of the New Testament were written during the first century after Our Lord. The Gospel of St. John, the last to be written, was completed just before the close of the first century. These books were recognized individually by the Church and highly venerated. When the tomb of St. Barnabas was opened several hundred years after his martyrdom in A.D. 60, the honorary Apostle was found holding the Gospel of St. Matthew in his hand. Yet, up to the time of St. Augustine (354-430) there was no such thing as a definitely compiled collection of all the twenty-seven books — and only those books — as the New Testament part of the Bible. Among the twenty-seven books we now have, some were still in doubt. On the other hand, there existed a great abundance of writings considered by some as part of Holy Scripture. So, it was under the leadership of the great St. Augustine that a council of the Church held at Carthage in Africa in the year 397, drew up the list of the books of Scripture which we have had ever since.

But as great as the authority of St. Augustine is, it cannot demand of us, under the pain of sin, that we believe in these books — and no others — as the word of God.

Further, the authority of a council, local or even ecumenical, depends on recognition and ratification by the pope. So it is only after the pope’s approval that this list (or canon of Scripture, as it is officially called) is accepted by the Church as definitive. Many councils and popes have since recognized this canon of Scripture and reaffirmed it, but none has added to it or taken away from it. The Council of Trent, to give one example, imposes on the conscience of every Christian, under the pain of anathema, the following injunction:

“Books of the New Testament: the four Gospels, according to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John; the Acts of the Apostles, written by Luke, the Evangelist; fourteen epistles of Paul the Apostle, to the Romans, to the Corinthians two, to the Galatians, to the Ephesians, to the Philippians, to the Colossians, two to the Thessalonians, two to Timothy, to Titus, to Philemon, to the Hebrews; two of Peter the Apostle; three of John the Apostle; one of the Apostle James, one of the Apostle Jude; and the Apocalypse of John the Apostle. If anyone, however, should not accept the said books as sacred and canonical, entire with all their parts, as they were wont to be read in the Catholic Church, and as they are contained in the old Latin Vulgate edition, and if both knowingly and deliberately he should condemn the aforesaid tradition, let him be anathema.” (Council of Trent, under Paul III, Session IV April 8, 1546)

So we can confidently maintain that up to the end of the fourth Century, a Christian could, without incurring the curse of anathema, reject the Epistle of Paul to the Hebrews or St. John’s Apocalypse as the word of God. A Christian could also think, without falling under anathema, that such writings as the Gospel of James, the III epistle to the Corinthians, and any number of “Acts” of Saints and martyrs, such as the “Acts of Paul and Thecla,” were parts of the Bible, the inspired word of God. Such books we now call Apocrypha; they could contain truths, but only on human authority, and only a teaching authority guaranteed infallibility by God could determine what truths may be found in apocryphal writings. Yet seven books of the Bible are called Apocrypha by some people today. On what authority?!

The Sacred Writers

Now that we are secure in the knowledge of what books constitute God’s book and what writings do not belong to it, and we know that this will remain true for ever, we may contemplate the providence of God working through the centuries in the inspired writers, when only the Holy Ghost knew what was being produced.

When St. Paul was writing a letter to the Corinthians or to the Galatians, he most probably had no awareness of the fact that, at the same time and by the same act, God was writing a book of the Bible. If the Bible has a unity, and it does, so that one part of it completes and explains other parts, that unity is supernatural and divine and in no way can it be explained naturally.

There is one incident in the Gospel of St. John that could be the exception which proves the rule. The people were objecting that Jesus could not be the promised Messias because He came from Galilee and not from Bethlehem of Juda as prophesied. Now, nowhere in John’s Gospel is the birth of Jesus told, and St. John did not answer the objection. One can almost hear St. John whispering to himself, “Matthew and Luke took care of that.”

Eight and only eight persons were the inspired writers of the New Testament: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Peter, Paul, James the Less, and Jude. All the Apostles taught by word of mouth and in this way they communicated the Faith as they received it from Our Lord; hence the Scriptures say Fides ex auditu — “Faith cometh by hearing.” All the Apostles were endowed with personal infallibility, but the gift or charisma of infallibility was communicated only to the successors of Peter in order to preserve the unity of the Church. Otherwise we would have as many infallible heads as there are bishops. The bishops can indeed teach infallibly, but only as long as they communicate the infallible teachings of the pope, who remains the unique and ultimate principle of infallibility. Of the twelve Apostles only five are inspired authors of Holy Scripture, and if we add Paul, the honorary Apostle, it makes six.

Now it is a fact that not one of the books originally written or dictated by the inspired author exists in the world today. But before we investigate the question of how we are confident, and justly so, that we do have with us the Bible, the book God inspired, let us first show some appreciation of the way it was preserved for us during the hundreds of years before Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press in the middle of the fifteenth century.

The Keeper of Scripture

For certainly the Bible could have been lost to us beyond recognition during that long period were it not for the faith of the Church and the religious veneration the faithful had for it, and for the labor of innumerable monks who copied it and recopied it with infinite care. Only the Catholic Church could have rendered this service to God and to men during those centuries.

When we come to print the Bible today we must depend on ancient manuscripts that are really copies from copies. Of these there exist more than 3,000. And in spite of the fact that they were carefully done, there are to be found many variations in the different manuscripts. It is estimated that there are about 200,000 such variations! It is true, of course, that many such variations are inconsequential in that they do not touch the substance of the Faith, but it remains also true that there is only one authority that is capable of determining such decisions with finality. It must be concluded that in the providence of God, the Bible was never intended to be used apart from the Church, much less in opposition to the Church. To take one example, it is the Catholic Church and only the Catholic Church, that could state confidently that the Latin Vulgate version contains all the inspired books and only those, and that it is free from error. It is also the authority of the Church that can assure us that the Douay-Rheims version is a faithful rendering of the same Latin Vulgate in the English language.

The same authority of the Church which compiled the books of the Bible, preserved them from being lost or destroyed, and continues to determine the correct text, has imposed on us, at the risk of our salvation, the belief that the Bible is the word of God. The Church also gives us excellent rules to guide us in the correct use, understanding, and interpretation of the Bible, which is admittedly not the easiest book to understand. These rules can be summarized in two principles:

  1. We must understand Holy Scripture, especially the difficult and enigmatic parts of it with the mind of the Church. This we get from the writings of the ancient Fathers who lived close to the time of Our Lord and the Apostles.
  2. The second rule, sometimes called the “analogy of Faith,” is that everything in Holy Scripture must be in harmony and agreement with all truths defined by popes and councils, and with what is patently clear in other parts of the Bible itself.

In conclusion, we see that Holy Scripture was given to us by God through the Church, and, therefore, the faithful children of the Church who receive it with simplicity and with the obedience of faith, can benefit from it to their edification and sanctification. Others wrest it to their own confusion and their own destruction (II Peter 3:16).

This is as the Bible is meant to be by God, its True Author.