Catholic Scripture Interpretation

Resting on Fundamentals, Resisting Fundamentalism

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The purpose of man’s existence in life, according to Catholic teaching, is to know, love and serve God. More than simply a duty that man must fulfill to obtain salvation, this divine design exists so that God can have an eternal relationship with each one of His children. From the creation of the first man, God has revealed Himself to the human race so that man may know Him more fully. The summit of this revelation occurred with the "new man" - Jesus Christ. In Christ, God entered completely into the condition of the human race. The purpose of the incarnation was to restore man to the communion with God that had been lost in the Fall. After Christ’s ascension into heaven, he left man with an institution to nourish this radically new relationship: the Church.

Within the Church, God’s revelation comes to man in His "deeds and words"(1), in written and unwritten forms. The written manner of this communication to us is the Sacred Scriptures. The words of Scripture, written with "God as their author"(2), truly are His words to man and therefore have a privileged place in the Church. However, since they also have human authors, using human forms of communication, the Scriptures, as any other written work, necessitate a proper interpretation to fully understand them. Suitable explanation demands certain "fundamentals".

In the past century the Catholic Church has developed more fully the proper fundamentals of interpretation for the modern exegete. Three documents: Providentissimus Deus by Pope Leo XIII; Divino Afflante Spiritu by Pope Pius XII; and especially Dei Verbum, a document of the Second Vatican Council, have all contributed greatly to the development of these principles. Also rising to prominence in the past century is another method of interpretation, which likewise claims to rest wholly on certain "fundamentals": Biblical Fundamentalism. While there are some superficial similarities between a true Catholic interpretation and a Fundamentalist one, the Church’s principles of exegesis in the final analysis resist and contradict the principles laid down by Fundamentalism.





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