Saturday 22nd October 2016

Home » Our Catholic Faith » Currently Reading:

Reading And Interpreting Scripture

June 14, 2014 Our Catholic Faith No Comments


We ended last week’s installment by launching into a discussion on a question of critical importance: “How is Sacred Scripture to be read and interpreted?” The significance and the relevance of this question become apparent if one examines findings outlined in the 2012 “Status of Global Mission” report, a publication of the International Bulletin of Missionary Research which has been issued annually for the past 28 years. The report tells us that by mid-2012 there will be approximately 2.3 billion Christians in the world, comprising about one-third of the global population. Of these, approximately 1.2 billion profess to be Roman Catholic. What about the remaining 1.1 billion Christians? A telling statistic in the report is the number of denominations among which they are divided — it is listed at 43,000.
How does this statistic pertain to the reading and interpretation of Scripture? A primary reason why so many non-Catholic Christian denominations exist is that most follow the principle of sola scriptura, or “by Scripture alone.” This principle, according to Fr. John Hardon’s Modern Catholic Dictionary, “declares that all of Divine Revelation is contained exclusively in the Bible. It therefore denies that there is any revealed Tradition.” Although a detailed analysis of the principle of sola scriptura is outside the scope of this catechetical series, Raymond de Souza will cover the topic in future “Live Your Faith” installments.
Suffice it to say, adherence to sola scriptura represents a fundamental rift with Catholic doctrine. Furthermore, each denomination holding to the principle interprets Sacred Scripture differently, to a greater or lesser extent, and believes its interpretation is the correct one. And so, though many would argue that the number 43,000 is greatly inflated, the fact remains that denial of the legitimacy of Sacred Tradition coupled with differing interpretations of Sacred Scripture has contributed significantly to a plethora of non-Catholic Christian denominations. Certainly this is not part of the salvific plan of a God who desires unity among all mankind — that all may be one in Christ (cf. John 17:21).
As has been highlighted and emphasized repeatedly thus far in this series, Catholic teaching holds that “Tradition and Sacred Scripture…together make up one sacred Deposit of Faith [and] Sacred Scripture must be read and interpreted with the help of the Holy Spirit and under the guidance of the Magisterium of the Church” (Compendium of the CCC, nn. 14, 19). Furthermore, as introduced in our previous installment, three criteria were defined by Vatican Council II for reading and interpreting Sacred Scripture: “1) it must be read with attention to the content and unity of the whole of Scripture; 2) it must be read with attention to the living Tradition of the Church; 3) it must be read with attention to the analogy of faith, that is the inner harmony which exists among the truths of the Faith themselves” (Compendium, n. 19).
Having discussed the first criterion last week, we turn now to “reading Scripture with attention to the living Tradition of the Church.” The first age of Christianity, the apostolic age, provides in itself an indisputable argument for the Church’s living Tradition: “The first generation of Christians did not yet have a written New Testament, and the New Testament itself demonstrates the process of living Tradition” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 83). In other words, it was not until several years after Christ’s death and Resurrection that His spoken word was put into writing. As such, Tradition preceded the New Testament and was, in fact, the very source of that portion of Sacred Scripture.
Furthermore, as St. Bernard of Clairvaux so powerfully expresses, Sacred Scripture records “not a written and mute word, but the Word which is incarnate and living” (CCC, n. 108). The Catechism goes on to tell us that “Sacred Scripture is written principally in the Church’s heart rather than in documents and records, for the Church carries in her Tradition the living memorial of God’s Word, and it is the Holy Spirit who gives her the spiritual interpretation [as opposed to the literal interpretation] of the Scripture” (CCC, n. 114). And as Dei Verbum (DV) clearly explains, it is “the Holy Spirit, through Whom the living voice of the Gospel resounds in the Church” (DV, n. 8).
Now what about the third criterion, the analogy of faith? Its origin is from St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans which speaks of prophecy: “Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith” (Romans 12:6). This norm refers to “the mutual connections between dogmas, and their coherence…found in the whole of the Revelation of the mystery of Christ” (CCC, n. 90). In other words, there is a unity in the truths or dogmas of the faith not only among themselves, but also within the overall context of divine Revelation. Interpretation of difficult passages must be in accord with defined doctrine and never in opposition to truths of the faith. In De Doctrina Christiana (“On Christian Doctrine”), St. Augustine counsels as follows: “In the doubtful passages of Scripture . . . consult the rule of faith which comes from the clearest passages of the same Scripture and from the authority of the Church.”
Before proceeding to discuss the two basic classifications of the senses of Scripture, literal and spiritual, it would be good to introduce some terms that are commonly used in the field of biblical interpretation: hermeneutics and exegesis. In his Modern Catholic Dictionary, Fr. Hardon defines hermeneutics as “the art and science of interpreting the Sacred Scriptures and of inquiring into their true meaning. It defines the laws that exegetes are to follow in order to determine and explain the sense of the revealed word of God.” Similarly, he defines exegesis as “the art and science of interpreting and expressing the true sense of Sacred Scripture. Its function is to find out what exactly a given passage of the Bible says. Its rules are governed by the science of hermeneutics, whose practical application is the concern of exegesis.”
The stage is now set to begin a more in-depth discussion of the senses, or levels of meaning, of the text of Sacred Scripture. The Catechism tells us that according to ancient tradition, “one can distinguish between two senses of Scripture: the literal and the spiritual, the latter being subdivided into the allegorical, moral, and anagogical senses” (CCC, n. 115). It goes on to say that “the literal sense is the meaning conveyed by the words of Scripture and discovered by exegesis, following the rules of sound interpretation” (CCC, n. 116).
The Pontifical Biblical Commission, in its 1994 document entitled The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church (IBC), states that the literal sense is that “which has been expressed directly by the inspired human authors. Since it is the fruit of inspiration, this sense is also intended by God, as principal Author. One arrives at this sense by means of a careful analysis of the text, within its literary and historical context” (IBC, II.B.1). And St. Thomas Aquinas, in his Summa Theologiae (STh), affirms the underlying importance of the literal sense by stating that “all other senses of Sacred Scripture are based on the literal” (STh I, q. 1, a. 10, ad 1).
Finally, in his 1943 encyclical Divino Afflante Spiritu (DAS), Pope Pius XII emphasized that biblical interpreters need “bear in mind that their foremost and greatest endeavor should be to discern and define clearly that sense of the biblical words which is called literal” (DAS, n. 23).
Next week, we’ll conclude our examination of the literal sense of Sacred Scripture and follow with an explanation of the three spiritual senses.

+    +    +

(Don Fier serves on the board of directors for The Catholic Servant, a Minneapolis-based monthly publication. He and his wife are the parents of seven children. Fier is a 2009 graduate of Ave Maria University’s Institute for Pastoral Theology. He is doing research for writing a definitive biography of Fr. John A. Hardon, SJ.)

Share Button

2016 The Wanderer Printing Co.

Live From New York Should a Catholic Vote for Hillary or Trump?

Almighty God has been very good  in giving us as the day’s Gospel passage that of Our Lord’s famous admonition to “render to Caesar what is Caesar’s but to God what is God’s.” I say that in view of the…Continue Reading

Catholic university blasts ‘Unborn Lives Matter’ posters as ‘bigotry,’ bans them on campus

CHICAGO, Illinois, October 18, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) – College Republicans at DePaul University were prohibited by the university president from displaying posters on campus advertising their group with the pro-life message, “Unborn Lives Matter.” Vincentian Father Dennis Holtschneider indicated to the…Continue Reading

For Archbishop Chaput, ‘Catholic Spring’ group did untold damage

Philadelphia, Pa., Oct 14, 2016 / 05:53 pm (CNA).- Archbishop Charles J. Chaput did not enjoy his first and only encounter with two leaders of Catholics United. “It was an interesting experience,” Archbishop Chaput recounted in his Oct. 13 column…Continue Reading

The anti-Catholic Catholics (and the bishops who support them)

Yesterday Ross Douthat of the New York Times embarked on a lengthy Tweetstorm —21 tweets in all—questioning whether it’s accurate to refer to the leaked emails from the Clinton campaign as evidence of “anti-Catholic” bigotry. Douthat—who is no friend of…Continue Reading

The next ‘deplorables’? Clinton campaign rips ‘backwards’ Catholic beliefs in leaked e-mails

WASHINGTON, D.C., October 11, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) – “Conservative Catholics” are the latest Americans to be smeared by members of Democrat presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s campaign, leaked emails revealed on Tuesday show. Catholic beliefs are bashed as “backwards” and conservative Catholics…Continue Reading

German Bishop’s New Proposal: “There Exists More Than Man and Woman”

The Catholic Church in Germany seems to be becoming more and more unbounded in its proposals. In the recent past, for examples, the official website of the German Bishops’ Conference,, has reported about the idea to have women cardinals; about…Continue Reading

Cardinal Sarah presents counter-vision to Francis as he launches new book

After being reprimanded by Pope Francis over the summer for calling on priests to face east while saying Mass, Cardinal Robert Sarah is refusing to back down and is becoming a rallying point of opposition to this papacy.  The Vatican’s…Continue Reading

Massachusetts’ highest court grants full parental rights to unmarried gay woman

BOSTON – The Mass. court that paved the way for same-sex marriage in the United States ruled Tuesday that an unmarried gay woman whose former girlfriend gave birth to two children through artificial insemination has the same parental rights as…Continue Reading

Shunned for supporting natural marriage, former Mozilla CEO is back with new browser

SAN FRANCISCO, September 28, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) — The former CEO of Mozilla has released a new Internet browser called Brave. Brendan Eich, the creator of JavaScript, continues to lead the technological revolution with Brave, an innovative concept in Internet browsers.…Continue Reading

Lay Catholic Group: Tim Kaine’s Radical Views Stem From Embrace of Liberation Theology

An organization of committed lay Catholics is challenging Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine, who’s invoking his Catholic faith and the words of Pope Francis as a basis for his radical positions on abortion and marriage, as well as his…Continue Reading

Quebec cardinal won’t refuse funerals for those choosing assisted suicide

Cardinal Gerald Lacroix of Quebec said he has no intention to follow in the steps of his fellow Canadian bishops of Alberta and the Northwest Territories in refusing funerals for those who asked to be euthanized. “I don’t plan specific…Continue Reading

Shocking Report Reveals Scientists Have Created the Word’s First Baby With Three-Parents

A shocking new report claims the world’s first three-parent baby (pictured above) has been born. Children born through ‘three-person IVF’ would contain some genetic material from each of three different people. There are about 50 known mitochondrial diseases (MCDs), which…Continue Reading


Untitled 5 Untitled 2

Attention Readers:

  Welcome to our new website. Readers who are familiar with The Wanderer know we have been providing Catholic news and orthodox commentary for over 145 years in our weekly print edition. Now we are introducing the online daily version of our print journal.

  Our daily version offers only some of what we publish weekly in print. To take advantage of everything The Wanderer publishes, we encourage you to su
bscribe to our flagship weekly print edition, which is mailed every Friday or, if you want to view it in its entirety online, you can subscribe to the E-edition, which is a replica of the print edition.
  Our daily edition includes: a selection of material from recent issues of our print edition, news stories updated daily from renowned news sources, access to archives from The Wanderer from the past 10 years, available at a minimum charge (this will be expanded as time goes on). Also: regularly updated features where we go back in time and highlight various columns and news items covered in The Wanderer over the past 145 years. And: a comments section in which your remarks are encouraged, both good and bad, including suggestions.
  We encourage you to become a daily visitor to our site. If you appreciate our site, tell your friends. As Catholics we must band together to rediscover our faith and share it with the world if we are to effectively counter a society whose moral culture seems to have no boundaries and a government whose rapidly extending reach threatens to extinguish the rights of people of faith to practice their religion (witness the HHS mandate). Now more than ever, vehicles like The Wanderer are needed for clarification and guidance on the issues of the day.

Catholic, conservative, orthodox, and loyal to the Magisterium have been this journal’s hallmarks for five generations. God willing, our message will continue well into this century and beyond.

Joseph Matt
President, The Wanderer Printing Co.

Untitled 1

Enter Comments Below

This Weeks Comments And Letters . . .

Culture Of Life 101 . . . “An Introduction To The Problem Of Euthanasia”

By BRIAN CLOWES Part 2 (Editor’s Note: Brian Clowes has been director of research and training at Human Life International since 1995. For an electronic copy of chapter 23 of The Facts of Life, a 150-page treatise on all of the aspects of euthanasia, e-mail him at + + + We have covered the definitions of the varieties of…Continue Reading

Today . . .

Philadelphia Archbishop Chaput welcomes ‘smaller church’ of holier Catholics

(RNS) In a stark prognosis for contemporary Catholicism, a leader of the conservative wing of the U.S. hierarchy has said that “a smaller, lighter church” of fewer but holier believers is preferable to one that promotes inclusion at the expense of traditional orthodoxy. In a speech delivered Wednesday (Oct. 19) at the University of Notre Dame, Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput also suggested that many prominent Catholics are so weak in their faith that they ought…Continue Reading

Kansas archbishop blasts Kaine: He’s an ‘orthodox’ Democrat but a ‘cafeteria Catholic’


KANSAS CITY, Kansas, October 17, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) — The archbishop of Kansas City, Kansas, has lambasted Democratic vice presidential nominee Sen. Tim Kaine for supporting abortion on demand while simultaneously touting his Catholic faith. Kaine is an “orthodox” Democrat but only a “cafeteria Catholic” who picks and chooses “the teachings of the Catholic Church that are politically convenient,” Archbishop Joseph Naumann wrote in a devastating critique of the Virginia senator. “It was painful to listen…Continue Reading

U.S. Catholics Under Attack

WikiLeaks did it again with another e-mail release, 1,200 of them, and this time exposing the deliberate attempts by the Clinton campaign to disrupt, undermine and, yes, try to destroy the Catholic Church. Their intent was (is) to plant the “seeds of the revolution” within the institution. Among the e-mails are communications between Clinton operatives that are clearly filled with bigotry. If anyone had any doubt that Hillary Clinton and the people around her have…Continue Reading

Fake Catholic Groups and the “Catholic Spring” Emails


It is now impossible to deny that Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good and Catholics United have worked for years to undermine and manipulate Catholic leadership Beginning in 2007, orthodox Catholic writers including myself wrote dozens of articles in an attempt to expose the funding and duplicitousness of two fake Catholic groups: the George Soros-funded Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good and Catholics United. (For example, see here and here and here.) Now,…Continue Reading

Archbishop Chaput’s Weekly Column: About Those Unthinking, Backward Catholics

Back in 2008, in the weeks leading up to the Obama-McCain presidential election, two young men visited me in Denver.  They were from Catholics United, a group describing itself as committed to social justice issues.  They voiced great concern at the manipulative skill of Catholic agents for the Republican Party.  And they hoped my brother bishops and I would resist identifying the Church with single-issue and partisan (read: abortion) politics. It was an interesting experience.…Continue Reading

The March To Totalitarianism

By DONALD DeMARCO Hannah Arendt, best known for her denunciation of totalitarianism in her book, Eichmann in Jerusalem, has made the comment that “the aim of totalitarian education has never been to instill convictions but to destroy the capacity to form any.” Totalitarianism can appeal only to the unthinking masses. A true education, let it…Continue Reading

Culture Of Life 101 . . . “Advance Medical Directives: The Living Will”

By BRIAN CLOWES (Editor’s Note: Brian Clowes has been director of research and training at Human Life International since 1995. For an electronic copy of chapter 23 of The Facts of Life, “Euthanasia,” e-mail him at + + + “Evil committed for a good cause remains evil.” “Even when it succeeds?” “Above all when…Continue Reading

The Joke’s On Us

By DONALD DeMARCO The definitive Jack Benny joke is well known. Originally aired in a March 28, 1948 episode, the legendary comedian is accosted by a mugger and given the option, “Your money or your life!” A long pause follows. The gunman reiterates, “Look, bud! I said your money or your life?” Benny replies, “I’m…Continue Reading

“Pope’s Day” . . … The Lost Tradition Of A November 5 Anti-Catholic Feast Day

By RAY CAVANAUGH In much of colonial America, November 5 was known as Pope’s Day. This was not a day of celebrating the Pontiff, however. In fact, violence would erupt over who got the privilege of burning the Pope’s effigy. Pope’s Day (also known as “Pope’s Night” or just “Pope Day”) was the colonial offshoot…Continue Reading

Restoring The Sacred . . . Words Of Timeless Faith And Truth From An Old Irish Hymnal

By JAMES MONTI Sacred music has been a fundamental component of the Church’s liturgy from Day One, as manifested by the hymn that the apostles sang when our Lord was about to leave the Cenacle for Gethsemane following the Last Supper (Matt. 26:30). Even earlier, music had been a key feature of Jewish worship for…Continue Reading


Our Catholic Faith (Section B of print edition)

Confirmation In The Economy Of Salvation

By DON FIER Part 2 In the introductory paragraph of its section on the Sacrament of Confirmation, the Roman Catechism [RC], promulgated in 1566 by Pope St. Pius V soon after the Council of Trent, are the following words: “If there was ever a time when the Sacrament of Confirmation needed to be explained carefully, that time is now. All…Continue Reading

Catholic Replies

Editor’s Note: J.H.T. of North Carolina, a deacon who has been a witness to the “liturgical wars” of the past half-century, has recommended an “extraordinary book” — Peter Kwasniewski’s Resurgent in the Midst of Crisis: Sacred Liturgy, the Traditional Latin Mass, and Renewal in the Church — that he says should be read by all Catholics, clergy and lay, who…Continue Reading

The Lover Of Souls

By FR. ROBERT ALTIER Thirty-First Sunday In Ordinary Time (YR C) Readings: Wisdom 11:22-12 2 Thess. 1:11-2:2 Luke 19:1-10 In the first reading today, we are given a good perspective on things: Before the Lord, the entire universe is less than a drop of morning dew on the Earth. When we consider one tiny drop of dew in comparison to…Continue Reading

The Clergy’s Silence, Ambiguity, And Dissent Are Destroying The Family

By FR. SHENAN BOQUET (Editor’s Note: Fr. Shenan Boquet is the president of Human Life International, and he travels around the world spreading the Gospel of Life in that role. He is a priest of the Houma-Thibodaux Diocese in Louisiana where he served before joining HLI in August 2011. (Fr. Boquet’s commentary below on the silence of the shepherds first…Continue Reading

A Leaven In The World… We Are All Lepers, Marred By Sin

By FR. KEVIN M. CUSICK In the Rossellini film The Flowers of St. Francis, a series of black and white vignettes drawn from the saint’s life are strung together. In one of these St. Francis encounters a leper. He is repulsed by the man’s wounds, because he is human like the rest of us. Having come to love the Lord…Continue Reading

Blessed Giuseppe Puglisi

By CAROLE BRESLIN When a society is riddled with evil and corruption, the worst thing we can do is to remain quiet. If we truly believe in God, then it is our obligation to do all we can to save the souls in danger of being lost in such a society. The threats and dangers of this world are not…Continue Reading

Catholic Heroes… St. Gerard Majella

By CAROLE BRESLIN God works many miracles through the weakest persons so that their lives read like a fairy tale. Old or young, sick or poor, powerful or destitute, all are touched deeply by their encounters with such men of God. Such was the life of St. Gerard Majella, the patron saint of expectant mothers and young children. Domenica, a…Continue Reading