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Appendix B: The Roman Catholic Teaching on Private Interpretation
I INCLUDE this section because there are many Roman Catholics who deny that they argue in the way this book represents. When confronted with these epistemological fallacies, rather than present a defense of the Roman Catholic view, they claim that the fallacies are meaningless since Rome has never condemned private interpretation in the way this book suggests. I have included writings from Trent, Vatican I and Vatican II, to demonstrate the contrary; namely, that Rome really does condemn private interpretation, and that individual Roman Catholics really do commit the epistemological fallacies we have enumerated. I have italicized text within each council's documents to draw attention to the relevant points. Where clarification of a point is necessary, I have interspersed my own comments, offset in bracketed italicized text.
Vatican I Council
"Likewise I [the Bishop of Rome] accept sacred scripture according to that sense which holy mother church held and holds, since it is her right to judge of the true sense and interpretation of the holy scriptures; nor will I ever receive and interpret them except according to the unanimous consent of the fathers" (Session II, 3).
"Everybody knows that those heresies, condemned by the fathers of Trent, which rejected the divine magisterium of the church and allowed religious questions to be a matter for the judgment of each individual, have gradually collapsed into a multiplicity of sects, either at variance or in agreement with one another; and by this means a good many people have had all faith in Christ destroyed" (Session III, 5).
The Council of Trent
"Furthermore, in order to restrain petulant spirits, It decrees, that no one, relying on his own skill, shall,—in matters of faith, and of morals pertaining to the edification of Christian doctrine,—wresting the sacred Scripture to his own senses, presume to interpret the said sacred Scripture contrary to that sense which holy mother Church, —whose it is to judge of the true sense and interpretation of the holy Scriptures,—has held and does hold, or even contrary to the unanimous consent of the Fathers; even though such interpretations were never (intended) to be at any time published. Contraveners shall be made known by their Ordinaries, and be punished with the penalties by law established" (Session IV, "Decree Concerning the Edition, and the Use, of the Sacred Books").
Vatican 11 Council
"But the task of authentically interpreting the Word of God, whether written or handed on, has been entrusted exclusively to the living teaching office of the Church.... It is clear, therefore, that sacred tradition, sacred Scripture and the teaching authority of the Church, in accord with God's most wise design, are so linked and joined together that one cannot stand without the others, and that all together and each in its own way under the action of the one Holy Spirit contribute effectively to the salvation of souls." ("Dogmatic Constitution On Divine Revelation" [Dei Verbum] II, 10).
[The council goes on to assert a contradictory principle]:
"To search out the intention of the sacred writers, attention should be given, among other things, to `literary norms.' For truth is set forth and expressed differently in texts which are variously historical, prophetic, poetic, or of other forms of discourse. The interpreter must investigate what meaning the sacred writer intended to express and actually expressed in particular circumstances by using contemporary literary forms in accordance with the situation of his own time and culture. For the correct understanding of what the sacred author wanted to assert, due attention must be paid to the customary and characteristic styles of feeling, speaking and narrating which prevailed at the time of the sacred writer, and to the patterns men normally employed at the period in their everyday dealings with one another." (Ibid., III, 12 ["Sacred Scripture, Its Inspiration and Divine Interpretation"]).
[The principle is contradictory, because those who follow it will invariably depart from the Roman Catholic interpretations on many issues, including Mary's perpetual virginity, Mary's status among the NT writers, Mary's role as mediator, as well as a host of other issues. Predictably, the council is quick to revert back to its original position in the very same section]:
"For all of what has been said about the way of interpreting Scripture is subject finally to the judgement of the Church, which carries out the divine commission and ministry of guarding and interpreting the Word of God" (Ibid.).
[The council likewise addresses the study and interpretation of the patristic writers as it pertains to private interpretation]:
"The bride of the Incarnate Word, the Church taught by the Holy Spirit, is concerned to move ahead toward a deeper understanding of the sacred Scriptures so that she may increasingly feed her sons with the divine words. Therefore, she also encourages the study of the holy Fathers of both East and West and of the sacred liturgies. Catholic exegetes then and other students of sacred theology, working diligently together and using appropriate means, should devote their energies, under the watchful care of the sacred teaching office of the Church, to an exploration and exposition of the divine writings" (Ibid., VI, 23 ["Sacred Scripture in the Life of the Church"]).
[Contrary to the claims of some modern Roman Catholic apologists, the Roman Catholic church does indeed condemn private interpretation of both the Scriptures and the writings of the churchfathers. "Private interpretation" is defined in these documents as any interpretation that is contrary to what the Roman Catholic church has decided the meaning is. Obviously, any religious system could claim that—and many in fact have. Therefore, individual Roman Catholics do indeed commit the epistemological fallacies presented in this book; for in evaluating the claims of Rome, each and every one of them must interpret the Scriptures and church history for themselves to decide that it is Rome who is the true guardian of the truth, and not some other contender.]