Pope Saint Pius X: Responses of the Biblical Commission
– The Authority of the Decisions of the Biblical Commission –
[There are some who] have not received or do not receive such decisions with the proper submission, even though they are approved by the pontiff.
Therefore, We see that it must be declared and ordered as We do now declare and expressly order that all are bound by the duty of conscience to submit to the decisions of the Biblical Pontifical Commission, both those that have been given up until now and those that will be given in the future, just as to the decrees of the Sacred Congregations that pertain to doctrine and have been approved by the pontiff; and that all who impugn such decisions as these by word or in writing cannot escape the stigma of disobedience and temerity or on this account be free of serious guilt; and this in addition to the scandal whereby they offend and the other ways they are liable before God, mostly by pronouncing rashly and erroneously on these matters.
– Response of the Biblical Commission, June 30, 1909 –
The Historical Character of the First Chapters of Genesis
Question 1. Are the various exegetical systems that have been devised for the purpose of excluding the literal historical sense of the first three chapters of Genesis and advocated under the guise of being scientific based upon solid arguments?
Question 2. Is it possible, in spite of the character and historic form of the book of Genesis, of the close connection of the first three chapters with one another and with those that follow, of the manifold testimony of the Scriptures both of the Old and New Testament, of the almost unanimous opinion of the holy Fathers, and of the traditional view – transmitted also by the Jewish people – that has always been held by the Church, to teach that the three aforesaid chapters of Genesis do not contain the narrative of things that actually happened, that is, [a narrative] that corresponds to objective reality and historic truth, but, rather, either fables derived from mythologies and cosmologies of ancient peoples but purified of all polytheistic error and accommodated to monotheistic teaching by the sacred author; or allegories and symbols destitute of any foundation in objective reality but presented under the garb of history for the purpose of inculcating religious and philosophical truth; or, finally, legends partly historical and partly fictitious, freely composed for the instruction and edification of souls?
Response: No to each part.
Question 3. Is it possible, in particular, to call in question the literal and historical meaning where there is question of facts narrated in these same chapters that touch the foundation of the Christian religion, such as, among others, the creation of all things that was accomplished by God at the beginning of time, the special creation of man, the formation of the first woman from the first man, the unity of the human race, the original happiness of the first parents in a state of justice, integrity, and immortality, the command given by God to man to prove his obedience, the transgression of the divine command at the instigation of the devil under the form of a serpent, the fall of the first parents from that primitive state of innocence, and the promise of a future Redeemer?
Question 4. In interpreting those passages of these chapters that the Fathers and Doctors have interpreted in divers ways without leaving us anything definite or certain, is it permitted, subject to the judgment of the Church and following the analogy of faith, to follow and defend that opinion which each one has prudently found correct?
Question 5. Must each and everything, namely, the words and phrases, that occur in the aforesaid chapters always and of necessity be interpreted in the literal sense, so that it is never permitted to deviate from it, even when expressions are manifestly used not literally (but) metaphorically or anthropomorphically, and when reason forbids us to hold, or necessity impels us to depart from, the literal sense?
Question 6. Presupposing the literal and historical sense, may an allegorical and prophetical interpretation of certain passages of these same chapters, corresponding to the luminous example of the holy Fathers and the Church herself, be prudently and usefully applied?
Question 7. Although it was not the intention of the sacred author, when writing the first chapter of Genesis, to teach us in a scientific manner the innermost nature of visible things and the complete order of creation but rather to hand on to his people a popular account, such as the common parlance of that age allowed, adapted to the senses and to man’s capacity, is it necessary, when interpreting these chapters, to seek strictly and always the particular characteristics of scientific discourse?
Question 8. Can the word yom (day), (which) is used in the first chapter of Genesis to describe and distinguish the six days, be understood both in its literal sense as natural day and also in a non-literal sense as a certain space of time; and is it permitted to discuss this question among exegetes?
– Lucas G. Westman
- Pope St. Pius X’s responses taken from the Denzinger Compendium of Creeds, Definitions, and Declarations on Matters of Faith and Morals.