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Historical-Critical Method condemned by Pope St. Pius X – still operative? February 21, 2012

Posted by Tantumblogo in Basics, Dallas Diocese, Ecumenism, error, General Catholic, Interior Life, Papa.

The historical-critical method of Bible study was created by German protestants (they keep giving us sooo much!) working under the aegis of Otto von Bismarck during the persecution of the Church in Germany called the Kulturkampf.  von Bismarck desired to undermine the Authority of Scripture in order to oppose the temporal rights of the Church, and enlisted modernist protestant academics to pursue this goal.  From the historical-critical method derived such novelties as claiming that the Gospel of Mark was written historically first – this was important, because this claim was made to undermine the belief that the Gospel of Matthew – which establishes Christ’s Church in Chapter 16, when Christ gave the Keys of the Kingdom to St. Peter – came first.  It is claimed by the historical-critical academics – or, at least it was at one time, support for the thesis that St. Mark’s Gospel came first has waned – that all the synoptic Gospels are derivatives of St. Mark’s so-called “proto-gospel.”  There are many problems with the historical-critical method, some of which are outlined here by Msgr. Charles Pope.  Certainly, the historical-critical method has been used to try to undermine many core beliefs of the Church, and has even go so far as to “de-mystify” Christ, by claiming that the many miracles attributed to Him were merely allegorical, or tall tales told to convince the ignorant, wide-eyed pagans of the Roman Empire that Christ truly was Divine. 

There is no question that the historical-critical method is modernist – in fact, it is one of the core tenets of modernism. Modernist Catholics belief in the Divinity of Christ is a very fuzzy one, and entirely immanentist – meaning, Christ is “Divine” only insofar as we believe Him to be, and only so far as He represented, as it were, the “perfect man,” or perfect embodiment of the cultural zeitgeist (note the German term), or the needs and wants of the people of Israel at that particular moment in history, and thus, He is essentially human and not truly God and was not capable of actual miracles.  Obviously, this is an incredibly problematic view for a Catholic.  In fact, many of the most “progressive” exegetes are now rejecting many of the earlier, scientific “proofs” ostensibly established by the historical-critical method which discounted much of the history of Christ and the early Church as fantasy or allegory, and are now finding that what the Church always proclaimed was true, is, in fact, true.

As the historical-critical method is the essence of that modernism which is applied to religion, it was roundly condemned by Pope St. Pius X.  In Pascendi Gregis Dominici, the seminal encyclical condemning modernism as a heresy, Pope St. Pius X condemned the historical-critical method specifically:

We believe, then, that We have set forth with sufficient clarity the historical method of the modernists.  The philosopher leads the way, and then in due order come internal and textual criticism.  Since it is characteristic of the first cause to communicate its virtue to secondary causes, it is quite clear that the criticism We are concerned with is an agnostic, immanentist, and evolutionist criticism.  Anybody who embraces and employs it, makes profession thereby of the errors contained in it, and places himself in opposition to the Catholic Faith.

If you read all of Msgr. Pope’s post at the link above, you’ll find that both the Catechism written by Schoenborn and even Pope Benedict XVI seem to embrace, at least to some extent, the historical-critical method.  And there are probably areas where it may be used innocuously.  But that’s not the point.  While Papa Ratzinger may have numerous problems with the historical-critical method, he has always stated that it is an approach that should be used with regard to Scripture study.

How do we reconcile this?  Was there ever a magisterial statement that contradicted Pascendi Gregis Dominici?  Or was it just swept under the rug, like the very magisterial, but completely ignored, Veterum Sapientia?   If so, is the encyclical still operative, but just ignored?  Does the Catechism’s indirect but seeming tacit embrace of the historical-critical method “wipe out” the authority of Pope St. Pius X’s encyclical, written “all of” 100 years ago?  Does an interview of the Pope in a book, or even a book written by the Pope himself as a private theologian (please……..stop), somehow “counter-act” the previous encyclical?

Anybody know or care?



1. Old School Gamer Dad - February 21, 2012

This method has also been criticised by our current holy father, interestingly enough, another German! Pick up and read his great book, ‘Jesus of Nazareth’, the first volume for more on this. Good post!

2. inthe2hearts - February 21, 2012

Yes, I care, very much and wish I knew more. Is the “historical critical method” at the heart of so many of the new more intellectual courses on our Catholic Faith so prominant today? What has happened to the classes on faith we used to have on the teachings of the Church; on the Catechism, on the deeper meaning of what Catholic believe, on what sustains us every day in the increasingly secular and immoral thinking and issues around us. Classes on heresies both historic and current and the threats to our Catholic Faith. More and more intellectual “popular courses on Religion are available but I wonder if some border on the same idea of “revisionist historians” that were so popular only a few years ago. The measure I use is very simple. Does this course or this lecture truly feed my soul and just add to the intellectal acquisitions of my mind? Oh how I wish we could hear more of this question and counters by qualified teachers.

3. jonathanwaldburger - February 21, 2012

“While almost all papal pronouncements, conciliar documents, and assorted congregations’ statements are available through the Vatican’s website (www.vatican.va), three documents of particular value to those interested in the Scriptures stand out. The first is Pius XII’s On Promoting Biblical Studies (Divino Afflante Spiritu) (1943), located at http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/pius_xii/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-xii_enc_30091943_divino-afflante-spiritu_en.html, which is important because it was the first document supporting Catholic scholars’ use of the historical critical method. The next text is the Second Vatican Council’s document on Scripture, entitled Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation (Dei Verbum), found at http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ ii_vatican_council/ documents/vat-ii_const_19651118_dei-verbum_en.html. It lends the full support of an ecumenical council to the themes of Divino Afflante Spiritu. Further, Dei Verbum views the Scriptures within a sophisticated understanding of revelation and gives a holistic view of Scripture as a collection of divinely inspired documents and part of the economy of salvation. The third noteworthy document is the Pontifical Biblical Commission’s text The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church (1994) found at http://www.ewtn.com/library/curia/pbcinter.htm. This document affirms the acceptability—albeit while carefully noting the limitations—of not only the historical critical method but also alternative modes of criticisms.”

The above is taken from http://old.usccb.org/education/catechetics/livlghtwint01.shtml

Another useful account I found is http://www.ewtn.com/library/curia/pbcinter.htm

tantamergo - February 22, 2012

So, I was aware of most of the above, save for Divino Afflante Spiritu. I’ll try to read it. Reading some more recent scholarship tends to undermine much of what the historical-critical method claimed in the mid-20th Century. There is more and more evidence that St. Matthew’s Gospel was first – in fact, I’d say it’s clear it was written first. Many of the miracles derided by the historical-critical method simply have to be accepted by faith, although there is great evidence that the people at the time, and the earliest Christians, all believed the miracles to be true and real.

Interesting topic that needs more discussion.

4. Old School Gamer Dad - February 21, 2012

Check this out. A valuable bible study resource, imho.


5. Catechist Kevin - February 22, 2012


What you say is true, however, as O. S. Gamer Dad has noted, the pope has been very critical (no pun intended) of the *exclusive* or *predominant* use of the HC method in Catholic scholarship and academia these past few decades.

Fr. Raymond Brown’s exegesis is practically groveled over – though many a fine scholar have been somewhat critical of it (though, please understand, I am not saying all of his scholarship is problematic):



Msgr. George Kelly wrote an excellent book about some of Fr. Brown’s scholarship:


Another excellent source for understanding the exclusive use of the HC method, and the ramifications thereof, is Letter and Spirit volume six, “For the Sake of Our Salvation” edited by Dr. Scott Hahn:


Catechist Kevin

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