*** This is a rough transcript of today’s show ***
It is the 15th of September 2021. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org, I’m Dan van Voorhis.
Today marks the 101st anniversary of the proclamation of the Catholic encyclical “Spiritus Paraclitus” from Pope Benedict XV, which itself served as a remembrance of the 1500th anniversary of the birth of St. Jerome. Why does this matter? Let me tell you.
First, you may have noticed that I tend to use Papal encyclicals to teach aspects of Church History. I find this helpful in two ways:
- Whether you are Catholic or not, you can appreciate the straightforward nature of how to discover the Catholic Church’s teaching on many subjects. PLEASE don’t assume every Catholic believes or understands everything that the Pope says, people are complicated, but the “official” teaching is easier to find.
- I am not a Catholic. When Catholics argue, I have no dog in the fight. I hope this will help me be as objective as humanly possible. Would we always be objective as possible but when our own faith or doctrinal positions are involved we might be inclined to put only our side in the best possible light.
The issue at hand, dealt with in the encyclical, was the Catholic doctrine of Scripture. Between 1893 and 1963 the Catholic Church published 4 encyclicals trying to pin down the doctrine of Scripture in the midst of Protestant Fundamentalists and Progressives battling over the Bible themselves.
Similar to the Protestants, there was a divide in the doctrine of Scripture between historically “pre-critical” readings that assumed inspiration and some form of inerrancy and new critical readings that challenged the received tradition. As was often the case on the Protestant side, and was true of the Catholics now, the culprits were seen as those pesky professors who were trying to balance fidelity to their tradition and fidelity to their discipline.
But the Catholic Church had a distinct problem in that Bible reading amongst the Catholic laity was thought to be in deep decline. With the decidedly Protestant devotion to personal Bible reading, a reluctance for personal devotions could be seen as a Catholic virtue.
Thus, the encyclical Spiritus Paraclitus used the anniversary of St. Jerome’s birth to highlight the importance of the Bible for all Christians and the proper methods of interpreting Scripture.
This encyclical does not use the Protestant buzz words of the day: “infallible” or “inerrant” but the teaching from the encyclical affirms that the Bible is inspired by God and free from error in all of its teachings, not just issues of faith and morals. There had been a question about how to interpret biblical authors when they themselves might have a current and common misunderstanding of something (e.g. cosmology, when we read about the sun standing still).
Catholics wrestling with the doctrine of Scripture and its authority while also urging the laity to read scripture mark an interesting transition in the modern Catholic Church. I recently heard a Catholic historian remark that the journey of the Catholic Church in the 20th century is a Pauline shift from a Petrine Counter-Reformation tradition.
The claim is that as the Reformers took up Paul as the primary Apostle. His emphases on personal conscience, supposed lack of concern for institutions, and the centrality of Justification are said, in this schema, to be the hallmarks of Protestantism. Similarly, this historian claimed that since the Reformation the Catholic Church leaned into Peter with his supposed emphasis on church hierarchy (this handcuffed to the idea that he was the first of an unbroken line of Popes).
Thus, the encyclical “Spiritus Paraclitus” can be seen as part of the Pauline shift, adjunct to the modernist/fundamentalist crisis in the Protestant church, and part of a larger push to clarify the Catholic doctrine of Scripture. The encyclical was published on the 15th of September in 1920.
The last word for today is from Matthew chapter 4:
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written,
‘One does not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 15th of September 2021 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.
The show is produced by a man who once tried bread alone as a kind of anti-Atkins diet. He is Christoper Gillespie.
The show is written and read by noted bread enthusiast, I’m Dan van Voorhis.
You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.