Living Tradition
Editor: Msgr. John F. McCarthy, J.C.D., S.T.D.Distributed several times a year to interested members.
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No. 90 Roman Theological Forum | Article Index | Study Program November 2000


by John F. McCarthy

The following is an address given at the Marian Eucharistic Congress in Fargo, North Dakota, on October 14, 2000.

1. Devotion to Mary during the twentieth century. The twentieth century just completed was a century of growing devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary and of growing clarification of the role of Mary in the life of the members of the Church. In 1917 Our Lady appeared at Fatima to convey a message concerning what Christians should do to meet the special dangers and challenges of the twentieth century, including in particular the menace of atheistic Communism and the sufferings that many members of the Church would have to undergo from Communist regimes. In answer to this challenge, Our Lady called upon people to recite the Rosary daily and to preserve themselves from sexual impurity. Among other important events of the twentieth century relating to this subject were the proclamation of the dogma of the Assumption of Our Lady into Heaven by Pope Pius XII in 1950, the various entrustments of human society to the Immaculate Heart of Mary pronounced by Pope Pius XII and Pope John Paul II, the proclamation of Mary as Mother of the Church by Pope Paul VI in conjunction with the enactment of the constitution Lumen Gentium of the Second Vatican Council in 1964, the great Marian encyclicals of Popes Paul VI and John Paul II, and the teaching about Our Lady in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1992).

2. The role of Mary in the Church. Let me quote a few statements about Mary and the Church taken from these documents of the Magisterium. First, the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that "Mary's role in the Church is inseparable from her union with Christ and flows directly from it" (CCC 964). Mary aided the beginnings of the Church in the assembly of the Upper Room between the Ascension of her divine Son and the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost by "imploring the gift of the Spirit, who had already overshadowed her in the Annunciation" (CCC 963). The Blessed Virgin Mary is "the Church's model of faith and charity" and a "wholly unique member of the Church, indeed she is the 'exemplary realization (typus) of the Church" (CCC 967). The Catechism of the Catholic Church goes on to say about Mary: "In a wholly singular way she co-operated by her obedience, faith, hope, and burning charity in the Savior's work of restoring supernatural life to souls" and for this reason she is "a mother to us in the order of grace" (CCC 968). According to the Catechism, referring to Paul VI's encyclical Marialis Cultus, "The Church's devotion to the Blessed Virgin is intrinsic to Christian worship" (CCC 971). Mary assumed into Heaven is "the image and beginning of the Church as it is to be perfected in the world to come" (CCC 972, quoting LG 68).

3. Mary as Mother of the Church. In his encyclical of 1987, Redemptoris Mater (Mother of the Redeemer), on the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Life of the Pilgrim Church, Pope John Paul II declares it to be the teaching of the Church that only in the Mystery of Christ is the Mystery of Mary, Mother of God and of the Church, made clear (cf. art. 4 of the encyclical). And he goes on to say (art. 5) that "Mary, as the Mother of Christ, is in a particular way united with the Church," which, as the Second Vatican Council teaches, "the Lord established as his own body" (LG 52). And the Council says further on that Mary, in her pilgrimage of faith, has "gone before" the rest of the Church as a model of faith, of charity, and of perfect union with Christ (cf. LG 63; RM 5). The Council reminds us also that Mary figures profoundly in the history of salvation, so that, when she is preached and venerated, "she summons the faithful to her Son and to his sacrifice, and to love for the Father" (LG 65). Thus, Mary's faith in some way becomes "the faith of the pilgrim People of God" and "a faith that is passed on simultaneously through the mind and the heart" (RM 28). Now, we know as Catholics, and Pope John Paul II points this out in his encyclical, that there is only one mediator between God and men, "the man Jesus Christ, who gave himself as a ransom for all" (1 Tim 2:5-6) and that "the maternal role of Mary toward people in no way obscures or diminishes the unique mediation of Christ, but rather shows his power" (LG 60). Accordingly, we know, and we rejoice with the Second Vatican Council and with Pope John Paul II in knowing, that "all the saving influence of the Blessed Virgin on mankind originates, not from some inner necessity, but from the divine pleasure (and) flows forth from the superabundance of the merits of Christ, rests on his mediation, depends entirely on it, and draws all its power from it" (LG 60, quoted in RM 38). Pope John Paul points out that this mediation of Mary Immaculate "is intimately linked with her motherhood," and he notes with the Second Vatican Council that "the Church does not hesitate to profess this subordinate role of Mary," in her being invoked by the Church as "a sharing in the one unique source that is the mediation of Christ himself" (RM 38). Thus, while Mary is the model and figure of the Church, she also cooperates with maternal love in the spiritual regeneration of the members of the Church. "The Church draws abundantly from this cooperation," by which Mary also "guides the faithful to the Eucharist" (RM 44). As Pope Paul VI pointed out when he proclaimed the Vatican II Constitution on the Church: "Knowledge of the true Catholic doctrine regarding the Blessed Virgin Mary will always be a key to the exact understanding of the mystery of Christ and of the Church" (AAS 54 [1964], p. 1015).

4. Looking toward the twenty-first century and the third millennium. As Pope John Paul II wrote these words during the Marian Year of 1987, he was looking forward to the Jubilee of the Year 2000 (RM 3). He saw the Marian Year as a year of preparation for the year 2000 and as a year "meant to promote a new and more careful reading of what the Council said about the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, in the mystery of Christ and of the Church" (RM 48). John Paul II was leading the way toward a new and more careful understanding of the role of Mary with this very encyclical, as it treats of "the doctrine of faith, but also the life of faith, and thus of authentic 'Marian spirituality,' seen in the light of Tradition" (ibid.). As we stand at the beginning of a new century and a new millennium, it is not without significance that the Church is being led from the latter part of the 20th century into the beginning of the 21st by a Pope who is totally consecrated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus through the Immaculate Heart of Mary and has expressed this consecration by word and action on numerous occasions and in numerous writings.

5. Mary's devotion to Sacred Scripture. The Blessed Virgin Mary is a model of devotion to Sacred Scripture. She knew the text of the Old Testament, and she referred to it in her prayers. An example of this is the Magnificat, which she composed while using also some considerations expressed in the Old Testament, and which she then recited at the time of her visit to St. Elizabeth (Luke 1:46-55). Mary was accustomed to meditating on the Sacred Scriptures and to viewing her life in relation to them. St. Luke tells us in two places that Mary kept in mind the great events of the birth and early childhood of Our Lord, meditating on them in her heart. "And Mary kept in mind all these things, pondering them in her heart (Luke 2: 19, cf. 2:51). Of all the members of the Church, Mary was the first to believe and is the model of all who believe (cf. RM 26). She was aware of the prophetic dimension of the Scriptures. When she became the mother of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, she was able to see this great event and the events following from it in the context of the Old Testament prophecies. She was aware of the prophetic dimension of the Old Testament as a whole.

6. Mary as the probable source of Luke's Infancy Narrative. In addition to places in the Gospels and in the Acts of the Apostles, there are other direct or indirect references to Mary in other books of Sacred Scripture, such as the reference to "the seed of the woman" in Genesis 3:15, at the very beginning of the history of salvation, and the reference to "a woman clothed with the sun" in Apocalypse 12:1, at the end of the history of salvation (cf. RM 24). These references are important to our subject, but I want to discuss at this point the role of Mary in the composition of the Infancy Narratives about Our Lord in the first two chapters of the Gospels according to Saint Matthew and according to Saint Luke. Pope Paul VI, in a general audience in 1972, spoke of Mary as the "authentic source" of Saint Luke's description of the birth of Our Lord, and again in 1974 declared: "Very probably Mary was the genuine and direct source of information for Luke, the evangelist who wrote this." 1 This means that the information contained in Luke's first two chapters was provided by Our Lady, and also, supposedly, the original style of the narration of the events reported therein. Since Mary was an eye-and-ear witness to the events in which she participated, and since she heard directly from Zachary, Elizabeth, and the shepherds of Bethlehem for the rest, Saint Luke could have obtained all of his information about these events in direct conversation with Our Lady, or he could have been informed about them from a third person, such as St. John the Evangelist or another of the Apostles or a relative of Our Lady having an accurate memory. I personally think that Mary was the direct and immediate source of Saint Luke's Infancy Narrative. Modern historical critics, of course, belittle the idea that Mary could have been the source, but they do not do so for historically serious reasons.

7. Mary as the probable source of Matthew's Infancy Narrative. Historical-critics tend to reject any possibility that Mary could have been a source of Matthew's Infancy Narrative. They say that Matthew's account centers around Joseph, and, therefore, could not have originated with Mary. And they aver that the events in Matthew's account differ from and even conflict with Luke's account and, therefore, could not have come from the same source. But these reasons are unconvincing inasmuch as it can easily be shown how Mary could have been the original narrator of both of these accounts. The events in St. Matthew which differ from those in St. Luke are the appearance of an angel to Joseph, a partly different genealogy, the Visit of the Magi, the Slaughter of the Innocents, the Flight into Egypt, and the Return from Egypt. All of these variants constitute matters of information which, if they had become known to the civil authorities during the life of Jesus on earth, could have put his life in immediate danger, and, therefore, would logically not have been told by Mary until after his death. The genealogy in Matthew is probably the genealogy that Joseph used to enroll himself and Jesus in the census at Bethlehem, showing that he was a direct descendent of King David and, therefore, suggesting that he and his adopted son had at least some claim to the throne of Judea, while the dynasty in power were foreigners jealous to retain their power. The other events in Matthew 2, if known by the authorities, would have identified Jesus as the one whom Herod the First had attempted to kill. We can well understand why Mary would have kept these events in her heart without revealing them to anyone. Thus, one can logically suppose that Mary, after their return to Nazareth, narrated to certain persons the events reported in Luke 1-2, while omitting the events in Matthew 1-2. On the other hand, after the death and resurrection of Jesus, beginning from the time when she was gathered with the Apostles and others in the Upper Room or at any subsequent time, she could have told of the events in Matthew 1-2 directly to Matthew himself or to someone else from whom Matthew came to know of them.

8. Mary's assistance in the formation of the Gospels. Unbiased analysis thus reveals that the Blessed Virgin Mary was the probable source of some and the possible source of most of the information reported in the first two chapters of Matthew and Luke. We can also consider her influence upon the writing of the Gospels as a whole. Surely, some idea of recording the words and deeds of Jesus must have already been present among the Apostles during the fifty days in which they were assembled in the Upper Room. Indeed, someone, probably Matthew, may have already written down some of the teachings of Jesus during his public life while other teachings were remembered mentally. How were these words and deeds to be understood? Prayer was necessary to achieve a better understanding of them. It is, therefore, of note that Mary was with the Apostles during this time. As is reported in the Acts of the Apostles: "All these with one mind continued steadfastly in prayer with the women and Mary, the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren." It is obvious to anyone who knows who Mary is and what is her role in the Church that the prayer of Mary at that very time helped the Apostles to deepen their understanding of what was to become the Gospel by asking the Holy Spirit to enlighten them. Out of this came first the apostolic preaching, centered principally around the preaching of Peter, the first Vicar of Christ, which was later enshrined in the Gospel according to St. Mark. Out of this came also the preaching of Matthew and John, later to be set down in their Gospels. And from this preaching, together with the preaching of Paul the Apostle, would come the Gospel according to St. Luke.

9. The problem of historical-criticism. We face today, at the beginning of the 21st century, a problem regarding the correct interpretation of the inspired words of the Gospels and of all Sacred Scripture. The problem stems from the introduction into Catholic biblical scholarship of the method of interpreting the Sacred Scriptures known as "historical-criticism." This method began to be recognized in Catholic studies in the last decade of the 19th century, and, before the end of the 20th century, had become the dominant approach among Catholic Scripture scholars. The problem of historical-criticism does not consist in its use of true historical method in the study of the Holy Scriptures, but rather in its use of a method which calls itself historical but is not truly historical. What I mean is that the expression "historical-criticism," as it is used today, is a technical term designating a method of interpretation derived from outside of Catholic exegetical tradition, a method which is based ultimately upon the false philosophies of rationalism and modernism. It is based upon rationalism in that it views the Sacred Writings from a viewpoint which excludes on principle anything truly miraculous or truly supernatural. Thus, it excludes, among other things, the divinity of Jesus, the existence of Heaven and of Hell, the existence of angels, and the possibility of any true prophecy or of any real divine intervention into the real world of science and history. Historical-criticism is based upon modernism in that it assumes all religion to be merely a welling-up of imaginary ideas from within the subjective feelings of believers. As a result, the Gospel events are regarded by full-blown historical critics, not as real historical events, but as mere products of the Christian imagination. Now, Catholic historical-critics do not expressly endorse the rationalist and modernist principles of the method, but they do use the method without adequately adverting to the rationalism and modernism by which it is ultimately controlled. And the results of their research show the dependence of Catholic biblical scholars upon these rationalist and modernist principles, although Catholic scholars cautiously refrain from drawing conclusions that explicitly deny any of the dogmas of the Church. Nevertheless, in examining the results of historical-critical analyses of the Gospels, in addition to other places in Sacred Scripture, one can easily discern the tendency to deny the real occurrence of miracles, the real appearance of angels, the real fulfillment of prophecies made centuries earlier in the Old Testament, and other features that betray a bias against the historicity of the accounts and a failure to have given the text a fair examination either from the viewpoint of faith or from the viewpoint of sound historical method.

10. An opinion of the reconstituted Pontifical Biblical Commission. Early in the 20th century the original Pontifical Biblical Commission published a number of decisions that were contrary to the findings of historical-criticism. But, as the century went on, these decisions seemed to grow less and less binding upon interpreters of the Bible, and finally, in a document published in 1993, the reconstituted Pontifical Biblical Commission recognized the historical-critical method and recommended it for the continuing use of Catholic biblical scholars.2 The reconstituted Pontifical Biblical Commission is not an organ of the Magisterium of the Church; it is simply a group of biblical scholars appointed by the Holy See to express their consensus on biblical subjects. As Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, President of the Commission, says in his Preface to the document: "The Pontifical Biblical Commission, in its new form after the Second Vatican Council, is not an organ of the teaching office, but rather a commission of scholars who, in their scientific and ecclesial responsibility as believing exegetes, take positions on important problems of scriptural interpretation and know that for this task they enjoy the confidence of the teaching office." In its assessment of the historical-critical method, the reconstituted Pontifical Biblical Commission did include the proviso that every legitimate use of the method must be divorced from the rationalist and modernist presuppositions of its founders, and it also stated that (in its opinion) the historical-critical method "is a method which, when used in an objective manner, implies of itself no a priori," and it went on to say that "For a long time now scholars have ceased combining the method with a philosophical system."3 This is a highly questionable statement. I myself have never seen any example of historical-critical exegesis that has managed to avoid using at least implicitly some of the false philosophical principles of its founders. Another skeptic of the idea that there can be a supposedly philosophy-free historical-critical exegesis is Cardinal Ratzinger, the President of the reconstituted Pontifical Biblical Commission, who, in an article first published in German in 1989, said that over the past hundred years biblical exegesis has made some great errors "and these errors have virtually become academic dogmas."4 Cardinal Ratzinger traced this problem to the continuing influence of Martin Dibelius and Rudolf Bultmann, the principal founders of the form-critical phase of historical-critical interpretation, whose "basic methodological orientations determine even to this day the methodology and course of modern exegesis."5 And the Cardinal found that Bultmann's conclusions "are not the result of historical findings but emerge from a framework of systematic presuppositions."6 The Cardinal saw a need at this juncture of time to challenge the fundamental ideas behind the method of Dibelius and Bultmann, such as the carrying over of the evolutionist model of natural science into the history and life processes of the spirit.7 To solve this problem Cardinal Ratzinger proposed that there be a "new synthesis," the development of which would require "the attentive and critical commitment of a whole generation."8

11. The neo-patristic approach. It is in response to this call for a new synthesis of principles underlying Catholic biblical interpretation that we are promoting the neo-patristic approach to Sacred Scripture. This is a legitimate and badly needed effort. In fact, in his Preface to the document of 1993 of the reconstituted Pontifical Biblical Commission cited above, Cardinal Ratzinger, after reviewing the proposals of the Commission, pointed out that "there are also new attempts to recover patristic exegesis and to include renewed forms of a spiritual interpretation of Scripture." The neo-patristic approach is such an endeavor.9 The first great difference of this method from historical-criticism is that it begins from a viewpoint of faith and of trust in the historical truth of what is written in Sacred Scripture, with a commitment to defend that truth by valid arguments. As Pope John Paul II said in his address to the reconstituted Pontifical Biblical Commission on the 23rd of April 1993, "The Catholic exegete does not entertain the individualist illusion leading to the belief that one can better understand the biblical texts outside the community of believers."10 The second great difference of the neo-patristic approach from the approach of historical-criticism is in its use of a patristic framework as its systematic point of view. This framework, in the form used by St. Thomas Aquinas, recognizes a twofold level of meaning in the text of Sacred Scripture, the literal sense and the spiritual sense, and it distinguishes three aspects of the spiritual sense, namely, the simple allegorical sense, which presents the Allegory of Christ and of his Church, the tropological, or moral, sense, which contains in allegorical form the impact of the Sacred Text upon the believing subject, and the anagogical, or final, sense, which illustrates the text in the light of eternity and of the Four Last Things, namely, death, judgment, Heaven, and Hell. The neo-patristic approach is in keeping with the teaching of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (no. 115), which states as follows: "According to an 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. The profound concordance of the four senses guarantees all its richness to the living reading of Scripture in the Church." And the Catechism goes on to say (no. 119): "It is the task of exegetes to work, according to these rules, towards a better understanding and explanation of the meaning of Sacred Scripture in order that their research may help the Church to form a firmer judgment."

12. The challenge of the third millennium. An important event occurred just last Sunday, the eighth of October, as Pope John Paul II, together with about fifteen hundred Bishops from all over the world gathered together with him in St. Peter's Basilica, pronounced an Act of Entrustment to the Blessed Virgin Mary, before her image brought from Fatima for the occasion, imploring the protection of the Mother of Christ on the Church and on the world at the beginning of the third millennium. The concluding words of the Entrustment are: "To you, Dawn of Salvation, we commit our journey through the new millennium, so that with you as guide all people may know Christ, the light of the world and its only Savior, who reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit forever and ever. Amen." And Pope John Paul continues to call for increased appreciation of the place of Mary in the Church and in the lives of the faithful. In his address at the closing of the International Mariological-Marian Congress in St. Peter's Square on the 24th of last month, Pope John Paul said: "Are we not celebrating the 2000th anniversary of Christ's birth? It is, therefore, natural that the Jubilee of the Son should also be the Jubilee of the Mother! And so it is to be hoped that among the fruits of this year of grace, as well as that of a stronger love for Christ, there should also be that of a renewed Marian devotion. Yes, Mary must be deeply loved and honored, but with a devotion which, to be authentic: must be firmly grounded in Scripture and Tradition ...; must be expressed in an effort to imitate the All Holy in a way of personal perfection; must be far from every form of superstition and vain credulousness ...; must always be able to go back to the source of Mary's greatness, becoming a ceaseless Magnificat of praise to the Father, to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit." How can our devotion to Mary be best grounded in Scripture and Tradition? I think that the way that lies open to us now is to return to the patristic approach to Sacred Scripture through the development of the neo-patristic method of interpretation. That is why the growing use of the historical-critical method during the twentieth century by Catholic biblical scholars to a point of dominance by the end of that century constitutes a challenge for the Catholic biblical scholarship of the 21st century. A good start has already been made, but the neo-patristic method is still little known. According to Cardinal Ratzinger, to achieve the goal of a better approach to Sacred Scripture than that of historical-criticism, it will be necessary "to introduce into the discussion the great proposals of patristic and medieval thought."11 The neo-patristic method does just this; it begins from the outlook of the Fathers of the Church, incorporates the exegetical framework and method of St. Thomas Aquinas and other medieval commentators, and includes the insights of traditionally oriented commentators of modern times. The neo-patristic method does not overlook the work of contemporary historical critics; rather it critically examines their presentations, rejects what it finds unscientific in them, and retains the good elements in a new synthesis of its own.

13. The Blessed Virgin Mary in the proposed new synthesis of Catholic biblical interpretation. It might be found interesting to consider briefly what enlarged understanding of the place and the role of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God and Mother of the Church, could result from the proposed neo-patristic synthesis of biblical interpretation.

a) The element of faith and the element of prayer. An activity not essentially part of the now hopefully-to-be-discarded historical-critical method of biblical interpretation are the activities of living faith and of fervent prayer before, during, and after exegetical work. The neo-patristic method depends upon prayer to prepare the mind and heart of the biblical interpreter to recognize and understand the inspired text that he is studying. My way of looking at this is that the interpreter needs to pray to Jesus to give him insight into the meaning of the sacred text, and he does well also to pray to Jesus through Mary for the gift of a fuller understanding of the text on its spiritual and mystical as well as on its literal and historical level. No interpreter will ever understand the fuller meaning of the biblical text without frequent recourse to prayer in openness of faith to what this text is saying to his mind and heart, and there is no better way to maintain openness of faith than by practicing frequent recourse to the Blessed Virgin Mary by way of consecration to the Sacred Heart of Jesus through her Immaculate Heart. The historical-critical method, in its derivation from liberal Protestant thought, contains in its roots no such devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary and no notable understanding of the spiritual sense of Sacred Scripture. By approaching Sacred Scripture through devotion to Mary, the door to the spiritual sense of Sacred Scripture and the full truth about Jesus is laid more fully open.

b) The literal sense of Sacred Scripture. The absence of devotion to Mary among Protestant scholars, and especially among liberal Protestant scholars, is a reason for which they lost sight of the historicity and the inerrancy of Sacred Scripture, because devotion to Mary would have helped them to keep ever in mind the spiritual context of the inspired words. As the effort grows to recognize the full context of the Bible in the framework of the Four Senses and to refute the fallacious reasoning of historical-criticism, devotion to Mary will be a guiding star and a source of insight. In our time we are witnessing an impressive production of works on Marian devotion and on the place of Mary in Sacred Scripture. One example of many is the work by Father Luigi Gambero entitled Mary and the Fathers of the Church, first published in Italian in 1991 and issued in an English translation in 1999 by Ignatius Press. Another example closer to this venue is the series of essays published just this year under the editorship of Leon J. Suprenant, Jr., with a foreword by Bishop James S. Sullivan, entitled Scripture and the Mystery of the Mother of God (Emmaus Road Publishing). My appeal to all the many writers everywhere who are bringing out these splendid works on Mary is to relate their writing explicitly to the framework of the Four Senses and to examine seriously the neo-patristic approach, in order to counter maneuvers by historical-critics to relegate works like these to the category of "mere devotion not based upon a scientific approach to Scripture." These devotional works are based upon the true literal meaning of the inspired text, but they are not usually sensitive to the attack that historical-criticism is making against their spiritual understanding of the text. Since historical-critics, by their false interpretations, are undercutting and undermining devotional theology, it is incumbent upon other exegetes, and especially upon neo-patristic exegetes, to show how sound devotional studies fit into the context of scientific thinking about what is written in the Bible.

c) The simple allegorical sense of Sacred Scripture. As was said above, the foundation of the spiritual sense of Sacred Scripture is the Allegory of Christ and of his Church. The text of Sacred Scripture, and especially of the Gospels, is like a tapestry with the literal and historical sense woven on one side and the portrait of Christ woven on the other, using the same verbal threads. To know the allegorical sense means to see and recognize the portrait of Christ and of the Church, not only as stated historically, but also as depicted allegorically in the inspired word of Sacred Scripture. The Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of Christ and of the Church, can help us to receive such an understanding, if we ask her for this in prayer.

d) The tropological, or moral, sense of Sacred Scripture. There is also a moral allegory depicted in the text of Sacred Scripture, reflecting the impact of the objectively true meaning of the inspired word upon the virtues of the sanctified soul of the believer living in the state of sanctifying grace. This moral sense has an observable pattern and structure, which represents the subjective phase of the Allegory of Christ and of his Church, and this phase consists in the appropriation of the spiritual truth into the mind and heart of the believer. For instance, in the parable of the treasure hidden in a field (Matt 13:44), on the level of the simple allegory, this treasure is the Good News of Jesus and of salvation hidden in the prophecy of the Old Testament, or it is the reality of the Church hidden in the field of divine revelation, while, on the level of the moral sense, it is the sanctifying grace that awaits the person who learns about Jesus Christ and opens his mind and heart to Him. Now, it is obvious that an interpreter of Sacred Scripture whose method does not include this kind of responsiveness to the call to love that is in the Sacred Text will never appropriate to himself the treasure that is within it. And it is also a fact that an interpreter who does not practice devotion to the Maternal Heart of Mary will not make much progress in the perception of the moral sense, not only because Mary has an important role in helping believers to perceive this sense, but also because Mary is the prime example and model of the true believer. Thus, just as the Word of God is the great Treasure hidden in the field of all verbal communication, so the Blessed Virgin Mary, by having opened her heart in the fullest way to the Word of God and by having received Him both into her womb and into her heart, became the mother of the divine Word of God and also the one created person in whom the moral impact of the revealed Word of God has been the greatest. By having recourse to Mary we can obtain a greater moral impact of the Word of God upon our hearts. And this recourse to Mary does not impede or obstruct in any way our recourse to Jesus; it only makes our recourse more effective. I have never met anyone who, by having had recourse to Mary, found that his recourse to Jesus was in any way diminished. Rather, those who regularly have recourse to Mary find themselves closer to Jesus in their minds and in their hearts.

e) The final sense of Sacred Scripture. The final aim and objective of faith in Jesus is to be with Him forever in Heaven. Those who rejoice in the beatific vision of the Most Holy Trinity see Jesus as the King of Heaven and Mary as the Queen of Heaven. Many of the statements in Sacred Scripture can be fully understood only in the light of eternity, of which those who study the Sacred Scriptures can have some foretaste, even though in a very incomplete manner. Meditation upon the spiritual senses of the Scriptures opens the mind to the context of eternity, and recourse to Mary can play an important role in this advance to a higher understanding. Take the example of the Great Sign which is said in Apoc. 12:1 to have appeared in the sky: "a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon beneath her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars." On the level of the simple allegory the woman clothed with the sun is the one true Church of Christ, while on the level of the tropological, or moral, sense, this woman is the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Queen of Heaven. To be able to see this fact on the level of the spiritual senses and to love this fact is a sign of spiritual insight. Woven into the text of all Sacred Scripture is a pattern of meaning that unfolds within the context of eternity, a context that stands above the natural capabilities of every interpreter. The neo-patristic interpreter knows that the Queen of Heaven can reach down as far as his mind and lift up his understanding to at least a glimpse of what is implied in the Sacred Text from the viewpoint of eternity.

14. The 20th century in context. In 1917 at Fatima the Blessed Virgin Mary warned about the danger of atheistic Communism and the danger of sexual impurity. To withstand these dangers she recommended that people pray the Rosary and do their daily duty. Now, an important part of the daily duty of Catholic Christians is to keep our minds and hearts clean of mental and moral corruption. A big problem during the 20th century has been that many Catholic thinkers have neglected their daily duty by accepting false systems of thought pluralistically into their minds and hearts. Pluralistic acceptance by Catholics of the false social and political system of Marxism produced "liberation theology." Pluralistic acceptance by Catholics of modern hedonistic psychology produced "psychology as religion." And pluralistic acceptance by Catholics of some of the false conclusions of modernism produced the neo-modernism which has been such a great source of error and confusion within the Church during the latter half of the 20th century. The pluralistic acceptance by Catholic historical-critics of the form-criticism of Martin Dibelius and Rudolf Bultmann and others meant that the Catholic critics kept adherence to Catholic doctrine in one part of their minds while dabbling in an anti-Catholic and rationalistic system in another part of their minds. They would follow the anti-Catholic system as it erased in their minds the historical truth of various passages of the Gospels, but they would stop their form-critical reasoning short when it came to erasing some article of Catholic faith, such as the Incarnation of the Divine Word or the bodily resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Bultmann taunted these pluralistic scholars by asking: "When you start to use this method, where can you logically draw the line?" And Catholic historical-critics did not have a good answer to that taunt. They were drawing the line, not because it was logical to do so in keeping with the method, but because not to draw the line would violate the Catholic faith that they were holding pluralistically in another part of their minds. The only correct answer to Bultmann's taunt is: "I do not accept your historical-critical conclusions because these conclusions have been drawn from false premises and by the use of a fallacious method." What we are opposing here is that radical pluralism which is the most anti-Christian of all philosophies, because it denies the unity of truth. Since the truth is one, and since Catholic faith regards truth in its unity, it is a task for the 21st century and for the whole of the third millennium to eliminate radical pluralism from Catholic theological production.

15. A task for the third millennium. Looking back over the second millennium, we find that, in the interpretation of Sacred Scripture, the method of the Four Senses was in common use during the eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth centuries. In the thirteenth century St. Thomas Aquinas, from the high viewpoint of his great synthesis of philosophy and theology, accomplished two things: he produced a brilliant defense for his time of the historical truth of Sacred Scripture in its literal sense and he wrote impressive explanations of the spiritual senses. However, from his time onward over the following seven centuries, Catholic exegetes and commentators concentrated more and more upon the literal sense alone and tended more and more to neglect the spiritual sense, to the extent that by the beginning of the 20th century the context of the spiritual sense had been almost forgotten. During this time Catholic exegetes did work tirelessly to show that the literal sense of Sacred Scripture upholds the dogmas of the Church, but I think that the neglect of the spiritual sense helped finally to weaken the defenses of Catholic scholars against the attacks of rationalistic systems upon the literal sense of the Scriptures. So let it be the task of the third millennium, or of whatever part of the third millennium that Divine Providence will be pleased to leave to human history, to restore and develop both the literal sense and the fuller spiritual sense of the inspired word. The neo-patristic method is a fit instrument for the accomplishment of this task. Let us, then, entrust this great undertaking of replacing historical-criticism with the neo-patristic method to the maternal help and guidance of Our Blessed Lady. She will lead us first to a fuller discovery of the allegorical sense of Sacred Scripture, whereon is impressed the spiritual portrait of Jesus and the portrait of Mary as the image of the Church. Then she will lead us also to a fuller appreciation of the tropological, or moral, sense, wherein we will see Mary as the perfect model of the believer in Jesus Christ, and we will imitate her in this belief. And she will help us to discover the anagogical, or final, sense of Sacred Scripture, wherein we see the whole of Scripture in the light of eternity according to a pattern that is given in the Bible itself, with Jesus as the King of Heaven and Mary as its Queen. And this systematic search for the spiritual senses of Sacred Scripture, together with a systematic critique of historical-critical interpretations, will give greater confidence in the inerrant truth of the Sacred Text and new insights into what is written in the literal sense, upon which the spiritual is based - all, however, in accordance with the teaching of the Magisterium of the Church. Let us, then, in the service of Jesus through Mary, courageously take up this task.


1. Cf. Libreria Editrice Vaticana, Insegnamenti di Paolo VI (1972), p. 1325; (1974), pp. 24-25.

2. Pontifical Biblical Commission, The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church (Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1993), opening words of chapter 1.

3. Pontifical Biblical Commission, loc. cit., IA, 4.

4. Joseph Card. Ratzinger, Italian translation, "L'interpretazione della Bibbia in conflitto," in Ignace de la Potterie, ed., L'esegesi cristiana oggi (Casale Monferrato, Italy: PIEMME, 1991), p. 123.

5. Ratzinger, loc. cit., p. 104.

6. Ratzinger, loc. cit., pp.110-111.

7. Ratzinger, loc. cit., p. 106.

8. Ratzinger, loc. cit., p. 113.

9. View the articles and lessons illustrating the neo-patristic method.

10. Pope John Paul II, Address of 23 April 1993, printed with the document of the PBC referred to in note 2 above.

11. Ratzinger, loc. cit., p. 124.

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