This is an extraordinary article from Catholic Culture about this wonderful, yet dangerous, pursuit; and it is one which I have found both in my own religious life; using it, before becoming Catholic, as a method of validating my disbelieve, and now; as a deepening of belief.

An excerpt.

When Pope Benedict XVI wrote his trilogy of works on Jesus of Nazareth, one of his purposes was to blend the useful aspects of historical criticism with a neglected tradition of Patristic exegesis. He wanted to suggest the limits of modern historical criticism and call new attention to the importance of interpreting Scripture in a context of faith. In his Foreword to the first volume, the Pope identified the problem he wished to address:

The gap between the “historical Jesus” and the “Christ of faith” grew wider and the two visibly fell apart…. As historical-critical scholarship advanced, it led to finer and finer distinctions between layers of tradition in the Gospels, beneath which the real object of faith—the figure of Jesus—became increasingly obscured and blurred. At the same time, though, reconstructions of this Jesus…became more and more incompatible with one another…. [T]hey are much more like photographs of their authors and the ideals they hold. [pp. xi-xii]

“This is a dramatic situation for faith,” wrote the Pope, “because its point of reference is being placed in doubt: intimate friendship with Jesus, on which everything depends, is in danger of clutching at thin air” (p. xii).

Historical criticism is, to be sure, a complex business. There can be no question of the value of studying the Biblical texts in their historical contexts: learning to recognize the various literary genres and how those genres were understood in their own time; exploring, where possible, the lives of the various authors and the particular needs and interests of their communities; discovering in as much detail as possible the historical circumstances in which the text was composed and the consequent preoccupations of the human author; paying close attention to older texts which may have been incorporated into the Biblical account; comparing manuscripts and seeking to correct textual errors that have crept in over the centuries; and of course understanding all the nuances of the original languages.

All of these things shed light on the literal meaning of the text. And since the literal meaning is always the foundation for the prophetic, moral, spiritual and even eschatological meanings which can be discerned with the eyes of faith, even the most orthodox Scripture scholars are eager to learn as much as possible of the historical and textual circumstances.

But subjecting the text to this sort of rigorous analysis carries with it certain dangers. If the scholar approaches the Bible as if it is just like any other ancient text, without recognizing that it is inspired by God, he will rule out any inter-textual connections which would require such inspiration, and he will exclude from the “authentic” text anything which presupposes a supernatural causality which he is not prepared to admit.

Pointing in Reverse

We do not accept Biblical inspiration because of the proofs which may be adduced from the text itself but rather from the testimony of the Christian community under the authority of the Church. This inescapable fact alone is sufficient to discredit the sola scriptura theory, and in fact one of the few Catholics who became a “father” of historical criticism, Richard Simon (1638-1712), was initially motivated by a desire to demonstrate how textual difficulties undermine the naïve Protestant claim that Scripture is as plain as a pikestaff. Sadly, Fr. Simon did not seem to recognize the limits of his methods, which quickly escaped the bounds of orthodoxy.

In any case, if we accept the testimony and the authority of the Church, we find that all of Scripture points forward, first toward the Jews and their unique relationship with God, and then through the Jews to the fulfillment of their history and covenant in Jesus Christ and the Church, and then in and through Our Lord and His Church to the eschatological reality of the end times—the ultimate triumph of God and His saints for all eternity.

Retrieved May 20, 2014 from