Pontificia Commissione Biblica - Profilo

Pontifical Biblical Commission

I. Profile

The original Commissio Pontificia de Re Biblica

The body which today is known as the Pontifical Biblical Commission was constituted by Leo XIII with the apostolic Letter Vigilantiae studiique of 30th October 1902 (cfr. ASS 35 [1902-1903], 234-238). The Holy Father assigned a threefold task to the new institution: a) to promote biblical study effectively among Catholics; b) to counteract erroneous opinions regarding Sacred Scripture by scientific means, and c) to study and illuminate debated questions and emerging problems in the biblical field.

Some years later, Pius X, with the apostolic Letter Scripturae Sanctae of 23rd February 1904, granted to the Biblical Commission the faculty of conferring the academic degrees of licentiate and doctorate in Biblical Studies (cfr. ASS 36 [1903-1904], 530-532).

Leo XIII and Pius X had granted to the Biblical Commission ample competence in relation to the emerging biblical questions and controversies provoked by modern critical study. From 13th February 1905 until 17th November 1921 the Biblical Commission issued fourteeen decrees and two declarations in the form of responses to questions or doubts proposed to them. Under Pius XI (until 30th April 1934) there followed two more decrees, making a total of eighteen interventions.

The new Pontifical Biblical Commission

On 27th June 1971, in the context of the great work of post-conciliar reform, Paul VI, with the Motu proprio Sedula cura (cfr. AAS 63 [1971], 665-669), established new norms for the organisation and functioning of the Biblical Commission, in order to make its activity more fruitful for the Church and better adapted to the contemporary situation.

This apostolic Letter marks a radical change for the role and organisation of the Commission. In fifteen brief articles the new structure is defined: the Members are no longer Cardinals, who are assisted by consultors, but teachers in biblical sciences coming from various schools and nations, who are distinguished ‘for their learning, prudence and Catholic respect for the ecclesiastical Magisterium’ (art. 3).

From this change of structure there follows necessarily a change of nature and of functions. Since it is no longer composed of Cardinals, on the model of the Roman Congregations, the new Biblical Commission becomes a consultative body, placed at the service of the Magisterium and linked to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Prefect of which is also the President of the Commission (cfr. art. 1).

II. Activities and Documents

The Biblical Commission organises its own plenary Assembly every year, in the second week after Easter, on a topic previously chosen by the President, at the proposal of various organisms, such as the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Episcopal Conferences, or the Commission itself.

The new Biblical Commission held its first plenary Assembly in 1974, and on this occasion the exam programmes for the conferral of academic degrees in biblical sciences were reviewed.

In the following years (1975-1976) the Members tackled a study of femininity in the Bible and, more precisely, the role of woman in society according to Sacred Scripture. The conclusions reached by the Biblical Commission were not published, but only placed at the disposal of the Holy See, according to what is provided for in article 10 of the apostolic Letter Sedula cura.

In 1977-1978 the theme of the use of Sacred Scripture in the theology of liberation, at the time a topic of great and burning relevance, was considered, without however producing any document.

In the plenary assembly of 1979 the theme of inculturation in Sacred Scripture was examined, and the contributions were published in a volume entitled Fede e cultura alla luce della Bibbia (LDC, Torino, 1981).

In 1980 it was decided that a very demanding and diverse theme should be tackled: the relationship between hermeneutics and christology. This study continued until the plenary Assembly of 1983 and it ended with the publication of the document Bible et Christologie (Cerf, Paris, 1984), which was immediately translated into the principal languages.

From 1985 until 1988 the Biblical Commission took time to study the complex connections between local churches and the universality of the one People of God, featuring an approach which was biblical, ecclesiological and ecumenical. A document of twenty pages was produced with the title Unité et diversité dans l’Eglise and this was made public, together with the text of the presentations of the different Members (Libreria Editrice Vaticana, Città del Vaticano, 1989), and translated into the principal languages.

In 1989 the important theme of the interpretation of the Bible was tackled. Various presentations were made and work was taken forward on many controversial aspects which for some years had been raising heated discussions in scientific circles. The work continued for some years and finally, in 1993, the document L’interprétation de la Bible dans l’Eglise (Libreria Editrice Vaticana, Città del Vaticano, 1993) was published.

From 1994 until 1996 the work of the Biblical Commission was focussed on the theme of the universality of salvation through Christ and the diversity of the religions. From 1997 an in-depth study of the relationship between the New and Old Testaments, and between Christians and Jews, was undertaken. This investigation concluded in the plenary session of 2000 and, the following year, the document entitled Le peuple Juif et ses Saintes Écritures dans la Bible chrétienne was published in various languages.

In the following years the Commission took up new and important topics, and its reflections were published in the following documents:

- The Bible and Morality. Biblical Roots of Christian Conduct (11th May 2008).

- The Inspiration and Truth of Sacred Scripture: The Word That Comes from God and Speaks of God for the Salvation of the World  (22nd February 2014).

“What is Man?” (Ps 8:5). An itinerary of biblical anthropology (30 September 2019).