A few pages from Rahner’s magisterial work, Foundations of Christian Faith. Which has been called “a brilliant synthesis flowing from an incomparable mastery of Scripture, the Church Fathers, the great medieval theologians, the ‘theology of the schools’, and contemporary thought.”
In the documents of the church it is said again and again that God is the auctor (author) of the Old and New Testaments as scripture. The school theology, which is at work in the encyclicals of Leo XIII and up to those of Pius XII and tried time and time again to clarify by means of psychological theories how God himself is the literary author or the writer of Holy Scripture.
And it tried to formulate and to clarify the doctrine of inspiration in such a way that it becomes clear that God is the literary author of scripture. This, however, did not deny (and the Second Vatican Council affirmed it explicitly) that this understanding of God’s authorship and of inspiration may not reduce the human authors of these writings merely to God’s secretaries but rather it grants them the character of a genuine literary authorship of their own.
This interpretation of the inspired nature of scripture which we have done no more than sketch can of course be understood in such a way that even today one does not necessarily have to accuse it of being in mythological. We would have to recall in this connection what we said in the fifth chapter about the unity between transcendental revelation and its historical objectification in word and in writing, and about the knowledge of the success of these objectifications.
In any case it cannot be denied in the Catholic Church that God is the author of the Old and New Testament. But he does not therefore have to be understood as the literary author of these writings. He can be understood in a variety of other ways as the author of scripture, and indeed in such a way that in union with grace and the light of faith scripture can truly be called the word of God.
This is true especially because, as we said elsewhere, even if a word about God is caused by God, it would not by this very fact be a word of God in which God offers himself. It would not be such a word of God if this word did not take place as an objectification of God’s self-expression which is effected by God and is borne by grace, and which comes to us without being reduced to our level because the process of hearing it is borne by God’s Spirit.
If the church was founded by God himself through his Spirit and in Jesus Christ, if the original church as the norm for the future church is the object of God’s activity in a qualitatively unique way which is different from his preservation of the church in the course of history, and if scripture is a constitutive element of this original church as the norm for future ages, then this already means quite adequately and in both a positive and an exclusive sense that God is the author of scripture and that he inspired it . [Yes, you may read that again slowly.]
Nor at this point can some special psychological theory of inspiration be appealed to for help. Rather we can simply take cognizance of the actual origins of scripture which follow for the impartial observer from the very different characteristics of the individual books of scripture. The human authors of Holy Scripture work exactly like other human authors, nor do they have to know anything about their being inspired in reflexive knowledge.
If God wills the original church as an indefectible sign of salvation for all ages, and wills it with an absolute, formally pre-defining and eschatological will within salvation history, and hence if he wills with this quite definite will everything which is constitutive for this church, and this includes in certain circumstances scripture in a preeminent way, then He is the inspirer and the author of scripture, although the inspiration of scripture is “only” a moment within God’s primordial authorship of the Church.
Inerrancy of Scripture
From the doctrine that Holy Scripture is inspired theology and the official doctrine of the church derive the thesis that scripture is inerrant. We can certainly say with the Second Vatican Council (Dei Verbum, art. 11): “Therefore, since everything asserted by the inspired authors or sacred writers must be considered to be asserted by the Holy Spirit, we must profess of the books of scripture that they teach with certainty, with fidelity and without error the truth which God wanted recorded in the sacred writings for the sake of our salvation.”
But if because of the very nature of scripture as the message of salvation we acknowledge the inerrancy of scripture first of all in this global sense, we are still far from having solved of all of the problems and settled all of the difficulties about the meaning and the limits of this statement which can be raised because of the actual state of the scriptural texts.
The inerrancy of scripture was certainly understood earlier in too narrow a sense, especially when inspiration was interpreted it sense of verbal inspiration, and the sacred writers were only regarded as God’s secretaries and not as independent and also historically conditioned literary authors. That difficulties still exist here in the understanding of and in the exact interpretation of the church’s doctrine on the inerrancy of scripture is shown even by the history of the conciliar text just cited. It follows from this history that the Council evidently wanted to leave open the question whether the phrase about the truth which God wanted to have recorded for the sake of our salvation is supposed to restrict or to explicate the meaning of the sentence.
We cannot of course treat and answer all of these questions and difficulties in detail here, especially since we cannot go into individual scriptural texts which raise special difficulties with regard to their “truth. We shall have to leave them to the introductory disciplines and to exegesis. Nor can we go into the question here whether in the papal encyclicals of the last century and up to Pius XII the doctrine on the inerrancy of scripture was not understood here and there in a too narrow and materialist sense. It is also obvious that much of what was said elsewhere in this book, for example, about the inerrancy of Christ and the inerrancy of real dogmas in the teaching of the church, can have its corresponding validity in this question too.
We only want to say here very briefly: scripture in its unity and totality is the objectification of God’s irreversible and victorious offer of salvation to the world in Jesus Christ, and therefore in its unity and totality it cannot lead one away from God’s truth in some binding way. We must read every individual text within the context of this single whole in order to understand its true meaning correctly. Only then can it be understood it its real meaning, and only then can it really be grasped as “true.”
The very different literary genre of the individual books must be seen more clearly than before and be evaluated in establishing the real meaning of statements. (For example, in the New Testament stories it is not impossible in certain circumstances that we find forms of midrash and that they were originally intended to be such, so that according to scripture’s own meaning the “historical” truth of a story can be relativized without any qualms.) Scriptural statements were expressed within historically and culturally conditioned conceptual horizons, and this must be taken into account if the question of what is “really” being said in a particular text is to be answered correctly.
In certain circumstances it can be completely legitimate to distinguish between the “correctness” and the “truth” of a statement. Nor may we overlook the question whether the really binding meaning of a scriptural statement does not change if a particular book has its origins outside the canon as the work of some individual, and then is taken into the totality of the canonical scriptures.
Just as by the very nature of the case there is an analogy of faith which is a hermeneutical principle for the correct interpretation of individual statements in the official teaching of the church, so that the individual statement can only be understood correctly within the unity of the church’s total consciousness of the faith, so too and in an analogous sense, or as a particular instance of this principle, there is also an analogia scripturae oran analogy of scripture which is a hermeneutical principle• for interpreting individual texts of scripture.
If there is a “hierarchy of truths,” that is, if particular statement does not always have the same objective and existential weight which another statement has, then this has to be taken into account in interpreting individual scriptural statements. This does not mean that the statement which is “less important” in relation to another statement has to be qualified as incorrect or as false.
If we grant the validity of and apply these and similar principles, which follow from the very nature of the case and from the nature of human speech and are not the principles of a cheap “arrangement” or a cowardly attempt to cover up difficulties, then we certainly do not inevitably have to get into the difficulty of having to hold that particular statements of scripture are “true” in the meaning which is really intended and is intended in a binding way, although a sober and honest exegesis might declare that they are incorrect and erroneous in the sense of a negation of the “truth.”