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The ‘Historical Method’ Is Modernist

Continuing to post papal documents that frontally oppose Benedict XVI's stance favoring the “historical method” of interpreting Scriptures, we bring to our readers today a careful analysis by St. Pius X of this topic. In it he condemns the Modernist audacity to change the traditional interpretation of the Sacred Books and their underlying purpose.

Since the available English translations of Pascendi tend to soften the words of St. Pius X, we double-checked it with editions of that document in other languages and tried to improve the translation below.

St. Pius X

After this, the philosopher returns to impose the historian to make all his studies conform to the precepts and laws of evolution. Complying, the historian scrutinizes his documents to examine carefully the circumstances and conditions of the Church through the course of time, the internal and external needs that stimulated her progress, the obstacles she encountered, in short, everything that serves to determine the way that the laws of evolution have been realized in her. This done, he concludes by drawing up in its broad lines a history of the development of the facts. The critic follows, who adapts the remaining documents to this historical sketch; he makes his addition to the piece, and the history is complete.

Now we ask here: Who is the author of this history? The historian? The critic? Assuredly, neither of these, but rather the philosopher. From beginning to end, everything recorded in it was decided beforehand, and in a way filled with heresy. In truth these men are to be pitied, for of them the Apostle said: They became vain in their thoughts . . . professing themselves to be wise they became fools (Rom 1:21-22). But, at the same time, they excite just indignation when they accuse the Church of changing her documents to make them serve her own interests. That is to say, they attribute to the Church something for which their own conscience plainly accuses them.

Regarding Sacred Scripture

The result of this changing and dissemination of texts through the centuries is naturally that those Sacred Books can no longer be attributed to the authors whose names they bear. This is the reason why the Modernists have no hesitation in affirming commonly that these books, and especially the Pentateuch and the first three Gospels, were gradually expanded from an early brief narration - by means of additions and interpolations, theological or allegorical interpretations, or transitions that joined together different passages.

In briefer and clearer words, they affirm that what must be admitted in the Sacred Books is a vital evolution, born from the evolution of the faith and corresponding to the same. The signs of this evolution, they add, are so manifest that a history of them could be written. Indeed, they have actually written this history, and with such persuasion that one might believe them to have seen with their own eyes the writers at work through the ages amplifying the Sacred Books.

To confirm this, they call upon that branch of criticism which they call textual, and labor to show that this or that fact or phrase is not in its right place, and adduce other arguments of the same kind. They seem, in fact, to have pre-established certain types of narration and discourses as a most certain criterion to decide whether a thing is out of place or not. One may judge if, with such a method, they are capable of making such decisions. Notwithstanding, when one hears them talk about their studies relating to Scriptures in which they have been able to discover so many contradictions, one is led to believe that before them, no one ever dealt with those Books.

Actually, a whole multitude of Doctors, much superior to them in genius, wisdom and sanctity, have scrutinized the Sacred Books in every way. These highly learned and wise Doctors, far from finding anything wrong in them, to the contrary, the more profoundly they have studied them, the more they have thanked God for having vouchsafed to speak thus to men. But [they say] these great Doctors did not undertake their study using the means that come from the Modernists! That is, they did not allow themselves to be guided or ruled by a philosophy that has as its departure point the denial of God, and did not pretend that they themselves were the supreme norm of judgment.

We believe, then, that We have set forth sufficiently the historical method of the Modernists. The philosopher opens the door, the historian follows, and then in due order come internal and textual criticism. And since it is characteristic of the first cause to communicate its force to its secondary causes, it is quite clear that this criticism should be called is an agnostic, immanentist, and evolutionist criticism.

Hence anyone who embraces it or employs it, thereby professes the errors contained in it, and places himself in opposition to Catholic doctrine.

For this reason, it is a matter of great surprise that this type of criticism can be so well received by certain Catholics. Two causes may be assigned for this: first, is the close alliance, notwithstanding differences of nationality or religion, that the historians and critics of this school have formed among themselves; second, the incredible audacity of these men. If one of them but opens his mouth, the others applaud him in chorus, proclaiming that science has made another step forward; if someone denies it, he is accused of ignorance; if, however, he accepts and defends it, he is covered with praise. In this way, they manage to fool many who, if they would consider the matter better, they would step back horrified. The powerful imposition of the corrupted and the naive assent of the pusillanimous have combined to produce a certain pestilence in the air which penetrates everywhere and spreads the contagion.

Encyclical Pascendi Dominici gregis, nn. 33-34,
Petropolis: Vozes, 1959

Posted September 3, 2011
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