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Fr. Ratzinger: The Bible is Not Objective

In his book Faith and the Future, published in 1970 in Germany, Fr. Joseph Ratzinger discusses how the Catholic Faith should face the challenges of modern science. When Ratzinger poses the objections, it becomes clear that he endorses much of the revolutionary criticism of science regarding the Bible.

At right below, the cover of Fé e Futuro, and photocopies of the Portuguese edition; below, our translation of the yellow highlighted sections.

Let us look at the critic's points in broad lines. The difficulty already begins with the first page of the Bible. The idea of the world's origin developed there is in evident contradiction with everything we know today about the origin of the cosmos. Even if we say that those pages are not a manual of natural history and, therefore, should not be understood as a literal description of the cosmos' origin, a bad feeling remains. ... On almost every page of the Bible such questions persist.

The figure formed of clay that in God's hand becomes man is largely incomprehensible to us, as well as what happens right afterward with the woman, taken from his side while he sleeps and recognized by him as the flesh of his own flesh, that is, as a response to the question of his solitude.

Perhaps today we have to re-learn how to understand these images as profound symbolic expressions regarding man. ... In the next chapter (the history of the fall) new questions rise. How can we reconcile them with the concept that man, as demonstrated by natural science, did not begin from above, but from below? He did not fall, but little by little ascended, increasingly becoming a man from an animal. And what about Paradise? Suffering and death already existed in the world long before man existed. ...

Let us continue to examine these questions and contradictions that distress the general conscience in order to appraise with all necessary harshness the problem behind the words faith and knowledge.

After the report of the fall, the Bible continues with its image of history, where Adam is described to us in a cultural period situated around 4000 BC. This date agrees with the biblical counting of time, resulting that around 4000 years have passed from the beginning until Christ. But today all of us know that before this event, a period of hundreds of thousands of years of life and human efforts had already passed, a time not taken into consideration in the biblical image of history, which was restricted to the Eastern understanding of that time.

With this we touch the next point: the Bible, which faith venerates as the word of God, became clear to us in its entire human character through the historical-critical method of investigation. It not only follows the literary forms of its ambience, but also is influenced by the world in which it originated. This influence marked its way of thinking and its religious character itself.

Can we still believe in the God who calls Moses in the burning bush? The God who kills the firstborn sons of Egypt and leads His people to war against the inhabitants of Canaan? Who makes Oza fall dead because he touched the sacred ark? Or were all these things nothing but an expression of the old East, interesting, yes; perhaps even significant as a level of the human conscience; but not the expression of the divine word?

(Joseph Ratzinger, Fé e Futuro, São Paulo: Vozes, 1971, pp. 11-13)
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Posted on November 25, 2006

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