Providentissimus Deus, "On the Study of Holy Scripture", was an encyclical issued by Pope Leo XIII on 18 November 1893. In it, he reviewed the history of Bible study from the time of the Church Fathers to the present, spoke against the errors of the Rationalists and "higher critics", and outlined principles of scripture study and guidelines for how scripture was to be taught in seminaries. He also addressed the issues of apparent contradictions between the Bible and physical science, or between one part of scripture and another, and how such apparent contradictions can be resolved.
Providentissimus Deus responded to two challenges to biblical authority, both of which rose up during the 19th century.
The physical sciences, especially the theory of evolution and geology's theory of a very old earth, challenged the traditional Biblical account of creation taking place 6,000 years ago, although it is now believed that Scripture was commonly understood too literally in this case.
Pope Leo XIII wrote that true science cannot contradict scripture when it is properly explained, that the human errors the Church Fathers made do not demonstrate error in Scripture, and that what seems to be proved by science can turn out to be wrong.
The historical-critical method of analyzing scripture questioned the reliability of the Bible. Leo acknowledged the possibility of errors introduced by scribes but forbade the interpretation that only some of scripture is inerrant, while other elements are fallible. Leo condemned that use that certain scholars made of new evidence, clearly referring to Alfred Firmin Loisy and Maurice d'Hulst, although not by name.
At first, both conservatives and liberals found elements in the encyclical to which to appeal. Over the next decade, however, Modernism spread and Providentissimus Deus was increasingly interpreted in a conservative sense.
This encyclical was part of an ongoing conflict between Modernists and conservatives. In 1902, Pope Leo XIII instituted the Pontifical Biblical Commission, which was to adapt Roman Catholic Biblical studies to modern scholarship and to protect Scripture against attacks.
- "Provdentissimus Deus." Cross, F. L., ed. The Oxford dictionary of the Christian church. New York: Oxford University Press. 2005
- "Biblical Commission." Cross, F. L., ed. The Oxford dictionary of the Christian church. New York: Oxford University Press. 2005
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