Divino afflante Spiritu
Divino afflante Spiritu ("Inspired by the Holy Spirit") is a Papal encyclical letter issued by Pope Pius XII on September 30, 1943 calling for new translations of the Bible from the original languages, instead of the venerable Latin Vulgate of St Jerome, revised multiple times, which had formed the textual basis for all Catholic vernacular translations until that time. It inaugurated the modern period of Roman Catholic Bible studies by encouraging the study of textual criticism (or "lower criticism") pertaining to text of the Scriptures themselves and transmission thereof (e.g. to determine correct readings), and permitting the use of the historical-critical method (or "higher criticism"), to be informed by theology, Sacred Tradition, and ecclesiastical history, pertaining to the historical circumstances of the text, hypothesizing about matters such as authorship, dating, and similar concerns. The eminent Catholic bible scholar Raymond E. Brown described it as a 'Magna Carta for biblical progress'.
The first purpose of the encyclical was to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the issuing of Providentissimus Deus by Pope Leo XIII in 1893, which had condemned the use of higher criticism. In the encyclical, Pius XII noted that since then, advances had been made in archaeology and historical research, making it advisable to further define the study of the Bible.
Previously, Catholic translations of the Bible into modern languages were usually based on the Latin Vulgate, the text used in the liturgy. They generally used the original texts, in Biblical Hebrew, Biblical Aramaic and Biblical Greek, only to clarify the exact meaning of the Latin text.
In his encyclical the Pope stressed the importance of diligent study of these original languages and other cognate languages, so as to arrive at a deeper and fuller knowledge of the meaning of the sacred texts. He stated:
- "We ought to explain the original text which was written by the inspired author himself and has more authority and greater weight than any, even the very best, translation whether ancient or modern. This can be done all the more easily and fruitfully if to the knowledge of languages be joined a real skill in literary criticism of the same text." (Divino afflante Spiritu, 16).
Since then, Catholic translations of the Bible have been based directly on the texts found in manuscripts in the original languages, taking into account also the ancient translations that sometimes clarify what seem to be transcription errors in those manuscripts, although the Latin Vulgate remains the official Bible in the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church.
- R.Kendall Soulen, Handbook of Biblical Criticism, Westminster John Knox Press, page 49
- William James O'Brian, Riding Time Like a River: The Catholic Moral Tradition Since Vatican II, Georgetown University Press, 1993, page 76.
- Boston College, "Catholic Approach to the Bible"