Private Interpretation of Scripture

The Church has repeatedly condemned using any private interpretation of Scripture to contradict an infallible teaching of the Magisterium. The Magisterium is the authoritative interpreter of Scripture, and all infallible magisterial teachings are required beliefs.

But in the case of open theological questions, there is no such prohibition. The faithful are encouraged by the Magisterium to learn directly from Scripture, to meditate on the meaning of the verses, and to seek a deeper understanding of the truths therein. Private interpretation is a necessity for such tasks.

The example of the Saints, which we should all imitate, shows that study and private interpretation of Scripture is a fruit of cooperation with the graces of God, not an offense against God, so long as magisterial teachings guide our private interpretation.

Then, too, good theology is always based on a search for a deeper understanding of Tradition and Scripture and the teachings of the Magisterium, not on magisterial documents alone. We must pursue an ever deeper understanding of the Word of God found in the inspired Scriptures in order to understand the Faith ever better.

Pope Benedict XVI has often recommended prayerful meditation on the meaning of Scripture to the faithful:

The conciliar Constitution Dei Verbum emphasized appreciation for the Word of God, which developed into a profound renewal for the life of the Ecclesial Community, especially in preaching, catechesis, theology, spirituality and ecumenical relations. Indeed, it is the Word of God which guides believers, through the action of the Holy Spirit, towards all truth (cf. Jn 16: 13).

Among the many fruits of this biblical springtime I would like to mention the spread of the ancient practice of Lectio divina or “spiritual reading” of Sacred Scripture. It consists in pouring over a biblical text for some time, reading it and rereading it, as it were, “ruminating” on it as the Fathers say and squeezing from it, so to speak, all its “juice”, so that it may nourish meditation and contemplation and, like water, succeed in irrigating life itself.

One condition for Lectio divina is that the mind and heart be illumined by the Holy Spirit, that is, by the same Spirit who inspired the Scriptures, and that they be approached with an attitude of “reverential hearing”.
Angelus 6 Nov 2005

by
Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and
translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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