Si Si No No Title

February 1995 No. 12

They Think They've Won Part VIII


One hundred years after Pope Leo XIII's Providentissimus Deus (Nov.10, 1893), and fifty years after Pius XII's Divino Afflante Spiritu, (Sept. 30, 1943), the Pontifical Biblical Commission has developed a synthesis of the two encyclicals. Msgr. Gianfranco Ravasi, a spokesman and member of the Pontifical Biblical Commission, presents an outline of this so-called "precious document" being published by the Pontifical Biblical Commission (see the journal Gesù, Oct. 1993, pp.45-50). Ravasi sees Providentissimus Deus, "apologetic" in nature, as the thesis, and Divino Afflante Spiritu, "entirely oriented toward the exaltation of authentic scientific exegesis," as the antithesis.

While presenting this new document, Ravasi unintentionally casts a shadow over both the reformed Biblical Commission and its members (who are not cardinals as in the past, but exegetes thinking along the same lines as Ravasi):

Incidentally, let us remember the beginning of Vatican Council II, when two Roman ecclesiastics, Romeo and Spadafora [the goodies], launched a virulent attack against the Biblical Institute, they succeeded in bringing about the suspension of two great professors: the Jesuits Lyonnet and Zerwick [the baddies]. Paul VI reinstated them in their teaching functions, and I had the good fortune of being the student of these two extraordinary men of research and of faith….

The Holy Father addresses the solemn convocation commemorating the centenary of Providentissimus Deus and the 50th anniversary of Divino Afflante Spiritu


Thus, while Ravasi showers unmerited praise upon Zerwick and Lyonnet, whose "faith" was clearly manifested after the Council in their denial of the fundamental truths of Catholicism, he unfairly casts blame upon Romeo and Spadafora. It is therefore fitting, first of all, that the truth be known about Romeo and Spadafora, who are painted in such bad light by Ravasi.


Here is what Spadafora himself wrote about Msgr. Antonio Romeo, after the death of the Biblical Institute professor, in Palestra del Clero, (#21, 1978):

Born in Reggio Calabria on June 8, 1902, he [Romeo] completed his secondary studies at the famous St. Michaels's School in Fribourg, Switzerland, where he learned both German and French. For his theological studies, he went to the Regional Seminary of St. Pius X at Catanzaro, and was ordained a priest on December 20, 1924. In 1927, after completing the course of studies offered at the Pontifical Biblical Institute, he immediately returned to the Seminary at Catanzaro, where he taught Sacred Scripture from 1927 to 1934. Being in great demand in the Dioceses, he was named Pro-Vicar General in Reggio Calabria. On January 1, 1938, at the Sacred Congregation for Seminaries and Universities, he began his studies in Rome, producing an excellent body of hidden work over a period of more than thirty-four years.

In the introduction to his fine work, The Present and the Future in Biblical Revelation (1964, starting on p.xxxiv), Msgr. Romeo writes the following:

My gratitude goes out to the unforgettable students who took my courses at the Regional Seminaries in Calabria. In brotherly collaboration, I spent the happiest years of my priestly life with them examining the Holy Scriptures. I thank them all, and it is to them that I dedicate this volume, which is a faint reflection of Eternal Truth - a Truth which they sought to penetrate and contemplate in Biblical revelation.

In these few lines we catch a glimpse of the supernatural spirit and the keen sense of modesty of this great master. The undersigned was one of those students who, after having finished his theological studies in Catanzaro and Posilipo, followed the path of his venerable master by attending the Pontifical Biblical Institute from 1936 to 1939.

It was to him that I dedicated my first exegetical work, which was the translation and commentary of the Book of the Prophet Ezechiel (1948). In the book's dedication, I wrote: 'To my professor, Msgr. Antonio Romeo, to whom I owe my beginnings, as well as my fervor in studying Holy Scripture." I thus expressed my profound gratitude for having received a solid foundation in hermeneutics, Biblical inspiration, scriptural exegesis, Hebrew, and Biblical Greek.

Members of the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See
at the solemn convocation


Concerning Msgr. Spadafora himself, we mention three of his works from amongst many other writings in scientific exegesis and historical criticism:

1) his commentary on the book of Ezichiel, and its translation from the original (Marietti 1948, 357 pages, 2nd ed. 1950). In Revue Biblique (#57, 1950), Fr. R. J. Tournay, O.P., states the following in his review of the commentary:

Next to the commentary itself, which is quite developed, especially in the area of literary criticism, the author has formulated a critical apparatus that sometimes surpasses the importance of the commentary itself. Specialists will find in this work a great number of interesting observations and references. This work deserves to be placed among the best commentaries on Ezechiel.

2) Gesù e la fine di Gerusalemme (Jesus and the Destruction of Jerusalem). This work deals solely with Jesus' prophecy concerning the destruction of Jerusalem, without any references or allusions to the end of the world. Fr. Benoît, in his review published in Revue Biblique (#59, 1952, starting on p.119), wrote that he found "this exegesis to be excellent," and he "approved of it completely." C. Spicq, in Revue des Sciences Philosophiques et Théologiques (#36, 1951), applauded the work, saying that its "necessity will increase as time goes on."

3) Pilato(IPAG, Rovigo 1973, 215 pages). Fr. Bernini, SJ., a former professor of Sacred scripture at Gregorian University, wrote the following in his review published in Civiltà Cattolica (March 6, 1976, p.519):

The well-known exegete from the Pontifical University of the Lateran, exercising his extraordinary erudition, and using his skills in examining problems in literary and historical criticism, wished to examine the old problem of Pontius Pilate...

With the goal of establishing the historicity of the Gospel of Matthew, and of demonstrating how the Jewish sources referring to Pilate are without foundation.

The book was written with ease and agility - indeed, with the erudition of a true master.


Having established the identity of the various persons involved, let us now turn our attention to the facts of the case.

Starting around 1950, the students of the Pontifical Biblical Institute began informing Msgr. Romeo about the "novelties" that some of the Jesuits there were teaching them concerning the nature of the divine inspiration of the Sacred Books. They were taught that inspiration was no longer considered to be personal, but collective, and that inerrance was limited only to passages concerning dogma. Such novelties were closely linked to the acceptance of the latest rationalist systems (Bultmann-Dibelius) of Formengeschichte and Redaktiongeschichte, which were based on the denial of the authenticity and historicity of the Gospels.

At the Institute, Leone Algisi and Luigi Moraldi, both of whom eventually left the priesthood, were among those who boasted about these novelties, claiming that they were taught by Pius XII himself in the Encyclical Divino Afflante Spiritu (1943). These same ideas are now being peddled by Romano Penna, Gianfranco Ravasi, and other former students from the Pontifical Biblical Institute.


In those years, Msgr. Romeo was a compiler in Sacred Scripture for the Enciclopedia Cattolica. He entrusted the expression "Original Sin" to Msgr. Spadafora, who was a professor at the Lateran, saying, "the students of the Biblical Institute tell me that Fr. Lyonnet has developed an original exegesis for Romans 5:12." Spadafora then called upon Fr. Lyonnet, his former classmate (1936-1939), who allowed him to read his interpretation of the above passage.

The years passed by, and on September 3, 1960, in La Civiltà Cattolica (pp.449-460), Alonso Schökel, S.J., came up with eleven pages of gratuitous assertions in which he pretended to justify the "novelties" that had already been taught for years at the Pontifical Biblical Institute, attributing them to Pius XII's Divino Afflante Spiritu, (which he tried to place in opposition to Leo XIII's Providentissimus Deus).


It was in this manner that the Pontifical Biblical Institute unveiled its designs. Its new program consisted in a radical shift that went against all the directives given by the Magisterium on Catholic exegesis. In this program, the Jesuits at the Institute had adopted the two latest rationalist methods which were then in fashion, pretending that the changes were attributable to Pius XII. They did this by interpreting Divino Afflante Spiritu in their own way, and by ignoring Humani Generis altogether. According to these new systems, all dogmatic principles were pushed aside, Biblical science became purely philological and historical in nature, and the wall separating Catholics and rationalist Protestants was torn down.


The reaction of the Roman exegetes took shape in Msgr. Romeo's erudite critical study, "The Encyclical Divino Afflante Spiritu and the Opiniones Novae" in Divinitas (#4, 1966, pp.378-456}, in which he states the following:

Today, after the death of the great Pius XII, and with seventeen years of hindsight [since the publication of Divino Affiante Spiritu], Fr. Alonso tells us that there was a novelty, a transformation, introduced by Divino Affiante Spiritu that will: "open up a new, wide path." We find nothing in the documents of Pius XII and John XXIII...even remotely suggesting that novelties, an opening of doors, or new liberties were conceded by the Supreme Magisterium in 1943.

This was the central theme of Msgr. Romeo's article. He wished to demonstrate the continuity of the Supreme Magisterium on the question by examining various documents, beginning with Humani Generis. He then brought forth evidence which had been: "authorized first hand, and which could be called unofficial." This evidence was the very explicit commentary on Divino Afflante Spiritu by Cardinal Agostino Bea, who was at that time Rector of the Pontifical Biblical Institute. This commentary, which was published in La Civiltà Cattolica (#94, 1943-1944, pp.212-224), seems to have been completely ignored by Fr. Alonso.

In conclusion, Msgr. Romeo wrote that: 

...there is therefore absolutely nothing, not even a chance indication of any kind in the Encyclical..., nor is there anything in Cardinal Bea's authorized commentary that indicates this [and in fact, his commentary was probably authorized, since Fr. Bea was advisor to the Holy Office and confessor to Pius XII. Nothing in these documents could substantiate the opinion being circulated...that this great Encyclical had broken with the previous directives of the Supreme Magisterium, or that it had the intention of giving a new orientation to Catholic exegesis.

In any case, it is clear, for anyone reading Divino Affiante Spiritu, (and it becomes even clearer when studying Humani Generis), that the Biblical Encyclical of the great Pius XII adheres completely to Providentissimus, which it confirms, expands upon, and clarifies on various points; and it is, indeed, through Providentissimus that we are linked to the spirit, the principles, and the norms of uninterrupted Tradition on the veneration of the Word of God, through strict and arduous exegetical work.

Spadafora intervened at this point, writing an article for Divinitas (#2, 1960, pp.289-298), entitled Romans 5:12: Exegeses and Dogmatic Reflections. The article had been requested by Cardinal Parente, assessor to the Holy Office, in response to Fr. Stanislas Lyonnet's article "Le péché originel et l'exégèse de Rm. 5:12" ("Original Sin and the Exegesis of Romans 5:12"}, published in Recherches de Sciences Religieuses (Research in Religious Science, #44, 1956, pp.63-84).

As we have already said, Spadafora had examined this document some years before. Upon returning it to Fr. Lyonnet, he brought it to the latter's attention that the exegesis proposed was untenable, since it was irreconcilable with Catholic doctrine.

In response to Cardinal Parente's request, Msgr. Spadafora refuted point by point the various arguments put forth by Lyonnet, who tried to prove that the passage from Romans 5:12 ("Wherefore as by one man sin entered into this world, and by sin death; and so death passed upon all men, in whom all have sinned.") was not to be taken as an affirmation of Original Sin, but to mean, rather, that "all have sinned" in "imitation of Adam." He would have us believe that this passage refers only to personal sins, whereas the entire context (5:12-20) clearly states that "by the offense of one...many were made sinners."

There was something even more grievous about the novelties proposed by Lyonnet - namely, that the meaning of Romans 5:12 had already been solemnly defined by the Council of Trent in two canons on Original Sin.

In order to make a judgment in this case, the Holy Office intervened by imposing silence on the two parties, who were asked to present their respective arguments. After hearing both sides, the Holy Office suspended Lyonnet and Zerwick from teaching, and had them leave Rome. Then on June 20, 1961, the Supreme Congregation of the Holy Office published the following Monitum (warning or admonition), primarily in order to defend the historicity of the Canonical Gospels:

While the study of Biblical subjects is being actively developed, opinions and judgments are circulating in various places that endanger the historical and objective truth of Holy Scripture, not only for the Old Testament (something which the Sovereign Pontiff Pius XII had lamented in the encyclical Humani Generis, cf. A.A.S.) but also for the New Testament; and sometimes these opinions even concern the words and acts of Christ Jesus. Since opinions and judgments such as these are of such great concern to pastors and to the faithful, the most eminent Fathers, who are the overseers of the defense and doctrine of the Faith and of morals, have considered it their duty to warn all those who treat of Holy Scriptures, in writing or in speech, to handle such grave questions with the respect that is due to them. They ask that they might take into consideration the doctrines of the Fathers, the mind of the Church and of the Magisterium, so that the consciences of the faithful are not offended.


This monitum of the Holy Office, and the measures taken against the Jesuits Lyonnet and Zerwick, should have swept away any modernist interpretations of the Encyclical Divino Afflante Spiritu. It should have given a death blow to those overtures being made to the "history of forms" (Formengeschichte) and to the "history of redaction" (Redaktiongeschichte), which are Protestant in nature, and which spring from the "negation of historical and objective truth" of the "words and acts of Jesus Christ." On the contrary, the Council, the pontificate of Paul VI, and the period after the Council brought about a complete change of course in favor of modernism.

Courrier de Rome, April 1994


They Think They've Won! << Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, PartV,
, Part VII, Part VIII, Part IX
A New Exegesis << second article


Courtesy of the Angelus Press, Kansas City, MO 64109
translated from the Italian
Fr. Du Chalard
Via Madonna degli Angeli, 14
Italia 00049 Velletri (Roma)

Home | Newsletters | Library | Vocations | History | Links | Search | Contact