Help support New Advent and get the full contents of this website as an instant download or CD-ROM. Includes the Catholic Encyclopedia, Church Fathers, Summa, Bible and more all for only $19.99...
Biblical criticism in its fullest comprehension is the examination of the literary origins and historical values of the books composing the Bible, with the state in which these exist at the present day.
Since the sacred Scriptures have come down in a great variety of copies and ancient versions, showing more or less divergence of text, it is the province of that department of Biblical criticism which is called textual, or lower, to study these documents with a view to arriving at the purest possible text of the sacred books. The name higher criticism was first employed by the German Biblical scholar Eichhorn, in the second edition of his "Einleitung", appearing in 1787. It is not, as supposed by some, an arrogant denomination, assuming superior wisdom, but it has come into use because this sort of criticism deals with the larger aspects of Bible study; viz., with the authorship, date, composition, and authority of whole books or large sections, as distinguished from the discussion of textual minutiæ, which is the sphere of the lower, or textual, criticism. (See separate article TEXTUAL CRITICISM).
Taken in this limited sense, Biblical criticism, in the light of modern philological, historical, and archæological science, and by methods which are recent in their development, subjects to severe tests the previously accepted and traditional views on the human authorship, the time and manner of composition, of the sacred writings, and discriminates as to their objective historical value. In reaching its results it sets more store on evidences internal to the books than on external traditions or attestations, and its undeniable effect is to depreciate tradition in a great measure, so that there exists a sharply-drawn line between the exegetes of the critical and those of the traditional school. In the process by which the critics arrive at their conclusions there is a divergence of attitude towards the supernatural element in Holy Writ. Those of the rationalistic wing ignore, and at least tacitly deny, inspiration in the theological meaning of the term, and without any doctrinal preoccupations, except some hostile to the supernatural, proceed to apply critical tests to the Scriptures, in the same manner as if they were merely human productions. Moderate critics of Protestant persuasion a school that predominates in Great Britain hold to inspiration and revelation, though with a freedom incompatible with Catholic orthodoxy. Catholic Biblical critics, while taking as postulates the plenary inspiration and the inerrancy of the sacred Writings, admit in a large measure the literary and historical conclusions reached by non-Catholic workers in this field, and maintain that these are not excluded by Catholic faith. With the exception of Abbé Loisy and his followers, no Catholic scholar has claimed autonomy or complete independence for criticism, all proceeding on the principle that it cannot validly, and may not lawfully, contradict the established dogmatic teaching of the Church. Its Christian exponents insist that a reverent criticism is quite within its rights in sifting the elements which enter into human aspects of the Bible, as a means of a better understanding of the written word, since its component parts were given their form by men in certain historical environments and under some of the limitations of their age and place, and since, moreover, inspiration does not dispense with ordinary human industry and methods in literary composition. (See INSPIRATION.)
Higher Criticism may be called a science, though its processes and results do not admit of nicety of control and demonstration, as its principles are of the moral-psychological order. Hence its conclusions, even in the most favourable circumstances, attain to no greater force than what arises from a convergence of probabilities, begetting a moral conviction. While some attempts have been made to elaborate a system of canons for the higher criticism, it has not, and probably never will have, a strictly defined and generally accepted code of principles and rules. Some broad principles, however, are universally admitted by critical scholars. A fundamental one is that a literary work always betrays the imprint of the age and environment in which it was produced; another is that a plurality of authors is proved by well-marked differences of diction and style, at least when these coincide with distinctions in view-point or discrepancies in a double treatment of the same subject. A third received canon holds to a radical dissimilarity between ancient Semitic and modern Occidental, or Aryan, methods of composition.
The early ecclesiastical writers were unconscious of nearly all the problems to which criticism has given rise. Their attention was concentrated on the Divine content and authority of sacred Scripture, and, looking almost exclusively at the Divine side, they deemed as of trifling account questions of authorship, date, composition, accepting unreservedly for these points such traditions as the Jewish Church had handed down, all the more readily that Christ Himself seemed to have given various of these traditions His supreme confirmation. As for the New Testament, tradition was the determining factor here too. As exceptions we may note that Origen concluded partly from internal evidence that St. Paul could scarcely have written the Epistle to the Hebrews, and his disciple Dionysius adduced linguistic grounds for rejecting the Apocalypse as a work of St. John. The Fathers saw in every sentence of the Scripture a pregnant oracle of God. Apparent contradictions and other difficulties were solved without taking possible human imperfection into view. Only in a few isolated passages does St. Jerome seem to hint at such in connexion with history. Except in regard to the preservation of the sacred text there was nothing to elicit a critical view of the Bible in the age of the Fathers, and this applies also to the Scholastic period. Even the Humanist movement preceding the Reformation gave no impulse to the critical spirit beyond fostering the study of the Scriptures in their original languages. It was not a Humanist, but the erratic Reformer Carlstadt, who first broke with tradition on the authorship of an inspired book by declaring that Moses could not have written the Pentateuch, because the account of his death is in the same style as the rest of his book. But though Carlstadt adduced a critical argument he cannot be styled a critic. Hobbes (1651), Pereyre (1655), Spinoza (1670) attacked the Mosaic authorship, but merely incidentally, in works in which anything like a systematic criticism found no place. A French priest, Richard Simon (1638-1712), was the first who subjected the general questions concerning the Bible to a treatment which was at once comprehensive in scope and scientific in method. Simon is the forerunner of modern Biblical criticism. The broadening opportunities for the study of Oriental languages, a keen and methodical mind, probably, too, a reaction against the rigid view of the Bible which reigned amongst both Catholics and Protestants of the age were the factors which produced Simon's first great work, the "Histoire critique du Vieux Testament's, which was published in 1678. In this he called attention to the double narratives and variation of style in the Pentateuch, and thence deduced that, aside from the legal portion, which Moses himself had written down, much of the remaining matter was the work of several inspired annalists, a class to whom are due the later historical books, and who in subsequent generations added touches to the inspired histories by their predecessors. This theory did not survive its author, but the use of internal evidence by which Simon arrived at it entitles him to be called the father of Biblical criticism. His novel view of the Mosaic books excited only condemnation, and his critical work, being an isolated effort which did not win the support of a school, found appreciation only in recent times. A continuously developing higher criticism was not to begin till the middle of the eighteenth century. But a capital distinction is to be made between criticism as applied to the Old and as applied to the New Testament. The two have followed different courses. O. T. criticism has been developed along the lines of linguistic and historic research. Philosophico-religious prejudices have been kept in the background. But in respect to the New Testament, criticism began as the outgrowth of philosophic speculations of a distinctly anti-Christian character and, as exercised by rationalists and liberal Protestants, has not yet freed itself from the sway of such a priori principles, though it has tended to grow more positive that is, more genuinely critical in its methods.
In 1753 Jean Astruc, a French Catholic physician of considerable note, published a little book, "Conjectures sur les mémoires originaux dont il paraît que Moïse s'est servi pour composer le livre de la Genèse", in which he conjectured, from the alternating use of two names of God in the Hebrew Genesis, that Moses had incorporated therein two pre-existing documents, one of which employed Elohim and the other Jehovah. The idea attracted little attention till it was taken up by a German scholar, who, however, claims to have made the discovery independently. This was Johann Gottfried Eichhorn, the author of an Introduction to the O. T., issued 1780-83, and distinguished by vigour and scientific acumen. Eichhorn was indebted not a little to his friend Herder, the noted German littérateur, and the two conjointly originated the critical habit of looking upon the O. T. as a collection of Oriental literature whose several parts are to be read and interpreted as the productions of the Semitic genius. Eichhorn greatly developed Astruc's hypothesis by observing that the Elohim and Jehovah sections of Genesis bear other characteristics, and by extending the analysis thus derived to the whole Pentateuch. But the German savant was not so orthodox an adherent of the Mosaic authorship as was Astruc, since he left to the Hebrew legislator a very uncertain part of the work. When Eichhorn composed his "Introduction" he was somewhat influenced by free-thinking views which later became very pronounced. His criticism, therefore, had as its antecedents not only Astruc's fruitful conjecture and Herder's poetic insight into Oriental literature, but also eighteenth-century German rationalism. This was in part native to the soil, but it drew much nurture from the ideas of the English Deists and Sceptics, who flourished towards the end of the seventeenth century and in the first part of the eighteenth. Such authors as Blount (1654-93) and Collins (1676-1729) had impugned miracles and prophecy and in general the authority of the O.T. writings. The standpoint of the German Orientalist Reimarus was that of the English Deists; the whole drift of his "Wolfenbüttel Fragments", first appearing 1774-78, is one of antagonism to the supernatural. Lessing (1729-81), his literary executor, without departing so offensively from the path of orthodoxy, defended the fullest freedom of discussion in theological matters. Contemporary with Lessing was J. S. Semler, who rejected inspiration, attributed a mythical character to episodes in O.T. historical books, and, on lines parallel to Lessing's philosophy of religion, distinguished in Scripture elements of permanent and others of transitory and negligible value.
Eichhorn is the first typical representative of modern Biblical criticism, the especial home of which has been Germany. He gave the first impulse to the literary analysis of the Scriptures, applying it not only to the Pentateuch, but also to Isaias and other portions of the O. T. Outside of Germany the views of Eichhorn and his school found little currency. Yet it was a Catholic priest of Scottish origin, Alexander Geddes (1737-1802), who broached a theory of the origin of the Five Books (to which he attached Josue) exceeding in boldness either Simon's or Eichhorn 's. This was the well-known "Fragment" hypothesis, which reduced the Pentateuch to a collection of fragmentary sections partly of Mosaic origin, but put together in the reign of Solomon. Geddes' opinion was introduced into Germany in 1805 by Vater. For the fuller account of this and later stages of the criticism of the Pentateuch the reader is referred to the article under that heading. With some essays of a young scholar, De Wette, which were published 1805-07, properly began the historical criticism of the Bible. De Wette joined to the evidences supplied by vocabulary and style (i.e. those of literary criticism) arguments drawn from history, as contained in the sacred narratives themselves, and the discoveries of antiquarian research. He refused to find anything but legend and poetry in the Pentateuch, though he granted it a unity of plan, and a development in accordance with his conception of Israel's history, thus laying the foundation for the leading hypothesis of the present day. De Wette's ideas also furnished the basis for the Supplement-theory, systematized later by Bleek and others. He was the first to attack the historical character of the books of Paralipomenon, or Chronicles. Bleek (1793-1859), Ewald (1803-75), and the Catholic Movers (1806-56), while following critical methods, opposed the purely negative criticism of De Wette and his school, and sought to save the authenticity of some Mosaic books and Davidic psalms by sacrificing that of others. Bleek revived, and brought into prominence, the conclusion of Geddes, that the book of Josue is in close literary connexion with the first five books of the Bible, and thenceforth the idea of a Hexateuch, or sixfold work, has been maintained by advanced exegetes. Hupfeld, in 1853, found four instead of three documents in the Pentateuch, viz., the first Elohist, comprising the priestly law, a second Elohist (hitherto unsuspected except by a forgotten investigator, Ilgen), the Jehovist, and the Deuteronomist. He allowed to none of these a Mosaic origin. With Hupfeld's view the idea of one large source, or Grundschrift, supplemented by smaller ones, began to give place to the "Document" hypothesis. Meanwhile these conclusions, so subversive of ancient traditions regarding the Five Books, were stoutly contested by a number of German scholars, prominent among whom stood Ranke, Hävernick, Hengstenberg, and Keil, among Protestants; and Jahn, Hug, Herbst, and Welte, representing Catholic learning. These, while refusing to allow the testimony of Jewish tradition to be ruled out of court as invalid against internal evidence, were compelled to employ the methods of their adversaries in defending the time-honoured views. The questions were agitated only in countries where Protestantism predominated, and, among these, in England the conservative views were strongly entrenched.
The critical dissection of books was and is accomplished on the ground of diversity of vocabulary and style, the phenomena of double narratives of the same event varying from each other, it is claimed, to the extent of discrepancy, and differences of religious conceptions. The critics appeal for confirmation of this literary analysis to the historical books. For example, Moses could not have enacted an elaborate ritual legislation for a people leading a nomad life in the desert, especially since we find (say the critics) no trace of its observance in the earliest periods of Israel's settled existence. These and like tests are applied to nearly every book of the O. T., and result in conclusions which, if allowed, profoundly modify the traditional beliefs regarding the authorship and integrity of these Scriptures, and are incompatible with any strict notion of their inerrancy.
The Hegelian principle of evolution has undoubtedly influenced German criticism, and indirectly Biblical criticism in general. Applied to religion, it has powerfully helped to beget a tendency to regard the religion of Israel as evolved by processes not transcending nature, from a polytheistic worship of the elements to a spiritual and ethical monotheism. This theory was first elaborated by Abram Kuenen, a Dutch theologian, in his "Religion of Israel" (1869-70). Without being essential to, it harmonizes with the current system of Pentateuchal criticism, sometimes called "the Development Hypothesis", but better known as "the Grafian". This hypothesis is accepted today by the great body of non-Catholic Biblical scholarship. It makes the Pentateuch a growth formed by the piecing and interlacing together of documents representing distinct epochs. Of these the oldest is the Jehovistic, or J, dating from the ninth century B.C.; E, the Elohistic work, was composed a little later. These elements are prophetic in spirit and narrative in matter. D, the Deuteronomic Code, was the organ and instrument of the prophetic reform under Josias; it appeared 621 B.C.P, the great document containing the Priestly Code, was drawn up after the Babylonian Exile, and is the outcome of the sacerdotal and ritual formalism distinguishing the restored Jewish community; it therefore dates from the fifth century B.C. This ingenious and coherent hypothesis was formulated first by E. Reuss of the University of Strasburg, but presented to the public many years later (1866) by his disciple H. K. Graf. It was skilfully elaborated by Julius Wellhausen, professor (in 1908) at the University of Göttingen, in works published in 1883 and 1889 ("Prolegomena to the History of Israel" and "Composition of the Hexateuch and the Historical Books of the O. T."), and today it dominates the critical treatment of the Hexateuch. The shifting of the Priestly Code (formerly called the First Elohist) from the earliest to the latest in time, a characteristic of the Grafian system, has had a marked influence on the drift of O. T. criticism in general, notably with regard to the books of Paralipomenon. It has reversed the chronological order of the prophetical and priestly elements running through the greater part of the O. T.
Only within the last two decades has higher criticism made notable progress in English-speaking lands, and this has been rendered possible by the moderation of its leading spokesman there. Foremost among these semi-orthodox critics of the O. T. is Professor Driver of Oxford, whose "Introduction to the Literature of the Old Testament" first appeared in 1891. W. Robertson Smith in "The Old Testament and the Jewish Church" had previously (1880), though less systematically, presented the Grafian hypothesis to the English-speaking world. The results of British conservative criticism are embodied in Hastings' "Dictionary of the Bible", while the radical wing in England is represented by the "Encyclopædia Biblica" edited by Professors Cheyne and Black. In America most of the conclusions of German criticism have found advocates in Professors C.H. Briggs ("The Bible, the Church and Reason", 1892; "Higher Criticism of the Hexateuch", 1893), H.P. Smith, and C.H. Toy.
The higher criticism claims to have discerned great inequalities in the value of those portions of the O. T. which are historical in form. In the same book we may find, it asserts, myth, legend, and material of real historical worth, the last of these elements being abundant in Judges and the Books of Kings, though even here a careful sifting must be used. In parts of the Hexateuch, especially in the priestly document and the cognate Paralipomenon writing, history is freely idealized, and existing institutions are projected artificially into the remote past. Esther, Tobias, Judith, Jonas, and portions of II Machabees belong to the class of Jewish Haggadah, or moralizing fictions. The Psalms have few if any compositions by David; they are the religious poetry of Israel. Isaias is a composite, containing messages of prophets widely separated in time and circumstances. The prophets spoke and wrote primarily in view of definite contemporary situations. Job is an epic, and Canticles a pastoral drama. The book of Daniel is an apocalypse of the Machabean period, describing history of the past and present under the semblance of visions of the future. To conclude this outline of the critical results, the human element in Scripture is given prominence and represented as clothed with the imperfections, limitations, and errors of the times of its origin; many books are exhibited as the products of successive literary accretions, excluding any unity of authorship; in fact, for most of the histories, the unknown writers retire into the shadow to give place to the unifying labours of the equally unknown "redactor" or "redactors".
This has been aided by the antithesis between the conclusions of certain Assyriologists of note (viz., A. H. Sayce and F. Hommel) and the prevailing school of criticism. Recent discoveries in Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Persia prove that a developed civilization existed in Western Asia in times contemporary with Abraham, and earlier. (See BABYLONIA; ASSYRIA.) The inference drawn by the above scientists (Sayce, "Higher Criticism and the Verdict of the Monuments", 1895; Hommel, "Ancient Hebrew Tradition", tr., 1897) is that the elaborate ritual and legal code of the Israelites could well have been framed by Moses. They charge the critics with not taking Oriental discoveries sufficiently into account, and argue that, since the monuments confirm the substantial truth of some of the historical books, a presumption is raised in favour of the veracity of Hebrew literature in general. The historical character of the narratives is upheld by other considerations of a more minute and technical nature. In America the old views of the Bible were defended with zeal and learning by Dr. William H. Green, of Princeton, author of a series of Biblical works extending from 1863 to 1899; also by E.C. Bissel and W. L. Baxter. In Great Britain the conservatives have been represented in recent times by Alfred Cave, J.J. Lias, and others. In Germany, J. K. F. Keil, who died in 1888, was the last exegete of international name who stood without compromise for tradition. But a contemporary group of Protestant German theologians and Orientalists have championed the claims of the O. T. as a Divinely inspired literature, whose narratives, on the whole, are worthy of belief. Prominent among these are Dr. F. E. König of Bonn ("Neue Prinzipien der alttestamentlichen Kritik", 1902, "Bibel-Babel Frage und die wissenschaftliche Methode", 1904); Julius Böhm, a pastor; Dr. Samuel Oettli, professor at Greifswald. The resistance to the so-called scientific criticism in Germany has been greatly stimulated by the radical positions recently taken by some Assyriologists, beginning with a lecture delivered in 1902 before the German court by Friedrich Delitzsch. The still-continuing discussion it provoked is known as the Bibel-Babel controversy. Delitzsch, Jensen, and their followers contend that the Bible stories of the Creation, the Fall, the Deluge, etc. were borrowed by the Hebrews from Babylonia, where they existed in their pure and original form. This school relegates all the events and personages of Genesis to the region of myths and attributes a Chaldean origin to the Jewish conception of Paradise and Sheol, angels and devils. Of still more recent beginning and extravagant character is the theory of astral myths defended by Stucken, Winckler, and Jeremias, according to which the narrations not only of the Pentateuch, but of large portions of the later books as well, represent in human guise merely the nature and movements of the heavenly bodies.
In replying to the critical systems, conservatives, both Catholic and Protestant, re-enforce the argument from Jewish and Christian traditions by methods borrowed from their opponents; linguistic distinctions are countered by linguistic arguments, and the traditionists also employ the process of comparing the data of one book with another, in an endeavour to bring all into harmony. Not the methods so much as the conclusions of criticism are impugned. The difference is largely one of interpretation. However, the conservatives complain that the critics arbitrarily rule out as interpolations or late comments passages which are unfavourable to their hypotheses. The advocates of tradition also charge the opposite school with being swayed by purely subjective fancies, and in the case of the more advanced criticism, by philosophico-religious prejudices. Moreover, they assert that such a piecemeal formation of a book by successive strata, as is alleged for many parts of the O. T. is without analogy in the history of literature. The Catholic criticism of the O. T. will be described in a separate section of this article.
Before the eighteenth century N. T. criticism did not go beyond that of the Latin and Greek texts, if we except the ancient remarks on the authorship of the Epistle to the Hebrews and the Apocalypse already noticed. When the German Rationalism of the eighteenth century, in imitation of the English Deism of the seventeenth, had discarded the supernatural, the New Testament became the first object of a systematic attack. Reimarus (1094-1768) assailed the motives of its writers and cast aspersions on the honesty of Jesus Himself. J.S. Semler (1725-91) used the greatest latitude in discussing the origin and credibility of the sacred Scriptures, arguing that these subjects should be dealt with without regard to any Divine content. Semler was the first to question the authenticity of N. T. books from a critical standpoint. His exegetical principles, if admitted, would largely destroy the authority of the Gospels. Paulus (1761-1851), professor at Jena and Heidelberg, granted the genuineness of the Gospels, and their authors' honesty of purpose, but taught that in narrating the miraculous and supernatural the Apostles and Evangelists recorded their delusions, and that all the alleged superhuman occurrences are to be explained by merely natural causes. Eichhorn, the pioneer of modern German criticism, carried his inquiries into the field of the New Testament and, beginning with 1794, proposed a theory to explain the similarities and differences of the Synoptic Gospels, i.e. Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Some phases of what is now known as "the Synoptic Problem" were examined by Griesbach as early as 1776, and again, in 1781, by a posthumous essay of Lessing treating of the Evangelists "considered simply as human historians". The problem was first clearly formulated by Lachmann in 1835. The dangerous tendencies of the rationalistic writers were ably combated by J. L. Hug, a Catholic exegete, whose "Introduction to the New Testament" was completed in 1808. Schleiermacher (1768-1834) was the earliest of those German theologians who acknowledge the religious force of the sacred writings, but imperil their authority by a free and independent treatment of their origin and historical contents; his view of the New Testament was influenced by Semler's criticisms. Somewhat akin to Schleiermacher's attitude is that of De Wette, but his conclusions are often negative and doubtful. The Evangelistic school of Protestant German commentators, represented earliest by Guericke, Olshausen, Neander, and Bleek, were in the main adherents to the genuineness and truthfulness of the Gospels, though influenced by the mediating or mystico-rationalistic tendencies of Schleiermacher. As N. T. scholars they belong between 1823 and 1859.
The "Life of Jesus" by David Friedrich Strauss, which appeared in 1835, marked a new departure of view with regard to the New Testament, and made a great sensation. Strauss was an Hegelian and one for whom the "ideas' obscured the objective facts, while it rested upon them. He held that the orthodox conception of Christ was the creature of the ardent Messianic hopes of the Jewish-Christians of the primitive Church, who imagined that Jesus fulfilled the O. T. prophecies, and who, soon after His death, invested His personality and the whole tenor of His life with mythical qualities, in which there was nothing but a bare kernel of objective truth, viz., the existence of a rabbi named Jesus, who was a man of extraordinary spiritual power and penetration, and who had gathered about him a band of disciples. Echoes of these ideas are to be found in Renan's "Vie de Jésus". Strauss's relatively refined philosophy of religion was more in the spirit of the age than the moribund, crude naturalism of Paulus, though it only substituted one form of rationalism for another. The "Life of Jesus" soon called forth refutations, but in the advanced circles of German thought the finishing stroke was not given to it until Ferdinand Christian Baur, the founder of the Tübingen, or "Tendency", school of exegesis and criticism, published the mature fruit of his speculation under the title "Paulus der Apostel Jesu Christi", in 1845. Baur, like Strauss, was a disciple of Hegel, but had taken from that philosopher a different key to the significance of the New Testament, viz., the principle of the evolution of all truth through the conciliation of contradictions. He taught that the New Testament is the outcome of an antagonism between Jewish, or Petrine, and Pauline tendencies in the primitive Church. The Pauline concept of Christianity one of a philosophic and universal order is represented by the Epistles to the Romans, Corinthians, and Galatians, which alone Baur admitted as the certainly authentic works of St. Paul. The Apocalypse was composed in direct opposition to the spirit of the Pauline writings. The above works were written before A.D. 70. Between 70 and 140 appeared St. Matthew's Gospel, Petrine in character; St. Luke's Gospel, Pauline, though retouched in a conciliatory spirit; Acts, adapted similarly to St. Luke; and latest the Gospel of St. Mark, also of an irenic type. This second period is one of transition between antagonism and complete reconciliation. This latter is the note of the third period, reaching to about A.D. 170, which produced the Gospel and Epistles bearing the name of St. John, and the pastoral Epistles, which therefore cannot have come from St. Paul. The scheme excluded the authenticity of all the Gospels. Baur's theory has not survived except in the very mitigated form seen in the works of Hilgenfeld and Pfleiderer. Nevertheless, aside from his philosophic assumptions, the principles and methods of Baur have left a deep impress on later N. T. criticism. He first practised on a consistent and developed plan the habit of scrutinizing the sacred documents themselves for evidences of the times which gave them birth, and led the way in the present critical trend towards a division of the New Testament into Judaistic, Pauline, and Johannine elements.
The Tübingen ideas evoked a reaction against their destructive and purely rationalistic conclusions. This movement has been twofold: on one side it is orthodox Protestant, though critical in its method; this section is the natural continuation of the earlier Evangelistic exegesis, and counts as its ablest representatives Zahn, B. Weiss, and Godet; the other branch is partly the outgrowth of the Schleiermacher school and acknowledges as its founder Albert Ritschl, whose defection from the Tübingen group (1857) proved a serious blow to Baur's system. The Ritschlian theology insists on the religious value of the New Testament, especially in the impression its picture of Christ makes on the individual soul, and on the other hand allows a free rein to the boldest and most searching criticism of the origin and historical worth of the New Testament books, in a blind mystic confidence that nothing that criticism can do will impair their religious value. The indifference of the Ritschlians to the consequences of criticism is also shown towards the miraculous element in our Lord's life and in the New Testament in general. This tendency is very manifest among other contemporary German critics, who, while influenced by Ritschlianism, belong rather to the "scientific" and evolutionary school. Holtzmann, Bousset, Jülicher, Harnack, Schmiedel by critical procedure eliminate from the Gospels, or at least call into doubt, all the miraculous elements, and reduce the Divinity of Christ to a moral, pre-eminent sonship to God, and yet, by a strange inconsequence, exalt the saving and enlightening power of His personality. This latest school, however, admit dates which approach much nearer to the traditional ones than to those of Baur. Harnack, besides affirming the genuineness of all the Pauline Epistles except the pastoral ones, and of Mark and Luke, places the Synoptic Gospels between A.D. 65 and 93, and fixes the year 110 as the latest limit for the Gospel and Epistles of St. John and the Apocalypse.
In Great Britain, N. T. criticism with few exceptions has been moderate and, on the whole, conservative. Excellent service has been done in the defence of contested books by the British divines J. B. Lightfoot, B. F. Westcott, W. H. Sanday, and others. Holland has produced a small group of radical critics, Van Manen, Pierson, Loman, who, with Steck in Germany, have revived Bruno Bauer's total denial of authenticity to St. Paul's Letters. In France and French Switzerland conservatism has been the keynote of the Protestant scholars Pressensé and Godet; a rationalizing evolutionism that of Sabatier. Abbé Loisy's work will be spoken of below.
A brief summary of the situation of particular books in contemporary non-Catholic criticism follows:
The prevalent critical solution of the problem they present is the "two-document" hypothesis, which explains what is common to all of them by supposing that Matthew and Luke drew from the very early Gospel bearing St. Mark's name or an anterior Apostolic document on which Mark is based, and refers the material which is common to Matthew and Luke only to a primitive Aramaic source compiled by one or more immediate disciples of Christ, possibly St. Matthew. St. Luke's Gospel is recognized as authentic; our canonical Mark as at least virtually so.
The integrity and entire genuineness of the Acts of the Apostles have been assailed by a few recent critics: Hilgenfeld, Spitta, Clemen. They would analyze the work into a number of sections, by different authors, including St. Luke, rearranged by successive editors, and containing materials varying much in value. No conscious falsification was used, but legendary narratives crept in. These critics are by no means unanimous as to particulars.
Romans, Corinthians, and Galatians are acknowledged by all serious scholars to be authentic writings of the Apostle of the Gentiles. About Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Thessalonians, and Philemon there is diversity of opinion. First Thessalonians is generally admitted to be genuine, but the Pauline authorship of the second letter of that name is strongly contested. The weight of non-Catholic critical opinion is against the authenticity of the pastoral Epistles, viz., the two to Timothy and the one to Titus. The Epistle to the Hebrews is assigned to an Alexandrian Jewish convert, contemporary, or almost so, with St. Paul, and a disciple of his teaching. This is also the view of Catholic exegetes of the new school. First Peter is generally held to be the work of that Apostle, but the composition of Second Peter is placed in the second century, even some Catholics inclining to this date. The question whether the Epistles of St. James and St. Jude are from the pens of the Apostles of those names is variously answered outside the Church.
The authenticity and authority of St. John's Gospel form the great battlefield of present N. T. criticism. They had been attacked as early as 1792 by a certain Evanson. The majority of contemporary critics incline to Harnack's view, which is that the Fourth Gospel was composed by John the Presbyter or the "elder" referred to in a fragment by Papias, and asserted by the Harnackians to be distinct from the Apostle and a disciple of the latter. He wrote in the beginning of the second century. Loisy attributes it to an unknown writer of the second century who had no affiliations with St. John. But the historical value of this Evangel is the more vital aspect of the question. The German school of criticism characterizes the Gospel as theology and symbolism, not history; Loisy agrees with them. The Apostolic authorship and historicity of the Fourth Gospel have been vindicated by such critical scholars as Sanday, Stanton, and Drummond in England, and Zahn and B. Weiss in Germany. Orthodox Catholic exegetes, while always holding to the Catholic tradition of the Johannine authorship and historical quality of the Fourth Gospel, admit that St. John's theology indicates reflection and a development over and beyond that of the Synoptists. The first Epistle of St. John is universally admitted to be by the same hand as the Gospel. The criticism of Apocalypse is still in an immature stage. There is much diversity of view as to its author, the Anglican school inclining to St. John. It has been recently proposed that the book is a Jewish apocalypse retouched by a Christian; so Vischer, Harnack. Nearly all critics acknowledge that there is much apocalyptic element in it, admitting that some of its visions in a veiled manner depict historical situations under the guise of events to come.
France, the country of Richard Simon and Astruc, has been also that of the beginning of the present-day Catholic criticism. François Lenormant, a distinguished Catholic Orientalist, in the preface to his "Origines de l'histoire d'après la Bible et les traditions des peuples Orientaux" (1880-84), declared no longer tenable the traditional unity of authorship for the Pentateuch, and admitted as demonstrated that the fundamental sources of its first four books were a Jehovist and Elohist document, each inspired and united by a "final redactor". Minor discordances exist between them. The earlier chapters of Genesis contain mythical and legendary elements common to Semitic peoples, which in the hands of the inspired writers became the "figured vestments of eternal truths". The same preface bespeaks entire liberty for the critic in the matter of dates and authors. Lenormant's work was placed on the Index, 19 December, 1887. The basis of his literary analysis was supplied by the conclusions of higher criticism, up to that time unaccepted, at least publicly, by any Catholic savant. E. Reuss, a liberal Protestant professor at the university of Strasburg, had published at Paris, in 1879, "L'Histoire Sainte et la Loi; Pentateuque et Josué". In 1883 appeared Wellhausen's influential "Prolegomena to the History of Israel", re-edited in 1889 under the title, "Composition of the Hexateuch and the Historical Books of the O. T."
Alfred Loisy, then professor of Sacred Scripture at the Institut Catholique of Paris, in his inaugural lecture for the course of 1892-93 made a clear-cut plea for the exercise of criticism in the study of the human side of the Bible ("Enseignement Biblique", Nov.-Dec., 1892; reprinted in "Les études bibliques", 1894). In an essay which appeared in 1893, Loisy discussed the "Biblical Question", reasserted the right of Catholic science to treat critically the general aspects of Holy Scripture and also its interpretations, and rejected its absolute inerrancy, while holding to its total inspiration. The historical portions offer data which have only a "relative truth", i.e. with reference to the age in which they were written. The author enumerated conclusions of the criticism which he regarded as fixed; these included the non-Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch, the unhistorical character of the first chapters of Genesis, the development of Biblical doctrine. Early in the same year Mgr. d'Hulst, rector of the Institut Catholique of Paris, had drawn acute attention to the progress of critical ideas in Catholic scientific circles by an article in the "Correspondant" of 25 January, 1893, entitled "La Question Biblique", in which he expressed the opinion that the admission of inaccuracies in Scripture is theologically tenable. The discussion of these questions was the occasion of the encyclical "Providentissimus Deus", issued by Leo XIII, 18 November, 1893, in which the total inerrancy of the Bible was declared to be the necessary consequence of its inspiration. The unwarranted concessions of Catholic writers to rationalistic criticism and the exclusive use of internal arguments against historical authority were condemned as contrary to correct principles of criticism. Sound Biblical criticism was commended. Similar commendation was given in the Apostolic letter. "Vigilantiæ", establishing the Biblical Commission, 30 October, 1902.
In a paper read before the Catholic Scientific Congress of Fribourg, 1897 (Revue Biblique, January, 1898), Father M. J. Lagrange, superior of the Dominican school of Biblical studies at Jerusalem, defended a literary analysis and an evolution of the Pentateuch which are substantially identical with those of the Graf-Wellhausen hypothesis. He distinguished between the tradition that Moses was the historical author or founder of the Pentateuch, which he retained, and the tradition of the Mosaic literary authorship, which he abandoned. Like Loisy, the learned Dominican maintained that the literary methods of the ancient Orient are sharply differentiated from those of our civilization. During the last decade a considerable number of Catholic Biblical scholars have coalesced into what has been called the "progressive" school. Naturally disagreeing somewhat in details, they agree in holding
Nevertheless these exegetes hold firmly to the objective truth of the essential and larger lines of the history of the Old Dispensation as embodied in the Bible. They assert that in general the question of the literary procedure of Biblical writers is not one of faith. Their position has met with repeated attacks by Catholic adherents of the conservative school, who have combated them with arguments drawn chiefly from the irreconcilability of the new views with the Catholic dogmatic tradition of inspiration and inerrancy as witnessed, it is alleged, in the New Testament, the Fathers, the teachings of the councils of Trent and the Vatican, and particularly the encyclical of Leo XIII. (See INSPIRATION). The principal adversaries of the advanced conclusions are the Jesuits Delattre (Autour de la question biblique, 1904), Brucker (contributions to the "Etudes" between 1894 and 1905), Fontaine, Fonck, Pesch, (De Inspiratione Sac. Scrip., 1906), Murillo, Billot; also Professor Hoberg and Abbé Mangenot (L'Authenticité du Pentateuque, 1907).
The Biblical Commission, whose decisions have now the force of acts of the Roman Congregations, declared, 13 February, 1905, that the fallibility of implicit citations in the Bible might be admitted, provided solid arguments prove that they are really citations, and that the sacred writer does not adopt them as his own. The Commission conceded on 23 June, 1905, that some passages may be historical in appearance only, always saving the sense and judgment of the Church. On 27 June, 1906, the commission declared that the arguments alleged by critics do not disprove the substantial authorship of the Pentateuch by Moses. This decision has necessarily modified the attitude of such Catholic writers and teachers as favoured in a greater or less degree the conclusions of the Graf-Wellhausen hypothesis. The decree of the Inquisition "Lamentabili" (3 July, 1907) and the encyclical "Pascendi Dominici Gregis" (8 September, 1907) reasserted against the Modernists the sound, Catholic principles to be followed in the study of Sacred Scripture.
Catholic scholars who were willing to accept some of the critical theories have drawn a line of distinction between the criticism of the Old and that of the New Testament, not only because of the greater delicacy of the latter field, but because they recognize that the documents of the Old and New Dispensations were produced under quite different conditions. In the province of N. T. higher criticism Catholics have defended the traditional authenticity, integrity, and veracity of the books in question. Some exegetes admit in a slight measure divergencies in the Evangelical narratives, and the employment of older documents by at least two of the Synoptic writers. As to the "Synoptic problem", it is allowed that at least St. Luke utilized St. Mark's Gospel; so Batiffol, Minocchi, Lagrange, Loisy, Bonaccorsi, Gigot. Unduly influenced by contemporary German criticism, Abbé Loisy has in recent times broken with the orthodox traditions of N. T. exegesis. In a reply to Harnack's "What is Christianity?" he defended Catholic dogma as an evolution with its roots in the Primitive Church, but made dangerous concessions regarding Christ's claim to Divinity, His Messianic vocation, knowledge, miracles, and Resurrection ("L'Evangile et l'Église", 1902; "Autour d'un petit livre", 1903). In "Le Quatrième Evangile" (1903) Loisy rejects the Johannine authorship and the historicity of the Fourth Gospel, both of which were affirmed by the Biblical Commission (29 May, 1907). His system virtually severs the Catholic Faith from its historical credentials as found in the. N. T., and the above works have been condemned by the Congregation of the Index. They have drawn out a number of refutations from Catholic apologists, such as the Abbé Lepin's "Jésus Messie et Fils de Dieu" (1904). More recently Loisy published a work on the Synoptic Gospels (Les évangiles synoptiques, 1908) in which he follows the most extravagant rationalistic criticism. Loisy was excommunicated 7 March, 1908. As has been remarked, the Church warmly recommends the exercise of criticism according to sound principles unbiased by rationalistic presuppositions, but it must condemn undue deference to heterodox writers and any conclusions at variance with revealed truth. When doubt arises about the permissibility of hypotheses, it is for ecclesiastical authority to decide how far they consist with the deposit of faith or are expedient to the welfare of religion.
(Catholic authors are marked with an asterisk.) From a conservative standpoint: VIGOUROUX*, Les livres saints et la critique rationaliste (Paris, 1886); LIAS, Elements of Biblical Criticism (London, 1893); BLOMFIELD, The Old Testament and the New Criticism (London, 1893); BEATTIE Radical Criticism (Chicago, 1895); ANDERSON, The Bible and Modern Criticism (London, 1902); HÖPFL*, Die höhere Bibelkritik (2nd ed., Paderborn, 1905); art. Criticism in HASTING, Dict. of Christ and the Gospels.
From a critical standpoint: CHEYNE, Founders of O. T. Criticism (New York, 1893); ZENOS, Elements of the Higher Criticism (New York, 1895); NASH, Hist. of the Higher Criticism of the N. T. (New York, 1900); CARPENTER, The Bible in the Nineteenth Century (London, 1903); DRIVER AND KIRKPATRICK, The Higher Criticism (London, 1905); GIGOT*, Higher Criticism of the Bible, in New York Review, March, 1906-April, 1907.
Irenic: GRANNAN*, Higher Criticism and the Bible, in Am. Cath. Quart. Rev., July. 1894; MCFAYDEN, O. T. Criticism and the Christian Church (New York, 1903); PETERS*, Die grundsätzliche Stellung der katholische Kirche zur Bibelforschung (Paderborn, 1905).
APA citation. (1908). Biblical Criticism (Higher). In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04491c.htm
MLA citation. "Biblical Criticism (Higher)." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 4. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908. <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04491c.htm>.
Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Douglas J. Potter. Dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ.
Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. Remy Lafort, Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York.
Contact information. The editor of New Advent is Kevin Knight. My email address is webmaster at newadvent.org. Regrettably, I can't reply to every letter, but I greatly appreciate your feedback — especially notifications about typographical errors and inappropriate ads.