According to the New Catholic Encyclopaedia, the Commission's official function was (and still is),
Commission would further undertake to ensure that scholars 'Endeavour
to safeguard the authority of the scriptures and to promote their
Most graduates of the Ecole are placed by the Commission as professors in seminaries and other Catholic institutions. Of the Commission's nineteen official 'consultants' today, a number are influential in determining what the general public learns of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Thus, for instance, Father Jean-Luc Vesco, the current head of the Ecole Biblique and a member of the Revue biblique's editorial board, is also a member of the Pontifical Biblical Commission.
So, too, is at
least one other member of the journal's editorial board, Jose Loza.
So, too, is a prominent writer on the scrolls, a Jesuit named Joseph
Fitzmyer, who has compiled the official concordance for much of the
The timing of de Vaux's appointment is interesting. In 1955, it must be remembered, much of the crucial and controversial 'sectarian' material from Cave 4 was still being purchased and collated. In December of that year, indeed, the Vatican laid out money for a number of important fragments. In 1955, too, the 'Copper Scroll' was unrolled in Manchester, under John Allegro's auspices, and Allegro himself was beginning to go public in a potentially embarrassing fashion. The Vatican thus became aware, for the first time, of the kind of problems it might have to face in connection with the Qumran material then coming to light.
The ecclesiastical hierarchy almost certainly felt the need of some sort of 'chain of command', or, at least, 'chain of accountability', whereby some measure of control could be exercised over Qumran scholarship. In any case, it is significant, if not particularly surprising, that from 1956 on, every director of the Ecole Biblique has also been a member of the Pontifical Biblical Commission.
When de Vaux died in
1971, the Commission's list of 'consultants' was updated to include
the name of his successor at the Ecole, Father Pierre Benoit.5 When
Benoit died in 1987, the new director, Jean-Luc Vesco, became a
'consultant' to the Commission in turn.6
In 1909, a similar decree affirmed the literal and historical accuracy of the first three chapters of Genesis. More recently, on 21 April 1964, the Commission issued a decree governing biblical scholarship in general and, more specifically, the 'historical truth of the Gospels'. The decree was quite unequivocal, stating that 'at all times the interpreter must cherish a spirit of ready obedience to the Church's teaching authority'.8
It further declared that those in charge of any
'biblical associations' are obliged to 'observe inviolably the laws
already laid down by the Pontifical Biblical Commission'.9 Any
scholar working under the Commission's aegis - and this, of course,
includes those at the Ecole Biblique - is thus in effect constrained
by the Commission's decrees. Whatever conclusions he might reach,
whatever the revelations to which his research might lead him, he
must not, in his writing or his teaching, contradict the
Commission's doctrinal authority.
that, it was called the Holy Inquisition. Cardinal Ratzinger is, in
effect, the Church's modern-day Grand Inquisitor.
Ratzinger is perhaps the closest to the Pope
of all the Curia cardinals. Certainly they have many attitudes in
common. Both wish to restore many pre-Vatican II values. Both
dislike theologians. Ratzinger sees theologians as having opened the
Church up to corrosive secular influences. A deeply pessimistic man,
he feels that the Church is 'collapsing', and only the suppression
of all dissent can assure its survival as a unified faith. He
regards those who do not share his pessimism as 'blind or
As in the Middle Ages, all
investigations are conducted and pursued under conditions of total
In 1969, for example, eight of the twelve cardinals presiding over the Congregation also presided over the Commission.11 A number of individuals acted as 'consultants' for both. At last, on 27 June 1971, Pope Paul VI, in an attempt to streamline bureaucracy, amalgamated the Commission and the Congregation in virtually everything but name. Both were housed in the same offices, at the same address - the Palace of the Congregation at Holy Office Square in Rome. Both were placed under the directorship of the same cardinal.
On 29 November 1981, that
cardinal became Joseph Ratzinger.
In 1974, Schillebeeckx had published a book,
Jesus: An Experiment in Christology. In this work, he appeared, in
the eyes of his adversaries, to be questioning the literal truth of
certain dogma, such as the Resurrection and the Virgin Birth. In
December 1979, Schillebeeckx was hauled before a tribunal of the
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, where one of his judges
publicly accused him of heresy. He survived his investigation by the
tribunal, but in 1983 he was again summoned to a tribunal of the
Congregation, this time for his latest book, Ministry: A Case for
If only tentatively, he had questioned the Church's position on celibacy. He had sympathized with arguments for the ordination of women. Most seriously of all, he had suggested the Church should 'change with the times' rather than remaining fettered to immutably fixed doctrines.12
The Church, he contended, should respond to, and evolve with, the needs of its faithful, instead of imposing draconian codes upon them. He had argued, in short, for a dynamic pastoral approach, as opposed to the static one favored by Pope John Paul II and Cardinal Ratzinger. Once again, Schillebeeckx survived the Congregation's investigation and interrogation.
To this day, however, he remains under
scrutiny, and his every word, written or spoken, is carefully
monitored. It goes without saying that such assiduously vigilant
surveillance will exert a profoundly inhibiting influence.
But Küng was also controversial. In his book Infallible?, first published in German in 1970 and in English the following year, he challenged the doctrine of papal infallibility - which, one must remember, had never existed in the Church until 1870 and had only then been established by a vote. 'No one is infallible', Küng wrote, 'but God himself.'13 Further, 'the traditional doctrine of infallibility in the Church... rests on foundations that cannot be regarded as secure'.14
Küng also recognized the distinction between theology and history, and the former's propensity to parade itself as the latter. He attacked the sophistry of such Church 'scholars' as Cardinal Jean Danielou, who, in 1957, had published The Dead Sea Scrolls and Primitive Christianity, a work primarily of theological propaganda:
After the election of John Paul II, Küng was critical of the new pontiff's rigidity in morals and dogma.
Was John Paul II really free, Küng wondered, of the personality cult which had bedeviled earlier popes; and was he not perhaps excessively preoccupied with doctrine, at the expense of 'the liberating message of Christ'?
Küng's outspokenness made him, of course, an irresistible target for
the inquisitional tribunals of the Congregation for the Doctrine of
the Faith. Having evaluated his statements, the tribunal accordingly
passed judgment. On 18 December 1979, the Pope, acting on the formal
recommendation of the Congregation, stripped Küng of his post and
pronounced him no longer qualified to teach Roman Catholic doctrine.
He was informed that he was no longer a Catholic theologian, and was
forbidden to write or publish further. Küng himself effectively
summarized what had befallen him: 'I have been condemned by a
pontiff who has rejected my theology without ever having read one of
my books and who always has refused to see me. The truth is that
Rome is not waiting for dialogue but for submission.'18
The Church's teachings, he maintains, are being 'tarnished'
by doubt and questioning. According to one commentator, Ratzinger
seeks 'a return to Catholic fundamentalism... and reasserting the
literal truth of papally-defined dogma'.19 Through the Congregation
for the Doctrine of the Faith, Ratzinger's attitudes determine the
attitudes of the Pontifical Biblical Commission, of which he is also
head, and filter down from there into the Ecole Biblique.
Allowing no flexibility whatever, the new 'Catechism' definitively condemns, along with a catalogue of other things, divorce, homosexuality, masturbation and sexual relations before or outside marriage. It lays down, as basic tenets of the Catholic faith, papal infallibility, the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, as well as the 'Universal Authority of the Catholic Church'.
In one particularly dogmatic passage, the new,
In June, there appeared a second document, published by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and written by Cardinal Ratzinger himself. This document addresses itself specifically to the functions and obligations of the theologian, a term intended to encompass the biblical historian and archaeologist as well. According to this document, approved and endorsed by the Pope, Catholic theologians have no right to dissent from the established teachings of the Church.
Indeed, dissent is itself promoted (or demoted) to the status of an actual 'sin':
If a theologian begins to question Church doctrine, he is thus, by skilful psychological manipulation, made to feel morally tainted for doing so. Any propensity to question is effectively turned back on the questioner and transformed into guilt - something in which the Church has always trafficked most profitably.
In the same document, Cardinal Ratzinger states:
In other words, one is perfectly free to accept the teachings of the
Church, but not to question or reject them. Freedom cannot be
manifested or expressed except through submission. It is a curious
definition of freedom.
The Dead Sea Scrolls, however, are not
articles of faith, but documents of historical and archaeological
importance which belong properly not to the Catholic Church, but to
humanity as a whole. It is a sobering and profoundly disturbing
thought that, if Cardinal Ratzinger has his way, everything we ever
learn about the Qumran texts will be subject to the censorship
machinery of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith - will
be, in effect, filtered and edited for us by the Inquisition.
We personally, in this book, should like to pose publicly certain basic questions to Father Jean-Luc Vesco, the Ecole Biblique's current director.