A New Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture General Editor: Rev. R. C. Fuller, D.D., Ph.D., L.S.S.
O.T. Editor: Rev. L. Johnston, S.T.C., L.S.S.
N.T. Editor: Very Rev. C. Kearns, O.P., D.S.S. (Nelson. 8 gns.)
THE original "Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture" (1953) was written and compiled during the years 1944-1951. There were already faint signs of a new and vital development in Biblical studies among British Catholic scholars, but it was on the Continent that the initiative was being taken and the lead given..
The principal cause of the rebirth of Catholic Biblical study was of course Pope Pius Xli's Encyclical Letter, on this subject. entitled Divino Afflante Spiritu published in 1943, in which the Holy Father called for these new approaches and advocated freedom of research. It should be recalled that Roman Catholics had been warned off Biblical criticism at the time of the Modernist crisis in the early 1900s and the ban had stayed in force until 1943.
The Catholic Commentary made a real attempt to implement the directives of the Pope, but solid results cannot be achieved overnight and it must be admitted that the progress manifested in the Commentary was slight indeed. The work however did enjoy a large circulation, both because it was a useful summary of Biblical interpretation and also because at that time Catholics had little else to make use of!
Such however was the speed of development in Biblical study that after a very few years it was becoming increasingly evident that the Commentary was out-ofdate and a new edition urgently necessary. The main defect was that the principles of literary and
historical criticism, which Catholics were now free to apply to the Bible, :played a very small
part in the composition of the Commentary. The Biblical movement in this country had not developed in time for its preparation.
In 1959 therefore, the Commentary Committee met once more to draw up plans for a new edition. Certain articles were judged to be in need of revision only others were rejected as unsurta'ble; and steps were taken to enlist contributors, new ones besides those of the first edition who were still available. For this purpose the Committee made contact with scholars, not only in Great Britain and Ireland but also in the USA, Canada, Australia and other countries.
To enlist the help of American scholars, the General Editor, Dom Bernard Orchard and Dr. R. C. Fuller went over to the United States to attend a meeting of the American Catholic Biblical Association. At one of the sessions Dom Bernard addressed the meeting and told them of our plans for a new edition of the Catholic Commentary, at the same time asking for the assistance of American scholars, During the following years the rate of progress in preparing the Commentary was rather slow. Unfortunately, by contrast, progress in Biblical research and interpretation was extremely rapid The consequence of this was that 'by the early sixties it was becoming clear that our plans were not thorough enough and a much more radical revision, if not actually an entirely new work. was called for.
It had already been decided in 1959 that the new Commentary should be based on the original texts and that the Douay version be discarded as the text on which to comment. Three English versions were recommended as suitable for use with the Commentary, namely the Revised Standard Version, the Confraternity Version (American Catholic) and the Jerusalem Bible. Only the RSV however, at that time, was a complete Bible.
This was still the situation in 1962, but by that time it was clear that certain articles which in 1959 had been thought capable of revision would now have to be replaced by new ones, if the Commentary was to reflect in any adequate way the current position of Biblical research. Hence although the general plan of the first edition was kept, a radical difference of approach was now made and critical principles applied more thoroughly.
This inevitably meant that a large number of differences of interpretation as between Catholics and Protestants now disappeared, and the new Commentary began to take on a more ecumenical look. To reinforce this new development Catholics at this time were given perm:salon to make full use of the RSV (a Catholic edition appeared a few years later in 1966).
Lastly permission was given by the British Bishops to adopt the
common English (or. as we used to say, the Protestant) spelling of Biblical names, in place of the hitherto usual Catholic spelling based on the Latin Vulgate.
In the later stages of preparation therefore it was decided that. though the Commentary was based on the original languages, the RSV would be used for general quotation and also for reference. Apart from ecumenical considerations, the RSV was still the only complete modern Bible available even in 1965; it was remarkably faithful to the original texts and it was the version in widest use throughout the world at least among modern versions.
As regards the authors of articles—sixty-four contributors in all—thirty are from Great Britain, twelve from Ireland, ten from the USA, three from Malta, and the rest from different countries. The question of inviting contributors from other religions was discussed, but in the end it was decided that Catholics could best make their contribution to the Biblical and ecumenical movements by confining the edition to their own work and malting sure that the general tone of the articles was in keeping with the aim of the whole.
We 'believe that two things will be clear from this Com
mentary—first, that the differences between Catholics and Protestants are fast disappearing; and secondly that this development does not mean that Catholics have nothing distinctive to contribute. On the contrary, we believe that the reader will appreciate something of the real contribution which the Church is in a position to make. with its age-old tradition and priceless heritage.
We. are not of course so naive as to think that this new edition (published last month) will fully achieve our ideal. We are welt aware that defects remain in our work and that the articles are of unequal value. Nevertheless it is a sincere and, we believe. an effective attempt to realise that ideal—and will be seen by our readers as a solid and lasting achievement.
The new edition, as already stated. preserves the general plan of the first edition—that is to say. it comments on every Book of the Bible. not word for word or verse by verse, but in sense units and paragraph by paragraph. Besides the articles of cornmentary on every book of the Bible, there arc, as in the first edition. a large number of articles covering every aspect of introduction and background to Bible study.
Of the actual material contained in the. first edition, however, very little remains; probably not more than one fifth of the whole. The new edition therefore can be seen to be, for all practical purposes, a new work; and that is what it should be, in view of the remarkable advances in Biblical knowledge during the last twenty years.