Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302
The Question Box
by Father I.J. Mikulski
(From the , 2009 edition of the Inland Register)
Q. You often mention the Pontifical Biblical Commission as something we should already be familiar with. I have asked some Catholic friends, but not one of them could tell me although two of them had heard about it. Will you please explain what it is and does?
A. In matters of Bible studies we could call the PBC the department of first resort and last resort.
It was established in 1902 by Pope Leo XIII with its stated purpose “that Holy Writ should everywhere among us receive that more elaborate treatment which the times require and be preserved intact not only from any breath of error but also from all rash opinions.”
In its early years the PBC replied to various contested questions in Biblical research. Was Moses the real and only author of the Pentateuch? Are the early biblical narratives historically correct? How to explain the different genealogies in the Gospels?
A major shift came in 1943 when Pope Pius XII issued Divino Afflanto Spiritu, sometimes called the Magna Carta of Biblical research. Top quality scholars returned to work. In 1971 Pope Paul VI restructured the PBC into a group of 20 prominent Catholic scholars and gave them the task of promoting excellence in every aspect of the Bible.
The PBC comes under the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome. The branch office in Jerusalem is the Ecole Biblique.
Let there be no question about it. The Pontifical Biblical Commission and its young sister, Ecole Biblique, provide the finest scholarship in all fields of Bible study. It’s the best and it’s ours.
Q. Have you noticed this change regarding calendar dates? Once it was easy to distinguish BC and AD, but now my Catholic news magazine has uses CE and BCE without explaining it. What is there to explain?
A. May we introduce our favorite math monk, Dionysius Exiguus – Denis the Short. He may have been small in stature, but he was the big man computing dates and years.
Once upon a time, calendar years were set by simply counting the years since the founding of Rome, center of the Roman Empire and the most prominent city in the civilized world. For about six centuries years, were dated A.U.C., for Ab Urbe Condita – “from the founding of the city.”
Enter Denis. He proposed that the public appearance of Jesus Christ was surely the single greatest event in history, more than all civil observances combined. He used the phrase from Luke 3:23 that Jesus began his public ministry when he was “about 30 years of age.” Denis should have been cautious about that word “about.” He was about four to seven years off the mark.
People who are not Christian prefer “C.E.,” for Christian Era or Common Era, and “B.C.E.” for Before Common Era.
The world’s calendar mix-up was terrible. It was 10 days out of whack and getting worse. In 1582 Pope Gregory XIII, by papal edict, decreed that Oct. 5, 1582, would become Oct. 15, 1582. People went to sleep on the 5th and woke up on the 15th.
But that’s another question.
Q. There are people around here who constantly bring up such things as the End Times, which they say are near and the great tribulation that is also just a matter of time. The Bible says it all, they say, and we are fools for not noticing the signs. In my parish this hasn’t been told. What are we missing?
A. Has there ever been a time when self-anointed seers did not read the signs in the sky, in the Bible and in their minds? On a slow day there is always another prediction.
In the past two years there have been at least three guaranteed forecasts of the end. Each was made by a self-taught expert in the field, supported by pages of Bible quotes for authenticity. One amateur seer said he double-checked his forecast through his computer to prove beyond all doubt that the end is near.
The response of Catholic theology is direct: We can’t use the Bible as a tic-tac-toe toy to predict coming events. That’s a sorry abuse of the Word of God.