The Word of the Lord: 7 Essential Principles for Catholic Scripture Study (2012)

SMITH, Steven C.


  • Moral assessment: (P-A2) Readers with basic Christian formation
  • Public: Generic

Very worthy book which does a good job as a basic introduction to Sacred Scripture, explaining such themes as the truth of Scripture, inspiration (though lightly), God’s word in the Church, interpretation, etc. Though relatively short it packs a lot in and will help a student have confidence in the Bible’s truth and splendour. It is occasionally a little bit "black and white" and lacking nuance but I would see this as a minor defect. The author does, for example, show awareness of and engage with the prevailing Protestant and Liberal scholarship, while clearly pointing out its limitations. One possible example of a slightly simplistic approach is seen when the author affirms that the Old Testament is "just as inspired" as the New, but afterwards doesn't address same issues about its interpretarion. While everything in the Old Testament is there without error through the inspiration of God. He inspired the sacred writer to ensure that he "consigned to writing whatever He wanted written and no more" (DV 12 § 3); it is also true that the Old Testament contains "matters imperfect and provisional" (CCC 122, quoting DV 15): i.e. the degree of truth affirmed is lower and more fragile in its context. This topic needs a lot of subtle thought. What is affirmed in some rather random Old Testament text is not at the same level as what is affirmed in the Gospels about Jesus. Both are fully true but not necessarily equally true because the intensity of reality and life is far greater in the latter case. The section on canon is a bit limited and the author hardly touches questions of interpretation and the debate around the issue today. The book would be a useful resource for students to have and be able to read or refer to. J.E. (U.K., 2017)

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What do the moral assessments mean in relation to works of literature?

The assessments are divided into two groups, one for Literature (L) and the other for Thought (P). For Literature the assessments are as follows:

  •  L-A1: Nothing morally inappropriate.
  •  L-A2: Nothing morally inappropriate, although may be unsuitable for younger readers (e.g. because there are topics requiring a certain maturity on the part of the reader).
  •  L-B1: Some morally inappropriate content.
  •  L-B2: Contains significant sections contrary to faith or morals.
  •  L-C1: Contains some lurid passages, or presents a general ideological framework that could confuse those without much Christian formation.
  • L-C2: Contains several lurid passages, or presents an ideological framework that is contrary or foreign to Christian values.
  •  L-C3: Explicitly contradicts Catholic faith or morals, or is directed against the Church and its institutions.

What do the moral assessments mean in relation to non-fiction works?

Works of Thought (P) are assessed according to the degree of knowledge required to evaluate the implications of affirmations made with respect to the Christian faith.

  • P-A1 or P-A2: These books present doctrinal matters in accordance with the teaching of the Church as set out, for example, in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. They avoid complicated topics and subjects not yet theologically settled. They are grouped according to whether or not they require a certain minimum of Christian formation.
    •  P-A1: General readership.
    •  P-A2: Readers with general cultural or basic Christian formation.
  • P-B1 or P-B2: To appreciate how certain topics impinge on the faith, the reader requires a good cultural formation with respect to the matters dealt with (P-B1), or even university-level studies in these areas (P-B2). In particular, these books may take for granted certain widely-held opinions opposed to the faith, even though such ideas may not be central to their argument – and can be easily detected by readers with a certain amount of formation.
    •  P-B1: Requires prior general knowledge of the subject.
    •  P-B2: Readers with Christian formation and knowledgeable about the subject matter.
  • P-C1, P-C2 or P-C3: Because of the implications of the topics dealt with, or the need to be aware of the reasons why some of the theories set out in the book are invalid, it is always necessary for the reader to have very good formation in the area in question, whether university-level (P-C1) or specialist (e.g. a doctorate: P-C2). Hence the assessments place emphasis on the objective content of the book, rather than on its possible readership. The P-C3 assessment is reserved for those works which set out to contradict or deny certain aspects of the faith or the teachings of the Catholic Magisterium.
    •  P-C1: Contains doctrinal errors of some importance.
    •  P-C2: Whilst not being explicitly against the faith, the general approach or its main points are ambiguous or opposed to the Church’s teachings.
    •  P-C3: Incompatible with Catholic doctrine.

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