I was browsing through Marcus Borg’s new book Convictions (HarperOne) and was surprised when I read the following statement:
“Because believing in inerrancy and absolute authority of the Bible is so widespread today, it is important to realize that this is a Protestant phenomenon. Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Christians (together the vast majority of Christians who have ever lived) have never taught it.” (Emphasis mine. 83-84)
Since I’ve been reading a lot of Catholic theology the past few years this startled me because this is not what I have read.
I’ll start with a quote from Pope Leo XII in his encyclical Proidentissimus Deus (1893) who wrote:
“But it is absolutely wrong and forbidden, either to narrow inspiration to certain parts only of Holy Scripture, or to admit that the sacred writer has erred. For the system of those who, in order to rid themselves of these difficulties, do not hesitate to concede that divine inspiration regards the things of faith and morals, and nothing beyond, because (as they wrongly think) in a question of the truth or falsehood of a passage, we should consider not so much what God has said as the reason and purpose which He had in mind in saying it-this system cannot be tolerated.”
The Catechism of the Catholic Church reads:
“The inspired books teach the truth. ‘Since therefore all that the inspired authors or sacred writers affirm should be regarded as affirmed by the Holy Spirit, we must acknowledge that the books of Scripture firmly, faithfully, and without error teach that truth which God, for the sake of our salvation, wished to see confided to the Sacred Scriptures.'” (para. 107)
The catechism is quoting from a Vatican II document called Dei Verbum. There are some Catholic scholars who believe Vatican II moved in the direction of limited inerrancy. See here for a good discussion and defense that Vatican II made no such move. But even granting that they did move in this direction, which I’m not sure they did, this would still be a version of inerrancy and it would also mean that pre-Vatican II the church maintained plenary inerrancy. Of course, anyone can find dissenting voices and I’m sure there were and are Catholics who don’t maintain inerrancy in any form. That’s not my point. My point is that the official teaching of the church is plenary inerrancy and that this has been the historic teaching of the church.
Borg is simply wrong to assert that Catholics have never taught inerrancy. As for Eastern Orthodox I don’t know but I wouldn’t take Borg’s word for it.