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It seems not to be recognised that the Catholic Church has already spoken definitively to confirm that St Paul is the author of the Letter to the Hebrews.

On 18 th November 1907, Pope Pius X, in his motu proprio Praestantia Scripturae, said this––

[W]e notice that there are not lacking those who have not received, and do not receive… decisions [of the Pontifical Biblical Commission] with the obedience which is proper, even though they are approved by the Pontiff.

Therefore, we see that it must be declared and ordered as We do now declare and expressly order, that all are bound by the duty of conscience to submit to the decisions of the Biblical Pontifical Commission, both those which have thus far been published and those which will hereafter be proclaimed, just as to the decrees of the Sacred Congregations which pertain to doctrine and have been approved by the Pontiff; and that all who impugn such decisions as these by word or in writing cannot avoid the charge of disobedience, or on this account be free of grave sin…

This teaching of the Pope is taken from the Acta Apostolicae Sedis 40 (1907) 724 et seq. It may be found at Denzinger 2113.

What follows are extracts from formal Responses of the Biblical Commission on June 24 th 1914 to various dubia raised for their determination, with the elements of the answers highlighted for clarity of understanding. These Responses are taken from the Acta Apostolicae Sedis 6 (1914) 417 et seq. They may be found at Denzinger 2176 to 2178.

I. Whether so much force is to be attributed to the doubts which in the first centuries possessed the minds of some in the Occident regarding the divine inspiration and Pauline origin of the Epistle to the Hebrews because of the special abuse of heretics that although aware of the perpetual unanimous and continued affirmation of the Oriental Fathers, to which was added after the fourth century the full agreement of the entire Western Church; weighing also the acts of the Highest Pontiffs and of the sacred Councils, especially of Trent, and also the perpetual practice of the Universal Church, one may hesitate to classify it with certainty not only among the canonical––which is determined regarding faith––but also among the genuine epistles of the Apostle Paul?

Response: In the negative.

II. [Pt 1] Whether the arguments which are usually drawn fromthe unusual absence of the name of Paul and the omission of the customary introduction and salutation in the Epistle to the Hebrews––or from the purity of the same Greek language, the elegance and perfection of diction and style––or from the way by which the Old Testament is cited in it and arguments made from it––or from certain differences which supposedly existed between the doctrine of this and of the other epistles of Paul somehow are able to weaken the Pauline origin of the same; or [Pt 2] whether, on the other hand, the perfect agreement of doctrine and opinions, the likeness of admonitions and exhortations, and also the harmony of the phrases and of the words themselves celebrated also by some non-Catholics which are observed between it and the other writings of the Apostle of the Gentiles demonstrate and confirm the same Pauline origin?

Response: In the negative to the first part; in the affirmative to the second.

III. Whether the Apostle Paul is so to be considered the author of this epistle that it should necessarily be affirmed that he not only conceived and expressed it all by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit but also endowed it with that form which characterises it?

Response: In the negative, save for a later judgement of the Church.

What is the effect of these determinations of the Biblical Commision?

1) that St Paul is the author of the Letter;

2) that the involvement of persons other than St Paul in respect of the form which characterises the Letter cannot at this time be excluded but that this issue may be determined by the Church at a later date, whether to affirm the proposition, or to deny it.

If it be objected that this analysis is faulty because it fails to include the first part of the objective clause in the Response to the third dubium––he not only conceived and expressed it all by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit but also––the answer is that it is implicit in the fact that the Letter is part of the Canon of Sacred Scripture that its author conceived and expressed what is in it under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and the first and second Responses from the Biblical Commission determine definitively that that author is St Paul.

* *

So, dear reader, the next time you fulfil the position of Lector in your parish church and find as you approach the first reading that the Lectionary erroneously describes it as A reading from the Letter to the Hebrews, do what the Church wishes you to do and describe it correctly––A reading from the Letter of St Paul to the Hebrews.

Michael Baker
17th March 2005––St Patrick


Since penning The Letter of St Paul to the Hebrews I have read the article of Sean Kopczynski Rediscovering The Decrees Of The Pontifical Biblical Commission, published on the website of the Roman Theological Forum. The article may be viewed on their website at The author shows that the decrees of the Commission from the motu proprio of Pius X in 1907 until after the Second Vatican Council formed part of the Magisterium of the Church, that its decrees continue to bind, and that suggestions by Modernist biblical scholars, like the late Raymond E. Brown, to the contrary are nonsense.