But a capital distinction is to be made between criticism as applied to the Old and as applied to the New Testament. But in respect to the New Testament, criticism began as the outgrowth of philosophic speculations of a distinctly anti-Christian character and, as exercised by rationalists and liberal Protestants, has not yet freed itself from the sway of such a priori principles, though it has tended to grow more positive that is, more genuinely critical in its methods.
In the process by which the critics arrive at their conclusions there is a divergence of attitude towards the supernatural element in Holy Writ.
Those of the rationalistic wing ignore, and at least tacitly deny, inspiration in the theological meaning of the term, and without any doctrinal preoccupations, except some hostile to the supernatural, proceed to apply critical tests to the Scriptures, in the same manner as if they were merely human productions.
Moderate critics of Protestant persuasion a school that predominates in Great Britain hold to inspiration and revelation, though with a freedom incompatible with Catholic orthodoxy.
Catholic Biblical critics, while taking as postulates the plenary inspiration and the inerrancy of the sacred Writings, admit in a large measure the literary and historical conclusions reached by non-Catholic workers in this field, and maintain that these are not excluded by Catholic faith.
Biblical criticism in its fullest comprehension is the examination of the literary origins and historical values of the books composing the Bible, with the state in which these exist at the present day.
Since the sacred Scriptures have come down in a great variety of copies and ancient versions, showing more or less divergence of text, it is the province of that department of Biblical criticism which is called was first employed by the German Biblical scholar Eichhorn, in the second edition of his "Einleitung", appearing in 1787.
Hobbes (1651), Pereyre (1655), Spinoza (1670) attacked the Mosaic authorship, but merely incidentally, in works in which anything like a systematic criticism found no place.
A French priest, Richard Simon (1638-1712), was the first who subjected the general questions concerning the Bible to a treatment which was at once comprehensive in scope and scientific in method.
The early ecclesiastical writers were unconscious of nearly all the problems to which criticism has given rise.
Their attention was concentrated on the Divine content and authority of sacred Scripture, and, looking almost exclusively at the Divine side, they deemed as of trifling account questions of authorship, date, composition, accepting unreservedly for these points such traditions as the Jewish Church had handed down, all the more readily that Christ Himself seemed to have given various of these traditions His supreme confirmation.
T., issued 1780-83, and distinguished by vigour and scientific acumen.