• Greek: hermeneuo, interpret


The art and science of interpreting the Sacred Writings and of inquiring into their true sense. This science defines the laws which exegetes must follow in order to determine and explain the sense of Holy Writ. It presupposes that the interpreter have a knowledge of scriptural languages, Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, and of Semitic languages generally. Other subsidiary languages and sciences that contribute greatly to the literature of the subject or to a knowledge of the various biblical periods, their social and cultural setting, etc., are regarded as preliminary knowledge required of the exegete. Hermeneutics recognizes a twofold sense of Holy Writ, a literal and a typical. Since the literal sense is also the basis of the typical it is always present. Not every passage of the Bible has a typical sense. Before determining rules of interpretation, it must be kept in mind that the Bible has a twofold aspect: it is a literature written by men, and it is God’s Word entrusted to the Church to guard and explain. As a literature the Bible requires the application of grammatical and rhetorical rules if the literal sense is to be determined. The class of literature to which each book or passage of the Bible belongs must be ascertained. The sense is then arrived at by studying the signification of the words themselves, of these words in their context, proximate and remote, in parallel passages, and in the light of the author’s purpose. Because the Bible is God’s Word the interpreter must treat it with reverence. He cannot admit in it errors attributable to the Author. Primitive texts, i.e., autographs, have to be free from mistakes, but textual corruptions frequently occur in the transmission of the Bible text, however not in matters of faith or morals, and not of a kind that would affect the substantial integrity or trustworthiness of the Text. The Catholic interpreter must accept the Church’s definitions of the sense of Bible passages. The Church, however, has defined but few texts expressly, although in the definition of dogmas and the condemnation of errors many texts are implicitly defined. Furthermore the unanimous consent of the Fathers in interpreting any text of the Bible that pertains to faith or morals cannot be set aside, since the consent of the Fathers in such matters is proof that their interpretation has descended, as a matter of Catholic Faith from the Apostles. The sense once determined is given in translations, paraphrases, glosses, dissertations, and commentaries. See also: exegesis.

MLA Citation

  • “hermeneutics”. New Catholic Dictionary. CatholicSaints.Info. 8 November 2013. Web. 16 January 2019. <>