ROME, MAY 5, 2003 ( The Pontifical Biblical Commission's 100 years of existence have not been easy, but "we look with gratitude and hope on the way that is opening before us," says Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.

The prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, who is president of the biblical commission, made this statement during the commemoration of this centenary, held at the Patristic Institute Augustinianum.

Cardinal Ratzinger said that the commission's first 50 years were characterized by a difficult relation with biblicists, as the "magisterium amplified too much the ambit of certainties and limited the space for exegesis."

In this respect, he mentioned some examples of the magisterium's diffidence toward the historical-critical method used at the time by Protestant exegetes, and viewed with caution and concern by Catholics.

Cardinal Ratzinger said that this tendency changed radically in the second half of the 20th century, especially after the Second Vatican Council and its dogmatic constitution on divine Revelation, "Dei Verbum."

"We are profoundly grateful for the opening that Vatican Council II made possible, but we must not condemn the past, which is part of the process of learning that has enabled us to come thus far and that will always place new challenges before us," the cardinal affirmed Friday.

The president of the Pontifical Biblical Commission stressed the importance of faith based on history. "Faith that knows nothing about historical events is Gnostic," he said. He criticized the abstraction "of faith that reduces it to an idea."

"Faith is based on the Bible: the reality of the birth of Jesus from the Virgin Mary, the effective institution of the Eucharist by Jesus in the Last Supper, the bodily resurrection of the dead, etc., are elements of faith," said Cardinal Ratzinger.

For him, it is important to link faith to reason and vice versa. "Faith and science, magisterium and exegesis are not opposed as ways that are closed in on themselves," he added.

Lastly, the cardinal explained that since 1972, the biblical commission "is not just an organ of the magisterium but a place of meeting and dialogue between representatives of the magisterium and qualified exegetes."

He mentioned some of the commission's most representative documents, such as "The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church," published in 1993.