American Catholic Studies
In the pastoral letters of the provincial councils of Baltimore (1829-1849), a dramatic shift occurs in the way Scripture is employed as a source of authority; in the earlier letters, the role of Scripture is commanding and evident, while in the later, it is almost invisible. This article addresses each letter in turn, outlining the ways in which Scripture is employed to illustrate and reinforce the decrees of the provincial councils. The analysis suggests that Scripture's role in the 1829-1840 letters corresponds to the turbulent environment of the Catholic Church in America, especially in relation to Protestant nativist groups, and that its absence in the 1843-1849 letters reflects a shift away from Scripture as a locus of authority. The article concludes by outlining three possibilities for understanding the shift away from Scripture. The pastoral letters of the provincial councils exist as much-neglected aspects of American Catholic history, and this analysis aims to bring at least part of their influence to light.