Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Benedict on Wednesday

From Biblical Interpretation in Crisis: On the Question of the Foundations and Approaches of Exegesis Today

"Such a state of affairs could not but generate a counter-reaction. Among cautious systematic theologians, there began the search for a theology which was as independent as possible from exegesis. But what possible value can a theology have which is cut off from its own foundations? So it was that a radical approach called "fundamentalism" began to win supporters who brand as false in itself and contradictory any application of the historical-critical method to the Word of God. They want to take the Bible again in its literal purity, just as it stands and just as the average reader understands it to be. But when do I really take the Bible "literally"? And which is the "normative" understanding which holds for the Bible in all its particularity? Certainly fundamentalism can take as a precedent the position of the Bible itself, which has selected as its own hermeneutical perspective the viewpoint of the "little ones," the "pure of heart." The problem still remains, however, that the demand for "literalness" and "realism" is not at all so univocal as it might first appear. In grappling with the problem of hermeneutics, another alternative process presents itself: the explanation of the historical process of the development of forms is only one part of the duty of the interpreter; his understanding within the world of today is the other. According to this idea, one should investigate the conditions for understanding itself in order to come to a visualization of the text which would get beyond this historical "autopsy." In fact, as it stands, this is quite correct, for one has not really understood something in its entirety simply because one knows how to explain the circumstances surrounding its beginning.

But how is it possible to come to an understanding which on one hand is not based on some arbitrary choice of particular aspects, but on the other hand allows me to hear the message of the text and not something coming from my own self? Once the methodology has picked history to death by its dissection, who can reawaken it so that it can live and speak to me? Let me put it another way: if "hermeneutics" is ever to become convincing, the inner harmony between historical analysis and hermeneutical synthesis must be first found.

To be sure, great strides have already been made in this direction, but I must honestly say that a truly convincing answer has yet to be formulated. If Rudolph Bultmann used the philosophy of Martin Heidegger as a vehicle to represent the biblical word, then that vehicle stands in accord with his reconstruction of the essence of Jesus' message. But was this reconstruction itself not likewise a product of his philosophy? How great is its credibility from a historical point of view? In the end, are we listening to Jesus, or to Heidegger, with this kind of an approach to understanding? Still, one can hardly deny that Bultmann seriously grappled with the issue of increasing our access to the Bible's message. But today, certain forms of exegesis are appearing which can only be explained as symptoms of the disintegration of interpetation and hermeneutics. Materialist and feminist exegesis, whatever else may be said about them, do not even claim to be an understanding of the text itself in the manner in which it was originally intended. At best they may be seen as an expression of the view that the Bible's message is in and of itself inexplicable, or else that it is meaningless for life in today's world. In this sense, they are no longer interested in ascertaining the truth, but only in whatever will serve their own particular agenda. They go on to justify this combination of agenda with biblical material by saying that the many religious elements help strengthen the vitality of the treatment. Thus historical method can even serve as a cloak for such maneuvers insofar as it dissects the Bible into discontinuous pieces, which are then able to be put to new use and inserted into a new montage altogether different from the original biblical on text."


Anonymous said...

Thanks for this great series on Pope Benedict.

I love that photo of him reading from that giant Bible.

I wonder if its a preview copy of the ICSB OT :)

John Blake.

Theophrastus said...

Tim: You may know this lecture was organized as part of a conference by Richard John Neuhaus (two years before Neuhaus converted to Catholicism); and Neuhaus published a volume as part of Eerdman's "Encounter Series" of papers based on the conference by Cardinal Ratzinger, Raymond Brown, William Lazareth, George Lindbeck, and Paul Stallsworth. The volume is entitled Biblical Interpretation in Crisis: The Ratzinger conference on Bible and Church. It is out of print, but readily available used.

For me, some of the most interesting part of the book is the dialogue between Cardinal Ratzinger and Fr. Raymond Brown. If you want, I can type up some of Brown's response to the Cardinal's speech.

Timothy said...

Yes, that would be fantastic. Thank you!