Wednesday, April 2, 2014
Benedict on Wednesday
The Basic Elements of a New Synthesis
After these remarks on the challenge of a self-critique of the historical method, we now find ourselves confronted with the positive side of the problem, how to join its tools with a better philosophy which would entail fewer drawbacks foreign to the text which would be less arbitrary, and which would offer greater possibilities for a true listening to the text itself. The positive task is without a doubt even more difficult than the critical one. I can only try to conclude these remarks by trying to carve out a few narrow footpaths in the thicket, which may perhaps point out where the main road lies and how it is to be found.
In the midst of the theological, methodological debate of his day, Gregory of Nyssa called upon the rationalist Eunomius not to confuse theology with the science of nature. (Theologein is not physiologein.)23 "The mystery of theology is one thing," he said, "the scientific investigation of nature is quite another." One cannot then "encompass the unembraceable nature of God in the palm of a child's hand." Gregory was here alluding to one of the famous sayings of Zeno: "The open hand is perception, the clapping hand is the agreement of the intellect, the hand fully closed upon something is the recording of judgment, the one hand clasped by the other is systematic science."24
Modern exegesis, as we have seen, completely relegated God to the incomprehensible, the otherworldly and the inexpressible in order to be able to treat the biblical text itself as an entirely worldly reality according to natural-scientific methods.
Contrary to the text itself, physiologein is practiced. As a "critical science," it claims an exactness and certitude similar to natural science. This is a false claim because it is based upon a misunderstanding of the depth and dynamism of the word. Only when one takes from the word its own proper character as word and then stretches it onto the screen of some basic hypothesis can one subject it to such exact rules. Romano Guardini commented in this regard on the false certainty of modern exegesis, which he said "has produced very significant individual results, but has lost sight of its own particular object and generally has ceased being theology."25 The sublime thought of Gregory of Nyssa remains a true guidepost today: "these gliding and glittering lights of God's word which sparkle over the eyes of the soul . . . but now let what we hear from Elijah rise up to our soul and would that our thoughts, too, might be snatched up into the fiery chariot . . . so we would not have to abandon hope of drawing close to these stars, by which I mean the thoughts of God . . . "26
Thus the word should not be submitted to just any kind of enthusiasm. Rather, preparation is required to open us up to the inner dynamism of the word. This is possible only when there is a certain "sympathia" or understanding, a readiness to learn something new, to allow oneself to be taken along a new road. It is not the closed hand which is required, but the opened eye . . .
Thus the exegete should not approach the text with a ready-made philosophy, nor in accordance with the dictates of a so-called modern or "scientific" worldview, which determines in advance what may or may not be. He may not exclude a priori that (almighty) God could speak in human words in the world, He may not exclude that God himself could enter into and work in human history, however improbable such a thing might at first appear.
He must be ready to learn from the extraordinary. He must be ready to accept that the truly original may occur in history, something which cannot be derived from precedents, but which opens up out of itself.27 He may not deny to humanity the ability to be responsive beyond the categories of pure reason, and to reach beyond ourselves towards the open and endless truth of being.
We must likewise reexamine the relationship between event and word. For Dibelius, Bultmann, and the mainstream of modern exegesis, the event is the irrational element. It lies in the realm of mere facticity, which is a mixture of accident and necessity. The fact as such, therefore, cannot be a bearer of meaning. Meaning lies only in the word, and where events might seem to bear meaning, they are to be considered as illustrations of the word to which they have to be referred. Judgments which derive from such a point of view are certainly persuasive for people of today, since they fit nicely into their own patterns of expectations. There is, however, no evidence in reality to support them. Such evidence is admissible only under the presupposition that the principle of scientific method, namely that every effort which occurs can be explained in terms of purely immanent relationships within the operation itself, is not only valid methodologically but is true in and of itself. Thus, in reality there would be only "accident and necessity," nothing else, and one may only look upon these elements as brute facts.
But, what is useful as a methodological principle for the natural sciences is a foregone banality as a philosophical principle; and as a theological principle it is a contradiction. (How can any or all of God's activity be considered either as accidental or necessary?) It is here, for the sake of scientific curiosity, too, that we must experiment with the precise contrary of this principle, namely, that things can indeed be otherwise.
To put it another way: the event itself can be a "word," in accord with the biblical word terminology itself.28 From this flow two important rules for interpretation.
a) First, both word and event have to be considered equally original, if one wishes to remain true to the biblical perspective. The dualism which banishes the event into wordlessness, that is meaninglessness, would rob the word of its power to convey meaning as well, for it would then stand in a world without meaning.
It also leads to a docetic Christology in which the reality, that is the concrete fleshly existence of Christ and especially of man, is removed from the realm of meaning. Thus the essence of the biblical witness fails of its purpose.
b) Secondly, such a dualism splits the biblical word off from creation and would substitute the principle of discontinuity for the organic continuity of meaning which exists between the Old and New Testaments. When the continuity between word and event is allowed to disappear, there can no longer be any unity within the Scripture itself. A New Testament cut off from the Old is automatically abolished since it exists, as its very title suggests, because of the unity of both. Therefore the principle of discontinuity must be counterbalanced by the interior claim of the biblical text itself, according to the principle of the analogia scripturae: the mechanical principle must be balanced by the teleological principle.29