Thursday, March 21, 2013

Talking to Clever Ducks

Even more hotly debated was the problem of Revelation. At stake here was the relationship between Scripture and Tradition, and it was the exegetes above all who were anxious for greater freedom; they felt themselves somewhat – shall we say – in a position of inferiority with regard to the Protestants, who were making the great discoveries, whereas Catholics felt somewhat "handicapped" by the need to submit to the Magisterium.

So a very concrete struggle was in play here: what sort of freedom do exegetes have? How does one properly read Scripture? What is the meaning of Tradition? It was a multifaceted struggle which I cannot go into now, but the important thing, for sure, is that Scripture is the word of God and that the Church is under Scripture, the Church obeys God’s word and does not stand above Scripture. Yet at the same time Scripture is Scripture only because there is the living Church, its living subject; without the living subject of the Church, Scripture is only a book, open to different interpretations and lacking ultimate clarity.

Reflection – OK, so I’m back as of yesterday in my own bed in my own bedroom in my own priest house in my own Madonna House in Combermere. Whew. While England was great and I loved it there… well, as Dorothy said, ‘There’s no place like home!’

Now just to remind everyone that before all this kerfuffle of the last month or so in Rome we were having something called a ‘Year of Faith’ (remember that?). Incidentally, I think this whole business of papal resignation and the historic election of Pope Francis has been a vital part of the Year of Faith, among other things calling everyone to truly deepen our faith in the Church’s origin and sustenance in God and not in human beings.

But part of the Year of Faith has been the call from Pope (Emeritus) Benedict to study and re-embrace the legacy of Vatican II in truth and in depth. And since this talk to the Roman clergy is virtually the last public statement we have of Pope Benedict on that or any other subject, I’m going to spend the next few days—perhaps until Holy Week or so—blogging my way through it. So… back to Life With a German Shepherd for a few days.

So here we have the thorny issue of Revelation, Scripture, Tradition, and Magisterium and their inter-relation. It seems to me, and here I of course defer to the great scholars of the Church who have been far more immersed in these matters than I, that the whole field of critical Scripture scholarship developed primarily in a non-Catholic setting, and its development, methodologies and pre-suppositions reflect that.
Catholic Scripture scholars who wish to work in that field on an equal level with their Protestant colleagues have more often than not simply done their Scripture scholarship on those terms, and in consequence have had to compartmentalize their scholarship and their faith, to the detriment of both and to themselves above all.

It seems to me that, far from stifling the work of Scripture scholarship, the integration of Scripture and Tradition guided by the rightful authority of the Magisterium enlivens it and gives it depth and direction. So often, in my admittedly minimal exposure to historical-critical exegesis, the terminus of the work seems to be this one scholar’s speculative re-construction of the composition of this one text and its original historical intent and meaning. All very speculative—the next scholar promptly comes along and writes a completely different re-construction—and all rather fruitless.

I mean, we get to see what a clever duck Dr. Whositby is and how effectively he debunked Dr. Wheresitfrom (although the radical scholarship of Dr. Wassitmean is coming right behind to debunk him in turn), but what good does their work do in drawing out the deep meaning of the Word of God in a creative spiritual way for the Body of Christ? Especially since most of them cannot write coherent and lively prose to save their lives.

Meanwhile, Scripture scholarship can be done in a lively creative tension with the whole tradition of the Church, an approach and a method that actually takes us somewhere. Pope Benedict’s own Jesus of Nazareth books are precisely his effort to teach by showing us how to do it. My own belief is that this approach rescues Scripture scholarship (and indeed, the Scriptures) from the dusty dry hegemony of the academics and saves it from many of the outright errors and distortions it too often falls into… about which I will blog tomorrow, God willing and the crick don`t rise. See you then.


  1. I look forward to that Fr. Denis. God is willing or so I believe and the 'crick' will rise according to tradition knowing full well that rising waters lift all boats, so sail on Reepicheep, sail on. My boat is at the ready . . .

    Kindest regards - John Lynch.

    1. Thanks John - glad you're enjoying it. Reepicheep is a personal hero of mine, too - never let his smallness of size keep him out of the battle! Bless you in this holy season.

  2. Thanks for getting back to Benedict XVI! I know you have reasons to change, but I was kind of getting used to the old updates on what Papa Ratzinger said. I am glad you had such a good time in England: I had wanted to look you up and perhaps even meet (!) but it wasn't probably realistic. Anyway, to the text in hand: Ratzinger's whole project with regard to Sacred Scripture seems to see the texts for what they are in themselves and not what Dr Whatsisname and his pals say about it. Scripture study can be ruined (mine was at least!) by a constant resource to the historical-critical method.
    I for one am very grateful for Ratzinger's efforts to read the "final form" and then draw out allegorical, literal, anagogical and other interpretations. But always based on the text, not on what some scholar might think about the text. Thank you for this. I hope Pope Emeritus Benedict is having some well-earned rest. I am sure he is praying for us.

    1. Good - yes, it would have been wonderful to meet in England... but you're quite a bit in the South, right? Our house is way up there in N Yorks... beautiful part of the country, though.
      Thanks for your kind words - I for one am thrilled with what Pope Benedict did in the Jesus of Nazareth books. Cardinal Ouellette has said he thinks it is his greatest theological contribution to re-unite exegesis and theology.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.