Friday, October 04, 2002

I hope I'm not biting the Hand that links me on this one, but…
Stephen Hand just published a strongly worded critique of trends in contemporary theology, much of which I am in agreement with. As, for instance, when he says,
It is the fusion of nature and grace, especially, which reduces revelation to experience, and which makes so many Catholic teachers today essentially subjectivists, in the sense that mans interiority now becomes the source of revelation.
I especially like his affirmation of the close link between altar and tabernacle, even if the tabernacle does not need to be on the altar of sacrifice.

I’m wondering, however, whether he intends a blanket condemnation of all historical-critical study of the Bible when he says,
So-called historical criticism of the Holy Scriptures, to which these subscribe, likewise compromises the traditional understanding of objective, supernatural revelation.
The Church herself approves of historical-critical research so long as it is not burdened by philosophical presuppositions that contradict the faith and doesn’t claim to be the only method or the best method to get at the meaning of the Bible. H-C research does not per se compromise the supernatural.

It is clear, and maybe this is Hand’s point, that more than historical-critical research must be done to get beyond simply “what the author intended” to “what God intended” (which would not contradict the former, but may easily go beyond it).

See Dei Verbum 12.
12. However, since God speaks in Sacred Scripture through men in human fashion, (6) the interpreter of Sacred Scripture, in order to see clearly what God wanted to communicate to us, should carefully investigate what meaning the sacred writers really intended, and what God wanted to manifest by means of their words.
To search out the intention of the sacred writers, attention should be given, among other things, to "literary forms." For truth is set forth and expressed differently in texts which are variously historical, prophetic, poetic, or of other forms of discourse. The interpreter must investigate what meaning the sacred writer intended to express and actually expressed in particular circumstances by using contemporary literary forms in accordance with the situation of his own time and culture. (7) For the correct understanding of what the sacred author wanted to assert, due attention must be paid to the customary and characteristic styles of feeling, speaking and narrating which prevailed at the time of the sacred writer, and to the patterns men normally employed at that period in their everyday dealings with one another. (8)
But, since Holy Scripture must be read and interpreted in the sacred spirit in which it was written, (9) no less serious attention must be given to the content and unity of the whole of Scripture if the meaning of the sacred texts is to be correctly worked out. The living tradition of the whole Church must be taken into account along with the harmony which exists between elements of the faith. It is the task of exegetes to work according to these rules toward a better understanding and explanation of the meaning of Sacred Scripture, so that through preparatory study the judgment of the Church may mature. For all of what has been said about the way of interpreting Scripture is subject finally to the judgment of the Church, which carries out the divine commission and ministry of guarding and interpreting the word of God.
I’m not saying that Hand is contradicting this, but just that his language, in its vehemence, may have been imprecise.

I also would caution against too absolute a condemnation of neologisms. Sometime neologisms are necessary for the progress in our understanding of the deposit of faith. For instance, both homoousion and Transubstantiation were neologism proposed by theologians at one point, but were eventually absorbed into the dogmatic structure of the faith. Purgatory is another example of a neologism that was eventually accepted.

As noted, I'm in substantial agreement with much of what Hand says here.

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