Monday, December 18, 2006

Benedict's Recent Homily on Biblical Criticism

The following is an excerpt from an address Pope Benedict gave on November 7th, to a group of bishops from Switzerland. (I'm sorry it took so long to post, but I wanted to give you some context by posting a review of Scott Hahn's article in the latest Letter & Spirit first.) Here the Pope talks about Catholic Education, focusing in on the importance of Scripture. The Holy Father talks about the need for Scripture study, the importance and the limitations of the historical-critical method.

I would now like to move on from this topic to "Catholic Education", touching on two areas.

One thing which I believe is a cause of "concern" -- in the positive sense of the word -- to all of us, is the fact that future priests and other teachers and preachers of the faith must receive a good theological training; we therefore need good theological faculties, good major seminaries and qualified theology teachers who not only impart knowledge but inculcate in students an intelligent faith so that faith becomes intelligence and intelligence, faith.

In this regard, I have a very specific wish.

Our exegesis has progressed by leaps and bounds. We truly know a great deal about the development of texts, the subdivision of sources, etc., we know what words would have meant at that time.... But we are increasingly seeing that if historical and critical exegesis remains solely historical and critical, it refers the Word to the past, it makes it a Word of those times, a Word which basically says nothing to us at all; and we see that the Word is fragmented, precisely because it is broken up into a multitude of different sources.

With "Dei Verbum," the Council told us that the historical-critical method is an essential dimension of exegesis because, since it is a "factum historicum," it is part of the nature of faith. We do not merely believe in an idea; Christianity is not a philosophy but an event that God brought about in this world, a story that he pieced together in a real way and forms with us as history.

For this reason, in our reading of the Bible, the serious historical aspect with its requirements must be truly present: we must effectively recognize the event and, precisely in his action, this "making of history" on God's part.

"Dei Verbum" adds, however, that Scripture, which must consequently be interpreted according to historical methods, should also be read in its unity and must be read within the living community of the Church.

These two dimensions are absent in large areas of exegesis.

The oneness of Scripture is not a purely historical and critical factor but indeed in its entirety, also from the historical viewpoint, it is an inner process of the Word which, read and understood in an ever new way in the course of subsequent "relectures," continues to develop.

This oneness itself, however, is ultimately a theological fact: these writings form one Scripture which can only be properly understood if they are read in the "analogia fidei" as a oneness in which there is progress towards Christ, and inversely, in which Christ draws all history to himself; and if, moreover, all this is brought to life in the
Church's faith.

In other words, I would very much like to see theologians learn to interpret and love Scripture as the Council desired, in accordance with "Dei Verbum": may they experience the inner unity of Scripture -- something that today is helped by "canonical exegesis" (still to be found, of course, in its timid first stages) -- and then make a spiritual interpretation of it that is not externally edifying but rather an inner immersion in the presence of the Word.

It seems to me a very important task to do something in this regard, to contribute to providing an introduction to living Scripture as an up-to-date Word of God beside, with and in historical-critical exegesis. I do not know how this should be done in practice, but I think that in the academic context and at seminaries, as well as in an introductory course, it will be possible to find capable teachers to ensure that this timely encounter with Scripture in the faith of the Church -- an encounter on whose basis proclamation subsequently becomes possible -- can take place.

Read the whole thing here.

Tip of the hat to Erno from Sterno.

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