Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Dei Verbum and Divine Pedagogy (Part 1)

Dei Verbum 13 reads as follows: "In Sacred Scripture, therefore, while the truth and holiness of God always remains intact, the marvelous "condescension" of eternal wisdom is clearly shown, "that we may learn the gentle kindness of God, which words cannot express, and how far He has gone in adapting His language with thoughtful concern for our weak human nature." (11) For the words of God, expressed in human language, have been made like human discourse, just as the word of the eternal Father, when He took to Himself the flesh of human weakness, was in every way made like men."

The reference here [footnote 11] reads: St. John Chrysostom "In Genesis" 3, 8 (Homily l7, 1): PG 53, 134; "Attemperatio" [in English "Suitable adjustment"] in Greek synkatabasis.

Let's unpack this wonderful paragraph.

The idea here is that God stoops down to us--like a good Father--in order to raise us up as his children. This concept--the Council uses the Greek term, "synkatabsis"--was an essential term for the Church fathers' interpretation of Scripture. It helped explained the relationship between the Old Testament and the New.

One exercise I often do with my students goes as follows. I begin by asking them to name as many things they can think of found in the Old Testament that are not found in the New. "Animal sacrifice", "kosher laws," "divorce"--as they shout them out I write them all on the board.

I then proceed to tell them how the earliest heresies in the Church involved some denial of the unity of the two Testaments. I'll say something to the affect, "After all, it seems as though you have not only two different Testaments but two different gods. How would you respond?"

The answer: synkatabasis-- divine "accommodation." That is, God "accommodates" himself to us. Put another way, God stoops down to his children's level.

The term fits in with another term used in Dei Verbum, "pedagogy." In Dei Verbum 15 the Council Fathers speak of the books of the Old Testament, explaining how they show us how God was preparing the way for the coming of Christ. We read, "These books, though they also contain some things which are incomplete and temporary, nevertheless show us true divine pedagogy."

The term "pedagogy" comes from a Greek word, paidagogos. The word comes from two words: pais (gen. paidos) "child" and agogos "leader" [from agein "to lead"]. The term referred to a child's tutor or teacher. Paul uses the term to describe the Law in Galatians 4:23-24:
"Now before faith came, we were confined under the law, kept under restraint until faith should be revealed. So that the law was our custodian [paidagogos] until Christ came, that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a paidagogos [custodian]; for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith."
Paul's words in fact represent the custom at the time in the Greco-Roman world. Children were "led" by a pedagogue until maturity. Until that time they were treated as the slaves of the hosuehold. However, once they came of age they no longer were led by the tutor and were considered full-blown "sons".

The idea here is that the Old Testament law was temporary--a pedagogue. The Church fathers expanded Paul's analogy to describe the role of the whole Old Testament. Throughout the Old Testament God was "raising" his children--stooping down to their level. He didn't reveal to them the mysteries of faith, such as the Trinity, right out of the gate. God educated the human race in a way similar to the education of a child.

Augustine picks up the analogy:

“The education of the human race, represented by the people of God, has advanced, like that of an individual, through certain epochs, or, as it were, ages, so that it might gradually rise from earthly to heavenly things, and from the visible to the invisible. This object was kept so clearly in view, that, even in the period when temporal rewards were promised, the one God was presented as the object of worship, that men might not acknowledge any other than the true Creator and Lord of the spirit, even in connection with the earthly blessings of this transitory life… It was best, therefore, that the soul of man, which was still weakly desiring earthly things, should be accustomed to seek from God alone even these petty temporal boons, and the earthly necessities of this transitory life, which are contemptible in comparison with eternal blessings, in order that the desire even of these things might not draw it aside from the worship of Him, to whom we come by despising and forsaking such things” (City of God, Book X, 14)

To be continued...


Slatts said...

Please do continue...I very much liked this reflection!

Tony Listi said...

You mis-cited Scripture. You quoted Gal 3:23-25, not 4:23-24.