Wednesday, January 06, 2010

On the Essential Unity of the Old and New Testaments

Merry Christmas to everyone out there.
Over the Christmas break, I've been reading a biography of the twentieth-century theologian, Henri de Lubac (1896-1991), by Rudolf Voderholzer, entitled, Meet Heri de Lubac: His Life and Work (Ignatius Press, 2008). 
One of the most interesting parts of the book is when it recounts de Lubac's composition of his multi-volume masterpiece, Medieval Exegesis (3 vols. Eerdmans, 1998, 2000, 2008). In preparation for this work, de Lubac worked through all 217 volumes of Migne's Latin Church Fathers and all 162 volumes of the Greek Fathers, copying down all of the relevant passages on the doctrine of Scripture on slips of paper! What I found fascinating about this recollection was not just the thoroughness of his research (who does this anymore besides Dale Allison?), but, in the course of such reading, his overarching discovery:
"Along the way I became more and more strongly aware of the essential nature of the extraordinary connection, always threatened but always maintained or reestablished within the Church, between the two Testaments; I saw it more and more clearly dominating the whole history and the whole doctrine of the Church, from the first century to our own time... I was happy working to do justice in that way to one of the central elements of the Catholic tradition, so grossly unappreciated in modern times and nevertheless still the bearer of promises for renewal." (Henri de Lubac, At the Service of the Church, 83-84, cited in Meet Henri de Lubac, 79)
This is a remarkable claim. After reading through the vast majority of the Fathers, both Greek and Latin, de Lubac found that the issue of "the essential unity" of the Old and New Testaments "dominates" both the "history" and "doctrine" of the Church, from the beginning down to our times. Think about it, and it rings true: 
What was the first council of Jerusalem about? The unity of the Old and New testaments, and whether not requiring circumcision for salvation was an abandonment of the old covenant. How about Irenaeus' clash with Gnosticism? The unity of the Old and New Testaments, and whether the Creator God of the old was the same as the Redeemer of the New.
Indeed, even today, what about the quest for the historical Jesus, especially in its most recent form, which is so focused on Jesus the Jew? At the heart of it, isn't this really about answering the question of continuity between Jesus (who lived according to the Old Testament) and the Church (representing the New)? 
For what it's worth, for years I have suggested to my students (with no actual research or evidence to back it up) that most of the heresies that have plagued the Church over the centuries often seem in some way be tied to a failure to pay adequate attention to the Old Testament. It's vindicating to find someone of de Lubac's erudition (personally, I've only had the time to read 161 volumes of Migne's Greek fathers;) confirming the basic idea that the unity of the Old and New Testaments is "always being threatened" by various voices but "always being maintained or reestablished within the Church." In our century, such an affirmation was given an unprecedented visibility at the Second Vatican Council in Dei Verbum 14-15 and even moreso in the 1992 Catechism of the Catholic Church, which devotes three long paragraphs to "the unity of the Old and New Testaments" (CCC 128-130). 
In closing, I also think, but cannot prove, that one of the reason's N. T. Wright's Jesus and the Victory of God (Fortress 1996) was such a popular book was that he integrated the Old Testament prophets into his reconstruction of Jesus' life and aims more thoroughly than any other scholar writing at the time. I can honestly say that for my own part, while writing my dissertation, it was Wright above all who pushed me to actually go back and not just read Second Temple sources, but the Old Testament itself, especially the prophets, in my own attempt to understand the first-century prophet from Nazareth. 


Anonymous said...

I think the unity of the Scriptures is something like a miracle, though not to confuse it with real miracles.

Anonymous said...

By the way, I made a thread for your work on CF:

Anonymous said...

Sacred Scripture is an amazing imprint of God's almighty always knowing and planning for us. Msgr. Kevin's connection with the ultimate Kingdom to forever stand and the prophecies in Daniel is an example of this! (I think Dr. Hahn discusses this in his Romanism of Romans)

Sister Mary Agnes said...

I am always fascinated when you speak or write about this theme. The Old Testament seems to make the New Testament come to life, and likewise the New Testament makes many parts of the Old Testament make sense. Prior to beginning biblical studies 2 years ago, scripture was a struggle for me to read. Now it's exciting!

I look forward to hearing you and Prof. Barber and Dr. Hahn at the upcoming West Coast Biblical Conference in a couple of weeks!

Anonymous said...

"On the Essential Unity of the Old and New Testaments" There isn't any. Jesus says in Luke 9 that Elijah called down the murderous fire from heaven by a different spirit than God. And in Matt and Luke Jesus says nobody knows the Father except he to whom he himself will reveal him (Discounting the OT revelation of God). The whole book of John is about how the revelation in the OT is wrong, "No man has ever seen God, but the only begotten Son who has declared him." (John 1:18) This is a constant theme in the NT. Fact is, Marcion's canon of one gospel and several Pauline epistles all lacking OT citations and OT argumentation came first, and the Catholics then took it and corrupted it with wrangling mangling interpretations of out of context OT passages to produce the NT that confuses us to death today. Jesus was overturning the Law in the Sermon on the Mount, as anyone who can read can see, and the phrase "think not I have come to destroy the Law" is just Catholic corruption, tares sowed into the field of Scripture by the Enemy while men slept.