Monthly Archives: June 2008

Pope Benedict on Exegesis

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.

-Pope Benedict XVI, “Audience with the Bishops of Switzerland,” 7 November 2006.
Complete text available from EWTN.

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John Paul II on How to do Exegesis

As the Council well reminded us: “In the sacred books the Father who is in heaven comes lovingly to meet his children, and talks with them. And such is the force and power of the word of God that it can serve the Church as her support and vigour, and th children of the Church as strength for their faith, food for the soul, and a pure and lasting source of spiritual life.” (Dei Verbum, no. 21)…Without this support [a vigorous spiritual life], exegetical research remains incomplete; it loses sight of its main purpose and is confined to secondary tasks. It can even become a sort of escape. Scientific study of the merely human aspects of the texts can make him forget that the word of God invites each person to come out of himself to live in faith and love….

While engaged in the very work of interpretation, one must remain in the presence of God as much as possible…they will avoid becoming lost in the complexities of abstract scientific research which distances them from the true meaning of the Scriptures. Indeed, this meaning is inseparable from their goal, which is to put believers into a personal relationship with God.

-Pope John Paul II, “Bible Experts Must Be Guided by the Spirit,” L’Osservatore Romano (English ed.), 28 April 1993, pp.3-4, quoted in Ralph Martin, The Catholic Church at the End of an Age: What is the Spirit Saying?, (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1994), pp.151-152.

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