Thursday, October 09, 2008

Reading the Bible -- And an Update


Today (Tuesday, 14 October) His Holiness has expressed himself in the Synod of Bishops (apparently a rarity in such Synods) on the issue of the interrelationship of exegesis and theological reflection. Here is John Allen's report. As he notes, we may expect the transcript of the remarks soon. And I, for one, am eager to see them.

Theological interpretation of the Bible is, of course, not a new thing; it is the oldest thing in the Church's life. But there is a renewed interest in the matter: witness that practically every serious Biblical-studies enterprise is launching a series featuring theological commentary on the Scriptures. (I'm fond of the Brazos series, but there are a passel of them coming from other places, too.)

This all cannot be a bad thing, I think. Talk about an evangelical-catholic approach to the Church's intellectual and spiritual life!

The original post:

The Pope has summoned and has now convened a Bishops' Synod on the Bible in the Church. His Holiness apparently intends to join the synod for most of the time (two weeks?) it sits, which tells you something about his investment in the matter, I think.

John Allen, of the National Catholic Reporter, is right now my only source of information on the Synod. But his reports have made me itchin' to be there. Here is his summary of the presentation by the Pope's close adviser, Bp. Fisichella, on the interdependence on the Bible and the Tradition of the Church. We Christians are not, said the Bishop, to see ourselves as a people of the Book, but rather a people of the Word.

My Lutheran heritage boldly trumpets "sola scriptura" and we found our faith more on Luther's disputed dicta, "Unless I am convinced from the sure evidence of scripture that I am wrong, I cannot, I will not recant. Here I stand; I can do no other" than on the Confessions in the Concordia. But close reading and thinking about "sola scriptura" reveals that it cannot be understood to encourage literalism or "fundamentalism"; we must read the Scriptures in the context of the Church. The Tradition and Scripture exist in dialectical tension as authority in the Church's life. The Bishop is right: We are not a "people of the book."

Sidney Griffin made much the same point in his presentation at the CCET conference in Baltimore this summer. Islam is most assuredly a religion of the book: The Quran figures in the life of Islam much the way that Jesus figures in Christian faith. The Bible does not occupy nearly the same place. But I don't intend to unpack that here.

We read our book in the light of and in conversation with those who have read it in the past -- the authors of the various books, the Fathers, the martyrs and scholars through history. I personally resonate to the notion of reading the Bible having developed and "inner eye of faith," as one of the other presenters said.

For now, I simply commend Allen's report to you and encourage you to research it more deeply. This is commensensical stuff, the implications of which deserve exploring.

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