Thursday, July 20, 2006
A favorable review of modern Biblical scholarship follows:
However, since God speaks in Sacred Scripture through (authors) in human fashion, (St. Augustine, "City of God," XVII, 6, 2: PL 41, 537: CSEL. XL, 2, 228.) the interpreter of Sacred Scripture, in order to see clearly what God wanted to communicate to us, should carefully investigate what meaning the sacred writers really intended, and what God wanted to manifest by means of their words.
To search out the intention of the sacred writers, attention should be given, among other things, to "literary forms." For truth is set forth and expressed differently in texts which are variously historical, prophetic, poetic, or of other forms of discourse. The interpreter must investigate what meaning the sacred writer intended to express and actually expressed in particular circumstances by using contemporary literary forms in accordance with the situation of (the author's) own time and culture. (St. Augustine, "On Christian Doctrine" III, 18, 26; PL 34, 75-76.) For the correct understanding of what the sacred author wanted to assert, due attention must be paid to the customary and characteristic styles of feeling, speaking and narrating which prevailed at the time of the sacred writer, and to the patterns (people) normally employed at that period in their everyday dealings with one another. (Pius XII, loc. cit. Denziger 2294 (3829-3830); EB 557-562.)
But, since Holy Scripture must be read and interpreted in the sacred spirit in which it was written, (cf. Benedict XV, encyclical "Spiritus Paraclitus" Sept. 15, 1920:EB 469. St. Jerome, "In Galatians' 5, 19-20: PL 26, 417 A.) no less serious attention must be given to the content and unity of the whole of Scripture if the meaning of the sacred texts is to be correctly worked out. The living tradition of the whole Church must be taken into account along with the harmony which exists between elements of the faith. It is the task of exegetes to work according to these rules toward a better understanding and explanation of the meaning of Sacred Scripture, so that through preparatory study the judgment of the Church may mature. For all of what has been said about the way of interpreting Scripture is subject finally to the judgment of the Church, which carries out the divine commission and ministry of guarding and interpreting the word of God. (cf. First Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic Faith, Chapter 2, "On Revelation:" Denziger 1788 (3007).)
It seems to me that balance is called for: taking note of various (not a single!) type of exegesis. That the overall picture not be lost in examining aspects such as word studies, sociology, history, and so forth. Also note the expectation that the Church's judgment is to mature as scholars delve more deeply into the Word of God.