Tuesday, July 11, 2006
“… So as to Invite and Receive Them into Fellowship with Himself”
Perhaps the excerpt taken from Cardinal Kasper's address was much too long and a bit complicated. I think that I can risk summarizing it in five brief points:
- Revelation occurs in words and deeds. Revelation is part of the history of salvation, which reaches its completion in Jesus Christ. Revelation does not occur outside history as an abstract doctrinal system or a certain sort of experience.
- God does not reveal “something,” God reveals himself through words and deeds.
- God’s revelation of himself calls for nothing less than a personal “obedience of faith” (Rom ) in which “man entrusts his whole self freely to God,” and through which “man” is called to live in fellowship with God.
- This fellowship is the “universal goal orientation” for the world and all human history because creation is not merely a “natural order,” but has been created through the Word and is already related to Jesus Christ.
- God, then, does not only reveal himself to human beings through word and deed. God also reveals the real meaning of worldly reality and “man to man himself.”
Revelation, we can say, is historical, personal, and directed to the whole world.
I would like to look a little more at the implications of Cardinal Kasper’s sentence, “The consequence of the personal understanding of revelation is the personal understanding of faith,” and what it might mean for our reading of and listening to Scripture. I would like to do so with another excerpt, which also, incidentally, serves to continue to highlight the ecumenical character of Dei Verbum. The following discussion of Dei Verbum 2 comes from the same 2005 conference; it was delivered by the Rev Frances Young, a Methodist minister and noted patristics scholar who might also be known to you through a moving book that she edited, Encounter with Mystery: Reflections on L’Arche and Living with Disability. Here, then, is Frances Young on “Attending to the Point of Scripture” and these “personal understandings” (the emphases will be mine):
The Vatican II statement declares, “By thus revealing himself, God, who is invisible, in his great love speaks to human kind as friends, and enters into their life so as to invite and receive them into relationship with himself,” adding a string of Scripture references to support this statement. It affirms that easy access to Holy Scripture should be available to all the Christian faithful and translations are encouraged in collaboration with Christians of other denominations. The word of Scripture, it says, is a source of healthy nourishment and holy vitality for the ministry of the Word. The point of Scripture as the conversion of minds and hearts, and indeed communities, is thus accepted, a point deeply enshrined in the approach of my own Wesleyan tradition, as well as the patristic literature. If Scripture is to convert hearts in many different ages and cultures it must be open to all, it must speak “for us and our salvation” in many and various ways in order to address our different conditions, and so inevitably it must be plurivocal – there must be many ways of reading oneself into the text, so as to be convicted and transformed.
Recent literary criticism has emphasized the important of interpretative communities – the way that texts may be read variously in various contexts and differing traditions of interpretation are thus formed. If we look at the history of exegesis, or ponder the disputes about the meaning of Scripture in our own world, we can see this happening. It is vital then that we learn respect through dialogue – even fundamentalists may have something to teach us! We need to find the humility not to pin Scripture down. The canon itself invites us to ponder the fact that there are four Gospels, not one, and an Old and a New Testament, which are not the same but interpret each other. As the Fathers never tired of pointing out, you need the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to read Scripture. Augustine insisted that Scripture can only be interpreted in and through love. The Fathers also reflected theologically on the fact it is only because God accommodated the divine self to human limitations that we have received any revelation.
Ephrem the Syrian almost speaks of a double incarnation – in flesh and in language. The Word clothed himself in our metaphors, types and symbols in order to communicate with us. Gregory of Nyssa likewise explores the inadequacies of human language for expressing the divine, recognizing that human language has to be stretched beyond itself to produce anything like the truth, and even then our comprehension of the divine is limited – for God is infinite and cannot be reduced to the size of our own minds. Scripture constantly points beyond itself, and there are layers of meaning through which to progress. Ephrem speaks of Scripture being an inexhaustible fountain, and no-one should imagine that the single one of its riches he has found is the only one there is: “a thirsty person rejoices because he has drunk: he is not grieved because he proved incapable of drinking the fountain dry.” It is no wonder that the Fathers found multiple meanings in any given text.
If we are to attend to the point of Scripture, however, the most important interpreters must be those who have learned to live the Gospel authentically. Scripture is not meant to be a scientific or even doctrinal textbook – its point is the creation of saints who live out its meaning in a variety of different callings. So embodied exegesis is the most important of all. Someone once defined a saint as a person who makes you feel ten times taller and better than you really are – that kind of humility, respect and love embodies the point of Scripture, while allowing for many and various ways in which it speaks effectively for the transformation of the fallen.