Sunday, 6 July 2008

Christian truth and scriptural referentiality

I probably shouldn't just copy quotes from other people's blogs, but this one is just so beautiful that I can't resist it. Sister Macrina Walker posted the following from a certain Father Andrew Louth, a theologian who will be getting far more of my attention in the future:

For the central truth, or mystery, of the Christian faith is primarily not a matter of words, and therefore ultimately of ideas or concepts, but a matter of fact, or reality. The heart of the Christian mystery is the fact of God made man, God with us, in Christ; words, even his words, are secondary to the reality of what he accomplished. To be a Christian is not simply to believe something, to learn something, but to be something, to experience something. The role of the Church, then, is not simply as the contingent vehicle - in history - of the Christian message, but as the community, through belonging to which we come into touch with the Christian mystery. [*]
Christian truth as a matter of fact, as a reality. That is the thrust of my current thread looking at the meaning of the regula veritatis (rule of truth) in the early church. It was something that Childs, much to the surprise of many, emphasised throughout his career, an emphasis that gave his brand of "canonical exegesis" its particular profile. As he said in penultimate publication:

Is there a determinate meaining within the biblical texts of the Chrisitian Bible? Traditional Christian exegesis took it for granted that the biblical witness was directed toward a specific reference. Its testimony provided access to the mysteries of divine reality. At times the reality perceived was earthly, bound in time and space. At other times it was a transcendent reality related directly or indirectly to sense perception, but requiring divine inspiration for its full comprehension. Accordingly, scripture contains multiple meanings, but all joined in some manner to a referent.[**]
Grasping this fact in all its subtle dialectical complexity should be a primary task of all those engaged in so-called "theological exegesis." It should function as a kind of compass guiding us through the murky disputes concerning the relationship between diachronic and synchronic exegesis, between literalistic and metaphorical reading, between academic and homiletic interpretation etc. etc.

I also think that grasping this truth leads to the joy that what we love about this world is lovable, and what we hate is redeemable, and that somehow, in all our broken particularity, faith makes total sense.

I have discussed this issue in a thread dealing with the sensus spiritualis and sensus literalis, summarised here (in which, I should add, my identification of the theological referent with the spiritual sense was challenged in the comments. I'd appreciate any feedback on the dialogue!)

[*] Andrew Louth, Discerning the Mystery. An Essay on the Nature of Theology, (Oxford: Clarendon, 1983) 74. (Biblicalia, by the way, posts on a cheap offer of this book by Eighth Day Books here).

[**] B.S. Childs, The Struggle to Understand Isaiah as Christian Scripture, 313.


Anonymous said...

Well, I'm pleased that more people are appreciating this book. I'm really rather puzzled that it didn't attract more attention earlier - or, if it did, that I remained totally unaware of it.

I must get down to investigating Childs more at some point, something I was already aware of due to Louth's reference to him in his chapter on allegory. I must also look at your blog some more - I'd first come when Kevin (of Biblicalia) linked to your post on The Way of the Pilgrim and have also appreciated your posts on the regula veritatis (I don't think that I will ever tire of St Irenaeus!) but must make the time to read more!

Phil Sumpter said...

Thanks for stopping by. Childs never stopped pushing boundaries. I believe that his later work on allegory (see especially his Struggle to Read Isaiah as Christian Scripture) stands in strong continuity with his earlier work, due largely to his commitment to Karl Barth's idea of the text as "witness." He said in the '60s that one of the things he admired about Barth was his ability to use the exegesis of the church, espcially at a time when such exegesis was regarded as primitive.

Irenaeus, patristics etc. is all rather new to me. I come from a low Anglican background and am married to a Baptist. However, my reading of Childs in the context of my broader awareness of Chrsitianity is leading me to see that there is a whole lot these two traditions are missing out on. It's hard work thinking it through though, so your critical input is always welcome!