Thursday, December 16, 2010

Post-Trent Variance

Donald Prudlo writes on the variance within post-Trent Catholic Scriptural interpretation, using Matthew 16:18 as a primary example:

The creative element in post-Trent biblical theology cannot be underestimated. Though Catholic scriptural scholarship of the period was very engaged in controversy with the reformers, it was also in the midst of one of its most innovative eras. As shown, spirited controversies took place within Catholicism that produced substantial advances in theology. Catholic thinkers did not simply respond to Protestant challenges; rather, they were actively delving deeper into scriptural sources. One prominent example was the controversy over the interpretation of the word "petra" in the famous papal proof-text Matthew 16:18: "I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church." Certainly Catholics reacted to Protestant interpretations of this passage (which tried to minimize the person of Peter, and especially of his successors), but spirited discussion also took place within Catholic circles, and the tradition attached multiple meanings to the word "petra." Erasmus, who interpreted "petra" not as Peter, but as a reference to Peter's confession of faith, was not alone. Several other Catholic writers also adopted this terminology, notably Jean d'Arbres (d. 1569), a strongly anti-Calvinist writer. John Major (1467-1550) and Jacques Lefèvre d'Etaples both interpreted "petra" as Christ himself. In doing this, they were faithful to the common patristic and medieval interpretation of the text. However, a surprisingly new interpretation adopted by Cajetan and Sixtus of Siena made "petra" stand for Peter. Surely they had polemical reasons for this move, which served to undergird the power of the papacy, but nevertheless such a reading was innovative, novel, and quite literal. Indeed, these differing positions were not necessarily opposed. Cardinal Jacques-Davy Duperron (1556-1618) responded to a pamphlet by King James VI of England by stating that interpreting "petra" as faith and as Peter were both admissible readings, corresponding to the ancient division of senses in the scriptures. These examples should clearly demonstrate the problem of trying to articulate a common position among Counter-Reformation scriptural theologians. Such controversies indicate that Catholic thought was, ironically, at once reactionary and innovative.1

1. "Scripture and Theology in Early Modern Catholicism," in Christian Theologies of Scripture: A Comparative Introduction, ed. Justin Holcomb (New York University Press, 2006), 147.