Monday, March 07, 2011

Ratzinger’s self-admitted reliance on the “Liberal” “historical-critical” method of Biblical interpretation, Part 2

For J. Gresham Machen, a professor of New Testament at Princeton during the first part of the 20th century, “The Bible is primarily a record of events”.
The Bible contains a record of something that happened. What that something is is told us in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. It is the life and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. “Jesus of Nazareth was not a product of the world, but a Savior come from outside the world. His birth was a mystery. His life was a life of perfect purity, of awful righteousness, and of gracious, sovereign power. His death was no mere holy martyrdom, but a sacrifice for the sins of the world. His resurrection was not an aspiration in the hearts of his disciples, but a mighty act of God. He is alive, and present at this hour to help us if we will turn to him. He is more than one of the sons of men; he is in mysterious union with the eternal God.” (“History and Faith,” first published in the “Princeton Theological Review 13” (1915), pgs 337-351, and cited here in D.G. Hart, “J. Gresham Machen, Selected Shorter Writings”, Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, ©2004)

I just wanted to keep that in mind as we move forward. In my last post, I showed, in Pope Ratzinger’s own words, that not only his own “exegetical” method, but that of Roman Catholic exegesis in general, relied heavily on the liberal “historical critical” method of Biblical interpretation.

It’s true that as Ratzinger said, “the debate about method has moved on, both inside and outside the Catholic Church.” I have previously shown precisely how this “debate” has moved on, in the form of a confluence of methods which enabled modern conservative Evangelical exegetes to retain:
Ladd’s commitment to the historical study of the New Testament, [which emphasizes] an openness to its theological truth. He sees his task as fundamentally a descriptive one, focusing on what the text “meant.” But since he accepts the Bible as the record of the acts of God for the redemption of the world, he therefore accepts the normative character of the New Testament witness and its ongoing relevance for humanity today, i.e., the importance of what it “means.” Ladd thus refuses to regard New Testament theology as merely the history of early Christian experience. Ladd employs the historical-critical method, but in a modified form that allows him to remain open to the possibility of the transcendent and thus enables him to do justice to the content of the materials being studied
Consider the definite nature of the language in this paragraph above: the Bible is “the record of the acts of God for the redemption of the world,” and the “normative character of the New Testament witness”.

Now consider the conditional, almost shadowy way that Ratzinger, however, must characterize his own method in what follows:
I would like to sketch at least the broad outlines of the methodology, drawn from these documents [linked at the end of my last post], that has guided me in writing this book. The first point is that the historical critical method—specifically because of the intrinsic nature of theology and faith-is and remains an indispensable dimension of exegetical work. For it is of the very essence of biblical faith to be about real historical events. It does not tell stories symbolizing suprahistorical truths, but is based on history, history that took place here on earth. The factum historicum (historical fact) is not an interchangeable symbolic cipher for biblical faith, but the foundation on which it stands: Et incarnates est—when we say these words, we acknowledge God’s actual entry into real history.

Look at how Ratzinger weasels his way through a message that he wants to sound like what Machen said above, but there are many hedges.

So for Ratzinger, the Bible is not “a record of historical events,” as Machen said. It only about historical events. At this point, we are one step removed from Machen. But Ratzinger posits something further.
If we push this history aside, Christian faith as such disappears and is recast as some other religion. So if history, if facticity in this sense, is an essential dimension of the Christian faith, then faith must expose itself to the historical method—indeed, faith itself demands this. I have already mentioned the conciliar Constitution on Divine Revelation (Dei Verbum); it makes the same point quite explicitly in paragraph 12 and goes on to list some concrete elements of method that have to be kept in mind when interpreting Scripture. The Pontifical Biblical Commission’s document on the interpretation of Holy Scripture develops the same idea much more amply in the chapter entitled “Methods and Approaches for Interpretation.”

The historical-critical method—let me repeat—is an indispensable tool, given the structure of the Christian faith. But we need to add two points. This method is a fundamental dimension of exegesis, but it does not exhaust the interpretive task for someone who sees the biblical writings as a single corpus of Holy Scripture inspired by God. We will have to return to this point at greater length in a moment.

For the time being, it is important—and this is a second point—to recognize the limits of the historical-critical method itself. For someone who considers himself directly addressed by the Bible today, the method’s first limit is that by its very nature it has to leave the biblical word in the past. It is a historical method, and that means that it investigates the then-current context of events in which the texts originated. It attempts to identify and to understand the past—as it was in itself—with the greatest possible precision, in order then to find out what the author could have said and intended to say in the context of the mentality and events of the time. To the extent that it remains true to itself, the historical method not only has to investigate the biblical word as a thing of the past, but also has to let it remain in the past. It can glimpse points of contact with the present and it can try to apply the biblical word to the present; the one thing it cannot do is make it into something present today—that would be overstepping its bounds. Its very precision in interpreting the reality of the past is both its strength and its limit.
Here, it’s important to call your attention to another distinction. For Ladd, “He sees his task as fundamentally a descriptive one, focusing on what the text “meant.” [And this is consistent with the historical-critical method, as Ratzinger described it here.] But since [Ladd] accepts the Bible as the record of the acts of God for the redemption of the world, he therefore accepts the normative character of the New Testament witness and its ongoing relevance for humanity today, i.e., the importance of what it “means” today.

On the other hand, Ratzinger denies that the text, in its historical context means anything for us today. He very clearly separates “what the text meant” from “what the text means.”

* * *
Just to step aside for a second, I want to bring up some comments that Nick has been making; most recently, Nick has been making comments on this topic that show that he really has not got the foggiest interaction with what real “biblical scholarship” entails, and he shows his total unfamiliarity with this world in some comments he’s made:
The sad truth of the last few decades is that "scholars" of the liberal and historical-critical camp generate lots of endorsements because they're part of a ring of elites in academia and publishing. (It's a fallacy to think that because someone is a scholar that they're automatically right or should be given consideration.) If someone like Lampe denies the Pauline authorship of the Pastorals and even says they contain blatant historical errors, then he's not a "conservative." He could be right in other departments or with other arguments, but that's case by case, and doesn't change the fact a rejection of Biblical inerrancy can never place a person in the "conservative" category.

From a Scriptural point of view, I don't see how I can trust someone who already admits the historical events in some parts of Scripture are wrong, because that just raises the question: how do you know these other historical events are right?
Note how Nick’s disavowal of “the liberal and historical-critical camp” is totally at odds with what Ratzinger has been saying in this introduction. He’s correct, to point out that we need to check things on a “case by case” basis. And as I’ve said, it is instructive to see just how little Lampe refers to the Scriptures in his primary work on the Church at Rome; rather, as I’ve said, his work is a vast compendium of all the primary sources that can be gleaned from that period.

Nick also said:
At most your argument would amount to saying B16 is operating from a liberal MO.
But isn’t this bad enough? We’ve established that Ratzinger is “liberal”. But not only that, but he, personally, and the whole Roman Catholic Church has adopted “the historical critical method.” Nick also said:
What's probably the most astonishing about all this is that I'm the one championing total Biblical inerrancy and inspiration as a non-negotiable for good, conservative Biblical exposition...while John has to take a more low-key approach to save face for his buddy Lampe (in order to keep him 'credible' enough to bash Catholics).
Nick is making a category error here. He really has no idea what “inerrancy” is, he seems just to like saying the word. Lampe is incredibly credible, apart from any efforts of my own. His influence will continue. Nick’s disjointed statements here, however, provide yet another example of what Matthew Schultz has been saying for a long time. There is no value engaging with the opinions of individuals such as Nick.

And one more thing. Nobody is “bashing” Catholics. The Roman Church has largely re-calibrated its emphasis on the papacy over the last 50 years. No one can deny that. I’ve had Roman Catholics tell me that this is just plain out of the goodness of their hearts, out of a desire for “ecumenism”.

Instead, for a thousand years, the papacy has been like Leo DiCaprio in “Titanic” – standing on the bow of the ship, arms extended, proclaiming “I’m the King of the World!”

It is the papacy that has bashed the church of Christ. The papacy is as grotesque a distortion of Christianity as I can imagine; and given that such a posture was purchased at the cost of the forgeries and lies that went into it, the schism with the Greek speaking church, the abused trust of those who may have been good people who followed that wolf in sheep’s clothing; the briberies, the wars, the mass murders to achieve such domination.

It’s no small thing to unearth the historical details of how such a misshapen monster came to be.


Anonymous said...

Again, John, as my email reflects from earlier today, this is another stone to be laid upon good sound reasonings.

I want to come back to that comment later, maybe?

First, though, I would grab onto this comment, hooray!, and put some polish from Scripture on it to continue my own wars against the monster as you aptly describe:

"... to achieve such domination."

It just might be the error needing to be exposed about that phrase, a speculation indeed on my part, that this domination they so earnestly want to achieve and we all around the world are party too in that most of the world has felt the hand of Rome, comes from their missteps because of their "first" Pope, Peter and what he wrote to his sheep, here:

1Pe 5:11 To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.

I quite agree that every "local" Church must stand there in time and activity. After all the Apostle Paul did write this as our encouragement when things get hot and heavy, here:

Eph 6:10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.
Eph 6:11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.
Eph 6:12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.

I know that when I don't, it's because I have lost my focus on just who is in charge of my wellbeing.

I have to humbly admit the devil has gotten into my details, even still, as I trod along here.

I just don't see it any other way.

Rome's profundity has overshadowed the unsuspecting souls who cannot see the "light" for the darkness of the shadow cast over the Truth, covering it.

The irony is to go up a few verses from there and you read this:

1Pe 5:5 Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble."

I have to say, it took the pride that is now Roman Catholicism at its finest several centuries to set aside all 'her' sisters as she has and position herself as "king of the world" to use your words! :)

All this does is reinforce the Truth Peter was given to give us when he aptly pointed out just "Who has the dominion"?

It should also give encouragement and comfort to those going through the struggles of the sanctification process brought upon us by the Holy Spirit, even still, young or old, as we also see Peter understood it when we read his words, here:

1Pe 1:2 according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood: May grace and peace be multiplied to you.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

"Ratzinger’s self-admitted reliance on the “Liberal” “historical-critical” method of Biblical interpretation, Part 2"

What's interesting is when or whether the Magisterium applies the "Liberal" historical-critical method to its own Magisterial pronouncements and documents. And when applying the "Liberal" historical-critical method to the history of the papacy.

Randy said...

Bizarre reasoning, John. I guess all I can ask in reply is if you have read the book. If you have and you still think he is a liberal then there is no hope for you.

The way Pope Benedict used liberal scholars and the way you use Lampe are miles apart. You use Lampe as an authority. People should accept his opinion because he is who he is. Neither you nor Lampe give an argument as to why you might be right so it is purely Lampe's authority as a scholar that you appeal to. Then it is right to ask you about other issues on which you reject Lampe's opinion.

Pope Benedict actually understands the scholars he quotes. He analyzes their arguments and embraces what is good and rejects what is bad. At the end of the day he does not argue from authority but from reason. He says why you should reject part of this scholar's argument and accept what he has put in it's place.

Liberal scholars still have much to offer. You can read them and profit. Pope Benedict does. You just need to know when they have gone off the rails. Otherwise you might be led astray. You seem like you were in over your head with Lampe and were led astray.