Thursday, March 04, 2010

Ratzinger on Luther, the Church Fathers, & Allegory

I found this tidbit from the Catholic Answers Forum (give credit where credit is due). Cardinal Ratzinger discussed briefly Luther's attitude toward the church fathers and allegory in his book, Principles of Catholic Theology (pp. 141-142):

The quote is said to come from Luther's Sermons on the Second Book of Moses (Alleg. I, Wittenberger Ausgabe, 16.67). I don't doubt the validity of the quote being used (which was taken by Ratzinger from a secondary source. Luther preached on Exodus in 1524, and I think the reference is to a sermon on Exodus 1). While Luther said both positive and negative things about the church fathers throughout his career, this description of Luther's view is accurate.

As to discrediting the fathers because of their use of allegory, Luther likewise would often provide an allegorical interpretation of a passage of Scripture. Examples of this can be found in his sermons. I can recall my surprise reading a sermon from Luther's Church Postil and coming upon a section entitled, "The spiritual interpretation of this gospel." It wasn't that allegory automatically discredited the church fathers. Using allegorical interpretations as primary proofs was the issue. Luther complained that the papists and fanatics did this. Luther also fought against allegorizing as an accepted and recommended method of biblical interpretation prevalent in his day and previously. The primary proofs of the faith must be based on the clear exposition of scripture. Luther goes on in the very sermon Ratizinger cited to say of allegorical interpretation:

I too know well that hidden meanings do not have convincing power and should not be the ground on which we base ourselves. For we should and must rely on the clear, express, and plain word of God, such as that referring us to faith in Christ and love toward our neighbor. Thus one is saved. Other teachings and allegories you disregard. Such is also the allegory of St. Paul concerning Abraham, according to which his two sons signify the two testaments. For if this allegory were not grounded on this passage in Paul, my heart would doubt and constantly ask how I may be sure of it. For one would say: Who knows whether it be so? The heart must doubt in that case and cannot be sure. It dare not rest or rely on allegories. I must have the plain text and page of Holy Scripture (WA 16:72 cited in What Luther Says, 1:100-101).

Ratzinger then goes to make quite an interesting claim a short while later on the use of the church fathers as biblical interpreters and his earlier summation of Luther's view, that Luther's "historical instinct is clearly proving itself right" and also that "there is nothing to be proved or disproved" by referring to their interpretations of Scripture:


Pilgrimsarbour said...

In looking at the issue of the importance and reliability of the Church Fathers for support of certain doctrines held by the RCC, imagine my surprise when I was told that the term "unanimous consent of the fathers" means neither unanimity nor necessarily true consensus.

Instead, as I understand it from the RCC perspective, it is a "general overall sense" that the fathers were in a fairly high state of agreement on a wide ranging number of doctrines and church practices. This is why, apparently, when we point out ECF differences of opinion on various subjects, it's waved off as if of little consequence.

Yet I can't help but wonder if most lay Catholics understand the term that way when they hear it and use it to bolster their arguments for their faith.

I suppose we could say the same thing regarding the TULIP acronym. I've come to see its use as problematic in discussions because it takes a great deal of explanation: Total depravity is not utter depravity; limited atonement does not mean that the atonement is weak or not fully efficacious, to name a just a couple of examples.

Language is a funny thing. I wish we could decide and agree on definitions and stick to them. Was it Bultmann or Harnack that talked about "myths" and "demythologizing?" It's been a long time since college, but I still remember trying to sort that all out.

PeaceByJesus said...

I was interested in what he proceed to say from "about the fundamental", and from your link and going forwards from p. 141 ,

"basis for understanding Scripture, there is nothing more to be proved or disproved by reference to them. But neither have they become totally unimportant in this domain, for, even after the relativization they have suffered in the process we have described, the difference between the Catholicism of an Augustine and a Thomas Aquinas, or even between that of a Cardinal Manning and Cyprian, still opens a broad field of theological investigation. Granted, only one side can consider them its own fathers, and the proof of continuity, which once led directly back to them, seems no longer worth the effort for a concept of history and faith that sees continuity as made possible and communicated only in terms of discontinuity.

for we must admit, on the one hand, that, even for Catholic theology, the so-called fathers of the Church have, for long time, been fathers only in an indirect sense, whereas the real " Father" of the form that ultimately dominated 19th-century theology was Thomas Aquinas, with his classic systemization of the 13th century doctrina media, which, it must be added, was in its turn based on the "authority" of the fathers.

On the other hand, it is evident that Protestant theology is also not without its "Fathers", insofar as the leaders of reformation have, for it, a position comparable to the role of Fathers of of the Church. The prospective from which Scripture is studied and the point of departure for ecclesial life bear their mark and are inconceivable without them. Indeed, we must go a step further and say that the division in the Church is revealed above all in the fact that the fathers of the one side are not the fathers of the other....The differences among the sects to not have their source of the New Testament. They arise in the fact that the New Testament is read under the tutelage of different fathers."

Of course, he must say this, as if the father's they count as father had some sort of unanimous consent, and that they (as pious as they were) demonstrated a superior insight than men like Matthew Henry (on the practical side) or perhaps Keil & Delitzschon on critical aspects. And that the typical liberal interpretive basis of V2 and Rome's commentators today reflects the interpretation we see in the N.T. or O.T. historical accounts.