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Historicism Versus History and Spirit: Henri de Lubac on What We Can Learn from Studying Origen.

I. Introduction

In 1950, when Henri de Lubac first published his book Histoire et Esprit, the least that could be said about it is that it moved against the dominant current of most Scripture scholarship of the day. It helped to show how the study of patristic exegesis of the Bible could be considered not merely relevant but particularly important for de Lubac's time. The choice of topic, the Old Testament exegesis of Origen of Alexandria, was no accident. Interestingly, de Lubac was not interested in a naive return to Origenian exegesis; nor was he interested in a root-and-branch critique of the historical-critical method of exegesis. (1) De Lubac's book put into practice several strands of his theological project, among which were the clarification of the meaning of spiritual exegesis, the attempt to demonstrate the connection between Scripture and Christian living, and a demonstration of continuity in the Church's tradition of reading the Bible spiritually. Not least among the strands was an attempt to combat historicism. (2) For de Lubac, who largely follows Blondel in his understanding of historicism, (3) historicism mistakes the scientific study of history for the actual history itself and therefore, in Blondel's phrasing, reduces "history to the intelligible determinism of phenomena." (4) As a result of emptying history of the interiority of real human life, historicism entails that all human thought is reduced to historical phenomena and therefore completely conditioned by its historical setting. The historicist therefore subsumes thought under the aspect of the determinism of phenomena that he studies. The passing of each historical era, therefore, entails the obsolescence of the thought that arose within it.

This article tracks de Lubac's argument against historicism in History and Spirit and points out the ways in which de Lubac's own practice of reading and learning from Origen undercuts historicism and thereby assists the contemporary exegete to be a better reader, not only of ancient authors like Origen, but also of the inspired text of the Bible. History and Spirit undertakes to study Origen's exegesis historically, to be sure, but in a non-historicist way. In it, Origen's exegesis appears as a resource for discovering the truth rather than as a historical phenomenon completely determined by its predecessors and context. The implication is that contemporary exegetes have something to learn from Origen, not just about Origen, something that can help the contemporary exegete to purify his own modes of thinking in ways that make him a better reader of the Bible. But in what ways exactly, according to de Lubac, can Origen teach the exegete of today? At least in two ways: (i) negatively, by showing that the inevitability of intellectual progress is a false tale, and (2) positively, by illustrating what forgotten wisdom an apprenticeship to, or at least a genuinely sympathetic reading of, Origen has to offer.

This article will therefore proceed by examining some of the difficulties in studying patristic exegesis in a period in which the historicalcritical method is the standard and almost the sole way of studying Scripture, then by examining two contrasting evaluations of Origen's exegesis by Raymond E. Brown and Luke Timothy Johnson in order to illuminate de Lubac's thought (5) and to provide examples of the need for non-historicist approaches to the Bible and the exegesis of the Fathers of the Church. My article will briefly outline some of Brown's objections to patristic exegesis and show how de Lubac meets them in History and Spirit. Next, it will consider Johnson's arguments for the usefulness of the study of patristic exegesis. Finally, it will evaluate Johnson's position against the work of de Lubac, showing that, whereas de Lubac studies Origen in order to apprentice himself to Origen, Johnson's approach to Origen ends up preventing the scholar of the Bible from availing himself of the resources for understanding Scripture that Origen offers. (6)

II. The Difficulties of Studying Patristic Exegesis

In itself, de Lubac's practice in History and Spirit challenges the historicist judgment that the history of thought is a history of unmixed progress--that is, in virtue of living when they do, later thinkers are always able to consult and therefore inevitably transcend their predecessors. (7) In addition to the possibility of the progress of understanding through history, however, de Lubac is also alive to the fact that the shift to what he occasionally calls "scientific exegesis" and away from the exegesis of the Fathers has lost a great deal. Intellectual history is a story of both progress and decline. If the exegete has both suffered losses and achieved gain in understanding the Bible, then it is important to apprentice ourselves once again to someone who possesses what has been lost and does not share the blind spots characteristic of the present age and some of the limitations of present practice. Nor does this approach require leaving behind genuine gains.

The question is, for de Lubac, what are the preconditions for learning from Origen? The answer has to begin with a catalog of what de Lubac thinks modern interpreters have lost. These include an extreme this-worldliness or immanentism, a forgetfulness of the soul, and an inability to understand how the spirit is borne in history. (8) The latter is especially important for de Lubac and might be thought of as the consequence of the first two problems, since it is the spirit borne within history that makes Scripture into a living word capable of transforming even readers who are far removed from the time of its composition; it is the spirit borne in history that makes Christ present and active in every age. Origen therefore offers to those who are willing to become his students a way of purifying their approach to Scripture by strengthening and supplementing the contemporary concern for history with a deeper, more theologically sound understanding of the relationship between spirit and history. De Lubac consequently fights both "extreme spiritualism," a fight that most twentieth- and twenty-first-century scholars are willing to join alongside him, and "extreme literalism" that is "no less deadly." (9) In order to learn from Origen, then, one must first have a sense that one lacks something that Origen might be thought to possess, which includes divesting oneself of the view of intellectual history that sees only the possibility for progress and cannot tolerate the suggestion that it is, itself, open to a critique from the past. Second, the initial stance of humility toward the ancient author must issue into a careful, sympathetic reading of his texts that is open to the possibility that one's own assumptions and opinions will need to be revised or corrected. That means that the modern reader must focus on understanding the ancient author as he himself wants to be understood, rather than attempting to understand him better than he understood himself. Doing the latter inevitably risks that one will allow unexamined prejudices to color one's interpretation since it already assumes the later standpoint to be superior. (10)

In order to clarify the intention of de Lubac, it is useful to look at two exegetes whose evaluations of Origen contrast with that of de Lubac: Raymond E. Brown and Luke Timothy Johnson. These two figures in particular are interesting because Brown unambiguously champions the historical-critical method over and against patristic exegesis, while Johnson affirms that there is value in studying the exegesis of the Fathers. For Brown, the advent of the historical-critical method makes patristic exegesis obsolete. Why is this? Because the meaning of Scripture depends absolutely on the literal sense, which in turn demands the utmost care in studying the historical circumstances of the Scriptures. Hence, when a new method arrives, better able to illuminate those circumstances than any previous method, we ought to prefer it. Since the exegesis of the Fathers, according to Brown, was more imaginative than historical, the modern method of historical-critical interpretation of the Bible replaces--without looking back--the ways of reading the Bible popular among the Fathers of the Church. Luke Timothy Johnson, on the other hand, while by no means calling for the end of historical-critical scholarship, sees that the historical-critical method has not been an unmixed blessing, especially in its inability to sustain the life of faith in the Church and the awareness of Christ's presence as living and active. Johnson therefore sees a value in studying the Fathers of the Church, especially Origen, because of their intensely ecclesial focus.

But even as Johnson takes Brown and his generation of Catholic exegetes to task for neglecting the Fathers, Johnson's own way of utilizing them arguably banishes them further from the actual judgments and procedures of the exegete than Brown did. This is so because Johnson submits all judgments to the panel of historicallydeveloped experience while subjecting experience to no higher standard of judgment, which is historicist. De Lubac's approach, therefore, may be even more important now than it was in 1950.

III. Raymond E. Brown on the Value of Reading Origen

Not long after the publication of Histoire et Esprit, Brown questioned whether the study of patristic exegesis had any value for the modern exegete at all. Brown regarded the renewed interest in patristic exegesis as, at best, useless, and at worst, a threat to the real gains modern Catholic exegetes had been making because of the relatively new acceptance of the historical-critical method in the Catholic Church. After referring to the attempts of Jean Danielou and Henri de Lubac to revive the study of the spiritual sense of Scripture, Brown writes, "Despite the serious attempt in our times to vindicate the exegesis of the two great exegetical schools of antiquity, Alexandria (Origen) and Antioch (Theodore of Mopsuestia), I would judge the attempt to give great value to patristic exegesis as exegesis a failure." (11) He continues, "But while appreciating the rich patristic legacy in theology and spirituality drawn from the Bible, I think that we must recognize that the exegetical method of the Fathers is irrelevant to the study of the Bible today." (12) The exegesis of the Fathers seems to have been arbitrary and purely "imaginative and symbolic," more "a form of literary art," (13) as opposed to current, more scientific, historical-critical approaches. For Brown, it is impossible to see a use for the "more-thanliteral" (14) exegesis of the Fathers. Their exegesis has become for us, due to our historical consciousness, an admirable but obsolete relic, considering that "its characteristic indifference toward the literal sense militates against its revival today." (15) He therefore concludes, "This writer does not share the view that Origen's exegesis can really be revived for our time." (16)

It is important to note that Brown does not reject the sensus plenior itself or, even more clearly, the spiritual sense of Scripture. He actually calls more-than-literal meanings in the Bible "extremely important." (17) Instead, what Brown objects to is using the Fathers' exegesis to guide the modern interpreter. Brown's own practice follows suit. He seldom refers to the exegesis of a Father of the Church in his own interpretive work. Two examples show Brown's normal use of patristic texts in his own exegesis. In his 1965 New Testament Essays, Brown cites St. Irenaeus on the connection of the Wedding at Cana to the Eucharist. (18) But it is not Irenaeus's arguments, or the reasons for his exegesis, that are useful for Brown, but rather Irenaeus's witness to an early tradition of the interpretation of the passage. Again, in his 1981 book The Critical Meaning of the Bible, Brown cites St. John Chrysostom as a source for the statement in Dei Verbum, the Second Vatican Council's Constitution on Divine Revelation, that "The words of God, expressed in human language, have been made like to human discourse, just as of old the Word of the eternal Father, having taken to himself the weak flesh of humanity, became like other human beings" (DeiVerbum, 13). He introduces Chrysostom as an authority on the theology of revelation, but not as a guide or aid in exegeting the texts of Scripture. (19) That task is reserved for the methods of modern, historical-critical exegesis applied by the competent, properly trained exegete.

IV. De Lubac on Origen: His Weaknesses and What Can Be Learned from Him

Henri de Lubac agrees with Brown to the extent that he says modern exegesis should not make a simple, uncritical return to patristic exegesis. He says, "I find the distance to be as great as anyone else does, that distance which separates us irremediably from this Alexandrian of the third century and from his intellectual universe. The river does not flow back to its source. No more than life itself does thought retrace its steps. Even if it wished to do so, no miracle would allow such a dream to be realized." (20) Even more interesting is the picture one gathers from de Lubac if one reads his book merely with an eye to his criticisms of Origen. Consider the following catena of quotations:

1. "Origen is sometimes tempted to find a sublime meaning a bit too quickly for other precepts." (21)

2. "On occasion, however, the mystical sense does serve our author, too, as an expedient to resolve textual difficulties." (22)

3. "Is this to say that he shows a true historical sense? Assuredly not, and this deficit prevents him from understanding many things." (23)

4. "He is almost totally unaware both of Semitic ways of thinking and of the literary modes of expression that correspond to them." (24)

5. "Always this denigration and this rejection of the Old Testament! Origen, that man of the Church, is never insensitive to this danger. His Catholic instinct makes him react. But then, as in other analogous cases, he goes too far. He lets himself be carried away by the controversy. A desire for more solid, less pliant orthodoxy makes him exaggerate in the opposite direction." (25)

6. "[Origen] did not have the historical sense in the purely human, modern, and scientific understanding of the term. In that respect, there is nothing to distinguish him from his contemporaries. Once the events are past, he, too, does not dream of devoting a retrospective interest to them." (26)

7. "Arbitrary exegesis, of course, like so many others in Origen." (27)

8. "So his justifiable conviction of the overall inspiration, too forgetful of the inevitable infirmities of the human author, often led him to seek profound intentions beneath miniscule particularities of the text that did not have any such intentions." (28)

9. Speaking of the ignorance of literary genre, style, and language in Scripture among the Fathers of the Church, de Lubac observes, "More prolific and more acute than most, Origen falls more frequently than they into this failing." (29)

10. "Many of the spiritual meanings he thought to discover beneath every text taken one after the other seem debatable to us, and more than debatable." (30)

11. "But in this 'congregatio in unum' (gathering together into one), Origen does not take into account either the human contexts or lines of development." (31)

De Lubac is sensitive to many of the concerns Brown articulates about the exegesis of the Fathers in general and Origen in particular. Given de Lubac's insistence that we neither can nor ought to return to Origenian exegesis, one can only conclude that de Lubac rejects, pace Brown, an uncritical revival. Indeed, he says himself, "I have sought, not to 'defend' Origen, but simply to know what in fact he thought and said." (32) Only this kind of sympathetic reading can illuminate the real differences between "us" and Origen's "intellectual universe." This way of sympathetically but not uncritically reading Origen is a model for how to benefit from studying ancient thinkers. De Lubac observes, "Every mode of thinking, thus, has its faults, and it is natural that we are more clear-sighted about those of the ancients than about our own." (33) This point seems obvious, but it is one that is seldom emphasized enough. What are the faults de Lubac believes a historical study of Origen can help to correct? He tells us: "We are threatened with a totalitarian 'earth-boundedness' and humanism. In the diversity of their systems, psychologists, sociologists, and metaphysicians conspire to impose such views on us. In a word, our great temptation is to make God the symbol of man, his image objectified. Through this dreadful inversion, all biblical allegory, along with faith itself, would obviously be taken away with a single stroke." (34) The stakes, therefore, are very high: the faith itself. Our temptation is to expunge from Scripture any hint of God's condescension, thereby subjecting the God of the Bible to our own prejudices. De Lubac identifies the main culprit as historicism, which he distinguishes from the historical meaning. (35) De Lubac points out,
   The historical sense--which is more than the critical sense--is in
   large part a recent conquest. There is no reason to scorn it: it
   has enriched the human mind. We would be foolish to do without it.
   But it also includes its dangers. The inferiority in this regard of
   one of the ancients like Origen was not without its compensations;
   notably--and perhaps we are not sensitive enough to this
   advantage--he escaped all the narrowness, all the illusions, all
   the pitfalls of historicism. (36)

Historicism differs from the historical sense. Historicism regards the past as dead and obsolete, cut off from the present. If all human thought is inextricably tied to the period in which it arises, then the thought of another period is interesting only as a museum piece--or, to stick with de Lubac's image of life and death, an embalmed corpse--and not as something urgent and vital that makes a claim on our attention and can assist us to purify and develop our own understanding.

According to de Lubac, historicism robs history of any interiority and denies that history bears any transcendent impulse. Historicism "reconstitutes the past without taking into account that with which it is pregnant." (37) It disables the exegete's attempt to read the Old Testament in light of the New, since God's presence in the interior of history directing it toward fulfillment in Christ is ruled out in advance. It makes the totality of Scripture, Old and New Testaments, a dead letter to people of today because it denies that spirit dwells in history. (38) De Lubac explains the essence of Origen's exegesis, on the other hand, saying,
   If it were necessary to sum up in a single word the spirit of this
   exegesis, we would say that it is an effort to grasp the spirit in
   the history or to undertake the passage from history to spirit. An
   effort both twofold and single, which, by the fact that it
   transcends history, serves as the basis for this history by giving
   it a meaning. This is what we conceive so poorly today, since this
   category of history has acquired so great, so unquestionable a
   value for us--even while it poses us so many questions; and since
   we are also so little accustomed to reflecting about it. We imagine
   it to be spontaneously connatural to the human consciousness, and
   we willingly believe, without further examination, that it
   justifies itself, as it were, so to speak, in the air! (39)

If, however, spirit does not dwell in history, then the Bible cannot be inspired in any weighty sense, because it is the Holy Spirit dwelling in history that provides the Bible with all of its significance as a divine communication. (40) Human beings would, therefore, be cut off from the word of God. (41) This kind of what de Lubac calls totalitarian earthboundedness that robs history of its interiority and has such harmful effects for the faith is part and parcel of historicalcritical exegesis, which methodologically excludes from its purview anything that transcends the externals of history, materialistically construed. For de Lubac, therefore, it calls out for a supplement, without which it issues only in distortions. Brown is insightful when he says, "It is not by accident that the emphasis on the literal sense developed in our times. The historical-critical method by which the literal sense is uncovered is sympathetic to modern man's whole mode of thought." (42) If modern man's whole mode of thought is, like the thought of every age, subject to blind spots, then what Brown points out would have to mean that our use of the historical-critical method today can only be fruitful if we are cognizant of our blind spots and work to counteract them.

For de Lubac, one ought not to have to choose between the deficiencies of the past and the deficiencies of the present. Instead, studying great thinkers of the past such as Origen without yielding to historicism can purify current ways of thinking without losing hold of genuine advances. (43) De Lubac describes experiencing this process of purification himself:
   It was no longer a matter of measuring, in any given exegesis, the
   part allotted to the "letter" or to history. It was no longer even
   a matter solely of exegesis. It was a whole manner of thinking, a
   whole world view that loomed before me. A whole interpretation of
   Christianity of which Origen, furthermore, despite many of his
   personal and at times questionable traits, was less the author than
   the witness. Even more, through this "spiritual understanding" of
   Scripture, it was Christianity itself that appeared to me, as if
   acquiring a reflective self-awareness. (44)

For de Lubac, reading Origen was important because Origen unfolded the mysteries of the faith for him, which led to a deeper intellectual and spiritual conversion.

De Lubac's judgment about the importance of Origen and the rest of the Fathers stands in marked contrast to Brown's account of them. For Brown, "The Church Fathers accomplished a true hermeneutic task: they made the Scripture of an earlier and largely Semitic period speak meaningfully to a later Greco-Roman world." (45) But for Origen, the point of exegesis was not to translate historicallybound texts, but to uncover the transcendent reality to which texts refer, which requires an act of understanding rather than technique or method. On the other hand, if there is no interiority to history, then the meaning in biblical texts can be adequately excavated using only technical means. Brown does not mention the importance or necessity of conversion or of the purification of the mind of the critic. For Brown, the application of a technique or method seems to remove the necessity for conversion, either spiritual or intellectual. Since techniques develop over time, that means that the understanding of Scripture will increase as better techniques for understanding Scripture arise and are refined.

Even with respect to history, however, de Lubac does not want to leave Origen undefended against his modern critics. For Origen, de Lubac says, "The whole symbolic construct, with its 'allegorizations,' its interiorizations, its spiritual consequences, does not evacuate history. It is not even indifferent to it, as Philo's allegorism could be. It is built, in principle, on the ground of history." (46) The reality Origen possessed but that his great teachers Philo and the pagan Platonists did not is the Christian mystery of the Incarnation, in which the value of history is infinitely raised because God himself has acted within it by entering it himself. The great difference between Christian and pagan Greek allegory is that Christianity is not mythological: Christian allegory is founded on and draws itself from events that happened rather than being an imposition on deeds or texts in order to draw out a beneficial meaning perhaps not to be found in the text; in other words, Christian allegory happens in the reality of the events written about in the Bible, whereas all previous allegory happened in the mind of the allegorist as a post hoc reflection on texts.

As mentioned above, de Lubac does criticize Origen for making too quick a use of the spiritual sense to resolve textual difficulties. Still, de Lubac denies that this undercuts the historicity of events (47) as Philonic and Platonist allegorizing inevitably does. (48) Christianity takes history so seriously because the Word of God enters into history. (49) The result is that, for de Lubac, Christianity originally gave rise to historical thinking. (50) For example, de Lubac observes that, according to Origen, "It was really night when Judas went out to betray, and that physical night was the image of the night that then began in his soul." (51) Thus, for Origen, "Very far from compromising the evangelical reality, he merely accentuates it, for the reality of the story is the necessary guarantee of the mysterious reality that it signifies. Then he is within the intention of Saint John, within the practice of Saint Paul." (52) Origen's exegesis is solidly historical because he bears witness to Christ, the concrete universal, the person in whose incarnation spirit and history meet.

De Lubac is also aware that Origen's historical sense is not tutored by contemporary standards, and that this apparently leads him to make mistakes. (53) Even further, "The consideration of biblical history has for us a religious importance whose precise tenor could not have been suspected by the ancients. That is to say that the initiation to reading the Bible, even by those who are in no way concerned with knowledge, could no longer be today what it was in the time of Origen." (54) Precisely because of the importance of history for Christianity, the modern emphasis on history, if it is purified from any historicism, can, and has, led to genuine advances in understanding the Christian mystery. This is where modern approaches to the Bible, de Lubac says, can best correct weaknesses in patristic exegesis.

The challenge that reading Origen presents to us, for de Lubac, is also the challenge presented to us when we read any of the great figures in the Christian tradition: how to understand the concrete universal, the mystery of Christ and the Church, in successive and very different historical epochs. To focus our attention on the desirability (and also the immensity) of this task, de Lubac compares Origen and St. Thomas Aquinas. He observes that, just as Origen transposed Platonist philosophy in his time, so also did Aquinas transpose Aristotelianism in his time. De Lubac held that for both Aquinas and Origen, "No more in the domain of knowing than in that of acting did either of them wish to 'overturn' everything: they believed it better to 'purify.'" (55) The principle guiding this transposition, the dialectical force driving the purification of current thought, is and must always remain faith in Christ, since "it is the very person of Christ that [Origen] presents as the source of all renewal and the principle of final unity; it is the Christian life that he preaches tirelessly in his treatises and in his homilies; it is the Christian interpretation of all things, of which he is the first to try his hand at tracing the major principles." (56) For de Lubac, this Origenian principle is evergreen.

Finally, a constant undercurrent in de Lubac's volume is Origen's dependence on St. Paul. De Lubac is constantly at pains to show that Origen follows Paul in his spiritual reading of Scripture, that Origen at all times attempts to be faithful to the example Paul gives: "Origen imitates and extends the movement of the Apostle, in whom he sees above all the foremost of exegetes." (57) Origen finds that Scripture has a spiritual sense only because Paul does so before him: "There truly is in the Bible, according to Saint Paul and according to Origen, an allegorical sense." (58) If de Lubac is right, then to deny or even deemphasize the spiritual sense as used by the Fathers of the Church is to depart from the practices of the authors of Scripture themselves.

The best corrective to the deficiencies in our own thinking is a dialogue partner who does not share the same weaknesses. As C. S. Lewis once said about reading St. Athanasius:
   Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing
   certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We
   all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic
   mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books. ... Not,
   of course, that there is any magic about the past. People were no
   cleverer then than they are now; they made as many mistakes as we.
   But not the same mistakes. They will not flatter us in the errors
   we are already committing; and their own errors, being now open and
   palpable, will not endanger us. Two heads are better than one, not
   because either is infallible, but because they are unlikely to go
   wrong in the same direction. To be sure, the books of the future
   would be just as good a corrective as the books of the past, but
   unfortunately we cannot get at them. (59)

De Lubac's book is not an attempt to revive an old way of reading Scripture in order to replace the modern historical-critical approach. He thinks that there are good reasons not to wish to return uncritically to the patristic exegesis of Scripture and good reasons to be thankful for the historical-critical method. Nevertheless, it would be sheer complacency to regard our own way of doing things as without any deficiency of its own as compared with other ways.

V. Historicism and Historical Study: Luke Timothy Johnson's Recommendation of the Study of Origen

Luke Timothy Johnson attempts to resist the excesses and abuses of the historical-critical method of exegesis, recognizing in his own way the poverty of current biblical exegesis. He devotes a chapter to Origen of Alexandria and obviously greatly admires him. He describes himself as a member of the generation of Catholic exegetical scholars characterized by their "disillusionment" with the patrimony of the previous generation of Catholic exegetes like Raymond Brown, Joseph Fitzmyer, and Roland Murphy. (60) He finds that the work of this generation, which made the historical-critical method the center of its exegetical enterprise, has in addition to conferring many benefits also had ambiguous or even bad effects. He lists four conclusions his generation can recognize more clearly than the preceding generation: (i) the historical-critical method is not merely the study of history, but is involved in historical reconstruction as its distinguishing mark; (2) the method has not resulted in scientific consensus on the reconstructions its various practitioners have proposed, nor has it succeeded in sustaining the life of faith in the Church; (3) it consigns other ways of reading the Bible to uncritical and unscientific irrelevance, thereby abandoning all other ways of reading the Bible used by Christians in prior times; and (4) it is not theologically neutral, bearing within it presuppositions of Protestant religion that are corrosive to Catholic faith. For all of these reasons, Johnson worries that research on the Bible as Catholic scholars currently carry it out in the academy has lost much of its Catholic character and now fails to serve the Church. (61) He even writes: "I think what we are in danger of losing is even more precious than what we have gained." (62)

Like de Lubac, Johnson regards the reopening of a conversation between premodern and modern ways of reading the Bible as necessary to correct the problems he describes. (63) Like de Lubac, he knows that this task will require enormous labor and great historical acumen. He says, "The point is not an easy nostalgia about the good old days (there is much in ancient interpretation that is unattractive) nor a simple imitation of perfect models (there is much in ancient interpretation that is inadequate). The point, rather, is a critical engagement that can enrich and enable a future." (64) Johnson observes that what underlies much of the historical-critical method's narrowness is its understanding that the object of exegesis is scientia (knowledge), while it neglects sapientia (wisdom). He notices that few contemporary biblical scholars are scholars of the whole Bible and that historical-critical exegesis tends to break up the Bible rather than reading it as a whole. The sapiential approach to the Bible is a distinguishing mark of pre-modern exegesis, and so Johnson finds it disheartening that, "Among New Testament dissertations produced in the United States today, it is rare to find a dissertation that reviews interpretation of the passages in question before the 19 th century." (65)

It is in light of this imbalance that Johnson recommends a return to the study of patristic exegesis, including Origen. Johnson is effusive in his praise of Origen. He says: "No Christian theologian ever more fully embraced Scripture as revealing the mysteries of God, or ever had a clearer perception of the intellectual difficulties involved in such an embrace," (66) and "Origen was the least anxious of all theologians. He had the willingness to risk his mind together with a cheerful openness to being corrected by the reading of others." (67) He defends Origen from charges that he is pre-critical, pointing out ways in which Origen is a precursor of many of the most heralded characteristics of the historical-critical method: "Pre-Enlightenment scriptural interpretation is sometimes dismissed as 'pre-critical,' meaning, in effect, prehistorical-critical. The term precritical in any sense, however, does not apply to Origen. He saw it as his vocation to inquire (Cels. 4.8--9; 6.37), convinced that truth is truth wherever it appears;" (68) "He was text-critical;" (69) "His interpretation is linguistically informed;" (70) and "Origen's commentaries contain many acute literary observations." (71)

It is here that Johnson and de Lubac begin to diverge. Johnson praises Origen primarily for those traits he sees as being early forms of, preparatory to, and in common with the Scripture scholarship of today. The value of pre-modern exegesis for Johnson is that the pre-modern age has more in common with our postmodern age than either have with the modern age. (72) For Johnson, the purpose in reading ancient authors like Origen is not to challenge and correct the deficiencies and errors in our own thought and the ways we read the Bible, but to fill out what is inexplicit or may have been forgotten in our own largely adequate thought and ways of reading the Bible. He argues, "Biblical scholars must go back in order to get to the future, by reading the best of ancient interpreters of Scripture, seeking to learn again some of the things they ought not to have forgotten." (73) The differences with de Lubac emerge when Johnson begins to consider what precisely modern exegetes have forgotten and therefore might relearn from Origen. He advises, "How might the postmodern church be instructed by premodern Origen with respect to the interpretation of Scripture? I think we have much to learn at the level of sensibility rather than at the level of specific method." (74) De Lubac mi ght argue that a "method" or way of reading the Bible at the very least contributes to the "sensibility." The sapiential sensibility in reading the Bible requires a sapiential "method," or at least a cast of mind open to and informed by faith from the outset and confident that human thought can grasp wholes and not just parts, can penetrate to revealed realities rather than just pick apart texts, can understand spirit as it is borne in history.

Johnson provides an example of what it would mean for a contemporary exegete to learn from Origen in reading the Bible. He takes the passage from i Timothy 2:11--15 about the silence of women in the assembly and describes the consternation among contemporary laypeople and scholars about this passage. He reproaches those who read it, as he describes it, naively by saying, "This passage also appears to create a contradiction in Scripture, since it stands in tension with other Pauline and non-Pauline instructions and the practice of the early churches with regard to women. Above all, the passage is a moral stumbling block, a scandal for contemporary readers. Simple Christians who put the passage into practice literally bring the good news into disrepute among those seeking the equal dignity of all women." (75)

He also reproaches those who reject the passage out of hand as unacceptable to current sensibility: "More sophisticated Christians read it literally, cannot accept the Paul found in the passage, and deny its authority for the church." (76) Both groups fail to read the passage as Scripture. Johnson then asks:
   What would it mean to learn from Origen in this case? We have no
   extant reading of his on the passage. Were we to have such a
   reading, we would undoubtedly find it unsatisfactory, because to
   him it would not have been morally offensive. Origen is truly a
   Platonist in his steady depreciation of women's ability (see Num
   I.I; Gen. 4.4; 5.2; Lev. 4.7.4). But learning from Origen is not
   repeating his opinions or imitating his precise methods. It is
   rather seeking to share his sensibilities and convictions and
   employ them in our context. (77)

Johnson's dismissal of Origen rests on Origen's Platonism, which he says was conditioned by the prejudices about women of his time. Johnson does not provide an explanation of Origen's offense other than that it frustrates "those seeking the equal dignity of all women, especially when the injunction serves as cover for the degradation of women." (78) In so doing, Johnson substitutes the moral standards of contemporary feminism for listening to the standards of Scripture. In a moral conflict between Origen (and, indeed, Scripture) and contemporary standards, contemporary standards automatically trump. The reason for this automatic triumph seems to be chronological rather than sapiential. (79) Johnson does not consider whether the ancient thinker might, in this case, see more clearly than he does. (80) Johnson also does not apply the same standard of criticism to himself: that Johnson's view of what constitutes the dignity of women might be a product of the prejudices of our age. Whether his own moral commitments might be as revisable as he considers Origen's to be is a possibility he does not address.

Johnson uses contemporary moral consensus as an interpretive key in revising the meaning of the passage. He says, "We would, then, be ruthlessly analytic in showing how Paul uses his own opinion, misreads Genesis, betrays his own best insights into the nature of the good news in Jesus Christ. In order to see these things, we would need to read the passage not only within the context of i Tim or even Paul, but of Scripture as a whole, and read it according to the 'mind of Christ.'" (81) Johnson then makes two moves. First, he provides a new understanding of the moral sense of Scripture. Johnson says, "We would then seek the spiritual sense--not allegory, but a moral understanding that enables us to gain insight into the good news as it is found in this passage." (82) Johnson's moral reading of Scripture is quite different from Origen's moral reading of Scripture. To take one example, in commenting on Origen's Homilies on Joshua and his interpretation of Joshua's conquest and slaughter of the inhabitants of the Holy Land, Johnson says, "The literal slaughter of the inhabitants of the land, therefore, must be read as our spiritual victory over the powers of evil." (83) These things, Johnson reads Origen as saying, "may have applied to people in the distant past, but if read at the literal level, cannot have any pertinence to the present." (84) But Origen would say that the moral reading of those troublesome passages in Joshua points to a reality deeper than their literal sense. We can read this passage as referring to our victory over evil now because of the difference between figure and truth from the Old Testament to the New. The threat to Israel of the flesh represented by the inhabitants of the Holy Land is parallel to the threat that vices and sins present to the Israel of the spirit in the soul of Christian believer. The prior inhabitants of the Holy Land had to be destroyed because they would have tempted Israel to idolatry and disobedient, polytheistic infidelity to God, undercutting the main purpose of the establishment of Israel in the Holy land: pure worship of the one God. Just so, interior vices and sins impair the simplicity of heart needed to cleave faithfully to the one God of Jesus Christ, leading to a form of spiritual polytheism. It is the difference in historical situation provided by the entrance of Christ into history that grounds Origen's moral reading, not a change in the believer's moral sensibility.

In addition to differing with Origen on the realism of allegory, Johnson does not acknowledge the great difference in Origen's reading of the Old and New Testaments that de Lubac observes: "Origen uses this word 'allegory' with much more reserve in regard to New Testament writings. (85) For that matter, all his exegesis takes on a different appearance. Except for a few isolated reflections, his commentary on the Letter to the Romans, for example, in no way resembles his explanations of the texts from the Hexateuch." (86) Johnson seems to judge that alteration in historical epoch from ancient to modern (or postmodern) provides the same sort of historical change that grounds the spiritual interpretation of the Old Testament in light of the New, such that the shift between Old and New Testaments provided for by the Incarnation is parallel to the shift from ancient to modern historical epochs. This is consistent with Johnson's judgment that revelation is not complete, that God has not finished speaking. In effect, he supposes that the Word is continually incarnated anew in every epoch. A modern exegete, therefore, can find a spiritual reading in the New Testament equivalent to Paul finding a spiritual reading in the Old Testament.

Johnson then makes a second move. He makes "contemporary experience and the wisdom God has taught the church through the Holy Spirit over the ages" the exegetical key. (87) In his preference for the wisdom of today over the wisdom of the past, Johnson reveals that he thinks the Church has progressed such that the insights of ancient authors are obsolete in an even more thoroughgoing way than they are for Brown. (88) Johnson says, "We might follow Paul's too casual reading of Genesis with a much more careful one that leads to another sort of conclusion. We might do a number of creative things. But we would read it. By God (and for God) we would together shake this passage until it spoke to us a wisdom that is worthy of the God who shapes our lives and inspired this writing." (89) Johnson's historicism sanctions the violent imposition ("shake") of contemporary opinion onto Paul's text. Johnson therefore effectively accomplishes what Henri de Lubac worries about in History and Spirit--that our age is prone to exchanging God for the image of man.

VI. Conclusion

De Lubac calls our attention to Origen because he sees that contemporary exegesis of the Bible has fallen victim to historicism, which deforms faith, cuts off the present from revelation given in the historical past, and encourages complacency and undeserved selfassurance. Origen's nonhistoricist exegesis lacks the pronounced historical sense that we take for granted today, but is still far from denigrating or forgetting history; on the contrary, de Lubac says that a balanced study of Origen shows how seriously he takes history. In contrasting Origen and the rest of the Christian exegetical tradition prior to the advent of the historical-critical method to the allegorizations of pagan Greeks and even Philo, de Lubac shows that Christian reflection on the entrance of God into history in Jesus Christ provides the beginning of true historical consciousness. De Lubac engages in nonhistoricist historical study of Origen's nonhistoricist exegesis. The way forward, for de Lubac, is therefore a renewal and a reform using the resources of the entire tradition of the Church, always focusing on the person of Jesus Christ. De Lubac is not interested in an uncritical revival of Origenian exegesis, but rather is interested to hold Origen up to the contemporary exegete as a beneficial contrast and as a resource from whom much of importance can be learned. There are certainly ways in which historical-critical exegesis has advanced over the exegesis of the Fathers, but de Lubac thinks the deficiencies of historical-critical exegesis are at least as serious as its strengths. The contrast with a great figure of patristic exegesis like Origen is meant to provide a corrective to the contemporary exegete, whose mistakes are liable to empty the Scriptures of their living and life-giving qualities.

A historicist historical study leaves the researcher immune to any beneficial challenge and potential purification from the past, whereas a nonhistoricist historical study can help us to correct our errors and deficiencies without requiring us to abandon what gains we really have made in the course of history. Marcellino d'Ambrosio argues that for de Lubac, "Though it necessarily begins with an attempt to apprehend the literal or historical meaning of the Bible with the help of the best scientific tools available in a given epoch, this comprehensive hermeneutic invariably proceeds to search out the deeper 'spiritual sense' of the biblical texts by means of a corresponding 'spiritual understanding.'" (90) To proceed to the spirit borne in the history, it is first necessary to grasp the history; but the historicist approach to history dogmatically excludes the transcendence of the externals of history out of a desire to deny or control the spirit within it. Openness to the spirit within history is precisely what the modern historical-critical exegete ought to learn from Origen and from de Lubac.


(1.) Susan K. Wood argues, "De Lubac does not advocate that we abandon the contemporary methods of biblical scholarship, what he calls 'scientific exegesis,'" Wood, Spiritual Exegesis and the Church in the Theology of Henri de Lubac (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), viii. Even further, Marcellino D'Ambrosio argues convincingly that, "unlike other advocates of spiritual exegesis, de Lubac not only recognized the legitimacy and fruitfulness of historical-critical exegesis, but actively encouraged its acceptance by the Church.Yet, in contrast to other proponents of this new exegesis in the forties and fifties, he also recognized the inherent limitations of exegetical science as well as the questionable presuppositions with which it had been bound up since its inception," D'Ambrosio, "Henri de Lubac and the Critique of Scientific Exegesis," Communio: International Catholic Review, 19 (Fall 1992), 367. Robin Darling Young, who has recently emerged as a fairly harsh critic of de Lubac, concurs: "De Lubac himself abjured a return to the past." Young, "A Soldier of the Great War: Henri de Lubac and the Patristic Sources for a Premodern Theology," in James Heft, SM and John O'Malley, SJ, After Vatican II: Trajectories and Hermeneutics (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 20 12, 143).

(2.) As Susan K. Wood shows, de Lubac was oftentimes on the receiving end of charges of historicism that would lead to doctrinal relativism and the eclipse of truth in theology. These charges came largely from neo-scholastic quarters. See Wood, Spiritual Exegesis, 9--17.

(3.) See Marcellino D'Ambrosio, "Critique of Scientific Exegesis," 384--85.

(4.) Maurice Blondel, "History and Dogma," in The Letter on Apologetics and History and Dogma, ed. and trans. Alexander Dru and Illtyd Trethowan (Grand Rapids: Erdmans, 1994), 254fl.

(5.) I must emphasize that I do not attempt to provide a comprehensive critique of either Brown or Johnson, both of whom are rightly considered giants in the field of biblical scholarship; my purpose in criticizing their thoughts on Origen and patristic exegesis is to highlight some of the ways in which de Lubac's contrasting approach might provide valuable resources both for scholars of Scripture and for theologians who want to ground their studies more securely and deeply in Scripture.

(6.) As D'Ambrosio points out, "Historicism also violates another important canon of scientific method, namely, objectivity. Ironically, it is those historians [under the sway of historicism] who believe they are engaged in presuppositionless interpretation who, notes Blondel, compromise their objectivity most severely." D'Ambrosio, "Critique of Scientific Exegesis," 376.

(7.) This is, admittedly, a simplification of a doctrine that can be extremely sophisticated. A detailed examination of the origins and theoretical underpinnings of historicism lies outside the limitations of this essay. For a more popular treatment and critique of historicism, see C. S. Lewis, "Historicism," in Christian Reflections, ed. W. Hooper (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), 100--13. For a profound, philosophic treatment and critique, see L. Strauss, Natural Right in History (Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1965), and two of his essays, "The Three Waves of Modernity" and "Natural Right and the Historical Approach" in Leo Strauss, An Introduction to Political Philosophy, ed. Hilail Gildin (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1989), 81--124. Bernard Lonergan is also well worth consulting, especially "Natural Right and Historical Mindedness" in Lonergan, Third Collection, ed. Frederick E. Crowe, SJ (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist, 1985), 169--83. John Paul II's encyclical Fides et Ratio also addresses historicism in paragraph 87:
   Eclecticism is an error of method, but lying hidden within it can
   also be the claims of historicism. To understand a doctrine from
   the past correctly, it is necessary to set it within its proper
   historical and cultural context. The fundamental claim of
   historicism, however, is that the truth of a philosophy is
   determined on the basis of its appropriateness to a certain period
   and a certain historical purpose. At least implicitly, therefore,
   the enduring validity of truth is denied. What was true in one
   period, historicists claim, may not be true in another. Thus for
   them the history of thought becomes little more than an
   archeological resource useful for illustrating positions once held,
   but for the most part outmoded and meaningless now. On the
   contrary, it should not be forgotten that, even if a formulation is
   bound in some way by time and culture, the truth or the error which
   it expresses can invariably be identified and evaluated as such
   despite the distance of space and time.

(8.) This latter concern has been taken up in a prominent and outstanding way by Pope Benedict XVI in his recent Jesus of Nazareth series.

(9.) Henri de Lubac, History and Spirit, trans. A. Nash (San Francisco: Ignatius, 2007), 41.

(10.) Because of this danger, de Lubac counsels, "The first rigor to exercise in dogmatic matters is a rigor against oneself." Henri de Lubac, "La theologie et ses sources: Reponse aux Etudes critiques de la Revue Thomiste, May--Aug., 1946," Recherches de Science Religieuse 33 (1946): 398, quoted in D'Ambrosio, "Critique of Scientific Exegesis," 376.

(11.) Raymond E. Brown, SS, "The Problems of the Sensus Plenior," Ephemerides Theologicae Lovanienses 43 (1967): 463. Italics in original. While the subject of his article is the sensus plenior, his rebuke of the exegesis of the Fathers in this article is much more sweeping.

(12.) Ibid. For Brown, the irrelevance is not only factual, in that few exegetes consult Patristic sources when they do their work, but also deserved since the historical-critical method has achieved enormous advances in our knowledge of Scripture compared to past ages.

(13.) Ibid.

(14.) Ibid. Brown also observes in the same place, "I have purposely exposed some of my best students to various types of patristic exegesis, and unanimously they found such interpretation strange and forced." Brown does not pose the question whether the defect is in the texts under study or in his students. Perhaps he merely means to suggest that modern scholars of the Bible are simply unmoved by the things that moved men in ages past.

(15.) Ibid.

(16.) Raymond E. Brown, SS, "Hermeneutics," in The Jerome Biblical Commentary, ed. Raymond E. Brown, SS, Joseph A. Fitzmyer, SJ, and Roland E. Murphy, O. Carm (London: Geoffrey Chapman, 1968), 612. Later on, Brown softened his stance on the sensus plenior, attributing his prior position partly to the rhetorical need to emphasize the usefulness of the historical-critical method. See Raymond E. Brown, SS, The Critical Meaning of the Bible (NewYork: Paulist, 1981), 29--30.

(17.) Brown, An Introduction to the New Testament (NewYork: Doubleday, 1997), 41.

(18.) Brown, New Testament Essays (Milwaukee: Bruce Publishing, 1965), 69--70.

(19.) Brown, The Critical Meaning of the Bible, 22.

(20.) De Lubac, History and Spirit, 14. De Lubac also writes, "Authentic science is not everything, especially when its object is books containing the Word of God. It is nev ertheless invaluable, and I would consider harmful to the highest degree anyone in the least inclined to contest its domain or scorn its results." Further, "It would be no less an error ... to admire these ancient constructions so much that we wished to take up permanent residence in them; to canonize these doctrines to the point of not being able to discern the weak or no longer valid parts of them" (ibid., 429). It is the very distance between "us" and Origen's "intellectual universe" that makes it an indispensable task for the modern scholar who studies the ancients to examine what the differences are between "us" and Origen's "intellectual universe," and what the causes of those differences are. Without this dialectic, the historical-critical method cannot claim to be either truly critical or truly historical.

(21.) Ibid., 226.

(22.) Ibid., 231.

(23.) Ibid., 281.

(24.) Ibid., 282--83.

(25.) Ibid., 295--96.

(26.) Ibid., 319.

(27.) Ibid., 330.

(28.) Ibid., 348.

(29.) Ibid., 349.

(30.) Ibid., 351.

(31.) Ibid., 358. I say nothing about the justice or injustice of de Lubac's criticisms of Origen, but merely point out the fact of them.

(32.) Ibid., 10. The implication is that there is something valuable in itself to be gained from understanding what, in fact, Origen thought and said.

(33.) Ibid., 235. The study of an ancient author must be done with the strictest discipline and care, lest our own prejudices and the idiosyncrasies of our own time be imposed anachronistically onto that author. De Lubac warns, "Before criticizing, as it is legitimate to do, a mode of exegesis that did not merely hold a considerable place in their writings but was rooted in their deepest thought and was in intimate relation with the substance of their faith, we could never take too much care in striving to understand it well" (ibid., 374).

(34.) Ibid., 493--94. Lewis Ayres helpfully draws attention to one area in which the earthboundedness de Lubac decries has taken a grave toll on our ability to exegete the Scriptures: we no longer have a robust knowledge of, let alone belief in, the existence of the soul and the significance of the fact of our having souls. De Lubac's argument in favor of Origenian exegesis, the exegesis of the Fathers in general, and especially the spiritual reading of Scripture according to the fourfold sense, is grounded in just such a robust understanding of the human soul and its transformation through interaction with the pages of Scripture. See Lewis Ayres, "The Soul and the Reading of Scripture: a Note on Henri de Lubac," Scottish Journal of Theology 61.2 (2008): 173--90. Since the historical-critical method has little to nothing to say about the soul, it remains blind to this critical aspect of understanding the Scriptures. Pre-modern masters like Origen are therefore particularly valuable for us to study because of their deep and extensive reflection on the subject of the human soul. A better understanding of the human soul, gained under the tutelage of Patristic authors, would help the contemporary exegete immensely in his task of interpreting the Scriptures. De Lubac would, no doubt, add to this the fact that we no longer really understand what it means to have a spirit in the Pauline sense. See, e.g., Henri de Lubac, Theology in History, 117-29.

(35.) For a treatment of de Lubac's engagement with modernist historicists and rationalists, see R. Voderholzer, "Dogma and History: Henri de Lubac and the Retrieval of Historicity," trans. A. Walker, Communio: International Catholic Review 28 (Winter 2001): 648--68.

(36.) De Lubac, History and Spirit, 283.

(37.) As far as I can tell, de Lubac and Blondel mean by "interiority" simply that part of history not subject to investigation in terms of determination by natural necessity. In other words, a method that respects the "interiority" of history would leave room for the causal power of free persons--both human and divine. If that is correct, then the theoretical root of historicism would be the Cartesian split between res cogitans and res extensa. De Lubac, History and Spirit, 464.

(38.) See along these lines Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI's criticism of the abuses of the historical-critical method in Jesus of Nazareth, trans. AdrianWalker (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2008), xvi.

(39.) De Lubac, History and Spirit, 317.

(40.) It is interesting to note that Brown's discussion of the authorship of the Gospel of John in chapter 6 of his An Introduction to the Gospel of John not only lacks a treatment of divine authorship to go along with human authorship, but does not even mention the divine author. See Brown, An Introduction to the Gospel of John, ed. Fr. Francis Moloney (New York: Doubleday, 2003), 189--98. This is in no way to call into question Brown's own faith in the inspiration of Scripture, but only to note that the historicalcritical method, which Brown prefers over patristic ways of reading the Bible, seems to have no room for the most important thing about Scripture for the exegete: that it is inspired by God.

(41.) Wood explains, "In historicism, there is a sharp distinction between the material and supernatural worlds. Biblical exegesis under the influence of historicism does not approach Scripture as a privileged expression of faith, but rather interprets it as any other historical document" (Wood, Spiritual Exegesis, 18). Historicism therefore absolutely severs the work of the scientific, historical-critical exegete from the faith of the Church.

(42.) Brown, "Problems," 463. Brown's statement seems to imply that the historicalcritical method and only that method is capable of uncovering the literal sense, which is a bold claim and problematic for many reasons, not least of which is that it leaves canonical authors like John and Paul, who also lacked the historical-critical method, among those who could not but misconstrue the literal sense of Scripture. In the same article, Brown claims, "While the NT does not veer toward the exaggerations of Philonic allegory or of the Qumran pesharim, it does for the most part exemplify a loose midrashic exegesis of the OT that cannot be directly related to the literal sense of the respective passages, as that literal sense would be conceived by modern scholars" (ibid). Brown's claim here is different from saying, as I take de Lubac to say, that the historical-critical method is singularly useful in uncovering the literal sense, but not absolutely indispensable. In other words, we ought by all means to avail ourselves of the historical critical method, recognizing its need for supplements. Additionally, we should also regard all other ways of reading the Bible's literal sense as useful to some degree.

(43.) "We will never make use of the doctrines of the age without having purified them, without having removed from them all that is sterile and dead" (de Lubac, History and Spirit, 88). Part of Brown's great virtue is his desire to remove from past exegesis whatever is sterile and dead. It is less obvious in his writings that he also has a corresponding zeal to remove what is sterile and dead from contemporary exegesis, a position that is understandable in light of his lifelong task to commend the practice of modern, scientific exegesis to skeptical ecclesiastical authorities, which nevertheless can have distortive effects.

(44.) Ibid., 11. Marcellino d'Ambrosio comments, "The fundamental principles of this oft-misunderstood 'spiritual' or 'allegorical' method are in fact essential elements of the Christian patrimony which therefore must be retained and employed even today" (D'Ambrosio, "Critique of Scientific Exegesis," 366).

(45.) Brown, "Problems," 463.

(46.) De Lubac, History and Spirit, 281.

(47.) Ibid., 228.

(48.) "Such an attitude separates Origen from Philo as much as from the Greeks, in whose eyes history was devoid of meaning and who actually did not have a concept of it" (ibid., 318). To say the ancients had no concept of history may go too far, but de Lubac is certainly right to note that there is a difference between their understanding of history and ours. Rudolf Voderholzer observes that the Church Fathers' "allegorizations (the term is Pauline: Gal 4:24) differ fundamentally from philosophical 'allegorizations' of the pagan myths precisely on account of their differing understanding of history" (Voderholzer, "Dogma and History," 660).

(49.) This is because, as Rudolf Voderholzer says, "In Christ, the 'universale concretum,' spirit and history definitively meet" (ibid. 657). Wood expands on this point, saying,

The historical or literal meaning can refer to the empirical historical event, but the allegorical meaning is also the historical insofar as history is the interpreted event and the principle of this interpretation is the Christ event, an event which is historical. It is therefore mistaken to suppose that the literal sense is historical and the other senses are ahistorical. These other senses are also historical inasmuch as their Christocentrism grounds the objective actuality of history from the Christian perspective. (Wood, Spiritual Exegesis, 33.)

(50.) Voderholzer, "Dogma and History," 656--57.

(51.) De Lubac, History and Spirit, 229.

(52.) Ibid., 236. Also: "If the reality of the visible world is a figure for the invisible world, then the reality of biblical history will also be a figure for the things of salvation and will serve as their 'foundation'" (ibid., 104).

(53.) Although he also notes, "Even while we take note of these weaknesses ... let us marvel that they did not mislead him more than they did" (de Lubac, History and Spirit, 350). Humility in reading Origen might also lead us to ponder whether, when we find what seem to us to be mistakes in Origen, there might still be something that Origen sees that we do not.

(54.) Ibid., 321. De Lubac does not take up, in depth, whether this situation is good or bad.

(55.) Henri de Lubac, Theology in History, trans. Anne Englund Nash (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1996), 37.

(56.) Ibid., 35--36.

(57.) Henri de Lubac, History and Spirit, 263.

(58.) Ibid., 141. Also: "When he says of Jesus that he is 'Moses placed among us,' he is quite simply using a turn of phrase analogous to the one Saint Ambrose will repeat in speaking of Melchizedek. He imitates St. Paul, who himself also said: 'This rock was Christ.' He imitates Jesus himself, who said: 'John the Baptist is Elijah'" (ibid., 137).

(59.) C. S. Lewis, "Introduction," in Athanasius, On the Incarnation, trans. and ed. A Religious of CSMV (Crestwood, NY: St.Vladimir's Seminary Press, 2003), 4--5.

(60.) Luke Timothy Johnson, "What's Catholic About Catholic Biblical Scholarship?," in The Future of Catholic Biblical Scholarship, ed. Johnson and William Kurz, SJ (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 14.

(61.) There is little in these four conclusions with which de Lubac would disagree. One might quibble with Johnson that his criticisms require the standpoint of Johnson's generation. He lists his generation as the third generation of biblical scholars to use the historical-critical method; Brown et al. constituted the second, and BruceVawter, Jean Danielou, and Yves Congar, among others, the first. De Lubac, after all, would have belonged to the period of time coinciding with the first generation and was already able to see the flaws Johnson enumerates about the historical-critical method. Still, one already sees the tendencies toward historicism in Johnson's thought: it is the passage of time, the new generation, which brings insight.

(62.) Johnson, "Catholic Biblical Scholarship," 33.

(63.) "For Catholic biblical scholarship to recover something of its distinctive identity, it is necessary to move forward by engaging a more distant past, when Scripture was interpreted by people at least as intelligent as contemporary scholars, often as learned, and frequently holier. This long history of interpretation is part of our story; ignorance of it is an impoverishment of our present." Johnson, "Rejoining a Long Conversation," in Johnson and Kurz, SJ, The Future of Catholic Biblical Scholarship (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 35.

(64.) Ibid., 36

(65.) Ibid., 40.

(66.) Johnson, "Origen and the Transformation of the Mind," in The Future of Catholic Biblical Scholarship (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 68.

(67.) Ibid., 69.

(68.) Ibid., 79.

(69.) Ibid.

(70.) Ibid., 80.

(71.) Ibid., 81.

(72.) Ibid., 62--63.

(73.) Ibid., 64.

(74.) Ibid., 88.

(75.) Ibid.

(76.) Ibid.

(77.) Ibid., 89.

(78.) Ibid., 88.

(79.) The reason for Johnson's ability to revise the moral claims of Scripture are, for Johnson, that revelation is not complete, not even in Christ, but rather is ongoing in the experience of local ecclesial groups. Scripture therefore provides, not authoritative judgments, but rather the symbolic system for identity formation of groups and the individuals within them and the "grammar for deciphering the Word spoken here and now." Johnson, Scripture and Discernment: Decision Making in the Church (Nashville: Abingdon, 1996), 25. See also ibid., 23--24. Johnson's argument in the rest of this book is that the Church must exercise a discernment of the experiences of individuals and group to tell which are from God and which are not, and the test for the discernment is whether a particular experience or practice builds up the group in holiness. He leaves vague what building up and holiness might mean. Further, experience by itself without critical judgment based on transcendent truth is incapable of providing for the grasp of wholes or unifying in faith necessary for a genuinely sapiential approach to Scripture.

(80.) I offer this observation without any attempt to provide a judgment about whether Origen's Platonism or Johnson's feminism ought to win the moral argument. The purpose of the observation is simply to note that Johnson's preference for contemporary standards in interpreting St. Paul rests on the apparently unexamined assumption that our standards are superior. One way to uphold both the authority of the scriptural passage in question and the equal dignity of women is to take the path of Hans Urs von Balthasar, who admittedly has a much more complementarian view of the dignity of men and women than Johnson does. Balthasar speaks of the "Marian Principle," which he describes as, "the spirit of the handmaid, of service, of inconspicuousness, the spirit which lives only to pass on what it has received, which lives only for others. No one demands personal 'privileges' less than the Mother of Christ; she can rejoice only in so far as they are shared by all her children in the Church." Balthasar, Elucidations, trans. John Riches (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1998), 111. Earlier in this essay, Balthasar recognizes forthrightly the time-boundedness of the judgment behind i Timothy 2, yet also argues that even that time-bounded judgment discloses something evergreen. He says,

Now it is true that from the beginning the leadership of the Church was restricted to men, nor can one say that such a decision was uninfluenced by contemporary views and attitudes both in Judaism and Hellenism. But at the same time one will not be able to deny that precisely in this decision expression was given to that permanent sexual "order," which in no way runs contrary to the personal equality of rights of man and woman or to the equality of status of their oppositional sexual functions (ibid., 109).

(81.) Johnson, "Transformation," 89. Johnson regards his own age to be so enlightened that he can assert with confidence that St. Paul might be inconsistent, or that Johnson himself might be able to know the contours of Paul's thought and writing better than Paul himself. Johnson reiterates here what he previously asserted in Scripture and Discernment: Decision Making in the Church (Nashville: Abingdon, 1996), 130--32. There, Johnson asserts that Paul's teaching in i Timothy violates the principle of egalitarianism Paul articulates in Galatians 3:28.

(82.) Ibid.

(83.) Ibid., 87.

(84.) Ibid., 86.

(85.) In this respect, Johnson's moral reading of i Timothy resembles ancient pagan allegory much more than Origenian and Pauline allegory.

(86.) Johnson, History and Spirit, 263.

(87.) Johnson, "Transformation," 89.

(88.) William Kurz provides a gentle criticism along these lines in his response to Johnson in The Future of Catholic Biblical Scholarship in regard to Johnson's views on human sexuality and family life. See William Kurz, SJ, "Response to Luke Johnson," 154.

(89.) Ibid., 90. This startling statement has far reaching consequences. If Paul wrote a line unworthy of God, then the Church erred in including that letter in the canon. If the Church erred in the formation of the canon, then there really is no canon.

(90.) D'Ambrosio, "Critique of Scientific Exegesis," 384.
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Date:Jun 22, 2016
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