Review: Medieval Exegesis, volume 2

Henri de Lubac’s writing style is similar to M Night Shamalyan’s film success: in some works he was wildly successful, in others he just got lucky, and some just failed to deliver.  Volume 2 of Medieval Exegesis is in the last group. (Though to be fair volume 1 was fairly good).

volume2
A book of end notes

De Lubac killed the forest for the sake of the trees. The book did explain medieval exegesis, so I give him credit on that. And many of his quotations were quite interesting, even stirring–so that’s good. But he drowned his argument for the sake of piling on citations. Within 226 pages of text, I counted a total of 2,563 citations, leaving 208 pages of end notes.

So what’s his argument? I’m not sure. (I’m kidding). On de Lubac’s reading, allegory isn’t the wax nose that it would later become. Rather, Allegory is when one thing is being accomplished and another pre-figured (de Lubac 7). Sounds a lot like modern typology. The “mystic sense”of Scripture refers to a reality ‘hidden in God’ and then revealed to mankind in Christ (20). And the movement from history to eschatology (anagogy) isn’t completely arbitrary. It unfolds within the prior historical moment of the Incarnate Word. The object of allegory is a reality of things to come (94). It is an opposition of sign and thing signified within a single duration (95). History, in short, can never fully contain that which it foretells. Allegory, then, is an irruption from the historia into the allegoria, what de Lubac calls “another dimension” (95). Interiority: not necessarily the inner life, but the interiority of the mystery (97). These “hidden facts have an inside,” which is salvific (98).

Conclusion:

I’m not sure if I recommend this book. It is very expensive and crowded with citations that don’t always add to his argument, leaving the actual argument in fog. And I say this as someone who loves de Lubac’s work. Read Boersma instead.

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DKG questions: 2 (Precision and Metaphor)

  1. “We should not seek to impose upon church officers a form of creedal subscription intended to be maximally precise.”

Again, Scripture’s vagueness disallows ultimate maximum precision and secondarily, it makes unwise to force subscription to a document that implicitly seeks to be more precise than the standards God Himself set. Thirdly, such maximum precision and subscription unconsciously makes the Confession irreformable and canonical.

  1. Sometimes, metaphors come to our rescue in theology.

 

Metaphors, especially controlling ones, state thorny theological concepts in a s ccinct manner. This presupposes, of course, that vagueness is not only in Scripture, but vague statements about Scriptural truths are allowed. For example, how does one view the relationship between Adam’s sin and the human race? The best example, although one in need of qualification, is the “Federal Headship” of Adam. Adam represented the human race as a Federal head.

 

  1. Often, in fact, figurative language says more, and says it more clearly, than corresponding literal language would do.

 

Figurative language allows one to use popular concepts on the lay level to express truths. For example, it is clearer to say “God is like a mountain, unmoved” than to say “God is immutable.” The latter is more precise, whereas the former is able to communicate the same truth on the lay level.

 

  1. Use of a metaphor may be helpful in one context, misleading in another. Discuss, using examples.

 

Frame suggests that it is best not to use metaphor unless its purposes can be clearly expressed and limited. An example is the Dooyeweerdian definition of law as the boundary between God and the Cosmos. This is good in one sense but raises the question as to what degree does law limit or not limit God. In what sense, then, it is a boundary?

 

  1. Discuss possible cases in which there is danger in using metaphors when more literal language is necessary.

 

Either certain metaphors must be “unpacked” or more technical terms must be used. In other words, uninterpreted metaphors must not be used in philosophical, legal, or scientific discourse.

  1. Everything is comparable to God. Compare

 

Everything is analogous to God to the degree that all creation bears God’s imprint on it. God is like a “fire,” “wind,” “Lion of Judah,” “king,” “love,” etc. But for every analogy there is a disanalogy. God is analogous to evil men (or rather, they to him being created imago dei) but not in the same way that he is analogous to righteous men. That is, there are degrees of analogy between God and creation.

 

  1. Do we need special technical terms to refer to God’s transcendence? Discuss.

 

Technical terminologies concerning God’s transcendence are helpful but their uses ought not to be pressed. It is helpful to know the “qualitative difference” between God and men, for example. The same principle applies to God’s omnipresence, omniscience, and omnipotence. These terms are true as far as they go, but Scripture does not describe God in this way, preferring human referents: Lord, King, Saviour.

 

  1. The History of Doctrine, too, has progressed very largely by negation. Explain

 

Many doctrines have been formulated by way of contrast with heresies. Negation, like Scripture, seeks to contrast truth with error. Many doctrines, such as creation ex nihilo, seem to be most meaningful as an exclusion of contrary heretical positions. The nature of negation in theological formulation, however, is limited. Negation seeks only to show why or for what purpose doctrine x serves. Examples are, as Frame points out, the Reformation Confessions against sectarianism and Romanism, Nicene Trinitarianism against Sabellianism and Arianism, etc.

 

  1. …some doctrines have very little meaning except for their negative function of exclusion.

 

The denial of various heresies constitutes the meaning of a said doctrine. Given tough, philosophically vague concepts like substance, nothingness, hypostasis, it is difficult for the theologian to state a doctrine positively from Scripture. However, a Scriptural case can be built inferentially from negation.

 

  1. Everything is a matter of everything else. Discuss.

 

We must be aware of using “historical disjunctions” to deny other theological truths. For example, while doctrine x is true, it does not necessarily follow that doctrine y must be false. There are degrees to which each doctrine is related and not related to the other doctrine, to be sure, and these degrees of relation ought to form a framework in which to evaluate those doctrines.

Truth and Method (review)

This is one of those great moments where a great student follows his master (Heidegger) yet gives us a new product and not simply a repetition of his master. In short, for Gadamer language is the horizon of being. As Kant was wrong to seek a thing-in-itself, so we also should beware of a “meaning-in-itself.”

Gadamer begins and ends his work on a strange note: the aesthetics and interpretation of art. It’s not that art determines how we interpret text, but art allows Gadamer to illustrate (no pun intended) the tension given that great works of art are considered “timeless,” yet they were produced in historical, finite circumstances. This tension points to the horizon, a key Gadamerian term.

Every experience has implicit horizons of before and after and finally fuses with the continuum of experiences present in the before and after to form a unified flow of experience (246). Df. horizon = not a rigid boundary but something that moves with and invites one to advance further. Everything that is given as existent is given in terms of a world and hence brings the world horizon with it. As a horizon phenomenon “world” is essentially related to subjectivity, and this relation means also that it exists in transciency.”

Hermeneutical circle: possesses an ontological positive significance. We have already fore-projected before we even approach the text. This creates an openness which situates our meaning with other meanings. Understanding is a participation in the event of tradition and not so much a subjective act (302).

Horizons are temporally-conditioned. Time is not a gulf to be crossed by a supportive ground in which the present is rooted. We cannot stand outside of our situation. “All self-knowledge arises from what is historically pre-given, what Hegel calls “substance’” (313). Horizon: every finite present has its limitations. Every situation represents a standpoint that limits the possibility of vision. Horizons move with us. When we understand something, we fuse the horizons between text and interpreter. Fusion of horizons: We regain concepts of a historical past in such a way that it also includes our own comprehension of them (382).

This will go down as one of those truly great books. Ground-breaking works. It’s not super-hard to read simply because it is well-written. However, he does presuppose a good bit of Hegel and Heidegger, so keep that in mind.

Notes on Gadamer, 2

Chapter 2: The Ontology of the Work of Art

Play: the mode of the being of the work of art itself (106). (Note: When a continental philosopher uses the term “play” he doesn’t mean it in the sense of the South Park does in the Jeffersons)

  1. The work of art is not an object that stands over against a subject for itself; it has true being in the fact that it becomes an experience for the knowing subject.
    1. Play reaches presentation through the players
    2. The mode of being of play is mediation.
    3. The structure of play absorbs the player into itself (similar to the liturgy).
  2. Play takes place in the Heideggerian realm of the “in-between.”
  3. “Play” is consummated in the transformation into structure.
    1. This transformation produces what is otherwise hidden.
    2. Structure: the raising up of untransformed reality.
    3. Thesis:the being of art cannot be defined as an object of aesthetic consciousness…it is part of the event of being that occurs in presentation (120).
      1. Performance brings into existence.
      2. It acquires its proper being into being mediated.
      3. Total mediation means that the medium as such is superseded (aufhebt).
  4. Repetition does not mean a literal repeating.
    1. Festivals repeat, but the point is not another copy of an original.
    2. A festival exists only in being celebrated.
  5. Tragedy: the unity of a tragic course of events that is experienced as such.
    1. Commiseration and apprehension are modes of ek-stasis.
    2. This being overcome with involves a division of oneself.
    3. The final effect of tragedy is to dissolve this disjunction and to liberate the heart (132).
  6. The Ontology of Picture
    1. How is presentation (Darstellung) related to “picture?”
    2. By being presented, it experiences an increase in being.
    3. A picture is not a copy of a copied being, but is in ontological communion with what is copied (143).  It is coming-to-presentation.

Notes on Gadamer, 1

From Truth and Method.  Notes on Section 1.

Bildung:  the properly human way of developing one’s capacities; culture. reveals a new tacit dimension of man’s existence.

Erlebnis: an experience you have; connected with a subject’s knowing

Erfahrung: experience as an ongoing investigative project.

Vermittlung: total mediation.  In re-presenting the artwork performs a total mediation

PART ONE: THE QUESTION OF TRUTH AS IT EMERGES IN THE EXPERIENCE OF ART

One: Transcending the Aesthetic Dimension

  1. The Significance of the human tradition for the human sciences
    1. The Problem of Method:
    2. The Guiding concepts of Humanism
      1. Bildung (Culture)
        1. Herder: rising up to humanity through culture.
        2. Kant: cultivating a capacity of natural talent.
        3. Latin equivalent: formatio
      2. Hegel and Bildung: the condition of its existence; correlation between Geist and Bildung.
        1. Taking the universal in oneself; in acting out a skill, the man “finds himself.”
        2. Recognizes oneself in other being;
        3. To recognize one’s own in the alien.  This is why Hegel was fond of classical antiquity: it was sufficiently removed so that we can more easily see ourselves in the Other (Gadamer 13).
      3. Sensus Communis: not just Reid’s “common sense,” but the sense which founds community (19ff).
        1. A sense of right and good that is acquired from living in community (Vico).
        2. The sense of community mediates its own positive knowledge (21).
      4. Judgment

History and Spirit (de Lubac)

“The Law is spiritual.” This one sentence allows Origen to seek “mystical” meanings beyond that of the literal text–and in de Lubac’s hands he does a fairly impressive job. In many ways this work can be seen as a case study of de Lubac’s Medieval Exegsis (3 vols). Henri de Lubac’s argument is that the spiritual sense justifies the literal sense (de Lubac 121). Furthermore, “allegory” (whatever that word means) always has metaphysical and epistemological overtones. What you say about allegory will reflect what you believe about the soul and how you know that. As de Lubac will conclude, allegory is a “symbolic transposition” (437). All thought is mediated and “positioned” by figures. Allegory, although often abused, is simply a logical outworking of this truth.

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De Lubac’s Origen begins by noting correspondences between a trichotomous view of man and the 3-fold sense of Scripture. Man is body, soul, and spirit; not surprisingly, so Origen reads, so is Scripture. Up to a point, anyway. Scripture is unfolded as shadow, image, and truth (250). But we run into a small difficulty. The “three senses of Scripture” aren’t always locked in stone. Sometimes they can be “two senses.” When the mediating term is omitted, Scripture is elevated to the heavenly places. I think Origen paints himself into a corner here but we shouldn’t lose sight of his key epistemological insight: “Truth never appears to us completely free from figures” (253). If Scripture is mediated by figures, then there is nothing inherently wrong with allegory.

All of that is quite wonderful, but if the “mediating term” in Scripture is removed, does that mean the correspondence between Origen’s trichotomism (which I accept) and Scripture’s trichotomism breaks down? I think so. De Lubac leads to that conclusion but he refuses to draw it.

Origen doesn’t use the New Testament in exactly the same way as the Old Testament. There is a principle of New Testament operation: Christ’s actions are symbols of his spiritual operations (253). But “spiritual” doesn’t mean “not really real.” For Origen and Paul, “spiritual” mean eschatological newness (309). Jesus doesn’t explain the Old Testament; he transforms it (316).

De Lubac’s most fascinating chapter is on the relation between History and Spirit and the multiple modes of the Logos. In fact, that’s what the whole book should have been about. Origen’s Logos isn’t the same thing as Philo’s. De Lubac notes, “Philo’s Logos penetrates” into the multiplicity of matter, but Origen’s Logos speaks. He is “as much word as reason” (391).

And it is in this chapter where de Lubac most skillfully weaves together the logos of the soul with the Logos of Scripture. There is a “connaturality between Scripture and the soul” (397). The soul and Scripture “symbolize each other.” Origen applies this reasoning beyond the soul to the whole universe. Reality is an ordered hierarchy.

Conclusion

As wonderful as this book is, there are some negative points. It is about 100 pages too long (a problem with some of de Lubac’s writings). Further, de Lubac hasn’t fully escaped the prison cell of historical criticism, as he somewhat admits.