Monday, February 17, 2014

These Essays: Healing Revelation

Again I say, interpretations which possess salutary force will make more sense as interpretations than those that do not. We have seen, we hope, the great holism of the Biblical text, both its full and composite understanding of human nature and the thoroughgoing involvement of its symbolic imagery and metaphorical language.

But we hope that we have also seen that this nature in some ways fits our own, that the human mind which holistically wrote the Bible is in some ways the same as the one that, hopefully, reads it holistically today. That is how Scripture’s meaning happens, to whatever degree that it does: because language utilizes the entire human mind, one needs to use the entire human mind to understand it.

The fascinating upshot of so much contemporary hermeneutical thinking is that such is precisely the nature of interpretation itself, that interpretation is the incessant, rigorously holistic operation of the human mind.

And empathetic participation, therefore, is the nature of healing that the interpretation of Scripture might occasion. Of course, this will not look like, or at least it will not only look like, the healing recognized by those who are not Christian. Indeed, it is a sense of healing that we ourselves might not see immediately.

Secular medicine of all kinds only seeks to cure a wound, a malady, a disease. Christians seek a transformation, a healing beyond the best current version of our selves—the cure is becoming like Christ, participating in or putting on the benefits of his atonement. This will, we believe, eventually take care of all the rest. We will be cured of wounds we did not know we had, and then we will be healed some more.

Now it is true that we will not find such a balm only in the Scriptures as we read them. But most Christians for most of history seem to have believed they would not find it, or Him, without them. To know God, to know Christ, you must in some sense experience the Christian scriptures, and live outside yourself.

Such entangling between transcendence and immanence summarizes a hermeneutical paradox with which we will conclude. The self has the ability, indeed some would say the necessity, to simultaneously understand and welcome an other  which it can neither finally fathom nor firmly circumscribe. For Christians, this other will be revealed through a text this is itself, by its nature, something of an other.

But both are cases of the larger dialogue between mystery and revelation, which has perhaps been best recently understood in the work of Hans Urs Von Balthasar. So we might gain a better comprehend our own little hermeneutical paradox of the reading self and the written other by drawing analogies from his.

Unfortunately, a worthy summary of such work remains far outside the scope of this one. But it may suffice to say that Balthasar’s most helpful organizing idea for our purposes is the holistic nature of revelation. As Balthasar scholar Aidan Nichols writes, “the form taken by creation and revelation can only be grasped when creation and revelation are viewed as they were designed to be viewed: not as fragments, but as a symphonic whole.” In other words, and in terms more suited for these essays, God did not choose the limited language of a text for revelation despite its finitude. Rather, human language has finitude because it is part of the entire creation God established as means of revelation.

In other words, God chooses Scripture because God chooses creation.

We find ourselves so involved in our language because we find ourselves involved in the cosmos as created. The Bible is a special case of this, not a different kind, as Augustine himself implied by referring to the “two books” of scripture and creation. Moreover, because Bathlasar happens to be more Thomist than Augustinian, he emphasizes the essential unity of beings in the universe more than the divisions between them.

After all, notes Nichols, there are no beings in the universe without divisions between them; divisions are, indeed, what beings have in common. So it makes just as much sense to talk about the chain of being that connects all things as it does to talk about the abyssal nature of the gulf between them—and the connection of that chain of being, ultimately, to God.

And it makes just as much sense to say that, since the transcendentals of goodness, beauty, truth and unity only ever reveal themselves in the concrete, “contact, then, with concrete essences in their existence generates an experience of the transcendentals.” That is the nature of revelation, both Scriptural and created.

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