Saturday, February 22, 2014

These Essays: How to Make Scripture, How to be More Human

Surely, Von Balthasar resonates with the love commandment when he says “man exists only in dialogue with his neighbor.” For him, the neighbor reveals God not only indirectly as in Augustine, but also directly, in and of the neighbor’s self as created.

For with his thought of revelation through concretion, Balthasar incorporates an old Thomistic notion of knowledge being known to the knower’s capacity. He then inflects it with his own insistence that the possibility of such knowing depends on the presentation of the known, on the known as it is for itself.

If we apply this analogously to our interpretations of Scripture, then we interpret to our capacities and by our natures that which presents itself to us as itself: the collection of texts known as the New and Old Testaments of the Christian Bible. We interpret it authoritatively because it presents itself to us empathically, through the invocational holism of symbolic and linguistic imagination.

If Balthasar is at all right about the mutually-determining relationship between the knower and the known, then it is as plausible to say that empathy makes authority possible as it is to say the reverse. How, after all, can I recognize that my experience is like yours if I cannot first recognize that you yourself are different from me?

Indeed it is the fundamental mysteries of divinity which express themselves exactly in ways that we can comprehend. We provide a “limit” or condition of possibility for them them—not in any absolute sense, of course, but simply because God desires our understanding.

So already we see a certain mutual dynamic, rather than opposition, between authority and empathy at work between beings generally and therefore certainly through human language and then peculiarly in the case of Christian Scripture. Through the Bible, the loving strangeness of God has both been revealed and hidden by a bedazzling library of texts.

But this study is not concerned only with relationship anymore than it is “merely” concerned with reading. It is concerned with healthy relationship, with the healing of interpretation, and with healthy reading. So we will end this series of remarks with a final note from Balthasar, and that is that the known is not fully itself until it is known.

 Owing to the mutual determination of knower and known, the result of the encounter is not the erosion but rather the expansion of being. The same may well be true of Scripture. Since Scripture is always interpreted, it seems reasonable to say that without interpretation, Scripture would not be Scripture.

It would not be revelatory. And the same may well be true of us. If we are not fully human, not really whole, until we know God, then without interpretation we are not fully human. Without interpretation, God has not been revealed, and neither have we.

Understanding Scripture requires hermeneutical empathy, which is the imaginative inter-action of reader, text, and author alike. That the object of our understanding is the transcendent depths of God revealed through groping human words only emphasizes the possibilities of language: its polyvalance, its imperfect translatability, its semantic shift.

The word of God disclosed in scripture represents divine revelation: language is what we understand through, and symbolically, invocationally, it conveys the perceptibility, presence and participation of the divine. The word of God exceeds its Scriptures to become sacrament for us. The testimony of Scripture provokes, but does not require, faith as participatory response.

The goal of theological interpretation is to arrange this meeting authoritatively. The purpose of salutary interpretation is to allow the reader to surrender aesthetically and existentially to the living world of the scriptural text.

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