|Modern exegesis necessary for a living faith today
Pope Benedict XVI spoke during the 14th
General Congregation of the Synod of Bishops on Tuesday morning, 14
October , in the Synod Hall. The following is a translation of his
intervention, given in Italian.
Dear Brothers and
Working on my book on
Jesus has provided ample occasion to see what good can come from modern
exegesis, but also for recognizing the problems and risks. Dei
Verbum, n. I2 offers two methodological guidelines for suitable
exegetical work. Firstly, it confirms the necessity of using the
historical-critical method, of which it briefly describes the essential
elements. This necessity is the result of the Christian principle
formulated in Jn 1:14, "Verbum
caro factum est".
Historical fact is a
constituent dimension of the Christian faith. The history of salvation
is not mythology but rather true history, and is therefore to be studied
alongside serious historical research methods.
history has another dimension, that of divine action. Dei Verbum,
consequentially, speaks of a second methodological level necessary for
the correct interpretation of the words that are simultaneously human
words and the divine Word. The Council says, according to a fundamental
rule of interpretation for literary text, that Scripture is to be
interpreted in the same spirit in which it was written.
There are therefore three fundamental
methodological elements that contribute to taking proper account of the
divine, pneumatological dimension of the Bible. One must 1) interpret
the text taking into consideration the unity of all of Scripture. Today
this is called canonical exegesis; at the time of the Council this term
did not yet exist, but the Council expressed the same thing: it is
necessary to take into account theunity of the entirety of Scripture; 2)
one must also take into account the living tradition of the entire
Church; and finally 3) it is necessary to observe the analogy of faith.
Only where the two
methodological levels, both historical-critical and theological, are
observed can one speak of theological exegesis – of an exegesis adequate
to this Book. While at the first level, academic exegetical work is
currently being done to an extremely high standard and provides us real
help, the same cannot be said of the other level. Often this second
level, the level consisting of the three theological elements mentioned
in Dei Verbum, appear almost absent. And this has rather grave
The first consequence of the absence of
this second methodological level is that the Bible becomes solely a
history book. Moral consequences can be drawn from it, history can be
learned from it, but the Book as such speaks of history alone and
exegesis is no longer truly theological but instead becomes purely
historiographical, literary history. This is the first consequence: the
Bible remains in the past, speaks only of the past.
The second consequence
is even graver: where the hermeneutics of faith explained in Dei
Verbum disappear, another type of hermeneutics will appear by
necessity – a hermeneutics that is secularist, positivist, the key
fundamental of which is the conviction that the Divine does not appear
in human history.
According to this
hermeneutics, when there seems to be a divine element, the source of
that impression must be explained, thus reducing everything to the human
element. As a result, it is the grounds for interpretations that deny
the historicity of divine elements.
Today the exegetical
"mainstream" in Germany, for example, denies that the Lord instituted
the Holy Eucharist and says that Jesus' corpse remained in the tomb. The
Resurrection in this view would not have been a historical event but a
This happens because the
hermeneutics of faith is missing: profane philosophical hermeneutics is
affirmed instead, which deny the possibility of the entrance and
presence of the Divine in history. The result of the absence of the
second methodological level is what has created a profound fissure
between scientific exegesis and
From precisely this
point there sometimes also arises a sort of perplexity in regard to the
preparation of homilies. When exegesis is not theological, Scripture
cannot be the soul of theology, and vice versa; when theology is not
essentially Scriptural interpretation within the Church, then this
theology no longer has a foundation.
Therefore for the life
and mission of the Church, for the future of faith, it is absolutely
necessary to overcome this dualism between exegesis and theology.
Biblical theology and systematic theology are two dimensions of one
reality, which we call theology. Thus it seems desirable to me that one
of the propositions treats of the necessity of keeping in mind
within exegesis the two methodological levels mentioned in Dei
Verbum, n. 12, where it speaks of the need to develop not only a
historical but also a theological exegesis. It will therefore be crucial
to expand formation of future exegetes in this sense, so as to truly
open the treasures of Scripture to today's world and to all of us.