Synod of Bishops : Historical-critical method of studying the Bible not enough
The Catholic bible scholarship of the past 40 years have been mostly using the historical-critical method that involves studying the biblical texts in its various stages of development (oral tradition to final redaction). The focus was mainly on the text as read in its historical context; what the author meant and how the original or early readers understood it.
The Synod bishops have observed that this has relegated the Bible to an ancient text relevant to the past and not linked to the present readers’ life situations. The bishops’ reactions are summarized in the following:
method is valuable, but it's not enough. It has to be integrated into the
broader theological reflection of the church, which implies that theologians and
exegetes need to work and play well together.
The devil, however, is in
the details. Some in the synod clearly strike a more positive tone with regard
to academic study of the Bible, using the essentially secular tools of
historical research and literary criticism, than others. Bishop Levada
characterized the contrast: "Some have criticized the historical-critical
method, on the grounds that it's difficult to overcome the philosophical
suppositions which formed its basis for many of the method's original
followers," he said. "Others see it as a useful tool for coming to a better
understanding of the literal and historical sense of scripture."
In his lone talk to the
synod so far, Pope Benedict XVI touched on precisely this point, essentially
arguing that scholars using the historical-critical method need to take the
faith of the church as their point of departure.
On this point, two
challenges present themselves.
First, the proper balanced
has to be struck in the synod's concluding documents. If there's too much
criticism of exegetes and the historical-critical method, Catholic Biblical
scholars may feel under attack, or that the clock is being rolled back on tools
they now take for granted. If the language is too soft, however, then the clear
desire for a more "theological" reading of scripture could get lost in the mush.
Second, there's the
practical question of how, exactly, to put theologians and exegetes into deeper
conversation, especially given the hyper-compartmentalized nature of academic
life these days. This may well be the point upon which much drama turns -- will
the synod restrict itself to a fervorino about the relationship between exegesis
and theology, simply echoing the basic points made by Pope Benedict XVI on
Tuesday, or will it actually offer concrete suggestions for fostering closer
links among Biblical specialists, theologians, and pastors?
Basilian Fr. Thomas Rosica,
a Canadian who's handling press briefings for the synod in English, and who is
also a biblical scholar himself, offered a memorable metaphor for what's at
"Most of us were trained as
surgeons," he said on Thursday, by which he meant that exegetes learn to make
very precise cuts on the Biblical text -- determining what the exact meaning of
a given verb form is, for example, detailing the social contexts of the
Johannine and Lucan communities.
"What we sometimes forgot is that we're operating on a living body, not a corpse," Rosica said. "We're supposed to be heart surgeons, not coroners. Success is defined by whether the body survives the surgery."