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Some axioms of general hermeneutics. Axiom 1: The true object of speech is the impartation of thought. This is the foundation of all hermeneutics. Axiom 2: Language is a reliable medium of communication.
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Axiom 1: The true object of speech is the impartation of thought. • This is the foundation of all hermeneutics.
Axiom 2: Language is a reliable medium of communication. • Presupposes that language employed be grammatically correct, clear in statement, accurately expressing the thought to be communicated to others.
Axiom 3: Usage determines the meaning of words. • Usage of words may in time change radically in meaning or become obsolete. E.g. “salvage” • Notice that a standard dictionary contains many definitions of a single term.
Axiom 4: The function of a word depends on its association with other words. - Underlies the importance of context in order to interpret the text. E.g. “top,” “pen”
Axiom 5: The true object of interpretation is to apprehend the exact thought of the author. • Herein lies the crucial distinction between exigesis and eisigesis.
Axiom 6: Truth must accord with truth; and statements of truth apparently discrepant can be harmonized if the facts are known. • Discrepancies in truth-statements are resolved when pertinent facts are known.
Axiom 7: An assertion of truth necessarily excludes that to which it is essentially opposed and no more. • The hermeneutic application of the logical principle of non-contradiction.
Axiom 8: One cannot interpret without understanding that which he interprets. • To understand the thought of another is to conceive it in one’s mind and to reproduce it to others without change or modification. • - Clinton Lockhart, Principles of Interpretation, pp. 18ff.
Luminaries of the alexandrian school Philo Judaeus ( 20 BCE – 50 CE) Origen ( c. 284/285– c. 253/254) St. Clement of Alexandria ( c. 150 – c. 215/217)
Origen: the Universality of Typology As an interpreter and theologian, Origen sees himself foremost as a Scriptural exegete, developing biblical textual criticism and exegesis. Hebrew Scripture must be read as exclusively relating to Jesus: “Search the Scriptures, [they] testify of me” (Jn 3:39), cf. also Jn 5:46. Typology= refers to allegoresis relating the Hebrew Testament with the person of Jesus. Typology is not the same as allegory, the latter subject to interpretive arbitrariness and frivolity.
Being the Word of God, Scriptures may only be plumbed in all its depth by the pneumatic way of spiritual interpretation, as it’s inspired by God himself. Everything in Scripture has a spiritual meaning, and not always historical meaning. Just as the cosmos and human being have three levels (body, soul, spirit), so too Scripture has a threefold meaning: The basis of this is Origen’s reading of Proverbs 22:20. These three are the levels of biblical meaning. Somatic-literal-historical sense Psychical-moral sense Pneumatic-allegorical-theological sense
Nonetheless, Origen was greatly criticized in his allegorical reading of Scriptures giving emphasis (and sometimes discounting the historical) on the pneumatic. Origen’s allegoresis is different from that of Philo because the former’s allegory is more properly that of a typology. The greatest hermeneutic challenge of early Christianity is how to interpret the Hebrew Scriptures in the light of belief in Christ. Allegory was not used only for the Hebrew Scriptures, it was also the case in the New Testament, particularly how the text foretells of the divine parousia (cf. Revelation). Like Philo, Origen universalizes typology in the interpretation of scriptures.
It became an integral part of the theological culture of Middle Ages. Indeed the fourfold sense of Scriptures as it was definitely formulated by John Cassian (c. 360 – 430/35) can be traced directly from Origen. Most memorable formulation in the Middle Ages is given by Augustine of Dacia: the literal teaches us what happened, the allegorical what to believe, the moral what we ought to do, and the anagogic what we are striving toward. This fourfold sense was rejected by Luther.
History of Biblical Interpretation The Bible plays an important part in the Jewish and Christian economy of salvation because it is a receptacle of divine revelation. Although there appears a consensus on this regard, the matter of interpretation has not generated a uniform hermeneutical principle for its interpretation. For some, biblical interpretation must always be literal because God’s word is explicit and complete. For some, biblical interpretation must always have a deeper spiritual meaning because God’s message and truth is evidently profound. In the history of Biblical interpretation, there are four major types of hermeneutics: Literal, Moral, Allegorical and Anagogical Interpretations.
1. Literal Interpretation Literal interpretation = Bible needs to be read according to the “plain meaning” conveyed by its grammatical construction and historical context. Literal meaning is equal or reasonably corresponds to author’s intention. In biblical exegesis, this type of interpretation is associated with the belief in verbal inspiration of the Bible, that is, the words were divinely chosen. This type criticized, especially its extreme forms, for the neglect of the individuality of style and vocabulary found in various Biblical authors. Exponents, foremost is Jerome (4th cen) who championed a literal interpretation of the Bible due to excesses in allegorical interpretation. Others include Thomas Aquinas, Nicholas of Lyra, John Colet, Martin Luther, and John Calvin.
2. Moral Interpretation Moral interpretation = exegetical principles aimed at the ethical lessons that may be drawn from the Bible. A form of allegorizing is also employed to this moral effect. For example, in The Letter of Barnabas (c. 100 CE) the dietary laws prescribed in the Book of Leviticus forbidding the flesh of certain animals are read to mean the vices imaginatively associated with those animals.
3. Allegorical Interpretation Allegorical interpretation = there exists a second level of reference beyond persons, things and events explicitly mentioned in the text. A particular form of this allegorical interpretation is the typological, meaning, persons and events in the Old Testament are read as types or foreshadowings of persons and events in the New Testament. a. For example, the story of Noah’s Ark is read as referring to the Christian Church, and this has been the intention of God since the beginning.
The allegorical interpretation is drawn from the works of Philo, a Jewish philosopher who employed Platonic and Stoic categories to interpret Jewish scriptures. This was later adopted by Clement of Alexandria, seeking the allegorical meaning of biblical texts. Clement discovered that there are deep philosophical truths beneath plain-sounding narratives. Clement’s successor Origen, systematized these hermeneutical principles, distinguishing them between the literal, moral and spiritual senses (the last being the highest). In the Middle Ages, Origen’s threefold division was expanded with the division of the spiritual into the allegorical and the anagogical.
4. Anagogical or Mystical Interpretation Anagogical or mystical interpretation = seeks to interpret biblical events as relating to or prefiguring the life to come. For example, in the Jewish tradition, the Kabbala is an anagogical reading exemplifying the mystical significance of numerical values of Hebrew letters and words (see also the medieval Zohar). Example in the Christian tradition, the anagogical interpretation associated with Mariology often fall under this category.
However, hermeneutics became a separate discipline only until the Renaissance, Reformation and thereafter. It starts as a reaction against the Catholic insistence on church authority and tradition (reaffirmed at the council of Trent in 1546) concerning the understanding and the interpretation of Scriptures. Protestant Reformers advance the principles of perspicuity (perspecuitas), and of the self-sufficiency of the Bible (that is, the basic intelligibility and non-contradictory nature of the bible).
Martin Luther (1483-1546) Founder of the Protestant Reformation
Scholarship in hermeneutics was cultivated primarily by the Protestants. • Dilthey: hermeneutic science coincided with Protestantism • Question: did Luther himself develop a hermeneutic theory? • Luther’s preoccupation was primarily exigesis. • He disdains philosophy and theory (empty scholasticism) Luther: sola scriptura?
Luther made use of the principle of “sola scriptura” against tradition and Church magisterium. • This principle is not original to Luther. Visible already in the Patristic tradition, esp. St. Augustine. • Augustine affirms the primacy of scriptura • Also affirms the basic intelligibility of scriptures, in contrast to Alexandrian allegoresis. Sola scriptura: luther’s starting point
Luther’s rejection of allegoresis signified a decisive return to sensus literalis. • Literal meaning, rightly understood, contains its own proper spiritual significance. • The Spirit is encountered in the Word as fulfilled by faith, not in some Beyond. • Scripture is sui ipsius interpres: it is its own key: a word of Scripture is always tied to the fulfillment of the Verbum (cf. Augustine).
Sola scriptura in the Protestant tradition failed to be satisfactory particularly in elucidating ambiguities in Scriptures. • The Counter Reformation Council of Trent (1546): Scripture is inadequate per se. There is a necessary recourse to tradition. • Opposition between Scripture and tradition is only artificial since they both stem from the same Holy Spirit. • A more explicit hermeneutics was then exigent upon Protestantism.
MATTHIAS FLACIUS ILLYRICUS (1520-1575) Lutheran Reformer; , the most important Protestant theorist and apologist of biblical interpretation.
Clavis Scripturae Sacrae (1567) = laid the firm basis for Protestant hermeneutics, by drawing on the Aristotelian rhetorical tradition and the biblical exigesis of Origen. • The first book which can be described as a genuine Protestant theory of hermeneutics. • Offers a key (clavis) for deciphering obscure passages of Scriptures. Flacius: universality of the grammatical
if the Scriptures had not been understood properly, it doesn’t mean that the church should impose an external interpretation to make them intelligible. This only shows the insufficient knowledge and faulty preparation of interpreters. In accordance with the opinion of other reformers like Luther and Melanchton, the Scriptures contain an internal coherence and continuity Two principal arguments
Importance of grammatical knowledge: mastery of the letter, the gramma, was to provide the universal key to Scripture (part 1 of Clavis was a pure lexicon of the Bible). Follows the principle of parallel passages of St. Augustine. Makes explicit appeal to St. Augustine and other Church Fathers.
“Scopus” = the importance of considering the view with respect to which a book was composed. • This attention to scopus gives way from the grammatical consideration to the intention of the author.
Johann conraddannhauer (1603-1666) True Interpretation and Interpretative Truth
Most historians of hermeneutics pass over him in silence. • Mostly noted as one of the first to use “hermeneutics” in the titles of their books • He wrote Hermeneutica sacra sive methodus exponendarum sacrum litterarum (1654) • He already created the neologism hermeneutica in 1629 • The Idea of a Good Interpreter (1630): projected a universal hermeneutics: hermeneutica generalis.
Such an idea arose in search of a new scientific methodology emancipated from scholasticism. • Dannhauer argues that the vertibule of all sciences must contain a universal science of interpretation. • Everything knowable has a corresponding science; interpretive procedure is knowable; there must therefore be a science corresponding to it. • “philosophical hermeneutics” it is universal since it must be applicable in all sciences. Hermeneuticageneralis
Dannhauer proposes a universal hermeneutics grounded in philosophy but enabling other disciplines to interpret written expressions according to their meaning. • Only one hermeneutics but its objects are different • That knowledge depends on the interpretation of texts is brought about by the spread of printing. • The Renaissance necessarily brought about the appearance of a universal hermeneutics. Hermeneuticageneralis
Hermeneutics had to be a propaedeutic science (taking the place of logic). • Hermeneutics consists of “logical analysis” = tracing statements back to their intended meaning. • Whereas pure logical analysis sets itself the task of constituting the truth of intended meaning with respect to content by retracing it to its deepest foundations, hermeneutics contented itself with determing intended meaning as such, regardless of whether the meaning is true or false with respect to content.
In Dannhauer’s time, the distinction between sententia (truth of assertion) and sensus (meaning of the sense) is already present. • What’s new for Dannhauer is that he used this to define the goals of a universalist hermeneutics. • Task of hermeneutics: to establish the ‘hermeneutic truth’ (what the author wanted to say) regardless of whether this is logically or factual correct. Hermeneuticageneralis
The “Good Interpreter” = he is the one who analyzes all discourses insofar as they are obscure yet ‘exponible’ (interpretable) in order to distinguish their true from their false meaning. The strategy of Dannhauer, to integrate a universal hermeneutics into logic. The idea of the good interpreter
Johann martin chladenius (1710-1759) The Universality of the Pedagogical
Einleitung zur richtigen Auslegung vernünftiger Reden und Schriften (Introduction to the Correct Interpretation of Reasonable Discourses and Books, 1742) he seeks to provide here a consistent theory of interpretation, with a set of practical rules for those whose disciplines require of them principles of interpretation.).
Chladenius opened up a new horizon in philosophical hermeneutics by severing hermeneutics from a theory of logic to a second branch of human knowledge. • Two ways by which scholars increase knowledge: • By means of their own thoughts and discoveries • They occupy themselves with things that others before them have thought of and give directions for understanding others writings, that is, they interpret. • To these two correspond two cognitive rules: • The first teaches us how to think correctly (theory of reason) • The second teaches us how to interpret correctly (general theory of interpretation).
Chladenius defines hermeneutics as the art of attaining the perfect or complete understanding of utterances (vollständiges Verstehen)—whether they are speeches (Reden) or writings (Schriften). “Interpretation is nothing but adducing the concepts necessary to the complete understanding of the passage.”
Obscurity resulting from textually corrupt passages. This is not the task of the hermeneutician but of the criticus. Critique here refers to the philological science of editing, revising, and correcting ancient texts. Critique is a purely factual science of determining the status of the text. Four kinds of obscurity
It needs to be noted here though that recognizing a particular passage as corrupt is already an hermeneutic act of the first order. • In the 19th century there is a binary distinction between hermeneutics and critique, based on the 18th century trinary distinction between grammar, hermenteutics and critique. All deals with rules to understand and explain written texts
Obscurity derived from insufficient insight into the language of the book. Obscurity here is rectified with the help of the philologus or language teacher. Likewise, not the concern of the hermeneutician. Passages or words that are ambiguous in themselves. Ambiguities here are not to be cleared up but simply accepted as such or censured.
The obscurity that applies strictly to hermeneutics is the one due to insufficient background knowledge. Although sometimes the texts themselves are clear, they remain unintelligible because we lack historical or factual knowledge. We are unacquainted with the subject matter or with what the author really wanted to say.
There is nothing trivial here. Language always tries to express something literally, but this “something” often enough remains in the dark, because the words do not occasion the same meaning or effect in the receiver as intended by the speaker. • In the words of Chladenius: “A thought that is to be conveyed to the reader by words often presupposes other conceptions without which it is not conceivable: if the reader is not already in possession of these conceptions, therefore, the words cannot effect the same result in him as in another reader who is thoroughly knowledgeable about these conceptions.” • There is an inherent universality in this situation.