Living Tradition
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No. 142 Roman Theological Forum | Article Index | Study Program July-September 2009


by John F. McCarthy

1. Declaration of purpose. In Living Tradition no. 9 (January 1987), we welcomed the call of the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops of 1985 for pluriformity without pluralism within the Church, and we undertook to assist in the restoration of certain dogmatic, moral, and mystical traditions within the Church that were then being underemphasized. One of the special aims expressed in that issue was to continue to promote the neo-patristic interpretation of Sacred Scripture. Among the goals listed earlier in the Declaration of Purpose of the Roman Theological Forum, adopted in January 1972 and published in Living Tradition 21 (January 1989), was that of identifying and describing “the philosophical medium and literary genre” of modern historical-critical scholarship.

2. To promote neo-patristic exegesis. Then, in a restatement of the aims of the Roman Theological Forum, published in Living Tradition 69 (March 1997), this task was expressed more generally as “to promote a neo-patristic approach to Sacred Scripture, that is, an updated method of interpretation, rooted faithfully in the perennial tradition of the Fathers of the Church, which takes into account the Four Senses of the inspired word of God and improved means of historical research.” The present article will present an overview of how and to what extent the aim to promote the neo-patristic approach has been fulfilled in Living Tradition. [Note: All of the issues of Living Tradition referred to in this article are available on the Internet at]

3. The historical-critical method as used by Catholic form-critical scholars. The term “historical-critical method” of interpreting Sacred Scripture, as used in this article, is a basically Rationalist approach descending from the anti-Christian Enlightenment of the eighteenth century, developed into the “higher criticism” of the nineteenth century, and advanced in the “form-criticism” of the twentieth century. The use of this kind of historical criticism began among Catholic Scripture scholars at the end of the nineteenth century, persisted against the opposition of the Holy See during the early twentieth century, gained the ear of the Hierarchy during the second half of the twentieth century, and is now the predominant approach of Catholic Scripture scholars and their followers. The higher-critical phase of the historical-critical method was condemned as pseudo-scientific and harmful by Pope Leo XIII in his encyclical letter Providentissimus Deus (EB 119), but Catholic form-critical scholars claim, in keeping with their method of interpretation, that this censure was removed by Pope Pius XII in his encyclical Divino afflante Spiritu (1943). They also claim that the constitution Dei Verbum of the Second Vatican Council (no. 11) reduced the divine guarantee of inerrancy of Sacred Scripture only to “that truth which God wanted put into sacred writings for the sake of our salvation” (see Living Tradition 31 [September 1990]).

4. In 1993 the reconstituted Pontifical Biblical Com­mission published a document, The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church, in which it declared that “the historical-critical method is the indispensable method for the scientific study of the meaning of ancient texts,” and that the proper understanding of Holy Scripture “not only admits the use of this method but actually requires it” (I.A). In Living Tradition 75 (May 1998) I reported that the 1993 document of the Commission identifies "the whole series of different stages characteristic of the historical-critical method," and these stages are: “from textual criticism one progresses to literary criticism, with its work of dissection in the quest for sources; then one moves to a critical study of forms [form-criticism] and, finally, to an analysis of the editorial process.” As an overall evaluation, the Commission finds that the historical-critical method "is a method which, when used in an objective manner, implies of itself no a priori. ... Oriented, in its origins, towards source criticism and the history of religions, the method has managed to provide fresh access to the Bible. ... For a long time now scholars have ceased combining the method with a philosophical system” (IBC, IA.4).

5. In the same document the Pontifical Biblical Commission, while it acknowledges some abiding pastoral value in the framework of allegory used by the Fathers of the Church, does not recommend its further use, such as in the method of the Four Senses. But Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, then President of the PBC, in his Preface to the same 1993 document, while finding the document “very helpful for the important questions about the right way of understanding Holy Scripture,” took the occasion to remark that “there are also new attempts to recover patristic exegesis and to include renewed forms of a spiritual interpretation of Scripture.” And, interestingly, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, an authentic expression of Catholic teaching published in the same year as the PBC document of 1993, actually mandated the patristic framework of the Four Senses as the proper way even in our day to interpret Sacred Scripture (CCC 115-119). We honor Saint Thomas Aquinas as the founder of the neo-patristic method in that he clearly organized the senses of Sacred Scripture into the literal, the allegorical, the tropological, or the moral, and the anagogical, and he outstandingly illustrated these Four Senses in his biblical commentaries. A summary of the Thomist framework of the Four Senses by Thomas P. Kuffel is presented in Living Tradition 38 (November 1991).

6. As was recently noted in Living Tradition 136 (July 2008), the term “historical criticism” has now become ambiguous in ecclesiastical parlance, inasmuch as it usually is taken to mean the “higher criticism” condemned as a “pseudoscience” by Pope Leo XIII in his encyclical letter Providentissimus Deus (EB 102), and now characterized especially by the “form-criticism” of Hermann Gunkel, Rudolf Bultmann, et al., but it sometimes means the artis criticae disciplina (the criticism that goes naturally with all serious historical research), also mentioned by Pope Leo XIII in the same encyclical (EB 119). The fact is that Catholic form-critics today have managed to convince the Hierarchy and the public at large that their form-critical approach is part of the historical-critical approach that goes with all sound historical research. They have thus perpetuated an ambiguity that works in their favor.

7. For instance, Pope Benedict XVI, in his book Jesus of Nazareth, observes: “The first point is that the historical-critical method – specifically because of the intrinsic nature of theology and faith – is and remains an indispensable dimension of exegetical work. For it is of the very essence of biblical faith to be about real historical events. … So, if history, if facticity in this sense, is an essential dimension of Christian faith, then faith must expose itself to the historical method – indeed, faith itself demands this.1 Here Pope Benedict is talking about the criticism that goes with all serious historical research, but it sounds like he is approving the “historical-critical method” of the form-critical school, which serious historians like William Foxwell Albright have actually rejected out of hand. Albright was one of the most renowned archaeologists of the twentieth century, and this is what he had to say about the form-critical method: “Only modern scholars who lack both historical method and perspective can spin such a web of speculation as that with which form critics have surrounded the Gospel tradition.2 So, the fact that Christian faith is rooted in the truly historical does not necessarily mean that it must be examined according to the form-critical method. And because of this ambiguity, in the present article and usually in Living Tradition, the term “historical-critical method” is taken to mean the method which includes and is characterized by the techniques and presuppositions of form-criticism.

8. A call for a new approach to exegesis. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, in a programmatic article published originally in German in 1989, and subsequently in English, called for "a better synthesis between historical and theological methods, between criticism and dogma" in the exegesis of Sacred Scripture through self-criticism by exegetes of the "historical method" in use and by the employment of "a less arbitrary philosophy which offers a greater number of presuppositions favoring a true hearing of the text."3 The Cardinal observed that errors made in biblical exegesis over the preceding century "have virtually become academic dogmas," owing especially to the influence of Martin Dibelius and Rudolf Bultmann, whose "basic methodological orientations determine even to this day the methodology and course of modern exegesis," and he found it imperative at this juncture of time to challenge the fundamental ideas of their method.

9. Bultmann the exegete, he said, "represents a background consensus of the scientific exegesis dominant today," even though Bultmann was not so much a scientific as a systematic worker, whose exegetical conclusions "are not the result of historical findings, but emerge from a framework of systematic presuppositions." Noting that, in the form-criticism of Bultmann and Dibelius, through the influence of Immanuel Kant, modern exegesis reduces history to philosophy, the Cardinal proposed some "basic elements for a new synthesis," which will require "the attentive and critical commitment of a whole generation." On the level of the integration of the biblical texts into their historical context, said the Cardinal, the time is ripe for a "radical new reflection on exegetical method, also in the sense that biblical exegesis must come to recognize its own history as part of what it is and to learn how the philosophical element influences the process of interpretation.” And, on the level of their location "in the totality of their historical unfolding," that is, of their total meaning, he said, the biblical texts "must be integrated into a theological vision in the strict sense, based upon the experience of Revelation." To achieve this task he saw the need "to introduce into the discussion the great proposals of patristic and medieval thought," as well as reflection upon "the fundamental options of the Reformation and on the choices it involved in the history of interpretation" (see Living Tradition 41 [May 1992]).

10. The rise of “historical criticism.” among Catholic Biblical scholars. The introduction in the 1890s of the “historical criticism” of the Rationalist school, “child of the Enlightenment,” into Catholic biblical studies has tempted the faith of many believers. This problem, which has been especially evident in the practice of “literary criticism” and “form-criticism,” is brought out in Living Tradition 77 (September 1998). Catholic form-critics objected that for a long time Church authorities made “no distinction between the methods and conclusions of the new criticism and the Rationalist philosophy upon which the system was based,” but what these form-critics did not realize is that their methods and conclusions were the logical results of the Rationalist philosophy itself and not something distinct from it.

11. The Rationalism that underlies and guides the form-critical method of Hermann Gunkel and Rudolf Bultmann may be defined as “the view that human reason, or understanding, is the sole source and final test of all truth.” It traces back to the philosophy of Réné Descartes (1596-1650), whose critical method was later modified by others, especially by Immanuel Kant (1724-1804). After Kant, a whole series of Rationalist writers built up the “critical tradition” inherited by Gunkel and Bultmann. Catholic historical critics claim that they have eliminated the Rationalism of these writers from the form-criticism that they practice, but neo-patristic researchers question whether Catholic form-critics, in opposing Rationalist philosophy in the abstract, have recognized sufficiently the Rationalism underlying the form-critical method itself. In addition, it seems that Catholic form-critics, in their interpretations of statements about the inspiration and inerrancy of Sacred Scripture in the encyclical Divino afflante Spiritu of Pope Pius XII and in the constitution Dei Verbum of the Second Vatican Council, show an evident bias and lack of precision. And neo-patristic interpreters are often amazed at the readiness of both non-Catholic and Catholic form-critics to see conflicts where the apparent problems can easily be resolved. Further discussion and examples of this are given in Living Tradition 77.

12. The most basic issue in this whole discussion is the question of reality. Since Catholic faith is an affirmation of its proper object, it includes an affirmation of the reality of what is stated in Sacred Scripture properly understood. Central to this discussion is the concept of historical reality. Also, for the scientific interpretation of the text of the Scriptures, there must be an awareness in the mind of the biblical scholar of the real and discernable effects of divine inspiration, whereas, in the minds of the founders of the form-critical method, every mention of the actions of God in history is termed “mythical.” On the contrary, neo-patristic exegetes bring the light of faith to their scientific study of the Scriptures (see Living Tradition 77).

13. The Rationalism underlying the historical criticism of Hermann Gunkel. In Living Tradition 108 (November 2003), I examined the presuppositions of Rationalism and Naturalism underlying the historical criticism of Hermann Gunkel. I traced the long tradition of Rationalist interpretations that preceded his creation of the method of form-criticism, especially of the Book of Genesis, and I contrasted this with the Catholic exegetical tradition of using acute reason enlightened by faith to analyze the sacred text. Gunkel, employing the absolute exclusion of faith from his reasoning about the Sacred Scriptures, postulated that the supposedly historical accounts in Genesis were actually fictitious tales resembling “the fairy-tale that focuses on people” (Genesis, p. lxvii). The true historical value of Gunkel’s pioneering work lies, not in his false presuppositions and conclusions, but rather in the challenge that he and his followers have given to neo-patristic researchers to find the correct solutions to the problems that he and his followers have raised. Gunkel’s approach does not consider or even suspect that events recorded in the first eleven chapters of Genesis could actually embody historical facts handed down in a faithful tradition beginning with Adam and Eve and their early descendants. And it is an amazing thing that, in the more than a century that has elapsed since Gunkel published his Genesis, no Catholic Scripture scholar has ever produced a searching and thoroughgoing critique of the mountain of errors and fallacies in his book.

14. Brueggemann and “Christian imagination.” In Living Tradition 106 (July 2003) I reviewed Walter Brueggemann’s Introduction to the Old Testament: The Canon and Christian Imagination (Louisville, 2003). The author maintains that the Old Testament “does not purport to be ‘history’ in any modern sense of the term,” because it is not “a product of ‘events,’ but a product of imaginative interpretation.” And thus he praises Gunkel for having drawn attention to the fictitious character of the biblical accounts by placing them in the formal categories of myth, legend, saga, fable, and novella. Brueggemann accepts uncritically the whole package of form-critical results and then tries to build a biblical theology on the ruins that form-criticism has left behind. To do this he reduces the Christian message to creative imagination. His interpretation does not include any real action on the part of a really existing God. Brueggemann is not a Catholic, but his book has received wide acceptance among Catholic readers, in the absence of any consistent opposition from Catholic form-critical exegetes.

15. Joseph Ratzinger on some Kantian presuppositions of the historical-critical method. In Living Tradition 137 (September 2008) I examined some Rationalist presuppositions of the historical-critical method, as inher­ited from the liberal Protestant school of “higher criticism” and the form-criticism of Hermann Gunkel, Martin Dibelius, Rudolf Bultmann, and others. Cardinal Ratzinger does not subscribe to Kant’s critiques of reason. It seems rather to him that the main philosophical presupposition underlying modern historical criticism seems to lie “in the philo­sophic turning point proposed by Immanuel Kant, which limits human intellectual life to the realm of the Kantian ‘categories,’ and, by very definition, excludes interventions of God as well as any new initiative from another plane.”4 What Cardinal Ratzinger calls the Kantian “philosophical turning point” of the “Kantian split,” according to which human intellectual life is considered to be limited to the realm of the Kantian categories, effectively serves the anti-Christian project of viewing all religion as a merely subjective product. Non-believers in general consider the objects of Christian faith to be religious fantasies, over and above the Kantian conclusion that all non-empirical knowledge is merely subjective. What Kant did was to give some intellectual justification to the Rationalist supposition that every account of supernatural being or activity is a product of human fantasy. In other words, Kant gave seeming arguments to back up an anti-supernatural bias which Scripture scholars and others can nurture even apart from any awareness of the Kantian categories.

16. The reductive approach of Immanuel Kant in the background. In Living Tradition 139, I noted that the empiricism of Immanuel Kant, like all empiricism, has a reductive approach to reality. This reductive view of reality might be called “scientific” by a certain class of thinkers, but it is actually a violation both of reason and of common sense. Kant’s error here lies in making the proximate object of human knowledge (the mirror-like image) into the remote object and thus in denying the very existence of the remote object of human knowl­edge. While the Aristotelian/Thomist theory of proximate versus remote objects of knowl­edge opens the way to a better understanding of the human mind, Kant bases his stand on wrong definitions of knowledge, reason, understanding, and even of reality itself. The way to liberation from these epistemological errors is open through an application of the principles and teaching of Thomas Aquinas. It is a pity that Kant chose a sweeping rejection of Thomist epistemology rather than a serious study of it. The philosophy of Immanuel Kant embodies a frontal attack against Christian faith that needs to be refuted point by point, as has, unfortunately, not been adequately done over the years even by Catholic philosophers and theologians, although summary replies, such as that of Frederick Copleston have not been lacking.

17. In Living Tradition 140 (March 2009), I took up the influence of Kantian philosophy upon historical criticism. “Many of the characteristics of the positions of those who deny authoritative and inerrant revelation are drawn directly from Kant” (David Beck). The “criticism” in these methods bears a relationship to Kant’s critical approach, even though Kant did not originate the term,5 and all of these forms of biblical exegesis are Rationalistic in the sense that they do not allow for the possibility of any supernatural influence or activity in the modern understanding of the Bible.6 Kant’s blending of David Hume’s empiricism with his own conception of “transcen­dental ideas” reduces the importance of testimony in the acquisition of knowledge. The form-criticism of Gunkel and Bultmann is a critical approach to the interpretation of Sacred Scripture in the sense that it sets aside Christian faith and concentrates exclusively upon critical reason in the Kantian sense in order to critique the Bible. It does not consider at all the critical reasoning of traditional biblical interpretation in which the artis criticae disciplina of conventional historical research is used to certify and defend the Scriptures as well as to criticize them and to achieve a fuller under­stand­ing of them.

18. The 1993 document of the reconstituted Pontifical Biblical Commission praises Hermann Gunkel, founder of form-criticism, for bringing higher criticism out of the ghetto of a literary criticism aimed simply at the “dissecting and dismantling of the text” (of the Old Testament), while the same document gives credit to Martin Dibelius and Rudolf Bultmann for bringing Gunkel’s form-critical method to the Synoptic Gospels. The Kantian epistemological model appears in the form-criticism of Gunkel and Bultmann as follows. They both base their critiques upon Kant’s empirical approach as they extol “the outlook of modern scientific man” over the supposedly “primitive” and “pre-scientific” thinking of the human authors of the Bible. The presuppositions of Kant’s critical method, by his very definition of terms, take the objects of Catholic faith and the teaching of the Bible out of the category of certified knowledge, so as to leave them in the realm of subjectivity and of merely aesthetic value. But the Rationalist presuppositions of the form-critical method of Gunkel and Bultmann do the very same thing. To achieve this, they rule out the “big picture” of science in favor of a reductive approach that reflects the mechanism and empiricism of Kant. Now, Catholic form-critics, in using this method, do not characteristically deny the objects of Catholic faith; they keep them in mind, but only through a dualism of two opposing systems, of which the form-criticism is in focus and the Catholic teaching is in the background. Their form-criticism they call “scientific exegesis,” while Catholic faith and traditional Catholic philosophy and theology are reductively excluded from the status of being “scientific.”7 Since Catholic faith pertains to the common sense underpinning the “big picture” of historical reality, Catholic biblical interpretation, to be really scientific, should be synthesized with Catholic faith and with the established principles of Catholic philosophy and theology, but Catholic form-critics as a whole have never even begun to carry out this task.

19. In Living Tradition 75, I examined the notion of the “historical sense.” In neo-patristic exegesis, the historical sense of the text of Sacred Scripture is on the level of the literal sense and may be defined as "that sense which is the direct object of historical science." By `historical science' is meant "the knowledge of past reality as past reality." Thus, the formality of historical science in the neo-patristic framework is the concept of the past within the general concept of reality, and this approach enables the neo-patristic researcher to distinguish sharply between historical fiction and historical reality, so that whether the biblical text is presenting fact or fiction in its literal sense is the first question to be resolved. Bultmann claims that the entire text of the Gospels is presented in a fictional genre, and neo-patristic scholars undertake to refute this claim, not only in general but also verse by verse. In doing so they first refute the presuppositions of Bultmann's method and then eliminate his use of these presuppositions in his exegetical works. While the neo-patristic scholar is consciously aware of his intellectual historical medium, the form-critic usually is not. As a result, form-critics waste a lot of time supposing what was the point of view of the biblical writers without having performed the prior task of formulating clearly their own point of view.

20. Accordingly, in Living Tradition 140, I listed several unscientific presuppositions of the form-critical method as it is used by Catholic scholars, among which were the following: 1) Catholic form-critics are largely unaware of the philosophical presup­positions of their method; 2) Catholic form-critics do dualistically (even if unwittingly) subscribe to Kant’s reductive definition of science, as limited to the phenomenal level of objectivity and to the human level of Sacred Scripture, which they hold in tandem with but not synthesized with the teaching of the Catholic Church; 3) Catholic form-critics follow the epistemology of Immanuel Kant in the sense that they use a concept of the subject-object relationship in which the formal object, which includes the objects of faith on the level of common science and Catholic philosophy and theology on the level of technical science, has been put out of focus; 4) the Rationalist flavor of the form-critical method inhibits Catholic form-critics from trying hard enough to preserve the historicity of the biblical accounts or to understand the deeper meanings of the sacred text.

21. When Catholic biblical scholars took up the form-criticism model of historical criticism, “child of the Enlightenment,” as their basic approach to the interpretation of the Bible, they implicitly turned away from the epistemology of St. Thomas Aquinas and of the Scholastic tradition in general, and they adopted, often unwittingly, the epistemology of Immanuel Kant and of the Enlightenment in general. In the absence of the moderate realism of the Thomist tradition, they became open to the false Kantian distinction between the factual knowledge given by sense perception alone, and metaphysical or religious faith and opinion (see Living Tradition 78).

22. When Catholic theologians and biblical scholars call form-criticism “scientific exegesis,” are they not implying that traditional interpretations of the events narrated in Sacred Scripture and the sacred writings themselves are in the category of “values” that are not scientifically, and, therefore, not objectively, certified in themselves, so that, as “critical historians,” they are seeking to discover only how these allegedly fictitious ideas and events arose in the human and social conscious­ness of the biblical writers? Form-critics, in their reflections about the “subject-object relationship,” usually seem to ignore their own mental frame of reference, whereas, in the moderate realism of Thomas Aquinas, neo-patristic exegetes examine their own thoughts and images as the proximate object of their knowledge, and they know external things as the remote object of their knowledge. And so, contrary to the Kantian model, neo-patristic thinkers, confident that human minds do know external things in themselves, just as mirrors really depict external things as they are in themselves, try to be critically aware of the principles that they are using in the exegesis of Sacred Scripture (see Living Tradition 140).

23. The weak reply of many Catholic writers to the “demythologizing” of Bultmann. In Living Tradition 76 (July 1998) I introduced a neo-patristic reply to some questions raised by contemporary form-critical scholarship. Rudolf Bultmann, with his call for “demythologizing” in 1941, stirred up a response, especially in Protestant circles, that became perhaps the most extensive theological debate of the twentieth century, but it raised no great cry of alarm among many Catholic theologians and Scripture scholars. It was Bultmann’s aim, now that in his estimation the historicity of the Gospels had been completely debunked, to convince preachers to accept this fact and to adopt a purely existential significance of Jesus and of the Christian kerygma. From 1946 onward, articles about Bultmann’s approach began to appear in Catholic publications, and a typical reply would summarize some of Bultmann’s conclusions, accompanied by little or no refutation, except for a concluding paragraph which would point out that much of what Bultmann was affirming could not, of course, be accepted by Catholics.

24. In Living Tradition issues 80-83 (March-September 1999) I examined eight longer responses by Catholic scholars to the “demythologizing” of Rudolf Bultmann. In the first of these responses (Living Tradition 80 (March 1999), I noted that Leopold Malavez, concedes too much to the Heideggerian existentialism used by Bultmann. In Living Tradition 113 (September 1004) I returned to the response of Leopold Malavez, who makes the point that Bultmann’s program “has taken away my Lord.” Indeed, Bultmann’s “demythologizing” had taken away not only the Incarnation of the Word of God in Jesus of Nazareth but every other object of Catholic faith. And Malavez notes as well that the true Christian message has its own existential impact upon the Christian believer, but, of course, only upon the believer who acknowledges the historical reality of the objects of Christian faith. What Catholic scholars need to realize is that the existential impact of the Christian message is recognized and understood in the tropological, or moral, sense of the sacred text according to the method of the Four Senses of the Fathers of the Church. Again, Malavez rightly points out that neither Heidegger nor Bultmann has ever actually disproved the essentialist ontology which they oppose, and this is why there has to be a reinstatement of Aristotelian/Thomist epistemology and ontology in the method of criticism practiced today by Catholic form-critics and, on the basis of this framework, a systematic refutation of the Bultmannian program.

25. Heinrich Fries presents a long list of undeveloped arguments which are fragile in their undeveloped form, but which would be formidable in a developed presentation (see Living Tradition 80). Again, in Living Tradition 113, I returned to his response. In my estimation he rightly points out that the Catholic Church recognizes a multiple level of meaning in the text of Sacred Scripture and a deeper spiritual meaning behind the plain literal sense of the words. He is referring in particular to the impact of the words upon the mind of the believer, and this is the tropological, or moral, sense in the schema of the Four Senses. Fries also brings out that the events recorded in the Gospels are grounded in what actually happened, contrary to the devastating conclusions of the form-critical work of Bultmann. And this brings to mind the fact that no organized and detailed critique of Bultmann’s destruction of the Four Gospels in his History of the Synoptic Tradition of 1921 and his Gospel of John of 1943 has to my knowledge ever been published by a Catholic historical-critical biblical scholar.

26. As reviewed in Living Tradition 81 (May 1999), Réné Marlé makes some strong points but also several weak points that play into Bultmann’s hands, such as in affirming that Bultmann’s approach is basically correct. In Living Tradition 113, I returned also to Marlé’s contribution, where I referred to Marlé’s idea that the imagery in the world-view of Sacred Scripture conveys realities that go beyond the ability of human minds to confine them, and I agreed that this is true, noting that this imagery in the historical accounts is based upon the historical factuality of the literal sense, and that the challenge is to have the right framework in which to view this imagery, which is the framework of the Four Senses. Marlé, in a later publication, went on to declare himself to be a moderate follower of Bultmann, this “intrepid theologian,” which is hardly any support for faithful Catholic believers shocked by Bultmann’s outrageous conclusions. And a Catholic theologian cannot really be one of his moderate followers for various reasons, such as Bultmann’s full-blown Modernism, his total denial of the reality of the objects of Catholic faith, and his acceptance of Martin Luther’s doctrine of the total corruption of the human intellect.

27. Joseph Cahill argues from a basically sound theological approach, but by not clarifying his affirmations he falls into Bultmann’s hands (see Living Tradition 81). In a second review of his article in Living Tradition 113, I went on to say that Cahill shows a lack of understanding of what Bultmann has done to the concept of modern man and also a certain fascination for Bultmann’s method of form-criticism, which leads Cahill to underestimate the devastating effects of Bultmann’s form-critical conclusions. In Living Tradition 112 (July 2004) I had pointed out how the essential features of the Modernism condemned by Pope Pius X show up explicitly in Bultmann’s demythologizing program as well as in his exegetical work. So I cannot agree with Cahill’s judgment that Bultmann has the merit of trying to make biblical revelation relevant for modern man.

28. In Living Tradition 82 (July 1999), I had pointed out that Xavier Léon-Dufour also plays into Bultmann’s hands by reducing the biblical truth about the Resurrection of Jesus to an existential decision, by not presenting any effective refutation of Bultmann’s Modernist notion of the “event of Christ,” by failing to distinguish the finis operis from the finis operantis in the writing of the Gospels, by misconceiving the further distinction between chronology and historical explanation, and by failing to produce any of the ideas that are needed in order to analyze Bultmann’s exegetical work. I returned in Living Tradition 113 (September 2004), to my reviewing of Léon-Dufour’s 1963 book, The Gospel and the Jesus of History, whose proposed aim was to avoid adopting Bultmann’s unscientific presuppositions and “to find out, by using the critical methods of historical scholarship, the full and objective truth (as far as it can be known) about the life of Jesus of Nazareth.” Unfortunately, Léon-Dufour didn’t find out much more about the life of Jesus of Nazareth than Bultmann did, because he used Bultmann’s false historical methods, and he ends up reducing Catholic faith to the existential act of a trusting acceptance of the Person of Jesus. In examining the Infancy Narratives in Matthew and Luke, Léon-Dufour uses Bultmann’s novel list of fictitious “literary forms” which preclude any true recognition of the historical nature of these accounts. Whereas Bultmann frankly (but falsely) states that the miracles recounted in the Gospels did not and could not really have happened (an assumption that is contrary to the teaching of the Church), Léon-Dufour waters down the same assumption for his Catholic readership by saying that the miracle stories in the Gospels “do not stress the extraordinary – that is, the strictly miraculous – side of the occurrences, but the faith or astonishment of those who witnessed the event.” Statements like this serve only to obscure the issue and to hide the fact that nothing is being said to refute Bultmann’s expression of disbelief in the possibility of miracles.

29. Again in Living Tradition 82, I argued that John McKenzie’s response to Bultmann’s call for demythologizing the Gospels is merely an impassioned appeal for an “ongoing theological revolution” within the Catholic Church which reveals no insight whatsoever into the menace that Bultmann’s approach presents to Catholic faith and to Catholic understanding of the life and teaching of Jesus. An effective Catholic response to Bultmann’s demythologizing program cannot arise, as with McKenzie, from a general agreement with the program and then using it as an arm to attack the structures of the Church.

31. In Living Tradition 83 (September 1999), I had noted the positive contribution of Anton Vögtle, who, in a long article, brings out how Bultmann’s absolute separation between God and the reality of this world led him to exclude any idea of God’s intervening in human history as an illicit transition from “the other side” to “this side.” It seems to me to be clear that Bultmann means the “other side” of the “Kantian split,” namely, non-reality, including what Kant has characterized as the “fictitious” world of religious belief. Kant’s philosophy is a big factor in Bultmann’s notion of “modern man,” and Catholics today are besieged by invitations of Modernism to doubt or deny the reality of the objects of faith as presented in the Gospels. Vögtle notes that historical events can have meaning only to the extent that they are objectively real, and so Bultmann’s definition of historicity as “being in a state of decision” cannot be correct. In my estimation Bultmann has missed the meaning of meaning itself by following Kant in putting out of focus the mental framework that makes understanding possible. Following indications given earlier by Heinrich Ott, Vögtle analyzes Bultmann’s demythologizing into four philosophical and three historical pre­suppositions, together with other secondary premises of different kinds and of varying origin, such as historical criticism, existentialism, and Lutheran theology. I discussed these presuppositions in Living Tradition 115 (January 2005), and I reviewed there the genuine search for the proper principles of historical science to be used in the interpretation of Sacred Scripture.

32. As also expounded in Living Tradition 83, Ugo Lattanzi sees Bultmann’s thinking as based upon three postulates and two presuppositions. Again, in Living Tradition 115, I returned to the explanation of Ugo Lattanzi, who recognized that Bultmann’s “leap of faith” is an act of pure subjectivity, referring to nothing outside of itself, and he points out that Bultmann’s notion of the “myth-making powers” of a “creative Christian community” cannot be demonstrated by a single clear instance in the whole of the Gospels. It was my observation that the first step in a fuller response to the challenges laid down by Bultmann’s exegetical method and program of demythologizing is a refutation of his incorrect metaphysical and historical frames of reference, followed by a line-by-line refutation of his exegesis of the Gospels.

33. In Living Tradition 76 (July 1998), I noted that, in neo-patristic exegesis, the reality of the objects of faith in univocal continuity with the reality of the objects of reason is a prime feature of its hermeneutic framework of thought, and it is of supreme importance to the neo-patristic interpreter to refute any assumption that the genuine objects of faith are not real in a univocal sense. In this issue I also took up the notion and basis of the spiritual sense of the inspired text, noting, for instance, that the Fathers of the Church, along with other early ecclesiastical writers and medieval theologians, saw patterns of meaning in the text of the Bible that illustrate in various ways what is called the Allegory of Christ and of his Church. This pattern of meaning is taken to be intended by the Holy Spirit and to be really and objectively in the text, even though it does not add any essential element that is not expressed somewhere in the literal sense of the Scriptures. Neo-patristic exegesis seeks to clarify the kinds of meaning that are represented in the inspired text and their precise relationship to one another, in continuance of the work begun especially by Thomas Aquinas. But the neo-patristic study of medieval commentaries does not take place apart from a prior or simultaneous analysis of the commentaries of modern biblical scholars. In this article I presented an example of neo-patristic exegesis in making a contrast with the form-critical approach to John 14:16, where Jesus says: “I am the way and the truth and the life,” and in John 10:7-10, where Jesus presents Himself as “the door of the sheep.”

34. In Living Tradition 41, I noted that the spiritual truth derived from the Scriptures is a science, because the remote object of this knowledge is God, who is real and is the consummation of all that is real. The reality of God is the summit of the one continuum of reality. The light of infused faith is an intellectual light having for its object the reality of God and elevating within it the concept of reality that is given by natural reason to the level of a higher science. Sacred theology is the knowledge of revealed reality as such, and it is developed principally by taking the supernatural dimension of reality that is revealed in the text of the Bible and in Catholic tradition, and then comprehending its meaning in terms of a valid process of reasoning and intuition. The reality that sacred theology knows is in the one continuum of reality that natural reason knows on its own level, and these two levels of reality are synthesized in the mind of the theological thinker.

35. In Living Tradition 129, I presented some aspects of a neo-patristic approach to biblical inspiration and inerrancy, beginning with quotations from the authentic teaching of the Church. Then I took examples of the attack on biblical inerrancy by some contemporary Catholic biblical scholars. Lionel Swain, writing in A New Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture, appeals to “the obvious discrepancies between the discoveries of the human reason and the Bible,” and the struggle of historical critics against the “negative, defensive attitude” of Church authorities in the past, as they identified biblical truth with “scientific and historical accuracy.” Raymond Collins, writing in The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, avers that the old preoccupation of the Magisterium of the Church for what it considered “the inerrant ‘truth’ of the Bible” was reduced by Vatican II (Dei Verbum 11) to “that truth which God, for the sake of our salvation, wished to see confided to the sacred Scriptures.” Ignored by these and other historical-critical writers is the fact that these documents of the Magisterium, including Dei Verbum 11) teach that the absolute inerrancy of Sacred Scripture belongs to “the ancient and constant faith of the Church.”

36. In Living Tradition 120 (November 2005), I defended the literal and historical truth of the first chapter of Genesis, comparing the pros and cons of theistic theories of evolution with the actual Hebrew words in the inspired text. I noted that the historical truth of Genesis 1-3 and, in general, the historical truth of the whole Bible, is under attack today, and that the battle against the imposition of Darwinism upon school children in the United States is at bottom a battle between belief in God and atheism. Regarding the possibility of a second and hidden literal sense of Genesis 1, I presented a technical interpretation of the word “day” in the six days of creation which would not be in contradiction with the (still unproven) theories of the “Big Bang” and of the evolution of species.

37. The historical truth of Genesis 1. Previously, in a series of articles in Living Tradition 45-50 (March 1993-January 1994), I had undertaken to present a neo-patristic interpretation of the first four days of creation as described in the first chapter of Genesis. In Living Tradition 45 (March 1993) as an example of a form-critical analysis of this chapter by a Catholic Scripture scholar, I took the “new reading” of Bruce Vauter’s Path Through Genesis (1977). Vawter claims that "Genesis has used a partly legendary history to teach enduring truths." He says that the first three chapters of Genesis "deal with myths which the church has appropriated and developed independently of biblical history: in this instance, the myths of creation and the fall of man." In my critique, I noted that, if Catholics do not want their faith to be shaken, they must refute such conclusions of form-critics by finding the errors in their reasoning.

38. In Living Tradition 46 (May 1993), in dealing with the first day of creation, I noted the distinction between the simple literal sense of the sacred text and a possible hidden literal sense. Any such subtle readings are usually ambiguous at best, because there is no guarantee from the text that the model of physical or historical truth that we hold up to the text is actually true. In this issue I present a literal translation of and commentary on Genesis 1:1-5, in contrast with the form-critical exposition of Richard Clifford in the New Jerome Biblical Commentary.

39. In Living Tradition 47 (July 1993), I present a study of the days of creation according to St. Augustine.

40. Then, in Living Tradition 48 (September 1993), I present a neo-patristic interpretation of the second day of creation. St. Augustine explained the six days as phases in the knowledge that the blessed angels were given through the Beatific Vision, but he did not deny that the creation of the world and the creation of each of the things mentioned in Genesis 1 are historical facts.

42. Subsequently, in Living Tradition 49 (November 1993), I present the view of St. Thomas Aquinas regarding the first four days of creation. St. Thomas holds that the waters above the firmament have only a similarity to the waters below the firmament, and that Sacred Scripture, in giving them the name “water,” presents hidden things through things known to the senses. He also says that the light of the first three days is the light of the sun, but it was an unformed light in the sense that it did not have the completeness of its powers.

43. Finally, in Living Tradition 50 (January 1994), I gave a comprehensive neo-patristic presentation of the divine work of the first four days, in greater detail than was summarized later in Living Tradition 120.

44. In Living Tradition 141 (May 2009), I have recently tried to present a comprehensive interpretation of the literal meaning of Genesis 1, keeping in mind the teaching of St. Thomas Aquinas and the Fathers of the Church, as well as contem­porary views of the subject. Prominent in this exposition is the idea of a plain literal meaning and a technical literal meaning of the text of this chapter. It seems that a technical reading of the chapter does not conflict with the (still unproven) theories of the “Big Bang” and of a gradual appearance of new biological species, but the grounds for an emergence of species from lower species seem weak. The notion of the days of creation as indefinite periods of darkness followed by periods of light is illustrated. How, on the fourth day of creation, the Sun, the Moon, and the stars could have been arranged in the heavens is easily explained on a level in keeping with modern astronomy. Also incorporated is the important distinction between creation out of the nothingness of self and creation out of the nothingness of self and of a subject. Contrary to neo-Darwinism, the importance of the idea of substantial forms is brought out. And there are short answers to a series of objections to a possible second literal meaning of the six days of creation.

45. In Living Tradition 130 (July 2007), I examined from a neo-patristic point of view Jean Daniélou’s form-critical reading of Matthew 1 and Luke 1. Daniélou incorrectly assumes that Bultmann has “proved” that the scene of the Annunciation to Mary is a midrash (imaginary story) based on Isaiah 9. Bultmann proved no such thing; what he actually claimed was that the idea of the Virginal Conception is a Hellenistic fantasy. It is a pity that Catholic form-critics have spent so much time adapting Bultmann’s methods to their scholarship and so little time refuting the obvious fallacies in his reasoning. Daniélou’s use of the midrash theory of Gospel interpretation excludes in advance the intention of the Gospel writers to record the historical facts in the accounts that they give, and it turns historiographic art into fictional fantasy. While Daniélou strives to save the dogma of the Virginal Conception, he does not save the fact, because he includes it within an allegedly fictitious story, and he does not save the content, because he reduces the historical content of the episodes to the merely human event of Joseph’s having legally adopted Jesus. Actually, Matthew 1 presents three things: historical chronology, historical explanation, and theological explanation. And, contrary to Daniélou’s reading, the prophecy in Isaiah 7:14 (and recalled in Matt 1:23) really was a prediction of the Virginal Conception of Jesus.

46. In Living Tradition 131, I attempted to bring out a better interpretation of the literal sense of Matthew 1. Neo-patristic interpretation always begins with a study of the literal sense and then proceeds to possible spiritual senses. Form-critic Jean Daniélou (without good reason) claims that Matthew 1 does not intend to affirm the Virginal Conception of Jesus, while form-critic Raymond Brown avers that this chapter clearly narrates a Virginal Conception of Jesus. But Brown’s further affirmation that “the primary import of the virginal conception was theological, and more specifically christological” has no meaning for historical science. Regarding the pregnancy of Mary mentioned in Matthew 1:18-23, I noted, in contrast to the opinions of Daniélou and Brown presented above, that the biological virginity of Mary does seem to be the main point of this whole chapter. The first chapter of Matthew opens with a genealogy of Jesus. From conflicts that Brown thinks he sees between the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1and the genealogy in Luke 3 lead him to conclude that neither genealogy presents the historical facts. In this article I summarize a more detailed treatment, given earlier in Living Tradition 11 (May 1987), in which I suggested three possible solutions to these seeming conflicts together with two additional solutions along the lines of historical reservation, all of which preserve the inerrancy of these two genealogies. There follows a line-by-line commentary on the literal meaning of Matthew 1. Regarding the 14 x 3 generations of Matthew 1:17, I examine the depth of this verse and I suggest that there may even be a cryptic message in Matthew’s mathematics as to the exact date of the birth of Jesus. An earlier and more detailed examination of the meanings of Matt 1:17 is available in Living Tradition 13 (September 1987).

47. In Living Tradition 133, I noted how form-critical biblical scholar Father Raymond Brown, in his widely circulated book, The Virginal Conception and Bodily Resurrection of Jesus (herein VCBR), concludes that the Gospels “are not simply factual reporting of what happened in Jesus’ ministry but are documents of faith written to show the significance of those events as seen with hindsight.” For instance, he says, “the fact that according to the Synoptic Gospels Jesus predicted his crucifixion and resurrection three times and in increasing detail does not necessarily mean that the historical Jesus had such exact knowledge of his future” (VCBR, p. 17). More specifically in reference to the arguments of his book, he affirms that “the presence of the virginal conception in the infancy narratives of two Gospels carries no absolute guarantee of historicity” (VCBR, p. 32). The Catholic Church, of course, has always taught that the Sacred Scriptures are inerrant, but, he notes, the Second Vatican Council “reversed a tendency of applying inerrancy to almost every aspect of the Bible and applied it only in a very general way,” and he here questions whether the bodily virginity of Mary qualifies for biblical inerrancy according to the new definition of biblical inerrancy given by Vatican II, namely, as a truth “which God wanted put into the sacred writings for the sake of our salvation” (quoting Dei Verbum 11). Brown readily admits that the humanity and the divine sonship of Jesus are “truths gleaned from the infancy narratives,” but he questions whether the bodily virginity of Mary is such a truth (VCBR, pp. 32 and 19), considering that “modern Protestant and Catholic scholars are in surprising agreement on the generally figurative and non-historical character of the infancy narratives” (VCBR, p. 52).

48. From a neo-patristic perspective, Father Brown’s approach here is problematic. The Virginal Conception of Jesus is a dogma of the Church (CCC 496, 510), based upon the conviction of the Church that its narration in the infancy narratives is historically true. As a believing Catholic, Brown accepts the Virginal Conception of Jesus as an object of faith, but, as a form-critic, he here (as quoted in the preceding paragraph) doubts its historical truth. The problem is that Catholic faith is an undoubting affirmation of the reality of the objects of faith, that is, of their historical truth, and it does not allow for a dualism which negates the unity of truth and relegates the objects of faith to a non-real world of religious belief. This problem runs implicitly through the whole gamut of Catholic form-critical scholarship, in the sense that Catholic form-critics like Father Brown, while they do not deny the dogmas of faith, never address and resolve the deep undermining of the faith that is implicit in their form-critical reasoning, because they have not succeeded in establishing a truly Catholic form-critical approach. The Second Vatican Council did not water down the constant teaching of the Church that the Sacred Scriptures are wholly inerrant. Catholic historical critics have simply misrepresented the teaching of the Second Vatican Council on biblical inerrancy precisely where it says that “the books of Scripture are to be affirmed as teaching firmly, faithfully, and without error the truth as God wished it to be set down in Sacred Writings for the sake of our salvation” (Dei Verbum 11). Again, Brown claims that the idea for the fabrication of the pattern of false episodes narrated by Matthew from the Virginal Conception (Matt 1:18ff.) to the return of the Holy Family from Egypt (Matt 2:23) was basically suggested by adapting the story of Moses in Egypt as narrated in the Book of Exodus, with a couple of additional elements borrowed from the story of Joseph the Patriarch (The Birth of the Messiah, p. 138). The idea of Catholic exegetical tradition that these parallels between the Old Testament and the New Testament were made by the divine Author for typological and allegorical reasons gets no consideration at all in the form-critical thinking here. Brown has to follow the naturalistic presupposition of the form-critical method that these things could not really have happened, because, once one admits that they could really have happened, the whole form-critical method falls to pieces.

49. In Living Tradition 84 (November 1999), I examined form-critical charges of error in Matthew 2:23: "And he went and dwelt in a city called Nazareth that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled that he would be called a Nazorean.” And I suggested that the allegorical meaning of the prophecy may also be its literal meaning. I defended the historical truth of Joseph’s going to and dwelling in the city of Nazareth, and I indicated a possible connection of this event with the annunciation to Mary described in Luke. I then took up the idea that the Blessed Virgin Mary was the original source of Matthew’s infancy narrative, and I then delved into the figurative application of the Hebrew word nazir to Jesus and the allegorical sense of this verse. Finally, I touched briefly on a possible anagogical sense of this verse.

50. In Living Tradition 86 (March 2000), I examined Raymond Brown’s form-critical interpretation of Matthew 2:23, in his well-known work, The Birth of the Messiah, where he concludes that the final editor of Matthew’s Gospel made up this verse and the preceding one out of his own mind in order to explain how the Holy Family got to Nazareth, since his nativity scene was located at Bethlehem. And Brown actually uses these two verses as a clear illustration of how the form-critical method works. Neo-patristic research examines a form-critical exercise like this by seeking the origins of the arguments used by the critic, and I found that, in his reasoning about the origin of Matt 2:22-23, Brown follows the lead of Martin Dibelius and Rudolf Bultmann, the two principal founders of the form-criticism of the Gospels.

51. In Living Tradition 85, I had undertaken to show how flimsy is the reasoning of Bultmann and Dibelius regarding the alleged "internal tension" within this text. Brown's comparison of Matt 2:22-23 with Matt 4:12-16 involves circular reasoning and unfounded assumptions. Underlying Brown's conclusion that Matthew's Infancy Narrative was created imaginatively by Christians from parallel stories about Moses in the Jewish midrashic tradition there appears to be an error of anachronism. Brown, as a Catholic exegete, does not profess the Rationalism and the Modernism from which form-criticism arose, but neither does he deal adequately with the way in which these false philosophies influence the method that he is using. His conclusion that the episodes recounted in Matthew's Infancy Narrative are imaginative adaptations of earlier Jewish stories is basically the same as that of Bultmann and Dibelius, and he admits that his conclusion follows from their method, but he assumes as a Catholic scholar that his method does not proceed from their Rationalist presuppositions. A fundamental mistake that Catholic form-critics almost universally tend to make is that they do not attempt to show concretely and with respect to the particular passages that they are analyzing how their conclusions as Catholic form-critics do not carry with them the Rationalist presuppositions of the method.

52. In Living Tradition 132 (November 2007) I presented an exposition of three possible spiritual senses underlying Matthew 1:1-16, having first carefully examined (in Living Tradition 131 and elsewhere) the literal sense of this passage. This method of the Four Senses has been neglected for centuries by Catholic exegetes and theologians, although it has always been reflected in the sacred liturgy and in the Scriptures themselves, and it has been newly recommended to interpreters of the Bible by the Catechism of the Catholic Church (nos. 115-119). What remains is to redevelop and implement it, and this is the task of the neo-patristic movement. As St. Thomas points out, every passage of the Bible has a literal sense, but not every passage has a spiritual sense. In his explanation, some words or passages have the four senses, some have three, some have two, and some have only one, namely, the literal sense.

53. In the first verse of his Gospel, “The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, son of David, son of Abraham,” Matthew is setting up a perspective of historical explanation according to which the key to the understanding of David and Abraham is the Person of Our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the Messiah. And more generally Matthew is implying that the key to the understanding of the Old Testa­ment resides in the New Testament (cf. Matt 26:28). The promises that were made by God to Abraham and to David are to be understood through knowledge of the Virginal Conception and the divine Incarnation of Jesus by the miraculous power of the Holy Spirit, which gives a new and better interpretation to all of the events of the Old Covenant. Above all, the carnal interpretation of the promises made by God to the Chosen People of the Old Testament, namely, the under­standing that they were the elect by the mere fact of being of the material seed of Abraham (through Sarah), whatever response they, as individuals, returned to God, is now replaced by the need freely and individually to accept Jesus and to love God and one’s neighbor.

54. The approach of this interpretation of Matthew 1 is basically a summary and development of the teaching of Thomas Aquinas in his Lectures on the Gospel according to St. Matthew, supplemented by his teaching in the Catena Aurea of the commentaries of the Fathers of the Church, and in other works.8 We consider St. Thomas to be the founder of the neo-patristic approach, which he schematizes in part I, question 1, article 10 of his Summa Theologiae. The reason for which the allegorical sense and the other spiritual senses are important in Sacred Scripture is, as St. Thomas explains, because God, the principal Author of Holy Scripture, has the power not only to use words to express things, but also to use things themselves to express other things.9 In his commentary on the genealogy in Matthew, what is particularly in focus is the allegory of names.

55. On the level of Christological allegory in verse 1, the material “book of the generation,” presenting the carnal descent of the seed of Abraham down to Joseph, becomes a figure of the reality underlying the Virginal Conception and Incarnation of Jesus as the God-Man portrayed in the whole Gospel according to St. Matthew. On the levels of moral and of final allegory, verse 1 suggests the eternal generation of the divine Son of the eternal Father on the one hand, and the temporal generation and development of the grace of Christ in the souls of the sanctified on the other. In the allegory of names in the Matthean genealogy, the first aspect of the spiritual sense is the allegory of Christ and of his Church. For instance, the name Abraham means “the father of many peoples,” and it prefigures Jesus, who “brought many children into glory” (Heb 2:10). St. Thomas also undertakes to illustrate how a pattern of moral allegory may underlie the genealogy in Matthew. St. Thomas assumes the framework of the theological and moral virtues. He suggests, to begin with, that the names Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as situated in the genealogy, represent the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity. St. Thomas does not search for anagogy in the genealogy of Matthew, and there need not be any there. But it seems to me that there are indications of a hallmark, or signature, of the Most Holy Trinity in these first three names as well as in various other places throughout the Bible.10

56. In my opinion there is an objectively real basis for this method of interpretation, even though the results of this early investigation may not be convincing in every case. The problem is that, in spite of the encouragement given to biblical scholars in our day by the Catechism of the Catholic Church (nos. 115-119) to pursue this method of research, it has been almost universally abandoned. As a result, the opportunities to develop and solidify this wonderful field of insight into the text of the Bible have been largely missed. What is gained from the perception of the allegorical sense is not new spiritual doctrine but rather new insight into the relationship of things and events to present spiritual realities, namely, to Christ and his Church militant, to the theological and moral virtues, and to the beatific vision of God by the Church triumphant. Therefore, the interpreter must bring to this study a highly differentiated knowledge of present spiritual realities, that is, a frame of reference that is adequate for the task. St. Thomas assumes for the Allegory of Christ and his Church a pattern of relationships of Old Testament figures to the Person and mission of Christ, and he assumes for the tropological sense a definite pattern of supernatural virtues. In the case of allegory in the Matthean genealogy, from the consistent repetition of the word “begot,” he works on the generation and begetting of one virtue from another. It should be the task of contemporary exegetes to study these patterns more precisely and see if a more completely organized under­standing can be obtained.

57. In Living Tradition 134 (March 2008), I gave a brief commentary on the spiritual senses of Matthew 2. This interpretation involves allegorical, tropological (moral), and anagogical elements, based upon the Allegory of Christ and his Church, the special allegory of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the tropology of the moral and the theological virtues, the anagogy of the Four Last Things, and the allegory of numbers.


1 Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth (New York: Doubleday, 2007), p. xv.

2 W.F. Albright, From the Stone Age to Christianity (Baltimore MD: Johns Hopkins Press, 1957), p. 387.

3 Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, in Richard J. Neuhaus, ed., Biblical Interpretation in Crisis (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989), pp. 1-23). For page references and further elaboration, see Living Tradition 41 (May 1992).

4 Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, in Richard J. Neuhaus, ed., Biblical Interpretation in Crisis (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989), pp. 14-15).

5 The so-called “critical” approach to the interpretation of Sacred Scripture, now known as “historical criticism,” was brought into focus in 1678 by Richard Simon, a converted Catholic priest, when he published what he called a “critical history” of the Old Testament. He called his work a “critical history,” because he subjected the text of the Old Testament to what he considered to be the “critical judgment” of his human reason.

6 The word Rationalism has as a secondary meaning “the doctrine that knowledge comes from the intellect in itself without aid from the senses.” But I am using the word here as meaning “the principle or practice of accepting reason as the only authority in determining one’s opinions or course of action” (Webster’s New College Dictionary (2007). The German Illuminist H.S. Reimarus (died 1768), was the founder of Rationalism as an explicit and self-styled approach to the systematic interpretation of Sacred Scripture with his Apologia for the Rational Worshippers of God.

7 The same reductive notion of science has overflown unintentionally even into official Catholic magisterial statements, in which a contrast is sometimes made between faith and science, philosophy and science, or theology and science. The correct distinction should be between these other sciences and empirical science.

8 Thomas Aquinas, Super Evangelium S. Matthaei lectura (5th revised edition, Rome: Marietti, 1951, which unfortunately has never been translated into English); republished without paragraph numbers in Roberto Busa, editor, S. Thomae Aquinatis opera omnia (vol. 6: Fromann-Holzboog, 1980) pp. 130-227); Catena aurea (English translation, Albany, New York: Preserving Christian Publications, 1998).

9 Cf. Aquinas, S. Th., I, q. 1, art. 10, corp.

10 The anagogical sense regards (in my view) the allegorical representation of the Three Divine Persons of the Most Holy Trinity as well as of the Four Last Things of death, judgment, Heaven, and Hell. The name Abraham, as “the father of many nations,” that is, as the father of many births, is likened to God the Father, who begot and eternally begets God the Son, and eternally spirates, with God the Son, the Holy Spirit. Isaac, “he laughs,” represents the infinite joy of God the Father in the begetting of God the Son, and Jacob, who “grabs the heel,” represents the spiration of God the Holy Spirit through the loving dynamism of the first two Persons, either of whom would instantly overthrow the other if the power of each were not infinite and if they were not one God in the love and unity of the Holy Spirit.

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