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Scott Hahn on the Politicized Bible

I found Scott Hahn in the Maze. From the entry hall in his home, you take the stairs to the basement and pass through an unobtrusive door. Beyond it is one of the largest, most labyrinthine, personal libraries in the country, 23,000 volumes at last count, most of them on theology. 

I zigzagged through the stacks, finding Hahn at his desk in the far corner, books piled to the ceiling on all sides of him. I pulled up a chair, blocking his only exit, and turned on the tape recorder.

Professor at Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio, Hahn is best known for his conversion story (he had been a Presbyterian minister and entered the Church in 1986), which has circulated widely on cassette tape and in book form. His doctoral dissertation, completed last year, examines covenant types and texts in the Old and New Testaments-an important theme, but I had something else on my mind.

KEATING A few moments ago, before the tape started rolling, you said that the misuse of historical criticism points to deficient philosophical formation. I want to find out what you mean, but first let’s define historical criticism so we know what we’re talking about.

HAHN It’s hard to define, but what I mean by “historical criticism” needs to be understood in two ways. First, the methods are analytical tools, and in and of themselves they can be considered neutral. They can be used positively, and they can be used negatively. But the actual circumstances in which those tools were developed gives us another understanding of what historical criticism is, because at root historical criticism is grounded in a hermeneutic of suspicion-a basic distrust of tradition-and this was self-conscious on the part of those who developed the methods and of the early practitioners of them in Germany and in England and throughout the world.

KEATING Is there guilt by association here? Should we be on guard against historical criticism because of how it arose and whom it arose from?

HAHN Yes. There are two points that are significant in my own study as to the rise of historical criticism. The Protestant Reformation split Christendom in the 1500s, and nobody really thought it was going to be permanent. Luther and Calvin, for all their zeal and for all their concern for reform in the Church and for all their pride, didn’t really believe that what they were doing was going to represent a permanent fragmentation of Christendom. 

Two generations go by, and in the early 1600s comes the Thirty Years’ War, which first involved Germany and then England and France, until practically all of Europe was engulfed, with Protestants fighting Catholics, and Lutherans fighting Calvinists, and little sub-groups within Lutheranism and Calvinism warring against each other. 

This goes on for decades; people realize that this is going to be a permanent state unless a way out is found. In 1648 the Treaty of Westphalia is signed, and all of a sudden Europe has made a decision: We must privatize religion. The teachings of the Church or Scripture no longer represent the bond by which European nation-states are united. 

Distant roots

KEATING So do you see this theological conclusion to be really the consequence of a political dilemma?

HAHN Right. In many ways the historical-critical methods began to rise as a sophisticated but subtle rationalization of the state of affairs brought about by the disintegration of the Christian family that was once Christendom. Benedict Spinoza, a Jew excommunicated from the synagogue; Richard Simon, a priest expelled from the Oratorians; Thomas Hobbes, whose work was condemned by his fellow Protestants and the House of Commons-these three men were, for all practical purposes, the founding fathers of historical criticism-Spinoza first.

KEATING Normally we don’t think of historical criticism as going that far back. Normally we think of it going back maybe to the eighteenth century.

HAHN Indeed, but more and more contemporary historical critics, such as the German scholar H. G. Reventlow, now point to these founding figures and their joint efforts to show Europe how to bridle religious passions by relativizing, that is, privatizing, religious truth claims. As Spinoza asserted, no longer should we be looking at Scripture to find divine truth. Instead, we look to find the meaning intended by the human authors. That’s how to drive a wedge between the truth, which binds all people, and the meaning which the authors believed. 

KEATING Was Spinoza trying to effect a civil religion that could keep the political peace while allowing for private variance?

HAHN He tried to create a natural civil religion by subordinating theological method and religious truth claims to the categories of philosophy. It wasn’t simply the elevation of reason over revelation. It was a pitting of reason against faith. The marriage which had endured for many centuries throughout Europe-the marriage of reason and faith based on divine revelation-was split, seemingly forever.

KEATING The question was at this point, if they can’t be married, which is going to be superior? And Spinoza and the others said it should be reason instead of faith.

HAHN Exactly. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, with the rise of the Enlightenment, you have Rationalism on the Continent and Empiricism in Great Britain, until Hume’s skepticism engulfs all of Europe, leaving Kant to pick up the pieces by turning the mind away from reality-and into itself and its own impression of experiential phenomena. One could almost say that, by reshaping the mind of Europe, Kant rules from the grave. He has shaped a civilization that is, at root, post-Christian.

KEATING And highly political, as we see even in historical criticism.

HAHN As Robert and Mary Coote readily demonstrate in Power, Politics and the Making of the Bible, historical-critical methods are employed to find political motives behind the narrative text. For instance, when you divide up the Pentateuch into four sources-J, E, D, and P-J, the Jahwist, supposedly was a tenth-century monarchist who supported the Davidic regime down south, in Judah, whereas E, the Elohist, was a representative of the Northern Kingdom, made up of the ten tribes that had revolted against the Davidic empire. 

The narrative stories in Genesis that seem to support the Davidic monarchy are ascribed to J, while the stories that would tend to support the revolutionary policies of the northern tribes that formed the Israelite kingdom are ascribed to E. 

Of course, the cultic, ritual, and sacrificial ceremonies are identified with the much later source P, since they represent the interests of the priestly editors who, after the Babylonian exile, took Jerusalem and built a theocracy under their own control with a priestly monopoly maintained by the very rituals that their rewritten Bibles now stipulated. (This is nothing but Realpolitik. )

As scholars (such as J. D. Levenson at Harvard) point out, many historical critics simply read political interests into ordinary historical discourse, when in fact their conclusions simply reflect their own political outlook-their own anti-Judaism, especially in the case of German scholars of the 1800s, but also a deeply embedded anti-Catholicism.

You’ll find Julius Wellhausen doesn’t even make an attempt to hide his animus against Roman Catholicism. He sees Jewish ritual in the Old Testament as an ugly precursor to medieval Catholicism.

Albert Schweitzer made a similar observation about the many lives of Jesus written by New Testament Gospel critics: Staring down the well (of history), what they take for the face of Jesus is nothing but their own reflection at the bottom. 

Bismarck promotes historical criticism

KEATING So you’ve got a political motivation from which you make conclusions about the origin and editing of the Bible. You’ve declined in dignity by going from the theological or historical to the merely political; you are intruding eighteenth-century thoughts onto the ancient writers.

HAHN This continued on into the nineteenth century.

KEATING Under Bismarck we see the Kulturkampf (“culture war”) and the battle for the unification in Germany. During this time comes the advance of the historical-critical method in the more modern sense, led by German scholars-all Protestant or at least token Protestant.

HAHN William Farmer, a world-class New Testament scholar at the University of Dallas, has done a lot of investigation into the Kulturkampf, to discover why it was that the two-source theory-Marcan priority-which a small minority had argued for unsuccessfully in the first half of the nineteenth century, suddenly began taking German scholarship by storm in the 1870s. 

Farmer points to the political circumstances surrounding the Kulturkampf, with the definition of papal infallibility in 1870 and Bismarck’s reaction. I’ve been reading about the measures that were administered to suppress the Catholics in Germany, and I don’t think many of us realize that the German liberals were hailing Bismarck as a second Luther, especially in driving the Jesuits out and suppressing religious orders. 

At the time all theology professors were paid by the state, so the shortcut to promotion was by supporting a theory that undermined the proof text used by the papacy to justify its infallibility, Matthew 16:17-19.

If Mark’s Gospel is first, then the historical reliability of the famous Petrine primacy text is more easily attacked- indeed, scholars were denying its historicity, since it was politically correct to do so.

KEATING So German scholars in the pay of the state were able to advance precisely to the extent that they came out against the Catholic Church, which Bismarck had a political animus against anyway. The state, indirectly at least, was subsidizing an anti-Catholic exegetical position.

HAHN Along with anti-Catholic political measures. Here’s what Kurt Reinhardt says in Historical Studies in Germany: Germany’s Two Thousand Years: “All religious orders and congregations were dissolved. The Catholics’ right to organizational assembly was greatly restricted. The Catholic press was subjected to rigorous censorship. Many of the Catholic priests were fined, expelled, or imprisoned.” 

These contemporary circumstances shed more light on the critical theories themselves than is shed by the critics’ discovery of political backgrounds to the preparation of Scripture-the Marcan community, Matthean community, that sort of thing.

KEATING Do you really see those supposed communities of the first century as being projections or even fantasies, if I can go that far, of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century German scholars?

HAHN Yes, in part. There’s no question, when you study someone like F. C. Bauer, who was greatly influenced by Hegel’s dialectic, that he creates a New Testament theology based on the notion that you’ve got the Petrine-Jewish church as the thesis, the Pauline-Hellenistic church as the antithesis, and, by the end of the first century, the Johannine community emerges as the “synthesis.” Nice and tidy, but entirely contrived.

KEATING When did this idea of Paul against Peter show up? Was it an invention?

HAHN No, but it’s an exaggeration, a total distortion of what is described in Galatians 2, where there was tension between Paul and Peter. But Bauer insists that the New Testament writers are really suppressing a much bigger conflict, so the conflicting interests must be exposed by Hegel’s dialectic. 

Whatever conflict existed between Peter and Paul is magnified a hundredfold and made the basis of an elaborate theory of historical development. This amounts to little more than a very imaginative-but purely hypothetical- reconstruction.

KEATING It’s also a cheeky extrapolation. What we find in Galatians 2 is Paul upbraiding Peter in one private setting, and that’s pretty much the extent of it. Now, I can understand how a Fundamentalist uses that to argue against papal infallibility rather weakly. 

But, if you’re this nineteenth-century German theologian, you’re trying to read into that little story a contest in the early Church between two big camps. Didn’t anybody stand up and say, “This emperor has no clothes?” 

Cutting-edge scholars sidelined

HAHN There were several scholars who did, but they were marginalized-Protestants mostly, like E. W. Hengstenberg, but some Catholics too. It’s one of those situations where, if you dare to say things that are politically incorrect, your career is ruined. You’re blacklisted, you’re not promoted, and you certainly will find it much harder to publish.

KEATING Just like today. As Yogi Berra put it, “It’s déjà vu all over again.”

HAHN What we’re experiencing in the American Catholic scene, especially in the area of biblical scholarship, is a reflection of, a continuation of, this phenomenon.

KEATING Cutting-edge scholars who are questioning these things are being marginalized. Their books don’t get reviewed, they don’t get promoted, and the centers of this scholarship-certain universities-invite onto their staff only people who already agree with the majority opinion. It seems that they’re more interested in maintaining this dike against leaks than in seeing whether there’s some substance.

HAHN This phenomenon is especially prevalent in American Catholic scholarly circles. But you seem to find many more Jewish and Protestant scholars doing what Cardinal Ratzinger called for in his 1988 Erasmus Lecture, that is, a “criticism of the critics”-and their misuse of historical-critical methods. And you don’t need to look very far to find their vested interests and ulterior motives, their hidden agendas behind their hypothetical reconstructions, and why these tenuous theories catch fire and become the rage of the day. But in Catholic circles you don’t find the same sort of thing, at least in North America. Yet Ratzinger’s lecture was a clarion call to do precisely this, to recognize the real but limited value of historical criticism: limited uses, but almost unlimited abuses.

KEATING How was he received by the establishment here?

HAHN There was official, polite applause. 

KEATING You can’t insult a cardinal. Did it amount to “Thank you very much sir for your opinion”-and then we just go on doing what we are doing?

HAHN For the most part. From talking with someone who attended, I learned there was polite applause, followed by embarrassed silence. 

The influence of John Meier

KEATING Let’s turn now to the Jesus Seminar, which has been in the news for much of the year.

HAHN Newsweek, Time, and U.S. News came out with cover stories during Holy Week, and they featured the Jesus Seminar, which is extremely radical, but they also highlighted the more moderate views of Fr. John Meier, who is a priest of the Archdiocese of New York and a leading New Testament scholar at Catholic University of America. 

Meier had an opportunity to respond to the Jesus Seminar, and in many ways his response was to the point, but much of what he said left a bit to be desired. For instance, he insists on driving a wedge between the Jesus of history and the historical Jesus. We’re used to hearing about the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith. But Meier is doing something different. He’s driving a wedge between the Jesus of history and the historical Jesus, insisting that historical critics can only investigate the historical Jesus. The Jesus of history is a much larger figure, but we’re not able to retrieve him through historical-critical methods. So the historical Jesus is nothing more than the Jesus that the critics are capable of recreating with their limited methods.

KEATING That is, by looking directly at Scripture itself.

HAHN Perhaps there’s a bit of a sola scriptura approach, but it’s not just that. The Jesus of historyis the real Jesus, the Jesus you would have encountered in the first century. The historical Jesus is the Jesus the practitioners of the historical-critical methods must be content with, nothing more.

KEATING Is there any way we can reach back and find the Jesus of history?

HAHN In Meier’s methodology, no. The ideal he envisions is a Catholic, a Jew, and a Protestant, all biblical scholars, trapped in the basement of Harvard’s library, and they aren’t allowed out until they reach consensus.

KEATING This seems reminiscent of John Rawls in his political philosophy a quarter century ago.

HAHN A lowest-common-denominator approach. Meier says we have to begin with the concession that the Gospels have limited value as historical records-

KEATING This is just an assumption on his part.

HAHN Not just an assumption, really. Using the hermeneutic of suspicion, he reaches his conclusion. In the field he is considered a moderate, at some points even a conservative. As a Catholic he says he must conclude his historical-critical studies by saying that Christ was probably born at Nazareth, not Bethlehem. 

In a presidential address to the Catholic Biblical Association, Meier argued on historical-critical grounds that Jesus had four brothers and at least two sisters, presumably through Mary. 

KEATING The standard Protestant approach.

HAHN What made it so ironic was that the Catholic Biblical Quarterly then published a response by an Evangelical Protestant scholar in England, Richard Bauckham, arguing for one of the traditional Catholic approaches to understanding the “brethren of the Lord.” He said that the “brethren” might have been offspring from a previous marriage of Joseph. 

But in the U.S. News article, the reporter describes how “Meier keeps his academic work and his faith separate. He says, ‘You can’t mix theology and historical research without causing tremendous confusion.'<|>” For me that’s the issue. Meier drives a wedge-a methodological separation -between his faith and theological beliefs on the one hand and his historical-critical conclusions on the other. 

It wasn’t always this way . . .

KEATING Is this the proper method for Catholic scholars? 

HAHN I don’t think so. After reading the article, I went back and began scouring decades of back issues of the Catholic Biblical Quarterly to see how far back this tendency could be traced. I discovered Fr. J. P. O’Donnell gave a presidential address to the Catholic Biblical Association in 1950. It was published in the Catholic Biblical Quarterly the next year, in 1951. 

He stated, “Certainly then it would never be consonant with the Catholic spirit or tradition to approach the study of Scripture with an attitude of scientific neutrality detached from theological faith. 

“This further attitude,” he added, “does not mean we can contemplate the sacred text in an attitude of faith and be absolved from the duty of continued application to the problems of text, language, history, and archaeology.” 

But to separate, as Meier does, the historical-critical study of Scripture from theological faith is something that in 1950 the president of the Catholic Biblical Association regarded as unthinkable for authentic Catholic exegetes. Yet now it seems to be the operating assumption.

KEATING Are we seeing a replay of the philosophical position that is said to have infected some of the Muslim scholars in the Middle Ages? There was a disjuncture between what you believed in faith and what you understood by reason. Through the historical-critical method the Catholic scholar may say, “This is what really happened,” but because of his faith he says, “Actually, it happened this other way.” There is an opposition.

HAHN That’s right. 

Building bridges (almost) everywhere

KEATING How does he square it? Is the critic saying that both things are true?

HAHN He is saying that certain things we conclude from historical-critical research can be at odds with what we believe through faith. This, I believe, is a modern version of the double-truth theory advocated by the thirteenth-century Averroist philosophers. 

As Chesterton points out in The Dumb Ox, St. Thomas was always polite with his enemies except when it came to Christian Averroists, such as Siger of Brabant, a Catholic scholar who advocated this double-truth approach to knowledge. Aquinas saw in Siger a greater threat to the faith than the Islamic Averroists who attacked it. 

KEATING If I were to use Meier’s methodology, I could say that, based on historical-critical reasoning, Mary was not perpetually a virgin-she had at least six other children besides Jesus-but through faith I know the Church teaches infallibly that she always was a virgin and Jesus was her only child. I can hold both ideas simultaneously. But what does that do to me mentally? What consequences follow as I deal with the rest of the faith?

HAHN An erosion process begins, if not in your own lifestyle then in that of your students, not least in their faith. 

KEATING What’s the motivation behind this hermeneutic?

HAHN Personally I’m convinced that it’s mostly due to peer pressure, wanting to look smart and objective to your fellow scholars, especially non-Catholics. There’s also a genuine concern to build bridges to and to find common ground with non-Catholic scholars, a fine and worthy motive. But it shouldn’t be allowed to control your research, or it ends up becoming a diluted apologetic that is quite ineffective.

KEATING Bridges to everybody except to the magisterium of the Church?

HAHN Indeed! In contrast, I would say, “Don’t be duplicitous-just tell other scholars, ‘Look, I believe these Catholic things, not just with part of my brain but with all of my mind and with all of my heart,’ and so they’re going to illuminate, they’re going to inform, they’re going to strengthen my use of the historical method and the critical methods.” 

Intellectual schizophrenia

KEATING This is the response that Jacob Neusner gives in A Rabbi Talks With Jesus. He says something like, “You must accept our disagreements. To the extent you try to paint them over, to pretend they aren’t there, you insult me, you do not accept me for what I am and what I believe. You think I’m not mature enough to agree to disagree.” In trying to build ecumenical bridges to other people, these Catholic exegetes say I should keep off-loading Catholic distinctives until we reach commonality.

HAHN That’s right. It’s basically a subtle form of intellectual schizophrenia. People say they believe with one side of the brain what they’re denying with the other.

KEATING That reminds me of the bumper sticker that says, “I’m not schizo, and I’m not either.”

HAHN [laughter] I would say, just to pull things together at this point, that the misuse of historical criticism is practically always based upon inadequate philosophical formation. If people were schooled in the philosophy of St. Thomas the way Leo XIII intended scholars to be, I think the problem would practically disappear overnight. 

It’s very important to distinguish between the classical historical method on the one hand and historical-critical methods which have arisen in the last few centuries. This is a distinction that is seldom made, but, once made and explained, it becomes virtually self-evident. 

Going back into antiquity, courts have sifted through documentary sources for evidence, which they have weighed using objective criteria. That is what is meant by the historical method in the classical sense, where you have eyewitness testimony, but only in documentary form. 

You ask, “Were they eyewitnesses?” That’s the criterion of reliability. “Are the eyewitnesses consistent?” That’s the criterion of consistency. “Are the reports whole and intact?” That’s the criterion of integrity. If these three tests are met, we have to give these eyewitnesses the benefit of the doubt. They were alive then; we weren’t. What they’re reporting ought to be accepted as prima facie evidence. That’s the historical method; that’s historical research. You can find this basic approach in Louis Gottschalk’s Understanding History. 

But this was overturned with the Enlightenment, with the advent of historical criticism based upon a hermeneutic of suspicion. Indeed, Ernst Troeltsch, the father of historicism, came up with three alternative criteria, his so-called axioms of historical criticism-the principle of analogy, so that the past always resembles the present; the idea of correlation, which is that you always look for natural causes behind whatever event you’re studying; and the principle of criticism, that you have a systematic distrust of the reports of tradition and especially of authority.

The point is that if you understand the principles that are behind the historical-critical methods-as distinct from the historical method-you’ll see that historical criticism is inherently and intrinsically incapable of proving a supernatural event took place.

KEATING An analogy: Science cannot prove the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.

HAHN Right, and historical-critical methods cannot prove that a miracle occurred. The critical methods are incapable of determining that. Another thing I want to emphasize is that historical critics have not achieved consensus on any single passage of either the Old Testament or the New Testament. 

They’ve had two centuries now. They’ve had thousands of books, tens of thousands of articles, yet they have not achieved consensus. You might have the momentary illusion of consensus (the so-called “assured results of modern critical scholarship”), but then a new doctoral dissertation comes out and obliterates it. The methods themselves have produced only negative results. 

Some critics might respond, “We have achieved consensus on some things-that Moses didn’t write the Pentateuch, that Isaiah didn’t write the second half of his book, that Matthew didn’t write first.” 

These are purely negative results used to attack the testimony of tradition. In the case of the Gospels, we have the witness of people who were alive at the time of events they describe. These people wrote when others, still living, could have denied their reports – but didn’t. You don’t make things up under such circumstances. 

Chesterton describes tradition as the democracy of the dead. We’re not letting the witnesses speak, we’re not allowing tradition to testify. And that’s bad science. The results are not only negative but skeptical. 

We should interrogate these critics and ask them, “What is it about your methods that render them incapable of producing interpretive consensus on any single text of the Bible?”

KEATING Have any of the historical critics tried to answer that question?

HAHN Not that I know of. It’s one of those questions people generally avoid raising in public.

KEATING John Robinson, in his book Redating the New Testament, said that he wanted to take a fresh look at the dates assigned to the New Testament books; he said the historical-critical method had been running in circles- one scholar footnoting a friend, who footnotes the original scholar, back and forth, back and forth. So Robinson took a fresh look and came up with something close to a traditional Catholic understanding.

HAHN And I think he did it with scientific integrity and with a degree of scholarly rigor. I don’t agree with all his conclusions, but I am impressed with the arguments he advanced for a pre-70 dating of the New Testament books.

KEATING What do you think of the more recent writings of Claude Tresmontant and the late Jean Carmignac?

HAHN I’m not as familiar with them, and I wouldn’t identify myself with their conclusions, but I have great respect for what I have read of theirs. 

The Ratzinger gambit

KEATING Is there a positive role for historical criticism?

HAHN It’s important for Catholics to acknowledge that these methods can be useful so long as we are well grounded philosophically. Historical criticism functions like a prosecuting attorney. He should be allowed his time to cross examine witnesses and to impugn motives and to look for vested interests and hidden agendas. 

Ultimately, when the jury is sent out, if the eyewitnesses have withstood the tests, then the events to which they have testified ought to be accepted. Decisions ought to be reached on their testimony. But if the prosecuting attorney is allowed to create a purely adversarial approach to truth, and if he is allowed to control the outcome, then the courtroom procedure is skewed. 

Cardinal Ratzinger describes how the critical methods are analytical tools, and their usefulness depends on the way in which they are used and on the philosophical assumptions that lie behind their use. There is no such thing as the purely neutral use of historical-critical methodology. Instead, what you’ve got is the historical method being employed according to a particular philosophical outlook. We need to ask, “Which theory has to interfere with the sources the least?”

KEATING What do you mean interfere?

HAHN As Ratzinger points out in Behold the Pierced One, we ought to prefer the theory that can explain the document as it stands in its final form. Scientifically speaking, the more tenable theory is the one that can explain the document as a whole; the less tenable explains only by chopping up the document into disjointed, even contradictory, sources.

KEATING In olden times we tried to “save the appearances” -what accounts most simply for the apparent movement of the sun, planets, and stars around the earth? Ancient and medieval thinkers settled on cycles and epicycles, mathematical constructs that predicted movements in a geocentric system. Later, in a heliocentric system, the appearances were saved through ellipses. Overarching unity again was preserved. You didn’t end up with scientists saying, “Mars moves along a circle, Venus along a square, and Jupiter along a squiggle.” The planets weren’t deconstructed.

HAHN Indeed. The more a scholar’s interpretive view respects the corpus as given, as a whole-whether the corpus under study is the book of Genesis or the entire Pentateuch or the three synoptic Gospels-the more his view allows the corpus to remain integral.

KEATING Is this methodology something unique in the application to Scripture? Do scholars employ it in regard to other things? I remember Ronald Knox had a wonderful satire on using the historical-critical method to investigate Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem “In Memoriam.” After tearing it apart line by line and working up fanciful historical and political connection, he concludes that the real author of the poem was Queen Victoria!

HAHN I’m not surprised. 

Reliably unreliable conclusions

KEATING You said earlier that scholars using the historical-critical method often end up with interpretations that are not reliable.

HAHN Consider the scholar who says, “In this chapter Paul contradicts what he says in another chapter.” I would say, “Let’s look for an alternate theory that reveals a deeper logic and intelligibility of seemingly opposed passages.”

KEATING These scholars fall into an error similar to Fundamentalist prooftexting, looking too narrowly at something and therefore seeing a conflict. If they took a broader view, there may be no conflict at all.

HAHN Yes, but there’s more. The philosophy behind these methods is alien to the subject matter of the documents.

KEATING Elaborate on that.

HAHN You need a critical sympathy, a critical empathy, with the ancient writer whose documents you’re studying.

KEATING Does that mean you have to be a believer?

HAHN It doesn’t mean you have to be a believer, but it implies that a believer has a certain edge.

KEATING All things being equal, it’s better to be a believer than not, when using this scholarship.

HAHN Being a believer, you’re going to approach scriptural texts with critical sympathy. You’re going to be more open to finding inner cohesion. You’re going to be more capable of achieving a synthesis.

KEATING Let’s conclude it with your prognostication of the future of the historical-critical methods. You’ve noted that they’ve been employed with no one verse being resolved with a congenial interpretation by all these exegetes. Is this tank of gas going to run out, or is this car fated to roll on perpetually?

HAHN I don’t see it as going away, at least not as a result of direct assault. The way to drive out darkness is to turn on the light. I’m convinced that the more the light of faith is turned on for faithful Catholics through solid biblical preaching, teaching, and study, the more a hermeneutic of faith will establish its own scientific and critical superiority in our minds.

KEATING Will the historical-critical methodology at length wear itself out?

HAHN The constant misuse of historical criticism is sterile. It doesn’t reproduce itself, and so it’s dying. It’s also parasitical, though, so we’ve got to be mindful of how it preys upon Catholic students who aren’t formed adequately in philosophy. 

KEATING Do you see an end-run being made around the troubles brought on by misuse of the method?

HAHN I see Scripture being appropriated in terms of our tradition, growing interest in spiritual exegesis, the daily contemplation of the lectionary texts, Bible study faithful to the magisterium, memorization of key texts of Scripture, the faithful proclamation of the Word by priests-as these expand, the inevitable outcome will be the gradual dissolution of what future generations may regard as twentieth-century “hysterical criticism.”

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