Conference of Religious India (CRI)

CRI (Conference of Religious India)

Origin and Development of CRI

 “Major Superiors can usefully meet together in conferences and councils, so that by combined effort they may work to achieve more fully the purpose of each institute, while respecting the autonomy, nature and spirit of each. They can also deal with affairs which are common to all, and work to establish suitable coordination and cooperation with Episcopal conferences and individual Bishops”. (Canon 708)

With the coming into existence of an independent nation, the Church in India had to rely on its own sons and daughters for her vitality and mission. God blessed us with numerous vocations to Religious Life. Drawing inspiration from Pope Pius XII, the Major Superiors of Religious Institutes in India met in conference, separately at first as men and women in 1960-61, and then jointly in 1962. In 1963 the Holy See formally erected CRI by approving the Statutes. The same year it became a registered society under the Societies Registration Act of 1860.

Growing along with the “aggiornamento” of Vatican II, CRI Became an effective means of renewal during the 1960’s, as indicated by the themes of the National Conferences :

Chastity in the modern world (1961); Sanctifying Grace (1962); Religious Poverty, Training of Religious (1963); Religious Life and Liturgy (1965); Religious Obedience (1966); Renewal and Adaptation (1967)

The 1970’s and 1980’s saw an effort and effective contribution towards the re-orientation of Apostolate. This was indirectly influenced by the “Church in India Today” Seminar (1969) and the Synod of Bishops on “Justice in the World”. (1972). Based on the experience gained, and the reading of the signs of the time, the Statutes went in for a revision and a new Statute was approved in 1980. With it, structural modifications began. The Brothers became a distinct section. The permanent Secretary system changed to a National Secretary, with a specific term of office, and responsibilities. An independent Secretariat came into existence with additional Religious staff other than the National Secretary. Financial restructuring facilitated more effective functioning of CRI. The theme of the National Assemblies during the 1980’s, and their statements, indicate the prophetic role of religious leadership in the country:

The 1992 National Assembly in Calcutta called for a breakthrough from prophetic animation to prophetic action that can bring people-centred and issue-based dynamics into the organisation. Consequently, the Assembly called for the revitalisation of CRI at all levels. The rationale of the revitalisation was the situation of the poor in our country, and the prophetic voice that speaks within us as Religious. The five-fold thrust of revitalisation was

(1) the cry of My people; (2) proclamation in deed; (3) prophetic – activist leadership; (4) liberation movement thrust; (5) solidarity in networking

The Regional and Local levels were strengthened, with structures and specific objectives, aimed at making the CRI an instrument capable of responding more precisely to the needs of the Religious, of the Christian community and of society as a whole.

Though the CRI is a conference of Major Superiors, it is perceived as a body of 1,15,000 religious leaders spread all over the country, and involved in the lives of every group of people.

Mission & Vision

“Major Superiors can usefully meet together in conferences and council, so that by combined effort they may work to achieve more fully the purose of each institute, while respecting the autonomy, nature and spirit of each. They can also deal with affrairs which are common to all, and work to establish sutable coordination and cooperation with Episcopal conferences and individual Bishops”. (Canon 709)

Goals of CRI

1.To bring together the major superiors of Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, So that they share the experiences, challenges and concerns of their religious commitment and get mutually enriched.

2. To make combined effort to achieve more fully the purpose of each Institute, while respecting the autonomy, nature and spirit of each (CIC c. 708).    

3. To deal with matters common to all Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, especially those affecting consecrated life in India, and to work to establish suitable co-ordination and co-operation with various Episcopal bodies and with individual bishops (CIC c. 708)

4. To promote fellowship at all levels of the Christian community in a spirit of humble service and in collaboration with all sections of the people of God and all people of good will.

Functions of CRI   

The goals of CRI are to be achieved more specifically through the following objectives and corresponding functions.

1. To focus the attention of the religious constantly on their common mission within the Church, according to their own charism and context of the complex Indian reality:          

a. By helping its members bear witness to the unique role of the contemplation of the Father in the mission of Christ; and by supporting the emergence of new forms of religious life in harmony with the Indian spiritual reality;

b. By fostering in the religious, both a sense of belonging to the local Church and a genuine concern for and openness to the needs of the universal Church;         

c. By developing among the religious, both a sense of belonging to the local Church and a genuine concern for and openness to the needs of the universal Church;

d. Urging them to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ, leading people to an explicit acceptance of Christ in the Church if the Spirit so calls them;

e. Bearing witness to Christ’s preferential love for the poor and the marginalized in the choice of their apostolic work and target groups;

f. Calling for a sense of urgency to share their Christ experience with those of other faiths, in a spirit of mutual dialogue, and with non-believers, in a search for common basic values;              

g. Involving the process of inculturation in all aspects of life and work: liturgy, spirituality, theology, value systems, lifestyle, etc.

h. Demanding that the religious keep abreast of the Indian situation and assume their duties as citizens of a country beset with many problems, among which stands out the need for national integration; and

i. Furthering research into those spiritual and cultural values, a deeper understanding and assimilation of which is imperative for religious to be more authentic and relevant Christian witnesses in the local context.         

2. To pool resources and coordinate efforts:      

a. By Enabling its members through regular meetings and timely communications to share common concerns and to set and review goals;

b. By encouraging inter-institutional collaboration in those aspects of the Church’s activities, which call for coordinated efforts.                

3. To provide opportunities for consultation and dialogue:           

a. With the laity in a spirit of openness and trust, so that common problems can be resolved in a sense of mutual interdependence;            

b. With its own members and other groups, including government authorities when needed.   

4. To offer service:         

a. By Helping the religious to grow in all aspects of religious life and particularly in the convictions that their commitment requires of them: a deep life of prayer and the spirit of contemplation;

b. By assisting its members in their task of formation and in the renewal of religious life;

c. By providing opportunities for major superiors to develop their role as animators and leaders;

d. By fostering the study of those trends and developments within the Church which affect the role of religious and by encouraging the formulation of guidelines for action related to them.   

5. To Promote relationship:                        

a. CRI does not interfere with the legitimate autonomy of each Institute and the responsibility of the respective superiors; however, being a forum for communion among the religious, it can have an inspirational role and be a dynamic element for religious life in India.

b. Relations with bishops: CRI acknowledges the authority of individual bishops as per the provisions of Canon Law and of the various episcopal bodies of India and other episcopal bodies, and works in collaboration with them in matters of common concern for the Church in India.

c. At the level of the universal Church, CRI loyally accepts the unique role of the successor of Peter and readily follows the directives of the Apostolic See.

Conference of Religious India (CRI)
Address : Masihgarh, New Friends Colony P.O.
Okhla, New Delhi – 110 025
Phone : +91 11 2692.3911, 2691.9550
Fax : +91 11 2691.8932
E-mail : cridelhi@gmail.com
The nearest Railway Station is Nizamuddin (NZM).
The landmarks are Holy Family & Escort Hospitals

God the Father

God the Father, Cima da Conegliano, Circa 1510-17.
God the Father, Cima da Conegliano, Circa 1510-17. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

God the Father is a title given to God in modern monotheist religions, such as Christianity, Judaism and Bahá’í, in part because he is viewed as having an active interest in human affairs, in the way that a father would take an interest in his children who are dependent on him.[1][2][3]

In Judaism, God is described as father as he is said to be the creator, life-giver, law-giver, and protector.[4] However, in Judaism the use of the Father title is generally a metaphor and is one of many titles by which Jews speak of and to God.[5]

Since the second century, Christian creeds included affirmation of belief in “God the Father (Almighty)”, primarily as his capacity as “Father and creator of the universe”.[6] Yet, in Christianity the concept of God as the father of Jesus is distinct from the concept of God as the Creator and father of all people, as indicated in the Apostle’s Creed where the expression of belief in the “Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth” is immediately, but separately followed by in “Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord”, thus expressing both senses of fatherhood.[7]

The Islamic view of God sees God as the unique creator of the universe and as the life-giver, but does not accept the term “father” in reference to God, as well as in regard to his relationship to the prophet Isa, i.e. Jesus in Islam.[8]

Contents

Overview

An image of God the Father by Julius Schnorr, 1860.

In modern monotheist religious traditions with a large following, such as Christianity, Judaism and Bahá’í, God is addressed as the father, in part because of his active interest in human affairs, in the way that a father would take an interest in his children who are dependent on him and as a father, he will respond to humanity, his children, acting in their best interests.[1][2][3] Many monotheists believe they can communicate with God and come closer to him through prayer – a key element of achieving communion with God.[9][10][11]

In general, the title Father (capitalized) signifies God’s role as the life-giver, the authority, and powerful protector, often viewed as immense, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent with infinite power and charity that goes beyond human understanding.[12] For instance, after completing his monumental work Summa Theologica, St. Thomas Aquinas concluded that he had not yet begun to understand God the Father.[13] Although the term “Father” implies masculine characteristics, God is usually defined as having the form of a spirit without any human biological gender, e.g. the Catechism of the Catholic Church #239 specifically states that “God is neither man nor woman: he is God“.[14][15] Although God is never directly addressed as “Mother”, at times motherly attributes may be interpreted in Old Testament references such as Isa 42:14, Isa 49:14-15 or Isa 66:12-13.[16]

Although similarities exist among religions, the common language and the shared concepts about God the Father among the Abrahamic religions is quite limited, and each religion has very specific belief structures and religious nomenclature with respect to the subject.[17] While a religious teacher in one faith may be able to explain the concepts to his own audience with ease, significant barriers remain in communicating those concepts across religious boundaries.[17]

In the New Testament, the Christian concept of God the Father may be seen as a continuation of the Jewish concept, but with specific additions and changes, which over time made the Christian concept become even more distinct by the start of the Middle Ages.[18][19][20] The conformity to the Old Testament concepts is shown in Matthew 4:10 and Luke 4:8 where in response to temptation Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 6:13 and states: “It is written, you shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.”[18] However, 1 Corinthians 8:6 shows the distinct Christian teaching about the agency of Christ by first stating: “there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we unto him” and immediately continuing with “and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and we through him.”[19] This passage clearly acknowledges the Jewish teachings on the uniqueness of God, yet also states the role of Jesus as an agent in creation.[19] Over time, the Christian doctrine began to fully diverge from Judaism through the teachings of the Church Fathers in the second century and by the fourth century belief in the Trinity was formalized.[19][20]

The Islamic concept of God differs from the Christian and Jewish views, the term “father” in not applied to God by Muslims, and the Christian notion of the Trinity is rejected in Islam.[21][22]

Judaism

Main article: God in Judaism

The Biblical Tetragrammaton, the Hebrew Name for God the Father.

In Judaism, God is called “Father” with a unique sense of familiarity. In addition to the sense in which God is “Father” to all men because he created the world (and in that sense “fathered” the world), the same God is also uniquely the patriarchal law-giver to the chosen people. He maintains a special, covenantal father-child relationship with the people, giving them the Shabbat, stewardship of his oracles, and a unique heritage in the things of God, calling Israel “my son” because he delivered the descendants of Jacob out of slavery in Egypt[Hosea 11:1] according to his oath to their father, Abraham. In the Hebrew Scriptures, in Isaiah 63:16 (ASV) it reads: “Thou, O Jehovah, art our Father; our Redeemer from everlasting is thy name.” To God, according to Judaism, is attributed the fatherly role of protector. He is called the Father of the poor, of the orphan and the widow, their guarantor of justice. He is also called the Father of the king, as the teacher and helper over the judge of Israel.[23]

However, in Judaism “Father” is generally a metaphor; it is not a proper name for God but rather one of many titles by which Jews speak of and to God. In Christianity fatherhood is taken in a more literal and substantive sense, and is explicit about the need for the Son as a means of accessing the Father, making for a more metaphysical rather than metaphorical interpretation.[5]

Christianity

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Main article: God in Christianity

Since the second century, creeds in the Western Church have included affirmation of belief in “God the Father (Almighty)”, the primary reference being to “God in his capacity as Father and creator of the universe”.[6] This did not exclude either the fact the “eternal father of the universe was also the Father of Jesus the Christ” or that he had even “vouchsafed to adopt [the believer] as his son by grace”.[6]

Creeds in the Eastern Church (known to have come from a later date) began with an affirmation of faith in “one God” and almost always expanded this by adding “the Father Almighty, Maker of all things visible and invisible” or words to that effect.[6]

By the end of the first century, Clement of Rome had repeatedly referred to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and linked the Father to creation, 1 Clement 19.2 stating: “let us look steadfastly to the Father and Creator of the universe”.[24] Around AD 213 in Adversus Praxeas (chapter 3) Tertullian provided a formal representation of the concept of the Trinity, i.e. that God exists as one “substance” but three “Persons”: The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.[25][26] Tertullian also discussed how the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son.[25]

The Nicene Creed, which dates to 325, states that the Son (Jesus Christ) is “eternally begotten of the Father”, indicating that their divine Father-Son relationship is seen as not tied to an event within time or human history.

There is a deep sense in which Christians believe that they are made participants in the eternal relationship of Father and Son, through Jesus Christ. Christians call themselves adopted children of God:[27][28]

But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts crying out, “Abba, Father!” Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.

The same notion is expressed in Romans 8:8-11 where the Son of God extends the parental relationship to the believers.[28] Yet, in Christianity the concept of God as the father of Jesus is distinct from the concept of God as the Creator and father of all people, as indicated in the Apostle’s Creed.[7] The profession in the Creed begins with expressing belief in the “Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth” and then immediately, but separately, in “Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord”, thus expressing both senses of fatherhood within the Creed.[7]

Trinitarianism

God the Father by Girolamo dai Libri c. 1555. The triangular halo represents the Trinity.

To Trinitarian Christians (which include Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and most but not all Protestant denominations), God the Father is not at all a separate god from God the Son (of whom Jesus is the incarnation) and the Holy Spirit, the other Hypostases of the Christian Godhead.[29][30][31] However, in Trinitarian theology, God the Father is the “arche” or “principium” (beginning), the “source” or “origin” of both the Son and the Holy Spirit, and is considered the eternal source of the Godhead.[32] The Father is the one who eternally begets the Son, and the Father eternally breaths the Holy Spirit.[24][32]

As a member of the Trinity, God the Father is one with, co-equal to, co-eternal, and con-substantial with the Son and the Holy Spirit, each Person being the one eternal God and in no way separated, who is the creator: all alike are uncreated and omnipotent.[24] Because of this, the Trinity is beyond reason and can only be known by revelation.[30][33]

The Trinitarians concept of God the Father is not pantheistic in that he not viewed as identical to the universe or a vague notionthat persists in it, but exists fully outside of creation, as its Creator.[34][29] He is viewed as a loving and caring God, a Heavenly Father who is active both in the world and in people’s lives.[34][29] He created all things visible and invisible in love and wisdom,<and man for his own sake.[34][35]

The emergence of Trinitarian theology of God the Father in early Christianity was based on two key ideas: first the shared identity of of the Yahweh of the Old Testament and the God of Jesus in the New Testament, and then the self-distinction and yet the unity between Jesus and his Father.[36][37] An example of the unity of Son and Father is Matthew 11:27: “No one knows the Son except the Father and no one knows the Father except the Son”, asserting the mutual knowledge of Father and Son.[38]

The concept of fatherhood of God does appear in the Old Testament, but is not a a major theme.[39][36] While the view of God as the Father is used in the Old Testament, it only became a focus in the New Testament, as Jesus frequently referred to it.[39][36] This is manifested in the Lord’s prayer which combines the earthly needs of daily bread with the reciprocal concept of forgiveness.[39] And Jesus’ emphasis on his special relationship with the Father highlights the importance of the distinct yet unified natures of Jesus and the Father, building to the unity of Father and Son in the Trinity.[39]

The paternal view of God as the Father extends beyond Jesus to his disciples, and the entire Church, as reflected in the petitions Jesus submitted to the Father for his followers at the end of the Farewell Discourse, the night before his crucifixion.[40] Instances of this in the Farewell Discourse are John 14:20 as Jesus addresses the disciples: “I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you” and in John 17:22 as he prays tothe Father: “I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one.”[41]

Non-trinitarianism

Main article: Nontrinitarianism

A number of nontriniatarian traditions reject the doctrine of the Trinity, but differ from one another in their views, variously depicting Jesus as a divine being second only to God the Father, Yahweh of the Old Testament in human form, God (but not eternally God), prophet, or simply a holy man.[42] Some broad definitions of Protestantism include these groups within Protestantism, but most definitions do not.[43]

Mormon depiction of God the Father and the Son Jesus.

In Mormon theology, the most prominent conception of God is as a divine council of three distinct beings: Elohim (the Father), Jehovah (the Son, or Jesus), and the Holy Spirit. The Father and Son are considered to have perfected, material bodies, while the Holy Spirit has a body of spirit.[44] Mormons believe that God the Father presides over both the Son and Holy Spirit, but together they represent one God.

Mormons officially consider the Godhead a Divine Council, the Father being over the Son and Spirit in time and power. This conception differs from the traditional Christian Trinity of co-equal and co-eternal members; in Mormonism, the three persons are considered worthy to be members of godhood by being united in will and purpose.[45] Mormons often refer to this Council as the “Godhead” to distinguish it from the traditional Trinity.[46] As such, the term Godhead has a different meaning than the term as used in traditional Christianity.[47]

In Jehovah’s Witness theology, only God the Father is the one true and almighty God, even over his Son Jesus Christ. While the Witnesses acknowledge Christ’s pre-existence, perfection, and unique “Sonship” with God the Father, and believe that Christ had an essential role in creation and redemption, and is the Messiah, they believe that only the Father is without beginning. They say that the Son had a beginning, and was “brought forth” at a certain point, as the Father’s First and Only-begotten, and as the Father’s only direct creation, before all ages. They believe that all other things were created through the Son, in the service of God the Father.[48]

Jehovah’s Witnesses emphasize God the Father, in their services, studies, and worship, more than Christ the Son. In their theology, they teach that the Father is greater than the Son.[49][50] The Witnesses, though they do give relative “worship” or “obeisance” (Greek: proskyneo) to Jesus as God’s Son and Messiah, and pray through Him as Mediator, do not give him the same degree of worship or service as they give to God the Father.[51][52]

Oneness Pentecostalism teaches that God is a singular spirit who is one person, not three divine persons, individuals or minds. Father, Son and Holy Spirit are merely titles reflecting the different personal manifestations of the One True God in the universe. When Oneness believers speak of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, they see these as three personal manifestations of one being, one personal God.[53][54]

Other groups include Sabbatarian traditions, such as the Living Church of God and the Philadelphia Church of God, Armstrongism, the Unitarian Christian Association, Binitarianism, etc.

Islam

Main articles: God in Islam and Shirk (Islam)

God, as referenced in the Qur’an, is the only God and the same God worshiped by members of the other Abrahamic religions, Christianity and Judaism. (29:46).[55] However, though Islam accepts the concept of God as creator and life-giver, and as the unique one, Islam rejects the term “father” in reference to God, particularly in regard to his relationship to the prophet Isa, i.e. Jesus in Islam.[8]

The Qur’an states:[56]

“Say: He is God, the One and Only; God, the Eternal, Absolute; He begetteth not, nor is He begotten; And there is none like unto Him.” (Sura 112:1-4, Yusuf Ali)

In Islamic theology, God (Arabic: Allāh) is the all-powerful and all-knowing creator, sustainer, ordainer, and judge of the universe.[57][58] Islam puts a heavy emphasis on the conceptualization of God as strictly singular (tawhid).[59] God is unique (wahid) and inherently One (ahad), all-merciful and omnipotent.[60] The Qur’an asserts the existence of a single and absolute truth that transcends the world; a unique and indivisible being who is independent of the entire creation.[56]

Other religions

Although some forms of Hinduism support monotheism, there is no concept of a god as a father in Hinduism. A genderless Brahman is considered the Creator and Life-giver, and the Shakta Goddess is viewed as the divine mother and life-bearer.[61][62]

God the Father in Western art

Depiction of God the Father (detail), Pieter de Grebber, 1654.

For about a thousand years, no attempt was made to portray God the Father in human form, because early Christians believed that the words of Exodus 33:20 “Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see Me and live” and of the Gospel of John 1:18: “No man hath seen God at any time” were meant to apply not only to the Father, but to all attempts at the depiction of the Father.[63] Typically only a small part of the body of Father would be represented, usually the hand, or sometimes the face, but rarely the whole person, and in many images, the figure of the Son supplants the Father, so a smaller portion of the person of the Father is depicted.[64]

In the early medieval period God was often represented by Christ as the Logos, which continued to be very common even after the separate figure of God the Father appeared. Western art eventually required some way to illustrate the presence of the Father, so through successive representations a set of artistic styles for the depiction of the Father in human form gradually emerged around the tenth century AD.[65]

By the twelfth century depictions of a figure of God, essentially based on the Ancient of Days in the Book of Daniel had started to appear in French manuscripts and in stained glass church windows in England. In the 14th century the illustrated Naples Bible had a depiction of God the Father in the Burning bush. By the 15th century, the Rohan Book of Hours included depictions of God the Father in human form. The depiction remains rare and often controversial in Eastern Orthodox art, and by the time of the Renaissance artistic representations of God the Father were freely used in the Western Church.[66]

See also

Wikimedia Commons has media related to: God the Father

References

  1. ^ a b Calling God “Father” by John W. Miller (Nov 1999) ISBN 0809138972 pages x-xii
  2. ^ a b Diana L. Eck (2003) Encountering God: A Spiritual Journey from Bozeman to Banaras ISBN 0807073024 p. 98
  3. ^ a b Church Dogmatics, Vol. 2.1, Section 31: The Doctrine of God by Karl Barth (Sep 23, 2010) ISBN 0567012859 pages 15-17
  4. ^ Gerald J. Blidstein, 2006 Honor thy father and mother: filial responsibility in Jewish law and ethics ISBN 0-88125-862-8 page 1
  5. ^ a b God the Father in Rabbinic Judaism and Christianity: Transformed Background or Common Ground?, Alon Goshen-Gottstein. The Elijah Interfaith Institute, first published in Journal of Ecumenical Studies, 38:4, Spring 2001
  6. ^ a b c d Kelly, J.N.D. Early Christian Creeds Longmans:1960, p.136; p.139; p.195 respectively
  7. ^ a b c Symbols of Jesus: a Christology of symbolic engagement by Robert C. Neville 2002 ISBN 0-521-00353-9 page 26
  8. ^ a b The Concept of Monotheism in Islam and Christianity by Hans Köchler 1982 ISBN 3-7003-0339-4 page 38
  9. ^ Floyd H. Barackman, 2002 Practical Christian Theology ISBN 0-8254-2380-5 page 117
  10. ^ Calling God “Father” by John W. Miller (Nov 1999) ISBN 0809138972 page 51
  11. ^ Church Dogmatics, Vol. 2.1, Section 31: The Doctrine of God by Karl Barth (Sep 23, 2010) ISBN 0567012859 pages 73-74
  12. ^ Lawrence Kimbrough, 2006 Contemplating God the Father B&H Publishing ISBN 0-8054-4083-6 page 3
  13. ^ Thomas W. Petrisko, 2001 The Kingdom of Our Father St. Andrew’s Press ISBN 1-891903-18-7 page 8
  14. ^ David Bordwell, 2002, Catechism of the Catholic Church,Continuum International Publishing ISBN 978-0-86012-324-8 page 84
  15. ^ Catechism at the Vatican website
  16. ^ Calling God “Father”: Essays on the Bible, Fatherhood and Culture by John W. Miller (Nov 1999) ISBN 0809138972 pages 50-51
  17. ^ a b The Names of God in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam: A Basis for Interfaith Dialogue: by Máire Byrne (Sep 8, 2011) ISBN 144115356X pages 2-3
  18. ^ a b Early Jewish and Christian Monotheism by Wendy North and Loren T. Stuckenbruck (May 27, 2004) ISBN 0567082938 pages 111-112
  19. ^ a b c d One God, One Lord: Early Christian Devotion and Ancient Jewish Monotheism by Larry W. Hurtado (Oct 25, 2003) ISBN pages 96-100
  20. ^ a b A History of the Christian Tradition, Vol. I by Thomas D. McGonigle and James F. Quigley (Sep 1988) ISBN 0809129647 pages 72-75 and 90
  21. ^ The Concept of Monotheism in Islam and Christianity by Hans Köchler 1982 ISBN 3-7003-0339-4 page 38
  22. ^ Christian Theology: An Introduction by Alister E. McGrath (Oct 12, 2010) ISBN 1444335146 pages 237-238
  23. ^ Marianne Meye Thompson The promise of the Father: Jesus and God in the New Testament ch.2 God as Father in the Old Testament and Second Temple Judaism p35 2000 “Christian theologians have often accentuated the distinctiveness of the portrait of God as Father in the New Testament on the basis of an alleged discontinuity”
  24. ^ a b c The Doctrine of God: A Global Introduction by Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen 2004 ISBN 0801027527 pages 70-74
  25. ^ a b The Trinity by Roger E. Olson, Christopher Alan Hall 2002 ISBN 0802848273 pages 29-31
  26. ^ Tertullian, First Theologian of the West by Eric Osborn (4 Dec 2003) ISBN 0521524954 pages 116-117
  27. ^ Paul’s Way of Knowing by Ian W. Scott (Dec 1, 2008) ISBN 0801036097 pages 159-160
  28. ^ a b Pillars of Paul’s Gospel: Galatians and Romans by John F. O?Grady (May 1992) ISBN 080913327X page 162
  29. ^ a b c International Standard Bible Encyclopedia: E-J by Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Mar 1982) ISBN 0802837824 pages 515-516
  30. ^ a b The Oxford Handbook of the Trinity by Gilles Emery O. P. and Matthew Levering (27 Oct 2011) ISBN 0199557810 page 263
  31. ^ Critical Terms for Religious Studies. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1998. Credo Reference. 27 July 2009
  32. ^ a b The Westminster Dictionary of Christian Theology by Alan Richardson and John Bowden (Jan 1, 1983) ISBN 0664227481 page 36
  33. ^ Catholic catechism at the Vatican web site, items: 242 245 237
  34. ^ a b c God Our Father by John Koessler (Sep 13, 1999) ISBN 0802440681 page 68
  35. ^ Catholic Catechism items: 356 and 295 at the Vatican web site
  36. ^ a b c The Trinity: Global Perspectives by Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen (Jan 17, 2007) ISBN 0664228909 pages 10-13
  37. ^ Global Dictionary of Theology by William A. Dyrness, Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen, Juan F. Martinez and Simon Chan (Oct 10, 2008) ISBN 0830824545 pages 169-171
  38. ^ The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia by Geoffrey W. Bromiley 1988 ISBN 0-8028-3785-9 page 571-572
  39. ^ a b c d The Doctrine of God: A Global Introduction by Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen 2004 ISBN 0801027527 pages 37-41
  40. ^ Symbols of Jesus by Robert C. Neville (Feb 4, 2002) ISBN 0521003539 pages 26-27
  41. ^ Jesus and His Own: A Commentary on John 13-17 by Daniel B. Stevick (Apr 29, 2011) Eeardmans ISBN 0802848656 page 46
  42. ^ Trinitarian Soundings in Systematic Theology by Paul Louis Metzger 2006 ISBN 0567084108 pages 36 and 43
  43. ^ Encyclopedia of Protestantism by J. Gordon Melton 2008 ISBN 0816077460 page 543
  44. ^ “Godhead”, True to the Faith (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints), 2004. See also: “God the Father”, True to the Faith (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints), 2004.
  45. ^ Robinson, Stephen E. (1992), “God the Father: Overview”, in Ludlow, Daniel H., Encyclopedia of Mormonism, New York: Mcmillan, pp. 548–550, ISBN 0-02-904040-X
  46. ^ Dahl, Paul E. (1992), “Godhead”, in Ludlow, Daniel H., Encyclopedia of Mormonism, New York: Mcmillan, pp. 552–553, ISBN 0-02-904040-X
  47. ^ The term with its distinctive Mormon usage first appeared in Lectures on Faith (published 1834), Lecture 5 (“We shall in this lecture speak of the Godhead; we mean the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”). The term Godhead also appears several times in Lecture 2 in its sense as used in the Authorized King James Version as meaning divinity.
  48. ^ Insight on the Scriptures. 2. 1988. p. 1019.
  49. ^ Revelation Its Grand Climax, Watch Tower Bible & Tract Society, 1988, pg 36, “In the songbook produced by Jehovah’s people in 1905, there were twice as many songs praising Jesus as there were songs praising Jehovah God. In their 1928 songbook, the number of songs extolling Jesus was about the same as the number extolling Jehovah. But in the latest songbook of 1984, Jehovah is honored by four times as many songs as is Jesus. This is in harmony with Jesus’ own words: ‘The Father is greater than I am.’ Love for Jehovah must be preeminent, accompanied by deep love for Jesus and appreciation of his precious sacrifice and office as God’s High Priest and King.”
  50. ^ The Watchtower, April 15, 1983, pg 29, “Why is God’s name, Jehovah, missing from most modern translations of the Bible? Superstition that developed among tradition-bound Jews caused them to avoid pronouncing God’s personal name, Jehovah. This has contributed to worldwide ignorance regarding the divine name. Added to this has been Christendom’s tendency to focus attention on the person of Jesus Christ, thus relegating Jehovah to second place in their triune godhead.”
  51. ^ “Should you believe in the Trinity?”. The Watchtower. 1989. Retrieved 13 April 2012. “Chapter: Is God Always Superior to Jesus?”
  52. ^ Watchtower 1984 9/1 p. 25-30.
  53. ^ James Roberts – Oneness vs. Trinitarian Theology – Westland United Pentecostal Church. Retrieved 13 April 2012.
  54. ^ See also David Bernard, A Handbook of Basic Doctrines, Word Aflame Press, 1988. ISBN 0-932581-37-4 needs page num
  55. ^ F.E. Peters, Islam, p.4, Princeton University Press, 2003
  56. ^ a b Vincent J. Cornell, Encyclopedia of Religion, Vol 5, pp.3561-3562
  57. ^ Gerhard Böwering, God and his Attributes, Encyclopedia of the Quran
  58. ^ John L. Esposito, Islam: The Straight Path, Oxford University Press, 1998, p.22
  59. ^ John L. Esposito, Islam: The Straight Path, Oxford University Press, 1998, p.88
  60. ^ “Allah.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2007. Encyclopædia Britannica
  61. ^ Gods, Goddesses, and Mythology Set by C. Scott Littleton 2005 ISBN 0-7614-7559-1 page 908
  62. ^ Fundamentals of the Faith by Peter Kreeft 1988 ISBN 0-89870-202-X page 93
  63. ^ James Cornwell, 2009 Saints, Signs, and Symbols: The Symbolic Language of Christian Art ISBN 0-8192-2345-X page 2
  64. ^ Adolphe Napoléon Didron, 2003 Christian iconography: or The history of Christian art in the middle ages ISBN 0-7661-4075-X pages 169
  65. ^ James Cornwell, 2009 Saints, Signs, and Symbols: The Symbolic Language of Christian Art ISBN 0-8192-2345-X page 2
  66. ^ George Ferguson, 1996 Signs & symbols in Christian art ISBN 0-19-501432-4 page 92

Holy Spirit

Holy Spirit

Holy Spirit is a term found in English translations of the Bible, but understood differently among the Abrahamic religions.[1][2]

While the general concept of a “Spirit” that permeates the cosmos is a general feature of most religions (e.g. Brahman in Hinduism and Tao in Taoism and Great Spirit among Indigenous peoples of the Americas), the term Holy Spirit specifically refers to the beliefs held in the Abrahamic religions.[3][4]

For the majority of Christians, the belief in the Holy Trinity implies the existence of three distinct Holy Persons: God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit being One Eternal Triune God. This doctrine and designation, however, are not shared by all Christian denominations, or the other Abrahamic religions.[5][6]

Christianity

For the majority of Christians, the Holy Spirit (prior English language usage: the Holy Ghost from Old English gast, “spirit”) is the third person of the Holy Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and is Almighty God.[7][8][9] The Holy Spirit is seen by mainstream Christians as one Person of the Triune God, who revealed His Holy Name YHWH to his people Israel, sent His Eternally Begotten Son Jesus to save them from God’s wrath, and sent the Holy Spirit to sanctify and give life to his Church.[10][11][12] The Triune God manifests as three Persons (Greek hypostases),[13] in One Divine Being (Greek: Ousia),[14] called the Godhead,[15] the Divine Essence of God.[16]

Judaism

The term “holy spirit” only occurs three times in the Hebrew Bible. (Found once in Psalm 51:11 and twice in Isaiah 63:10,11) Although, the term “spirit” in the Hebrew Scriptures, in reference to “God’s spirit”, does occur more times. In Judaism, God is One, the idea of God as a duality or trinity among gentiles may be Shituf (or “not purely monotheistic”). The term Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) is found frequently in Talmudic and Midrashic literature. In some cases it signifies prophetic inspiration, while in others it is used as a hypostatization or a metonym for God.[17] The Rabbinic “Holy Spirit,” has a certain degree of personification, but it remains, “a quality belonging to God, one of his attributes” and not, as in mainstream Christianity, representative of “any metaphysical divisions in the Godhead.”[18]

In Judaism, the references to The Spirit of God, Ruach HaKodesh, The Holy Spirit of YHWH, abound, however it has rejected any idea of The Eternal God as being either Dual or Triune. The term ruach ha-kodesh (Hebrew: רוח הקודש, “holy spirit” also transliterated ruah ha-qodesh) occurs once in Psalm 51:11 and also twice in the Book of Isaiah [19] Those are the only three times that the precise phrase “ruach hakodesh” is used in the Hebrew Scriptures, although the noun ruach (רוח, literally “breath” or “wind”) in various combinations, some referring to God’s “spirit”, is used often. The noun ruach, much like the English word breath, can mean either wind or some invisible moving force.[20]

However, Shekinah is derived from the Hebrew verb שכן. In Biblical Hebrew the word means literally to settle, inhabit, or dwell, which suggests the concept of a Holy Spirit, and is used frequently in the Hebrew Bible. (See Exodus 40:35, “Moses could not enter the Tent of Meeting, for the cloud rested [shakhan] upon it, and the glory of the Lord filled the Tabernacle.” See also e.g. Genesis 9:27, 14:13, Psalms 37:3, Jeremiah 33:16), as well as the weekly Shabbat blessing recited in the Temple in Jerusalem (“May He who causes His name to dwell [shochan] in this House, cause to dwell among you love and brotherliness, peace and friendship”).

Islam

In Islam, the Holy Spirit (Arabic: الروح القدس al-Ruh al-Qudus, “the-Spirit the-Holy”) is mentioned several times in the Qur’an, where it acts as an agent of divine action or communication. In Hadith it is commonly identified with the angel Gabriel (Arabic Jibreel). The Spirit (الروح al-Ruh, without the adjective “holy”) is also used as the creative spirit from God by which God enlivened Adam, and inspired the angels and the prophets. The belief in Trinity, as it is defined in the Qur’an, is explicitly forbidden by the Qur’an and called a grave sin. The same applies to any idea of the duality of God (Allah).[21][22] Though grammatical gender has no bearing on actual gender in non-personal nouns, the term holy spirit translates in and is used in the masculine form in all the Qur’an. In Arabic language the word “Holy Spirit” does not translate as سكينة Sakinah used in a feminine term. The term sakinah means state of relaxation.

Bahá’í Faith

The Bahá’í Faith has the concept of the Most Great Spirit, seen as the bounty of God.[23] It is usually used to describe the descent of the Spirit of God upon the messengers/prophets of God, which are known as Manifestations of God, and include among others Jesus, Muhammad and Bahá’u’lláh.[24] In Bahá’í believe the Holy Spirit is the conduit through which the wisdom of God becomes directly associated with his messenger, and it has been described variously in different religions such as the burning bush to Moses, the sacred fire to Zoroaster, the dove to Jesus, the angel Gabriel to Muhammad, and the maid of heaven to Bahá’u’lláh.[25] The Bahá’í view rejects the idea that the Holy Spirit is a partner to God in the Godhead, but rather is the pure essence of God’s attributes.[26]

References

  1. ^ John R. Levison The Spirit in First-Century Judaism 2002 p65 “Relevant Milieux : Israelite Literature : The expression, holy spirit, occurs in the Hebrew Bible only in Isa 63:10-11 and Ps 51:13. In Isaiah 63, the spirit acts within the corporate experience of Israel..”
  2. ^ Emir Fethi Caner, Ergun Mehmet Caner More than a prophet: an insider’s response to Muslim beliefs about Jesus and Christianity” 9780825424014 2003 p43 “In Surah al-Nahl (16:102), the text is even more explicit: Say, the Holy Spirit has brought the revelation from thy Lord in Truth, in order to strengthen those who believe and as a Guide and glad tidings to Muslims.”
  3. ^ Hinduism and Buddhism, Vol III. (of 3) by Charles Eliot 2007 ISBN 1-4068-6297-5 page 182
  4. ^ Holy Spirit and Salvation: The Sources of Christian Theology by Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen 2010 ISBN 0-664-23136-5 page 420
  5. ^ Systematic Theology by Lewis Sperry Chafer 1993 ISBN 0-8254-2340-6 page 25
  6. ^ The Wiersbe Bible Commentary: The Complete New Testament by Warren W. Wiersbe 2007 ISBN 978-0-7814-4539-9 page 471
  7. ^ Millard J. Erickson (1992). Introducing Christian Doctrine.. Baker Book House. p. 103.
  8. ^ T C Hammond; Revised and edited by David F Wright (1968). In Understanding be Men:A Handbook of Christian Doctrine. (sixth ed.). Inter-Varsity Press. pp. 54–56 and 128–131.
  9. ^ “Catholic Encyclopedia:Holy Spirit”.
  10. ^ “Catechism of the Catholic Church: GOD REVEALS HIS NAME”.
  11. ^ St. Thomas Aquinas (1920). The Summa Theologica: First Part – The Procession of the Divine Persons (second and revised edition (Literally translated by Fathers of the English Dominican Province) ed.).
  12. ^ Pope Pius XII (1943). Mystici Corporis Christi.
  13. ^ See discussion in  “Person“. Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 1913.
  14. ^ Grudem, Wayne A. 1994. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press; Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan. Page 226.
  15. ^ from Old English: Godhood
  16. ^ “Catechism of the Catholic Church: The Dogma of the Holy trinity”.
  17. ^ Alan Unterman and Rivka Horowitz,Ruah ha-Kodesh, Encyclopedia Judaica (CD-ROM Edition, Jerusalem: Judaica Multimedia/Keter, 1997).
  18. ^ Joseph Abelson,The Immanence of God in Rabbinical Literature (London:Macmillan and Co., 1912).
  19. ^ Isaiah 63:10,11
  20. ^ Article Jacobs J. Jewish Encyclopedia: Holy Spirit 1911
  21. ^ Griffith, Sidney H. Holy Spirit, Encyclopaedia of the Quran.
  22. ^ Patrick Hughes, Thomas Patrick Hughes, A Dictionary of Islam, p. 605.
  23. ^ `Abdu’l-Bahá (1981) [1904-06]. “The Holy Spirit”. Some Answered Questions. Wilmette, Illinois, USA: Bahá’í Publishing Trust. pp. 108–109. ISBN 0-87743-190-6.
  24. ^ Taherzadeh, Adib (1976). The Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh, Volume 1: Baghdad 1853-63. Oxford, UK: George Ronald. p. 10. ISBN 0-85398-270-8.
  25. ^ Abdo, Lil (1994). “Female Representations of the Holy Spirit in Bahá’í and Christian writings and their implications for gender roles”. Bahá’í Studies Review 4 (1).
  26. ^ `Abdu’l-Bahá (1981) [1904-06]. “The Trinity”. Some Answered Questions. Wilmette, Illinois, USA: Bahá’í Publishing Trust. pp. 113–115. ISBN 0-87743-190-6.

St. John of the Cross

St. John of the Cross  –  Spanish mystic, Carmelite friar and priest

Born in Spain in 1542, John learned the importance of self-sacrificing love from his parents. His father gave up wealth, status, and comfort when he married a weaver’s daughter and was disowned by his noble family. After his father died, his mother kept the destitute family together as they wandered homeless in search of work. These were the examples of sacrifice that John followed with his own great love — God.

When the family finally found work, John still went hungry in the middle of the wealthiest city in Spain. At fourteen, John took a job caring for hospital patients who suffered from incurable diseases and madness. It was out of this poverty and suffering, that John learned to search for beauty and happiness not in the world, but in God.

After John joined the Carmelite order, Saint Teresa of Avila asked him to help her reform movement. John supported her belief that the order should return to its life of prayer. But many Carmelites felt threatened by this reform, and some members of John’s own order kidnapped him. He was locked in a cell six feet by ten feet and beaten three times a week by the monks. There was only one tiny window high up near the ceiling. Yet in that unbearable dark, cold, and desolation, his love and faith were like fire and light. He had nothing left but God — and God brought John his greatest joys in that tiny cell.

After nine months, John escaped by unscrewing the lock on his door and creeping past the guard. Taking only the mystical poetry he had written in his cell, he climbed out a window using a rope made of strips of blankets. With no idea where he was, he followed a dog to civilization. He hid from pursuers in a convent infirmary where he read his poetry to the nuns. From then on his life was devoted to sharing and explaining his experience of God’s love.

His life of poverty and persecution could have produced a bitter cynic. Instead it gave birth to a compassionate mystic, who lived by the beliefs that “Who has ever seen people persuaded to love God by harshness?” and “Where there is no love, put love — and you will find love.”

John left us many books of practical advice on spiritual growth and prayer that are just as relevant today as they were then. These books include: Ascent of Mount Carmel , Dark Night of the Soul and A Spiritual Canticle of the Soul and the Bridegroom Christ .

works by St. John of the Cross

Ascent of Mount Carmel

Description: One of St. John of the Cross’ most important and insightful works, Ascent of Mount Carmel is a brilliant work of Christian mysticism. Considered one of the great Spanish poets, St. John depicts the soul’s ascent to Mount Carmel–allegorically, the place of God–and the “dark night” that the soul must endure to reach it. St. John describes the different mystic experiences the soul encounters on its way to union with God through the dark night. Although St. John continues to describe the dark night in Dark Night of the Soul, the sequel to Ascent of Mount Carmel, this book provides a hauntingly beautiful, profound, and mystical account of Christian spirituality. It is highly recommended.

It also now comes with a beneficial introduction to Ascent of Mount Carmel, an outline of St. John’s life, and an introduction to St. John’s works.

Dark Night of the Soul

Description: A sequel and continuation of Ascent of Mount Carmel, the Dark Night of the Soul is a spiritually moving and mystical book. In it, St. John of the Cross continues his description of the soul’s journey–the “dark night”–to the “divine union of the love of God.” A poet at heart, St. John describes the journey and the union with beautifully rich and deeply symbolic language. However, St. John does not simply describe the journey; he seems at times to be offering encouragement and comfort directly to readers as they too struggle with the excruciating dark night. Offering hope to the downtrodden and discouraged, the Dark Night of the Soul is one of the most difficult books a person can read, but its difficulty is surpassed by its reward. One of the most profound works of Christian mysticism, this book is highly recommended for those seeking union with God.

It now also comes with a helpful introduction and extensive notes.

Spiritual Canticle of the Soul and the Bridegroom Christ

THE CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA

Founder (with St. Teresa) of the Discalced Carmelites, doctor of mystic theology, b. at Hontoveros, Old Castile, 24 June, 1542; d. at Ubeda, Andalusia, 14 Dec., 1591. John de Yepes, youngest child of Gonzalo de Yepes and Catherine Alvarez, poor silk weavers of Toledo, knew from his earliest years the hardships of life. The father, originally of a good family but disinherited on account of his marriage below his rank, died in the prime of his youth; the widow, assisted by her eldest son, was scarcely able to provide the bare necessities. John was sent to the poor school at Medina del Campo, whither the family had gone to live, and proved an attentive and diligent pupil; but when apprenticed to an artisan, he seemed incapable of learning anything. Thereupon the governor of the hospital of Medina took him into his service, and for seven years John divided his time between waiting on the poorest of the poor, and frequenting a school established by the Jesuits. Already at that early age he treated his body with the utmost rigour; twice he was saved from certain death by the intervention of the Blessed Virgin. Anxious about his future life, he was told in prayer that he was to serve God in an order the ancient perfection of which he was to help bring back again. The Carmelites having founded a house at Medina, he there received the habit on 24 February, 1563, and took the name of John of St. Matthias. After profession he obtained leave from his superiors to follow to the letter the original Carmelite rule without the mitigations granted by various popes. He was sent to Salamanca for the higher studies, and was ordained priest in 1567; at his first Mass he received the assurance that he should preserve his baptismal innocence. But, shrinking from the responsibilities of the priesthood, he determined to join the Carthusians.

However, before taking any further step he made the acquaintance of St. Teresa, who had come to Medina to found a convent of nuns, and who persuaded him to remain in the Carmelite Order and to assist her in the establishment of a monastery of friars carrying out the primitive rule. He accompanied her to Valladolid in order to gain practi cal experience of the manner of life led by the reformed nuns. A small house having been offered, St. John resolved to try at once the new form of life, although St. Teresa did not think anyone, however great his spirituality, could bear the discomforts of that hovel. He was joined by two companions, an ex-prior and a lay brother, with whom he inaugurated the reform among friars, 28 Nov., 1568. St. Teresa has left a classical description of the sort of life led by these first Discalced Carmelites, in chaps. xiii and xiv of her “Book of Foundations”. John of the Cross, as he now called himself, became the first master of novices, and laid the foundation of the spiritual edifice which soon was to assume majestic proportions. He filled various posts in different places until St. Teresa called him to Avila as director and confessor to the convent of the Incarnation, of which she had been appointed prioress. He remained there, with a few interruptions, for over five years. Meanwhile, the reform spread rapidly, and, partly through the confusion caused by contradictory orders issued by the general and the general chapter on one hand, and the Apostolic nuncio on the other, and partly through human passion which sometimes ran high, its existence became seriously endangered.

St. John was ordered by his provincial to return to the house of his profession (Medina), and, on his refusing to do so, owing to the fact that he held his office not from the order but from the Apostolic delegate, he was taken prisoner in the night of 3 December, 1577, and carried off to Toledo, where he suffered for more than nine months close imprisonment in a narrow, stifling cell, together with such additional punishment as might have been called for in the case of one guilty of the most serious crimes. In the midst of his sufferings he was visited with heavenly consolations, and some of his exquisite poetry dates from that period. He made good his escape in a miraculous manner, August, 1578. During the next years he was chiefly occupied with the foundation and government of monasteries at Baeza, Granada, Cordova, Segovia, and elsewhere, but took no prominent part in the negotiations which led to the establishment of a separate government for the Discalced Carmelites. After the death of St. Teresa (4 Oct., 1582), when the two parties of the Moderates under Jerome Gratian, and the Zelanti under Nicholas Doria struggled for the upper hand, St. John supported the former and shared his fate. For some time he filled the post of vicar provincial of Andalusia, but when Doria changed the government of the order, concentrating all power in the hands of a permanent committee, St. John resisted and, supporting the nuns in their endeavour to secure the papal approbation of their constitutions, drew upon himself the displeasure of the superior, who deprived him of his offices and relegated him to one of the poorest monasteries, where he fell seriously ill. One of his opponents went so far as to go from monastery to monastery gathering materials in order to bring grave charges against him, hoping for his expulsion from the order which he had helped to found.

As his illness increased he was removed to the monastery of Ubeda, where he at first was treated very unkindly, his constant prayer, “to suffer and to be despised”, being thus literally fulfilled almost to the end of his life. But at last even his adversaries came to acknowledge his sanctity, and his funeral was the occasion of a great outburst of enthusiasm. The body, still incorrupt, as has been ascertained within the last few years, was removed to Segovia, only a small portion remaining at Ubeda; there was some litigation about its possession. A strange phenomenon, for which no satisfactory explanation has been given, has frequently been observed in connexion with the relics of St. John of the Cross: Francis de Yepes, the brother of the saint, and after him many other persons have noticed the appearance in his relics of images of Christ on the Cross, the Blessed Virgin, St. Elias, St. Francis Xavier, or other saints, according to the devotion of the beholder. The beatification took place on 25 Jan., 1675, the translation of his body on 21 May of the same year, and the canonization on 27 Dec., 1726.

He left the following works, which for the first time appeared at Barcelona in 1619.

1.   “The Ascent of Mount Carmel”, an explanation of some verses beginning: “In a dark night with anxious love inflamed”. This work was to have comprised four books, but breaks off in the middle of the third.

2.  “The Dark Night of the Soul”, another explanation of the same verses, breaking off in the second book. Both these works were written soon after his escape from prison, and, though incomplete, supplement each other, forming a full treatise on mystic theology.

3.   An explanation of the “Spiritual Canticle”, (a paraphrase of the Canticle of Canticles) beginning “Where hast Thou hidden Thyself?” composed part during his imprisonment, and completed and commented upon some years later at the request of Venerable Anne of Jesus.

4.  An explanation of a poem beginning: “O Living Flame of Love”, written about 1584 at the bidding of Doña Ana de Penalosa.

5.    Some instructions and precautions on matters spiritual.

6. Some twenty letters, chiefly to his penitents. Unfortunately the bulk of his correspondence, including numerous letters to and from St. Teresa, was destroyed, partly by himself, partly during the persecutions to which he fell a victim.

7.    “Poems”, of which twenty-six have been hitherto published, viz., twenty in the older editions, and recently six more, discovered partly at the National Library at Madrid, and partly at the convent of Carmelite nuns at Pamplona.

8.    “A Collection of Spiritual Maxims” (in some editions to the number of one hundred, and in others three hundred and sixty-five) can scarcely count as an independent work, as they are culled from his writings.

It has been recorded that during his studies St. John particularly relished psychology; this is amply borne out by his writings. He was not what one would term a scholar, but he was intimately acquainted with the “Summa” of St. Thomas Aquinas, as almost every page of his works proves. Holy Scripture he seems to have known by heart, yet he evidently obtained his knowledge more by meditation than in the lecture room. But there is no vestige of influence on him of the mystical teaching of the Fathers, the Areopagite, Augustine, Gregory, Bernard, Bonaventure, etc., Hugh of St. Victor, or the German Dominican school. The few quotations from patristic works are easily traced to the Breviary or the “Summa”. In the absence of any conscious or unconscious influence of earlier mystical schools, his own system, like that of St. Teresa, whose influence is obvious throughout, might be termed empirical mysticism. They both start from their own experience, St. Teresa avowedly so, while St. John, who hardly ever speaks of himself, “invents nothing” (to quote Cardinal Wiseman), “borrows nothing from others, but gives us clearly the results of his own experience in himself and others. He presents you with a portrait, not with a fancy picture. He represents the ideal of one who has passed, as he had done, through the career of the spiritual life, through its struggles and its victories”.

His axiom is that the soul must empty itself of self in order to be filled with God, that it must be purified of the last traces of earthly dross before it is fit to become united with God. In the application of this simple maxim he shows the most uncompromising logic. Supposing the soul with which he deals to be habitually in the state of grace and pushing forward to better things, he overtakes it on the very road leading it, in its opinion to God, and lays open before its eyes a number of sores of which it was altogether ignorant, viz. what he terms the spiritual capital sins. Not until these are removed (a most formidable task) is it fit to be admitted to what he calls the “Dark Night”, which consists in the passive purgation, where God by heavy trials, particularly interior ones, perfects and completes what the soul had begun of its own accord. It is now passive, but not inert, for by submitting to the Divine operation it co-operates in the measure of its power. Here lies one of the essential differences between St. John’s mysticism and a false quietism. The perfect purgation of the soul in the present life leaves it free to act with wonderful energy: in fact it might almost be said to obtain a share in God’s omnipotence, as is shown in the marvelous deeds of so many saints. As the soul emerges from the Dark Night it enters into the full noonlight described in the “Spiritual Canticle” and the “Living Flame of Love”. St. John leads it to the highest heights, in fact to the point where it becomes a “partaker of the Divine Nature”. It is here that the necessity of the previous cleansing is clearly perceived the pain of the mortification of all the senses and the powers and faculties of the soul being amply repaid by the glory which is now being revealed in it.

St. John has often been represented as a grim character; nothing could be more untrue. He was indeed austere in the extreme with himself, and, to some extent, also with others, but both from his writings and from the depositions of those who knew him, we see in him a man overflowing with charity and kindness, a poetical mind deeply influenced by all that is beautiful and attractive.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

John of the Cross, O.C.D., (San Juan de la Cruz) (1542[1] – 14 December 1591), was a major figure of the Counter-Reformation, a Spanish mystic, Catholic saint, Carmelite friar and priest, born at Fontiveros, Old Castile.

John of the Cross was a reformer of the Carmelite Order and is considered, along with Saint Teresa of Ávila, as a founder of the Discalced Carmelites. He is also known for his writings. Both his poetry and his studies on the growth of the soul are considered the summit of mystical Spanish literature and one of the peaks of all Spanish literature. He was canonized as a saint in 1726 by Pope Benedict XIII. He is one of the thirty-five Doctors of the Church.

Contents

Life

Early life and education

He was born Juan de Yepes y Álvarez[2] into a Jewish converso family in a small community, Fontiveros, near Ávila.[3] His father, Gonzalo, was an accountant to richer relatives who were silk merchants. However, when in 1529 he married John’s mother, Catalina, who was an orphan of a lower class, Gonzalo was rejected by his family and forced to work with his wife as a weaver.[4] John’s father died in 1545, while John was still only around seven years old.[5] Two years later, John’s older brother Luis died, probably as a result of insufficient nourishment caused by the penury to which John’s family had been reduced. After this, John’s mother Catalina took John and his surviving brother Francisco, and moved first in 1548 to Arevalo, and then in 1551 to Medina del Campo, where she was able to find work weaving.[6][7]

In Medina, John entered a school for poor children, usually orphans, receiving a basic education, mainly in Christian doctrine, as well as some food, clothing, and lodging. While studying there, he was chosen to serve as acolyte at a nearby monastery of Augustinian nuns.[6] Growing up, John worked at a hospital and studied the humanities at a Jesuit school from 1559 to 1563; the Society of Jesus was a new organization at the time, having been founded only a few years earlier by the Spaniard St. Ignatius Loyola. In 1563[8] he entered the Carmelite Order, adopting the name John of St. Matthias.[6]

The following year (1564)[9] he professed his religious vows as a Carmelite and travelled to Salamanca, where he studied theology and philosophy at the prestigious University there (at the time one of the four biggest in Europe, alongside Paris, Oxford and Bologna) and at the Colegio de San Andrés. Some modern writers[citation needed] claim that this stay would influence all his later writings, as Fray Luis de León taught biblical studies (Exegesis, Hebrew and Aramaic) at the University: León was one of the foremost experts in Biblical Studies then and had written an important and controversial translation of the Song of Songs into Spanish. (Translation of the Bible into the vernacular was not allowed then in Spain.)

Joining the Reform of Teresa of Jesus

John was ordained a priest in 1567, and then indicated his intent to join the strict Carthusian Order, which appealed to him because of its encouragement of solitary and silent contemplation. A journey from Salamanca to Medina del Campo, probably in September 1567, changed this.[10] In Medina he met the charismatic Carmelite nun, Teresa of Jesus. She was in Medina to found the second of her convents for women.[11] She immediately talked to him about her reformation projects for the Order: she was seeking to restore the purity of the Carmelite Order by restarting observance of its “Primitive Rule” of 1209, observance of which had been relaxed by Pope Eugene IV in 1432.

Under this Rule, much of the day and night was to be spent in the recitation of the choir offices, study and devotional reading, the celebration of Mass and times of solitude. For the friars, time was to be spent evangelizing the population around the monastery.[12] Total abstinence from meat and lengthy fasting was to be observed from the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross (September 14) until Easter. There were to be long periods of silence, especially between Compline and Prime. Coarser, shorter habits, more simple than those worn since 1432, were to be worn.[13] They were to follow the injunction against the wearing of shoes (also mitigated in 1432). It was from this last observance that the followers of Teresa among the Carmelites were becoming known as “discalced”, i.e., barefoot, differentiating themselves from the non-reformed friars and nuns.

Teresa asked John to delay his entry into the Carthusians and to follow her. Having spent a final year studying in Salamanca, in August 1568 John traveled with Teresa from Medina to Valladolid, where Teresa intended to found another monastery of nuns. Having spent some time with Teresa in Valladolid, learning more about this new form of Carmelite life, in October 1568, accompanied by Friar Antonio de Jesús de Heredia, John left Valladolid to found a new monastery for friars, the first for men following Teresa’s principles. The were given the use of a derelict house at Duruelo (midway between Avila and Salamanca), which had been donated to Teresa. On 28 November 1568, the monastery,[14] was established, and on that same day John changed his name to John of the Cross.

Soon after, in June 1570, the friars found the house at Duruelo too small, and so moved to the nearby town of Mancera de Abajo. After moving on from this community, John set up a new community at Pastrana (October 1570), and a community at Alcalá de Henares, which was to be a house of studies for the academic training of the friars. In 1572[15] he arrived in Avila, at the invitation of Teresa, who had been appointed prioress of the Monastery of the Visitation there in 1571.[16] John become the spiritual director and confessor for Teresa and the other 130 nuns there, as well for as a wide range of laypeople in the city.[6] In 1574, John accompanied Teresa in the foundation of a new monastery in Segovia, returning to Avila after staying there a week. Beyond this, though, John seems to have remained in Avila between 1572 and 1577.[17]

Drawing of the crucifixion, by John of the Cross, which inspired Salvador Dali

One day at some point between 1574 and 1577, while praying in the monastery of the Incarnation in Ávila, in a loft overlooking the sanctuary, John had a vision of the crucified Christ, which led him to create his famous drawing of Christ “from above.” In 1641 this drawing was placed in a small monstrance, and kept in Avila. This drawing inspired the artist Salvador Dali‘s 1951 work, Christ of Saint John of the Cross.

The height of Carmelite tensions

The years 1575-77, however, saw a great increase in the tensions among the Spanish Carmelite friars over the reforms of Teresa and John. Since 1566 the reforms had been overseen by Canonical Visitors from the Dominican Order, with one appointed to Castile and a second to Andalusia. These Visitors had substantial powers: they could move the members of religious communities from house to house and even province to province. They could assist religious superiors in their office, and could depute other superiors from either the Dominicans or Carmelites. In Castile, the Visitor was Pedro Fernández, who prudently balanced the interests of the Discalced Carmelites against those of the friars and nuns who did not desire reform.[18]

In Andalusia to the south, however, where the Visitor was Francisco Vargas, tensions rose due to his clear preference for the Discalced friars. Vargas asked them to make foundations in various cities, in explicit contradiction of orders from the Carmelite Prior General against their expansion in Andalusia. As a result, a General Chapter of the Carmelite Order was convened at Piacenza in Italy in May 1575, out of concern that events in Spain were getting out of hand, which concluded by ordering the total suppression of the Discalced houses.[6]

This measure was not immediately enforced. For one thing, King Philip II of Spain was supportive of some of Teresa’s reforms, and so was not immediately willing to grant the necessary permission to enforce this ordinance. Moreover the Discalced friars also found support from the papal nuncio to King Philip II, Nicolò Ormanetto, Bishop of Padua, who still had ultimate power as nuncio to visit and reform religious Orders. When asked by the Discalced friars to intervene, Ormanetto replaced Vargas as Visitor of the Carmelites in Andalusia (where the troubles had begun) with Jerónimo Gracián, a priest from the University of Alcalá, who was in fact a Discalced Carmelite friar himself.[6] The nuncio’s protection helped John himself avoid problems for a time. In January 1576 John was arrested in Medina del Campo by some Carmelite friars. However, through the nuncio’s intervention, John was soon released.[6] When Ormanetto died on 18 June 1577, however, John was left without protection, and the friars opposing his reforms gained the upper hand.

Imprisonment, writings, torture, death and recognition

On the night of 2 December 1577, a group of Carmelites opposed to reform broke into John’s dwelling in Avila, and took him prisoner. John had received an order from some of his superiors, opposed to reform, ordering him to leave Avila and return to his original house, but John had refused on the basis that his reform work had been approved by the Spanish Nuncio, a higher authority than these superiors.[19] The Carmelites therefore took John captive. John was taken from Avila to the Carmelite monastery in Toledo, at that time the Order’s most important monastery in Castile, where 85 friars lived. John was brought before a court of friars, accused of disobeying the ordinances of Piacenza. Despite John’s argument that he had not disobeyed the ordinances, he received a punishment of imprisonment. He was jailed in the monastery, where he was kept under a brutal regimen that included public lashing before the community at least weekly, and severe isolation in a tiny stifling cell measuring ten feet by six feet, barely large enough for his body. Except when rarely permitted an oil lamp, he had to stand on a bench to read his breviary by the light through the hole into the adjoining room. He had no change of clothing and a penitential diet of water, bread and scraps of salt fish.[20] During this imprisonment, he composed a great part of his most famous poem Spiritual Canticle, as well as a few shorter poems. The paper was passed to him by the friar who guarded his cell.[21] He managed to escape nine months later, on 15 August 1578, through a small window in a room adjoining his cell. (He had managed to pry the cell door off its hinges earlier that day). After being nursed back to health, first with Teresa’s nuns in Toledo, and then during six weeks at the hospital of Santa Cruz, John continued with reform. In October 1578 he joined a meeting at Almodovar del Campo of the supporters of reform, increasingly known as the Discalced Carmelites. There, in part as a result of the opposition faced from other Carmelites in recent years, they decided to demand from the Pope their formal separation from the rest of the Carmelite Order.[6]

At this meeting John was appointed superior of El Calvario, an isolated monastery of around thirty friars in the mountains near Beas in Andalucia. During this time he befriended the nun Ana de Jesús, superior of the Discalced nuns at Beas, through his visits every Saturday to the town. While at El Calvario he composed his first version of his commentary on his poem, The Spiritual Canticle, perhaps at the request of the nuns in Beas.

In 1579 he moved to Baeza, a town of around 50,000 people, to serve as rector of a new college, the Colegio de San Basilio, to support the studies of Discalced friars in Andalucia. This opened on 13 June 1579, and he remained there until 1582, spending much of his time as a spiritual director for the friars and townspeople.

1580 was an important year in the resolution of the disputes within the Carmelites. On 22 June, Pope Gregory XIII signed a decree, titled Pia Consideratione, which authorised a separation between the Calced and Discalced Carmelites. The Dominican friar, Juan Velázquez de las Cuevas, was appointed to carry out the decisions. At the first General Chapter of the Discalced Carmelites, in Alcalá de Henares on 3 March 1581, John of the Cross was elected one of the ‘Definitors’ of the community, and wrote a set of constitutions for them.[22]

Saint John of the Cross’ shrine and reliquary, Convent of Carmelite Friars, Segovia

Reliquary of John of the Cross in Úbeda, Spain

In November 1581 John was sent by Teresa to help Ana de Jesus in founding a convent in Granada. Arriving in January 1582, she set up a monastery of nuns, while John stayed in the friars’ monastery of Los Martires, beside the Alhambra, becoming its prior in March 1582.[23] While here, he learned of the death of Teresa in October of that year.

In February 1585, John travelled to Malaga and established a monastery of Discalced nuns there. In May 1585, at the General Chapter of the Discalced Carmelites in Lisbon, John was elected Provincial Vicar of Andalusia, a post which required him to travel frequently, making annual visitations of the houses of friars and nuns in Andalusia. During this time he founded seven new monasteries in the region.

In June 1588, he was elected third Councillor to the Vicar General for the Discalced Carmelites, Father Nicolas Doria. To fulfill this role, he had to return to Segovia in Castile, where in this capacity he was also prior of the monastery. After disagreeing in 1590-1 with some of Doria’s remodeling of the leadership of the Discalced Carmelite Order, though, John was removed from his post in Segovia, and sent by Doria in June 1591 to an isolated monastery in Andalusia called La Peñuela. There he fell ill, and traveled to the monastery at Úbeda for treatment. His condition worsened, however, and he died there on 14 December 1591, of erysipelas.[6]

Veneration

The morning after John’s death, huge numbers of the townspeople of Úbeda entered the monastery to view John’s body; in the crush, many were able to take home parts of his habit. He was initially buried at Úbeda, but, at the request of the monastery in Segovia, his body was secretly moved there in 1593. The people of Úbeda, however, unhappy at this change, sent representative to petition the pope to move the body back to its original resting place. Pope Clement VIII, impressed by the petition, issued a Brief on 15 October 1596 ordering the return of the body to Ubeda. Eventually, in a compromise, the superiors of the Discalced Carmelites decided that the monastery at Úbeda would receive one leg and one arm of the corpse from Segovia (the monastery at Úbeda had already kept one leg in 1593, and the other arm had been removed as the corpse passed through Madrid in 1593, to form a relic there). A hand and a leg remain visible in a reliquary at the Oratory of San Juan de la Cruz in Úbeda, a monastery built in 1627 though connected to the original Discalced monastery in the town founded in 1587.[24]

The head and torso was retained by the monastery at Segovia. There, they were venerated until 1647, when on orders from Rome designed to prevent the veneration of remains without official approval, the remains were buried in the ground. In the 1930s they were disinterred, and now sit in a side chapel in a marble case above a special altar built in that decade.[24]

Proceedings to beatify John began with the gathering of information on his life between 1614 and 1616, although he was only beatified in 1675 by Pope Clement X, and was canonized by Benedict XIII in 1726. When his feast day was added to the General Roman Calendar in 1738, it was assigned to 24 November, since his date of death was impeded by the then-existing octave of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.[25] This obstacle was removed in 1955 and in 1969 Pope Paul VI moved it to the dies natalis (birthday to heaven) of the saint, 14 December.[26] The Church of England commemorates him as a “Teacher of the Faith” on the same date. In 1926, he was declared a Doctor of the Church by Pope Pius XI.

Editions of his works

His writings were first published in 1618 by Diego de Salablanca. The numerical divisions in the work, still used by modern editions of the text, were introduced by Salablanca (they were not in John’s original writings), in order to help make the work more manageable for the reader.[6] This edition does not contain the ‘’Spiritual Canticle’’, however, and also omits or adapts certain passages, perhaps for fear of falling foul of the Inquisition.

The ‘’Spiritual Canticle’’ was first included in the 1630 edition, produced by Fray Jeronimo de San Jose, at Madrid. This edition was largely followed by later editors, although editions in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries gradually included a few more poems and letters.[27]

Literary works

St. John of the Cross is considered one of the foremost poets in the Spanish language. Although his complete poems add up to fewer than 2500 verses, two of them—the Spiritual Canticle and The Dark Night of the Soul are widely considered masterpieces of Spanish poetry, both for their formal stylistic point of view and their rich symbolism and imagery. His theological works often consist of commentaries on these poems. All the works were written between 1578 and his death in 1591, meaning there is great consistency in the views presented in them.

The poem The Spiritual Canticle, is an eclogue in which the bride (representing the soul) searches for the bridegroom (representing Jesus Christ), and is anxious at having lost him; both are filled with joy upon reuniting. It can be seen as a free-form Spanish version of the Song of Songs at a time when translations of the Bible into the vernacular were forbidden. The first 31 stanzas of the poem were composed in 1578 while John was imprisoned in Toledo. It was read after his escape by the nuns at Beas, who made copies of these stanzas. Over the following years, John added some extra stanzas. Today, two versions exist: one with 39 stanzas and one with 40, although with some of the stanzas ordered differently. The first redaction of the commentary on the poem was written in 1584, at the request of Madre Ana de Jesus, when she was prioress of the Discalced Carmelite nuns in Granada. A second redaction, which contains more detail, was written in 1585-6.[6]

The Dark Night (from which the spiritual term takes its name) narrates the journey of the soul from her bodily home to her union with God. It happens during the night, which represents the hardships and difficulties she meets in detachment from the world and reaching the light of the union with the Creator. There are several steps in this night, which are related in successive stanzas. The main idea of the poem can be seen as the painful experience that people endure as they seek to grow in spiritual maturity and union with God. The poem of this title was likely written in 1578 or 1579. In 1584-5, John wrote a commentary on the first two stanzas and first line of the third stanza of the poem.[6]

The Ascent of Mount Carmel is a more systematic study of the ascetical endeavour of a soul looking for perfect union, God, and the mystical events happening along the way. Although it begins as a commentary on the poem ‘’The Dark Night’’, it rapidly drops this format, having commented on the first two stanzas of the poem, and becomes a treatise. It was composed sometime between 1581 and 1585.[6]

A four stanza work, Living Flame of Love describes a greater intimacy, as the soul responds to God’s love. It was written in a first redaction at Granada between 1585-6, apparently in two weeks,[6] and in a mostly identical second redaction at La Penuela in 1591.

These, together with his Dichos de Luz y Amor, or “Sayings of Light and Love,” and St. Teresa‘s writings, are the most important mystical works in Spanish, and have deeply influenced later spiritual writers all around the world. Among these can be named T. S. Eliot, Thérèse de Lisieux, Edith Stein (Teresa Benedicta of the Cross), and Thomas Merton. John has also influenced philosophers (Jacques Maritain), theologians (Hans Urs von Balthasar), pacifists (Dorothy Day, Daniel Berrigan, and Philip Berrigan) and artists (Salvador Dalí). Pope John Paul II wrote his theological dissertation on the mystical theology of Saint John of the Cross.

See also

Books

Further reading

  • Sr. Pascale-Dominique Nau, When God Speaks: Lectio Divina in Saint John of the Cross and the Ladder of Monks (Rome: Lulu.com, 2011)
  • E Howells, ‘Spanish Mysticism and Religious Renewal: Ignatius of Loyola, Teresa of Avila, and John of the Cross (16th Century, Spain)’, in Julia A Lamm, ed., Blackwell Companion to Christian Mysticism, (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012)
  • K Kavanaugh, John of the Cross: doctor of light and love, (2000)
  • Iain Matthew, The Impact of God, Soundings from St John of the Cross (Hodder & Stoughton, 1995)
  • Stephen Payne, John of the Cross and the Cognitive Value of Mysticism, (1990)
  • Rowan Williams, The wound of knowledge: Christian spirituality from the New Testament to St. John of the Cross, (1990)
  • K Wojtyla [Pope John Paul II], Faith According to St. John of the Cross, (1981)

References

  1. ^ The day is unknown. The parish registers were destroyed by a fire in 1546, and the only serious evidence is an inscription on the font in the church, dated 1689. Midsummer Day is sometimes cited as the date of John’s birth, but since this is also the Feast of St John the Baptist, this may simply be conjecture. See E Allison Peers, Spirit of Flame: A Study of St John of the Cross, (London: SCM Press, 1943), p11
  2. ^ Rodriguez, Jose Vincente, Biographical Narrative. God Speaks in the Night. The Life, Times, and Teaching of St. John of the Cross, Washington D.C.: ICS Publications, 1991, p. 3
  3. ^ Norman Roth, Conversos, Inquisition, and the Expulsion of the Jews from Spain, Madison, WI: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1995, pp. 157, 369
  4. ^ Desmond Tillyer, Union with God: The Teaching of St John of the Cross, London & Oxford: Mowbray, 1984, p4
  5. ^ Gerald Brenan, St John of the Cross: His Life and Poetry, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1973), p4
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Kavanaugh, Kieran (1991). “General Introduction: Biographical Sketch”. In Kieran Kavanaugh. The Collected Works of St John of the Cross. Washington: ICS Publications. pp. 9–27. ISBN 0-935216-14-6.
  7. ^ Matthew, Iain (1995). The Impact of God, Soundings from St John of the Cross.. Hodder & Stoughton. pp. 3. ISBN 0-340-61257-6.
  8. ^ Kavanaugh (1991) names the date as 24 February. However, E Allison Peers (1943), p13, points out that although this, the Feast of St Matthias, is often assumed to be the date, Father Silverio postulates a date in August or September.
  9. ^ At some point between 21 May and October. See E Allison Peers, Spirit of Flame: A Study of St John of the Cross, (London: SCM Press, 1943), p13
  10. ^ E Allison Peers (1943, p16) suggests that the journey was in order to visit a nearby Carthusian monastery; Richard P Hardy, The Life of St John of the Cross: Search for Nothing, (London: DLT, 1982), p24, argues that the reason was for John to say his first mass
  11. ^ E Allison Peers, Spirit of Flame: A Study of St John of the Cross, (London: SCM Press, 1943), p16
  12. ^ Desmond Tillyer, Union with God: The Teaching of St John of the Cross, (London & Oxford: Mowbray, 1984), p.8
  13. ^ Richard P Hardy, The Life of St John of the Cross: Search for Nothing, (London: DLT, 1982), p27
  14. ^ The monastery may have contained three men, according to E Allison Peers (1943), p27, or five, according to Richard P Hardy, The Life of St John of the Cross: Search for Nothing, (London: DLT, 1982), p35
  15. ^ The month generally given is May. E Allison Peers, Complete Works Vol I (1943, xxvi), agreeing with P Silverio, thinks it must have been substantially later than this, though certainly before 27 September.
  16. ^ http://translate.google.com/translate?&u=http%3A%2F%2Ffr.wikipedia.org%2Fwiki%2FJean+de+la+Croix&sl=fr&tl=en
  17. ^ Richard P Hardy, The Life of St John of the Cross: Search for Nothing, (London: DLT, 1982), p56
  18. ^ He is possibly the same Pedro Fernández who became the Bishop of Avila in 1581. It was he who appointed Teresa in 1571 as prioress in Avila, but who also enjoyed good relations with the Carmelite Prior Provincial of Castile.
  19. ^ Bennedict Zimmermann. “Ascent of Mt Carmel , introductory essay THE DEVELOPMENT OF MYSTICISM IN THE CARMELITE ORDER”. Thomas Baker and Internet Archive. Retrieved 2009-12-11. |pages = 10,11
  20. ^ Desmond Tillyer, Union with God: The Teaching of St John of the Cross, (London & Oxford: Mowbray, 1984), p.10
  21. ^ Dark night of the soul. Translation by Mirabai Starr. ISBN 1-57322-974-1 p.8.
  22. ^ “Jean de la Croix”. Retrieved 2012-10-13.
  23. ^ Richard P Hardy, The Life of St John of the Cross: Search for Nothing, (London: DLT, 1982), p90
  24. ^ a b Richard P Hardy, The Life of St John of the Cross: Search for Nothing, (London: DLT, 1982), pp113-130
  25. ^ Calendarium Romanum (Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1969), p. 110
  26. ^ Calendarium Romanum (Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1969), p. 146
  27. ^ The Complete Works of Saint John of the Cross. Translated and edited by E Allison Peers, from the critical edition of Silverio de Santa Teresa. 3 vols, (Westminster, MD: Newman Press, 1943). Vol I, pp.l-lxxvi
Saint John of the Cross, O.C.D.
Religious founder, priest and Doctor of the Church
Born 24 June 1542
Fontiveros, Ávila, Spain
Died December 14, 1591 (aged 49)
Úbeda, Jaén, Spain
Honored in Roman Catholic Church; Anglican Communion; Lutheran Church
Beatified 25 January 1675 by Pope Clement X
Canonized 27 December 1726 by Pope Benedict XIII
Major shrine Tomb of Saint John of the Cross, Segovia, Spain
Feast 14 December
24 November (General Roman Calendar, 1738-1969)
Patronage contemplative life; contemplatives; mystical theology; mystics; Spanish poets

 

A series of articles on
Christian mysticism
Mystic Marriage.jpg
Articles
Aspects of meditationChristian meditationChristian contemplationHesychasmMystical theologyReflection on the New Age

Early period
Gregory of NyssaBernard of ClairvauxGuigo II

13th and 14th centuries
Francis of AssisiDominic de GuzmánBonaventureCatherine of Siena

15th and 16th centuries
Ignatius of LoyolaFrancisco de OsunaJohn of AvilaTeresa of ÁvilaJohn of the Cross

17th and 18th centuries
Francis de SalesPierre de Bérulle

19th century
Thérèse of LisieuxGemma GalganiConchita de Armida

20th century
Maria ValtortaFaustina KowalskaThomas Merton

 

External links

Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to: John of the Cross
Wikisource has original works written by or about:
John of the Cross

MCBS Community in Heaven

Death Aniversaries of MCBS Priests

January

25 Rev. Bro. Karikunnel Mathew (1981)

26 Rev. Fr  Maleparambil Mathew (2005)

27 Rev. Fr  Kuzhikkattil Jacob (1960)

27 Rev. Fr  Olikkamala George (2004)

28 Rev. Fr  Paremakel Mathew (1943)

February

15 Rev. Fr  Vanchipura Joseph (2000)

29 Rev. Fr  Arackathottam John (2004)

March

03 Rev. Fr  Kanippallil Cyriac (2003)

19 Rev. Bro. Varukuzhy Mathew (2008)

April

03 Rev. Fr  Karuthedam Sebastian (1996)

03 Rev. Fr  Edapallikunnel Joseph (1972)

16 Rev. Fr  Illickal Cyriac (1991)

23 Rev. Fr  Koonthanam George (2001)

May

16 Rev. Fr  Thulumpummackal Thomas (2009)

31 Rev. Fr  Peediekal Joseph (1943)

11 Rev. Bro. Thakidiel Varkey (2012)

June

06 Rev. Fr  Kanatt George (1998)

13 Rev. Fr  Thadathil Thomas (1991)

26 Rev. Fr  Chavanalil George (1994)

 July

07 Rev. Fr  Kunnel Joseph (2007)

16 Rev. Fr  Moonnanappallil Joseph (2002)

31 Rev. Fr  Mannanal  Cyriac (1949)

August

03 Rev. Fr  Parathanam Sebastian (2011)

21 Rev. Fr  Paredom Joseph (1972)

September

14 Rev. Fr  Kanipallil Mathew (1995)

25 Rev. Fr  Moothedam Mathew (2009)

October

01 Rev. Fr  Mampalam Koshy (1943)

23 Rev. Fr  Mulakupadam Jacob (2011)

27 Rev. Fr Sebastian Vellanickal (2014)

30 Rev. Fr  Danavelil George (2004)

November

22 Rev. Fr  Pampackal Mathew (1966)

December

14 Rev. Bro. Chittinappilly Thomas (2011)

21 Rev. Fr  Alakulam Mathew (1977)

“How lovely to dwell in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament;

What there can be more joyful than this that is what God has given us.”

– Rev. Fr Joseph Paredom

Biblical Hermeneutics

 Biblical Hermeneutics

 Introduction

There are varieties of methods, criticisms, interpretations, approaches, and theologies in biblical and theological interpretations. It is very easy for anyone to get confused. The plurality of methods, approaches, interpretations, Biblical books are complex in their text, language, culture, and history. So a variety of competencies is needed to interpret them. All the methods, approaches, and theologies help us to better understand the deeper meaning of the biblical texts. It was in the search for the true meaning of these texts that theological hermeneutics developed. From the 17th century onwards we see the development of ‘Hermeneutics’ as an important and independent discipline in classical philology and interpretation in general. In contemporary philosophy and theology ‘Hermeneutics’ plays a vital role. This is mainly due to the influence of the works of Schleiermacher, Wilhelm Dilthey, Karl Barth, Rudolf Bultmann, Martin Heidegger, Hans-Georg Gadamer, Paul Ricoeur.

 

There was a time when biblical interpretation was left entirely to theologians, historians, and philosophers. Now biblical interpretation is considered as an integral part of biblical studies. The Bible is not just an ancient text; it is the most translated of all books. It is sacred Scripture that was read in liturgical assemblies and was preached and commented upon for thousands of years by thousands of people. In our discussion we will look at these realities.

1 Why is biblical interpretation necessary?

Often people say: “Just read the Bible and do what it says!” The problem with this attitude is that different people, even though they read the same Bible, come to very different conclusions about what it actually says! Many people also tend to think of the Bible as “God’s little instruction book for life.” While this statement has a kernel of truth – the Bible certainly does contain much teaching on how to live – it is far more than just an instruction manual. It is the written record of God revealing in history who He is, what He is like, who we are, what we are like, and what He expects of us. This is the overall message of the Bible in a nutshell. The necessity and goal of Biblical interpretation are explained below:

v  The Bible was originally written to people who lived in a different place, in a very different culture, at a different time and period of history, and who spoke different languages. It also contains several different types of literature (called genres).

v  Because the Bible is God’s word in history revealed to people in history, each passage has n historical context – an particular author, audience, purpose and occasion. On the other hand, since the Bible is also the word of God, its contents are also eternally relevant.

v  The goal of interpretation is not to come up with the most unique interpretation (unique interpretations are usually wrong), but to discover the original intended meaning of a passage – the way the original audience understood it. The task of discovering the original intended meaning is called exegesis.

v  The key to doing good exegesis is reading the text very carefully, paying close attention to the details it describes, and asking the text the right questions. This is critical to finding the correct interpretation. Bad interpretation results directly from bad exegesis.

2.Terminology

The terminologies frequently used in Hermeneutics are explained in this section.

2.1 Hermeneutics

The term hermeneutics comes from the Greek verb hermeneuein, meaning ‘to interpret, translate, explain, declare’ and from nominal hermeneutike meaning [‘the art of’] interpretation’. Its Latin equivalent is the verb interpretari, from which comes the noun interpretation. Hence, hermeneutics reflects the Latin plural ‘hermeneutica’ meaning the science of interpretation.

 

The term “hermeneutics” is derived from the name of the god Hermes, who in Greek mythology acts as the messenger between the gods and human beings. In this process Hermes makes intelligible to human beings God’s message which otherwise is not intelligible to them. In Listra, Paul was taken for Hermes (Acts 14:12) for between the crippled man and Barnabas it was Paul who spoke.

In the broader sense hermeneutics is the quest for meaning. In this broader context, the word hermeneutic has three meanings:

 

a)      Interpretation by speech itself: Language expresses and interprets what is in one’s mind or even that which constitutes one’s identity, being and person. In biblical discussion we have to deal with the capacity of human language to express God’s mind, will, and person.

b)      Interpretation through the translation: The process of translation from one language to another is a process that goes beyond the mechanical equivalents of words. It is concerned with the transference from one culture and worldview to another. This can also be a translation from an unintelligible language to an intelligible one (hermeneia of tongues, in 1 Cor 12:10, is a charistmatic gift with a revelatory dimension).

c)      Interpretation by commentary and explanation: It is a more formal aspect. Here the interpreter gives systematic comments and explanations on the texts.

In the narrower sense, hermeneutics refers to the principles, method, and techniques used to interpret written texts. The biblical hermeneutical theory is in contact with the philosophical reflection on hermeneutics, it has, however, assumed its own itinerary due to the special nature of the biblical texts as an inspired normative book of faith.

 

The function of the interpreter consists in seeking for “that meaning which the sacred writer. in a determined situation and given the circumstance of his time and culture intended to express and did in fact express through the medium of contemporary literary form” (DV 12). Inasmuch as the intention of the author is found in the sense of the text, we must try to find the sense present in the text, because it is what the sacred writer intended and did express. What is important is what the text actually says and not that which the author may have thought but did not write.

2.2 Exegesis

The Greek verb Exegeomai means to draw out, to develop, to explain. Thus exegesis explains the text of the scripture drawing out its message and significance.

 

Until recently hermeneutics meant a theoretical reflection on meaning as distinct from exegesis, an art where the rules detected in hermenutics were applied practically. For us here, exegesis, refers to the analysis of a particular text of scripture to discover what the author wanted to say to his contemporaries, and hermeneutics refers to what the same text says to us today in a context different from the original one. Further, it is within the competence of hermeneutics to establish the principles, method, and techniques used to interpret written texts.

 

3. Text and the Process of Communication

3.1Biblical Text

The Bible contains texts almost 2950 years old, which were produced over a span of 1100 years. Even through the same methods and criteria used for the understanding of any ancient book are necessary and indispensable, for the Bible these are not sufficient. One must consider also the aspect of faith, as there are divinely inspired books of faith which are bequeathed to the Church as the norm and the nourishment of her life. So to understand the true significance that the Word of God is to have for us, we must also consider this added dimension in the interpretation of the biblical text.

 

Scripture reveals the will of God. Interpretation is essential in discerning this will. Morses, Prophets, Scribes, and many others have acted as interpreters of God’s will. Jesus himself is the supreme interpreter and revealer of God’s will. The NT writers interpreted the OT and the Christ Event. Even after the formation of the canon, the need for interpretation continued. Today, guided by the Holy Spirit, the Church discerns the will of God as it is revealed in the Bible.

Phases of Biblical Interpretation

A discussion of biblical hermeneutics can be undertaken only against the background of a discussion of a general introduction to the Bible which includes a study of its inspiration, the unity of the Testaments, the Canon, the textual criticism, the manuscripts and the formation of the Bible, the history of biblical times, and the literary forms found in the Bible. Biblical interpretation follows from the understanding of the Bible as the Word of God expressed in the words of men. Therefore, our discussion must follow certain norms which account for this fact without overemphasizing or minimizing one or the other aspect.

3.1.1 Identification

Different literary genres (kinds of literature) are interpreted in different ways, so the first question to ask is: “To which category of literature does the text you are interpreting belong? Below are brief descriptions of the different genres found in the Bible:

Historical Narratives. These describe actual historical events from God’s perspective. They tell us what God is like (His character and nature), what God likes/dislikes, how He deals with people who obey and honour Him, and how he deals with those who disobey and hate Him. Narratives give us principles and lessons, not commands, patterns or laws. Historical Narratives are found in Genesis, Exodus, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1-2 Samuel, 1-2 Kings, 1-2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah and Esther. In the New Testament, they can be found in parts of the Gospels, and the book of Acts.

Poetry and Songs. These are expressions of emotion to God. They allow us to express to God our feelings of happiness, joy, trust, hope, security, as well as feelings of discouragement, guilt, suffering, fear, anger, despair and repentance. They also assist us in expressing our love and appreciation for God or our need for forgiveness. Poetry and Songs allow us to relate to God on our own level. They show us how to communicate with God and how to honour and worship Him. In the Old Testament, these writings are found primarily in the Psalms and Song of Songs.

Legal Writings. These writings indicate God’s high moral standard, His idea of justice, principles of common sense government, principles of common sense health and safety, and His pattern and order for acceptable worship. These laws are NOT directly applicable to Christians today i.e. they are not meant to be legalistic instructions and commands to Christians. Such legal writings can be found in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.

Wisdom/Wise Sayings. These writings indicate God’s view of wisdom as opposed to man’s view of wisdom. They contain wise sayings, and practical advice on how to live life and avoid trouble and hardship. Wisdom literature can be found primarily in Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Job.

Prophecy. Prophecy is God’s message to a particular person, a particular group of people and sometimes to all humanity. It is not necessarily foretelling the future – in fact the vast majority of prophecy in the Bible speaks of the present. Prophecy is found primarily in the Old Testament, from Isaiah to Malachi.

Teachings of Jesus. These are direct statements of truth from Jesus concerning the nature and character of God the kingdom of God/Heaven, what God expects of us, principles of righteous living, and the ways in which Jesus fulfils the OT prophecies. They are not exhaustive ‘DOs and don’ts,’ but rather, serve as examples and paradigms (patterns) from which we can derive underlying principles to apply in other situations. These teachings are found in parts of the Gospels i.e. Matthew – John.

Parables. Parables are stories with a punch-line. Parables are not so much illustrative, but rather, provocative. They are designed to draw people in and hit them with something unexpected, in the same way a joke does. Most parables have only one message or central idea, and even if multiple messages are present, one of them will be the chief idea. Note also that they are not perfect analogies! Parables are also found in parts of the Gospels.

Letters. These are generally occasional documents i.e. they were written with a clear purpose to a well-identified audience. However, some letters (called epistles) were written to a larger people group. The letter/epistle writer presents arguments to correct, rebuke, defend, instruct, praise and encourage their readers. Letters/epistles form the vast majority of the New Testament from Romans to Jude.

Apocalypse. This includes the book of Revelation, and also large parts of Ezekiel and Daniel. Revelation is a vision of warning and encouragement to the early church as it was going through immense persecution.

3.1.2 Observation

The most important factor in exegesis is context. Understanding the context is the key to understanding what you are reading. Gordon Fee and Doug Stuart also point out “[t]he only proper control for hermeneutics is to be found in the original intent of the biblical text.”

There are two aspects of the context of a passage: the historical context and the literary context.

Historical Context. The Bible was written over a period of time dating from approximately 2000 BC (Job) to 95 AD (Revelation). It was set in a different country/continent and a vastly different culture and society from our own, therefore we must be careful not to make 20th century assumptions about the situation. Consult Bible dictionaries, encyclopedias and handbooks in order to find out about the manners and customs of the various nations at that time in history. Use your imagination and try to put yourself in the shoes of the people involved. Make observations about who? what? when? where? and how?

Literary Context. This is the position of the text you are reading in relation to other texts. What verses come before? What verses come after? What situation, event, statement or argument led up to this passage? What situation, event, statement or argument followed or resulted from this passage? What book is the text in? Whereabouts in the book? What testament is it in? Why is the text in this position? Why is it in the Bible at all? What difference would it make if it was left out? Following are some suggestions on making observations depending on the genre of the passage you are interpreting:

Historical Narratives. Choose a complete narrative and read it in a single sitting. Make (mental) notes as you are reading, and ask: What is happening? To whom? When? Where? Why? (The most important question!) What can I learn about God? What can I learn about the other characters involved?

Poetry and Songs. Read a complete Psalm or Song in one sitting, taking (mental) notes as you are reading. What is being said about God? What is being said about humanity? Is the writer pleading for something? Are they pouring their heart out? If so, about what? Are they praising God? Are they angry with God? What mood does the writer seem to be in? Joyful? Happy? Angry? Fearful? Anxious? Distraught? Discouraged? Does the writer’s mood change?

Legal Writings. Read a collection of related rules/regulations in one sitting. What rules/regulations are being put in place? Why? What situations/circumstances do they cover? Are they for moral reasons or are they concerned with administration/ government and personal hygiene? Can you see any pattern being established? Is a feast, offering or ceremony being described? If so, what seems to be its purpose or significance? Never stop asking Why?

Wisdom. Read as much of Proverbs/Job/Ecclesiastes as you can in one go, taking (mental) notes as you read. Consider what you think the central message of the text is.
What advice is given? What warnings are given? What comparisons are made? Compare the proverb you are reading with other similar or related proverbs (similar or related proverbs could be anywhere in the book of Proverbs). If there are similar/related proverbs, how do the proverbs differ? Do they relate to slightly different situations? Do they address different aspects of a problem or situation? If two proverbs say the opposite thing (and there are several) why would this be? Do you think the statement made or the advice given is good? Why or why not? You must also remember that proverbs are not always globally applicable to every person and every situation. They are guidelines and “rules of thumb,” not absolute rules, statements of fact or direct promises.

Prophecy. Read a single prophecy (called an “oracle”) in one sitting. Try and establish the historical setting. What circumstances in history provoked this prophetic word from God? What does it say about God? Is the prophecy positive or negative? Is it a warning? About what? Is it a condemnation? For what? Is it an encouragement or a message of hope? About what? Is it a promise? To do what? Prophecy is some of the hardest literature to read. Knowing the historical context is essential to really to appreciate what is being said. It may be necessary to consult a commentary or Bible handbook if you are struggling.

Teachings of Jesus. Read a complete section of teaching (called a “pericope”) in a single sitting, taking (mental) notes about what is being taught. What message is He communicating? What subject is He talking about? What is He actually saying about it? Is it a command? Is it a warning? Is it an exhortation/encouragement? Is it a promise? Does it give us a better understanding of who God is? Does it give us a better understanding of what we are like?

Parables. Read a single parable and the surrounding dialogue in one sitting. Try to determine the central thought of the parable. What message is it communicating? Keep in mind the context. This is a big clue to identifying the central thought. What events prompted Jesus to tell this parable? How did the hearers react to it? Did they understand it? Focus on the central thought – don’t  focus on all the minute details – they are not meant to be important. Read ahead – some parables are interpreted for you by Christ later on in the gospel.

Letters. Read them like any other letter. Start at the beginning – stop at the end. If possible, read a letter right through in one sitting. Identify the major issues/arguments of the letter. Focus on one of the major issues/arguments. What is the point of each paragraph? What does each paragraph contribute to the current issue/argument? Why did the writer include a particular paragraph? What difference would it make if it were not included? Don’t pay too much attention to the chapter and verse divisions or the chapter headings – they’re not inspired! Words/phrases such as “Now about”, “Concerning” and “Finally” often indicate a change of argument/subject.

Apocalypse. Read the books of Daniel and Ezekiel first. Revelation uses lots of imagery from these books. Identify as much as possible, the use of imagery (by comparing Revelation with Daniel and Ezekiel). What is the imagery used to communicate in Revelation? What kind of message is being communicated? Hope? Encouragement? Warning? What does the text say about God and about Jesus Christ? What does it say about Satan? What does it say about the Church (New Jerusalem)? You will definitely want to consult some good commentaries in these matters. Revelation is the most difficult book in the Bible to read and understand.

3.1.3 Prayer, Meditation & Wrestling

Prayer, meditation and wresting are things the reader should do throughout the entire interpretive cycle, not just before you begin or when you are about to deliver your talk/sermon/speech.

Meditation does not mean emptying your head of everything – quite the opposite in fact. It means filling your mind with all the information required to make decisions about what the text says, how significant it is and how it should be applied today. When looking at a difficult passage, you may need to really pray about, and wrestle with, the various alternatives.

3.1.4 Determining Meaning

What do the particular key words or phrases mean? Pay attention to those elements that are repeated in the current passage or used elsewhere by the same author.

What is the significance of a particular key word, phrase or sentence? Does the element carry any special significance given the historical and social context? What does it contribute to the overall meaning of the text? How would the meaning of the text be effected if this particular element was left out?

5. Application

Is there a command to obey? Is there an error to avoid? Does the passage point out sinful behavior or attitudes that may be present in your own life? Is there an example to follow? Is there a promise to claim? Does the passage highlight an aspect of God’s nature and character which you had not seen before?

 

3.2 Presuppositions & Pre-understandings

No-one is ever completely unbiased. Every understanding presuppose pre-understanding or prejudice. In other words every process of understanding is gripped or conditioned by a prior structure of experiences. In hermeneutics, pre-understanding or prejudice is not something that is negative, but it is the necessary condition which makes understanding possible. In terms of hermeneutics, pre-understanding or prejudice may be described as a body of assumptions and attitudes which a person brings to the perception and interpretation of reality or any aspect of it. From this perspective it is very difficult to think of uniform understanding or knowledge, because understanding varies from person to person in accordance with his or her pre-understanding or prejudice.

Classical philosophers and theologians also acknowledge the role of pre-understanding. For example, Immanuel Kant admits some sort of pre-understanding in relation to perception. He insists in The Critique of Pure Reason that we have no certain knowledge of things in themselves but our mind give shape to them. According to Heidegger, understanding always touches on the whole constitution of being-in-the-world. He asserts further that the meaning does not lie in words; or in things, but in the remarkable structure of understanding itself. Rudolf Bultmann has rightly remarked that every interpretation incorporates a particular prior understanding. Now the question is “From where does the pre-understanding come?” or “How we possess a particular pre-understanding?” As we know generally pre-understanding comes from one’s own environment. Then, “what do we mean by environment?” Environment is a composite of several factors. It includes historical, psychological, economical, political, religious factors socio-familial relationships.

 

Another two questions that might be raised in relation to pre-understanding are the following (1) “Is pre-understanding common?” And (2) “Is pre-understanding static?” To the first question answer is both in affirmative and negative. On the one hand, pre-understanding is common in the sense that everybody has pre-understanding. On the other hand, pre-understanding is not common in the sense that the content of the pre-understanding differs from person to person. From the viewpoint of hermeneutics the second question can be answered only in negative. That is to say, pre-understanding is not static. Our pre-understanding is subjective and changes in every moment of our lives.

 

There are different types of pre-understandings. To have an overview of the different types of pre-understanding, a classification of the same would be appropriate. However, the divisions in this classification overlap each other, for we cannot compartmentalize them exhaustively. Actually what we do here is to approach the phenomenon of prejudice from different angles. Accordingly we have four types of pre-understandings.

 

  1.               I.      Informational Pre-understanding. It refers to the information that one already possesses about any given subject prior to approaching it. This is pre-understanding of the most basic kind. Terms such as prepossession and to a degree, preconception, prenotion, and predetermination are related to informational pre-understanding.
  2.            II.      Attitudinal Pre-understanding. This type of pre-understanding refers to the disposition with which one approaches something or the disposition that one brings to a given subject. The related terms are predisposition, prejudice, bias, life-hearing and life-relation.
  3.          III.      Ideological Pre-understanding. It indicates the ideological affiliation with which a person approaches something. For example a communist reading of the Bible will be different from the reading of a believer. This category would include both a general aspect and a particular aspect. The general aspect of the ideological pre-understanding points out the way one views the total complex of reality. And the particular aspect of the ideological pre-understanding shows the way one views a specific subject. The terms like worldview, life-attitude, life-posture, frame of reference, framework, horizon of understanding, etc. belong to the general aspect of the ideological pre-understanding and of view, viewpoint, perspective, stand point ,etc. belong to the particular aspect of the ideological pre-understanding.
  4.         IV.      Methodological Pre-understanding. This category refers to the actual approach which one takes in the explication of a given subject. For instance, a sociologist approaches something with a methodology proper to sociology a historian approaches an event with a methodology proper to history, and so on. In one sense, the methodological pre-understanding does function in the same way as any other type of pre-understanding and does influence the result of the interpretation. Yet in another sense, the methodological pre-understanding is considered as a tool that avoids the influences of other types of pre-understanding.

We shall conclude our pre-understanding or prejudice by listing how it influence our interpretation and understanding or how does it function in terms of interpretation and understanding.

 

(1)               Pre-understanding may function as either a negative or positive influence on interpretation. It negatively influences our interpretation by distorting or misleading our perception of things. It positively influences our interpretation, as it is the necessary precondition or frame of reference to understanding something.

(2)               Pre-understanding may influence our interpretation consciously, or unconsciously. When a person is aware of the pre-understanding that is at work in his or her interpretation, that pre-understanding is consciously influencing his or her interpretation. When the situation becomes just the contrary, the pre-understanding influences one’s interpretation unconsciously.

(3)               Pre-understanding may influence our interpretation rationally or irrationally. If a pre-understanding is formed out of the sound interaction with one’s own environment, it will influence his or her interpretation rationally. Whereas, if a pre-understanding is the outcome of some panic or neurotic reactions, it will influence our interpretation irrationally.

(4)               Finally, pre-understanding may be open-ended or closed. If a pre-understanding gives room for further correction and alteration, it is an open-ended pre-understanding. If a pre-understanding does not admit any correction or alternation, it is a closed pre-understanding.

Hermeneutics and Cyclic Communication

No understanding takes place in isolation. Understanding is not knowing the individual words in a sentence or in a text and their meanings separately, because individual words in a sentence or in a text cannot convey the fullness of its meaning. A text is a web, a well – knit frame in which different words are structured properly. Furthermore, understanding is a whole system of interrelated beliefs and practices. Hence understanding happens only when we realize the interconnections that exist between the words of a sentence or of a text. Then understanding is holistic.

 

If hermeneutics is taken in its wider sense, that is, not merely as formal rules controlling the practice of exegesis but as something concerned with the total process of understanding, then biblical hermeneutics can only be developed as part of an all encompassing theory of communication. In its most basic form, communication can be described as the interaction between sender, message and receiver. There are three contexts in which each text needs to be considered: a) the world that precedes the text; b) the world of the text itself; and c) the world that follows the text.

 

In the biblical texts, the message/medium is the written word. The text represents the solidification of a previous encounter between sender (Moses/Jesus) and receiver (Israel/Disciples). In the process of becoming a written text, the message may pass through various stages (oral tradition, pre-literary forms, etc.), but the text also represents the first stage in the process of reinterpretation. The reinterpretation has as its aim a new communication event this time between the texts and the contemporary receiver. In the case of biblical texts, the original sender is no longer present and interpretation necessarily comes out of the interaction between the text and receiver.

 

Today’s main hermeneutical problem arises from the knowledge that every human expression, whether literary or artistic, religious or philosophical, contains a set of meanings given to it by the author, and when this set of meanings moves into the world of another subject, it must be interpreted in such a way as to convey the original intention of the author.

 

In practice, the texts mediate between two events: the one which produced the text (the prophet, the audience, the scribes etc. come into the picture) and the one flowing from interaction with the text (the reader, the interpreter etc.). Certain considerations are to be made when dealing with the biblical material:

 

  1. The biblical texts are historical in a double sense: a) They are historical documents in their own right, with their own history of composition, tradition, and preservation b) They also refer to certain specific historical events (e.g. Monarchy, Exile)
  2. The present reader is not the first reader of the text. The text, enriched by the redactors, is the text for interpretation.
  3. Clarity concerning the purpose and the context in which the reading takes place is important. The kerygmatic or proclaiming nature of the text presupposes a new understanding as the ultimate goal of the reading. It is the interpretative community of believers who constitute the context of such a reading.
  4. Although the text is dependent on prior readings, the text itself functions as a separate entity within the interpretation process.
  5. As the original author is not present, the interpretative interaction takes place between the text and (present) reader. The present text is both the end of the process of text production and the beginning of the process of reinterpretation.
  6. Understanding the original speech event is the prerequisite for its appropriation in the contemporary situation.

  The process of reading and interpreting the Bible should be cyclic. A reader approaches a passage of scripture with presuppositions (e.g. the Bible is the inerrant word of God) and usually has a pre-understanding about what the particular passage can or cannot mean. These presuppositions and pre-understandings, along with the context, influence the reader’s understanding of the passage, and help them derive their interpretation. This interpretation then effects the reader’s presuppositions, and becomes part of their pre-understandings the next time they read this passage. If our exegetical information, reasoning and judgments are thought through again and reassessed each time we go through the cycle then the accuracy and correctness of our interpretation will improve.

Early Biblical Interpretation

Reinterpretation of the OT in the OT Itself

Israel had always re-interpreted Scripture in the light of new problems and new exigencies, and even the re-interpretations became part of the Scripture. The literary formation of many of the books shows that biblical literature has in fact developed through the contribution of such re-interpretations. For instance, the Yahwistic history of the patriarchs and Moses of the 10th cent. is taken up and re-narrated in the 6th cent. in the manner and according to the theology of the priestly (P) author.

 

In many aspects the Deuteronomic Code (Dt 12-26) is a re-interpretation, an actualization, and adaptation of the Elohistic ‘Code of the covenant’ (Ex 20:22-23:3), reflecting the changes in the economic and social aspects of the settled life of Israel in the land of Canaan. These changes were characterized by the divine rights upon the land and the people, the preference of the week, and the poor who have to be protected. It reflects the Deuteronomic theology. The book of Ben Sirach is often an existential reflection on the ancient texts: Sir 3 is a comment on the 4th commandment; Sir 15 is a comment on Gen 3; Sir 17:1-12, on creation (Gen 1); Sir 34;21-35:4 reviews the theme of cult and social justice.

 

In prophetic literature one can see the superimposition of the interpretation of the original oracles, for example, in the re-interpretation of the exodus (see Is 40:1-11; 17-20; Ps 78;105). In all these, one can detect the meaning sense of the Scriptures which reveals both their ancient and new character at the same time. The sense looked for is not exactly the one which was understood by the first readers; rather, what is looked for is that meaning the current reader can discover in view of  his contemporary problems and in the light of the revelation taking place in the time between the ancient writer and the present reader. What is treated is the actualization of the ancient books, which in Judaism took the form of midrash.

Judaism of Inter-testamental Period

The Synagogue and rabbinic school were the ambient wherein the biblical interpretation thrived in Judaism. This reading of the Torah, called darash, meaning investigation/research, is aimed at bringing the meaning of the text up-to-date. The homily and the paraphrasing translation (targum) of the text were the means of actualizing interpretation. The rabbinic schools tried to adapt the Law to the changed circumstance. Their authorized interpreters were the soferim ‘the doctors of the law’ – scribes (Sir 39:1-8) who many times appear in the NT passages (Mt 23; 13:52). They have also left traces in some of the biblical comments found in Qumran.

 

The interpretations of the Sadducees and Pharisees were different. With the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD, both Qumran and the Sadducees declined in importance, while the pharisaic movement survived. In the interpretation of specific texts, the rabbis employed certain rules, which were authentic hermeneutical principles.

 

  1. Targumim: An Aramaic translation often interpretative of the Hebrew Scriptures. It was first oral and then written.
  2. Midrashim: commentary on scripture, often in homiletic form. The term ‘midrash’ comes from the term darash (= to seek) and we can distinguish a four-fold meaning: a) a literary form (genre) which uses the biblical text with great freedom (e.g.,the midrash of the book of  Wisdom on the book of Exodus); b) a literary form which treats biblical personalities with great liberty, presenting them as historical, although they are either mythological or fictional (e.g., the books of Tobias, Judith, Esther, Jonah and narrative section of the book of Job, etc); c) those Jewish literary works, called midrashim, which are homiletic or exegetical comments on different books of the Bible; d) Midrash a term which is also applied to the research method used, by the Jewish exegetes. Thus Midrashim includes the totality of principles, techniques, and procedures used by the Jews in the interpretation of Scripture. Midrash is both hermeneutical and theological in nature.

 

Midrash has two divisions: a) Halakah b) Haggadah

 

Halakah: Halakah is a commentary on scripture which deals with legal texts (plural halakot. halakah comes from halak, to walk), and therefore, ‘the rule of be having’ or ‘norm’. Usually translated as ‘law’, it denotes a specific ruling, a legal statement or discussion, the general category of legal material which provides rules for moral, juridical, and ritual conduct.

 

Haggadah: It is narrative commentary on Scripture which deals with morals, ethics and daily life. The term haggadah is derived from the Hebrew root ngd ‘to show, announce, tell, testify, declare, make known.’ Haggadah mainly explains the historical and prophetic sections of the OT, enriching them with legendary motifs with a moral scope. It deals with the non-legal text in rabbinic literature.

  1. Pesharim: It is a type of line-by-line interpretation often allegorical. In the Qumran, one read the ancient biblical text and applied it to the present, introducing the comment with the words: ‘its interpretation is,’ where the Hebrew word for interpretation is pesher (pesharim; ‘explanation’) and it occurs only once (Ecc 8:1) in the OT. Until the Qumran discoveries this was an unknown type of biblical interpretation. It is used in the sense of interpretation and realization. Now this word is used to signify: a) a Qumran biblical commentary written in pesher-like form; b) the formal term used to introduce the expository section of this kind of commentary; c) the literary genre of these commentaries; and d) the particular exegetical method of the Qumran commentaries.

 

Elements of the halakic and haggadic modes of interpretation can be seen in the NT. Jewish interpretation is especially helpful to understand the interpretation of the Hebrew text of the Bible. To these typically Jewish principles of interpretation we can also add the allegorical method. This method, which is of Greek origin, was used particularly by Philo of Alexandria (ca. 20 BC-50 AD) to adapt the Hebrew Bible to the Hellenistic culture of his time. The Christian interpretation of the Alexandrian school followed the allegorical method.

New Testament Interpretation of the OT

Jesus is the true and definite exegesis of the Father: “No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known” (Jn 1:18). The Gospels show Jesus as the interpreter: ‘Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures” (Lk 24:27). He does not simply explain the Scriptures, but he reveals their sense because they speak of him (Jn 5:39,46). The Scriptures reach their fulfillment in him (Jn 19:28-30) and the newness of his teaching (Mk 1:27) and authority (Mk 1:22) are in tune with the fulfillment theme.

 

In interpreting the Scriptures, Jesus used the interpretation techniques and methods of his time. Discussing divorce, for instance, he bases himself on Gen 2:24 with a new halaka. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate” Mt 19:6, thus declaring that the Mosaic Law and rabbinic tradition which tolerated it has ended. On the discussion of the resurrection (Mt 22:23-32) he appeals to Ex 3:6 (“I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob”) arguing in the haggadic manner that “He is God not of the dead, but of the living.” In his discussion with the scribes he uses the rabbinic style of argumentation (see Jn 10:34-36).

 

The NT authors also made use of the interpretation processes of the Jewish people of their time. The exegesis of the apostolic Church, especially St. Paul (see Gal 4:21-31-the two wives of Abraham), draws from the rabbinic and Alexandrian sources, halakah, haggada, pesher and allegory. In addition to the already existing elements of interpretation, the authority of the Word of God and its richness introduces something radically new: the fulfillment of the OT in Jesus. The NT interpretation of the OT has its basis in Jesus as the Messiah the Son of God.

 

The aim of the NT authors was not to present a chronicle of Jesus’ life. Rather, they presented the life of Jesus in such a way that it appealed to the faith of the people, and the Christ Event, with its culmination at Pentecost stood as the key to their interpretation. For them Christ is the New Adam, the New Moses, and the Church becomes the New Israel and the Christ Event is the New Exodus. The book of Hebrews uses typological midrash. Jesus is greater than Moses (Heb 4); Jesus is the great high priest (Heb 4-8); Earthly and heavenly sacrifice (Heb 9); Jewish law as a type (Heb 10:1) etc.

Hermeneutics in the Early Church

The early Church interpreted the OT by using the Christological key as she considered Christ to be the fulfillment and the point of arrival of the OT. Hence, while interpreting the OT, their primary intension was not to understand the original Hebrew text but to understand Christ. And their interpretations were not in Hebrew. There are various models of interpretation that the early church and the later Church fathers used for interpretation:

  • Typological Interpretation: Some reality or personage of the OT is seen as the type of Christ or of the Church (antitype). (See Rom 5:14;1 Cor 10:6-1 Pet 3:22).
  • Literal Interpretation: It looks for the explicit sense of the text.
  • Spiritual  Interpretation: Its aim is to understand the hidden meaning of the text. It has its roots in 2 Cor 3:15: “Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their minds; but when a man turns to the Lord the veil is removed”. Here Paul never intended to contrast between the OT and the NT or between the literal sense and the spiritual sense, although by the 3rd century, it is in this way that this text was made; the spiritual sense came to include both prophetic and typological meanings.
  • Allegorical Interpretation: Allegorical interpretation seeks something other than the ‘surface’ (literal) meaning. This meaning is ‘deeper or hidden”. The letter to the Hebrews is a classical example of this type of interpretation.
  • Pedagogical Interpretation: It aims at interpreting every Law as intended to lead to Christ (Gal 3:24) – a task now completed.
  • Fulfillment Interpretation: Interprets that the OT promises and prophesies were fulfilled in Christ, especially the messianic and eschatological prophesies.
  • Historical-salvific Interpretation: This was used by Paul in Rom 9-11 to indicate that God has not changed his way of acting in calling the gentiles.
  • Apocalyptic Interpretation: This used the OT as a source of allusion to build a Christian apocalyptic vision with the Risen Christ at the centre.

 

The early church fathers, using quotes from the OT and NT, also added their own interpretations. These had a literal and allegorical sense, as well as polemical and apologetic motives.

Ancient Christian Schools of Interpretation

Theological School of Alexandria

In Alexandria, Philo had already made great use of Greek philosophy to interpret Sacred Scripture as the voice of the Divine Logos, and the Gospel as the fulfillment, or actualization of the law. For the Alexandrian school, the interpretation of the Bible proceeded on two levels: a) the immediate comprehension of the text; b) the hidden or more profound sense of the text, to discover this allegory is indispensable. The Alexandrians considered the historical narrations as pure allegory (e.g. the 30 stages of the exodus of the Israelites in Num 33 are for Origen the successive moments the Christian soul has to pass through from sin to God). Origen (182-254), the greatest exponent of this school, made hermeneutics a proper and true science.

 

In particular this school tried to find the corporal (somatikos) sense (=literal sense) which could be adapted to the simple and uneducated reader, and the psychic or moral (psychikos) sense which was suited for those who were advancing in perfection, and the spiritual or mystical (pneumatikos) sense meant for the perfect. This system was applied above all to the OT, so that all the personalities and events of the OT were messianically interpreted.

 

In the allegorical interpretation we see a profound reverence for the Scripture and a desire to find its manifold depth. To this end they used the symbolic method, often disregarding the common significance of the words and resorting to all sorts of speculation. The most important contribution of the Alexandrian school was that of underlining the unity of both the testaments through the allegorical method. This method would reach its maximum influence in the medieval theory of the four senses.

 

Antiochean School of Syria

The Antiochean School had a hermeneutics much different from that of the Alexandrian school. The Antiocheans interpreted the texts principally using: a) literal sense and b) historical and grammatical sense. The true head and the most important figure of this school was Diodore of Tarsus (+ before 394). For him and for the Antiocheans the fundamental sense is the literal sense, but some events or personalities or realities can also have typical sense and prefigure the messianic gifts. The literal sense, which is unique, opens itself to a new and more profound reality, even though it is not independent of it. Perception of this typical sense was ‘theory’ or ‘vision’. JohnChrsostom (344-407), Theodore of Mopsuestia (350ca – 428), and Theodore of Cyr (+458) were representatives of this school. The great merit of this school is that it gave a scientific basis for biblical exegesis.

The Sense of the Bible

Augustine of Dacia (+1282) sums up the hermeneutical principles of the fathers, distinguishing the four sense as: littera gesta docet, quid credas allegoria, moralis quid agas, quo tendas [quid speras] anagogia. (The literal sense teaches facts which you have to believe which you have to do and where you are headed). For example, the city of Jerusalem illustrates these principles, which in its literal sense is the historical city, allegorically, the church; morally, the soul; and analogically, the heavenly Jerusalem.

 

These four senses of the Bible can be classified into two: the literal (historical sense) and spiritual sense of the Bible. This distinction is also found in medieval exegesis as well: storia, allegoria, tropologia (moral), and anagogia. In the global context of Scripture the interpreter can discern a history, as a series of interventions in the history of salvation, and this history itself conceals the mystery of Christ (the spiritual sense of the fathers). This spiritual sense has three levels: allegorical (symbolic, Christological-the truth revealed, ‘that which you have to believe’), tropological (moral – the way of life commended, ‘that which you must do’), and anagogical (eschatological-the final goal to be achieved, ‘where you are headed’).

According to St. Thomas “all the sense are based on one, namely the literal, from which alone an argument can be drawn, and not from those which are said by way of allegory…. Yet nothing is lost to sacred Scripture because of this, because nothing necessary for faith is contained in the spiritual sense, which Scripture does not clearly pass on elsewhere by the literal sense.”

Literal Sense

In the middle Ages literal sense was understood as the meaning conveyed by the words of Scripture, as distinct from the spiritual sense (sensus spiritualis) contained in the Scripture. In modern literary discussion, ‘literal’ refers to the sense perceived in reading, as meaning flows from the dialogue between the text and the reader. We use literal sense as ‘the sense’ which the human author directly intended and which the written words conveyed. The adverb ‘directly’ would distinguish it from those meaning by which the author’s words may have been understood later (in the larger context of the Bible or when read in later times) but of which he was unaware.

Concerning the books which had a long history of editing and redaction of earlier written works (e.g., Isaiah-its composition took 200 years, with new sections being added to the original, some of which modified the meaning of the original text), the search for the literal sense includes both the sense of the original before editing and its sense after the editing. Moreover, the concept of ‘Author’ in this description of the literal sense must be understood rightly. Many of the books are anonymous or pseudonymous; Most of them are the product of complex growth and collective contribution. None of the canonical Gospel writers identified themselves by name.

Despite this, the reference to that author’s intention affirms that those who produced the biblical books had a message for the readers of their times. It is important for us to have this message in mind when we read texts and to ask what they now mean for us. What the text now means may well be more abundant, but it should have some relationship to what it meant to the first readers.

 

Written words conveyed:- Priority must be given to the text. The author’s intension does not become a sense of the Scripture until it is effectively conveyed in writing. Jesus did not write a Gospel, but the evangelists did. Most often we do not know the context in which Jesus actually spoke his words. The literal sense of a Gospel passage is the meaning attributed to Jesus words by the individual evangelist, with the result that the same words can have different meanings according to the different contexts in which each evangelist set them.

 

The literal sense of the Bible is that which has been expressed directly by the inspired human. As the Bible is the fruit of inspiration, what is expressed in the text is also intended by God, the principal author. Efforts are necessary to know the literal sense. The authors of the Bible used forms of literature typical of their times and hence their literal sense is not as obvious as it is in the works of our own time. Therefore one must make realistic efforts to grasp what the authors of Sacred Scripture is trying to communicate. The principal task of the exegete is to analyse the material, making use of all the resources of literary and historical research, with a view of defining the literal sense with the greatest possible accuracy. There is the need to acquire professional knowledge of biblical geography, archaeology, culture and of the way in which the texts were transmitted.

 

Even though there usually exists only one literal sense, one must still know that the human author can refer to more than one level of reality at the same time, especially in the case of poetry. Biblical inspiration does not exclude this capacity of human psychology and language. For instance: Jn 19:28 (‘I thirst’- bodily and spiritual level); Jn 19:30 (‘delivered his spirit’- lit. ‘Jesus died’ and the implicit allusion would be ‘He gave the Spirit to the Church’. Giving of the Spirit to the Church is the literal sense in Jn 20:22).

 

Even when a human utterance appears to have only one meaning, divine inspiration can use the expression in such a way as to create more than one meaning. This is true in the saying of Caiaphas “It is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed” (Jn 11:50; see also vv. 51-52). Caiaphas meant that the nation could thereby avoid many troubles on the part of the Romans (political reason), whereas John meant “to gather into one the dispersed children of God” (religious reason). Either way, this passage of John belongs to the literal sense, as is made clear from the context itself.

 

In the attempt to find the literal sense one has to take into account the dynamic aspect of many texts. For example, the meaning of ‘royal psalms’ (e.g., Ps 2;72; 101;110;132) should not be limited to the historical circumstance of their being written. When speaking of the king, the psalmist at one and the same time evokes both the kingship as it actually existed and the idealized vision of kingship as God intended it to be. The text carries the reader well beyond the institution of kingship its historical, actual manifestation. Ps 110:1 “The Lord says to my lord, ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool” (quoted in Mk 12:35-37). This messianic (prophetic) sentence can be applied to every king of Israel (son of David), but can be applied in a perfect way only to Jesus.

 

Historical-critical exegesis has too often tended to limit the meaning of texts by binding it too rigidly to precise historical circumstance whereas modern hermeneutics know that human speech gains an altogether fresh status when put into writing. Written text has the capacity to be placed in new circumstances, which will illuminate it in different ways, adding new meaning to the original sense. This is especially operative in the Bible as the word of God. All this does not, however, mean that we can attribute to a biblical text whatever meaning we like, interpreting it in a wholly subjective way. One must reject every interpretation as unauthentic which is alien to the meaning expressed by the human authors in their written text.

4.1.1    Important Auxiliaries to Get to the Literal Sense

v  Knowledge of the history of the biblical era: This history of the people of God must be integrated into the history of the Near East. We cannot divorce God’s action from that of history because God acts only in concrete times and circumstances. This history must also include sociological aspects-not only information on royal courts, international politics and wars – the very structure of the social life of the people involved in the biblical story must be analyzed so as to understand the biblical era in all its ramifications (aspects).

v  Knowledge of biblical languages and literary styles: Some familiarity with the structure and thought pattern of Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic is essential. Knowledge of Hebrew tenses, with their undefined time designations and lack of temporal precision opens the prophecies to the present and to the present fulfillment. For instance, words such as hesed (covenantal kindness mercy) and aletheia (truth) receive only a part of their connotation in translation.

v  Reading the Scripture should involve an understanding of what the original author meant, since his message for his times was certainly part of God’s inspired communication. The primary duty of the human author was to be intelligible in his era. What he writes communicates meaning to us today, but he did not envision our circumstances and he did not write for our times. Hence, in the effort to draw a message from his text for our circumstances, we must ask whether we achieve true communication or only an illusion in which we impose on the text what we want to find (eisegesis).

v  In the quest for the literal sense of any writing, it is important to determine the literary form the author was employing. The Bible is a library with all the diversity all the diversity we would expect spanning a period of more than 1100 years. Hence it is necessary to classify the books according to the type of literature they represent-this is what is meant by determining the literary form.

 

The first question we must ask when we open any book is : “What type of literature do we have before us?” (This method of determining the literary form, in fact, existed even in ancient times-the Jewish divisions as Pentateuch, Prophets, and Sapiential literature testify to this). In the Bible there are also many varieties of poetry: a) epic poetry-some narratives of Pentateuch and Joshua; b) didactic poetry-Prov, Sir, Wis) Iyric poetry-Pass, Cant. There are also many forms of history: a) factual analysis, seemingly by can eye-witness (the court history of David-2 Sam 11-2 Kg 2); b) court records (Kg and Chr); c) romanticized and simplified epic history of the national saga (in Exodus); d) tales of tribal heroes (in Judges); e) tales of great men and woman of ancient times (in the patriarchal accounts of Genesis); f) prehistory. This is seen in the Genesis narratives regarding the origin of humanity and of evil which borrow from the lore of other nations, making them vehicles of monotheistic theology. In the prophetic books we meet prophecy and apocalyptic. Apart from these, there are tales, parables, allegories proverbs, maxims, love stories, etc.

 

Once the reader has determined the literary form of any biblical book or passage, that standard applicable to the form helps to clarify the literal sense (that which the author meant). For instance, if Jonah is understood as a parable, the reader would know that the author is not presenting a history of relationship between Israel and Assyria, nor the story of a prophet in the belly of the whale; rather, it is a prophetic book which communicates the profound truth of God’s love for the Gentile nations. Similarly, if Josh 10:13 is part of a victory song, readers will judge it not according to rules of strict history nor give it the same historical credence allotted to the history of David’s court.

 

In the past, the failure to recognize the diversity of literary forms of the biblical books, and the tendency to misinterpret Bible as scientific historical pieces etc. created great problems in Hermeneutics. There are factual history, mythology, fiction, and almost all the intermediary types in the Bible. This should not be seen as destroying the historicity of Bible. One need not think that this would weaken or challenge its inspiration. DAS (Pius XII, Divino Afflante Spiritu, 1943) says: “God could inspire any type of literature that was not unworthy or deceitful, i.e., ‘not contrary to his holiness and truth.’

More than Literal Sense 

By ‘more than literal sense’ we mean the scriptural meaning that goes beyond the literal sense, a sense that is not confined to what the human author directly intended and conveyed in the written words. This ‘more than literal sense’ is especially pertinent to the Bible. It is because a) Bible is a collection of books by many authors and b) it is the Word of God.

a)      The books of individual authors were joined together into a collection called the Bible centuries after they were written. This was a new arrangement, which could have scarcely been foreseen by the original author (Luke thought of his Gospel and Acts as a unified work, but it was divided in the canonical process. There exists no evidence that the author of John with his claim of unique witness would have thought that his work would be placed alongside and on the same level with the other works called Gospels). The juxtaposition of the books provides connections in the Bible that no single author would have made, thus enlarging the meaning originally intended.

b)      The Bible is God’s word to audiences of all times. This continuing biblical engagement of readers/hearers with the Word of God uncovers meaning beyond those which were envisioned by the human author in his local and limited circumstances. The quest for the dynamic aspect of the word should not deviate from exegesis to eisegesis (the imposition of a meaning to a text that is alien to it).

 

Both in pre-Christian Judaism and post-Christian rabbinic circles the quest for a ‘more-than-literal-exegesis’ was just as common as in Christian circles. In the early Christian writings of the 2nd cent., we find evidence of a very free spiritual exegesis. Exegetes such as Tertullian and Justin searched the OT for proof texts referring to Christ, and they interpreted these passages in a way that went far beyond the literal sense. Origen did not disregard the literal sense but was interested in a sense that could make Christians see the OT as their book. His allegorical interpretation was based on the thought that the OT was Christological in many passages.

Spiritual (Christological) Sense

Spiritual sense, as understood by Christian faith, is the meaning expressed by the biblical texts when read, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, in the context of the paschal mystery and of the new life which flows from it. The paschal event has established a radically new historical context, which sheds fresh light upon the ancient texts and causes them to undergo a change in meaning. The spiritual (Christological) sense does not change the literal sense, but rather makes it explicit or fulfils it. We cannot exclude from the Bible, especially from the OT, this Christological sense, the possibility of a higher fulfillment:

Gen 3:15: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike your head, and you will strike his heel”. This is the first promise of a redeemer (and of his mother).

2 Sam 7: 12-13: “…I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.”

This text must be now taken literally, because Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more. “We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him” (Rom 6:9). Exegetes who have a narrow, ‘historical’ view of the literal sense, will judge this as an interpretation alien to the original. Those who are open to the ‘dynamic’ aspect of a text, instead will recognize here a profound element of continuity as well as an element of discontinuity: Christ rules for ever, but not on the earthly throne of David. It is therefore quite acceptable to reread the Bible in the light of the Christ Event. See also Is 52:13-53:12; cf. suffering servant in Acts 8.32.

 

While there is a distinction between the two senses, the spiritual sense cannot be stripped of its connection to the literal sense; the latter remains the indispensable foundation. Otherwise one could not speak of the fulfillment of the Scripture. In order for fulfillment to be accomplished, a relationship of continuity and conformity is essential. It is also necessary that there be a transition to a higher level of reality. The paschal lamb of Ex 12:46 (Ps 34:20) and Jn 19:36 are examples of such a transition.

 

Spiritual sense is not to be confused with subjective interpretation stemming from imagination or intellectual speculation. The spiritual sense results from setting a text in relation to real facts which are not alien to it: e.g., the paschal mystery, in all its inexhaustible richness, which constitutes the summit of the divine intervention in the history of Israel, to the benefit of all mankind.

Typological Sense

It is “the deeper meaning of the things written about in the Bible when they are seen to have foreshadowed future things in God’s work of salvation.” The typological sense usually belongs not to the Scripture as such, but to the realities (persons, places and events) expressed by the Scripture. The reality which foreshadows is called ‘type’ and the future realty that is foreshadowed is called ‘antitype’. Type and antitype are on two levels of time and only when the antitype appears the typological sense becomes apparent. Type is imperfect and the foreshadowing is related to God’s plan of salvation. E.g., Adam (type) is the figure of Christ (cf. Rom 5:14); the flood (type) is the figure of baptism (1 Pt 3:20-21).

Actually the connection involved in typology is based on the way in which Scripture describes the ancient reality (cf. the voice of Abel: Gen 4:10; Heb 11:4; 12:24) and not simply on the reality itself. Consequently, in such a case one can speak of a meaning which is truly Scriptural. 1Cor 15:45 (Jesus as the new Adam); Rev 12:1-5 (Mary as the new Eve); Manna of Ex 16:4,15; Ps 78:24 and Eucharist in Jn 6:31-32; Rev 2:17 etc. are not equal realities. E.g., though the manna was miraculous nourishment, it was not the bread coming down from heaven as is the Eucharist.

 

Bronze serpent on the pole (Num 21:9) and the lifted Son of Man (Jn 3:14) is another pair of example. Here one must know that it was not the bronze serpent on the pole that gave salvation, but a vision (act) of faith.

 

Fuller Sense

Sense plenior is the deeper meaning of the text, intended by God, but not clearly expressed (intended- R.E. Brown) by the human author. This is known as one studies a text in the light of other biblical passages which utilize it or in its relationship to the internal development of revelation: Unlike the typical sense, but like the literal sense, sensus plenior is primarily concerned with the words of scripture rather than with ‘things’. This concept was first employed by Andre’s Fernandes in 1925. It is used to refer to the idea of the fulfillment of the OT in the NT.

 

The catholic understanding of biblical inspiration distinguishes between God as primary author and the inspired human author as the secondary author. Such an understanding helps one to see how God could have moved a human writer to formulate an idea, the sensus plenior which would only becomes apparent in the light of subsequent use of such a formulation and of which the original human author would have had no inkling.

 

Sensus plenior is then a question of:

 

a)      The meaning a subsequent biblical author attributes to an earlier biblical text, using it in a context which confers upon it a new literal sense.

E.g., Mt 1:22-23 “All this took place to fulfil what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us”. The prophecy quoted here is Is 7:14. In the Issaianic text the prophet does not in fact speak of a ‘virgin’. The Hebrew word used is alemah (=young/ adolescent woman, a girl just married), which was the wife of Achaz, who bore Hezekiah. To speak of a virgin Hebrew has another word at its disposal, I betulah (Is 23:4, 12; 37:22). The Hebrew original alemah was translated in LXX with parthenos which really means ‘virgin’. By using the LXX translation, the evangelist gives a fuller prophetic sense to Is 7:14.

 

b)      The meaning that an authentic doctrinal tradition or a conciliar definition gives to a biblical text.

E.g., Rom 5:12-21: the definition of the doctrine of original sin by Trent provided the fuller sense of Paul’s teaching about the consequences of the sin of Adam for humanity.

 

When the control by an explicit biblical text or by an authentic doctrinal tradition is lacking, recourse to a claimed fuller sense could lead to subjective interpretation deprived of any validity. In effect, sensus plenior is only a modern way of expressing a certain kind of spiritual sense in given instance where the spiritual sense is distinct from the literal sense. It has its foundation in the fact that the Holy Spirit, the principal author of the Bible, can guide human authors in the choice of language so that it will

Express a truth, the fullest depth of which the authors themselves did not perceive. This deeper truth will be revealed in the course of time: a) through further divine interventions which clarify the meaning of the texts-Jn 19:37 clarifies Zec 12:10; Rev 1:7; b) through the insertion of the texts into the canon of the Scripture. In these cases a new contexts is created, which brings out fresh possibilities of meaning that had lain hidden in the original context.

 

The Book of Psalms

Psalms

1. What is a Psalm?

Psalms are poetic compositions, usually presented in established literary patterns with liturgical and ritual allusions. This is poetic because they are tightly woven with balanced word structure, and poetic styles such as rhythm, parallelism, refrains, chiasm, word plays etc…

The Book of Psalms

The Hebrew OT consists three divisions namely, Torah, Nebim, Ketubim and the book of Psalms belongs to the third section. Torah (Law) is the basic text of Hebrews, Nebim (Prophets) is the prophetic interpretation of Torah and Ketubim (Psalms and Wisdom books) is the meditative reflections on Torah. The book of Psalms constitutes the inspired book within the inspired books of the Bible. The book of Psalms could be said as the compendium of the whole OT theology, because it produces macroscopic picture of the OT themes like, the marvellous works of God in Creation, Judgment, Salvation, Israel’s History, the Holy City and the Presence of God in it, the once and future Davidic Messiah, Warning against the wickedness, exhortation to righteousness, the majesty and tragedy of the human condition, the present and future kingdom of God. Through Psalms man learns to communicate in God’s own language. It is the personal encounter between God and man. Psalms are education in prayer. The book of Psalms is one of the most quoted OT book in the NT. It is also the most used OT book in the Jewish synagogues and Christian churches.

Different names

The designation ‘Psalm’ is derived from the Greek usage in Septuagint (LXX) and its later references in the NT (Luke 20,42; 24,44; Acts 1,20; 13,33). In Septuagint the word ψalmoV is used which means ‘hymn of praise’ and the title that is given in Codex Vaticanus is bibloV ψalmoi (Book of Praises). Codex Alexandrianus gives a different title to the book as ψalterion which means ‘a stringed instrument’ and it is from this word another title ‘Psalter’ is achieved to the book of psalms. The Hebrew word for Greek ψalmoi is Hebrew rAmðz>mi (mizmôr) (song) which is found in the titles of 57 psalms. Actually, the title of Psalms in Hebrew canon is known as rp,se ~yLihiT. (t®hillim s¢per) i.e., the Book of Praises. In the Hebrew text we see also another name for Psalms called hL’piT. (t®pillâ) which means ‘Prayer’ (Ps 72,20).

 

5. The Division and The authorship of the Psalms

Traditionally the book of Psalms is divided into five books. It is said in Midrash, “As Moses gave five books of Law, David gave the Pentateuch of Psalms”. According to this division each section ends with a concluding doxology, “praise be to the God of Israel” (Ps 41,14; 72,19; 89,52; 106,48; 150,6).

1st Book         1-41

2nd Book        42-72

3rd Book         73-89

4th Book         90-106

5th Book         107-150.

The authorship of Psalms is mainly ascribed to the tradition of King David (1Sam 16,18-23; 2Sam 6,5; 2Sam 1,19-27). There are other groups of collection called the ‘the collection of David’ (Ps 1-41), ‘the collection of sons of Korah’ (Ps 42-49), ‘Prayers of David’ (Ps 51-72), ‘the collection of Asaph’ (Ps 50,73-83), Psalms of Solomon (72, 127); Heman the Ezrahite (88); Ethan the Ezrahite (89).

6. The origin of the Psalms

1. Liturgical Origin

The first and important explanation of the origin of the psalms is that they are collected for the various liturgical and cultic purposes. Most of the psalms have characteristic motifs of temple entry, praises, prayers and thanksgiving related to sacrifices and celebrations. There are frequent mention of God’s house and the Psalmist’s physical attitudes like ‘bow down before God’, (5,7; 138,2), ‘kneel before the Lord’ (95,6), ‘I lift up my hands up to the holy temple’ (28,2), ‘washing hands and going around the alter (26,6), clap hands (47,1), ‘I lift up my eyes to the hills’(121,1). Because of this cultic nature, it could be said that Priests and Choirs would have special role in writing them for the various liturgical purposes and might have been originated in the temple sites especially of the Jerusalem temple. There are indications that the Priests and Singers are obliged to write and read (1Chr 9,33; 15,16-17; 2Chr 20, 21-22; 23,13; 29,25-16; Neh 12,28-29; Deut 31,19).

2. Individual origin of the Psalm. Psalms also could be the product of individual piety and devotion. For eg., the song of Debora (Deut 31,22; Jud 5). The individual devotion could be evolved later into a public liturgy.

3. Some psalms could be originated in connection with various feasts related with the king and kingdom. For eg., the anniversary of king’s enthronement, his birthday, the victory in the battles etc….

4. There are also indications of the adaptations of many prayers and psalms of the neighbouring Canaanite, Assyrian, Babylonian and Egyptian temple cults.   

The Date

The Psalms are the collection and sub-collection spanning many centuries. It may have taken some 1000 years up to 300 BC when the book of Psalm came to be finalized. It is certain that many Psalms have an oral tradition before reaching up to a written tradition.

There are certain principles to determine the time of various Psalms

1)     Psalms refer Canaanite culture: The scholars opine that the dates of Psalms 18, 29, perhaps of 12-11 BC.

2)     The historical elements of Patriarchs, the Exodus and the Sinai events, the entrance to the Promised Land may be also hints for a pre-exilic dating (Ps 66, 68, 78, 105, 106, 114, 136).

3)     The liturgical songs related to the King David and Jerusalem, especially the event of bringing of the Ark of the Covenant (Ps 132), God selecting Zion (Ps 46, 48, 76, 78, 68, 69) as his mountain of residence would be pointing to the Pre-exilic existence.

4)     Those Psalms that portrait the individual prayers and lamenting may be mostly of exilic period.

5)     Wisdom style, Pietism towards the Law, strong influence of the language of Aramaic would be of post-exilic.

The Canonicity

The first book to accept as the inspired text in Hebrew canon is the book of Psalms. There are three reasons for its canonicity, 1) this is the shortest form of the history of Israel 2) this is the sum of the Jewish spirituality 3) this is the liturgical and meditative reflection of Yahweh’ s saving actions.

The Versions

The earliest complete Hebrew text of the book of Psalms, available today is dated to the 10th cent AD (The Leningrad Codex (1008)/ Biblia Hebraica Stuttgertenzia). The Greek original is dated of the 4th and 5th cent BC (LXX). The Syriac version is dated on 4th and 5th cent AD. In 2nd century AD other Greek translations of Aquila, Theodatian and Simmachus were appeared which could be considered as the later editions of LXX. There are versions of the book of Psalms in old Latin and later St. Jerome translated a new one in 392, which is called today the Latin Vulgate.

Psalms contain 150 psalms. In some manuscripts we see 151 psalms. The number of psalms is varied in Hebrew Masoretic text, Greek Septuagint, Latin Vulgate and Peshitha. There are some psalms, which were divided into two in the later periods (42 and 43). There are also Psalms that are repeated (14=53; Ps 18=2Sam 22; 40,13-17=70,1-5; 57,7-11=108,1-5; 60,5-12=108,6-13; 96=1Chr 16,23-33; 105,1-15=1Chr16,8-22; 106,1=1Chr16,34; 106,47-48=1Chr16,35-36; 115,4-8 = 135,15-18). There are also some psalms, which do not belong to the proper book of Psalms namely, Ex 15, 1-8; Deut 32,1-43; Judg 5,2-31; 1Sam 2,1-10; 2Sam 22; Is 38,10-20; Jonah 2,2-9; Hab 3,2-19; Tob 8, 5-6.15-17; 13, 1-18

Titles

The titles are not integral part of the Psalms. Many psalms contain a title. Though they are not theologically significant, the Massoretic text gives it often as the first verse. Mostly, it is very difficult to understand the meaning of these titles. They could be divided into various groups

1) Literary nature:

rAmz>mi (mizmôr) psalm, hymn (57 times); ryvi (shîr) song (30 times); lyKif.m; (m´kil) poem (13 times) a didactic psalm or artistic psalm; ~T’k.mi (mikt¹m) hidden or golden song, song of ‘atonement’ or ‘engraved’ song (?) (16, 56-60); hL’piT. (t®pillâ) prayer (17, 86, 90, 102, 142);  Hanna’s thanksgiving and Habakkuk’s song are both described as prayers (1Sam 2,1; Hab 3,1); !AyG”vi (shigaon) (Ps 7) lamentation or complaint song; hL’hiT. (t®hillâ) praise (145).

2) Musical annotations:

hl’s, (selâ) occurs 71 times in 39 psalms. It denotes ‘to raise voice’, ‘to raise eyes’, musical notes etc.… There are seven major musical tunes: ~yqixor>â ~l,aeä tn:Ayí-l[; (±al yônât °¢lem r¹µœqim) (the dove of far-off) (Ps 56). rx;V;ªh; tl,Y<ïa;-l[; (±al °ayyelet hashaµar) (the deer of the dawn) (Ps 22) ~yNIv;voâ-l[; (±al shoshannim) (flowers of Lilies) (Ps 45; 69). txev.T;â-la;  (°al tashµ¢t) (do not destroy) (Ps 57; 58; 59; 75) tyTiªGIh;-l[;( (±al hagtit) (Gittite music) (Ps 8; 81; 84), !Beªl; tWmïl.[; (±al mût lb¢n) (death of the son) (Ps 9), tAmïl'[]-l[;( (±al ±almot) (to the virgins) (Ps 46).

3) Liturgical

 x;Ceîn:m.l; (lamm®naƒƒ¢aµ) comes as the title for 50 psalms but the meaning is not clear. It may mean ‘to the leader of choir’. In 1Chr 15,21, the same word is used in reference to the direction of the singing. tAlï[]M;ñh;( ryviª(shîr hmma±alot) (Ps 120-134) are called songs of ascension. They are sung as the pilgrim music going to Jerusalem for feasts. !WtªWdy>-l[;( (±l y®d¥tûn) (confession) (Ps 39; 62; 77). tB'(V;h; ~Ayæl. (lyôm hash¹bat) (to the day of Sabbath) (Ps 92), ryKi(z>h;l. (lhaz®kir) (to remember) (Ps 38,70) hd”_Atl. (ltôdâ) (to thank) (Ps 100), tAN=[;l. (l®±annôt) (to repent) (Ps 88) dMe(l;l. (ll¹mad) (to teach) (Ps 60)

4. Historical

They contain historical events related to the life of David, like ‘when David fled from Absalom (Ps 3), David sang to the Lord concerning Cush a Benjaminate (Ps 7), When Nathan the prophet came to David, after he had gone to Bathsheba (51). Other Psalms of various historical indications seen in title are 13; 34; 52; 56; 57; 59; 60; 63; 142.

 The Studies of the Book of Psalms

The modern studies focused fundamentally on its form-critical studies. Attention was given to the type and character of each psalms and makes clues for the various exegetical interpretations. The basic schema is set forth by H. Gunkel and J. Begrich (H. Gunkel- J. Begrich, Einleitung in die Psalmen, (Göttingen, 1933) = The Psalms, (Philadelphia, 1960). H. Gunkel is the first one who successfully classified the Psalms into various literary types (Gattung). He classified them according to the contents. According him one could see the life situation (Sitz im Leben) of the author through the literary symbols, emotions, and ideas. So one should analyse various literary genres of the Psalms. According to H. Gunkel, there are mainly five different literary forms, 1) Hymns, 2) Communal complaint songs 3) Individual complaint songs 4) Individual thanksgiving songs, 5) Royal Psalms. Besides these, he also found many different small-genres like ‘Pilgrimage song’, ‘Tora songs’, ‘Sayings of Blessing and curse’ and ‘Victory Song’ etc…. The work of S. Movinckal has influenced many of the studies of the Psalms. His main work appeared in 1921-1924 (S. Mowinckel, Psalmen-Studien I-IV = The Psalms in Israel’s Worship I-II, Oxford, 1962). S. Movinckal also followed H. Gunkel but he gave importance to the cultic aspect of the Psalms and thus he denied primarily the personal dimension of the Psalms. It is his view that great majority of the Psalms do not simply derive, as a matter of form-history or literary-history, but from ancient cult poetry. They are ‘real cult psalms’ composed for and used in the actual service of the temple. Though S. Movinckal advocated the liturgical background of the Psalms, he also detected the presence of some ‘cult-free Psalms’ namely ‘Instruction Psalms’. Most important and comprehensive treatment after this perhaps would be of Clause Westermann[1]. He has argued as ‘Praise’ and ‘Lament’ as the two poles of human address to God and thus they are considered as the dominant categories in the Psalms.

There has been a number of criticisms and opinions with regard to the various literary types and genres of the psalms. Several published studies tend to multiply the literary categories of Psalms. For the study purpose, the literary structure followed in this work is of H.-J. Kraus[2] and L. Sabourin[3].

The literary forms of Psalms (Gattung)

The important literary forms of the Psalms are explained as follows:

1. Praising or Hymns

There are three types of praising:

a)     Praising or hymns Proper (8, 19, 29, 33, 100, 103, 104, 111, 113, 114, 117, 135, 136, 145, 146, 147, 148, 149, 150).

b)     Yahweh-the King Praising (47, 93, 96, 97, 98, 99).

c)     The Praising of Zion (46, 48, 76, 84, 87, 122). 

2. Lamentation

It contains complaints against God. It speaks about the wicked and the enemies and the necessity of God’s defence.

a. laments of the Individual (5; 6; 7; 13; 17; 22; 25; 26; 28; 31; 35; 36; 38; 39; 42; 43; 51; 54; 55; 56; 57; 59; 61; 63; 64; 69; 70; 71; 86; 88; 102; 109; 120; 130; 140; 141; 142; 143).

b. Laments of the Community (12; 44; 58; 60; 74; 77; 79; 80; 82; 83; 85; 90; 94; 106; 108; 123; 126; 137)

3. Psalms of the Confidence

  1. Confidence of the Individual (3, 4, 11, 16, 23, 27, 62, 121, 131)
  2. Confidence of the Community (115, 125, 129)

4. Psalms of Thanksgivings

        They are called in Hebrew Todah. They confess God’s unlimited goodness and mercy.

a)     Thanksgiving of the Individual (Ps 9, 10, 30, 32, 34, 40, 2-12, 41, 92, 107, 116, 138)

b)     Thanksgiving the Community (Ps 65, 66, 67, 68, 118, 124)

 5. Royal-Messianic Psalms

These Psalms may be written as the praises of kings but they are later interpreted with the Messianic ideals. (Ps 2; 18; 20; 21; 45; 72; 89; 101; 110; 132; 144)

6. Didactic Psalms

a. Wisdom Psalms (Ps 1; 37; 49; 73; 91; 112; 119; 127; 128; 133; 139).

b. Historical Songs (Ps 78; 105).

c. Prophetic Psalms (Ps 14; 50; 52; 53; 75; 81; 95).

d. Liturgies (15, 24; 134).

7. Groups of Psalms under different headings

a. Imprecatory Psalms (35; 58; 69; 109; 137; 129; 140).

b. Psalms of Blessing (121; 91; 67; 115, 9-15).

c. Pilgrim Psalms (120-134).

d. Victory Psalms (46; 48; 66; 76; 118; 149).

e. Penitential Psalms (6; 32; 38; 51; 102; 130; 143).

f. Acrostic Psalms (9-10; 25; 34; 37; 111; 112; 119; 145).

g. Creation Psalms (8, 19; 104; 139; 148).

f. Entrance Psalms (15,24).

g. Hallelujah Psalms (111-118; 135; 136; 146-150).

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Psalms of Praising

The psalms of praising are the announcement and proclamation of joy and wonder over the glory, omnipotence and the saving actions of Yahweh in the history of Israel. Praising can be understood more than a literary style. It is the basic attitude of prayer for the people of Israel. The emotions such as happiness, wonder, fear, and respect are predominantly seen in praising. The language of praise is with attributes, gracious words and exclamatory statements. The psalmist will praise seven times a day (119,164), he will praise at the midnight (119,62). The psalmist will praise not only with the words but also with the whole body, (by raising hands 29,2; 95,6; 96,9; 99,5.9; 138,2), by clapping hands 47,2; 98,8), dancing (26,6; 118,27),  kneeling, prostration (95,6).

The important life situation (sitz im Leben) would be the annual agricultural feasts, national feasts of victories or the yearly temple feasts. Thousands of devotes reach Jerusalem, with shouting of joy  and the praising songs of Yahweh. They participate in the dances, processions (42,5; 87,7; 149,3; 150,4) and in the solemn temple entry etc…

Structure

 I. Introduction: The introductory part is mostly an invitation. This part explains the intention of praising God. It is an invitation addressed to the musicians and singers (33,2), to the servants (135,2) and to all nations (117,1) and to every living being (150,6) or even to all creatures (148). Some  primitive nucleus of the hymn could have consisted of simple cultic exclamations like ‘halleluiah’, ‘praise the Lord’ etc…

There are three types of invitations

1) Imperative  (Second Person)

a) give thanks (33,2; 105,1)

b) Sing a new song (33,3; 96,1)

c)     Rejoice, bless, give thanks (47,2; 66,1)

II Jussive (third person)

a) let them rejoice (5,12; 35,27)

            b) Let them be glad (40, 17; 67,5)

            c) Let them praise (67,4; 99,3)

III Cohertative (first person)    

a) Let us exult (95,1-2)

b) Let us rejoice (95,1)

c) Let us bow down (95,2)

II. Body: It is either reason or expansion of the introduction. Why one should praise Yahweh? The reasons derive from Yahweh’s great deeds (creation, providence, redemption, legislation) or refer to God’s attributes of power, wisdom, fidelity and mercy. In hymns especially God is praised both what He has done and what He is. Yahweh is to be praised not only because he is good but also because his works of salvation to be known by the nations

The common body movements in these psalms are a) clapping hands (47,2), b) raising hands (134,2), c) Falling down before Yahweh (29,2), d) using musical instruments (57,9), e) dancing (63,5) etc….

III. Conclusion: The part contains partial or total repetition of the introduction. It is the recapitulation of motives (105,42-45), blessing formulas (29,11; 66,20, 135, 21), requests or wishes (19,13). It can be sometimes the expression of the sentiments of trust in the Lord or it can be a simple ‘hallelujah’ (148,4).

Praising Psalms can be divided into three sections 1) Hymns Proper 2) Yahweh-the King Praising, 3) The Praising of Zion. 

1) Hymns Proper (8, 18, 19, 29, 33, 100, 103, 104, 111, 113, 114, 117, 135, 136, 144, 145, 146, 147, 148, 149, 150).

These are the psalms of descriptive or narrative praise. This is done both by the individual or the community. These psalms praises Yahweh’s mighty deeds of creation and the salvific plan. Mostly these psalms have the liturgical background when the community gather together to worship Yahweh. God is praised for his lordship and majesty as creator and the Lord of history.

Psalm 8

This is a classical example of hymns proper. Both majesty of God and the dignity of man are praised here. This Psalm beautifully presents the relationship among God, man and nature. There is a poetic technique of inclusion in v.2 and v. 10, because of the ‘introductory and concluding phrase ‘how majestic is your name’.

Structure

The psalm forms a concentric structure.

*V. 1-2 Praising

*Vv 3-5 Nature

*V. 6 Central theme: Man and his position

*Vv. 7-9 Nature

*V. 10 Praising

Content

Vv. 1-2 The aim of these verses to praise the God’s name. OT concept is that the name is identical with the person. God’s name is majestic. The statement that the whole world is full of God’s glory (Kabod) means that he is present all over the world. He establishes his mighty power through the mouths of babes. Those who are week are appropriate to establish God’s power.

3-5 The heavens, moon and the stars are the work of God. This imagery may indicate that this psalm denotes evening or night prayer (Ps 130,6; 134,1). God is so powerful and at the same time he is concerned about the simple creature-man. The contrast of man’s position and God’s glory is pictured here.  Man is created little less than angels (LXX). Instead of ‘than angels’ can be read ‘than of gods’ since the reference is probably to the members of the heavenly court of God (relation to the Canaanite mythology). Man is crowned with glory and honour, which are the qualities of God himself.

v. 6 deals with the special relationship with God and man. It is a kingly role, but according to the manner of God himself. The dominion is special. It is based on the power of God, who establishes his power through babes and the week. Man should exercise his power through reverence to God.

Vv. 7-9 once again the Psalmist praises the nature and God’s imminent presence.

V. 10 Concluding praising. Human life is a gift from God.

The Praising of Zion (46, 48, 76, 84, 87,122, 132, 137)

These poems extol Zion, God’s ‘holy mountain’ (48,2), Jerusalem is chosen mountain (76,3), the city of God (46,5; 48,2), the city of Yahweh zebayoth (48,9; 84,2), and  the holy dwelling of the Most high (46,5). Non-Israelites also can find refuge there, because Zion is a mother to all (87,5). Zion was selected as the seat of eternal king and thus it has played the centre to the political, cultural and religious life of Israel. The importance of the city became historical event on the transferring of the sacred Ark from Shiloh to Jerusalem. According to G. von Rad: “The songs of Zion were based on the fact of Yahweh’s past choice of Zion, and the royal psalms on Yahweh’s past choice of David as its king.”[4]   

Psalm 46

This is the first Zion psalm in the Psalter. Jebusites were the inhabitants when David took hold of Jerusalem. Jebusites strongly believed that there God was staying with them in the city of Jerusalem. David conquered the city and he brought the arch of the covenant, the presence of Yahweh into Jerusalem. He made Jerusalem city as the dwelling place of Yahweh. Is 2,2-4 and Mica 4,1-4 describe the Zion traditions. In those prophesies there are mainly six elements

a) exaltation of Zion

b) pilgrimage of nations and peoples to Zion

c) Teaching of the ways of God

            d) Torah comes from Zion

e) Yahweh judge the world nations

f) Yahweh establishes the peace.

 Almost this tradition is seen in the ‘praising of Zion Psalms’. ‘Faith in God’ is the key note in these psalms and its particular object is expressed in the refrain ‘the Lord of the hosts is with us, our stronghold is the God of Jacob’.

Structure

I. Vv 2-4 God is our refuge and strength

II. Vv 5-8 the city of God

III. Vv 9-12 the admonition to the nations.

Content

Vv 2-4 at the very outset, the communal perspective is stressed: lanu (for us) would show that God has been/is/will be for us refuge and strength. The terms ‘refuge’, ‘help’, which are language of individual prayer, are now applied to the community. Therefore, the upheaval of rebellious powers cannot produce fear, although the rebellion is of the cosmic dimensions. Refuge is repeated three times 1.7.11.

Vv. 5-8 the river functions as the water supply of God’s city, which is the ‘holy habitation of the most high’. That means not only the temple, but also the city, as a whole is holy by the presence of God. It is the vision of God’s city in almost paradaisical state. The streams evoke the paradaisic streams in Gen 2 although they are channels (peleg), which provide water supply within an irrigation system. The city seems to have neither walls nor a temple (at least there is no mention). The cosmic uproar is a constant threat to the city. The nations and kingdoms mentioned in this Psalm represent chaos. Because of the delivering God, who is ready to rescue his city once and over again, the cosmic uproar will not achieve its purpose, namely the reign of terror performed by demonic powers. The holy city is built up in the proper name Yahweh Zebayoth (God of hosts), now interpreted as Elohai yakov (God of Jacob) a title very rare and came to use not before pre-exilic time in the Psalter. These two titles thus bring together the God of salvation history in the Pentateuch and God of the Psalter. They are the basis of the confidence of the threatened community. Due to the presence of his name the city survives all attacks. Hence, nations are admonished to have appropriate knowledge of such God. City of God a holy habitation and the enemy cannot overcome it.

Vv. 9-12 this section has double intention. The first admonition to the nations is to acknowledge the only one God who alone is entitled to bring desolation on earth. It means that one should reject all other powers pretending divine competence. The second affirmation is God’s presence in the city.  Exaltation of God. It is from Jerusalem the peace comes. When there is peace in Jerusalem the whole universe enjoys peace.

Yahweh-the King Praising (47, 93, 95, 96, 97, 98, 99).  

This is a special kind of classification and is also called as ‘enthronement psalms’. It describes ‘the festival of the kingship of God’. The title melek (king) would closely be related to Yahweh zebayoth (The Lord of hosts). The eschatological character of these psalms cannot be denied where the Israel celebrates the enthronement of Yahweh as the universal ruler and judge. 

There are two functions with regard to the enthronement celebration: a) The ruler is anointed on a holy site by the hand of a priest and is adorned with crown, b) he ascends in a celebrative parade and seats himself on the royal throne (1Kg 1,34; 2Kg 11,12). The great personalities of the nations gather together with the king like, the ministers, head of the soldiers. The whole nations praise king’s mighty deeds, his justice and righteousness.  Yahweh is the king of the world (47,3,8; 98,6; 99,4) and His kingdom is the kingdom of peace (99,4), justice, and grace (98,2).

Psalm 47

 
Content

I) v.1 title

II) vv. 1-5 shouts of joy to God, the king

III) vv. 6-9 Praises to God, the universal ruler

1-5. It is possible that the historical context of the psalm was  a victory in war, which they attributed to Yahweh. The Israelites had the tradition that Yahweh fought their battles for them as they were liberated and brought from Egypt and led to the land of Canaan. It was natural to give glory to Yahweh on a military victory. The psalmist invites all people to shout songs of joy in honor of Yahweh, the most high.

6-9 It is almost symmetrical repetition of the first strophe, inviting people to sing praises to God, who is the universal ruler of the world. Just as they celebrate the enthronement of their earthly king, they celebrate Yahweh’s coronation as the king of all the nations and the world.   Firstly, he is the king of Israel and secondly he is the universal king.

Psalms of Lamentation

It contains complaints against God. The basic emotion is aguish, pain and sadness. The main phrases are ‘How long’ and ‘how many days’ (12, 44, 58, 60, 74, 79, 80, 83, 85, 90, 94, 108, 123, 129) etc…. This is a cry for the liberation from sufferings, persecutions and persecutors. It has also the dimension of confessing sins and asking the forgiveness.

The General Structure

I) Introduction: This is generally an invocation of the name (Yahweh or Elohim), which is followed by a cry for help (51,3; 57,2; 86,3). The common way of addressing God is also reflected in the frequent use of anthropomorphisms: ‘Listen to me’, ‘open your ear’, ‘look’, ‘wake up’, ‘hurry’, ‘answer me’, ‘save me’, ‘return’ etc…

II) Main section: There are four major contents are seen in this section.

                        a) complaints. The main motive of complaint is to move God to act. This explains the distress of man in first place. The danger of death, disease, distress are always involved.  

b) supplication, request for urgent help the main words are listen, open your ear, look down, raise yourself, wake up

c) This part also explains the nature of the supplicants. He may be materially poor, the afflicted, the accused, or the persecuted in various levels.

d) expression of trust the motive of confidence.

It includes complaints, supplications, suppliants and trust in God’s saving act. The danger of death is always involved. The reason of the complaint is to move God to action. This section also speaks of the person who is asking for the help. The suppliant here is ‘poor’ (‘ani), ‘afflicted’.

III) Conclusion: It does not have a particular pattern. It will generally end with a blessing, or a renewed expression of trust, or with a thanksgiving or with prayer for God’s help.

 

Who is the afflicted in these psalms?

There are primarily three types of suffering and the sufferers in these psalms.

1. Suffering of sickness (Ps 6, 31, 38, 39, 41, 88, 102). This is one of the important situation where psalmist finds himself in suffering. It is not clear to what type of sickness that the individual is undergoing. His bones are weak (38,3), his wounds grow foul (38,5), his loins are filled with burning (38,7), his light of the eyes is gone (38,10), he is not able to eat (102,4), his health is weak (32,3). All these imageries would lead to different types of suffering, through sickness, old age or accidents etc… Rather than physical illness, the psalmist is suffering from mental anguish, he is lonely (38,11), sad (13,3; 33,3), restless (22,3; 77,5), sleeplessness (56,9), torturing memories (88,16). Moreover he is suffering from the spiritual sickness. He is in exile. He is out of Zion. He lost his land, his temple and the presence of Yahweh in it. He is in strong spiritual insecurity that Yahweh is hiding His face towards him.

2. The suffering from a common enemy (Ps 3, 7, 13, 14, 22, 25, 27, 28, 35, 51, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 59, 61, 63, 64, 69, 70, 71, 77, 86, 89, 102, 109, 120, 130, 140, 141, 142, 143). Psalmist is an innocent oppressed who tries to defend the truth from the oppressor. The psalmist is standing amidst the people of false witness, idol worshipers and the wicked. The prayer of the psalmist is to get the proper justice punishing the wicked (7; 27; 35). C) suffering of the innocent (Ps 5, 17, 26, 139).

3. The prisoner: The psalmist is in the prison (88; 107 118) with or without a genuine cause. The psalmist pray for the freedom. He calls God’s urgent for immediate establishment of the truth and justice.  

 

There are two types of lamentation, i.e.,

a)     the lamentation of the individual.

b)     the lamentation of the people.

a) the Lamentation of the Individual (5, 6, 7, 13, 17, (22), 25, 26, 28, 31, 35, (36), 38, 39, 42, 43, 51, 54, 55, 56, 57, 59, 61, (63), 64, 69, 70, 71, 86, 88, 102, 109, 120, 130, 140, 141, 142, 143).

The laments of the individual deals particularly with the personal suffering and pain. It contains the pain of disease, attack of the enemies, fear of death and the depression from various life situations. Some scholars consider that they have cultic background because of four elements, found commonly in them, i.e., a) Prayer (5,7; 28,2), b) indications of sacrifice (5,3; 141,2), c) an oracle (5,4; 86,17), d) allusions to some cultic actions like washing of the hands and purifications (51,4, 96). Hence these psalms could be related to the particular liturgical functions in the temple. At the same time, there are also strong opinions of the non-cultic background of many individual lament psalms.

Psalm 22

This is an extraordinary psalm that takes us to the extremes. It develops from an individual in the dust of death (v. 15) to universal acknowledgement of the kingdom of God. In the lament we read “all who see me mock me” (v. 7) and all my bones are out of joint (v. 14), but in the praise sections we hear, “All your descendants of Jacob, honour him” (v. 23), “all the end of the earth will… turn to the Lord” (v. 27) and it even appears that all the dead will worship (v. 29).

Gattung- Mischung (Mixed form)

It is a mixture of Individual lament (1-21), an individual thanksgiving (22-26) and praising of the Yahweh-the king (27-31).

Structure
  1. Lamentation (vv. 1-21)
  2. Thanksgiving (vv. 22-26)
  3. Praising Yahweh-the king (vv. 27-31)

 

Content

1-2 These words are most familiar to the Christians and remind the salvation made possible through the Cross. Unlike most prayer psalms, this one opens with a lament pointed at God himself. Three fundamental issues are raised here. 1) God’s abandoning (ynIT”+b.z:[) (±¹zavtani = abandon me), 2) remoteness of God (qAxïr”) (r¹µœq = far away), 3) God does not respond (hn<+[]t; al{å) (lœ° ta‘¹nâ = you do not answer). These themes are developed in 3-10.

3-5 These verses sound like a praise but they serve to heighten the anomaly of God’s silence. God has always saved and delivered the fathers who put trust in God but why at this moment he is silent. The phrase ‘enthroned on the praises of Israel’ and the reference of the ‘trust of the Fathers’ would denote the tradition of the ‘Ark of the Covenant’.  

6-8 The contrast with preceding story of ‘our fathers’ is striking. The speaker acknowledges his wretched situation, ‘I am a worm and no man’. More than the physical pain the mental anguish of a sufferer is highlighted here. The painful situation is the mocking of the people.

9-10 These verses are the confession of trust in Yahweh. They serve as evidence that Yahweh has in fact, ‘delighted in him’, because he had trusted in Yahweh. So Yahweh should ‘answer’ to the cry of the faithful. These verses are not verses of consolation rather they are the arguments presented before Yahweh.  

11-21 In this section, the petitions addressing the problem of God’s remoteness enclose a lament of the deepest way ‘do not be far from me, for the trouble is near (v. 11 and 19). Concerning the foes, the animals’ descriptions like ‘strong bulls’, ‘lions’ and ‘dogs’ would be the mythical or demonic figures. In v. 16b, the imagery shifts to humans encircling the speaker either at his deathbed or execution. This lament shares the extreme situation of a man among his enemies.

22-26 It is a typical vow of praise, surrounded by thanksgiving. God is praised in the congregation. It is striking that the command is issued to ‘all you sons of Israel’. By claiming God ‘has listened to his cry for help’ in effect withdraws the allusion that God had been far from the cry for help’.

27-31 These verses have the affinity to the Yahweh-kingship, where ‘all the families of the nations’ ‘bow down’ before Yahweh and ‘all the ends of earth’ acknowledge that he ‘rules over the nations’ (v. 27). In Psalm 22, Yahweh’s worship takes on vast, universal proportions with respect to both geography and time. Remarkably, Ps 22 goes beyond any other psalm. The praising will extend across the entire globe, future generations. The phrase ‘all who go down to the dust will kneel before him’ in v. 29 should be understood as those who ‘sleep’ and not the dead because the psalms elsewhere states, ‘it is not the dead who praise the Lord (115,17; 30, 9; 88,10-12).

Psalm 22 could be an Individual lament or a national lament and a praising for the restoration from captivity. With our post-Easter vision, the psalm foreshadows both the resurrection of an individual (Christ) and of a nation (Church). 

B) Laments of the Community ((12), 44, (58), 60, 74, (77), 79, 80, (82), (83), 85, 90, (94), (106), (108), 123, (126), 137).

The literary structure of this family of psalms are similar to those of the corresponding category related to the Individual. But here the distress, trust and thanksgiving are expressed by the community. The criteria are more or less the same as that of an individual lament. Instead of ‘I’, we have ‘We’ and corresponding personal pronouns. When in an individual lament, there is an indifference to refer to the historical events, communal lament do refer them. It is to be supposed that communal laments were in use during the whole history of Israel. The individual laments are vitally interested in leading God to stand up to defend the miserable situation of the individual considering His eternal promises in the history. The topics of Israel’s official theology, namely the theology of the temple Jerusalem, the theology of Davidic dynasty, the theology of creation are clearly focused in the communal laments.

Sitz im Leben of these Psalms

The psalms of the communal lament are concerned with the days of humiliation arising from national sufferings like war, plagues, draught, pestilence, famine, flood and exile etc… The important social background for these psalms are the annual or occasional gatherings of the people of Israel to lament, to pray and to fast. The whole community is called to repentance and prayer. There are three types of ingathering for community lament.

1) lament festivals happened in every year

2) funeral banquet gatherings.

3) the days of fasting, convoked by the king or high priest on special occasion of the national catastrophes.

In all these occasions, the people come together and pray for God’s urgent help. The third occasion of gathering is most important and solemn one. In these days of fasting the whole people including gentiles and animals are to be involved. Such gatherings were organized at court yards, other common places or worshiping centers (Jud 20,23; 21,2; 1Sam 7,6; 1Kings 8,33.35). The people should cry on the roads and public places (Is 15,3; Am 5,16; Jer 14,2). The people should fast (1Kings 21,9), the people should abstain from common works and sexual relationships (Is 58,3), the people should tear the cloth (Is 32,11), they should wear sack cloth (Is 15,2; 22,12; Mic 1,16), they should spread sand and ashes on the head (Neh 9,1; Judith 4,11), they should shave the head (Is 15,2; Mic 1,16), they should prostrate and should stay on knees (Jud Is 29,4; 2 Mac 3,21). The priests should wear sack cloth (Joel 1,13), cry at the alter and at the temple premises (Joel 2,17). These activities on the days of fasting and prayer are the cry and lament towards Yahweh for his immediate and saving action in the time of misery.

The pain and anguish towards the moral decay in the society, the spreading of the lies and idols, denial of the rights of the poor and the widows, the increasing of the wicked and the murders, the flowing of the blood like waters are also the subject of these psalms. 

Psalm 74

This is a lament over national calamity, most probably the destruction or desecration of the temple is intended here. The destruction of the temple happened in exile (587), when Babylonians demolished the temple. The desecration happened to the second temple by Antiochus Epiphanes IV (175-164 BC)) who burned the doors of the temple and desecrated the holy of holies and the sanctuary.

Structure

It has a clear structure with three parts.

vv. 1-11 Complaints toward God concerning the destruction of the temple.

vv. 12-17 The Lord as ‘the king’ eternally.

vv. 18-23 Urgent pleas to God considering the present state of affaires

Content

1-11 The mood of this section is full of bitterness. The complaint against God is very harsh. At the beginning (v. 1) and at the end (v. 11) there are the why questions (Ps 22). The style is characterised by direct address that invokes the necessity of God’s intervention. God is urgently requested to perceive that his own affairs are seriously touched by the actions of the enemy. Under the cover of being concerned about God’s state of affairs an attack against God is launched who obviously neglects his duties towards his own people that calls himself with honourable names: “sheep of your pasture” (v. 1), ‘your congregation’ (v. 2), ‘tribe of your heritage’ (v. 2). God shall direct his steps to the eternal ruins (v. 3). The ‘notion of eternity’ as the characteristic for God and his temple is now perverted.

12-17 There is shift of mood from accusation to hymn. Israel proclaims what has been the basis of faith. The sequence is very interesting: God as my king, performing powerful deeds of salvation on earth (not heaven). This is typical for the theology of the temple in Jerusalem. The people of Israel proclaim God as the victor over the powers of chaos stabilizing the order of the world. They establish God’s glory. The aim of this passage: Israel would be happy, if her faith to God, who acted once in such a wonderful manner, could be re-emanated. Yahweh calls the divine saving actions. Crossing of the see of reeds is depicted here. This is not only the defeat of the Egyptians but the defeat of the cosmic enemy living in waters. By dividing it into two God shows his power over waters. This also shows the creative power because in the beginning God made heaven and order through creating. V. 13 speaks of the water dragon and leviathan (Ps 104,6; Is 27,1). This are the Canaanite mythical figure to express God’s supreme power.

18-23 This section is marked by a new sequence of urgent requests, alternating between requests and demands. Israel’s self-designations highlight the disastrous situation of the people: poor, downtrodden and needy (v. 21). God’s intervention should happen immediately as in early times. Otherwise the uproar of the adversaries continues to go up (Yoleh tamid). The phrase Yoleh tamid (continuous going up) is used commonly for offerings. The ‘uproar of God’s adversaries’ has replaced ‘the offerings’ for the psalmist. This is the climatic complaint at the end in full correspondence with the harsh questions at the beginning

 

Psalms of the Confidence of the individual (3,4,11,16,23, (27), (62), (121) 131).

They are in reality the ‘motives of confidence’ developed from the corpus of lamentation into independent psalms. Most of the factors that constitute the lament are also found in these psalms, but the confidence motive is predominant. The idea of security (4,9; 16,8; 27,1-5) and of peace, specially during sleep (3,6; 4,5.9; 16,7), is frequently mentioned. The joy which this confidence provides (4,8-9; 16,6-8; 9.11; 23,6) is often associated with the temple, where God is likely to reveal himself (11,7; 16,11) and grant the prayers of his faithful (3,5; 11,4; 23,6; 27,4).

Psalm 23

Psalm 23 is a favourite fro many, largely because it unveils an intensely intimate relationship with the Lord wherein he provides protection and providence. The striking images are shepherd and host while the heart of the poem is atta immadi, (you are with me).  

Structure

1-4 the Lord is shepherd

5-6 the Lord is host.

Content

1-4 For a Semite, the image ‘shepherd’ is important since it is strictly related to their occupation. It is not a simple leading of a folk to one place to other but the shepherd is perfectly aware of the places and geography where there is grass and water to the flock. At the same time the shepherd avoids all kinds of dangers. He accompanies the sheep and his timetable, his risks, his hunger, and his thirst etc… are solely depends on the sheep. This is a privileged symbol in the OT to speak of God and king (Is 44,28; Jer 3,15; 6,3; 12,10; Ez 34; Ps 78,21).

The Hebrew word for ‘still waters’ is menuhot. Its singular nuh can mean temple. It evokes the association of the contrary mithumot, which is a place of chaotic powers. The phrase ‘he restores my soul’ is Shuv nepesh and means not simple refreshment but restoration of life. The phrase ‘the paths of righteousness’ could also be read as the right path. The rod (weapon) and staff (help stick) are the instruments of protection and symbols of authority.   

5-6 The second nucleus of the poem is ‘hospitality’. God is presented as the one who takes care in small detail of a person. God is drawn as a person who is fully aware of the Oriental hospitality, perfume the head of the invited, offer a cup of vine of friendship, prepare a table (shulhan) of good food, and protect from the enemies. The table has its place in a house. God’s table is his alter. Naturally the background of the psalm could speak of a temple and a sacrificial meal in the temple. At this point the person is filled with joy of God’s presence both spiritually and materially. So he could pray as in Ps 27,4 “One thing, I have asked the Lord…that I may dwell in the house the Lord”. The temple is the secret topic of the Psalm. Ps 23 evokes the deep dimension of human existence. Human existence is dialectical between the threatening chaotic powers and the protecting love and goodness of God.  We can mark out four levels of interpretation in these psalm. a) Literally =shepherd and host, b) Allegorically = security and prosperity with the Lord, c) Symbolically = temple and eucharist c) Eschatologically = heavenly bliss and heavenly banquet.

Psalms of the Confidence of the Community ((115), 125, (129)

The confidence motive is collective where the psalmist is a member of the congregation and the favor expected for the benefit of the community. The confidence motives expressed collectively in these psalms. The biblical confidence relies only on God. This firm trust in the Lord is expressed both in urgent need and normal situation of human life. The above three psalms have almost the same pattern a) invitation to set fully trust in God (115,9; 12,1), b) Yahweh is the rock of security (125,1), c) source of blessing and peace (115,15; 129,8; 125,15).

Psalm 125

This is also one of the pilgrimage psalms and confidence psalms.

Structure

vv. 1-3 Stability to those who trust in the Lord

vv. 4-5 Prayer for reward and retribution

Content

1-3 The psalmist affirms stability of the blessings to those who trust in the Lord. Three imageries are seen there. a) Those who trust in the Lord are stable like Mount Zion. b) Just like Zion, surrounded and protected by other  mountains, the people of Israel is protected by the Lord. c) The faith of the just is exposed to great temptations like ‘the sceptre of the wicked’ (foreign dominion). But the just will reign over the land. Mount Zion is rooted on earth. Three graces and securities are given to the one who trusts in Yahweh like mount Zion a) stability, b) eternity, c) holiness.

4-5   This is a prayer. The psalmist appeal that the innocent and good heart may find peace, hope and confidence in Yahweh. At the same time pray that the wicked may be expelled from the land. The wicked will be punished and the innocent will be rewarded.

3. Psalms of Thankfulness

        They are also called in Hebrew Todah hymns. These psalms concentrates in giving thanks to God for his general favours. They confess God’s unlimited goodness and mercy. They celebrate his saving intervention on behalf of Israel or the just. According to G. Pidoux the hymns celebrate Yahweh’s interventions in Israel’s early history, while the collective thanksgiving are concerned rather with recent deeds of deliverance. It is possible that thanksgiving festivals constituted the original setting of these psalms. The votive offering of a sacrifice (65,2; 116,18) often accompanies the prayer of the thanksgiving.

The thanksgiving comes as the final act in the drama of human prayer. The prayer and petition cannot be gone unanswered. The psalmist’s request has been granted or at least help is assured. Thanksgiving is an acknowledgement that it is God who has acted and that the psalmist is entirely dependant on him. The psalmist is giving thanks because his prayer is heard. His trust has become fruitful. The request is granted. His help is assured.

There are difference between hymn and thanksgiving psalms

1)                           Hymn is a song of God’s great and majestic works. It praises the greatness of Yahweh as  creator While thanksgiving psalms concentrates on idea that Yahweh as the sole saviour.

2)                           Thanksgiving is also one way of praising God. That means every praising need not be thanksgiving but every thanksgiving is a praising.

 

The structure of the thanksgiving psalms consists normally of the following elements.

 I. Introduction: Psalmist’s intention to thank God (9,2; 138,2). This is done in vast assembly (40,10) in the assembly of elders (107,32), in the gates of the daughters of Zion (9,15), at your holy temple (138,2). The places where thanksgiving takes place are: in the vast assembly, in the assembly of the people 8107,2), in the gates of Zion (9,15), in the presence of angels (138,1), and at the holy temple (138,2).

II. Main section: It consists essentially in describing the peril from which the psalmist has been wonderfully delivered (30,12). It describes the peril which the psalmist was undergoing and how he was miraculously delivered. Psalmist narrates his experience of Yahweh’s saving love in two ways: 1) Yahweh has forgiven his sins 2) The psalmist is healed.

There are two types of acknowledgement of God’s help: One is personal. Here the psalmist is thankful because he is healed from his own sins. He was suffering from the punishment of God and God showed the mercy and the punishment is taken away. Second is social. Here psalmist is thankful for the deliverance from the misfortune happened because of the sins and wickedness of his fellow brothers. The psalmist is delivered from such perils and he is thanking Yahweh acknowledging his saving mercy. This is  negative acknowledgement.  Here he defends his innocence and he exults the justice of Yahweh. Here the psalmist is saved either by a miraculous liberation from the evil power or by destroying the wicked by the power of Yahweh.

III. Conclusion is seen for a few psalms. It is an invitation to praise or resolution to lead a thankful life.

Thanksgiving psalms principally maintain two important thoughts. First is to express joy in the favours and interventions of Yahweh. Thus basic emotion of these psalms is happiness. Second is to confess that Yahweh is the sole saviour of the nations. This is witnessing and proclamation that Yahweh is the only God in whom all people should take refuge. “Then I will thank thee in the great congregation” (35,18), “Let them extol him in the congregation of the people and praise him in the assembly of the elders (107, 32).  

Thanksgiving of the Individual (Ps 9, 10, 18, 30, 41, 92, 116, 138)

Psalm 30

This is an individual thanksgiving. The title speaks of the dedication of the temple. With regard to the background of the psalm there are various opinions.

a) It would be the dedication of the Jerusalem temple and sanctuary to Yahweh by the king Solomon (900BC).

b) It may be the dedication of the second temple in around 515 BC by Ezra and Nehemiah after the return from the exile.

c) It may be the rededication by Judas Macabeus in 164 BC after the desecration of the Syrian King Antiochus Epiphanes

 

Structure

I)       deliverance from the mouth of death (1-3)

II)    call to praise (4-5)

III)  account of God’s act of deliverance (6-11)

IV) Thanks and praise to God (12)

I) deliverance from the mouth of death (1-3)

He is suffering from either of the physical suffering or from the spiritual suffering because he might have sinned. In whatever the psalmist is understanding that he is in a situation of death. It is at this moment that he experiences the saving hands of Yahweh. He is healed now. The psalmist recovered from illness which had almost taken him to grave.

 

II) call to praise (4-5)

This portion recalls God’s favor. He compares and contrasts God’s wrath with his favour. In the experience of the psalmist God’s anger is for correction and once the objective is achieved, God’s anger turns into grace and that grace is for the whole life.

 

III) Account of God’s act of deliverance (6-11)

The psalmist makes a retrospection into his life. In the time of material prosperity, he thought to himself that he was firmly established for the rest of his life. But the moment God hid his face from him, he began to shake and fall. He was in the grip of mortal illness.

 

IV) Thanks and praise to God (12)

Thanksgiving of the community (Ps 65, 66, 67, 107, 118, 124)

This is the collective thanksgiving. It has all the literary features of the thanksgiving of the individual. Here psalmist is the representative of the community. The background will be national thanksgiving gatherings or feasts. There are indications of votive offering of the sacrifice in these psalms. They are a) thanksgiving liturgy b) entry into the temple c) exclamation of the faithful d) thanksgiving proper, and e) response of the choir

Psalm 67

This is a thanksgiving after harvest. The psalmist is thanking that he has received good rain, climate and good harvest. This called the psalm of Harvest. The psalmist is thanking and blessing Yahweh. So this psalm is  called the psalm of Blessing.

 

Structure

I Priestly blessing (1-3)

II praise to God (4-7)

 

I) Priestly blessing (1-3)

 It remembers the Aronic blessing Numb 6,24. There are six elements this blessing. 1) The LORD bless you, 2) and keep you, 3) The LORD make his face to shine upon you, 4) be gracious to you, 5) The LORD lift up his countenance upon you, 6) give you peace. These motives are present in these verses.

II) praise to God (4-7)

All nations be glad, God has blessed the earth, because it has yielded food in proper times. Theo-centric vision of the universe is seen in this psalm. God is the sole agent of salvation and the centre of this psalm is not the gift but the giver.

4. Royal Psalms (2, (18), 20, 21, 45, 72, 89, 101, 110, 132, 144)

The king is the representative of the community. S. Mowinkel asserts the significance of Davidic kingship, “The covenant between Yahweh and Israel and between Yahweh and David is one and the same”. The king “is the charismatic officer, the successor of the judges… To the king is attributed superhuman strength and wisdom and the possession of the spirit of Yahweh… He is the incorporation of his people and in him are recapitulated the covenant of Israel and the promises and obligations which flow from the covenant” (J. De. Fraine). The king is the delegate of Yahweh, the eternal king (Ex 15,18; Num 23,21, Jud 8,23, 1Sm 8,7; 12,12; 1King 22,19; s 6,5).

There are six different background to these psalms.

a)     Royal enthronement (2,72,101,110)

b)     Royal wedding (18, 20, 21)

c)     Royal lament (89)

d)     Founding of the Royal house and royal sanctuary. The commemoration of the bringing the arch of the covenant to Jerusalem by the king David.

e)     The victory of the king in the battle.

f)      Royal sanctuary on Mount Zion

 

These psalms contain important themes like, ‘the messages to the kings’ (Ps 2,72, 110); ‘prayers for the king’ (Ps 20, 21,45,132), ‘the prayer of the king’ (Ps 18, 101, 144), praises of the princes majesty, oracles of prosperity, presentation of the righteousness and piety of the king, stability of Davidic throne, divine adoption etc…

These Psalms are later interpreted with the Messianic ideals. Because the successor of David was considered later especially in the exilic and post exilic period as a new sign of the national hope of a Historical or an eschatological future on whom the blessing of Yahweh rested upon (J.L. McKenzie). Often in these psalms we meet a royal figure and this figure was later interpreted as a personification of the people of Israel.

Psalm 2

Like Ps 1, but unlike almost every psalm of book I (Ps 1-41) this has no superscription. Ps 1 opens with a blessing and Ps 2 ends with a blessing, which may indicate that this pair is meant to be read together as an introduction to the first book.

Structure
  1. vv. 1-3 Rebellion of nations against God and his anointed
  2. vv. 4-6 God’s counter attack-installation of his king on Zion
  3. vv. 7-9 King’s dominion under God’s direction
  4. vv. 10-12 Warning against the rebellious
Gattung

It is considered as Royal Psalm and because of that it may also have a messianic nature.  

Content

vv. 1-3 The nations’ conspiracy of rebellion is not merely described but the logical sense of it is questioned greatly. It is useless to gather and conspire against the Lord’s anointed one. It speaks of the Davidic enthronement. Like Ps 110 it can also refer to Yahweh’s installation of the king (Messiah) on Zion.

Vv. 4-6 take us to a heavenly vision. V. 6 leads to a divine oracle. It has a prophetic tone. The nations plot rebellion simply against Jerusalem’s king but actually they are doing against the Lord and his Anointed. The central point is that the enthronement of Jerusalem’s king (the anointed) is not stemmed from earthly military power but by the power of a heavenly king. The divine oracle cuts two ways: it serves as a warning to the nation’s kings and it is a reminder to Jerusalem’s king. God guarantees the perpetuation of the dynasty.   

Vv. 7-9 Jerusalem’s king is Yahweh’s agent. The king himself now speaks publishing God’s decree, “you are my son and today I have begotten you”. This shows some kind of genetic relationship. It deals with the installation of a king on Zion. This ceremony reminds one of the Egyptian coronation rituals. The Pharaoh is called son of God-Amun. The king, in Egyptian ritual, tells that God asked him to wish something. He must ask certain things. This motive is incorporated in Ps. 2. Another meaning is that it recalls Davidic covenant, “I will become to him a father and he will become my son” (2Sam 7,14). Yahweh simply demands a wish. There are no conditions to this offer. In Ps 72,8 also we see similar kind of promises of worldwide dominion. Israelite king has al role to play as a mediator of the covenant. The king on his throne was accepting the covenant of Yahweh, which had as its visible sing the decree which he was declaring. In proclaiming the decree of Yahweh the king on his enthronement was accepting the Covenant of Yahweh. According to the ancient enthronement ritual the king has to read out the ritual decree of the kingship. The decree of the edict is in a way a confirmation of the covenant with David. Divine adoption is one of the features of ancient coronation rites. This is also seen in 87,27. Nathan’s prophecy is also declared: I will be a father to him and he a son to me (2Sm 7,14; 1Chr 22,10; 28,6).The result of the divine adoption is the entitlement of the universal dominion. The role of the Isralite king then reflects in a way as the universal dominion of the Lord over the nations.

Vv. 10-12 The psalm as whole is a warning, containing both threats and promises. If the king does not serve (‘bd) Yahweh, they will be destroyed (’bd). Kissing of king’s feet is considered as an act of homage, which is a custom well known in Babylonian and Egyptian culture. To survive and to obtain God’s blessing, these kings must change their attitude and should take refuge under the appointed Messiah. In this stanza, the Israelite king is out of place. All rulers of the earth acknowledge with awe and serve with fear God as the universal Lord of the earthly kingdoms. There is a new dimension of the eschatological one. Davidic kingship is prototype of the expected messianic kingship at the end of times. The new testament has applied to the messiah-ship and the divine son-ship of Jesus the statements (Acts 4,25; 13,33; Heb 1,5; 5,5).  

In the last stanza, the Israelite king is out of the picture and the real intent of the psalm is explained that all rulers of the earth acknowledge with awe and serve with fear God as the universal Lord of the earthly kingdoms. This is quoted in NT Acts 4,15; 13,33; Heb 1,5; 5,5)

Liturgical Psalms (15,  24, 134)

Liturgical fragments can be found scattered throughout the Psalter. It contains the elements of solemn procession and entry into the temple and sanctuary, a priestly blessing and an invitation to praise the Lord.

These are the hymns that insist on the priestly duties and its cultic administration. The main characteristics of psalms of liturgies are 1) promulgation of torah, 2) pronouncement of Oracle, 3) singing with alternative voices.

The structure of these psalms could be generally

1) Introductory petition for the right attitude for the celebration

2) salvation oracle that promises Yahweh’s hearing and help

3) concluding petition.

The historical context of these psalms would be various liturgical occasions like the liturgy performed before the king of Judah who went for battle, recurring festivals in which the holy ark was the centre etc….   

Psalm 24

This Psalm is particularly popular among the first Christians. They were singing this psalm in order to enter solemnly to their community meetings. It is symbolically understood as the victorious entrance of Christ to ‘Sheol’ defeating death.

Structure

1-2 The Lord is the creator of the world.

3-6 Pre-requisites to enter the temple of Yahweh

7-10 Solemn entrance

Content

1-2 The poem employs the ancient Near eastern motif of the divine warrior who becomes king by virtue of his victory over the chaotic waters. This background helps us to understand the claim ‘he founded it upon the waters and established upon the rivers’. The earth belongs to Yahweh and not to the Chaos. The stress is not on the possession but on the one who possess it. Yahweh’s kingship is not a static statue but a dynamic victory. This is the way God’s creation is understood in the Psalms. It is more a conserving act (creation continua) than a constitutive act (prima creatio). The idea of prima creatio is formulated in v. 2. God has formed the earth like a building (temple). The creation of the world is conceived as a huge temple founded on seas and rivers. Yamim and Nuhrot are allusions to Canaanite myth known from Ugarit. The kingship among the gods is the central topic of the myth. Yam is god of the chaotic waters. Tpt nhr (judge river) is the epithet of Yam. Baal, the god of weather and fertility, Yam and Mot (gods of the underworld) are struggling for kingship. 

3-6 Here we have quite different scenery. From the world as a huge temple, the psalm moves to the temple proper, presumably the Jerusalem temple. God is present in the abundance of the earth due to his presence in the temple. All can experience the presence of God in the world, but to experience the abiding presence of Yahweh in the temple one demands certain requirements. The victory of Yahweh should be worshiped but only by those who are morally fit. The worshipers are expected to have certain religious and moral integrity. Clean hands, pure heart, good tongue represent ‘acting’, ‘thinking’ and ‘speaking’ respectively. These verses explain the character of Yahweh’s kingship and the society over which he is the king. More than a material victory or kingship, it is a spiritual victory, a victory over death and decay, a victory over chaos and corruption. The people of moral rectitude will be blessed and saved.

7-10 This section has the structure of a ritual. Ps 24,7-10 was sung by two choirs when the ark entered the temple. The scene plays out before the closed gates. Outside the priest and choir waits with the ark upon which Yahweh is invisibly enthroned. Inside other choir stands in the courtyard. It makes sense in the light of a procession. The doors of the temple are requested to lift up their heads as a gesture of reverence. It could be translated as ‘ancient doors’ (Jerusalem temple) or ‘eternal doors’ (heaven). The procession issues the command for the gates to open that the king of glory may come in. The repetition of the request and the question is the dramatic presentation of the royal sovereignty of Yahweh. One of the most common names of God is melek haKavod (the king of Glory). Kavod (glory) originally combined with the Canaanite supreme God El, is assumed here as Yahweh. This name includes everything, which has been said in the Psalm concerning the being and acting of Israel’s God. Knowing this proper name means knowing the name by which this God can be praised, evoking everything he has done and goes on doing.

Wisdom Psalms (1; 37; 49; 73; 91; 112; 119; 127; 128; 133; 139)

Wisdom psalms specially include the characteristics of wisdom traditions. The important characteristics are two

  1. anthropocentrism. A) Wisdom tradition gives particular attention to the life situations of man, his happiness, love, anxiety, fear and problems. It is man and not God who is the centre of narration. B) Wisdom tradition is least bothered about the cultic and liturgical aspects of Israel. So wisdom literature is primarily non-cultic. C) It does not give importance to the history of the people of Israel and its special traditions. The sages are
  2. Torah Pietism: Torah has become an ideal and absolute entity. Ten commandments has been changed from the principles to be practised but ideals to be adored and worshiped.

Wisdom’s subject is human life. It also has a universalistic aspect that deals with humanity. These psalms are originated mostly above cult-friendly piety. It contains beatitudes to the righteous, admonitions to confession, advices for insights.. The content f the teaching would be fear of God. Introductions and conclusions do not have a clear structure. There are positive admonitions to do good, to avid sins, to fear God and negative warnings. Against idol worshipers, wealthy godless, trusting in wealth and material prosperity.  

 

Psalm 1

Psalm 1 has clear structure. It is divided into three parts:

  1. 1-2 the path to be avoided and the way to be followed. The way of the wicked is the most popular theme of wisdom literature.
  2. 3-4 two images to illustrate the theme of the righteous and the wicked
  3. 5-6 two fundamental theological statements regarding the future and present of the two types.

1-2 happy is the man is directed not to God but to man. Ashre haish (makarios), which is usually rendered happy is the man, blissful man. One is made happy because he has made a fundamental option fro the Lord and his torah. It is the decision that constitutes one’s life. The theme of torah is not very common in the Psalter. The psalms are response of man to God and Torah is God’s will for man. However there are late texts that deal with torah to bind the psalms with torah. The torah motive in the psalms gives a programmatic idea how to use the psalms. Though they originated as prayer, now they are instruction. The decision for torah is designated as a decision of love. Hepez is a language of love. Since it is a matter of love to meditate day and night means unceasingly.

3-4 The theological decision is further elaborated in v. 3. The tree is planted in a fertile place. The passive shathul indicates that there is somebody who looks after it. The channels of water are constructed so the tree has very conducive conditions to grow steadily. The result is given at due times. On the contrary the life of the wicked is short. They are like chaff, unsteady and light.

5-6 it speaks of the final judgement. God knows the way of the righteous and the wicked. The wicked will not prosper. If you have decided to opt for torah one is welcome to the life.

The psalms speaks of two types of people; two types of way of life; two types of comparison of prosperity; two types of judgement.

 

Prophetical Psalms (14; 50; 52; 53; 75; 81; 95)

These are the psalms which contain the elements and characteristics of the prophetical literature. Prophetical literature is characterised by a linguistic style of oracles of threats and promises. It speaks of Yahweh’s punishment to those who deny the commandments of Yahweh and follow the pagan gods and the idol worships. It has the prophetical style of exposition

Like the prophets the psalmist is also convinced that the time is near. (85,10) or more strongly the hour has already come (75,3; 102,14). The prophetical elements are mostly seen in eschatological psalms (98,149), in eschatological Zion songs (46; 48; 76) and in eschatological enthronement psalms (47; 93). The phrase, “Yahweh says ,now I will raise” (12,6; 43,19) means that it is the time that Yahweh should act or intervene (119,126). This is the time when God will liberate the prisoners and gather Israel’s scattered ones from all over the world.

Anther aspect is the over-through of the rule of the nations. God has scattered the sceptre of the proud. God’s battle against the roaring ocean is combined with Yahweh’s victory over the attacking nations as in the prophetical motives. With the unconquerable faith, the psalmist affirms that all of these terrible deeds will not horrify Zion becasue Yahweh has selected the city of Jerusalem as his abode. Prophets often present the appearance of Yahweh in dazzling images. He comes with the earthquakes and with laud noise, in thunderstorm and fire. Mountains melt like wax. Ps 97 utilizes these imageries eschatologically. Terrifying wrath of Yahweh dominates them over. All these passages treat Yahweh as the one to act.

The prophets and psalmist frequently depict how the world rule rise against Yahweh. The enemies are the idol worshipers and proud-hearted who deny God.

The word of rebuke often seen in these psalms. The rebuke is closely related with the idea of threat. It mocks foreign gods (115, 3; 135,15). The cultic demands are less or even sometimes there are anti-sacrificial utterances. Instead of them moral demands are raised.  

 

Psalm 52

It is one of the prophetical psalms. It has strong words of words of curse to the wicked.

The person who is spoken is proud wealthy. He looks contemptuously the psalmists and the community.  Actually this person is the one who recited once Yahweh’s great love and the one who lived in the house of the Lord. He was one of the members of the worshiping community. But now he has a tongue of cheating and fraud. This person has fallen into idol worship. The psalmist in contrary is a person who does the activities of justice. He finds satisfaction in the house the Lord.

 

Structure

It can be divided into three units.

I) 1-4 The activity of the wicked

II) 5-7 the fall of the wicked

III) 8-9 the response of the pious

 

1-4 The wicked never depends on God. He is proud. This is seen in thought, plans and activities. These are against the graces of God. ‘you love all words that devour’ means the influence of the idol worship.

5-7 The person who does not depend on God will be cut of the from the assembly of worshipers. ‘Tent’ means a) temple=presence of Yahweh, b) security= protection of Yahweh. It also means that he will be expelled form the elected community. ‘The land of the living’ means the great presence of Yahweh. He will be going to sheol. At the same time the righteous will have happy life  as a reward.

8-9  This is the personal witness. The righteous depends on God. The house of God is Zeon. The righteous is the green Olive tree in the house of the Lord. Olive leaves are the fresh plants to decorate the alter. The psalmist is thanking and praising Yahweh for all his favours      

 

Historical Psalms (78; 105)

These psalms give historical facts of the life of the people of Israel. More than the liturgical dimension it conveys more the historical one. It is the praising of Yahweh proclaiming the past activities  and the saving interventions of Yahweh.

 

7. Groups of Psalms under different headings

1. Imprecatory Psalms

‘Blessing’ and ‘curse’ are the two prevalent themes of the Old Testament which is closely related to the idea of covenant. The intermediary of blessing and curses could be priest, prophet or kings. There are a number of psalms that contain the elements of blessing. “His descendants will be mighty in the land; the generation of the upright will be blessed”(112,2). “Yea, thou dost make him most blessed for ever; thou dost make him glad with the joy of thy presence” (21,6). “Let them curse, but do thou bless Let my assailants be put to shame; may thy servant be glad!” (109,28). “The LORD has been mindful of us; he will bless us; he will bless the house of Israel; he will bless the house of Aaron” (115,12).

It is easy to understand the words of blessing but it is difficult to understand the words of curse. Actually, this curse could be understood as the development of the prophetic threat of the divine wrath or its actual visitation. There are a number of occurrences of curses in the psalms  especially 1) against wicked (5,10; 31, 17; 58,6, 139,19; 59,5), 2) against enemies of the Psalmist (4,5; 35,5; 59,13), and 3) against the enemies of Israel (83,13; 79,12; 69,23; 109). There is no 100% imprecatory psalm. It could be noted that Ps 109 contains comparatively rich elements of curse words.

“Appoint a wicked man against him….and let not the sin of his mother be blotted out!” (109, 6-14).Happy shall he be who takes your little ones and dashes them against the rock!” (137,9). 

We have to understand the religious and historical background of these psalms.

  1. The psalmist is speaking on the bitter and terrible experiences of God’s abandoning and of social alienations.
  2. Many formulas are in optative tense, it is a wish or command or prophetic prediction. The curse, “May their camp be a desolation, let no one dwell in their tents” (69,25) is perfected in the life Judas (Acts 1,20).
  3. It is marked with God’s love and national fervour.
  4. All imprecatory psalm are with the aim that the wicked should tern their heart and convert to the true God. The psalmist proclaims his own conviction of the true God and at the same time he strongly insists the wicked to turn their wicked life in harsh words. 
  5. No personal data of the wicked or enemies are given in the psalms. What is stressed is the treacherous and malicious activities of the wicked. The imprecation is not basically against the sinner but against the sin and wickedness.
  6. Psalmists consider the adversary as the wicked as the enemies of Yahweh. These psalms expresses the strong conviction of the Psalmist on the justice (Mishapath) of God. God’s basic nature is that he is a Just God. He wants that the divine justice should be implemented and will win over the wicked. That is why these psalms are also called ‘the psalms of divine Justice’.

2. Penitential Psalms

The psalms 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, 143 are considered to be the seven psalms of repentance in the church traditions. Penitential rites of various kinds would accompany the national prayer for deliverance. These calls to repentance and prayer were specially intended to temper God’s wrath aroused by grievous sins, to atone for them, to remove impurity from the midst of Israel or to move God to intervene for his people.

Psalm 51

Structure

It contains 20 forms that are imperative and thereby it has got a lot of pleas.

Vv. 1-2 Thirst for conversion

Vv. 3-6 man’s sin and confession

Vv. 7-14 Renewed life

Vv. 15-18 Proclamation

V 19 Sacrifice.

Content

In addition to the usual title (v. 1) there is a biographical allusion in v. 2 to the fundamental sin of David (2Sam 11-12). The function of this allusion as heading is to invite persons not only of the venial sins but also of grave sins. The heading converges with two fundamental aspects of the Psalm (1) the burden of sin and (2) the abundance of God’s faithful love and mercy.

1-2 there are three terms for sin, (hatha, avon and pesha) and side by side there are three terms for God mercy (rahmim, hesed and hannan). From the very outset of the psalm, man’s sin in devastating measure is only conceivable in the light of God’s mercy that is to be invoked. The essential theological insight is that one cannot realize human guilt appropriately apart from God’s self-determination towards grace.

3-6 only in the light of God’s grace, a radical realization of a man’s guilt is possible. V. 6 is crucial, ‘against thee, thee only, have I sinned and done that which is evil in thy sight so that thou are justified in thy sentence and blameless in thy judgement’. God’s grace and mercy lead man to realize the full extent of his sin and fairness of Gods judgement. God alone is righteous but righteousness of the judging God is at the same time the manifestation of his mercy. Thus, Psalm 51 presents a radical insight in the relation between God’s benevolent love (grace) and man’s sin in the OT.

7-14 the realization of sin does not lead into depression but into a way of life, which expects everything of praying and receiving. The psalmist is praying for a clean heart and steadfast spirit. He uses the word bara (to create) (v. 12), the most significant term for God’s act. Only God can be the subject of this verb. What the psalmist is praying for is ‘creation’ or ‘recreation’. Only God can create a new heart out of this sinful man. ‘Deliverance’ for man is ‘recreation’ in Ps.51. The notion of v. 12 is combined with God’s bestowal of the Holy Spirit (very seldom in the OT) that he has never revoked.

15-18 The recreated Psalmist concludes the prayer with a vow and a plea. The vow (v. 15): he will be a teacher of the sinners i.e., he will help them to realize what already has come to know man’s sinful existence in the light of the judging and merciful God. The plea in v. 17 is even God’s praises depend upon God himself. He must open man’s lips, so that he can sing aloud of God’s righteousness (v. 16), which is nothing else than his fair judgement in inseparable unity with his abundant mercy. His delivered existence rests on God. Even the praises of God come as a result of plea. Ps 51 provides a fundamental perception that human existence is a ‘praying existence’.

v.19. It shows a life that is centred on sacrifice.

The Ps 51 as a penitential psalm stresses what man has to do to be capable of receiving God’s deliverance.  

4. Hallelujah Psalms (111-118; 135-136; 146-150).

They are called Hallelujah psalms because most of them begin or end with the expression ‘Hallelujah’ (Praise the Lord). Pass 113-118 were considered as hallel songs and were sung for the three great pilgrimage feasts of Passover, Pentecost and of Booths. Ps 136 is the ‘great hallel’ for Sabbath services.

5. Pilgrim Psalms or Psalms of going-up or Psalms of the Ascent (120-134)

From antiquity, pilgrimages to the holy site were among the worship obligations for the Israelites. Every male Israelite was commanded to go three times a year to the great festival to look upon Yahweh’s countenance. If this is not possible because of the distance at least once in an year. Many were again difficult to go to Jerusalem every year because of the distance and many other reasons. So such less frequently pious individual would be carrying the burning desire to visit the holy site. He would have felt fortunate when his desire to see Yahweh sanctuary was fulfilled (H. Gunkel). One sang these pilgrimage songs at the beginning of the pilgrimage when fellow travelers had gathered (122,1b), at the journey’s destination after they entered the city of their common desire (122,2).

Strictly speaking 122 is considered as the pilgrimage psalm. The first two verses of this psalm speak of the departure and arrival of the pilgrims. Verses 3-5 are an expanded salutation directed at the holy city, which at the same time justify the pilgrimage. Verses 6-9 greet the city in the form of a wish that Zion may be blessed. When Christians recite this psalm, they recall Jesus pilgrimage to Jerusalem (Lk 2,29; 9,51; 19,41).

6. Acrostic Psalms (9-10; 25; 34; 37; 111; 112; 119; 145).

The word ‘acrostic’ means a series of lines are started with the letters of the alphabet in an orderly manner. We have only four completely acrostic psalm having all the Hebrew alphabets (37;11;112; 119). Pss 9 and 10 form a single acrostic psalm. So they can be considered as one Psalm. Ps 9 is a thanksgiving psalm. While 10 is a an individual lament.

7. Entrance psalms

Psalm 24 and 15 are main entrance Psalms. These psalms give importance to solemn entrance into the sanctuary and reception of the blessings.

 

8. Halleluiah Psalsm (11-18; 135-136; 145-150)

They begin with the expression Halleluiah which means ‘Yahweh be Praised’. The major part of the fifth book is psalms of ascent and Halleluiah Psalms.113-118 are called Egyptian Hallels and were sung for the three great pilgrimage feasts of Passover, Pentecost and the feast of booths. 136 is called Great Hallel for Sabbath services and it has the refrain hesed.

9. Creation Psalms (8, 19; 104; 139; 148).

           An elaboration of the motif of ‘praise Yahweh the creator’. Psalmist recalls the marvellous works in creation and the creative activity that continues even in present.

 

The God of Israel In the Psalter

It is in the Psalms the nature of God is most colourfully expressed. It could be seen in the names and adjectives used for God.

1. God’s names

 The psalms praise and pray to the God whose name is primarily Yahweh (adonai=my Lord). It is used 615 times in the Psalms. Yahweh is the God of Israel (41,13; 59,5; 68,8; 106,48). He is the God of Abraham (47,9), Jacob (20,1; 24,6; 46,7; 75,9; 76,6; 81,1; 84,8).

Secondly, Yahweh is called Yahweh Zebayoth (God of Hosts) because Israel always believed that He is their mighty warrior who fought for them against enemies (59,5). The presence of Yahweh in the Ark of the Covenant led Israel into many victories (132,8). He is seated on the Kerubs (Ps 80). The name Yahweh Zebayoth provides the basic conviction that God is the guard, protector and saviour.

Thirdly, God is called as hshem (the name) Psalmist uses no special title but uses simply ‘name’. By ‘the name’ the psalms point to the God of Israel and the rest of the Old Testament. Name is always related to the identity of a person in the Old Testament. In the psalms, God is never just god, but always one whose identity is as particular as that of an individual. It shows not only that God is an Individual person but also a person who acts perfectly according to the identity of ‘the name’. That is why the people of Israel always prayed ‘for thy name’s sake” (25,11; 31,3; 79,9; 109,21; 143,11). This ‘name is to be praised (7,17), exulted (5,11), majestic (8,1), holy (105,3), fearful (86,11; 111,9) and eternal (45,17; 135,13).

Fourthly, God is titles as El, Eloha and Elohim. All these are titles of the Canaanite supreme God applied many times to the God of Israel. They appear more than 400 times. The usage of this title shows that the people of Israel is not a separate entity of clearly separated cultural heritage but a community, which positively inculturated with the neighbouring peoples and nations. 

Fifthly, God is called as Elijon (Most high). This word is seen 19 times in the Psalms. This title is antique and has the non-Israelite cultural background like the title El (Gen 14,18). The Non-Israelites commonly had their places of worship upon the high hills and mountains (2Kg 15,35). . The prime meaning is that Yahweh is the God of all gods and highest to all other gods. The Semites believed of God’s dwelling in the heaven, which is located high above in the shy. These associations of God’s abode perhaps inspired the people to call Yahweh as ‘Most High’Elijon is the king of the whole earth (47,2) and his dwelling is in Zion (46,4; 87,5) and heaven (18,13).

Fifthly, God is called as Melek (King). It is considered that calling God, as the king is a typical Israelite tradition. The God of Israel is ‘the great King’ (48,2), ‘the king of glory’ (24,7), ‘the king forever’ (29,10), ‘great king above all gods’ (95,3; 96,4; 97,9), great king over all earth (47,2). This mighty king is enthroned upon the cherubim (80,1; 99,1), on the flood (29,10), on the praises of Israel (22,3), and in the heavens (103,19; 123,1).

In short there are a number of particular expression to the Israel’s God such as, ‘salvation’ (17,7; 18,2, 106,21; 140,7), ‘rock’ (18,2; 31,46; 19,24; 28,1), ‘fortress’ (18,2; 31,2; 71,3; 91,2; 144,2), ‘strength’ (24,8; 28,7; 59,9), ‘refuge’ (2,12; 5,11, 7,1; 11,1; 14,6), ‘shield’ (3,3; 7,10; 18,2, 28,7).

2. God’s attributes 

Kadosh (holy) is one of the prime attributes to God in the Psalter (22,3; 71,22; 78,41; 89,18). This is also used as the synonym to God and His name (33,21; 103,1; 111,9; 145,21). It denotes the perfection of Israel’s God. Kadosh also denotes ‘purity’. The holiness is attributed to ‘the words of God’ (105,42), ‘hand’ (98,1), way (77,13), ‘Zion’ (2,6; 3,4), ‘temple’ (5,7; 11,4).

Another attribute is that he is kabod (glory). This has almost the same connotation of Kadosh. The glory of God is filled in the universe (19,1; 57,5).

Zedeck (just) is considered as the fundamental attribute of God. This is the basic requirement to them who enter in a covenantal relationship. Yahweh is the one who loves justice (11,7; 33,5), establishes the righteous (7,9), and he is just in all his ways (145,17). Along with this attribute there is also another attribute mishpath (judgment). Yahweh shows zedeck to his people through saving actions in the course of history but he also the God who judges (shapath) his people on the basis of the covenantal agreements.             

  Another important attribute is hesed. Out of the 245 occurrences of this word, 127 times are used in the Psalms. It has the wide range of meanings. It is the ‘goodness’, ‘grace’, ‘mercy’ and ‘love’. This is the emotional attachment of a believer who receives the infinite mercy of God. This terminology also has the connotations of the covenantal relationship. God’s infinite mercy is given to one who enters into a relationship with God. Most often in the psalms, the initiative is taken from the part of Yahweh himself. God’s mercy is saving, helping and healing.

Close to hesed there is also another attribute that he is emeth (truth). Mostly this word is used in relation with hesed. In 69,13 it has synonymously used. Yahweh is God of truth (31,5), His words and actions are full of truth (19,9), and it is because of his truthfulness the people find hope in Him. Those who believe in torah (law) and those who walk in the truth will be shown Yahweh’s loving kindness (25,5; 26,3; 86,11). Those who go after the false gods and words are the wicked in the psalms (7,14; 27,12; 31,18; 109,2).

 


[1] C. Westermann, Praise and Lament in the Psalms, (Atlanda, 1981).

[2] H.-J. Kraus, Psalms 1-59, A Commentary, (Mineapolis, Augsburg 1988).

[3] L. Sabourin, The Psalms: Their Origin and Meaning, (Banglore 1971). Other useful bibliographies, Briggs, C.A., & E.G. Briggs, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Book of Psalms I-II, (ICC; Edinburgh 1906-1907); Kraus, H.-J., Theology of Psalms, (Minneapolis 1986); Allen, L.C., Psalms 101-150, (WBC 21; Waco 1983); Craigie, P.C., Psalms 1-50, (WBC 19; Waco 1983); Tate, M.E., Psalms 51-100, (WBC 20; Waco 1990); Pezhumkattil, A., Sankirthanangal Padavum Vyakianaum, (Palarivattam 1991); Broyles, C.C., Psalms, (Peabody, 1999).

 

[4] G. Von Rad, Old Testament Theology, II, 175.

Biblical Hermeneutics

Introduction

There are varieties of methods, criticisms, interpretations, approaches, and theologies in biblical and theological interpretations. It is very easy for anyone to get confused. The plurality of methods, approaches, interpretations, Biblical books are complex in their text, language, culture, and history. So a variety of competencies is needed to interpret them. All the methods, approaches, and theologies help us to better understand the deeper meaning of the biblical texts. It was in the search for the true meaning of these texts that theological hermeneutics developed. From the 17th century onwards we see the development of ‘Hermeneutics’ as an important and independent discipline in classical philology and interpretation in general. In contemporary philosophy and theology ‘Hermeneutics’ plays a vital role. This is mainly due to the influence of the works of Schleiermacher, Wilhelm Dilthey, Karl Barth, Rudolf Bultmann, Martin Heidegger, Hans-Georg Gadamer, Paul Ricoeur.

There was a time when biblical interpretation was left entirely to theologians, historians, and philosophers. Now biblical interpretation is considered as an integral part of biblical studies. The Bible is not just an ancient text; it is the most translated of all books. It is sacred Scripture that was read in liturgical assemblies and was preached and commented upon for thousands of years by thousands of people. In our discussion we will look at these realities.

1 Why is biblical interpretation necessary?

Often people say: “Just read the Bible and do what it says!” The problem with this attitude is that different people, even though they read the same Bible, come to very different conclusions about what it actually says! Many people also tend to think of the Bible as “God’s little instruction book for life.” While this statement has a kernel of truth – the Bible certainly does contain much teaching on how to live – it is far more than just an instruction manual. It is the written record of God revealing in history who He is, what He is like, who we are, what we are like, and what He expects of us. This is the overall message of the Bible in a nutshell. The necessity and goal of Biblical interpretation are explained below:

v  The Bible was originally written to people who lived in a different place, in a very different culture, at a different time and period of history, and who spoke different languages. It also contains several different types of literature (called genres).

v  Because the Bible is God’s word in history revealed to people in history, each passage has n historical context – an particular author, audience, purpose and occasion. On the other hand, since the Bible is also the word of God, its contents are also eternally relevant.

v  The goal of interpretation is not to come up with the most unique interpretation (unique interpretations are usually wrong), but to discover the original intended meaning of a passage – the way the original audience understood it. The task of discovering the original intended meaning is called exegesis.

v  The key to doing good exegesis is reading the text very carefully, paying close attention to the details it describes, and asking the text the right questions. This is critical to finding the correct interpretation. Bad interpretation results directly from bad exegesis.

2.Terminology

The terminologies frequently used in Hermeneutics are explained in this section.

2.1 Hermeneutics

The term hermeneutics comes from the Greek verb hermeneuein, meaning ‘to interpret, translate, explain, declare’ and from nominal hermeneutike meaning [‘the art of’] interpretation’. Its Latin equivalent is the verb interpretari, from which comes the noun interpretation. Hence, hermeneutics reflects the Latin plural ‘hermeneutica’ meaning the science of interpretation.

The term “hermeneutics” is derived from the name of the god Hermes, who in Greek mythology acts as the messenger between the gods and human beings. In this process Hermes makes intelligible to human beings God’s message which otherwise is not intelligible to them. In Listra, Paul was taken for Hermes (Acts 14:12) for between the crippled man and Barnabas it was Paul who spoke.

In the broader sense hermeneutics is the quest for meaning. In this broader context, the word hermeneutic has three meanings:

a)      Interpretation by speech itself: Language expresses and interprets what is in one’s mind or even that which constitutes one’s identity, being and person. In biblical discussion we have to deal with the capacity of human language to express God’s mind, will, and person.

b)      Interpretation through the translation: The process of translation from one language to another is a process that goes beyond the mechanical equivalents of words. It is concerned with the transference from one culture and worldview to another. This can also be a translation from an unintelligible language to an intelligible one (hermeneia of tongues, in 1 Cor 12:10, is a charistmatic gift with a revelatory dimension).

c)      Interpretation by commentary and explanation: It is a more formal aspect. Here the interpreter gives systematic comments and explanations on the texts.

In the narrower sense, hermeneutics refers to the principles, method, and techniques used to interpret written texts. The biblical hermeneutical theory is in contact with the philosophical reflection on hermeneutics, it has, however, assumed its own itinerary due to the special nature of the biblical texts as an inspired normative book of faith.

The function of the interpreter consists in seeking for “that meaning which the sacred writer. in a determined situation and given the circumstance of his time and culture intended to express and did in fact express through the medium of contemporary literary form” (DV 12). Inasmuch as the intention of the author is found in the sense of the text, we must try to find the sense present in the text, because it is what the sacred writer intended and did express. What is important is what the text actually says and not that which the author may have thought but did not write.

2.2 Exegesis

The Greek verb Exegeomai means to draw out, to develop, to explain. Thus exegesis explains the text of the scripture drawing out its message and significance.

Until recently hermeneutics meant a theoretical reflection on meaning as distinct from exegesis, an art where the rules detected in hermenutics were applied practically. For us here, exegesis, refers to the analysis of a particular text of scripture to discover what the author wanted to say to his contemporaries, and hermeneutics refers to what the same text says to us today in a context different from the original one. Further, it is within the competence of hermeneutics to establish the principles, method, and techniques used to interpret written texts.

3. Text and the Process of Communication

3.1Biblical Text

The Bible contains texts almost 2950 years old, which were produced over a span of 1100 years. Even through the same methods and criteria used for the understanding of any ancient book are necessary and indispensable, for the Bible these are not sufficient. One must consider also the aspect of faith, as there are divinely inspired books of faith which are bequeathed to the Church as the norm and the nourishment of her life. So to understand the true significance that the Word of God is to have for us, we must also consider this added dimension in the interpretation of the biblical text.

Scripture reveals the will of God. Interpretation is essential in discerning this will. Morses, Prophets, Scribes, and many others have acted as interpreters of God’s will. Jesus himself is the supreme interpreter and revealer of God’s will. The NT writers interpreted the OT and the Christ Event. Even after the formation of the canon, the need for interpretation continued. Today, guided by the Holy Spirit, the Church discerns the will of God as it is revealed in the Bible.

Phases of Biblical Interpretation

A discussion of biblical hermeneutics can be undertaken only against the background of a discussion of a general introduction to the Bible which includes a study of its inspiration, the unity of the Testaments, the Canon, the textual criticism, the manuscripts and the formation of the Bible, the history of biblical times, and the literary forms found in the Bible. Biblical interpretation follows from the understanding of the Bible as the Word of God expressed in the words of men. Therefore, our discussion must follow certain norms which account for this fact without overemphasizing or minimizing one or the other aspect.

3.1.1 Identification

Different literary genres (kinds of literature) are interpreted in different ways, so the first question to ask is: “To which category of literature does the text you are interpreting belong? Below are brief descriptions of the different genres found in the Bible:

Historical Narratives. These describe actual historical events from God’s perspective. They tell us what God is like (His character and nature), what God likes/dislikes, how He deals with people who obey and honour Him, and how he deals with those who disobey and hate Him. Narratives give us principles and lessons, not commands, patterns or laws. Historical Narratives are found in Genesis, Exodus, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1-2 Samuel, 1-2 Kings, 1-2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah and Esther. In the New Testament, they can be found in parts of the Gospels, and the book of Acts.

Poetry and Songs. These are expressions of emotion to God. They allow us to express to God our feelings of happiness, joy, trust, hope, security, as well as feelings of discouragement, guilt, suffering, fear, anger, despair and repentance. They also assist us in expressing our love and appreciation for God or our need for forgiveness. Poetry and Songs allow us to relate to God on our own level. They show us how to communicate with God and how to honour and worship Him. In the Old Testament, these writings are found primarily in the Psalms and Song of Songs.

Legal Writings. These writings indicate God’s high moral standard, His idea of justice, principles of common sense government, principles of common sense health and safety, and His pattern and order for acceptable worship. These laws are NOT directly applicable to Christians today i.e. they are not meant to be legalistic instructions and commands to Christians. Such legal writings can be found in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.

Wisdom/Wise Sayings. These writings indicate God’s view of wisdom as opposed to man’s view of wisdom. They contain wise sayings, and practical advice on how to live life and avoid trouble and hardship. Wisdom literature can be found primarily in Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Job.

Prophecy. Prophecy is God’s message to a particular person, a particular group of people and sometimes to all humanity. It is not necessarily foretelling the future – in fact the vast majority of prophecy in the Bible speaks of the present. Prophecy is found primarily in the Old Testament, from Isaiah to Malachi.

Teachings of Jesus. These are direct statements of truth from Jesus concerning the nature and character of God the kingdom of God/Heaven, what God expects of us, principles of righteous living, and the ways in which Jesus fulfils the OT prophecies. They are not exhaustive ‘DOs and don’ts,’ but rather, serve as examples and paradigms (patterns) from which we can derive underlying principles to apply in other situations. These teachings are found in parts of the Gospels i.e. Matthew – John.

Parables. Parables are stories with a punch-line. Parables are not so much illustrative, but rather, provocative. They are designed to draw people in and hit them with something unexpected, in the same way a joke does. Most parables have only one message or central idea, and even if multiple messages are present, one of them will be the chief idea. Note also that they are not perfect analogies! Parables are also found in parts of the Gospels.

Letters. These are generally occasional documents i.e. they were written with a clear purpose to a well-identified audience. However, some letters (called epistles) were written to a larger people group. The letter/epistle writer presents arguments to correct, rebuke, defend, instruct, praise and encourage their readers. Letters/epistles form the vast majority of the New Testament from Romans to Jude.

Apocalypse. This includes the book of Revelation, and also large parts of Ezekiel and Daniel. Revelation is a vision of warning and encouragement to the early church as it was going through immense persecution.

3.1.2 Observation

The most important factor in exegesis is context. Understanding the context is the key to understanding what you are reading. Gordon Fee and Doug Stuart also point out “[t]he only proper control for hermeneutics is to be found in the original intent of the biblical text.”

There are two aspects of the context of a passage: the historical context and the literary context.

Historical Context. The Bible was written over a period of time dating from approximately 2000 BC (Job) to 95 AD (Revelation). It was set in a different country/continent and a vastly different culture and society from our own, therefore we must be careful not to make 20th century assumptions about the situation. Consult Bible dictionaries, encyclopedias and handbooks in order to find out about the manners and customs of the various nations at that time in history. Use your imagination and try to put yourself in the shoes of the people involved. Make observations about who? what? when? where? and how?

Literary Context. This is the position of the text you are reading in relation to other texts. What verses come before? What verses come after? What situation, event, statement or argument led up to this passage? What situation, event, statement or argument followed or resulted from this passage? What book is the text in? Whereabouts in the book? What testament is it in? Why is the text in this position? Why is it in the Bible at all? What difference would it make if it was left out? Following are some suggestions on making observations depending on the genre of the passage you are interpreting:

Historical Narratives. Choose a complete narrative and read it in a single sitting. Make (mental) notes as you are reading, and ask: What is happening? To whom? When? Where? Why? (The most important question!) What can I learn about God? What can I learn about the other characters involved?

Poetry and Songs. Read a complete Psalm or Song in one sitting, taking (mental) notes as you are reading. What is being said about God? What is being said about humanity? Is the writer pleading for something? Are they pouring their heart out? If so, about what? Are they praising God? Are they angry with God? What mood does the writer seem to be in? Joyful? Happy? Angry? Fearful? Anxious? Distraught? Discouraged? Does the writer’s mood change?

Legal Writings. Read a collection of related rules/regulations in one sitting. What rules/regulations are being put in place? Why? What situations/circumstances do they cover? Are they for moral reasons or are they concerned with administration/ government and personal hygiene? Can you see any pattern being established? Is a feast, offering or ceremony being described? If so, what seems to be its purpose or significance? Never stop asking Why?

Wisdom. Read as much of Proverbs/Job/Ecclesiastes as you can in one go, taking (mental) notes as you read. Consider what you think the central message of the text is.
What advice is given? What warnings are given? What comparisons are made? Compare the proverb you are reading with other similar or related proverbs (similar or related proverbs could be anywhere in the book of Proverbs). If there are similar/related proverbs, how do the proverbs differ? Do they relate to slightly different situations? Do they address different aspects of a problem or situation? If two proverbs say the opposite thing (and there are several) why would this be? Do you think the statement made or the advice given is good? Why or why not? You must also remember that proverbs are not always globally applicable to every person and every situation. They are guidelines and “rules of thumb,” not absolute rules, statements of fact or direct promises.

Prophecy. Read a single prophecy (called an “oracle”) in one sitting. Try and establish the historical setting. What circumstances in history provoked this prophetic word from God? What does it say about God? Is the prophecy positive or negative? Is it a warning? About what? Is it a condemnation? For what? Is it an encouragement or a message of hope? About what? Is it a promise? To do what? Prophecy is some of the hardest literature to read. Knowing the historical context is essential to really to appreciate what is being said. It may be necessary to consult a commentary or Bible handbook if you are struggling.

Teachings of Jesus. Read a complete section of teaching (called a “pericope”) in a single sitting, taking (mental) notes about what is being taught. What message is He communicating? What subject is He talking about? What is He actually saying about it? Is it a command? Is it a warning? Is it an exhortation/encouragement? Is it a promise? Does it give us a better understanding of who God is? Does it give us a better understanding of what we are like?

Parables. Read a single parable and the surrounding dialogue in one sitting. Try to determine the central thought of the parable. What message is it communicating? Keep in mind the context. This is a big clue to identifying the central thought. What events prompted Jesus to tell this parable? How did the hearers react to it? Did they understand it? Focus on the central thought – don’t  focus on all the minute details – they are not meant to be important. Read ahead – some parables are interpreted for you by Christ later on in the gospel.

Letters. Read them like any other letter. Start at the beginning – stop at the end. If possible, read a letter right through in one sitting. Identify the major issues/arguments of the letter. Focus on one of the major issues/arguments. What is the point of each paragraph? What does each paragraph contribute to the current issue/argument? Why did the writer include a particular paragraph? What difference would it make if it were not included? Don’t pay too much attention to the chapter and verse divisions or the chapter headings – they’re not inspired! Words/phrases such as “Now about”, “Concerning” and “Finally” often indicate a change of argument/subject.

Apocalypse. Read the books of Daniel and Ezekiel first. Revelation uses lots of imagery from these books. Identify as much as possible, the use of imagery (by comparing Revelation with Daniel and Ezekiel). What is the imagery used to communicate in Revelation? What kind of message is being communicated? Hope? Encouragement? Warning? What does the text say about God and about Jesus Christ? What does it say about Satan? What does it say about the Church (New Jerusalem)? You will definitely want to consult some good commentaries in these matters. Revelation is the most difficult book in the Bible to read and understand.

3.1.3 Prayer, Meditation & Wresting

Prayer, meditation and wresting are things the reader should do throughout the entire interpretive cycle, not just before you begin or when you are about to deliver your talk/sermon/speech.

Meditation does not mean emptying your head of everything – quite the opposite in fact. It means filling your mind with all the information required to make decisions about what the text says, how significant it is and how it should be applied today. When looking at a difficult passage, you may need to really pray about, and wrestle with, the various alternatives.

3.1.4 Determining Meaning

What do the particular key words or phrases mean? Pay attention to those elements that are repeated in the current passage or used elsewhere by the same author.

What is the significance of a particular key word, phrase or sentence? Does the element carry any special significance given the historical and social context? What does it contribute to the overall meaning of the text? How would the meaning of the text be effected if this particular element was left out?

5. Application

Is there a command to obey? Is there an error to avoid? Does the passage point out sinful behavior or attitudes that may be present in your own life? Is there an example to follow? Is there a promise to claim? Does the passage highlight an aspect of God’s nature and character which you had not seen before?

3.2 Presuppositions & Pre-understandings

No-one is ever completely unbiased. Every understanding presuppose pre-understanding or prejudice. In other words every process of understanding is gripped or conditioned by a prior structure of experiences. In hermeneutics, pre-understanding or prejudice is not something that is negative, but it is the necessary condition which makes understanding possible. In terms of hermeneutics, pre-understanding or prejudice may be described as a body of assumptions and attitudes which a person brings to the perception and interpretation of reality or any aspect of it. From this perspective it is very difficult to think of uniform understanding or knowledge, because understanding varies from person to person in accordance with his or her pre-understanding or prejudice.

Classical philosophers and theologians also acknowledge the role of pre-understanding. For example, Immanuel Kant admits some sort of pre-understanding in relation to perception. He insists in The Critique of Pure Reason that we have no certain knowledge of things in themselves but our mind give shape to them. According to Heidegger, understanding always touches on the whole constitution of being-in-the-world. He asserts further that the meaning does not lie in words; or in things, but in the remarkable structure of understanding itself Rudolf Bultmann a renowned theologian has rightly remarked that every interpretation incorporates a particular prior understanding.

Now the question is “From where does the pre-understanding come?” or “How we possess a particular pre-understanding?”. As we know generally pre-understanding comes from one’s own environment. Then, “what do we mean by environment?”. Environment is a composite of several factors. It includes historical factors, psychological factors, economical factors, political factors, religious factors, social and family relationships, affiliation to group and associations, vocational status, educational

Another two questions that might be raised in relation to pre-understanding are the following (1) “Is pre-understanding common?” And (2) “Is pre-understanding static?”. To the first question answer is both in affirmative and negative. On the one hand, pre-understanding is common in the sense that everybody has pre-understanding. On the other hand, pre-understanding is not common in the sense that the content of the pre-understanding differs from person to person. From the viewpoint of hermeneutics the second question can be answered only in negative. That is to say, pre-understanding is not static. Our pre-understanding is subject to change in every moment of our lives. As our environmental conditions change our pre-understanding also undergo change or transformation.

There are different types of pre-understandings. To have an overview of the different types of pre-understanding, a classification of the same would be appropriate. However, the divisions in this classification overlap each other, for we cannot compartmentalize them exhaustively. Actually what we do here is this, we approach the phenomenon of prejudice from different angles. Accordingly we have four types of pre-understandings.

i)                    Informational Pre-understanding. It refers to the information that one already possesses about any given subject prior to approaching it. This is pre-understanding of the most basic kind. Terms such as prepossession and to a degree, preconception, prenotion, and predetermination are related to informational pre-understanding.

ii)                  Attitudinal Pre-understanding. This type of pre-understanding refers to the disposition with which one approaches something or the disposition that one brings to a given subject. The related terms are predisposition, prejudice, bias, life-hearing and life-relation.

iii)                Ideological Pre-understanding. It indicates the ideological affiliation with which a person approaches something. This category would include both a general aspect and a particular aspect. The general aspect of the ideological pre-understanding points out the way one views the total complex of reality. And the particular aspect of the ideological pre-understanding shows the way one views a specific subject. The terms like worldview, life-attitude, life-posture, frame of reference, framework, horizon of understanding, etc. belong to the general aspect of the ideological pre-understanding and of view, viewpoint, perspective, stand point ,etc. belong to the particular aspect of the ideological pre-understanding.

iv)                Methodological Pre-understanding. This category refers to the actual approach which one takes in the explication of a given subject. For instance, a sociologist approaches something with a methodology proper to sociology a historian approaches an event with a methodology proper to history, and so on. In one sense, the methodological pre-understanding does function in the same way as any other type of pre-understanding and does influence the result of the interpretation. Yet in another sense, the methodological pre-understanding is considered as a tool that avoids the influences of other types of pre-understanding.

We shall conclude our pre-understanding or prejudice by listing how it influence our interpretation and understanding or how does it function in terms of interpretation and understanding.

(1)               Pre-understanding may function as either a negative or positive influence on interpretation. It negatively influences our interpretation by distorting or misleading our perception of things. It positively influences our interpretation, as it is the necessary precondition or frame of reference to understanding something.

(2)               Pre-understanding may influence our interpretation either in a comprehensive or in a limited manner. A pre-understanding comprehensively influence one’s interpretation when it influences the way one views the total sphere of reality and a pre-understanding influences one’s interpretation in a limited manner when it influences the way one views fragments of it.

(3)               Pre-understanding may influence our interpretation either depently or independently. A pre-understanding may influence on one’s interpretation when he or she has one comprehensive pre-understanding that contains within it a number of more limited presuppositions. A pre-understanding functions as an indenpend influence on one’s interpretation when a person is having limited pre-understanding on different subjects.

(4)               Pre-understanding may influence our interpretation consistently or inconsistently. If a pre-understanding functions in a similar manner without fail in all the instances of a specific domain, it influences our interpretation inconsistently.

(5)               Pre-understanding may influence our interpretation consciously, or unconsciously. When a person is aware of the pre-understanding that is at work in his or her interpretation, that pre-understanding is consciously influencing his or her interpretation. When the situation becomes just the contrary, the pre-understanding influences one’s interpretation unconsciously.

(6)               Pre-understanding may function as either a major or a minor influence on our interpretation. If a pre-understanding exerts a major influence on our interpretation. When a pre-understanding determines the conclusions drawn by a person only on a small scale, that pre-understanding is having only minor influence on our interpretation.

(7)               Pre-understanding may influence our interpretation rationally or irrationally. If a pre-understanding is formed out of the sound interaction with one’s own environment, it will influence his or her interpretation rationally. Whereas, if a pre-understanding is the outcome of some panic or neurotic reactions, it will influence our interpretation irrationally.

(8)               Finally, pre-understanding may be open-ended or closed. If a pre-understanding gives room for further correction and alteration, it is an open-ended pre-understanding. If a pre-understanding does not admit any correction or alternation, it is a closed pre-understanding.

No understanding takes place in isolation. Understanding is not knowing the individual words in a sentence or in a text and their meanings separately, because individual words in a sentence or in a text cannot convey the fullness of its meaning. A text is a web, a well –knit frame in which different words are structured properly. Furthermore, understanding is a whole system of interrelated beliefs and practices. Hence understanding happens only when we realize the interconnections that exist  between the words of a sentence or of a text. Then understanding is holistic.

If hermeneutics is taken in its wider sense, that is, not merely as formal rules controlling the practice of exegesis but as something concerned with the total process of understanding, then biblical hermeneutics can only be developed as part of an all encompassing theory of communication. In its most basic form, communication can be described as the interaction between sender, message and receiver.

There are three contexts in which each text needs to be considered: a)  the world that precedes the text; b)  the world of the text itself ; and c)  the world that follows the text.

In the biblical texts, the message/medium is the written word. The text represents the solidification of a previous encounter between sender (Moses/Jesus) and receiver (Israel/Disciples). In the process of becoming a written text, the message may pass through various stages (oral tradition, pre-literary forms, etc.), but the text also represents the first stage in the process of reinterpretation. The reinterpretation has as its aim a new communication event this time between the texts and the contemporary receiver. In the case of biblical texts, the original sender is no longer present and interpretation necessarily comes out of the interaction between the text and receiver.

Today’s main hermeneutical problem arises from the knowledge that every human expression, whether literary or artistic, religious or philosophical, contains a set of meanings given to it by the author, and when this set of meanings moves into the world of another subject, it must be interpreted in such a way as to convey the original intention of the author.

In practice, the texts mediate between two events: the one which produced the text (the prophet, the audience, the scribes etc. come into the picture) and the one flowing from interaction with the text (the reader, the interpreter etc.). Certain considerations are to be made when dealing with the biblical material:

  1. The biblical texts are historical in a double sense: a) They are historical documents in their own right, with their own history of composition, tradition, and preservation b) They also refer to certain specific historical events (e.g. Monarchy, Exile)
  2. The present reader is not the first reader of the text. The text, enriched by the redactors, is the text for interpretation.
  3. Clarity concerning the purpose and the context in which the reading takes place is important. The kerygmatic or proclaiming nature of the text presupposes a new understanding as the ultimate goal of the reading. It is the interpretative community of believers who constitute the context of such a reading.
  4. Although the text is dependent on prior readings, the text itself functions as a separate entity within the interpretation process.
  5. As the original author is not present, the interpretative interaction takes place between the text and (present) reader. The present text is both the end of the process of text production and the beginning of the process of reinterpretation.
  6. Understanding the original speech event is the prerequisite for its appropriation in the contemporary situation.

  The process of reading and interpreting the Bible should be cyclic. A reader approaches a passage of scripture with presuppositions (e.g. the Bible is the inerrant word of God) and usually has a pre-understanding about what the particular passage can or cannot mean. These presuppositions and pre-understandings, along with the context, influence the reader’s understanding of the passage, and help them derive their interpretation. This interpretation then effects the reader’s presuppositions, and becomes part of their pre-understandings the next time they read this passage. If our exegetical information, reasoning and judgments are thought through again and reassessed each time we go through the cycle then the accuracy and correctness of our interpretation will improve.

Early Biblical Interpretation

Reinterpretation of the OT in the OT Itself

Israel has always re-interpreted Scripture in the light of new problems and new exigencies, and even the re-interpretations became part of the Scripture. The literary formation of many of the books shows that biblical literature has in fact developed through the contribution of such re-interpretations. For instance, the Yahwistic history of the patriarchs and Moses of the 10th cent. is taken up and re-narrated in the 6th cent. in the manner and according to the theology of the priestly (P) author.

In many aspects the Deuteronomic Code (Deut 12-26) is a re-interpretation, an actualization, and adaptation of the Elohistic ‘Code of the covenant’ (Ex 20:22-23:3), reflecting the changes in the economic and social aspects of the settled life of Israel in the land of Canaan. These changes were characterized by the divine rights upon the land and the people, the preference of the week, and the poor who have to be protected. It reflects the Deuteronomic theology.

The book of Ben Sirach is often an existential reflection on the ancient texts: Sir 3 is a comment on the 4th commandment; Sir 15 is a comment on Gen 3; Sir 17:1-12, on creation (Gen 1); Sir 34;21-35:4 reviews the theme of cult and social justice.

In prophetic literature one can see the superimposition of the interpretation of the original oracles, for example, in the re-interpretation of the exodus (see Is 40:1-11; 17-20; Ps 78;105). In all these, one can detect the meaning sense of the Scriptures which reveals both their ancient and new character at the same time. The sense looked for is not exactly the one which was understood by the first readers; rather, what is looked for is that meaning the current reader can discover in view of  his contemporary problems and in the light of the revelation taking place in the time between the ancient writer and the present reader. What is treated is the actualization of the ancient books, which in Judaism took the form of midrash.

Judaism of Inter-testamental Period

The Synagogue and rabbinic  school were the ambient wherein the biblical interpretation thrived in Judaism. This reading of the Torah, called darash, meaning investigation/research, is aimed at bringing the meaning of the text up-to-date. The homily and the paraphrasing translation (targum) of the text were the means of actualizing interpretation. The rabbinic schools tried to adapt the Law to the changed circumstance. Their authorized interpreters were the soferim ‘the doctors of the law’ – scribes (Sir 39:1-8) who many times appear in the NT passages (Mt 23; 13:52). They have also left traces in some of the biblical comments found in Qumran.

The interpretations of the Sadducees and Pharisees were different. With the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD, both Qumran and the Sadducees declined in importance, while the pharisaic movement survived. In the interpretation of specific texts, the rabbis employed certain rules, which were authentic hermeneutical principles.

  1. Targumim: an Aramaic translation often interpretative of the Hebrew Scriptures. It was first oral and then written.
  2. Midrashim: commentary on scripture, often in homeiletic form. The term ‘midrash’ comes from the term darash (= to seek) and we can distinguish a four-fold meaning: a) a literary form (genre) which uses the biblical text with great freedom (e.g.,the midrash of the book of  Wisdom on the book of Exodus); b) a literary form which treats biblical personalities with great liberty, presenting them as historical, although they are either mythological or fictional (e.g., the books of Tobias, Judith, Esther, Jonah and narrative section of the book of Job, etc); c) those Jewish literary works, called midrashim. Which are homiletic or exegetical comments on different books of the Bible; d) Midrash a term which is also applied to the research method used, by the Jewish exegetes. Thus Midrashim includes the totality of principles, techniques, and procedures used by the Jews in the interpretation of Scripture. Midrash is both hermeneutical and theological in nature.
Midrash has two divisions: a) Halakah b) Haggadah

Halakah: Halakah is a commentary on scripture which deals with legal texts (plural halakot. halakah comes from halak, to walk), and therefore, ‘the rule of be having’ or ‘norm’. Usually translated as ‘law’, it denotes a specific ruling, a legal statement or discussion, the general category of legal material which provides rules for moral, juridical, and ritual conduct.

Haggadah: It is narrative commentary on Scripture which deals with morals, ethics, and daily life. The term haggadah is derived from the Hebrew root ngd ‘to show, announce, tell, testify, declare, make known’. Haggadah mainly explains the historical and prophetic sections of the OT, enriching them with legendary motifs with a moral scope. It deals with the non-legal text in rabbinic literature.

  1. Pesharim: It is a type of line-by-line interpretation often allegorical. In the Qumran, one read the ancient biblical text and applied it to the present, introducing the comment with the words: ‘its interpretation is.’, where the Hebrew word for interpretation is pesher (pesharim; ‘explanation’) and it occurs only once (Ecc 8:1) in the OT. Until the Qumran discoveries this was an unknown type of biblical interpretation. It is used in the sense of interpretation and realization. Now this word is used to signify: a) a Qumran biblical commentary written in pesher-like form; b) the formal term used to introduce the expository section of this kind of commentary; c) the literary genre of these commentaries; and d) the particular exegetical method of the Qumran commentaries.

All these were attempts at actualization of the biblical texts. Elements of the halakic and haggadic modes of interpretation can be seen in the NT. For us Jewish interpretation is especially helpful to understand the interpretation of the Hebrew text of the Bible. To these typically Jewish principles of interpretation we can also add the allegorical method. This method, which is of Greek origin, was used particularly by Philo of Alexandria (ca. 20 BC-50 AD) to adapt the Hebrew Bible to the Hellenistic culture of his time. The Christian interpretation of the Alexandrian school followed the allegorical method.

New Testament Interpretation of the OT

Jesus is the true and definite exegesis of the Father: “No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known” (Jn 1:18). The Gospels show Jesus as the interprets: ‘Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures” (Lk 24:27). He does not simply explain the Scriptures, but he reveals their sense because they speak of him (Jn 5:39,46). The Scriptures reach their fulfillment in him (Jn 19:28-30) and the newness of his teaching (Mk 1:27) and authority (Mk 1:22) are in tune with the fulfillment theme.

The exegesis of the apostolic Church, especially St. Paul (see Gal 4:21-31-the two wives of Abraham), draws from the rabbinic and Alexandrian sources, halakah, haggada, pesher and allegory.

In interpreting the Scriptures, Jesus used the interpretation techniques and methods of his time. Discussing divorce, for instance, he bases himself on Gen 2:24 with a new halaka. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate” Mt 19:6, thus declaring that the Mosaic law and rabbinic tradition which tolerated it has ended. On the discussion of the resurrection (Mt 22:23-32) he appeals to Ex 3:6 (“I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob”) arguing in the haggadic manner that “He is God not of the dead, but of the living.” In his discussion with the scribes he uses the rabbinic style of argumentation (see Jn 10:34-36).

The NT authors also made use of the interpretation processes of the Jewish people of their time. In addition to the already existing elements of interpretation, the authority of the Word of God and its richness, they introduced something radically new: the fulfillment of the OT in Jesus. The NT interpretation of the OT has its basis in Jesus as the Messiah the Son of God.

The aim of the NT authors was not to present a chronicle of Jesus’ life. Rather, they presented the life of Jesus in such a way that it appealed to the faith of the people, and the Christ Event, with its culmination at Pentecost. Stood as the key to their interpretation. For them Christ is the New Adam, the New Moses, and the Church becomes the New Israel and the Christ Event is the New Exodus. The book of Hebrews uses typological midrash. Jesus is greater than Moses (Heb 4); Jesus is the great high priest (Heb 4-8); Earthly and heavenly sacrifice (Heb 9); Jewish law as a type (Heb 10:1)

Early Church

The early Church interpreted the OT by using the Christological key as she considered Christ to be the fulfillment and the point of arrival of the OT. Hence, while interpreting the OT, their primary intension was not to understand the original Hebrew text but to understand Christ. And their interpretations were not in Hebrew. There are various models of interpretation that the early church and the later Church fathers used for interpretation:

Typological Interpretation: Some reality or personage of the OT is seen as the type of Christ or of the Church (antitype). (See Rom 5:14;1 Cor 10:6-1 Pet 3:22).

Literal Interpretation: It looks for the explicit sense of the text.

Spiritual  Interpretation: Its aim is to understand the hidden meaning of the text. It has its roots in 2 Cor 3:15: “Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their minds; but when a man turns to the Lord the veil is removed”. Here Paul never intended to contrast between the OT and the NT or between the literal sense and the spiritual sense, although by the 3rd century, it is in this way that this text was made, the spiritual sense came to include both prophetic and typological meanings.

Allegorical Interpretation: Allegorical interpretation seeks something other than the ‘surface’ (literal) meaning. This meaning is ‘deeper or hidden”. The letter to the Hebrews is a classical example of this type of interpreration.

Pedagogical Interpretation: The Law was intended to lead to Christ (Gal 3:24) – a task now completed.

Fulfillment Interpretation: The OT promises and prophesies were fulfilled in Christ, especially the messianic and eschatological prophesies.

Historical-salvific Interpretation: This was used by paul in Rom 9-11 to indicate that God has not changed his way of acting in calling the gentiles.

Apocalyptic Interpretation: This used the OT as a source of allusion to build a Christian apocalyptic vision with the Risen Christ at the centre.

The early church fathers, using quotes from the OT and NT, also added their own interpretations. These had a literal and allegorical sense, as well as polemical and apologetic motives.

Ancient Christian Schools of Interpretation

Theological School of Alexandria

In Alexandria, Philo had already made great use of Greek philosophy to interpret Sacred Scripture as the voice of the Divine Logos, and the Gospel as the fulfillment, or actualization of the law. For the Alexandrian school, the interpretation of the Bible proceeded on two levels: a) the immediate comprehension of the text; b) the hidden or more profound sense of the text, to discover this allegory is indispensable. The Alexandrians considered the historical narrations as pure allegory (e.g. the 30 stages of the exodus of the Israelites in Num 33 are for Origen the successive moments the Christian soul has to pass through from sin to God). Origen (182-254), the greatest exponent of this school, made hermeneutics a proper and true science.

In particular this school tried to find the corporal (somatikos) sense (=literal sense) which could be adapted to the simple and uneducated reader, and the psychic or moral (psychikos) sense which was suited for those who were advancing in perfection, and the spiritual or mystical (pneumatikos) sense meant for the perfect. This system was applied above all to the OT, so that all the personalities and events of the OT were messianically interpreted.

In the allegorical interpretation we see a profound reverence for the Scripture and a desire to find its manifold depth. To this end they used the symbolic method, often disregarding the common significance of the words and resorting to all sorts of speculation. The most important contribution of the Alexandrian school was that of underlining the unity of both the testaments through the allegorical method. This method would reach its maximum influence in the medieval theory of the four senses.

Antiochean School of Syria

The Antiochean School had a hermeneutics much different from that of the Alexandrian school. The Antiocheans interpreted the texts principally using: a) literal sense and b) historical and grammatical sense. The true head and the most important figure of this school was Diodore of Tarsus (+ before 394). For him and for the Antiocheans the fundamental sense is the literal sense, but some events or personalities or realities can also have typical sense and prefigure the messianic gifts. The literal sense, which is unique, opens itself to a new and more profound reality, even though it is not independent of it. Perception of this typical sense was ‘theory’ or ‘vision’. JohnChrsostom (344-407), Theodore of Mopsuestia (350ca – 428), and Theodore of Cyr (+458) were representatives of this school. The great merit of this school is that it gave a scientific basis for biblical exegesis.

The Sense of the Bible

Augustine of Dacia (+1282) sums up the hermeneutical principles of the fathers, distinguishing the four sense as: littera gesta docet, quid credas allegoria, moralis quid agas, quo tendas [quid speras] anagogia. (The literal sense teaches facts which you have to belive which you have to do and where you are headed). Jerusalem illustrates these principles, which in its literal sense is the historical city, allegorically, the church; morally, the soul; and analogically, the heavenly Jerusalem.

These four senses of the Bible can be classified into two: the literal (historical sense) and spiritual sense of the Bible. This distinction is also found in medieval exegesis as well: storia, allegoria, tropologia (moral), and anagogia. In the global context of Scripture the interpreter can discern a history, as a series of interventions in the history of salvation, and this history itself conceals the mystery of Christ (the spiritual sense of the fathers). This spiritual sense has three levels: allegorical (symbolic, Christological-the truth revealed, ‘that which you have to believe’), tropological (moral – the way of life commended, ‘that which you have must do’), and anagogical (eschatological-the final goal to be achieved, ‘where you are headed’).

According to St. Thomas “all the sense are based on one, namely the literal, from which alone an argument can be drawn, and not from those which are said by way of allegory…. Yet nothing is lost to sacred Scripture because of this, because nothing necessary for faith is contained in the spiritual sense, which Scripture does not clearly pass on elsewhere by the literal sense”.

In the middle Ages sense literals was understood as the meaning conveyed by the words (literate, verba) of Scripture, as distinct from the spiritual sense (sense spiritualis) contained in the Scripture. In modern literary discussion, ‘literal’ refers to the sense perceived in reading, as meaning flows from the dialogue between the text and the reader. We use literal sense as ‘the sense’ which the human author directly intended and which the written words conveyed.

Concerning the books which had a long history of editing and redaction of earlier written works (eg., Isaiah-its composition took 200 years, with new sections being added to the original, some of which modified the meaning of the original text), the search for the literal sense includes both the sense of the original before editing and its sense after the editing.

‘Author’ in this description of the literal sense must be understood  rightly. Many of the books are anonymous or pseudonymous; Most of them are the product of complex growth and collective contribution. None of the canonical Gospel writers identified themselves by name.

Despite this, the reference to that author’s intention affirms that those who produced the biblical books had a message for the readers of their times. It is important for us to have this message in mind when we read texts and to ask what they now mean for us. What the text now means may well be more abundant, but it should have some relationship to what it meant to the first readers.

The adverb ‘directly’ when it occurs in the literal sense would distinguish it from those meaning by which the author’s words may have been understood later (in the larger context of the Bible or when read in later times) but of which he was unaware.

Written words conveyed:- Priority must be given to the text. The author’s intension does not become a sense of the Scripture until it is effectively conveyed in writing. Jesus did not write a Gospel, but the evangelists did. Most often we do not know the context in which Jesus actually spoke his words. The literal sense of a Gospel passage is the meaning attributed to Jesus words by the individual evangelist, with the result that the same words can have different meanings according to the different contexts in which each evangelist set them.

The literal sense of the Bible is that which has been expressed directly by the inspired human. As the Bible is the fruit of inspiration, what is expressed in the text is also intended by God, the principal author. Efforts are necessary to know the literal sense. The authors of the Bible used forms of literature typical of their times and hence their literal sense is not as obvious as it is in the works of our own time. Therefore one must make realistic efforts to grasp what the authors of Sacred Scripture is trying to communicate. The principal task of the exegete is to analyse the material, making use of all the resources of literary and historical research, with a view of defining the literal sense with the greatest possible accuracy. There is the need to acquire professional knowledge of biblical geography, archaeology, culture and of the way in which the texts were transmitted.

Even though there usually exists only one literal sense, one must still know that the human author can refer to more than one level of reality at the same time, especially in the case of poetry. Biblical inspiration does not exclude this capacity of human psychology and language. For instance: Jn 19:28 (‘I thirst’- bodily and spiritual level); Jn 19:30 (‘delivered his spirit’- lit. ‘Jesus died’ and the implicit allusion would be ‘He gave the Spirit to the Church’. Giving of the Spirit to the Church is the literal sense in Jn 20:22).

Even when a human utterance appears to have only one meaning, divine inspiration can use the expression in such a way as to create more than one meaning. This is true in the saying of Caiaphas “It is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed” (John 11:50; see also vv. 51-52). Caiaphas meant that the nation could thereby avoid many troubles on the part of the Romans (political reason), whereas John meant “to gather into one the dispersed children of God” (religious reason). Either way, this passage of John belongs to the literal sense, as is made clear from the context itself.

In the attempt to find the literal sense one has to take into account the dynamic aspect of many texts. For example, the meaning of ‘royal psalms’ (e.g., Ps 2;72; 101;110;132) should not be limited to the historical circumstance of their being written. When speaking of the king, the psalmist at one and the same time evokes both the kingship as it actually existed and the idealized vision of kingship as God intended it to be. The text carries the reader well beyond the institution of kingship its historical, actual manifestation.

Ps 110:1 “The Lord says to my lord, ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool”’ (quoted in Mk 12:35-37). This messianic (prophetic) sentence can be applied to every king of Israel (son of David), but can be applied in a perfect way only to Jesus.

Historical-critical exegesis has too often tended to limit the meaning of texts by tying it too rigidly to precise historical circumstance whereas modern hermeneutics know that human speech gains an altogether fresh status when put into writing. Written text has the capacity to be placed in new circumstances, which will illuminate it in different ways, adding new meaning to the original sense. This is especially operative in the Bible as the word of God. All this does not, however, mean that we can attribute to a biblical text whatever meaning we like, interpreting it in a wholly subjective way. One must reject every interpretation as unauthentic which is alien to the meaning expressed by the human authors in their written text.

4.1.1    Important Auxiliaries to Get to the Literal Sense

a) Knowledge of the history of the biblical era: This history of the people of God must be integrated into the history of the Near East. We cannot divorce God’s action from that of history because God acts only in concrete times and circumstances. This history must also include sociological aspects-not only information on royal courts, international politics and wars – the very structure of the social life of the people involved in the biblical story must be analyzed so as to understand the biblical era in all its ramifications (aspects).

b) Knowledge of biblical languages and literary styles: Some familiarity with the structure and thought pattern of Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic is essential. Knowledge of Hebrew tenses, with their undefined time designations and lack of temporal precision opens the prophecies to the present and to the present fulfillment. For instance, words such as hesed (covenantal kindness mercy) and aletheia (truth) receive only a part of their connotation in translation.

Reading the Scripture should involve an understanding of what the original author meant, since his message for his times was certainly part of God’s inspired communication. The primary duty of the human author was to be intelligible in his era. What he writes communicates meaning to us today, but he did not envision our circumstances and he did not write for our times. Hence, in the effort to draw a message from his text for our circumstances, we must ask whether we achieve true communication or only an illusion in which we impose on the text what we want to find (eisegesis).

In the quest for the literal sense of any writing, it is important to determine the literary form the author was employing. The Bible is a library with all the diversity all the diversity we would expect spanning a period of more than 1100 years. Hence it is necessary to classify the books according to the type of literature they represent-this is what is meant by determining the literary form.

The first question we must ask when we open any book is : “What type of literature do we have before us?” (This method of determining the literary form, in fact, existed even in ancient times-the Jewish divisions as Pentateuch, Prophets, and Sapiential literature testify to this).

In the Bible there are also many varieties of poetry: a) epic poetry-some narratives of Pentateuch and Joshua; b) didactic poetry-Prov, Sir, Wis) Iyric poetry-Pass, Cant.

In the prophetic books we meet prophecy and apocalyptic.

There are also many forms of history: a) factual analysis, seemingly by can eye-witness (the court history of David-2 Sam 11-2 Kgs 2); b) court records (Kgs and Chr); c) romanticized and simplified epic history of the national saga (in Exodus); d) tales of tribal heroes (in Judges); e) tales of great men and woman of ancient times (in the patriarchal accounts of Genesis); f) prehistory. This is seen in the Genesis narratives regarding the origin of humanity and of evil which borrow from the lore of other nations, making them vehicles of monotheistic theology.

Apart from these, there are tales, parables, allegories proverbs, maxims, love stories, etc.

Once the reader has determined the literary form of any biblical book or passage, that standard applicable to the form helps to clarify the literal sense (that which the author meant). For instance, if Jonah is understood as a parable, the reader would know that the author is not presenting a history of relationship between Israel and Assyria, nor the story of a prophet in the belly of the whale; rather, it is a prophetic book which communicates the profound truth of God’s love for the Gentile nations; if Josh 10:13 is part of a victory song, readers will judge it not according to rules of strict history nor give it the same historical credence allotted to the history of David’s court.

In the past, for biblical interpretation, the failure to recognize the diversity of literary forms of the biblical books, and the tendency to misinterpret as scientific history pieces of the Bible that are not really historical, or are historical in a more popular sense, created great problems.

The need for determining the type of literature can lead to misconceptions: Some may think that it is dangerous to apply the theory of literary forms to the more sacred sections of the Bible. The fact is the these are classified as belonging to one type of literature or another. There is factual history, mythology, fiction, and almost all the intermediary types in the Bible. If the correctly classifies a certain part of the Bible as belonging to a particular type of writing one is simply recognizing the author’s intension in writing that section. This should not be seen as destroying the historicity. One need not think that this would weaken or challenge its inspiration. DAS (Pius XII, Divino Afflante Spiritu, 1943) says: “God could inspire any type of literature that was not unworthy or deceitful, i.e., ‘not contrary to his holiness and truth’.

More than Literal Sense 

By ‘more than literal sense’ we mean the scriptural meaning that goes beyond the literal sense, a sense that is not confined to what the human author directly intended and conveyed in the written words. This ‘more than literal sense’ is especially pertinent to the Bible. It is because a) Bible is a collection of books by many authors and b) it is the Word of God.

a)      The books of individual authors were joined together into a collection called the Bible centuries after they were written. This was a new arrangement, which could have scarcely been foreseen by the original author (Luke thought of his Gospel and Acts as a unified work, but it was divided in the canonical process. There exists no evidence that the author of John with his claim of unique witness would have thought that his work would be placed alongside and on the same level with the other works called Gospels). The juxtaposition of the books provides connections in the Bible that no single author would have made, thus enlarging the meaning originally intended.

b)      The Bible is God’s word to audiences of all times. This continuing biblical engagement of readers/hearers with the Word of God uncovers meaning beyond those which were envisioned by the human author in his local and limited circumstances. The quest for the dynamic aspect of the word should not deviate from exegesis so that it becomes eisegesis (the imposition of a meaning to a text that is alien to it). Exegesis is the meaning that arises from the text.

Both in pre-Christian Judaism and post-Christian rabbinic circles the quest for a ‘more-than-literal-exegesis’ was just as common as in Christian circles. In the early Christian writings of the 2nd cent., we find evidence of a very free spiritual exegesis. Exegetes such as Tertullian and Justin searched the OT for proof texts referring to Christ, and they interpreted these passages in a way that went far beyond the literal sense. Origen did not disregard the literal sense but was interested in a sense that could make Christians see the OT as their book. His allegorical interpretation was based on the thought that the OT was Christological in many passages.

Spiritual (Christological) Sense

Spiritual sense, as understood by Christian faith, is the meaning expressed by the biblical texts when read, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, in the context of the paschal mystery and of the new life which flows from it. The paschal event has established a radically new historical context, which sheds fresh light upon the ancient texts and causes them to undergo a change in meaning. The spiritual (Christological) sense does not change the literal sense, but rather makes it explicit or fulfils it. We cannot exclude from the Bible, especially from the OT, this Christological sense, the possibility of a higher fulfillment.

Gen 3,15: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike your head, and you will strike his heel”. This is the first promise of a redeemer (and of his mother).

2 Sam 7, 12-13: “…I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.”

This text must be now taken literally, because Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more. “We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him” (Rom 6:9). Exegetes who have a narrow, ‘historical’ view of the literal sense, will judge this as an interpretation alien to the original. Those who are open to the ‘dynamic’ aspect of a text, instead will recognize here a profound element of continuity as well as an element of discontinuity: Christ rules for ever, but not on the earthly throne of David. It is therefore quite acceptable to reread the Bible in the light of the Christ Event. See also Is 52:13-53:12; cf. suffering servant Acts 8.32.

While there is a distinction between the two sense, the spiritual sense cannot be stripped of its connection to the literal sense; the latter remains the indispensable foundation. Otherwise one could not speak of the fulfillment of the Scripture. In order for fulfillment to be accomplished, a relationship of continuity and conformity is essential. It is also necessary that there be a transition to a higher level of reality. The paschal lamb of Ex 12:46,(Ps 34:20) and Jn 19:36 are examples of such a transition.

Spiritual sense is not to be confused with subjective interpretation stemming from imagination or intellectual speculation. The spiritual sense results from setting a text in relation to real facts which are not alien to it: e.g., the paschal mystery, in all its inexhaustible richness, which constitutes the summit of the divine intervention in the history of Israel, to the benefit of all mankind.

Typological Sense

It is “the deeper meaning of the things written about in the Bible when they are seen to have foreshadowed future things in God’s work of salvation”. The typological sense usually belongs not to the Scripture as such, but to the realities (persons, places and events) expressed by the Scripture. The reality which foreshadows is called ‘type’ and the future realty that is foreshadowed is called ‘antitype’. Type and antitype are on two levels of time and only when the antitype appears does the typological sense becomes apparent. Type is imperfect and the foreshadowing is related to God’s plan of salvation.

-Adam (type) as the figure of Christ (cf. Rom 5:14); the flood (type) as the figure of baptism (1 pet 3:20-21)

Actually the connection involved in typology is based on the way in which Scripture describes the ancient reality (cf. the voice of Abel: Gen 4:10; Heb 11:4; 12:24) and not simply on the reality itself. Consequently, in such a case one can speak of a meaning which is truly Scriptural.

1Cor 15:45 (Jesus as the new Adam); Rev 12:1-5 (Mary as the new Eve); Ex 16:4, 15; Ps 78:24 (manna and Eucharist Jn 6:31-32; Rev 2:17). The manna, however, was a miraculous nourishment, but not bread coming down from heaven as is the Eucharist.

-Num 21:9 (bronze serpent on the pole) and the lifted son of man (Jn 3:14). Here one must, however, know that it was not the bronze serpent on the pole that gave salvation, but a vision (act) of faith.

Fuller Sense

Sense plenior is the deeper meaning of the text, intended by God, but not clearly expressed (intended- R.E. Brown) by the human author. This is known as one studies a text in the light of other biblical passages which utilize it or in its relationship to the internal development of revelation: Unlike the typical sense, but like the literal sense, sensus plenior is primarily concerned with the words of scripture rather than with ‘things’. This concept was first employed by Andre’s Fernandes in 1925. It is used to refer to the idea of the fulfillment of the OT in the NT.

The catholic understanding of biblical inspiration distinguishes between God as primary author and the inspired human author as the secondary author. Such an understanding helps one to see how God could have moved a human writer to formulate an idea, the sensus plenior which would only becomes apparent in the light of subsequent use of such a formulation and of which the original human author would have had no inkling.

Sensus plenior is then a question of:

a)      The meaning a subsequent biblical author attributes to an earlier biblical text, using it in a context which confers upon it a new literal sense.

E.g., Mt 1:22-23 “All this took place to fulfil what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us”. The prophecy quoted here is Is 7:14. In the Issaianic text the prophet does not in fact speak of a ‘virgin’. The Hebrew word used is alemah (=young/ adolescent woman, a girl just married), which was the wife of Achaz, who bore Hezekiah. To speak of a virgin Hebrew has another word at its disposal, I betulah (Is 23:4, 12; 37:22). The Hebrew original alemah was translated in LXX with parthenos which really means ‘virgin’. By using the LXX translation, the evangelist gives a fuller prophetic sense to Is 7:14.

b)      The meaning that an authentic doctrinal tradition or a conciliar definition gives to a biblical text.

E.g., Rom 5:12-21: the definition of the doctrine of original sin by Trent provided the fuller sense of Paul’s teaching about the consequences of the sin of Adam for humanity.

When the control by an explicit biblical text or by an authentic doctrinal tradition is lacking, recourse to a claimed fuller sense could lead to subjective interpretation deprived of any validity. In effect, sensus plenior is only a modern way of expressing a certain kind of spiritual sense in given instance where the spiritual sense is distinct from the literal sense. It has its foundation in the fact that the Holy Spirit, the principal author of the Bible, can guide human authors in the choice of language so that it will

Express a truth, the fullest depth of which the authors themselves did not perceive. This deeper truth will be revealed in the course of time: a) through further divine interventions which clarify the meaning of the texts-Jn 19:37 clarifies Zec 12:10; Rev 1:7; b) through the insertion of the texts into the canon of the Scripture. In these cases a new contexts is created, which brings out fresh possibilities of meaning that had lain hidden in the original context.

Philosophical and Theological Hermeneutics

The Reformation led by Martin Luther, John Calvin, and Ulrich Zwingli (16th c.) considered Scripture as the sole foundation of faith (sola scriptura). This was in line with the earlier thinking of John Wyclif (14th c.). The reformers differed from the overwhelming majority of ancient exegesis in their instance on the right of SS, as literally interpreted, to stand alone. Catholic exegesis relied strongly on the authority of the fathers and the authority of the tradition of the church in interpretation.

Until the 17th century the difference in hermeneutics thoughts were limited to : a) preference for the literal and the allegorical sense; b) acceptance or the non-acceptance of the ecclesial tradition; and c) the ways of interpreting inspiration. But both the Catholics and protestants accepted: a) the existence of a transcendent creator God; b) the datum of revelation; c) the possibility and the fact of miracles; d) SS as a sacred and inspired book to be interpreted according to particular canons/rules; e) a dichotomy between natural and supernatural.

In the 17th and 18th centuries we find a radical change in these: In the philosophical field this was due to rationalism, empiricism, and the enlightenment movement; in the literary field, the discovery of new manuscripts and critical methods; in the scientific field, the progress of positive sciences called into question the old beliefs; in the historical field, the new methods of research and new discoveries made the difference. At this time we find the word ‘hermeneutic’ appearing more frequently as a general science even though the theories of interpretation were used from very ancient times. Now Hermeneutics became a general science of understanding as well as a way of explaining a text.

In the biblical field outside the catholic world, this ideological revolution shook centuries-old axioms and it also opened the doors to a deeper scientific study of the Bible. It was at this period that Scripture began to be considered as a historical document and exegetes became interested in understanding the mind of the authors and their historical context. It is at this time that we find commentators searching for the ipsissima verba of the biblical writers and for the historical Jesus.

The post-reformation interpretation of the Bible gave rise to ‘Protestant Liberalism’ resulting in many negative interpretations of the Bible known as “the accommodation theory’, ‘the naturalist interpretation’ the theory of dialectical development of dogma, and ‘the mythical theory’. J.S Semler (1725-’91) in his accommodation theory claimed that Scripture teachings regarding miracles, vicarious and expiatory sacrifice, the resurrection, eternal judgment, and the existence of angels and demons are to be regarded as accommodation of the superstitious notions, prejudices and ignorance of the times. The supernatural was set aside and the doctrine of divine inspiration of the Scriptures was rejected. This questioned the very nature of SS.

H.E.G Paulus, a rationalist contemporary of Schleiermacher, proposed the Naturalistic Interpretation. He rejected all supernatural activities in human affairs and explained the miracles of Jesus either as acts of kindness or exhibitions of medical skill, or illustrations of personal sagacity and tact, recorded in a manner peculiar to the age and opinions of the different writers. F.C.Baur (1792-1860) under the influence of Hegel’s theory of history believed in the dialectical development of dogma. He argued that the history of early Christianity was to be interpreted in the light of thesis (Judaizers=Jewish) antithesis (Paul and his followers=Gentiles), and the synthesis (the gospels and epistles were a synthesis of both these elements). Baur’s disciple, D.F.Strauss (1808-1874), proposed the mythical theory. He considered the Christ of the Gospel’s as the mythical creation of the early church. At present no serious scholar will subscribe to any these negative interpretations.

Biblical interpretation needs appropriate intellectual tools in order to work with the biblical text. It is the competence of philosophy to provide concepts and tools to guide biblical interpretation. Through the works of Schleiermacher, Dilthey, Heideggar, Barth, Bultmann, Gadamer, Ricoeur, etc. ‘hermeneutics’ became a systematic discipline in the contemporary philosophy and theology. In this respect we have different ways of understanding Hermeneutics. a) as a theory of biblical exegesis-whether it is ancient, medieval or modern. b) as a general method, but exclusively linguistic, according to the theories of the new philological sciences of the 18th cent; c) as the ‘science’ of every type of linguistic comprehension as proposed by Schleiermacher; d) as the methodical foundation of the Geistenwissenschaften (sciences of the spirit) understood by W.Dilthey; e) as the phenomenology of existence and existential comprehension (‘philosophy’ of the interpretation) according to Martin Heideggar, Rudolf Bultmann, and Hans-Georg Gadamer; f) as ‘theological exegesis’ as proposed by Karl Barth; and g) as a system of interpretation concerning the meaning of myths and symbols as proposed by Paul Ricoeur.

Schleiermacher (1768-1834)

Schleiermacher is called ‘the fatherof modern hermeneutics’ for the widened the scope of hermeneutics from its being a set of principles governing interpretation of Bible and classical philology into a rigorous science of interpretation. He made a sharp distinction between principles of general hermeneutics and the concerns of a particular hermeneutics, such as biblical hermeneutics and hermeneutics. In this context he understood general hermeneutics, such as biblical hermeneutics. In this context he understood general hermeneutics as the art of understanding any written text and biblical hermeneutics should not contradict these principles of general hermenutics.

There are two major influences on Scheiermacher’s hermeneutics: a) Kant, who gave primacy to epistemology over ontology and positivism; b) Romanticism, which holds that the unconscious human mind is the source of creating ideas and meaning. Under these two influences, Schleiermacher was searching for a living relation between the process of the creation of ideas (Romantic) and of universally valid rules of understanding (Kuntian).

Schleiermacher’s hermeneutics stressed the two principles involved in the act of understanding the text and the author: a) Grammatical principles: The knowledge of grammar helps the reader to reach only the exeriority of the written text. The meaning of the text can be understood only from the author’s idea, context, and the first audience to whom the text is originally addressed. Similarly the part and the whole of an author’s text can be understood only in relationship to each other; b) Technical/Psychological principle: According to this principle, through an act of sympathetic intuitive comprehension, a divinatory comprehension, the interpreter should try to enter into the author’s mind, so as to gain an immediate grasp of the author as an individual in order to understand him. Understanding, for Schleiermacher, is primarily understanding the author.

Kant saw the mind impersonal whereas under the influence of Romantic philosophy Schleiermacher saw the mind as the creative unconscious at work in gifted individuals. Thus his Kantian background gave a critical thrust to his hermeneutics and the romantic philosophy gave a psychological approach. According to Schleiermacher, the task of hermeneutics is to avoid misunderstanding. Misunderstanding, which is casued by the individuality of the writer and the reader, necessitates a universal or a general hermeneutical theory (theory of understanding). He sought to work out a general hermeneutics as the foundation for all kind of text interpretations. He considered hermeneutics as the art of comprehending a text.

Wihelm Dilthey (1833-1911)

W. Dilthey was a philiosopher of history. His hermeneutical theories were influenced by his teacher Schleiermacher and the theories of Kant and Hegel. Kant tried to develop a rigorous theory of the knowing process. But Hegel considered Kant’s philosophy too abstract. Dilthey tried to complement Kant’s critical philosophy with Hegel’s historical interest.

Dilthey distinguishes between Naturwissenschaften (natural science) and Geistenwissenschaften (science of the Spirit/human science). He sought to make hermeneutics the foundational displine of all human science. According to Dilthey, understanding life is different from knowing objects through explanations in natural sciences. He sought to make hermeneutics the foundational discipline of all human science. Man expresses his life through signs, symbols, and works. History is a record of such objectifications. It is only through these objectifications of life that one can understand life. Hence, for Dilthey, understanding is historical and the task of hermeneutics is to understand life from these expressions of life as recorded in history.

According to Dilthey understanding has to do not only with linguistic communication, but also with historical consciousness. Understanding require a conscious effort to overcome historical distance. The interpreter must transport himself out of the present time frame to that of the past. Understanding is conceived as Nacherleben (re-experience) of the original experience (Erlebnis). Nacherleben is not identical with the original; it is co-determined by the interpeter’s own historical horizon.

For Schleiermacher the focus is the individual and the problems related to interpersonal communication. Dilthey goes further and introduce the epistemological perspective and includes history and tradition as part of his reflection in an effort to explore the hermeneutical dimensions of historical consciousness. Both men sought to underline that the interpreter had to rise above his own historical context or situation and place himself in the perpective of the author. For them understanding is the understanding of the author from his text. They conceived hermeneutics primarily as a technique, a methodological and epistemological enterprise.

Karl Barth (1886-1968)

Being a pastor, Barth’s hermeneutical problem was how to proclaim the Word of God so that it would become alive and meaningful for his time. His concept of ‘theological exegesis’ tries to bridge the division between scientific and practical exegesis and to regain the unity of biblical interpretation. From the perspective of incarnation Barth understands the Bible as the unity of the word of God and man. Hence historical exegesis is unavoidable, but it should serve the better understanding of the real subject matter of the text, Jesus Christ. Barth maintains that a completely objective exegesis is impossible and that real understanding requires the exegete’s personal input. For him the guiding principles of biblical interpretation are obedience to the word of God and subordination of human concepts to Divine Revelation.

Rudolof Bultmann (1884-1976)

Bultmann is influenced by Heidegger and hence one can find in him an existential interpretation of the SS.His concern is to unite the question of human existence found in the SS and the questions of human existence found in the situation of the modern interpreter. In interpretation what is important is its content. For him, God’s word is hidden in the SS just as God’s action is hidden in the universe. So the task of hermeneutic is to bring out the hidden word of God from the SS.

Bultmann agrees with Barth that an exegesis without presupposition is an illusion. He considers the biblical text as the result of an existential encounter between God and man, and the subsequent interpretation is aimed at making a similar encounter possible in the present. Bultmann’s whole hermeneutical programme is motivated by the need to communicate the kerygma, the existential message of the NT, to a modern audience. The written text represents only an incomplete rendering of the kerygma because the existential encounter inherent in the kerygma cannot be objectified in any full sense of the word. For Bultmann this opens the possibility to apply the full range of historical-critical operations to the text without endangering its essential kerygma. The latter rests on the text are those in which the very existence of the reader is put on the line. Only in this way can the self- understanding (Selbstverstdandnis) of the reader be challenged.

Bultmann’s hermeneutical method is called demythologizing according to which the NT language is mythological. But the kerygma, the basic message of the NT, is important. This message can be retrieved from the mythological language of the text by the process called demythologizing. For many scholars, demythologizations is an impossibility.

Edmund Husserl (1859-1938)

Phenomenology of Edmund Husseri (1859-1938) had great impact on the hermeneutical thinkers that followed him; namely, Heidegger, Gadamer, Ricoeur and others. Husserl tried to free philosophical thinking from the imposition of all kinds of system, speculation and dogmatism and propagated a return in philosophy to the things themselves. In his philosophy, he inquires how knowledge is acquired by paying attention to the essence of a thing that comes to mind-he called it phenomenon – that  one comes to know things. His attempt was to provide a foundational theory for all science, whether empirical or scientific. His attention to consciousness, for the study of the formation of knowledge, influenced later hermeneutical thinkers.

Martin Heidegger (1889-1976)

In Martin Heidegger we see a shift from hermeneutics as epistemology (how a subject can know an object) to hermeneutics of being (the very nature of being itself). The question is not ‘how do we understand?’ but the mode of his being (Dasein) which exists only by comprehending (knowing). For Heidegger, knowing is a constitutive element of human existence itself, an existential element, so that to be a human being signifies to know. To exist as a man is to live knowing. Man is essentially a ‘being-in-the-word’, existing in particular culture, history, community, and cosmos. Understanding is closely bound up with Dasein’s possibilities of existence. Thus, understanding does not involve leaving one’s historical context.

According to Heidegger, there are two stages in our process of understanding: a) pre-understanding or presupposition which is the initial pre-understanding or pre-supposition is not a prejudice for Heidegger; rather, it is the very structure that makes understanding possible. Every interpretation which contributes to comprehension must have pre-comprehended that which it interprets. Interpretation is a process. The pre-understanding is challenged when new possibilities for existence are exposed through the event of understanding which leads to modification or revision of the interpreter’s self-understanding. This modified understanding itself can become the new pre-understanding in the next phase of the process.

Hans-Georg Gadamer (1900-1986)

Gadamer stresses the historical distance between the text and its interpreter. His hermeneutical circle is: ‘I believe in order to understand. I understand in order to believe’ (credo ut intellegam, intelligo ut credam) and ‘from faith to the text, and from the text to faith’.

A disciple of Heidegger, Gadamer thinks that man is not only projected to the future possibility (as maintained by Heidegger), he is also born of a past. He not only goes towards… but also comes from… Due to his origin the pre-comprehension is nourished by a tradition. Every comprehension presupposes a subject and every subject a historical context. Through man’s participation in history he is related to tradition. He cannot therefore overcome tradition altogether in his life. Hence valid tradition and legitimate authority have a special value for Gadamer. He is of the opinion that tradition and authority are not against reason.

Hermeneutics cannot be only a question of method striving for objectively secured knowledge. It must open up a dialogical process through which possibilities for existence are acknowledged. A dialogue unfolds between the present and the past, between text and interpreter, each with its own horizon. The goal of interpretation is the fusion of the horizons of the text and that of the interpreter (reader), and thus it is a participation in the stream of history, Further, the dialogue is between the interpreter and the text and not with the author. The text is much more than the author, for the text may have accumulated more meaning in the successive interpretations in its history than that which might have explicitly been intended by the author. Therefore Gadamer speaks of the autonomy of the text from the author.

According to Gadamer, comprehension is a lively insertion in a process of historical transmission, in which the past and the present continually come together. Time, which separates the past from the present, is not an abyss that has to be overcome or climbed over because it separates and distance; instead it has to be seen as the basic carrier, in which the present has its roots with the continuity of transmission of the tradition.

Lanuage effects the synthesis of the horizon of the past (of the text and of the tradition that carries it) and the horizon of the present (that of the interpreter and of his pre-comprehension). Language is related to dialogue and consequently of the dialectic of question and answer. The text speaks to us, answers our questions as well as puts questions to us. In Gadamer there is a shift from understanding ‘being’ to understanding ‘language’.

For Gadamer, understanding is complete only by its application or appropriation, making one’s own what one knows. In biblical terms, the encounter with the text can and should lead to metanoia, a change of mentality, a new and better knowledge of oneself and a new communion of experience with Him and with that which is behind the text.

 

Paul Ricoeur (1913)

According to Ricoeur, a believing contemporary French philosopher of Protestant faith, man expresses himself through signs and symbols, and the creation of text is an important means of this expression. In his view, once a discourse has been written down and takes the form of a book there takes place distancing of two types: a) first, between the text and the author. Once written ,the texts takes on an autonomy of its own, it de-contextualizes with respect to the author and his ambient; b) then, between the text and the successive readers who have to respect the world of the text in its otherness. So the text can be understood only through interpretation.

For Paul Richoeur hermeneutics is a de-condification or discovery of the meaning hidden in an apparent sense. The act of reading consists in connecting the world of the text and that of the reader, establishing a new contextualization (which Gadamer would call a fusion of horizons). Hermeneutics consists not so much in knowing what is behind the text, rather, what is in front of it..

Human existence, in the movement of auto realization, objectifies itself in signs, works, representations and institutions- in culture. Therefore to think means to decipher these signs and understand the human reality in them. The simplest and the most profound form of  this objectifying is the symbol which gives origin to myth. At this elementary level, language assumes a symbolic dimension. Ricoeur says that le symbole donne a penser, ‘the symbol promotes thought’. It gives the richness of sense deposited in it. The direct, primary and literal sense indicates an indirect, secondary and figurative sense which cannot be had except through the first. Every symbol has a face turned to the past, towards its own origin, and another one truned to the future of the subject, towards the possibilities which awaits it.

In this the demythologization or demystification has its role but not in the sense of simply recongnizing the myth to renounce it (Bultmann), but to recognize it as myth in order to liberate the symbolic kernel. In the context of faith this demystification is seen in the service of faith. It uncovers all that in faith has not still arrived at maturation and which remains on the level of pseudo-religious affectivity.

The present Need of Biblical Interpretation and the Problems

The scientific of the Scriptures has been facilited especially since the early part of 19th century due to the following factors: a) the growth of related disciplines such as the comparative study of religions and the extra-biblical literature of Akkadia, Egypt, Canaan, Assyria and Babylon; b) renewed interest in the archaeology of the land of Palestine; c) growth in the philological studies of the Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek languages and their borrowing from other cultures; d) the beginning of the studies in the social science which allowed one to build a broad framework by which the Bible could be investigated historically and thereby some of the enigmas of the past could be solved.

Problems

Mythical Language

Due to the modern understanding of history and to the use of the historical method, there is a danger of recreating biblical history in man’s own image. The ancient people expressed themselves in mythical categories. Istael lived in immediate proximity with this ambient and even borrowed much of the mythical material from her neighbours. One is reminded of these ideas: God presiding over a heavenly council with other deities (Ps 82); God being a heavenly warrior fighting a battle from heaven above for his people below (Ps 94); God dwelling on a holy mountain called Zion (Ps 46;48); God fighting and slaying the sea-monster typifying the chaos (Ps 74;89).

Many of the Psalms and the prophets who adopted liturgical material for their own purposes have to be seen at times as communicating truths on a mythical rather than on a historical level. Myth was an important vehicle to convey spiritual truths for the ancient mind. However, we must know that even though myth was was certainly used in the biblical accounts, not everything can be described by them. A pan-mythical view can become as false as an estimation of the world-view of the biblical writers as can a pan-historical view. The positive consequence of this realization has been a proper caution in judging the value of mythical language with our modern-day mind set.

Contradictions and Repetitions in Biblical Accounts:

i)                    In Gen 1:1-1:2:4a (P) and 2:4b-25 (J) we have two different orders of creation. They speak quite clearly of the different ways in which man and woman were created. In Gen 1 man is created as the pinnacle of creation in the image of God, after the creation of the natural order and the animal world; in Gen 2 man is created first out of the earth, to be followed by the animal kingdom, and then out of his rib woman is created.

ii)                  In the floor stories (Gen 6-9), on the one hand, we read of 7 pairs of clean animals and a pair of unclean animals being taken into the ark (7:1-10), and the flood lasting for 40 days (7:12;8:6) before receding after two periods of 7 days; on the other hand, a few verses later we read that Noah took only two pair of each animal (7:8-9,15), and that the flood lasted 150 days (7:24), receding in another 150 days (8:3).

iii)                We also find doublets and repetitions on several different occasions: the Joseph story (Gen 37:28,36) narrates that he was sold first to the Ishmaelites and then to the Medianites and so was taken in different ways into slavery in Egypt.

iv)                There is a double version of the Decalogue: the Code of Alliance (Ex 20:1-17) and the Deuternomical code (Dt 5:1-22).

v)                  The Exodus narratives (Ex 14-15;Ps 78;105) show different versions.

vi)                The accounts of the people entering the land are different: Joshua 1-12 speaks of a sudden conquest while Judg 1:1-2:5, of a diffcult and protracted settlement.

vii)              The Judean kings, such as Hezekiah, Manasseh, and Josiah, are presented in different lights in 2 Kgs 18-23 and in 2 Chr 29-35.

viii)            A typical interpretation of Jer 25:11-14 (Babylon: 70 years) is made by Daniel 9, which becomes the origin of the famous prophecy of the 70 weeks.

In the NT we also see different accounts of miracles, different records of parables, and different emphases (and often variant chronologies) of the events in the life of Jesus. Most significant ones are the different accounts of the resurrection appearances.

These examples show the existence of different traditions and also the attempts to interpret the tradition in new situations. The word of God is dynamic and is not fully exhausted in its proclamation by the prophet or its writing by the sacred author.

The Problem of Religious Language

The new understanding of the nature of religious language invites us to a cautious view regarding the one-sided historical research of the biblical accounts. In so far as it is trying to mediate not only earthly realities but also a transcendental reality, religious language has reference points beyond this language with particular instensity (e.g., in the apocalyptic imageries used in the Gospels and in Revelation) into a category which goes well beyond history. Much of Scripture is couched in different types of religious language, and the recognition of the type which is being used (descriptive or prescriptive) can often suggest whether or not the material in which it occurs is to be understood historically.

The primary dimensions of language are literal, physical or material. To describe a reality or truth which is non-literal, spiritual and transcendental metaphor may be employed. Metaphors point to a reality that is beyond the literal/historical. Such a reading would provide us with the theological meaning (e.g., Christ as Lamb of God, the Prince of Peace, the Living Water, the Alpha and Omega, the King of Kings, and the Wisdom of God-obviously metaphorical language used to convey religious, spiritual insight beyond that which is literal).

There are Obscure and Difficult Passages in the Bible:

Dan 9:2: Reading the prophecies of Jeremiah, Daniel pondered long over what they meant; Acts 8:26-35: The Ethiopian did not understand the passage of Is 53:7-8 and saw the need of an interpreter; 2 Pet 1:20-21: “First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation…”; 2 Pet 3:16: Letters of Paul are difficult to understand (“There are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures”).

Catholic Interpretation of S. Scripture

In the catholic hermeneutics we see three important elements: Scripture, Church and Tradition. After the Reformation and the Council of Trent (1545-1563) the Catholic Church affirmed the role of tradition and the authority of the church over free and unrestricted interpretation of the Scripture. The Catholic hermeneutics received a breathing space in Leo XIII’s encyclical Providentissimus Deus (1893) although it gave only a critical view of the various approaches of that time. It is from the time of Pius XII’s encyclical Divino Afflante Spiritu (1943) that in the Catholic Church a positive encouragement was given to scientific study and interpretation of the Bible.

6.1                Vatican II

Vatican Council II (1962-’65) encouraged biblical interpretation. This is evident from the Dogmatic constitution Dei Verbum on “Divine Revelation” (1965). DV 12 speaks of: a) the need for biblical interpretation; b) the use of various methods of interpretation; and c) the priniciples of wholistic interpretation. The following are the catholic principles of biblical interpretation.

i)                    The Bible is the word of God couched in human language and it is to be read and ionterpreted with the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

ii)                  The Bible is an inspired book having authority for the people of Christian faith.

iii)                The Bible represents a restricted canon of authoritative texts and the interpretation must take into account the unity of the whole Scripture.

iv)                It is given by God to his people for their edification and salvation.

v)                  The Spirit who inspired the human author also guides the community of interpreters and believers (the Church) to understand its text.

vi)                Through the Bible, God continues tp speak to the readers of every generation.

vii)              The Bible is properly expounded only in relation to the living tradition of the church from which it has evolved.

Pontifical Biblical Commissin: the Interpretation of the Bible in the Church (1993)

This document was published in 1993 celebrating a double anniversary, the first centenary of the Encyclical Providentissimus Deus of Leo XIII and the 50th anniversary of the Divino Afflante Spiritu of Pius XII which were devoted to biblical studies.

Without claiming any particular method of interpretation as its own, the Church recognizes the Bible as the work of human authors, who employed both their own capacities for expression and the means which their age and social context put at their disposal. Catholic interpretation freely makes use of the scientific methods and approaches which allow a better grasp of the meaning of the texts in their linguistic, literary, socio-cultural, religious and historical contexts.

Catholic interpretation deliberately places itself within the living tradition of the Church, whose first concern is fidelity to the revelation set forth in the Bible. Modern hermeneutics has shown that it is impossible to interpret any text without a pre-understanding of one type or another. Catholic exegetes approach the Bible with the pre-understanding which holds together modern scientific culture and the religious tradition emanating from Israel and the early Christian community. This interpretation stands in direct continuity with a dynamic pattern of interpretation found within the Bible itself and which continues in the life of the Church. Thus it corresponds to the requirement that there be a living affinity between the interpreter and the text.

Theology, Faith, Scripture, Tradition and Revelation

Today there is a growing awareness that all knowledge is interpretative. This is all the more so in the case of theology, which is an onogoing interpretation of the Christian faith in the light of the present day human existence. There are various factors involved in the process of interpretation of the Christian faith such as Scripture, tradition, magisterium, revelation, inspiration, dogma, the theologians and the church community as a whole. Theology as interpretation is the result of a dynamic interaction of these components.

Scripture is the soul of theology. So it must be given prime importance in theology. If the faith of the church is the starting point of theology, it should be based on the narrative witness of the Scripture, the revelation in the Scripture. Revelation is primarily an event of God’s self-communication. Revelation cannot be identified with Scripture or dogma/tradition although there is a temptation to do so. Scripture is a witness to revelation, a testimony in writing, an interpretation of a primary event.

Scripture is the primary witness to revelation. So it has a pre-eminence in theology. This pre-eminence of the Scripture in theology was not always recognized by the church. Instead, tradition, dogma and the authority of the magisterium have often been overemphasized. However, after the second Vatican Council, the unity of Scripture and tradition as a single deposit of the Word of God, the derived character of dogma and the magisterium’s role as a functional one of service have all been stressed.

Theology is an ongoing interpretation of Scripture, and dogma is the authoritative interpretation of it at different times. The church interprets Scripture; but at the same time it must allow itself to be interpreted by the Scripture.

Exegetical Methods and Approaches

An exegetical method is a group of scientific procedures employed in order to explain texts; this can be: a) The Historical-critical (diachronic) Method: b) New Methods of Literary (Synchronic) Analysis such as Narrative Analysis, Semiotic/Structuralist Analysis, and Rhetorical Analysis.

That the origins and development of a phenomenon contain the key to its understanding is the generic principle behind the various method of historical criticism. The historical critical method is attentive to principle behind the various methods of historical criticism. The historical critical method is attentive to the historical development of texts or traditions across the passage of time, that is , summed up in the term diachronic. In other words, it studies the genesis of the text in its vertical movement. Synchronic understanding of the texts has to do with their language, composition, narrative structure and capacity for peruasion.

An exegetical approach means an enquiry proceeding from  a particular point of view. This can be : a) an approach based on Tradition; b) an approach that uses Human Sciences; c) a Contextual Approach; d) a Fundamenralist Interpretation.

Biblical criticism, the study and investigation of biblical writings that seeks to make discerning and discriminating judgments about these writings. The term ‘criticism’ is derived from the Greek word kri,nw, which means ‘to judge,’ ‘to discern,’ or to be discriminating in making an evaluation or forming a judgment. It has come to refer to a form of inquiry whose purpose is to make discriminating judgments about literary and artistic productions. Thus, we speak of literary criticism, art criticism, music criticism, or film criticism as disciplines or fields of inquiry whose purpose is to review productions in their respective areas in order to discuss and appraise their significant features and judge their lasting worth.

Historical-Critical (Diachronic) Method

 The Biblical is the ‘word of God in human language’ composed by human authors in all its parts and in all its sources from which it takes shape. The goal of the historical-critical method is to determine, particularly in a diachronic manner, the meaning expressed by the biblical authors and editors. Along with other methods and approaches, the historical-critical method opens up to the modern reader a path to the meaning of the biblical text such as we have it today.

H.Gunkel was concerned with the texture of the different elements of the biblical text and sought to define the genre of each piece (legend, hymn etc.), and its original setting in the life of the community (Sitz im Leben) such as its legal setting, liturgical setting etc. Formgeschichte, the study of forms, was introduced by Dibelius and Bultmann in the interpretation of the Synoptic Gospels. The latter combined form critical studies with biblical hermeneutics using the existentialist philosophy of M.Heidegger. These efforts have shown that the tradition recorded in the NT had its origin and its basic shape within the Christian community, or early Church, passing from the preaching of Jesus himself to that which proclaimed Jesus as the Christ. Formgeschichte was supplemented by Redakionsgeschichte, the critical study of the process of editing, which sought to shed light upon the personal contribution of each evangelist and to uncover the theological tendencies which shaped his editorial work.

i)                    The Diachronic method is a historical method applied to ancient texts and studies their significance from a historical point of view. It seeks above all to shed light on the historical processes which gave rise to the biblical text: complex diachronic processes that often involved a long period of time.

ii)                  The Diachronic method is a critical method because in each step it operates with the help of scientific criteria that seek to be as objective as possible, and it tries to make accessible to the modern reader the meaning of biblical texts that are often very diffcult to comprehend.

Even though as an analytical method the diachronic method studies the biblical text in the same fashion as it would study any other ancient text and comments upon it as an expression of human discourse, in the area of redaction criticism above all, it does allow the exegete to gain a better grasp of the content of divine revelation. The steps followed in the diachronic method are as follows:

Textual Criticism

Textual Criticism is a specialized and technical discipline aimed at restoring the presumed original form of the text as accurately as possible. We see the diversity of copies of the text, sometimes not agreeing one with the other. On the basis of the oldest and the best mss, as well as papyri, ancient versions, and patristic texts, textual criticism seeks to establish, according to fixed rules, a biblical text as close to the original as possible.

Linguistic and Semantic Analysis

Linguistic analysis is conducted on the philogocal, morphological, and syntactical levels. All are intended to attain elementary grammatical and linguistic function of each single component and their inter-relationships in the micro-stucture of the text. Semantic investigation is concerned with meaning.

In textual meaning one looks at the sense of the words and phrases in themselves, as can be found with the help of a dictionary or lexicon.

In the contextual meaning one is concerned with the sense of words and phrases derived from the context in which they are found, whether in a paragraph or a unit, of a text.

Relational meaning tries to find the sense of the text in the work as a whole or in a corpus of writings originating from the same author.

The first words of the Bible begin: “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth”. According to the Hebrew construction of the sentence the placing of an element other than the verb at the beginning of the sentence may suggest emphasis. Thus ‘in the beginning’ (bereshit) may indicate the absolute beginning when there existed absolutely nothing other than God. It is Elohim, the subject of the sentence, who created everything when there was nothing. The Hebrew verb bara used for making/producing is used only with God as subject. It suggests the exceptional nature of this whole divine action (of creation). The heavens and the earth (the totality of the universe) are the direct objects (grammatically as well as in reality) of God’s and are separate from him.

Jesus as logos is found not only is found not only in Jn 1:1-18, but also in 1 Jn 1:1-4; Rev 19:13. Flesh, in Jn 1:14 is used to mean ‘incarnation’ and in 6:51-56, to mean ‘Eucharist’

Literary Criticism

Literary criticism determines the beginning and end of textual units, large and small; it seeks to establish the liternal coherence of the text. In this stage of critical analysis one is also concerned with the existence of the doublets, irregularities, and irreconcilable differences. This inquiry is important because they can be seen as indicators or clues to the composite nature of certain texts.

Literary criticism shows that, once written, any text assumes a life of its own and may convey meaning beyond the original author’s intention.

Historical Criticism

The detection of what the author meant to say is one aspect of historical criticism. Many times the literal sense is relatively easy to discern; at other times it requires a good knowledge of the ancient languages, grammar, idioms, customs, etc. When the text studied belongs to a historical literary genre or is related to events in history, historical criticism completes literary criticism, so as determine the historical significance of the text, in the modern sense of this expression.

Historical Criticism and Presuppositions

The Bible is an historical book. It records the history of Israel, the life of Jesus of Nazareth and the history of the early church (Krentz 1975, p. 1) in the words of humans who were inspired by God (Black & Dockery 1991, p. 76). Because the Bible is an historical work, it is subject to historical investigation and the results of historical research (Black & Dockery 1991, p. 73-74).

The overall purpose of historical-critical methods is to investigate what actually happened in the events described or alluded to (Marshall 1985, p. 126). Krentz (1975, p. 35-36) gives the following goals of historical investigation:

  1. Present a body of facts that show what actually happened and why.
  2. Illuminate the past, creating a comprehensive picture of a culture’s own record of history.
  3. Understand the significance of events and interpret them.
  4. Understand motives as well as actions.

Marshall (1985, p. 128-130) points out that reading Biblical accounts raises the following historical problems or questions:

  1. Discrepancies with parallel Biblical accounts.
  2. Discrepancies with non-Biblical material.
  3. Historical improbabilities.
  4. Supernatural occurrences.
  5. Creation/Modification by the early church
  6. Literary genre.
  7. Insufficient evidence.

These problems and questions may only be resolved by historical study (Marshall 1985, p. 131). Using critical methods it is possible to determine all relevant sources of historical data, the accuracy and credibility of these sources and the development of the material in these sources. Using this information it is possible to determine what is historically probable and form an historical hypothesis which successfully accounts for what the sources say and build a coherent picture of what probably happened (Marshall 1985, p. 127). It is not always possible to arrive at certainty. Complex events are difficult to record in detail and often the sources are missing or incomplete. History is limited – historians only produce a limited or reduced representation of the past (Krentz 1975, p. 37). There may be several possibilities available each of which is equally probable, so reasoned assessments and conjectures are often called for. However, this results in a problem with presuppositions because they will determine what may or may not be possible and probable (Marshall 1985, p. 127).

This is where historical criticism has been abused. Many practitioners take a “purely scientific” view which excludes any possibility of the supernatural and results in a purely naturalistic interpretation of Biblical events and people. Because of these presuppositions, this view is prevented from saying anything at all about God or the miracles and supernatural works of Jesus Christ (Black & Dockery 1991, p. 74). These scholars hold that all supernatural events described in the Bible are inventions of the early church. Therefore they attempt to get behind this mythology and get at the “real” historical Jesus. Schaeffer (1985, v. 1 p. 52) highlights the problem with this approach: “Naturalistic theology has ….. begun by accepting the presupposition of the uniformity of natural causes in a closed system. Thus they rejected everything miraculous and supernatural including …. the life of Jesus Christ. …. they still hoped to find an historical Jesus in a rational, objective, scholarly way by separating the supernatural aspects of Jesus’ life from the ‘true history’. But they failed ….. Their search for the historical Jesus was doomed to failure. The supernatural was so intertwined with the rest that if they ripped out all the supernatural, there was no Jesus left!”

Many liberal theologians have used critical methods to show the Bible is not historically accurate. The authors were primarily theologians not historians so the “Jesus of history” is nothing like the Jesus of the Bible. This means that if there is a discrepancy between the Bible and other historical material, it is the Bible that is most probably in error. A Biblical account must be ‘proved’ historically accurate rather than accepted as so (Black & Dockery 1991, p. 82). But this scepticism is unwarranted since the Bible has shown itself time and again to be historically accurate. Historical criticism should pursue without restriction the explanation that best explains the phenomena in question. This includes supernatural explanations (Black & Dockery 1991, p. 89).

Source Criticism

Source Criticism studies the relationship between individual texts in a wider literary contexts and their dependence on source. Here the approach is diachronic which treats language as a historical material. Its most important proponent, Wellhausen, argued that four sources may be found in the Laws of Moses from Genesis to Deuteronomy. This takes the emphasis away from Moses as the author and places new emphasis on the compiler of the sources/documents (this term is used to underline that this is already a written account). Repetitions and double accounts. Narratives of the creation, flood, beginning of the Joseph story, the stories of Abraham (Gen 12-25), Moses and the plagues (Ex 1-11), origins of Passover and crossing of the red sea (Ex 12-15), and God’s appearance on Sinai (Ex 19-24) will be seen as indictors for the existence of different sources.

The first source, which mainly used the name Yahweh for God, was called J (Jahwist) and the second using the name Elohim is known as E (Elohist); the source which is particularly interested in the obedience to the covenant is identified as D (Deuteronomist – less evident in Genesis but more in Exodus); the final source, with a repetitive liturgical style and an  interest in priestly matters, is called P (Priestly); Wellhausen labeled them as JEDP (the documentary-hypothesis). Pentateuch was a combination of all four sources, developing from as early as the time of Solomon (J) to as late as the time of the restoration of the people after the Babyloniam exile (P)

Regarding the Synoptics, source enquiries have demonstrated the existence of at least two sources in their composition, i.e., Q (Quelle = source) and Mark as the basic traditions (the two source theory) of the other two Synoptic Gospels of Mathew and Luke.

2.2.1 Explanation of Source Criticism

The author of Luke states that “Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word.” (Luke 1:1-2, NIV) This implies that in the early church period there were many different sources of material concerning the life of Christ. Luke also states that he “carefully investigated everything from the beginning” (v. 3), so it is reasonable to assume that Luke knew about these sources, read them and used them to compose his own account (v. 3). It is also reasonable to assume that the other gospel writers did the same (Marshall 1985, p. 139). Also, internal evidence such as the similarity/dissimilarity of wording (for the same events), content and order suggests the gospel writers had common sources (Black & Dockery 1991, p. 139). To assume that the synoptic gospels were written completely independently is not a sensible option – there is just too much internal evidence indicating otherwise (Fee & Stuart 1993, p. 122).

The search for sources is much easier and less speculative when there are several parallel accounts, like those found in the synoptic gospels. By examining parallel accounts and noting the agreements and disagreements in wording, ordering of material, omissions, style, ideas and theology and taking into account statements made by church fathers, it is possible to derive hypothetical sources of the synoptic gospels (Marshall 1985, p. 140-144). If a story is unique to a particular gospel then searching for breaks and dislocations in narrative sequence, stylistic inconsistency, theological inconsistency and historical inconsistency may also be helpful in determining possible sources (Marshall 1985, p. 144-145).

It will not always be possible to identify the written or oral sources of a particular account. This does not mean that the account should not be trusted (Marshall 1985, p. 146). In any case, several gospel writers (Matthew, John and perhaps Mark) were actual eye-witnesses.

The Two-Source or Oxford hypothesis is the one accepted by the vast majority of scholars (Black & Dockery 1991, p. 144). This hypothesis states that Mark and a hypothetical document called Q, were the basis for Matthew and Luke. It is suggested that Q contains the verses common to Matthew and Luke but not found in Mark. Matthew and Luke were composed using a combination of Mark, Q and possibly other sources (Black & Dockery 1991, p. 143-144).

2.2.2 Evaluation of Source Criticism

If the sources of an account can be identified, it is possible to learn a great deal. The fact that Matthew and Luke usually agree with Mark on the actual words of Jesus indicates they both wanted to preserve Mark’s tradition rather than just make up there own. Source criticism can reveal something about the author’s method of writing and particular interests and ideas (Stein 1988, p. 144). For example, Matthew seems to focus on the Jews but to be sure of this we need to know what his sources were. If his source was Mark, then this is a reasonable conclusion but if it was the traditions of the Jerusalem church, then this Jewish focus would be inherent in the source rather than Matthew’s interest (Marshall 1985, p. 147).

Hermeneutical insights may also be gained. If the earliest text form of an event can be recovered, then it will be possible to see how each gospel writer interpreted that event and how they modified it to emphasise that interpretation (Stein 1988, p. 151).

Many critics have viewed source modifications as corruptions or errors but these changes were made under the inspiration of the Spirit and are still authorative. It should also be noted that the canonical text form is inspired. A hypothetical reconstruction of the text is not. It is unwise to make hypothetical sources the basis for theology.

The Two-Source hypothesis makes some questionable affirmations in regard to Q material and material unique to Matthew or Luke. Q is a purely hypothetical document and it is highly unlikely that it was a single written source. It is far more probable that it was a collection of documents. However, the possibility of the existence of Q-like documents is beyond doubt since the discovery of the Gospel of Thomas (Stein 1988, p. 109). Also, material that is unique to either Matthew or Luke is assumed to come from another source other than Mark or Q. But this may not be the case. It is possible that Matthew included a saying from Q that Luke did not and vice versa.

Form (Genre) Criticism

Form criticism assumes an oral tradition behind the written text and is interested in its transition from the pre-literary form to the literary form. Here we study the various literary genres or forms.

At this stage an attempt is made to classify the material into particular genres so that one could propose a common life setting for each genre. Even though this is related to source criticism, here the emphasis is mainly on trying to understand the particular life setting (Sitz im Leben or the vital context) of particular ideas. The analysis of different forms used by the writers takes us down much smaller units of material (unlike in the analysis of the sources). For the OT, Gunkel, and for the NT, his disciples Dibelius and Bultmann made important contributions in this regard.

The Scandinavian School considered the basic units as myths, hymns, blessings, curses, laments, proverbs, oracles, and love songs in the OT to have been transmitted in oral form. This school proposes a liturgical setting (Sitz im Leben) as the means through which these forms were preserved.

For German and English scholars, literal forms (written forms) were important-myths, codes, short stories, letters, archival records, genealogies, legends, parables etc. They consider that the prophets, priests, and scribes were the groups which preserved these.

In the NT, the Epistles were written compositions from the beginning, whereas the Gospels were more dependent upon a long oral tradition. Even though shorter forms – parables, sayings, discourses, short stories, miracles and riddles may be detected, the basic kerygmatic form probably lay behind the formation of the Gospels; smaller forms were preached in various communities, and they were adapted and expanded over a period of time.

2.4.1 Explanation of Form Criticism

Form criticism seeks to get behind the written sources by studying and analysing the “form” of individual gospel traditions. It describes the characteristics of the various forms and how they emerged in the period of oral transmission in the church (Black & Dockery 1991, p. 176).

The basic axioms of form criticism are as follows:

  1. The gospels are “popular” or “folk” literature and are not the work of just one person but belong to a community. These communities shaped the stories they contain (Black & Dockery 1991, p. 178). Therefore the gospel authors were not authors in the true sense but collectors and editors (Marshall 1985, p. 153).
  2. Most of the material circulated orally and as individual units for at least 20 years (Black & Dockery 1991, p. 178).
  3. Units of tradition were used as the occasion required. Only useful traditions were retained. Only rarely are they recorded in chronological order (Marshall 1985, p. 154).
  4. As units were used they took on a particular form according to their function in the community. The form reflects the thoughts of the early church (Black & Dockery 1991, p. 176). Therefore it is possible to deduce a unit’s “life-setting” (German: Sitz im Leben) from its form. (Marshall 1985, p. 154). Life-setting denotes an area of church life such as worship, teaching and evangelism and only rarely does it indicate the actual historical situation that gave rise to the tradition (Marshall 1985, p. 154).
  5. Form criticism assumes the results of source criticism and tradition criticism (Black & Dockery 1991, p. 179).

Rudolf Bultman and Martin Dibelius have identified the following forms:

  1. Paradigms/Pronouncement Stories: These are brief stories which culminate in an authorative saying of Jesus or a saying about the reaction of on-lookers (Marshall 1985, p. 155).
  2. Legends/Stories about Jesus: These are stories told to exalt a great figure and present a person as an example to follow. The term legend does not necessarily mean they are unhistorical although this is often the assumption (Black & Dockery 1991, p. 184).
  3. Tales/Miracle Stories: These are self-contained highly descriptive stories that show pleasure in giving details (Marshall 1985, p. 156).
  4. Sayings/Exhortations: This is independent teaching material such as wisdom sayings, prophetic sayings, legal sayings and “I” sayings (Black & Dockery 1991, p. 184).
  5. Myths: These are narratives showing interactions between mythological characters and humans. The supernatural breaks into human domain (Marshall 1985, p. 157).

Form criticism has exegetical implications in passages like Mark 2:18-20. Mark 2:18-19a is a pronouncement story but vv. 19b-20 do not fit this form. Therefore they must be an addition by the early church (Marshall 1985, p. 159).

2.4.2 Evaluation of Form Criticism

One of the problems with form criticism is the form categories are often based on content rather than actual form. Although form and content do influence each other, some categories are simply stylistic descriptions. Also, many sayings and stories have no “common” form and many have “mixed” form. Some may even fall into multiple categories (Black & Dockery 1991, p. 187). If forms have no or little distinction then they couldn’t have been created and shaped by the early church, as claimed by many form critics (Marshall 1985, p. 158-159).

For Mark 2:18-20, it all depends on the definition of “pronouncement story”. What if the definition is too rigid. Form critics talk about “law of tradition” as if they are well proven scientific laws of development of oral traditions. This is not the case. Except for Luke, the gospel writers were Jews and therefore it is reasonable to assume transmission of traditions would have occurred in a similar fashion to Rabbinic teachings. Rabbis were concerned with accurate transmission and so would the early church (Stein 1988, p. 187-192). The probability of eyewitnesses keeping checks on the integrity of the traditions is also disregarded by many form critics (Stein 1988, p. 193-203).

Form criticism does have some positive insights. It does help in understanding the period between AD 30 and AD 50. Searching for the Sitz im Leben aids exegesis because knowing how the tradition functioned in the early church indicates how it should speak today. However, this is not always possible. The early church preserved traditions because they were useful. This helps to understand that the gospels are practical references not just biographies of Jesus. Understanding the form is also very important for accurate exegesis (Marshall 1985, p. 161).

The descriptive features of form criticism provide the greatest aid to interpretation. They help to focus on the author’s style and structure of argument (Black & Dockery 1991, p. 192).

The emphasis of form critics is on the community as the great preserver and inspirer of tradition.

Tradition Criticism

Traditional Criticism is interested in the context in which an idea is expressed in a particular book of the Bible. It deals with the theological influences on the writers themselves. Tradition criticism presupposes that the writer has absorbed his ideas from the through-word and from the key religious ideas prevalent in his day. These theological traditions could have been either in oral form or (already) in literary works. In the OT, the traditions of creation and of exodus recur very often in different books (in Psalms, proverbs, Wisdom, and Sirach). The tradition of creation itself is expressed in many ways (e.g. to express God’s greatness in his bringing the whole cosmos into being, or to express his love and kindness in his bringing  each human life into being). The tradition of Zion is concerned with God’s defence of the city and his dwelling in the temple there in order to protect his people in times of distress and need. The tradition of the king David – recalling God’s promise to be always with his people through an anointed figure who would lead the people in Justice and mercy on his behalf – is also an important theological idea. A tradition need not necessarily be an overreaching theological theme, but may simply be a theological statement in a phrase such as ‘God reings’.

In the NT, the larger tradition thems may be found mainly in the Gospels, espeoially in Mathew and in Luke. This would include the birth and the passion narratives, the accounts of resurrection, the reference to the prophecy being fulfilled (seen especially in Mt), the references to the kingdom of God breaking into history (for example in Lk 17:18), the hope for the future culmination of history (as in Lk 24), and allusions to God’s intimate care for his created order (Mt 6:25-34). All of these suggest the effect of the received tradition on the mind of the author rather than on the importance of the tradition in the mind of the community.

Tradition criticism is concerned with the influence of the various theological beliefs on the mind of the writer. In this sense the point of emphasis is the substance of the message rather than the form taken by the message (as was the case in the preceding step[s]). It is also interested in finding the influence of any of the traditions upon the development of the text at various stages in the history of its transmission and also on the role of the community in shaping the tradition itself. Thus, it is interested mainly in the theological development of the text.

2.3.1 Explanation of Tradition Criticism

Tradition criticism is used to determine the development of traditions from Jesus through the early church to the gospel writer and forms the basis for form and redaction criticism. It is an attempt to trace the evolution of the form and/or meaning of concepts, words or sayings. For example, tradition criticism is interested in how a parable developed into 2 or 3 different versions (Marshall 1985, p. 165-166). The basic axioms behind tradition criticism force the critic to be highly sceptical about the authenticity or historicity of the traditions as they are recorded in the gospels. The burden of proof lies with those who wish to take the traditions as historical (Black & Dockery 1991, p. 204).

The 3 basic axioms for determining authentic traditions, rather than those created and modified by the early church are listed in Black & Dockery (1991, p. 205) and are as follows:

  1. Dissimilarity: they are not parallels of Jewish traditions and not reflections of the faith and practices of the early church.
  2. Multiple attestation: whether or not a saying occurs in more than one gospel.
  3. Coherence: if the saying in question has the same form of another saying that has already been shown to be authentic (using the above criteria), then this saying should also be regarded as authentic.

Tradition criticism may be applied to Peter’s confession in Mark 8:29 and parallels. Luke adds the words “of God”, Matthew adds “the Son of the Living God” and John has “the holy One of God”. Therefore, since these 4 parallels each say something different, it is highly unlikely (or so it is claimed) that this saying is actually historical (Marshall 1985, p. 167).

Using tradition criticism some critics have shown that Matthew 18:17 is not authentic, because it goes against the parable of Wheat and Tares and the Dragnet (Matthew 13:47f). It also presupposes a Jewish audience which excludes Gentiles and tax collectors. This is unlike the “historical Jesus” who embraced such people, therefore it must be a later development of the church (Marshall 1985, p. 168).

2.3.2 Evaluation of Tradition Criticism

Tradition criticism has done much to undermine the integrity of the gospel accounts. It is far too sceptical and its conclusions are often devoid of supporting evidence. The axioms for determining authenticity leave much to be desired. The criteria of dissimilarity is far too narrow and therefore only identifies the unique Jesus. It is ridiculous to expect Jesus’ teaching would not have overlapped with Jewish teaching, especially since both were rooted in the Old Testament. It is even more ridiculous to expect Jesus’ teaching to have contributed nothing to the early church. Responding to the message of Jesus is the very essence of Christianity (Marshall 1985, p. 174). The criteria of multiple attestation ignores the purpose and inspired overall theological agenda of the gospel author (Marshall 1985, p. 176).

For Matthew 18:17, it seems that this verse has not been correctly understood. This verse is not a put-down of gentiles and tax collectors but simply stating that we should treat unrepentant Christians the same way we would treat non-Christians. How should we treat non-Christians? The same way Christ did (cf. Matthew 9:10-12, Matthew 15:22-28).

There are 4 gospels that do not oppose one another. Therefore it is best to assume everything is authentic unless there is concrete evidence to the contrary. Although the gospels may not record Jesus’ actual words (he spoke in Aramaic and the New Testament was written in Greek) or forms, they do record His essential message for humanity. Any modification of traditions by the gospel authors were done under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

Redaction Criticism/Editorial Criticism

This proceeds from the assumption that the individual authors of the biblical books had a strong influence on their eventual form and on the analyses of the composition of these texts from the prespective of the final redactor.

The whole emphasis of the historical-critical (diachronic) inquiry up to this stage (i.e. the preceding 7 stages) has been to explain the text through the study of its origin and development within a diachromc perspective. At this last stage, however, the exegete proceeds on the synchronic level and tries to explain the text as it now stands on the basis of the mutual relationship between its diverse elements, not forgetting the scope of the original author to communicate a message to his contemporaries.

Redaction analysis is the most clear and obvious of the methods of historical reading. Redaction criticism studies the modifications that the texts have undergone before being fixed in their final state. It also analyzes this final stage, trying as far as possible, to identify the tendencies particularly characteristic of this concluding process. Its concern is the present state of the text with what the final editors of the texts actually believed. His is the ultimate voice within the text.

For instance, in Isaiah one is interested in knowing the theological intentions of the editor who sewed together’ the three major prophetic works (Is 1-39; 40-55; 56-66). In the NT the main area of interest has been the Synoptic Gospels and in identifying the overall theological tendencies of the writers of the Gospels. At this level the exegete tries to discover the Gospel writer’s or editor’s distinctive personal contribution within the complex mass of inherited material. Sometimes this influence is traced back to the material which the include the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5-7), or the sevenfold group of parables about the kingdom (Mt 13), or the collection of woes against the scribes and Pharisees (Mt 23).

Whether we assume this to be about the personal contribution of the actual Gospel-writers or of the editors and compilers of the Gospels in a later generation, the major significance of redaction criticism is that its emphasis is very much on the contributions of individuals rather than of great communities.

2.5.1 Explanation of Redaction Criticism

Redaction criticism builds on the results of source and tradition criticism. It treasures and examines the editorial work of gospel authors in order to see their emphases and purposes (Stein 1988, p. 238). It seeks to uncover the theology and setting of the author by studying the way they modified traditions, arranged them and stitched them together. It asks why the author included, excluded or modified a particular tradition and tries to identify distinctive patterns, interests and theological ideas (Black & Dockery 1991, p. 199-200).

Redaction Criticism involves analysing individual traditions comparing it with parallels, in order to identify common and unique phrases and words. It also involves analysing the whole gospel in comparison with other gospels. The seams (introductions and conclusions) link traditions together, provide setting and often theological emphasis. Summaries and traditions structure give clues to major theological overtones. Unique elements indicate which way the story is going and repeated phrases show emphasis and special interests. As the gospel unfolds individual traditions interact to produce the intended message (Black & Dockery 1991, p. 208-211). Considering an author’s vocabulary and style is also helpful (Marshall 1985, p. 185).

2.5.2 Evaluation of Redaction Criticism

Results of redaction criticism are highly subjective and should not be accepted uncritically. The huge variation in results shows this clearly (Black & Dockery 1991, p. 213). There is no doubt that gospel authors shaped and modified traditions to fit their gospel’s purpose but presuppositions about the nature of traditions, their transmission and modification are suspect. “Redaction” does not mean unhistorical “theologising” (Marshall 1985, p. 187-188). Many critics are highly sceptical and assume every redaction is a creation and therefore unhistorical. However, omission and addition are not criteria for historicity but for style, emphasis and purpose. Not every jot and tittle carries theological weight (Black & Dockery 1991, p. 213). It should also be noted that meaning is found in the overall pericope not the redactions (Black & Dockery 1991, p. 215).

History and theology are not mutually exclusive. There is no reason why an author can not emphasise a theological concept using an historical event. Gospel authors were interpreters but there is no reason to assume they were misinterpreters.

Redaction criticism is still an important tool. It shows how inspiration took place when authors selected, arranged and highlighted various traditions in order to communicate a special message to their readers (Black & Dockery 1991, p. 216). This gives the gospels their individual character and is why we have four of them (Marshall 1985, p. 191).

Canonical Criticism

Canonical criticism is considered as an extension of the interest in the final product evident in redaction criticism. Canonical criticism examines each passage in the light of the whole Bible, wherin other books, passages offer insights.

6.1.1           Evaluation: Diachronic Study

i)                    Historical criticism has shown that the Bible, which as a collection of writings is not the creation of a single author especially in the case of the OT, has had a long pre-history.

ii)                  One should know that the historical-critical method restricts itself to a search for the meaning of a biblical text within the historical circumstance that gave rise to it. It is not concerned with other possibilities of meaning which have been revealed at later stages of the biblical revelation and history of the Church.

iii)                In its desire to establish the chronology of the biblical texts the critical study was mostly restricted, especially at the initial stage, to the task of dissecting and dismantling the text in order to identify the various sources without paying much attention to the final form of the text and to the message  which it conveyed, or to the state in which it actually exists (the contribution of the editors was not held in high regard).

iv)                The influence of comparative study of the history of religions and certain philosophical ideas sometimes have cast some doubts and shadows on the application of historical-critical method.

v)                  There have been attempts in the past to give greater insistence to the form of the text, with less attention paid to the content, which, however, has been rectified in recent decades through the study of the text from the point of view of action and life.

vi)                Diachronic study remains indispensable for making known the historical dynamism which animates Sacred Scripture and for shedding light upon its rich complexity.

Modern Methods of Literary (Synchronic) Analysis

First we must know the specific nature of literary analysis which somehow distinguishes it from diachronic methods.

i)                    Historical criticism, often known as diachronic method, looks through the different layers of the text and the process of editing which have brought the text to its present form, whereas literary criticism, also known as synchronic method (syn ‘together with’ or ‘along side’), is concentrated on the present form of the text.

ii)                  Historical criticism the dialogue is within the text throughout its past history; literary criticism, rather asks questions about the shape of the text in the here and now.

iii)                In historical criticism the dialogue is within the text throughout its past history whereas in literary criticism, the dialogue is with the text with the present concerns of the reader foremost in mind.

iv)                Historical criticism is interested in the meaning of the text understood through the concerns of the ancient author; in literary criticism the meaning is sought in the language and style and within the text itself, understood through the concerns of the present-day reader.

v)                  With the help of source criticism, form criticism (genre criticism), and tradition critical method scholars try to see how the text was brought together. Under the categories of priest and structure criticism, literary analysists investigate how the text works for the readers (and not for the writers).

vi)                In historical-critical method the interest of those who formed the text in its final stages is demonstrated through redaction criticism (and in canon criticism). In literary criticism the interest shown by the readers in giving new meanings to the text, albeit after its final form, is the point of emphasis.

In literary studies, especially in the ‘reader-response theories’, rhetorical criticism and narrative analysis the reader enters into a discourse with the text, asking questions about its assumptions and its ideologies. From this one asks questions also about the intended audience (the ancient one) and the actual audience (the contemporary one). The reader will be further led to ask questions regarding the theological meaning of the text today.

Narrative Analysis

On the whole the Bible is the story of salvation. It narrates the story of God’s dealing with man. The OT may be seen as a recital of God’s story with Israel through her profession of faith, Liturgy, and catechesis (Ps 78:3-4; Ex 12:24-27; Deut 6:20-25; 26:5-11). In the NT the Christian kerygma recounts the story of the ministry , death, and resurrection of Jesus (see the passion narratives in the Gospels). In Acts 2:23-36; 3:12-26; 4:8-12; 10:34-43 we see this history of salvation in a nutshell.

Narrative analysis offers a method for understanding and communicating the biblical message which corresponds to the form of story and personal witness. It is particularly attentive to those elements in the text which have to do with plot, characterization, and the point of view of the narrator. It studies how a text tells a story so as to engage the reader in its ‘narrative world’ and the system of values contained therein.

The characteristic feature of this type of analysis is that it looks at the whole unit. The doublets repetitions, contradictions, gaps, and inconsisitencies in the translated text are included in the whole. They enable us to understand the variety and balance in the text and they enrich our knowledge of the text as a whole. One can thus create a theology which can unite the text as a whole. This theology is created by the text and not by the author. The emphasis is on the whole story and there is no concern here for the smaller parts which may have made up the whole.

To understand how narrative analysis can be helpful in biblical studies one must know the following distinctions:

i)                    Real author and implied author: The real reader is any person who actually composed the story. The implied author is the figure of the author which the text progressively creates in the mind of the reader in the course of reading (with his culture, character, inclinations, faith, etc.).

ii)                  Real reader and implied reader: The real reader is any person who has access to the text. The implied reader is the reader whom the text presupposes and in effect creates, the one who is capable of performing the mental and affective operations necessary for entering into the narrative world of the text and responding to it in the way envisaged by the real author through the instrumentality of the implied author.

The influence of the text depends on the extent to which the real reader is capable of identifying himself/herself with the implied reader. The main task of exegesis consists in effecting and facilitating this process of identification with the implied reader.

iii)                Text as Window and Mirror: Narrative analysis is concerned with the way a text works. Historical-critical analysis views the text as a window which gives access to one or another period (of the situation of the community for whom the story is old). Narrative analysis views the text as a mirror, in the sense that it projects a certain image, the narrative world, which in turn, influences the perception of the reader in such a way as to cause him to adopt certain values rather than others.

Theological Reflection: This literary type of inquiry in the narrative analysis of the biblical text also contains a certain type of theological reflection. The implications of the story character of Scripture involve the consent of faith and one derives from this a hermeneutics of a more practical and pastoral character. Narrative analysis can help biblical interpretation as it permits adapting the biblical modes of communicating and conveying meaning in the actual historical context of the readers, and thereby it can help to open up more effectively the saving power of the biblical texts to the reader.

Narrative analysis has a twofold function as far as it is applied to the biblical text; it underlines the need of telling the story of salvation (informative dimension) in a way that the reader is capable of understanding it. This very telling of the story is oriented to salvation (of the reader). This is the performative dimension of recounting the story. This very mode of presenting the message of salvation thus functions as an existential appeal addressed to the reader.

Evaluation: The application of the narrative analysis in explaining the biblical story of salvation can facilitate the transition from the meaning of the text in its historical context (which is the prime interest of historical-critical studies) to its significance for the reader of today. However, one must also know that when it is employed in reading the biblical texts, a rigid application of pre-established models cannot do justice to the specific character of these texts as the inspired word. It must also be supplemented by diachronic studies. Moreover caution must be observed because a one-sided narrative analysis may tend to exclude any doctrinal elaboration of the content of the biblical narratives and thereby it can be out of step with the authentic biblical tradition itself.

Structuralist (semiotic) Analysis

This is concerned with the message itself, understood as an autonomous and self-contained entity, without taking into consideration the relation with sender and receiver. The structure that is detected is not the outline that meets the eye, for the deepest structures are not apparent on the surface but help to generate the text. These structures must be brought to light in order that the text can be perceived as a coherent whole.

In the interpretation of the biblical texts, several basic concepts of the structural approach are of special significance:

v)                  The autonomy of the texts. A text contains a self- contained unit, and its different parts should be explained in terms of their relation to each other and not in terms of some external cause or authority.

vi)                The emphasis is on synchronic rather than diachronic relations. It is not the history of the text which holds the key to its meaning but the relations of the textual elements as they stand. Hence the need is for a “text-immanent” exegesis which takes the text seriously as a network of relations.

vii)              The structure of the text and the techniques of its analysis become an important consideration.         Different types can be distinguished: linguistic, literary, narrative, discursive, rhetorical, or thematic structures, each requiring its own form analysis.

Modern Contextual Interpretations

The present day contextual interpretations such as Liberation interpretation, Feminist interpretation, Indian interpretation, or Black interpretation stem from contextual approaches to biblical and theological interpretations. These interpretations argue that without engaging in concrete historical praxis no genuine interpretations of the day as the result of ideological speculation, presuppositions, illusions, and systematic distortions.

The various modern contextual interpretations make effective use of the biblical text for interpretation. That way they contribute to the richness of biblical interpretation by making present the biblical text in the contemporary context but often they disregard or destroy the original writer’s intension and the context. Here interpretations become unauthentic and relative.

 

Bibliography

Adler, M. J.              How to Read a Book (Rev Ed) Simon & Schuster, 1972.

Black D. A. & Dockery D. S. (Eds), New Testament Criticism and Interpretation, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1991.

Bromiley G. W. (ed.),              International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1995.

Carson, D. A; D. J. Moo & L. Morris, An Introduction to the New Testament, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1992.

Fee, G. D. & D. Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All its Worth (2nd Ed), Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1993.

Freedman, D. N. (ed.), Anchor Bible Dictionary, Doubleday, 1992.

Freeman, J. M.         Manners and Customs of the Bible, Whitaker House, Springdale, PA, 1996.

G. R. Osborne,         The Hermeneutical Spiral, InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, Illinois, 1991.

Klein W. M., Blomberg C. L. & Hubbard R. L. Introduction to Biblical Interpretation. Word Publishing, Dallas, 1993.

Klein, W. M.; C. L. Blomberg & R. L. Hubbard, Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, Word, Dallas, 1993.

Krentz E.                                 Biblical Studies Today: A Guide to Current Issues and Trends. Concordia Publishing House, St. Louis, 1966.

Krentz E.                                 The Historical-Critical Method. Fortress Press, Philadelphia, 1975.

Kuske, D.                                Biblical Interpretation: The Only Right Way, Northwestern Publishing House, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 1995.

LaSor, W. S.; D. A. Hubbard & F. W. Bush, Old Testament Survey (2nd Ed), Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1996.

Marshall I. H. (ed.), New Testament Interpretation: Essays on Principles and Methods. Paternoster Press, Carlisle, 1992.

Marshall, I. H.; A. R. Millard, J. I. Packer & D. J. Wiseman (editors), New Bible Dictionary (3rd Ed), InterVarsity Press, Downers                       Grove, Downers Grove, Illinois, 1996.

Schaeffer F. A.         Complete Works of Francis Schaeffer (5 vols.), Crossway Books, Wheaton, Illinois, 1985.

Stein R. H.               Gospels and Tradition: Studies on Redaction Criticism of the Synoptic Gospels, Baker Book House, Grand            Rapids, Michigan, 1991.

Stein R. H.               The Synoptic Problem: An Introduction, Inter-Varsity Press, Nottingham, 1988.

The Lion Handbook to the Bible (2nd Ed), Tring, Hertfordshire, 1983.

Reader-response criticism:

The systematic examination of the aspects of the text that arouse, shape, and guide a reader’s response. According to reader-response criticism, the reader is a producer rather than a consumer of meanings. In this sense, a reader is a hypothetical construct of norms and expectations that can be derived or projected or extrapolated from the work and may even be said to inhere in the work. Because expectations may be violated or fulfilled, satisfied or frustrated, and because reading is a temporal process involving memory, perception, and anticipation, the charting of reader-response is extremely difficult and perpetually subject to construction and reconstruction, vision and revision.

Reader-response criticism, however, does not denote any specific theory. It can range from the phenomenological theories of Wolfgang Iser and Roman Ingarden — both of whom argue that although the reader fills in the gaps, the author’s intentional acts impose restrictions and conditions — to the relativistic analysis of Stanley Fish, who argues that the interpretive strategy of the reader creates the text, there being no text except that which a reader or an interpretive community of readers creates.

Implied author

The implied author is a concept of literary criticism developed in the twentieth century. It is distinct from the real author and the narrator. The distinction from the real author lies in that the implied author consists solely of what can be deduced from the work. The implications of the work may paint a rather different picture of the author than might be deduced from their real life. The distinction from the narrator is most clear in ironic works such as “A Modest Proposal”, where the narrator cheerfully offers his proposal, but the implied author is as aware as the reader of the horror of what is proposed. it is important in a wide variety of literary criticism, including structuralism, deconstructionism, and rhetoric-based criticism such as that of Wayne C. Booth.

Impluied Reader – A term used by Wolfgang Iser to describe a hypothetical reader of a text. The implied reader “embodies all those predispositions necessary for a literary work to exercise its effect — predispositions laid down, not by an empirical outside reality, but by the text itself. Consequently, the implied reader as a concept has his roots firmly planted in the structure of the text; he is a construct and in no way to be identified with any real reader.”

The next step is to become more conscious of the whole reading-writing dichotomy. Every text is produced by an actual writer (a real person), who in the act of writing automatically places in the text a version of him/herself, the implied writer (a persona or role played by the real person writing). What may not be so obvious at first is that the implied writer automatically creates a mirror image of another persona, the implied reader, which the actual reader reading the text in question is implicitly asked to play (along with). This complex interaction between real persons playing roles both in the act of writing and in the act of reading should get a special lift in our understanding as we reflect on the fact that the Latin origin of the modern English word “person” is persona, meaning “mask,” originally a hand-held mask that actors on the classical stage used to cover their faces with while playing their roles. Both writing and reading are, in fact, acts – that is, roles that writers and readers voluntarily take on.

Convocation address by His Beatitude Mar George Alenchery at Sanathana

Divyakarunya Vidyapeetham, Thamarassery

Monday 28th November 2011 – The Convocation Day

Convocation address by His Beatitude Mar George Alenchery,

The Major Arch-Bishop of Syro-Malabar Church

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Dear and Very Rev Fr George Kizhakkemury, the Superior General of the congregation and the Chancellor of the Divyakarunya Vidhyapeetham, Very Rev Fr Provincials, Rev Fr Rector, Rev Fr President of the  Vidhyapeetham and Rev Fr dean of Studies,  My dear Rev Fathers and Dear Brothers,

I just start todays talk to you recalling as Fr General said, my friendship with the MCBS – Missionary Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament.  You know it was a natural affection that came into my person that I continued from the seminary days until today; and hope also in future. This is not simply a human friendship but also a Spiritual affinity; because the Charism that your congregation has in the holy bible and the Holy Eucharist and that goes to the heart of the Church and that’s only I think everybody in the Church will have – an appreciation and a gratitude to the MCBS. Secondly I congratulate all the candidates who have received the decrees in theology and also diplomas in theology. You have received the fruits of your toil and voile in this Vidhyapeetham and also your formation in the seminary. So my hearty congratulations, best wishes and Prayers for your academic work in the Church. Thirdly I would like to recall to you and to me the memory of my dear young friend Fr Roy Mulakupadom. Right from the choice of his vocation I was and as you were sad in his demise I also was very much taken up by pain because of his sudden departure from this world. We do not know the God’s design for each one of us. We have to accept it when God reveals it to us. So present his soul for God’s mercy and eternal repose

Let me begin today my reflections with you recalling the mission command of the Lord. The Lord says, “go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teaching them to observe that all that I have taught you” this is the fundamental Mission command that we receive from the gospel of St Mathew. I start this reflection today with this verse from the gospel because you are a missionary congregation; secondly we are in the Mission Year. For this double reason I thought the convocation address today is well suited to be started with these verse of the Gospel. We know that this is a triple command. The first command is to make disciples of all nations. It is a very sharp command and also very extensive. Sharp in the sense to make a human being a disciple of Christ is not an easy job; it is a mission that goes to the heart of a person who is evangelizing, who is missionary, and also to the heart of one who seeks the message of the gospel. So it is a heart to heart exchange of faith that happens in individuals; a heart to heart exchange or participation in faith. I don’t know whether we have understood the depth of the mission command of the Lord when he says, “make disciples of all nations.” Because in mark it is “to preach the gospel to all the creatures”; that may be a general command; and we all are taken up by that general command. Preaching the gospel of Christ directly and indirectly and also by the apostolic words of peace. This is the common way of wishing in the Church and also in Syro-Malabar Church. And now this is the time that we have to focus more and more of making disciples. Before making disciples we have to be disciples of the Lord. So becoming disciple is the first step of making disciples. And in the seminary and by the academic formation what we gain in the institute like this is nothing but discipleship both in life and action.     The Lord Jesus prayed for his 12 men for this discipleship and there were also a group of 72 men who were also prayed by the Lord for this discipleship.  So Discipleship is a fundamental condition to become really a good missionary. And I don’t know whether all those who are in the formation houses and all in our faculties are really taken up by this bound duty of becoming real Disciples of Christ. We learn many things in the seminary regarding discipleship and the cost of discipleship and so on; but I do not know whether we become really like the master. The Lord has said that we have to become like the master. A disciple is to become like the master. It is said of St Francis of Assisi, that he was called at his time as another Christ – altar Christus. Sometimes it is translated in Malayalam as randam christhu, which is wrong translation. There is no second, third, fourth Christ like that. Altar Christus! Another Christ! Who lived like Christ. Who really gave Christ to others, whose appearance and action gave the presence and action of Jesus Christ in the world. So it is up to every priest whether he is religious or not to become altar Christus in life and action and become really a disciple like and through the master.  This must be really the actual job of every seminarian or the religious candidate one who wants to become a consecrated person. Consecrated set apart sanctified for the Lord to do his mission in this world. And such a kind of discipleship is the real challenge for every seminarian, for every candidate of the religious priesthood of today.

The world has changed much and much of the world has come into the Church. And the Church has to really sanctifying all those elements that have come into the Church. It is good that there is an exchange of the Church with the world because there is no real dichotomy between the secular and the Spirit. The Spiritual embraces the secular, the secular enters in to the Spiritual; and this is what we have to aim at. And such a kind of exchange and assimilation of the secular in to the Spiritual and the Spiritual embracing the secular every   seminarian or religious candidate has to become really conscious of it and really transformed by it and really becoming Christ’s mission in this world. Christ’s mission in this world.

One year back the Holy Father ordained four candidates to Episcopacy.  These were people who were working in the Castries of Rome. And after ordaining them, the Holy Father addressed them and said, dear brother bishops “you are your mission” and secondly he said, “we are our mission”. We the bishops are our mission that means there is no real distinction between the person and the mission. The person becomes the mission. Jesus was like that. He was God in man and as God-man he really gave to the world God and that is why the Spiritual in him entered into the secular and the secular was really sanctified and it is said of Jesus in this prayer. “O Lord, so that they may be in us I sanctify myself”. Whatever there was to be sanctified simply filling the world, filling the world in him with the Spirit of God. That is sanctification. So he did that the whole world become Spirit filled by the action of Christ; and such a work has to be continued in the world we have been so much Spiritually filled embraced by the Spirit of Christ so that we may give Spirit in to the world. This kind of sanctification has to continue. So making disciples is the deep sense of Christ and of the Church – this deep conviction of Christ and the Church in ours. Secondly we know that baptizing them in the Name of the Father and of the Son… the whole sacramental mystery is involved there. Church is the sacrament of Christ in the world and this sacrament is realized through the persons in the Church. The sacraments are really fulfilled in the recipients. The recipients become the reality of the sacraments. The Baptized becomes the really immersed person in Jesus Christ. The anointed person becomes really the person who is filled with the gifts and charisms of the Holy Spirit, like in a sacrament. So it is the sacrament of reality means to be imbibed by the whole reality of our Lord Jesus Christ. Then there is a third command of Lord “teaching them all that I have taught.” The real catechesis that pervades the whole realm of activity of the Church; that is pervading the whole realm catechesis is not only simply for the children.  Even we are all catechized. Even theology is giving meaning to the doctrinal truths in the life situations of the world. Explaining the mystery of Christ and the mystery of the Church and the mystery of the whole world. The mystery of Christ and the Church enters in to the cosmic mystery of God’s creation. The whole creation is really sanctified by the theologizing. In the past, in the 60’s and even before many of the theologians taught that theology is a science it is enough that i teach it, is not up to me whether they live it or not. I am a professor of theology.  Look here in the west countries people taught like that and I have heard professors teaching or telling me like that. I explain to you what the doctrines of the Church are basing on the word of God, it is not up to you to look up to my life; I am a professor. Really a contradictory term! If you become a theologian first of all you have to become a disciple of Christ; we are all mission; we have to be converted. Theology is not like any other science – theology is the science of the mystery of Christ. The mystery of Christ is realized in each one of us. So a theologian has to become really a person who follows Christ and who practices the values of the gospel according to the teachings of the Church. Third, as I said earlier, the first responsibility the disciple and the candidates of priesthood and to the consecrated life to be fully filled with the reality of Christ and the reality of the Church there is no difference actually between the reality of Christ and the reality of the Church of course one is the incarnated reality that continues in the world and other reality of Christ is incarnated reality also in this world in its glorified form today. So Jesus is a being priest and being administered and being also lived as the life of love in the Church. He is present in each one of us with the charisms and gifts that he has given to each one of us in this ways. So that kind of mystery of the reality of Christ being realized in the lives of each one of us is an important reflection for the people in the Church. You know that, in the recent times, from 1970’s onwards even today that continues, and there is trend in the Church that has becomes earlier challenge for the followers of Christ. And the western countries are really struggling to come out of it, struggling to come out of that challenge. After the council Vatican II many people thought that the Church was really estranged from the world. It was to some extent true and in order to get the world in to the reality of the Church; I think many went too far, they went too far that means they tried the Spirit of the world much more than giving the Spirit of Christ in the world. Thus the contrary happened, both in theology and also in moral. And we know the level of the morals in the present world and especially in the west, of course we may think that the West is going bad and we are really in the high time. I give you matter to reflect more to make such a judgment. The world reality is now moving onward as a whole as one whole it is moving before because of the globalization. So it is up to us Christians especially theologians and philosophers in the Church to really evaluate the situation and give a correct orientation in to the student in the campuses and theologates of our Church. Recently, I mean in the coming days, we will have a meeting in the Curia at Kakkanad, of all the rectors and presidents of all of the seminary the first time that we think of calling all the responsible person in the formation institutes to come and reflect together. Formerly we were doing under the offices of Church to appoint commissions of bishops to address the administration of each major seminary conducted directly by the Synod.  But we cannot close up like that; the Synod of Bishops thought that we should cross up to the Church as a whole whether in case the seminarians directly under the synod or by the dioceses or by the Religious congregations, we are all working for the Church and the world. So let us have to address these problems on one level that is the intention of coming together of the responsible persons of the   Seminaries and institutes. So what I am trying to say is that much of the philosophies and much of the ideologies of the world has coming to the Church is good, If it is really taken up according to the personal values and according to the doctrines of the Church.  The gospel values and the traditions that have developed in the Church is the criteria for us get in to the world and also to take the world in to us. We have to do it. The dialogue of the Church and the world is a must. And this dialogue has to be both in word and deed, according to the mind of Christ and according to the Spirit of the doctrines of the Church. This is the great challenge both for you students and also for the professors and the responsible persons in the formation.  The Bishops can only supervise this realities. You are really in the mission. So what the Lord wanted of making disciples has to go to all the institutes and seminaries of formation so that we become really imbibed by the Spirit of Christ as persons and one reality in the Church. And as far as we are an individual oriental Church and that traces its origin to the apostolic times, it is not a matter to be taken as a point of glory for us. Very often we may think like that, our forefathers were preached by St. Thomas, the apostle. I would be very happy if I were baptized only yesterday, because the one who is baptized yesterday has the same dignity before the Lord, by the persons who are coming in the great tradition; or you should imbibe the values of the tradition and give your dignity in the best way possible for the generation for there is something like that in the Church. We had really taken the Spirit of St. Thomas, the apostle and the apostolic times and there is a faith traditions and the moral life pattern in the Syro Malabar Church; let us be thankful to the Lord for that. But instead of simply glorifying ourselves on that level we have to be really taking the responsibility of becoming more and more that Spirit and then give that Spirit to others.

Our mission is an apostolic mission. Apostolic mission means, which comes from the responsibility of an apostle. An apostle is a disciple who is sent to preach and to act. Sent to preach and to act, there is a difference. Any disciple can be in the Church but he need not to be sent. But the priest is sent and the Bishop is sent. He cannot be remaining restless, remaining in an inactive mood. He has to be restless. He has to be really taken up by the Spirit of Christ, the Spirit of mission and he has to prove he is worth. He is a person like Jesus who said that we have a baptism to be baptized with and also a chalice to drink, and Jesus was always preoccupied with this mission which he has to fulfill, the mystery of Christ. This is the mystery of Christ, both in word and in deed. Work by preaching and by action and the action that culminated in the death on the cross and was glorified in the resurrection. This total reality of the mystery of Christ is that really calls you in your charism. It is great mystery that you celebrate in your Holy Qurbana. You have taken on the charism of the whole Church, the charism of your particular Church; and you are thus becoming an ecclesial reality, your religious congregation. You are thus becoming an ecclesial mission for the Syro Malabar Church and for the Universal Church. So what a noble charism that your fathers have been working! Taking the very same reality of the Church into your persons in your reality as a congregation and implanting it wherever you go and share it with others and thus becoming the mystery of Christ spread all over the world. You make disciples, you administer sacraments, you also preach the people to observe what the Lord has taught. Such a kind of central charism has gone up into your own religious vocation or vocation to the consecrated life. I just mentioned that there are philosophies and ideologies that come into the Church. And each philosophies and ideologies are very much attracting the youth of today; the younger generation of the people who are called to the ministry in the Church. It is a natural process of globalization.

Many things come to us as ideologies through all the media – print media, electronic media, internet media – then you become really absorbed in them. When we were studying as seminarians before 1960s this was not at all a temptation. You see it was our time that this transistors and radios came and then people were controlled as you are controlled now in your internet machine or internet use, we were controlled in the use of the radio. Now nobody wants radio. But that was a big attraction. There were seminarians who used to hide these transistors and radios, small radios under their bed and hear it; and they were caught and punished. As you are now doing some mischiefs     regarding the internet and you are punished sometimes I don’t know. This was the situation. But after the print media, this radio, television… I was sent for studies in 1981, then there was no television in Kerala or in India.

When I came back in 1986 all most all the home had a television; I was taken up by that. Even in France where I studied people were not so much taken up by this new mode of media.  But we, in India were all taken up by that everybody wants to see the television was then the model. Now people don’t like even television; all have gone to internet, mobile phones, chatting; all those things you know. So this is how the world changes. So the world is coming every ideology is coming into our mind and I tell you that, this is one of the temptations of us today or attractions of men today or seminarians today. We have to take the ideas of the world and then to propagate them with the use of the gospel and the doctrines of the Church. Making just the contrary is our mission. We are the people who have to preach the gospel values and the mission of the Church by the help of the internet or the other media. We just take the other way, and each one of us try to take really an image of ourselves rather than the image of Christ.

You know about the ‘men Gods’, I don’t know if they are Gods; they are not God men, men Gods – Aal Deivangal.   Aal deivangal in other religions! And in a way we do have also the attraction to become aal deivangal  instead of becoming confirmed to Christ  we are making Christ to confirm to ourselves.  It is a very dangerous trend that comes in to the world. This is what the Holy Father called the tyranny of relativism. The objective reality of Christ and the Church is forgone and instead of that our reality is projected with the help of Christian doctrines and also gospel values. We do not do it consciously; unconsciously this trend is coming to us. So my dear friends, I call you like that, because you have to be closely related to the interests of the Church and then take this reflection seriously; and really following Christ and his mystery which is your charism and also the mystery of the Church as the mystery of the cosmos and relate ourselves in that Spirit of Christ to  the world. Whether it be regarding the doctrines or in the morals. How much the morals have come down even in the lives of the religious and the priests and the bishops, I would say. How it happened? Relativism of truth! Relativism of Morals! For everything I or you become the criterion rather than Christ and his gospel and the Church. This is the danger. Let us reflect on it. In all the faculties you have to reflect on it. And I tell you if you do not have a philosophy to live with, we will philosophize what we do. And I repeat, if you do not have a philosophy to live with, we will philosophize what we do. When something goes wrong in the Church, the person who is responsible is called and taken for a dialogue, and the person will philosophize whatever he does. He will find a reason for everything as if it is good. Even if it is a moral failure, he will say it happened because it is like that and so on. He will find a way. Actually he will have to find the way of the Lord. “I am the way, the truth and the life”. And it is in Jesus who is the way that we find the truth and we attain the life. Instead of that we break Christ into our own way, into our own life pattern and then we explain everything; it is the very dangerous, danger in our present day times. I only present this thought for your reflection for this convocation address and let us have a real reflection in these days of your studies and many of you have completed your studies; but study never completes. Because you will learn even at the death bed.

There was a father when I was studying in Paris who had always this imitation of Christ at his side. He was 93 years old.  And he used to read every day. And once I asked the father. The name of the father was Oben, Father Oben why should you read even now this Imitation of Christ? You are already a Christ imitator. To make him happy also I said like that because he was Holy man.   And then he said, “My dear brother George, my dear George, Is this the theology that you studied? Then I am very unhappy about it”.  And he corrected me telling that every day you have to be confirmed it to Jesus Christ. How much difficult the world is my dear brother. I took it as a lesson. I will tell you another small incident in my seminary days, minor seminary days. I had a minor seminary professor, Vice Rector. One day he took me for an outing. Outing means not walking; He took me for outing by bus. So we were waiting for bus.  The bus is not coming. It is in 1960s. The buses were very few and we were waiting. And I was becoming restless and I was going just ahead and looking whether the bus is coming. I was doing it every 5 mnts and like that. And then the father called me, and he used to call me by house name. “Alanchery what are we doing?” then I said, “We are wasting time, father.”  Then he said, No, we are practicing patience. We are practicing patience.  That struck in to my heart.  So there are many things every day that we have to learn every day according to the mind of Christ and of the Church. 

The Holy Father is struggling to explain the mystery of Christ to the world that is secularized. We have no struggle at all. We are not at all worried about that. We are happy with the Lord that is given to us and we don’t work and we never struggle at all. My dear brothers our work is very serious, our mission is the mission of Jesus, our mission is the mission of the Church. The more you are imbibed by the Spirit of Christ, the more you are imbibed by the Church, the more or the better will be your service. Let us become really meaningful servants in the Church, of his gospel and also his life of love.

I conclude; may God bless you. And all your activities be for the glory of the Church universal, and in particular the Church Syro- Malabar

Thank you

St Teresa of Ávila

St Teresa of Avila
St Teresa of Avila

St. Teresa of Avila, Spanish Carmelite Nun and Mystic

Born in Avila, Spain, on March 28, 1515, St. Teresa was the daughter of a Toledo merchant and his second wife, who died when Teresa was 15, one of ten children. Shortly after this event, Teresa was entrusted to the care of the Augustinian nuns. After reading the letters of St. Jerome, Teresa resolved to enter a religious life. In 1535, she joined the Carmelite Order. She spent a number of relatively average years in the convent, punctuated by a severe illness that left her legs paralyzed for three years, but then experienced a vision of “the sorely wounded Christ” that changed her life forever.

From this point forward, Teresa moved into a period of increasingly ecstatic experiences in which she came to focus more and more sharply on Christ’s passion. With these visions as her impetus, she set herself to the reformation of her order, beginning with her attempt to master herself and her adherence to the rule. Gathering a group of supporters, Teresa endeavored to create a more primitive type of Carmelite. From 1560 until her death, Teresa struggled to establish and broaden the movement of Discalced or shoeless Carmelites. During the mid-1560s, she wrote the Way of Perfection and the Meditations on the Canticle. In 1567, she met St. John of the Cross, who she enlisted to extend her reform into the male side of the Carmelite Order. Teresa died in 1582.

St. Teresa left to posterity many new convents, which she continued founding up to the year of her death. She also left a significant legacy of writings, which represent important benchmarks in the history of Christian mysticism. These works include the Way of Perfection and the Interior Castle. She also left an autobiography, the Life of Teresa of Avila.

The Catholic Encyclopedia includes a lengthy article on St. Teresa of Avila. Another article is available from the Teresian Carmel in Austria.

St. Teresa of Avila

Saint Teresa was born in Avila, Spain, March 28, 1515. She died in Alba, October 4, 1582. Her family origins have been traced to Toledo and Olmedo. Her father, Alonso de Cepeda, was a son of a Toledan merchant, Juan Sanchez de Toledo and Ines de Cepeda, originally from Tordesillas. Juan transferred his business to Avila, where he succeeded in having his children marry into families of the nobility. In 1505 Alonso married Catalina del Peso, who bore him two children and died in 1507. Two years later Alonso married the 15-year-old Beatriz de Ahumada of whom Teresa was born.

Early Life

In 1528, when Teresa was 15, her mother died, leaving behind 10 children. Teresa was the “most beloved of them all.” She was of medium height, large rather than small, and generally well proportioned. In her youth she had the reputation of being quite beautiful, and she retained her fine appearance until her last years (Maria de S. Jose, Libro de recreaciones, 8). Her personality was extroverted, her manner affectionately buoyant, and she had the ability to adapt herself easily to all kinds of persons and circumstances. She was skillful in the use of the pen, in needlework, and in household duties. Her courage and enthusiasm were readily kindled, an early example of which trait occurred when at the age of 7 she left home with her brother Rodrigo with the intention of going to Moorish territory to be beheaded for Christ, but they were frustrated by their uncle, who met the children as they were leaving the city and brought them home (Ephrem de la Madre de Dios, Tiempo y Vida de Sta. Teresa–hereafter abbrev. TV–142-143).

At about 12 the fervor of her piety waned somewhat. She began to take an interest in the development of her natural attractions and in books of chivalry. Her affections were directed especially to her cousins, the Mejias, children of her aunt Dona Elvira, and she gave some thought to marriage. Her father was disturbed by these fancies and opposed them. While she was in this crisis, her mother died. Afflicted and lonely, Teresa appealed to the Blessed Virgin to be her mother. Seeing his daughter’s need of prudent guidance, her father entrusted her to the Augustinian nuns at Santa Maria de Gracia in 1531.

 

Vocation. The influence of Dona Maria de Brinceno, who was in charge of the lay students at the convent school, helped Teresa to recover her piety. She began to wonder whether she had a vocation to be a nun. Toward the end of the year 1532 she returned home to regain her health and stayed with her sister, who lived in Castellanos. Reading the letters of St. Jerome led her to the decision to enter a convent, but her father refused to give his consent. Her brother and confidant, Rodrigo, had just set sail for the war on the Rio de la Plata. She decided to run away from home and persuaded another brother to flee with her in order that both might receive the religious habit. On Nov. 2, 1535, she entered the Carmelite Monastery of the Incarnation at Avila, where she had a friend, Juana Suarez; and her father resigned himself to this development. The following year she received the habit and began wholeheartedly to give herself to prayer and penance. Shortly after her profession she became seriously ill and failed to respond to medical treatment. As a last resort her father took her to Becedas, a small village, to seek the help of a woman healer famous throughout Castile, but Teresa’s health did not improve. Leaving Becedas in the fall of 1538, she stayed in Hortigosa at the home of her uncle Pedro de Cepeda, who gave her the Tercer Abecedario of Francis of Osuna to read.

 

    “I did not know,” she said, “how to proceed in prayer or how to become recollected, and so I took much pleasure in it and decided to follow that path with all my strength” (Libro de la Vida, the autobiography of St. Teresa–hereafter abbrev. V–4.6).

 

Instead of regaining her health, Teresa grew even more ill, and her father brought her back to Avila in July 1539. On August 15 she fell into a coma so profound that she was thought to be dead. After 4 days she revived, but she remained paralyzed in her legs for 3 years. After her cure, which she attributed to St. Joseph (V. 6.6-8), she entered a period of mediocrity in her spiritual life, but she did not at any time give up praying. Her trouble came of not understanding that the use of the imagination could be dispensed with and that her soul could give itself directly to contemplation. During this stage, which lasted 18 years, she had transitory mystical experiences. She was held back by a strong desire to be appreciated by others, but this finally left her in an experience of conversion in the presence of an image of “the sorely wounded Christ” (V 9.2). This conversion dislodged the egoism that had hindered her spiritual development. Thus, at the age of 39, she began to enjoy a vivid experience of God’s presence within her.

However, the contrast between these favors and her conduct, which was more relaxed than was thought proper according to the ascetical standards of the time, caused some misunderstanding. Some of her friends, such as Francisco de Salcedo and Gaspar Daza, thought her favors were the work of the devil (V 23.14). Diego de Cetina, SJ, brought her comfort by encouraging her to continue in mental prayer and to think upon the humanity of Christ. Francis Borgia in 1555 heard her confession and told her that the spirit of God was working in her, that she should concentrate upon Christ’s Passion and not resist the ecstatic experience that came to her in prayer. Nevertheless she had to endure the distrust even of her friends as the divine favors increased. When Pradanos left Avila in 1558 his place as Teresa’s director was taken by Baltasar Alvarez, SJ, who, either from caution or with the intention of probing her spirit, caused her great distress by telling her that others were convinced that her raptures and visions were the work of the devil and that she should not communicate so often (V 25.4). Another priest acting temporarily as her confessor, on hearing her report of a vision she had repeatedly had of Christ, told her it was clearly the devil and commanded her to make the sign of the cross and laugh at the vision (V 29.5). But God did not fail to comfort her, and she received the favor of the transverberation (V 29.13-14). In August 1560 St. Peter of Alcantara counseled her: “Keep on as you are doing, daughter; we all suffer such trials.”

Reformer

Her great work of reform began with herself. She made a vow always to follow the more perfect course, and resolved to keep the rule as perfectly as she could (V 32.9). However, the atmosphere prevailing at the Incarnation monastery was less than favorable to the more perfect type of life to which Teresa aspired. A group assembled in her cell one September evening in 1560, taking their inspiration from the primitive tradition of Carmel and the discalced reform of St. Peter of Alcantara, proposed the foundation of a monastery of an eremitical type. At first her confessor, the provincial of the Carmelites, and other advisers encouraged her in the plan (TV 478-482); but when the proposal became known among the townsfolk, there was a great outcry against it. The provincial changed his mind, her confessor dissociated himself from the project, and her advisers ranged themselves with the opposition. Six months later, however, when there was a change of rectors at the Jesuit college, her confessor, Father Alvarez, gave his approval. Without delay Teresa had her sister Juana and her husband Juan de Ovalle buy a house in Avila and occupy it as though it were for themselves (V 33.11). This stratagem was necessary to obviate difficulties with nuns at the Incarnation while the building was being adapted and made ready to serve as a convent. At Toledo, where she was sent by the Carmelite provincial at the importunate request of a wealthy and noble lady, she received a visit from St. Peter of Alcantara, who offered to act as mediator in obtaining from Rome the permissions needed for the foundation. While there she also received a visit from the holy Carmelite Maria de Yepes, who had just returned from Rome with permission to establish a reformed convent and who provided Teresa with a new light on the question of the type of poverty to be adopted by her own community. At Toledo she also completed in reluctant obedience to her confessor the first version of her Vida.

She returned to Avila at the end of June 1562 (TV 506-507), and shortly thereafter the apostolic rescript, dated Feb. 7, 1562, for the foundation of the new convent arrived. The following August 24 the new monastery dedicated to S. Jose was founded; Maestro Daza, the bishop’s delegate, officiated at the ceremony. Four novices received the habit of the Discalced Carmelites. There was strong opposition among the townspeople and at the Incarnation. The prioress at the Incarnation summoned Teresa back to her monastery, where the Carmelite provincial Angel de Salazar, indignant at her having put her new establishment under the jurisdiction of the bishop, rebuked her, but after hearing her account of things, was mollified and even promised to help quiet the popular disturbance and to give her permission to return to S. Jose when calm had been restored. On August 25 the council at Avila met to discuss the matter of the new foundation, and on August 30 a great assembly of the leading townspeople gathered. The only one in the assembly to raise his voice against the popular indignation was Domingo Banez, OP. A lawsuit followed in the royal court, but before the end of 1562 the foundress, as Teresa of Jesus, was authorized by the provincial to return to the new convent. There followed the 5 most peaceful years of her life, during which she wrote the Way of Perfection and the Meditations on the Canticle.

Foundations

In April 1567 the Carmelite general, Giovanni Battista Rossi (Rubeo), made a visitation, approved Teresa’s work, and commanded her to establish other convents with some of the nuns from the convent of the Incarnation at Avila. He also gave her permission to establish two houses for men who wished to adopt the reform. The extension of Teresa’s work began with the foundation of a convent at Medina del Campo, Aug. 15, 1567. Then followed other foundations: at Malagon in 1568; at Valladolid (Rio de Olinos) in 1568; at Toledo and at Pastrana in 1569; at Salamanca in 1570; and at Alba de Tormes in 1571. As she journeyed to Toledo in 1569 she passed through Duruelo, where John of the Cross and Anthony of Jesus had established the first convent of Discalced Brethren in November 1568, and in July 1569 she established the second monastery of Discalced Brethren in Pastrana.

These foundations were followed by an interval during which Teresa served as prioress at the Incarnation monastery in Avila, an office to which she was appointed by the apostolic visitator, Pedro Fernandez, OP. This duty she was loath to assume, and she had much opposition to face on the part of the community. However, with the help of St. John of the Cross, who served as a confessor for the nuns, she was able to bring about a great improvement in the spiritual condition of the community. On Nov. 18, 1572, while receiving Communion from the hands of John of the Cross, she received the favor of the “spiritual marriage.” At the request of the Duchess of Alba she spent the first days of 1573 in Alba, and then went to Salamanca to put things in order at the foundation there. At the command of Jerome Ripalda, SJ, she started her Book of the Foundations the following August. On March 19, 1574, she established a foundation at Segovia, where the Pastrana nuns had been transferred because of conflicts with the Princess of Eboli. This marked the beginning of a second series of fonndations. The next was made at Beas de Segura in February 1575. There Teresa met Jerome Gratian, apostolic visitator of the order in Andalucia, who ordered a foundation in Seville. The bishop objected, however, and Teresa sent Ana de S. Alberto to Caravaca to make a foundation there in her name on Jan. 1, 1576, and that of the Seville convent was delayed until June 3 of the same year.

Crisis Between the Calced and Discalced

The entry of the Discalced Brethren into Andalusia was forbidden by Rossi, the general of the order, who opposed Teresa and Jerome Gratian in this matter. The general chapter at Piacenza in 1575 ordered the Discalced Brethren to withdraw from Andalusia, and Teresa herself was ordered to retire to a convent. The general put Jerome Tostado at the head of the Discalced Brethren. While the conflict raged between the Calced and Discalced Brethren, Teresa wrote the Visitation of the Discalced Nuns, a part of The Foundations, and her greatest book, The Interior Castle. The nuncio Nicholas Ormaneto, a defender of the Discalced Brethren, died June 18, 1578, and his successor, Felipe Sega, was less favorably disposed toward them. John of the Cross was imprisoned in Toledo. Against Teresa’s will the Discalced Brethren held a chapter in Almodovar on Oct. 9, 1578. The nuncio annulled the chapter and by a decree put the Discalced Brethren under the authority of the Calced provincials who subjected them to some harassment. The King intervened, and four were named to advise the nuncio, among them Pedro Fernandez, OP. Angel de Salazar was made vicar-general of the Discalced Brethren while negotiations were afoot for the separation of the Discalced from the Calced Brethren and the erection of a Discalced province.

Teresa then turned to visiting her convents and resumed the founding of new ones. On Feb. 25, 1580, she gave the habit to foundresses of the convent in Villaneuva de la Jara. The brief Pia consideratione, dated June 22, 1580, ordered the erection of a distinct province for the Discalced. On March 3, 1581, the chapter of the Discalced was held in Alcala, and Jerome Gratian, who was favored by Teresa, was elected the first provincial. Teresa’s last foundations were: at Palencia and Soria in 1581, at Burgos in 1582; the most difficult of all, Granada (1582), was entrusted to the Venerable Anne of Jesus.

Teresa’s body was interred in Alba. Paul V declared her a blessed April 24, 1614, and in 1617 the Spanish parliament proclaimed her the Patroness of Spain. Gregory XV canonized her in 1622 together with SS. Ignatius of Loyola, Francis Xavier, Isidore, and Philip Neri.

Spiritual Doctrine

Among the writings of St. Teresa, three can be indicated as the depositories of her spiritual teaching: her autobiography, the Way of Perfection, and the Interior Castle. Readers must exercise some caution, however, and resist the temptation to hastily synthesize the doctrine in these books, because St. Teresa wrote from her personal experience at different stages of the spiritual life. For example, the doctrine of prayer found in the autobiography is not identical with that in the Interior Castle; more than a decade had elapsed between their composition, and Teresa had meanwhile attained a higher degree of spiritual maturity with its simultaneous expansion of experience. The autobiography, written primarily as a manifestation of her spiritual state for her directors, was later enlarged in scope and in audience. Chapters 11 to 22 inclusive–a later addition–are devoted exclusively to the discussion of prayer, although additional comments and examples are scattered throughout the remaining 28 chapters. Teresa depicts different stages of the life of prayer in metaphorical terms taken from the manner of securing water to irrigate a garden. The “first water” is laboriously obtained from a well and carried in a bucket to the garden; this is in reference to beginners who, liberated from the more flagrant mortal sins, apply themselves to discursive prayer of meditation, although they experience fatigue and aridity from time to time. After speaking at length of meditation in its stricter meaning, Teresa made a brief reference to “acquired” contemplation before beginning her discussion of the “second water.” In this second stage, the gardener secures water through use of a windlass and bucket; here Teresa refers to the “prayef of quiet, a gift of God through which the individual begins to have a passive experience of prayer. The third method of irrigation is the employment of water from a stream or river; the application made by Teresa is to the “sleep of the faculties.” Although Teresa considered this an important stage in the evolution of prayer when she wrote her autobiography, she later relegated it to a simple intensification of the “prayer of quiet” in the Interior Castle. The fourth method of irrigation is God given: the rain; Teresa employs this metaphor to describe a state of union in prayer in which the soul is apparently passive.

Her Way of Perfection Teresa addressed to her nuns, teaching them therein the major virtues that demand their solicitude, casting further light on the practice of prayer, and using the Pater Noster as a vehicle for teaching prayer at greater depth. This book is sometimes referred to as the apex of Teresa’s ascetical doctrine. The Interior Castle is the principal source of mature Teresian thought on the spiritual life in its integrity. Chief emphasis is laid on the life of prayer, but other elements (the apostolate, for example) are also treated. The interior castle is the soul, in the center of which dwells the Trinity. Growth in prayer enables the individual to enter into deeper intimacy with God–signified by a progressive journey through the apartments (or mansions) of the castle from the outermost to the luminous center. When a man has attained union with God in the degree permitted to him in this world, he is “at the center” of himself; in other words, he has integrity as a child of God and as a human being. Each of the apartments of the castle is distinguished by a different stage in the evolution of prayer, with its consequent effects upon every other phase of the life of the individual.

St. Teresa of Avila – Doctor of the Church

Less than twenty years before Teresa was born in 1515, Columbus opened up the Western Hemisphere to European colonization. Two years after she was born, Luther started the Protestant Reformation. Out of all of this change came Teresa pointing the way from outer turmoil to inner peace.

Teresa’s father was rigidly honest and pious, but he may have carried his strictness to extremes. Teresa’s mother loved romance novels but because her husband objected to these fanciful books, she hid the books from him. This put Teresa in the middle — especially since she liked the romances too. Her father told her never to lie but her mother told her not to tell her father. Later she said she was always afraid that no matter what she did she was going to do everything wrong.

When she was five years old she convinced her older brother that they should, as she says in her Life, “go off to the land of the Moors and beg them, out of love of God, to cut off our heads there.” They got as far as the road from the city before an uncle found them and brought them back. Some people have used this story as an early example of sanctity, but this author think it’s better used as an early example of her ability to stir up trouble.

After this incident she led a fairly ordinary life, though she was convinced that she was a horrible sinner. As a teenager, she cared only about boys and clothes and flirting and rebelling — like other teenagers throughout the ages. When she was 16, her father decided she was out of control and sent her to a convent. At first she hated it but eventually she began to enjoy it — partly because of her growing love for God, and partly because the convent was a lot less strict than her father.

Still, when the time came for her to choose between marriage and religious life, she had a tough time making the decision. She’d watched a difficult marriage ruin her mother. On the other hand being a nun didn’t seem like much fun. When she finally chose religious life, she did so because she though that it was the only safe place for someone as prone to sin as she was.

Once installed at the Carmelite convent permanently, she started to learn and practice mental prayer, in which she “tried as hard as I could to keep Jesus Christ present within me….My imagination is so dull that I had no talent for imagining or coming up with great theological thoughts.” Teresa prayed this way off and on for eighteen years without feeling that she was getting results. Part of the reason for her trouble was that the convent was not the safe place she assumed it would be.

Many women who had no place else to go wound up at the convent, whether they had vocations or not. They were encouraged to stay away from the convents for long period of time to cut down on expenses. Nuns would arrange their veils attractively and wear jewelry. Prestige depended not on piety but on money. There was a steady stream of visitors in the parlor and parties that included young men. What spiritual life there was involved hysteria, weeping, exaggerated penance, nosebleeds, and self- induced visions.

Teresa suffered the same problem that Francis of Assisi did — she was too charming. Everyone liked her and she liked to be liked. She found it too easy to slip into a worldly life and ignore God. The convent encouraged her to have visitors to whom she would teach mental prayer because their gifts helped the community economy. But Teresa got more involved in flattery, vanity and gossip than spiritual guidance. These weren’t great sins perhaps but they kept her from God.

Then Teresa fell ill with malaria. When she had a seizure, people were so sure she was dead that after she woke up four days later she learned they had dug a grave for her. Afterwards she was paralyzed for three years and was never completely well. Yet instead of helping her spiritually, her sickness became an excuse to stop her prayer completely: she couldn’t be alone enough, she wasn’t healthy enough, and so forth. Later she would say, “Prayer is an act of love, words are not needed. Even if sickness distracts from thoughts, all that is needed is the will to love.”

For years she hardly prayed at all “under the guise of humility.” She thought as a wicked sinner she didn’t deserve to get favors from God. But turning away from prayer was like “a baby turning from its mother’s breasts, what can be expected but death?”

When she was 41, a priest convinced her to go back to her prayer, but she still found it difficult. “I was more anxious for the hour of prayer to be over than I was to remain there. I don’t know what heavy penance I would not have gladly undertaken rather than practice prayer.” She was distracted often: “This intellect is so wild that it doesn’t seem to be anything else than a frantic madman no one can tie down.” Teresa sympathizes with those who have a difficult time in prayer: “All the trials we endure cannot be compared to these interior battles.”

Yet her experience gives us wonderful descriptions of mental prayer: “For mental prayer in my opinion is nothing else than an intimate sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with him who we know loves us. The important thing is not to think much but to love much and so do that which best stirs you to love. Love is not great delight but desire to please God in everything.”

As she started to pray again, God gave her spiritual delights: the prayer of quiet where God’s presence overwhelmed her senses, raptures where God overcame her with glorious foolishness, prayer of union where she felt the sun of God melt her soul away. Sometimes her whole body was raised from the ground. If she felt God was going to levitate her body, she stretched out on the floor and called the nuns to sit on her and hold her down. Far from being excited about these events, she “begged God very much not to give me any more favors in public.”

In her books, she analyzed and dissects mystical experiences the way a scientist would. She never saw these gifts as rewards from God but the way he “chastised” her. The more love she felt the harder it was to offend God. She says, “The memory of the favor God has granted does more to bring such a person back to God than all the infernal punishments imaginable.”

Her biggest fault was her friendships. Though she wasn’t sinning, she was very attached to her friends until God told her “No longer do I want you to converse with human beings but with angels.” In an instant he gave her the freedom that she had been unable to achieve through years of effort. After that God always came first in her life.

Some friends, however, did not like what was happening to her and got together to discuss some “remedy” for her. Concluding that she had been deluded by the devil, they sent a Jesuit to analyze her. The Jesuit reassured her that her experiences were from God but soon everyone knew about her and was making fun of her.

One confessor was so sure that the visions were from the devil that he told her to make an obscene gesture called the fig every time she had a vision of Jesus. She cringed but did as she was ordered, all the time apologizing to Jesus. Fortunately, Jesus didn’t seem upset but told her that she was right to obey her confessor. In her autobiography she would say, “I am more afraid of those who are terrified of the devil than I am of the devil himself.” The devil was not to be feared but fought by talking more about God.

Teresa felt that the best evidence that her delights came from God was that the experiences gave her peace, inspiration, and encouragement. “If these effects are not present I would greatly doubt that the raptures come from God; on the contrary I would fear lest they be caused by rabies.”

Sometimes, however, she couldn’t avoid complaining to her closest Friend about the hostility and gossip that surrounded her. When Jesus told her, “Teresa, that’s how I treat my friends” Teresa responded, “No wonder you have so few friends.” But since Christ has so few friends, she felt they should be good ones. And that’s why she decided to reform her Carmelite order.

At the age of 43, she became determined to found a new convent that went back to the basics of a contemplative order: a simple life of poverty devoted to prayer. This doesn’t sound like a big deal, right? Wrong.

When plans leaked out about her first convent, St. Joseph’s, she was denounced from the pulpit, told by her sisters she should raise money for the convent she was already in, and threatened with the Inquisition. The town started legal proceedings against her. All because she wanted to try a simple life of prayer. In the face of this open war, she went ahead calmly, as if nothing was wrong, trusting in God.

“May God protect me from gloomy saints,” Teresa said, and that’s how she ran her convent. To her, spiritual life was an attitude of love, not a rule. Although she proclaimed poverty, she believed in work, not in begging. She believed in obedience to God more than penance. If you do something wrong, don’t punish yourself — change. When someone felt depressed, her advice was that she go some place where she could see the sky and take a walk. When someone was shocked that she was going to eat well, she answered, “There’s a time for partridge and a time for penance.” To her brother’s wish to meditate on hell, she answered, “Don’t.”

Once she had her own convent, she could lead a life of peace, right? Wrong again. Teresa believed that the most powerful and acceptable prayer was that prayer that leads to action. Good effects were better than pious sensations that only make the person praying feel good.

At St. Joseph’s, she spent much of her time writing her Life. She wrote this book not for fun but because she was ordered to. Many people questioned her experiences and this book would clear her or condemn her. Because of this, she used a lot of camouflage in the book, following a profound thought with the statement, “But what do I know. I’m just a wretched woman.” The Inquisition liked what they read and cleared her.

At 51, she felt it was time to spread her reform movement. She braved burning sun, ice and snow, thieves, and rat-infested inns to found more convents. But those obstacles were easy compared to what she face from her brothers and sisters in religious life. She was called “a restless disobedient gadabout who has gone about teaching as though she were a professor” by the papal nuncio. When her former convent voted her in as prioress, the leader of the Carmelite order excommunicated the nuns. A vicar general stationed an officer of the law outside the door to keep her out. The other religious orders opposed her wherever she went. She often had to enter a town secretly in the middle of the night to avoid causing a riot.

And the help they received was sometimes worse than the hostility. A princess ordered Teresa to found a convent and then showed up at the door with luggage and maids. When Teresa refused to order her nuns to wait on the princess on their knees, the princess denounced Teresa to the Inquisition.

In another town, they arrived at their new house in the middle of the night, only to wake up the next morning to find that one wall of the building was missing.

Why was everyone so upset? Teresa said, “Truly it seems that now there are no more of those considered mad for being true lovers of Christ.” No one in religious orders or in the world wanted Teresa reminding them of the way God said they should live.

Teresa looked on these difficulties as good publicity. Soon she had postulants clamoring to get into her reform convents. Many people thought about what she said and wanted to learn about prayer from her. Soon her ideas about prayer swept not only through Spain but all of Europe.

In 1582, she was invited to found a convent by an Archbishop but when she arrived in the middle of the pouring rain, he ordered her to leave. “And the weather so delightful too” was Teresa’s comment. Though very ill, she was commanded to attend a noblewoman giving birth. By the time they got there, the baby had already arrived so, as Teresa said, “The saint won’t be needed after all.” Too ill to leave, she died on October 4 at the age of 67.

She is the founder of the Discalced Carmelites. In 1970 she was declared a Doctor of the Church for her writing and teaching on prayer, one of two women to be honored in this way.

St. Teresa is the patron saint of Headache sufferers. Her symbol is a heart, an arrow, and a book. She was canonized in 1622.

Copyright 1996-2000 by Terry Matz. All Rights Reserved.

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from Wikipedia

Saint Teresa of Ávila, also called Saint Teresa of Jesus, baptized as Teresa Sánchez de Cepeda y Ahumada, (March 28, 1515 – October 4, 1582) was a prominent Spanish mystic, Roman Catholic saint, Carmelite nun, and writer of the Counter Reformation, and theologian of contemplative life through mental prayer. She was a reformer of the Carmelite Order and is considered to be, along with John of the Cross, a founder of the Discalced Carmelites.

In 1622, forty years after her death, she was canonized by Pope Gregory XV, and in 1970 named a Doctor of the Church by Pope Paul VI. Her books, which include her autobiography, The Life of Teresa of Jesus, and her seminal work, El Castillo Interior (The Interior Castle), are an integral part of the Spanish Renaissance literature as well as Christian mysticism and Christian meditation practices as she entails in her other important work Camino de Perfección (The Way of Perfection).

Early life

Teresa de Cepeda y Ahumada was born in 1515 in Gotarrendura, in the province of Ávila, Spain. Her paternal grandfather, Juan de Toledo, was a marrano (Jewish convert to Christianity) and was condemned by the Spanish Inquisition for allegedly returning to the Jewish faith. Her father, Alonso Sánchez de Cepeda, bought a knighthood and successfully assimilated into Christian society. Teresa’s mother, Beatriz, was especially keen to raise her daughter as a pious Christian. Teresa was fascinated by accounts of the lives of the saints, and ran away from home at age seven with her brother Rodrigo to find martyrdom among the Moors. Her uncle stopped them as he was returning to the city, having spotted the two outside the city walls.

In the cloister, she suffered greatly from illness. Early in her sickness, she experienced periods of religious ecstasy through the use of the devotional book “Tercer abecedario espiritual,” translated as the Third Spiritual Alphabet (published in 1527 and written by Francisco de Osuna). This work, following the example of similar writings of medieval mystics, consisted of directions for examinations of conscience and for spiritual self-concentration and inner contemplation (known in mystical nomenclature as oratio recollectionis or oratio mentalis). She also employed other mystical ascetic works such as the Tractatus de oratione et meditatione of Saint Peter of Alcantara, and perhaps many of those upon which Saint Ignatius of Loyola based his Spiritual Exercises and possibly the Spiritual Exercises themselves.

The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa by Bernini, Basilica of Santa Maria della Vittoria, Rome.

She claimed that during her illness she rose from the lowest stage, “recollection”, to the “devotions of silence” or even to the “devotions of ecstasy”, which was one of perfect union with God. During this final stage, she said she frequently experienced a rich “blessing of tears.” As the Catholic distinction between mortal and venial sin became clear to her, she says she came to understand the awful terror of sin and the inherent nature of original sin. She also became conscious of her own natural impotence in confronting sin, and the necessity of absolute subjection to God.

Saint Teresa of Jesus from the Church of Saint Marin Bled (Slovenia).

Around 1556, various friends suggested that her newfound knowledge was diabolical, not divine. She began to inflict various tortures and mortifications of the flesh upon herself. But her confessor, the Jesuit Saint Francis Borgia, reassured her of the divine inspiration of her thoughts. On St. Peter’s Day in 1559, Teresa became firmly convinced that Jesus Christ presented himself to her in bodily form, though invisible. These visions lasted almost uninterrupted for more than two years. In another vision, a seraph[4] drove the fiery point of a golden lance repeatedly through her heart, causing an ineffable spiritual-bodily pain.

This vision was the inspiration for one of Bernini’s most famous works, the Ecstasy of Saint Teresa at Santa Maria della Vittoria in Rome.

The memory of this episode served as an inspiration throughout the rest of her life, and motivated her lifelong imitation of the life and suffering of Jesus, epitomized in the motto usually associated with her: Lord, either let me suffer or let me die.

Activities as reformer

The incentive to give outward practical expression to her inward motive was inspired in Teresa by the Franciscan priest Saint Peter of Alcantara who became acquainted with her as Founder early in 1560, and became her spiritual guide and counselor. She now resolved to found a reformed Carmelite convent, correcting the laxity which she had found in the Cloister of the Incarnation and others. Guimara de Ulloa, a woman of wealth and a friend, supplied the funds. Teresa worked for many years encouraging Spanish Jewish converts to follow Christianity.

The absolute poverty of the new monastery, established in 1562 and named St. Joseph’s (San José), at first excited a scandal among the citizens and authorities of Ávila, and the little house with its chapel was in peril of suppression; but powerful patrons, including the bishop himself, as well as the impression of well-secured subsistence and prosperity, turned animosity into applause.

In March 1563, when Teresa moved to the new cloister, she received the papal sanction to her prime principle of absolute poverty and renunciation of property, which she proceeded to formulate into a “Constitution”. Her plan was the revival of the earlier, stricter rules, supplemented by new regulations such as the three disciplines of ceremonial flagellation prescribed for the divine service every week, and the discalceation of the nun. For the first five years, Teresa remained in pious seclusion, engaged in writing.

Church window at the Convent of St Teresa.

In 1567, she received a patent from the Carmelite general, Rubeo de Ravenna, to establish new houses of her order, and in this effort and later visitations she made long journeys through nearly all the provinces of Spain. Of these she gives a description in her “Libro de las Fundaciones.” Between 1567 and 1571, reform convents were established at Medina del Campo, Malagon, Valladolid, Toledo, Pastrana, Salamanca, and Alba de Tormes.

As part of her original patent, Teresa was given permission to set up two houses for men who wished to adopt the reforms; she convinced John of the Cross and Anthony of Jesus to help with this. They founded the first convent of Discalced Carmelite Brethren in November 1568 at Duruello. Another friend, Gerónimo Grecian, Carmelite visitator of the older observance of Andalusia and apostolic commissioner, and later provincial of the Teresian reforms, gave her powerful support in founding convents at Segovia (1571), Beas de Segura (1574), Seville (1575), and Caravaca de la Cruz (Murcia, 1576), while the deeply mystical John, by his power as teacher and preacher, promoted the inner life of the movement.

In 1576 a series of persecutions began on the part of the older observant Carmelite order against Teresa, her friends, and her reforms. Pursuant to a body of resolutions adopted at the general chapter at Piacenza, the “definitors” of the order forbade all further founding of convents. The general chapter condemned her to voluntary retirement to one of her institutions. She obeyed and chose St. Joseph’s at Toledo. Her friends and subordinates were subjected to greater trials.

Teresa of Ávila by François Gérard (1770−1837), a French painter

Finally, after several years her pleadings by letter with King Philip II of Spain secured relief. As a result, in 1579, the processes before the inquisition against her, Grecian, and others were dropped, which allowed the reform to continue. A brief of Pope Gregory XIII allowed a special provincial for the younger branch of the discalced nuns, and a royal rescript created a protective board of four assessors for the reform.

During the last three years of her life, Teresa founded convents at Villanueva de la Jara in northern Andalusia (1580), Palencia (1580), Soria (1581), Burgos, and Granada (1582). In total seventeen convents, all but one founded by her, and as many men’s cloisters were due to her reform activity of twenty years.

Her final illness overtook her on one of her journeys from Burgos to Alba de Tormes. She died in 1582, just as Catholic nations were making the switch from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar, which required the removal of October 5–14 from the calendar. She died either before midnight of October 4 or early in the morning of October 15, which is celebrated as her feast day. Her last words were: “My Lord, it is time to move on. Well then, may your will be done. O my Lord and my Spouse, the hour that I have longed for has come. It is time to meet one another.[5]

In 1622, forty years after her death, she was canonized by Pope Gregory XV. The Cortes exalted her to patroness of Spain in 1617, and the University of Salamanca previously conferred the title Doctor ecclesiae with a diploma. The title is Latin for Doctor of the Church, but is distinct from the papal honor of Doctor of the Church, which is always conferred posthumously and was finally bestowed upon her by Pope Paul VI in 1970 along with Saint Catherine of Siena making them the first women to be awarded the distinction. Teresa is revered as the Doctor of Prayer. The mysticism in her works exerted a formative influence upon many theologians of the following centuries, such as Francis of Sales, Fénelon, and the Port-Royalists[disambiguation needed].

Statue of Saint Teresa of Ávila.

Mysticism

“It is love alone that gives worth to all things.” – St. Teresa of Avila

The kernel of Teresa’s mystical thought throughout all her writings is the ascent of the soul in four stages (The Autobiography Chs. 10-22):

The first, or “mental prayer”, is that of devout contemplation or concentration, the withdrawal of the soul from without and specially the devout observance of the passion of Christ and penitence (Autobiography 11.20).

The second is the “prayer of quiet”, in which at least the human will is lost in that of God by virtue of a charismatic, supernatural state given of God, while the other faculties, such as memory, reason, and imagination, are not yet secure from worldly distraction. While a partial distraction is due to outer performances such as repetition of prayers and writing down spiritual things, yet the prevailing state is one of quietude (Autobiography 14.1).

The “devotion of union” is not only a supernatural but an essentially ecstatic state. Here there is also an absorption of the reason in God, and only the memory and imagination are left to ramble. This state is characterized by a blissful peace, a sweet slumber of at least the higher soul faculties, a conscious rapture in the love of God.

The fourth is the “devotion of ecstasy or rapture,” a passive state, in which the consciousness of being in the body disappears (2 Corinthians 12:2-3). Sense activity ceases; memory and imagination are also absorbed in God or intoxicated. Body and spirit are in the throes of a sweet, happy pain, alternating between a fearful fiery glow, a complete impotence and unconsciousness, and a spell of strangulation, intermitted sometimes by such an ecstatic flight that the body is literally lifted into space. This after half an hour is followed by a reactionary relaxation of a few hours in a swoon-like weakness, attended by a negation of all the faculties in the union with God. From this the subject awakens in tears; it is the climax of mystical experience, productive of the trance. (Indeed, she was said to have been observed levitating during Mass on more than one occasion (The Interior Castle St Teresa Of Avila translated by Mirabai Starr.)

Teresa is one of the foremost writers on mental prayer, and her position among writers on mystical theology is unique. In all her writings on this subject she deals with her personal experiences, which a deep insight and analytical gifts enabled her to explain clearly. Her definition was used in the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “Contemplative prayer [oración mental] in my opinion is nothing else than a close sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with him who we know loves us.”[6]

Throughout her writings, persistent metaphors provide a vivid illustration of the image of mystic prayer as watering a garden.

Writings

This is the one portrait of Teresa that is probably the most true to her appearance. It is a copy of an original painting of her in 1576 at the age of 61.

Teresa’s writings, produced for didactic purposes, stand among the most remarkable in the mystical literature of the Catholic Church:

  • The “Autobiography,” written before 1567, under the direction of her confessor, Fr Pedro Ibáñez;[7]
  • ” El Camino de Perfección”, written also before 1567, at the direction of her confessor;[8]
  • “Meditations on Song of Songs”, 1567, written nominally for her daughters at the convent of Our Lady of Mount Carmel
  • “El Castillo Interior”, written in 1577;[9]
  • “Relaciones”, an extension of the autobiography giving her inner and outer experiences in epistolary form.
  • Two smaller works are the “Conceptos del Amor” (“Concepts of Love”) and “Exclamaciones”. In addition, there are “Las Cartas” (Saragossa, 1671), or her correspondence, of which there are 342 extant letters and 87 fragments of others. St Teresa’s prose is marked by an unaffected grace, an ornate neatness, and charming power of expression, together placing her in the front rank of Spanish prose writers; and her rare poems (“Todas las poesías”, Munster, 1854) are distinguished for tenderness of feeling and rhythm of thought.

Excerpts

                                                 Let nothing disturb thee,
Nothing affright thee;
All thing are passing;
God never changeth;
Patient endurance
Attaineth to all things;
Who God possesseth
In nothing is wanting
Alone God sufficeth.
-Liturgy of the Hours
[10]

In Spanish, it is a song called “Nada te turbe” after the first line.

Saint Teresa, who reported visions of Jesus and Mary, was a strong believer in the power of holy water and wrote that she used it with success to repel evil and temptations.[11] She wrote:[12]

I know by frequent experience that there is nothing which puts the devils to flight like holy water.

Let nothing disturb you.
Let nothing make you afraid.
All things are passing.
God alone never changes.
Patience gains all things.
If you have God you will want for nothing.
God alone suffices.
~The bookmark of Teresa of Avila
[13]

Saint Teresa and Infant Jesus of Prague

Though there are no written historical accounts proving that Teresa of Avila ever owned the Infant Jesus of Prague statue,[14] a pious legend recounts a tale when Avila once allegedly owned the statue and gave it away to a noblewoman travelling to Prague.[15][16]

However, what is historically known is that Teresa always did carry a portable statue of the Child Jesus wherever she went, as she is so portrayed in the 1984 Teresa de Jesús (film), and shown in the movie protecting this infant statue in her many calamitous travels. In some scenes, the other religious sisters take turn in changing its vestments. The devotion to the child-Jesus spread quickly in Spain most likely due to her mystical visions.[17]

During one of these travels, another popular legend tells that Saint Teresa de Avila once saw a young boy who asked her name. She replied Yo Soy Teresa de Jesus!, to which he replied Yo Soy Jesus de Teresa!.[18] The Discalced Carmelites today administer the pilgrim Church of Our Lady Victorious, where the Infant Jesus of Prague is currently enshrined.[19]

Similarly, in Raymond Arroyo’s biography of Mother Angelica, she recounts a similar event seeing an apparition of the child Jesus in Colombia. Allegedly having a brief conversation which the child, she later discovers him to be the Divino Nino of Bogota.[20] Mother Angelica is also a known devotee of the Infant Jesus of Prague statue.[21]

Portrayals

  • “St. Teresa” was painted in 1819–20 by François Gérard, a French neoclassical painter.
  • Saint Teresa was the inspiration for one of Bernini’s most famous sculptures, The Ecstasy of St. Teresa in Santa Maria della Vittoria in Rome.
  • Simone de Beauvoir singles out Teresa as a woman who lived her life for herself (perhaps the only woman to do so) in her book The Second Sex.
  • Saint Teresa is the subject of the song “Theresa’s Sound World ” by Sonic Youth off the 1992 albulm “Dirty”, lyrics by Thurston Moore.
  • Saint Teresa features prominently in Joan Osborne’s song with the same name.
  • She is a principal character of the opera Four Saints in Three Acts by the composer Virgil Thomson with a libretto by Gertrude Stein.
  • She is mentioned prominently in Kathryn Harrison’s novel Poison. The main character, Francisca De Luarca, is fascinated by her life.
  • R. A. Lafferty was strongly inspired by El Castillo Interior when he wrote his novel Fourth Mansions. Quotations from St. Teresa’s work are frequently used as chapter headings.
  • Pierre Klossowski prominently features Saint Teresa of Ávila in his metaphysical novel Baphomet.
  • George Eliot compared Dorothea Brooke to St. Teresa in Middlemarch (1871–1872) and wrote briefly about the life and works of St. Teresa in the “Prelude” to the novel.
  • The contemporary poet Jorie Graham features Saint Teresa in the poem Breakdancing in her volume The End of Beauty.
  • Paz Vega stars as Teresa in Teresa, el cuerpo de Cristo, a 2007 Spanish biopic directed by Ray Loriga.
  • Barbara Mujica’s novel Sister Teresa, while not strictly hagiographical, is based upon Teresa’s life.
  • St. Teresa was the subject of a 1959 play, “La Madre”; she was portrayed by actress Kate Wilkinson.
  • Performance artist Linda Montano has cited Teresa of Ávila as one of the most important influences on her work and since her return to Catholicism in the 2000s has done performances of her life.
  • Concha Velasco portrays Teresa in Teresa de Jesús (film), a 1984 television miniseries directed by Josefina Molina.
  • Timothy Findley’s 1999 novel Pilgrim features St. Teresa as a minor character.

See also

  • Visions of Jesus and Mary
  • Saints and levitation
  • Carmelite Rule of St. Albert
  • Book of the First Monks
  • Constitutions of the Carmelite Order
  • Byzantine Discalced Carmelites
  • Spanish Renaissance literature
  • Asín on mystical analogies in St. Teresa of Avila and Islam
  • Mental prayer
  • Secular Order of Discalced Carmelites
  • Teresa de Jesús, 1984 Spanish language mini-series

Notes

  1. ^ At some hour of the night between October 4 and October 15, 1582, the night of the transition in Spain from the Julian to the Gregorian Calendar
  2. ^ Notable Lutheran Saints
  3. ^ The Church Calendar
  4. ^ Teresa wrote that it must be a cherub (Deben ser los que llaman cherubines), but Fr. Domingo Báñez wrote in the margin that it seemed more like a seraph (mas parece de los que se llaman seraphis), an identification that most editors have followed. Santa Teresa de Ávila. “Libro de su vida“. Escritos de Santa Teresa.
  5. ^ 2000 Years of Prayer by Michael Counsell 2004 ISBN 1-85311-623-8 page 207
  6. ^ Catechism para. 2709
  7. ^ Pedro Ibáñez, “La Vida de la Santa Madre Teresa de Jesús”, Madrid, 1882; English translation, The Life of S. Teresa of Jesus, London, 1888.
  8. ^ “El Camino de Perfección”, Salamanca, 1589; English translation, “The Way of Perfection”, London, 1852.
  9. ^ “El Castillo Interior,” English translation, “The Interior Castle,” London, 1852, comparing the contemplative soul to a castle with seven successive interior courts, or chambers, analogous to the seven heavens.
  10. ^ Litany to Saint Teresa of Avila
  11. ^ Bielecki, pp 238-241
  12. ^ Teresa of Avila, 2008 Life of St. Teresa of Jesus ISBN 1-60680-041-8 page 246
  13. ^ Teresa of Avila. Let Nothing Disturb You: A Journey to the Center of the Soul with Teresa of Avila. Editor John Kirvan. Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria Press, 1996. ISBN 0-87793-570-X
  14. ^ http://www.ewtn.com/library/christ/infhist.txt
  15. ^ http://www.pragjesu.info/en/history_infant_jesus.htm
  16. ^ http://devotionsandprayers.blogspot.com/2009/09/infant-of-prague.html
  17. ^ http://saints.sqpn.com/infant-jesus-of-prague/
  18. ^ http://www.carmelitesistersocd.com/who/infant.asp
  19. ^ http://www.pragjesu.info/en/carmel.htm
  20. ^ – Mother Angelica’s pp. 90-91
  21. ^ http://www.bobandpennylord.com/childjesus.htm

References

Further reading

  • “The Interior Castle – The Mansions,” TAN Books, 1997. ISBN 978-0-89555-604-2
  • “The Way of Perfection,” TAN Books, 1997. ISBN 978-0-89555-602-8
  • Teresa of Avila, “The Book of Her Life” (Translated, with Notes, by Kieran Kavanaugh, OCD and Otilio Rodriguez, OCD. Introduction by Jodi Bilinkoff). Indianapolis/Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Company, 2008. ISBN 978-0-87220-907-7
  • “The Delighted Angel” drama about Teresa of Ávila and Rabija al-Adavija by Dževad Karahasan, Vienna-Salzburg-Klagenfurt, ARBOS 1995.
  • “The Interior Castle (Edited by E. Allison Peers),” Doubleday, 1972. ISBN 978-0-385-03643-6
  • “The Way of Perfection (Translated and Edited by E. Allison Peers),” Doubleday, 1991. ISBN 978-0-385-06539-9
  • “The Life of Teresa of Jesus: The Autobiography of Teresa of Avila (Translated by E. Allison Peers),” Doubleday, 1991. ISBN 978-0-385-01109-9
  • “Teresa of Avila: An Extraordinary Life”, Shirley du Boulay, Bluebridge, 1995 ISBN 978-0-9742405-2-7
  • “Teresa: Outstanding Christian Thinkers,” Rowan Williams, Continuum, 1991. ISBN 0-8264-5081-4
  • “The Eagle and the Dove” Saint Teresa of Avila and Saint Thérèse of Lisieux. by Vita Sackville-West. First published in 1943 by Michael Joseph LTD, 26 Bloomsbury Street, London, W.C.1
  • “Castles in the Sand” fiction with cited sources about Teresa of Avila by Carolyn A. Greene, Lighthouse Trails Publishing, 2009. ISBN 978-0-9791315-4-7
  • “15 Days of Prayer with Saint Teresa of Avila” by Jean Abiven, New City Press, 2011. ISBN 978-1-56548-366-8
  • Bárbara Mujica, Teresa de Ávila: Lettered Woman (Nashville, Vanderbilt University Press, 2009).
  • E. Rhodes, “Teresa de Jesus’s Book and the Reform of the Religious Man in Sixteenth Century Spain,” in Laurence Lux-Sterritt and Carmen Mangion (eds), Gender, Catholicism and Spirituality: Women and the Roman Catholic Church in Britain and Europe, 1200-1900 (Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan, 2011),
  • The Life, Miracles and Revelations of St. Teresa of Avila: The Ecstatic Saint of Jesus Christ
  • “St. Teresa, Virgin”, Butler’s Lives of the Saints
  • Statue of St Teresa in St Peter’s Basilica
  • Biography Online: St Teresa of Avila
  • Patron Saints: Saint Teresa of Avila
  • Carmelite Vocation
  • Books written by St Teresa of Avila, including St John of the Cross
  • Works by Teresa of Avila at Project Gutenberg
  • Works by or about Teresa of Ávila in libraries (WorldCat catalog)
  • Basilica of Saint Teresa in Alba de Tormes (in Spanish)
  • Alba de Tormes: la Basílica Teresiana, piedras vivas- Living Stones (in Spanish, YouTube)
  • Alba de Tormes, sepulcro de Santa Teresa – Tomb of Saint Teresa (in Spanish, YouTube)
  • Convent of St Teresa in Avila
  • Poems of St Teresa
  • Santa Teresa: an Appreciation, 1900, by Alexander Whyte, from Project Gutenberg
  • “St. Teresa of Avila”. Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 1913.

Ecclesiastical and Religious Vocation

Ecclesiastical and Religious Vocation

An ecclesiastical or religious vocation is the special gift of those who, in the Church of God, follow with a pure intention the ecclesiastical profession of the evangelical counsels. The elements of this vocation are all the interior and exterior helps, the efficacious graces which have led to the taking of the resolution, and all the graces which produce meritorious perseverance.

Ordinarily this vocation is revealed as the result of deliberation according to the principles of reason and faith ; in extraordinary cases, by supernatural light so abundantly shed upon the soul as to render deliberation unnecessary. There are two signs of vocation: the one negative, the absence of impediment ; the other positive, a firm resolution by the help of God to serve Him in the ecclesiastical or religious state.

If God leaves a free choice to the person called, he leaves none to those whose duty it is to advise; those spiritual directors or confessors who treat lightly a matter of such importance, or do not answer according to the spirit of Christ and the Church, incur a grave responsibility. It is their duty also to discover the germ of a vocation, and develop it by forming the character and encouraging the generosity of the will.

These rules are sufficient for a decision to follow the evangelical counsels, as they may be practised even in the world. But the nature of the ecclesiastical state and the positive constitution of the religious state require some further remarks. Unlike the observance of the evangelical counsels, the ecclesiastical state exists primarily for the good of religious society ; and the Church has given the religious state a corporate organization. Those who belong to a religious order not only follow the evangelical counsels for themselves, but are accepted by the Church, more or less officially, to represent in religious society the practice of the rules of perfection; and to offer it to God as a part of public worship. (See RELIGIOUS LIFE; VOWS.) From this it follows that the ecclesiastical profession is not as accessible to all as the religious state; that in order to enter the religious state at the present day, conditions of health, of character, and sometimes of education are required which are not demanded by the evangelical counsels taken in themselves; and that, both for the religious and for the ecclesiastical state, admission by lawful authority is necessary.

At the present day, it is necessary that two wills should concur before a person can enter the religious state; it has always been necessary that two wills should concur before one can enter the ranks of the clergy. The Council of Trent pronounces an anathema on a person who represents as lawful ministers of the Gospel and the sacraments any who have not been regularly ordained and commissioned by ecclesiastical and canonical authority (Sess. XXIII, iii, iv, vii). A vocation which is by many persons called exterior thus comes to be added to the interior vocation; and this exterior vocation is defined as the admission of a candidate in due form by competent authority.

The question of vocation itself so far as the candidate is concerned may be put in these terms: Are you doing a thing which is pleasing to God in offering yourself to the seminary or the novitiate ? And the answer depends on the preceding data: yes, if your intention is honest, and if your strength is sufficient for the work. A further question may be put to the candidate for the priesthood : if you do well in desiring to become a priest, would you perhaps do better by becoming a religious? It is to be remarked that the candidate for the priesthood ought already to have the virtues required by his state, while the hope of acquiring them is sufficient for the candidate for the religious life .

The question an ordinary of a diocese or superior of a religious community should meet is: Considering the general interest of the order or the diocese, is it right that I should accept this or that candidate? And although the candidate has done well in offering himself the answer may be in the negative. For God often suggests plans which He does not require or desire to be carried into effect, though He is preparing the reward which He will bestow on the intention and the trial.

The refusal of the ordinary or superior debars the candidate from entering the lists of the clergy or religious. Hence his approval may be said to complete the Divine vocation. Moreover, in this life a person often enters into indissoluble bonds which God desires to see respected after the fact. It remains therefore for the man who has laid himself under such an obligation to accommodate himself to the state in which God, Who will give him the help of His grace, now wishes him to persevere. This is the express teaching of St. Ignatius in his “Spiritual Exercises”: With regard to this present will of God, it may be said, at least of priests who do not obtain a dispensation, that sacerdotal ordination confers a vocation upon them. This however does not imply that they have done well in offering themselves for ordination.

This appears to give us ground for the true solution of the recent controversies on the subject of vocation.

Two points have been made the subjects of controversy in the consideration of vocation to the ecclesiastical state : how does Divine Providence make its decrees known to men? How does that xxyyyk.htm”>Providence reconcile its decrees with liberty of human action in the choice of a state of life? Cassian explains very clearly the different kinds of vocation to the monastic life, in his “Collatio, III: De tribus abrenuntiationibus”, iii, iv, v (P.L., XLIX, 560-64). The Fathers of the fourth and fifth centuries inculcate very strongly the practice of virginity, and endeavour to answer the text, “He that can take, let him take it” ( Matthew 19:12 ), which would seem to limit the application of the counsel. Saint Benedict admitted young children presented by their parents to his order; and the canonical axiom “Monachum aut paterna devotio aut propria professio facit” (c. 3, xx, q. 1), “A man becomes a monk either by parental consecration or by personal profession”, an axiom that was received in the Western Church from the sixth to the eleventh century, shows to what extent the religious life was considered open and to be recommended as a rule to all. A letter of St. Gregory the Great and another of St. Bernard insist on the dangers incurred by those who have decided to embrace the religious life and still remain in the world. The necessity of a special call for embracing the priesthood or the monastic life is not treated by St. Thomas, but the reality of a Divine call to higher states of life is clearly expressed in the sixteenth century, notably in the “Spiritual Exercises” of St. Ignatius. Francisco Suárez worked out a complete theory of vocation (De religione, tr. VII, I-V, viii). Independently of a natural progress which brings new matters into discussion, two causes combined to raise the controversy on this point, viz. the abuse of forced vocations, and a mysticism which is closely related to Jansenism. In former times it was the custom for noble families to place their younger sons in the seminary or some monastery without considering the tastes or qualifications of the candidates, and it is not difficult to see how disastrous this kind of recruiting was to the sacerdotal and religious life. A reaction set in against this abuse, and young men were expected, instead of following the choice of their parents, a choice often dictated by purely human considerations, to wait for a special call from God before entering the seminary or the cloister. At the same time, a semi-Quietism in France led people to believe that a man ought to defer his action until he was conscious of a special Divine impulse, a sort of Divine message revealing to him what he ought to do. If a person, in order to practice virtue, was bound to make an inward examination of himself at every moment, how much more necessary to listen for the voice of God before entering upon the sublime path of the priesthood or monastic life ? God was supposed to speak by an attraction, which it was dangerous to anticipate: and thus arose the famous theory which identified vocation with Divine attraction; without attraction there was no vocation; with attraction, there was a vocation which was, so to speak, obligatory, as there was so much danger in disobedience. Though theoretically free, the choice of a state was practically necessary : “Those who are not called”, says Scavini (Theol. moral., 14th ed., I, i, n. 473), “cannot enter the religious state: those who are called must enter it; or what would be the use of the call?” Other writers, such as Gury (II, n. 148-50), after having stated that it is a grace fault to enter the religious state when conscious of not having been called, correct themselves in a remarkable manner by adding, “unless they have a firm resolution to fulfill the duties of their state”.

For the general conduct of life, we know that God, while guiding man, leaves him free to act, that all good actions are graces of God , and at the same time free acts, that the happiness of heaven will be the reward of good life and still the effect of a gratuitous predestination. We are bound to serve God always, and we know that, besides the acts commanded by Him, there are acts which He blesses without making them obligatory, and that among good acts there are some which are better than others. We derive our knowledge of the will of God, that will which demands our obedience, which approves some of our acts, and esteems some more highly than others, from Holy Scripture and Tradition, by making use of the two-fold light which God has bestowed upon us, faith and reason. Following the general law, “do good and avoid evil “, although we can avoid all that is evil, we cannot do all that is good. To accomplish the designs of God we are called upon to do all the good that we are capable and all that we have the opportunity of doing; and the greater the good, the more special our capability, the more extraordinary the opportunity, so much the more clearly will reason enlightened by faith tell us that God wishes us to accomplish that good. In the general law of doing good, and in the facilities given us to do it, we read a general, or it may be even a special, invitation of God to do it, an invitation which is pressing in proportion to the excellence of the good, but which nevertheless we are not bound to accept unless we discover some duty of justice or charity. Often, too, we have to hesitate in our choice between two incompatible deeds or courses of action. It is a difficulty that arises even when our decision is to influence the rest of our lives as, for instance, should we have to decide whether to emigrate or to remain in our own country. God also may help our choice by interior movements, whether we are conscious of them or not, by inclinations leading us to this or that course of action, or by the counsels of a friend with whom we are providentially brought into contact; or He may even clearly reveal to us His will, or his preference. But this is an exceptional case; ordinarily the inward feeling keeps and confirms our decision, but it is only a secondary motive, and the principal part belongs to sound reason judging according to the teachings of faith. “They have Moses and the prophets “, said Christ in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus ( Luke 16:29 ), and we have no need for any one to rise from the dead to teach us our duty. According to this simple exposition, it seems clear that each good action of ours pleases God, that moreover He specially desires to see us perform certain actions, but that negligences and omissions in either sphere do not generally cause a permanent divergence from our right path. This rule is true even in the case of acts whose results seem manifold and far-reaching. Otherwise, God would be bound to make known to us clearly both His own will and the consequences of our negligence. But the offers of Divine Providence are several or even many, though one may be more pressing than the other; and since every good action is performed by the help of a supernatural grace which precedes and accompanies it, and since with an efficacious grace we would have done the good we have failed to accomplish, we may say, of every good that we do, that we had the vocation to do it, and of every good that we omit, either that we had not the vocation to do it, or, if we were wrong in omitting to do it, that we paid no heed to the vocation. This is true of faith itself. We believe, because we have received an efficacious vocation to believe, which those who live without faith have not received or have rejected when their unbelief is their own fault.

Are these general views applicable to the choice of a state of life? or is that choice governed by special rules? The solution of this question involves that of the vocation itself. The special rules are to be found in Holy Scripture and Tradition. In Holy Scripture we read those general counsels of self-denial which all Christians are called upon to follow during their lives, while they are the object of a more complete application in a state which for that very reason may be called a state of perfection. Efficacious grace, notably that of perfect continence, is not given to all. “All men take not this word, but they to whom it is given. . . . He that can take, let him take it” ( Matthew 19:11, 12 ). Catholic interpreters, however, basing their conclusion on the Fathers of the Church , are at one in saying that God bestows this gift either on all that pray for it as they should, or at any rate on the generality of those who dispose themselves to receive it (see Beelen, Kanbenbauer, on this passage). But the choice is left free. St. Paul, speaking of the same Christian, says “he that giveth his virgin in marriage, doth well; and he that giveth her not, doth better” ( 1 Corinthians 7:38 ). On the other hand, he must be guided by sound reason : “But if they do not contain themselves, let them marry. For it is better to marry than to be burnt” ( 1 Corinthians 7:9 ). Moreover, the Apostle gives this general advice to his disciple Timothy: “I will therefore that the younger [ widows ] should marry” ( 1 Timothy 5:14 ). And yet, whatever his profession or condition, man is not abandoned by xxyyyk.htm”>Providence: “As the Lord has distributed to every one, as God hath called every one, so let him walk” ( 1 Corinthians 7:17 ). Holy Scripture therefore applies to the profession of every man the general principles laid down above. Nor is there any trace of an exception in the Fathers of the Church : they insist on the general application of the evangelical counsels, and on the importance of following them without delay; and on the other hand, they declare that the choice is free, without danger of incurring the loss of God’s favour. They wish, however, that the choice should be prudently and reasonably exercised. See St. Basil, “On virginity “, n. 55, 56; “Constit. monast.”, xx; Ep. CLXXII; “Exhortation to renounce the world”, n. 1 (P.G., XXX, 779-82; XXXI, 626, 1394; XXXII, 647-49); St. Gregory Nazianzen, “Against Julian”, 1st discourse, n. 99; disc. 37, alias 31 on St. Matthew, XIX, xi (P.G., XXXV, 634; XXXVI, 298); St. John Chrysostom, “On virginity “; “On penitence”, Hom. VI, n. 3: “On St. Matthew “, XIX, xi, xxi (P.G., XLVIII, 533 sqq.; XLIX, 318; LVIII, 600, 605); St. Cyprian, “De habitu virginum”, xxiii (P.L., IV, 463); St. Ambrose , “De viduis”, xii, xiii (P.L., XVI, 256, 259); St. Jerome Ep. CXXIII alias XI to Ageruchia; “De monogamia”; “Against Jovinian”, I; On St. Matthew, XIX, xi, xii (P.L., XXII, 1048; XXIII, 227, 228; XXVI, 135, 136); St. Augustine, “De bono coniugali”, x; “De sancta virginitate”, xxx (P.L., XL, 381, 412); St. Bernard, “De præcepto et dispensatione”, i (P.L., CLXXXII, 862). These texts are examined in Vermeersch, “De vocatione religiosa et sacertodali”, taken from the second volume of the same author’s “De religiosis institutis et personis” suppl. 3. In comparison with such numerous and distinct declarations, two or three insignificant passages [ St. Gregory, Ep. LXV (P.L., LXXVII, 603; St. Bernard, Ep. CVII, CVIII (P.L., CLXXXII, 242 sqq., 249 sqq.)], of which the last two date only from the twelfth century, and are capable of another explanation, cannot be seriously quoted as representing vocation as practically obligatory. Neither St. Thomas, “Summa theologica”, I-II, Q. cviii, art. 4; II-II, Q. clxxxix, opusc. 17 alias 3, nor Francisco Suárez “De religione”, tr. VII, V, IV, n. i, 7, and viii; nor Bellarmine “De monachis”, Controv. II; nor Passerini, “De hominum statibus” in Q. CLXXXIX, art. 10, thinks of placing the choice of a state of life in a category apart. And thus we arrive at conclusions which agree with those of Cornelius à Lapide in his commentary on the seventh chapter of I Corinthians, and which recommend themselves by their very simplicity. States of life are freely chosen and at the same time providentially given by God. The higher the state of life the more clearly do we find the positive action of xxyyyk.htm”>Providence in the choice. In the case of most men, no Divine decree, logically anterior to the knowledge of their free actions, assigns to them this or that particular profession. The path of the evangelical counsels is in itself, open to all, and preferable for all, but without being directly or indirectly obligatory. In exceptional cases the obligation may exist as the consequence of a vow or of a Divine order, or of the improbability (which is very rare) of otherwise finding salvation. More frequently reasons of prudence, arising from the character and habits of the persons concerned, make it unadvisable that he should choose what is in itself the best part, or duties of filial piety or justice may make it impossible. For the reasons given above we cannot accept the definition of Lessius ; “Vocation is an affection, an inward force which makes a man feel impelled to enter the religious state, or some other state of life” (De statu vitæ deligendo, n. 56). This feeling is not necessary, and is not to be trusted without reserve, though it may help to decide the kind of order which would best suit us. Nor can we admit the principle adopted by St. Alphonsus: that God determines for every man his state of life (On the choice of a state of life). Cornelius à Lapide, on whose authority St. Alphonsus incorrectly grounds his argument, says, on the contrary, that God often refrains from indicating any preference but that which results from the unequal excellence on honourable conditions. And in the celebrated passage “every one hath his proper gift from God ” ( 1 Corinthians 7:7 ) St. Paul does not intend to indicate any particular profession as a gift of God, but he makes use of a general expression to imply that the unequal dispensation of graces explains the diversity of objects offered for our choice like the diversity of virtues. We agree with Liguori when he declares that whoever, being free from impediment and actuated by a right intention, is received by the superior is called to the religious life. See also St. Francis of Sales, Epistle 742 (Paris, ed. 1833). The rigourist influences to which St. Alphonsus was subjected in his youth explain the severity which led him to say that a person’s eternal salvation chiefly depended on this choice of a state of life conformable to the Divine election. If this were the case, God, who is infinitely good, would make His will known to every man in a way which could not be misunderstood.

Vocation Director

MCBS Seminary

 Athirampuzha

Kottayam – 686 562

 Tel : 0481 2730599, 09495804598

 E- mail : mcbslisieux@gmail.com

Archangels

The Catechism of the Catholic Church informs us, “The existence of the spiritual, non-corporeal beings that Sacred Scripture usually calls ‘angels’ is a truth of faith. The witness of Scripture is as clear as the unanimity of Tradition” (328). Charged by God to supply us aid, our guardian angels are eager to help us as our spiritual allies in the earthly battle. They do not begrudgingly engage in this effort, merely as half-hearted servants, but rather pour themselves into it with the full force of their angelic intellect and will, directing their formidable powers toward our success in attaining the everlasting life of heaven.

 
GLADE PARK, CO (Catholic Online) — The whole of salvation history is the story of God reaching out to his people but for one purpose: the reception of divine love. As we read in the Rite of Baptism of Children, “The God of power and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has freed you from sin and brought you to new life through water and the Holy Spirit” (62). That new, everlasting life is life in Christ, the light of men (Jn 1:4), who came to give life in abundance (Jn 10:10). 

God the Father has given us his Son on the cross as the supreme example of sacrificial love; he has gathered us together as his holy people into the Church, the city of truth; and he has poured out his Spirit upon as as the first fruits of glory. That should be enough. Yet it is not enough for God.

“He has given his angels charge over you to guard you in all your ways” (Ps 91:11).

Today we celebrate the Feast of Sts. Michael, Gabriel and Raphael: Archangels. Sent from the hands of God, these powerful messengers bring promises of love and of hope. When the angel Gabriel appeared to the Virgin Mary, she was “greatly troubled” by his greeting. The angel Gabriel said, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God” (Lk 1:30).

Gabriel’s words are for each and every one of us; they should resonate in the depths of our hearts: “Do not be afraid!” For God has gone to every end in order to communicate his life to us, draw us to himself, protect and nourish us into spiritual maturity, that we may live forever in the embrace of his superabundant, burning love as members of the divine family.

Given the numerous present dangers, the division and strife, the blatant perpetration of intrinsic moral evils which surround us, and the decline of American culture, we can be tempted to fall into despair. Yet there is no need to fear! Now is a time for that boldness, courage and hope that springs forth from God’s fiery love. Let us remember: we are not alone. In order to guide and protect us on our often perilous journey, God has given each of us a guardian angel, a spiritual being whose power of intellect and will far exceeds that of any man, for the sake of seeing us to our predestined end of perfect happiness.

The Catechism explains: “From infancy to death human life is surrounded by [the guardian angels’] watchful care and intercession. Beside each believer stands an angel as protector and shepherd leading him to life. Already here on earth the Christian life shares by faith in the blessed company of angels and men united in God” (336).

“These words should fill you with respect, inspire devotion and instill confidence;” wrote St. Bernard, “respect for the presence of angels, devotion because of their loving service, and confidence because of their protection. And so the angels are here; they are at your side, they are with you, present on your behalf. They are here to protect you and to serve you. But even if it is God who has given them this charge, we must nonetheless be grateful to them for the great love with which they obey and come to help us in our great need.”

Who Are The Archangels?

St. Augustine wrote: “‘Angel’ is the name of their office, not of their nature. If you seek the name of their nature, it is ‘spirit’; if you seek the name of their office, it is ‘angel’: from what they are, ‘spirit,’ from what they do, ‘angel.'”

The name Michael means “Who is like God.” The Archangel Michael’s will is focused, immovable, and entirely driven toward accomplishing goodness; he is the protector of souls, and wields his powerful sword of truth and love against the poisonous and vindictive aspirations of the Father of Lies.

Blessed John Paul II said during a visit to the Sanctuary of Saint Michael the Archangel, “The battle against the devil . . . is the principal task of Saint Michael the archangel.”

Scripture affirms the same: “Then war broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels battled against the dragon. Although the dragon and his angels fought back, they were overpowered and lost their place in heaven. The huge dragon, the ancient serpent known as the devil or Satan, the seducer of the whole world, was driven out; he was hurled down to earth and his minions with him” (Rev 12:7-9).

Gabriel means “God is my strength.” He was sent from God to Nazareth, “to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, . . . and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming to her, he said, ‘Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you'” (Lk 1:27-28). Pope St. Gregory the Great wrote: “[Gabriel] came to announce the One who appeared as a humble man to quell the cosmic powers. Thus God’s strength announced the coming of the Lord of the heavenly powers, mighty in battle” (excerpt from Hom. 34, 8-9).

Raphael means “God is my health.” …

 

 

 

Prayer to the Guardian Angel

Prayer to the Guardian Angel

O Holy Angel of God, guardian and protector
of my soul and body, pray that I may be forgiven
for every transgression I have committed this day.

Deliver me from all evil influences and temptations,
so that I may not anger my God by any sin.
Pray for me that the Lord may make me worthy of His grace
and to become partaker of His eternal kingdom. With the help
of the Blessed Virgin Mary and of all the Saints. Amen.

 

 

 

Art Centeres of MCBS

MCBS Cristone Media, Kottayam

Click here for the Official website

Director: Fr Xavier Kunnumpuram MCBS

Mob. 09447471748

Services:

Music: both vocal and instrumental, Painting, Dance, Drawing, Craft, Audio-visual Making Classes on Regular Basis

Christ has founded the Church to communicate the love of God to all men. The Church is at the service of the Reign of God. She tries to establish the Kingdom of God through various means. Fr. Mathew Alakulam and Fr. Joseph Paredom founded MCBS Congregation to consecrate the entire life of the members to the realization of God’s Kingdom (Mat 6, 10); we have to place the Eucharist at the core of our being. (Constitution n.2). The kernel of our spirituality is to live and proclaim the Eucharistic mystery we celebrate, to gather the children of God around the altar (Constitution n. 8). As a member of MCBS congregation I would like to place on record my intentions of spreading the charism of our congregation.

I would like to begin a new venture called MCBS Cristone Media (Tune to the Tone of Christ). By this I mean a centre of arts, culture and media. The aim of this centre is to work for over all development of society. In order to boast overall development there must be good values in the society. My intension is to establish a media centre to promote good values and to promote Eucharistic culture in society. The centre gives inspiration to communicate good values and to work for the overall development of the persons. For this MCBS Cristone Media works in three levels – training, production and promotion.

MCBS Kalagram, Thiruvananthapuram

Click here for the Official website

MCBS KalaGramam is a socio-cultural development institution started in the year 1997 February 11th by Fr. Mathew Mailady MCBS. It aims at an integrated formation of individuals, from every walk of life. Physical and mental development for a social well-being is taken care of through different classes.

Within a short span of period MCBS KalaGramam has evolved itself as one of the premier centre for art and music education in Kerala. We are committed to quality education and have well experienced instructors as faculty in various subjects. It is our motto to provide the highest level of instruction as well as a supportive environment, and to evolve KalaGramam as one of the learning centers in South Asia in Art and Music.

MCBS KalaGramam is the official examination centre of London College of Music (LCM) University of West London. We are confident that this institution is on its way to be one of the best learning and research centres in music and arts in South India.

Contact Address

TC 3/2061

LIC Lane, Lakshmi Nagar

Pattom P.O

Thiruvananthapuram,

Kerala, India-695004

Phone: 0471-2541177

Mobile: 9037667226

Universal Prayer

Universal Prayer

O Adorable Lord of Mercy and Love, Salutations and prostrations unto You.

You are Omnipresent, Omnipotent and Omniscient.

You are Existence, Knowledge and Bliss Absolute.

You are Sat-Chit-Ananda.

You are the in-dweller of all beings.

Grant us an understanding heart, equal vision, balanced mind, faith, devotion and wisdom.

Grant us inner spiritual strength to resist temptation and to control the mind.

Free us from egoism, lust, anger, greed, hatred and jealousy.

Fill our hearts with divine virtues.

Let us behold You in all these names and forms.

Let us serve You in all these names and forms.

Let us ever remember You.

Let us ever sing Your glories.

Let Your name be ever on our lips.

Let us abide in You for ever and ever.

Om Shanthi, shanthi, shanthi.

Swami Sivananda

GIRL CHILD DAY – 8th SEPTMEBER 2012

CBCI OFFICE FOR WOMEN

(CATHOLIC BISHOP’S CONFERENCE OF INDIA)

 

CBCI Centre, 1, Ashok Place, Near Goledakkhana, New Delhi-110001, India

Tel: 011-29961058(O),  09868618613(M); Email:  comwomencbci@gmail.com

    Chairman:    Most Rev. Dominic Lumon, Archbishop of Imphal,                     Members: Most Rev. Mathew Anikuzhikattil, Bishop of Idukki

Secretary:    Sr. Helen Saldanha, SSpS                                                 Most Rev. Yoohanon Mar Chrysostom, Bishop of Pathamthitta

———————————————————————————————————————————————————–

Date: 7th August 2012

Subject: Prayer and Reflection for the commemoration of Girl Child Day -8th September 2012

Your Eminence, Your Grace, Your Excellency, Fathers, Brothers and Sisters

Greetings from CBCI Office for Women!

On the 8th September, as we commemorate the birthday of Mother Mary the Church invites us to celebrate the Girl Child Day. I am happy to forward a ‘Prayer and Reflection’ to you, prepared by CBCI Office For Women, with the hope that it will help us in our celebration of the event.

Every child is a precious gift. In celebrating the Girl Child Day the Church is calling us once again to commit ourselves to the dignity of the Girl children. Though there are differences from place to place and culture to culture we all know that girl children are less welcome in Indian society. It is a challenge for all of us as we face the death-promoting forces in our society that wish to eliminate human lives specially that of girl children.

On this Girl Child Day, let us pray and make plans to change this situation and promote the acceptance of girl children as a gift of God to the family and humanity.

In Christ Jesus,

+Archbishop Dominic Lumon

Archbishop of Imphal

Chairman CBCI office for Women

GIRL CHILD DAY – 8th SEPTMEBER 2012

Prayer and Reflection

THEME:

Introduction                                                                                                                               

Today, the birthday of our Beloved Mother Mary! The Church in India dedicates this day to the Girl Child.  Where would we be without Mother Mary! Where would we be if our mother was not allowed to be born? Every girl is a precious gift. She is born in the image and likeness of God, equal in dignity as much as a boy.  However we live in a culture where sons are preferred over daughters. The elimination, discrimination and atrocities meted out to girl children must be condemned as such crimes disfigure the image and likeness of God in human persons.  Empowering girls recognizing their potentials bring changes in the world. During this prayer, we remember all those millions of missing girls who were murdered before and after their birth. We thank God for every girl child in our family, neighbourhood, parishes, institutions and society.

(Pause)

Prayer for forgiveness:

Jesus, forgive us for our indifference in the face of imbalanced sex ratio caused by brutal murders of girl children

Response: LORD, heal us of our indifference and challenge us to be your messengers of justice

Jesus, forgive us for our insensitivity towards the increasing crimes against children and women that we witness daily.

Response: LORD, heal us of our insensitivity and challenge us to be your messengers of hope.

Jesus, forgive us for our lack of courage to stand for the dignity and rights of children.

Response: LORD, heal us of our fears and challenge us to be your messengers of life.

Readings for reflection: 

Prayers of the Faithful:

Leader: Brothers and Sisters we are called to fill our world with God’s love and justice. Let us pray for our Church and society through the powerful intercession of Mary our Mother.

Our response will be: God of Life, hear our prayer

. 1.   For our Church and its leaders, that they may achieve the desired results envisaged in the Gender Policy of the Catholic Church in India through every parish cells. Let us pray.

2.   For the young girls that they may recognize their innate power to empower themselves and others. Let us pray.

3.   For all the faithful that we help create a country where both girls and boys can live and grow with equal opportunities through education and empowerment. Let us pray.

4.   For the governments that it may take strong steps to put an end to the growing violence and atrocities against the girl child through proper enactments and implementation of laws. Let us pray.

5.   For all the families in this parish that they may be homes of love, sharing, mutual respect and equality. Let us pray.

6. For the children of our world, the sick, disabled or ostracized due to sickness like HIV/AIDS that they may feel your healing touch in the environment they live in. Let us pray.

7.   For the children on the street and those, forced into child labour in houses, institutions and factories that their rights and wellbeing be protected through proper implementation of laws. Let us pray.

8.   For children who are victims of abuse or human trafficking, that they may be helped to rebuild their lives again. Let us pray.

9.   For our parish community that we may have the courage to address the issue of missing girls in various forums and work towards the change of mindset. Let us pray. 

(Pause for personal intentions)

Leader: God of Life and Compassion, hear our prayers and strengthen us your people to celebrate the gift of every child. Help us to bring a healing touch to children who are afraid and take a step forward towards protecting them. We make this prayer through Mary, and her son Jesus, who showed us just how precious a girl child can be, Amen.

Thoughts for shared reflection:

The Olympics is the most watched multi sporting event in the world. What is noteworthy is the rise of Indian women in the field of sports, in particular the rise of Saina Nehwal, a Haryanvi girl, where the sex ratio is the lowest; and Mary Kom from Manipur, one of the 7 States of the Northeast India, that is deprived of the nation’s attention it deserves. Both these women have made India proud winning Bronze medals in Olympics 2012.

Behind the stories of both these women, lies a story of grit, determination and discipline that very few in the country can boast of. It also reflects the struggles they would have encountered fighting despite the system and society at large.  This is what Saina has to say:  “I was really surprised when I was told that my grandmother did not come to see me till a month after my birth. I was born seven years after my only sister and my birth was a big disappointment for her. In it there is a message that I understand very well now about the discrimination against the girl child. My uncles and other relatives are against encouraging girls in every aspect and that includes sports. I hardly interact with them. My parents are more open. They back me all the way.”  (Saina Nehwal in her interview to The Times of India in 2010)

Yes, it is the family support they received that made their success possible. Behind Saina were her parents who supported her to pursue her goal. And in the case of Mary Kom, a mother of two young children, it was her husband who has been the pillar of strength in helping her pursue her dreams. He takes care of the children, the house and is also a supporting partner for the 5-time world champion.

Connecting Girls and Empowering Futures was the theme of International Women’s Day 2012. To bring out the best in girls one needs to go beyond the cultural bias that is deeply rooted in our society. Discrimination against girls begins in the womb itself and is motivated by socially accepted devaluation of females. The problem of a declining sex ratio is located at the complex interface of the status of women in Indian society, patriarchal social mores and prejudice, spread and misuse of medical technology, the changing aspirations of urban and rural society, the unprecedented rise of a consumer culture, changes in family structure and reproductive decision-making, as well as other factors, and requires a complex but coherent and holistic national response at multiple levels by multiple stakeholders. India’s current responses, consisting in the main of implementation of the Pre-Conception & Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (prohibition of sex selection) Act, 1994, a range of ad-hoc media messages on the girl child, and conditional cash transfer schemes, fall short of such a holistic vision for action.

A recent study by UN says, ‘India is the worst place for women among G20 countries’. The abnormal sex ratio is alarming and it has led to imbalance in the society. Studies show that women and girls from the northeast are trafficked to northern India as sex slaves. The sex ratio is 940 women for 1000 men according to 2011census of India. Still worse is the falling sex ratio among 0-6 years which dropped from 927 in 2001 to 914 girls for 1000 boys in 2011. United Nations Children’s Fund estimated that up to 50 million girls are missing from India’s population because of sex selection abortions. Female feticide, killing of the female infants for want of a son, dowry related harassments and murders, rape, sexual abuse, witch-hunting, increasing domestic violence, desertion, honour killings, and other forms of violence against women show that India has a sound patriarchal society, strengthened by the pillars of caste and class. India ranks 129 out of 146 countries on Gender Inequality Index. Afghanistan is the only country that is ranked below India in South Asia (UN Report on Gender Inequality Index 2011).

What can we do?

We can take pride that the Catholic community has a favourable sex ratio. The educational status among females is also better. The Catholic Church in India has contributed towards the humanization of the society through its educational, health-care outreach and socio-economic interventions.

As followers of Christ and as citizens of our country, we must spread the message of equality between girls and boys concretely by sensitization and awareness programmes. India’s young population be specifically targeted through tools of mass media, event based advocacy, and reaching out to them through schools, colleges, and similar networks. Holding of competitions and participation in campaigns for promoting the rights and dignity of the girl children, analyzing with the young the personal experiences, events and occurrences reported in the media, and enhancing their ability to stand for their rights with self confidence are some of the ways by which we can make a difference.  In the context of great social change taking place in India, Advocacy strategy would need to identify fault lines where devaluation of women and conformity to traditional roles.

The Gender Policy of the Catholic Church of India 2010 prioritizes the dignity and survival of the girl child as one of the special areas of concern. It clearly shows us the way to address this problem:

Policy

The Church’s love for children stems from Christ’s teachings and example. Children hold the hope for the future and must be nurtured. They form one of the largest vulnerable groups in society and hence the Constitution of India has laid special emphasis on their well being and protection.

 

Among children, the girl child is particularly vulnerable. In recognition of this, international and national communities have special provisions for the development of the girl child and adolescent girls, particularly with regard to their survival, health, nutrition, education, protection and participation in family and society. The Church supports and commits herself to these ideals.

 

Strategies

  • All forms of discrimination and violation of the rights of the girl child needs to be eliminated, within and outside the family.
  • Strictly enforce laws against prenatal sex selection, female foeticide, female infanticide, child marriage, child abuse, child prostitution, child trafficking and child labour.
  • Promote girl child’s right to life, education, nutrition, health and development.
  • Protect the girl child from discriminatory neglect and all forms of abuse including sexual abuse.
  • Project a positive image of the girl child among girls themselves, boys, parents, teachers and society at large
  • Church institution should avoid gender stereotyping in extra-curricular activities, and provide training in skills, use of playgrounds, choice of optional subjects, handling of sexual harassment/abuse issues, gender profile of decision-making bodies including parent-teacher associations.
  • Promote awareness about the government schemes for the girl child through homilies, dispensaries, hospitals, health centers, grass-root social and educational institutions and catechism classes.

Let us be the instruments of change to give each girl the dignity she deserves specially the Right to Live.                         

 

Every Child is Precious!

The Ten Commandments

The Ten Commandments of Moses / Bible / Yahweh

  1. I am the LORD your God. You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve.

  2. You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.

  3. Remember to keep Holy the Sabbath day.

  4. Honor your father and your mother.

  5. You shall not kill.

  6. You shall not commit adultery.

  7. You shall not steal.

  8. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

  9. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife.

  10. You shall not covet your neighbor’s goods.

Ecclesiological Models: Vatican II and after

Ecclesiological Models: Vatican II and after

  Dr George Karakunnel

As a systematic reflection on the Church ecclesiology is comparatively a recent branch of theology. For the Fathers the Church was an experienced reality and it deeply entered into their Christian consciousness. Their works include many ecclesiological aspects. But if we look for a treatise on the Church, we do not find it even during the medieval period. The early works on the Church were the creation of canonists, rather than of theologians. The ecclesiological developments that shaped the present-day self-under­standing of the Catholic Church mostly were to come from 19th and 20th century with its crowning point in Vatican II.

 

  1. I.                     The Use of Models in Ecclesiology

The Second Vatican Council has remained as the spring­board for all theological reflections for the four decades. In a sense the council was the conclusion to many points of theological discussion and in another sense it was an introduction to many others. Many of the theolo­gical discussions that went in the preceding period found clarity and official approval in the council. The theme of Church, which has been the central theme of the council, did find clarity with regard to many aspects. But it still left many things open to further discussion and theological elaboration regarding the Church. The council’s way of looking at the Church using various metaphors or paradigms such as “Mystery”, “Sacrament”, “People of God“, “Body of Christ” set the stage for different ecclesiological elabora­tions. The post-conciliar ecclesiology is characterized by various points of emphasis. The different trends in .post-conciliar ecclesiology could be assessed by asking the question “What are the models used?”.1

 

Model here means an idea or a catch-word or phrase taken from tradition or present-day language to explain the reality of the Church. There is the possibility of various models and they need not be opposed to each other. In fact models are mutually complementary. All the models will not be of the same value and nature. Some are very abstract while others are very concrete. Among .the many models, there could be a basic model. In this essay the following models are considered in order to bring out various approaches to the Church: The Church as a Mystery, The Church as the People of God, the Church as the Body of Christ, the Church as Communion, The Church as Servant, the Church as Herald.

 

  1. 2.        The Church as Mystery

For a long time in the past the Church was seen as an institution and as a society. It was clearly defined and mea­sured by standards derived from the social, political or cultural spheres.5 In the work of Robert Bellarmine the Church is a society “as visible and palpable as the community of the Roman People, or the Kingdom of France, or the Republic of Venice”.3 The institutional view of the Church which reached its climax in the 19th century was nicknamed as “hierarchology” by Yves Congar. The Church was here seen as a “machinary of hierarchical mediation, of the powers and primacy of the Roman See, in a word, hierarchology. On the other hand the two terms between which that mediation comes the Holy Spirit on the one side, the faithful people or the religious subject on the other, were as it were kept out of ecclesiological consideration.

 

Institution-centred approach to the Church does not present an ideal model. In fact it distorted the image of the Church. In a deliberate way Vatican II wanted to stress the understand­ing of the Church more according to the Bible and the Fathers using the term “Mystery”.5 Consideration of the Church as mystery in Lumen Gentium is fundamental to the ecclesiology of Vatican II. The invisible, transcendent, super­natural character of the Church is shown by using the term “Mystery”. Because it is a divine reality, it cannot be ex­pressed in human language. The Fathers of the Church used symbols and metaphors to speak about the Church. We cannot objectify the Church and extract scientific knowledge out of it because the Church is a faith-reality. We can have only participative knowledge of the Church.

 

The term “mystery”,which is used to describe the Church, has the advantage of bringing out the divine dimension of the Church. Rather than indicating something hidden, it shows the salvific plan of God fully unveiled and concretized in history through Jesus Christ. The consideration of the Church as “Mystery” can be linked with “Church as Sacrament”. The term “Sacramentum” was originally used as translation of the Greek “Mysterion” which meant God’s plan of salvation and its visible expression in Christ and the Church. Following this very ancient understanding of the Church, Lumen Gentium calls the Church Sacrament. “By her relationship with Christ the Church is a kind of Sacrament of intimate union with God and of the unity of all mankind, that is, she is a sign and an instrument of that union and unity” (LG 1).

 

Twentieth century theological reflections have brought out the idea of Christ as the Sacrament of God and Church as the Sacrament of Christ. Lubac, Congar, Rahner, Schillebeeckx, Chenu, Semmelroth and many others agree on this line of explanation of the Church. In fact they have especially followed the Fathers of the Church, especially, Cyprian and Augustine, in speaking about the Church as Sacrament. The theological meaning of mystery and sacrament, which are, used in modern ecclesiolo­gy points to the divine offer of salvation in and through Christ to human race. The Church in this way is spoken of as the “Sacrament”. It remains on earth as the visible sign and instrument of the reality of salvation offered by God to human beings.

 

The notion of the Church as mystery of salvation or as sacrament of salvation for humanity has the great advantage of pointing to the Trinitarian source of the Church. The Church thus viewed is an extension of God’s history into human history. It is the realization of God’s self-communi­cation to people and the world. This model of the Church has not been without criticisms one which is that, though expressed with the help of the rich theological terms, mystery and sacrament, the idea of the Church here seems to be rather abstract. Another criticism raised  is its lack of pastoral appeal. While it underlines the divine aspect of the Church, it does not give sufficient consideration to the human side of the Church.

 

In connection with the sacrament model we can also mention the Church seen in her relationship with the Holy Spirit. This presents Church as the temple or sacrament of the Holy Spirit. The Church is seen in this way as the continuation of the mission of the Holy Spirit. It is through the Spirit that the Church is born and sustained all thro­ughout history. This view looks at the Church with a strong emphasis on Pneumatology. The approach is biblical and has found support in theological works of the present time. K. Rahner’s Dynamic Element in the Church, Moltmann’s Church in the Power of the Spirit, Congar’s I Believe in the Holy Spirit (3 Vols) are works that consider pneumatology as the main constituent element of ecclesiology. Although giving a very important insight about the Church, some ex­pressions of this understanding of the Church, seen as the temple or sacrament of the Holy Spirit have received criticisms for its excessive spiritualistic view of the Church and not sufficiently stressing the temporal and social aspects of the Church.

 

  1. 3.         The Church as the People of God

The Fathers of the Church in Vatican II created a Copernican revolution in the theological thinking about the Church. Instead of a hierarchy-centred perspective they gave a people-centered perspective. Although Vatican II contains other models its typical ecclesiological model is pointed out as the people of God model which forms the subject of the second chapter of LG. Coming from the Bible as found in both OT and NT, this is the oldest name for the Church. But since the people of God idea regarding the Church was forgotten for a long time and was revived only in the twentieth century this has the claim to be the newest name for the Church.

 

In the beginning of the fourth decade of the present century an understanding of the Church as the people of God was put forward by the German theologian, M. D. Koster in his work Ekklesiologie im Werden (1940). In the pre-conciliar era this approach was not officially acceptable to the Church. Even Vatican II accepted this model only with hesitation. In the first drafts of LG we do not find this model. When it was finally brought it revolutionized the whole ecclesiological approach of the Council. Put forward as a foundational theme in the Church’s self-understanding, the people of God idea determines the whole outlook of the Dogmatic Con­stitution. In presenting the people of God concept as an all-comprehensive one, so as to include all categories of members of the Church, before they are differentiated into hierarchy and laity, LGhas resorted to Old and New Test­aments. The most celebrated text of 1 Pet. 2:9-10 is quoted at the centre of the first article of the chapter dealing with people of God: “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a purchased people…You who in times past were not a people but are now the people of God”.

 

The dignity and functions of all the members of the people of God quite in an unprecedented way are placed in clear light by the Council (LG 10-12). Through baptism all believers are called to a fellowship and are dedicated to the love and service of Christ. Vatican II wanted to correct a long-standing misconception that not all people are important in the Church. The vast majority of the people in contrast to members of the hierarchy were just peripheral members having no dignity and function of their own. There is a passage in Karl Rahner’s authobiographical interview published as I Remember. The interviewer Meinold Krauss asked Rahner, “Is the Pope the highest representative of Christi­anity?” With his characteristic depth and insight Rahner replied: I believe that you have to make a few distinctions. The Pope is the highest representative of the church, and if you like, with respect to certain juridical, ecclesial structures. But I maintain that the most humble, the most loving (to put in this old fashioned way), the most holy, the most ap­parently obscure person in the Church and not the Pope, is at the top of the hierarchy, the real hierarchy for which the Church is only a means”.11 The vision that lies behind the words of Rahner characterise the LG. In the context of the people of God frame, the Church is a community of brothers. Those in hierarchy are also brothers ordained to serve the community. Thus a new understanding of office is given by people of God ecclesiology.

 

The people of God concept has several strong points. It expresses the historical and dynamic character of the Church. It emphasizes growth and development of the Church in time and history. The people, as understood here, is a pilgrim people journeying to see the eschatological fulfilment. In fact, this people lives in the time that is between the incarnation and parousia. Through this people, the whole history is assumed to eschatology. The people of God is a messianic people which has received salvation. Being inserted into the large community of the human family, this people has a great task to fulfil. This means that the people of God is a community charged with a mission. The basis of reflection about the Church’s mission in the modern world, as GS has shown, lies in the understanding that the Church is the people of God living in the midst of human race united with it, and fulfilling a ministry of salvation in view of the whole humanity.

 

The model of ecclesiology based on the people of God expresses the participation and coresponsibility of all the believers. The Church is seen here “from below” rather than from “above”. LG says that the Church is a fellow­ship of life, charity and truth”. Perhaps this suggests too much people-centered ecclesiology for some. The post-conciliar reflection has shown that the reception of the people of God idea was complete neither in the leaders nor in the other members of the Church. It is also felt that much needs to be done in bringing the concept to practicality. The people-centred approach calls for a new form of Church ministry, government and leadership. It can be suggested that the synodal principle made operative in the Church would be quite in accordance with the people of God model.

 

Placed within the context of the people of God, the role of bishops and priests could be better understood. The essence of the hierarchical office, from the point of view of the people of God concept is ministry. The advantage of the people of God model is that, in a very positive way, it helps us not to forget the basic realty in the Church, namely, the people. It can also help us to under­stand a mode of functioning as far as leadership of the Church is concerned. Does the people of God idea suggest a democracy for the Church? Ratzinger points out that although Church may not be a democracy, it is also not a monarchy, or a modern centralized state.12 This suggests practically a people-centred pastoral leadership which does what is good for the people not only from the pastor’s point of view, but also from the community’s point of view. Having the people involved in making decisions and in executing those decisions, are important. This would imply a method of operation “from below”.

The BEC (Basic Ecclesial Communities) or BCC (Basic Christian Communities) model of the Church could be considered in this context. BEC are centred on the people. They attempt to form Christians into communities of faith, worship and love. Their appearance has been hailed as the resurgence of the ideal form of Christian living in the apostolic period. In the BEC the Gospel is accepted seriously. Listening to the Word and reflection on the Word with a view to living and acting feature the BEC. In these communities there is no sharp contrast between “ecclesia docens” and “ecclesia discens”. All are active members of the community. The Spirit of the BEC basically derives from an ecclesial vision which sees every person as important and essential to the formation of a dynamic Christian community.

 

  1. 4.        The Church as the Body of Christ

The typical theology of the Church in the pre-conciliar period was (Mystical) Body of Christ ecclesiology.   This concept of the Church is known from the time of St. Paul.13 Following St.  Paul   the Fathers spoke of the Church as the Body of Christ.    It was in the middle ages that the adjective “mystical” was added to the Pauline use of Body of Christ. There was clear relationship maintained by the Fathers bet­ween the Eucharist and the idea of the Church.    The Church was   nourished, sustained   and constituted by the Sacrament of the Eucharist, the   body   of Christ. The ecclesiology of the Fathers was, in this way Eucharist-centred.    But this insight was lost sight of in the medieval period. The   Eucharist was called by medieval theologians “Corpus Christi Verum” and Church was named “Corpus Mysticum”.    Medieval theology later spoke about “Corpus ecclesiae mysticum” and the re­ference to Christ’s   Eucharistic   body   became   altogether absent.

 

The development of ecclesiology in the 19th century is connected with the revival of mystical body idea of the Church under the initiative of J. A. Moehler. The idea of the Church as mystical body was proposed by Moehler as a way out of the institutional view of the Church. For Moehler the term “mystical” pointed to a deep spiritual reality. Mystical body as applied to the Church indicated a super­natural organism vivified by the Holy Spirit. The under­standing of the Church as Mystical Body gained wide accept­ance in the Catholic Church with the publication of the encyclical “Mystici Corporis” by Pope Pius XII in 1943.

 

In the mystical body theology developed by Moehler and his followers there was no clarification for the visible aspects of the Church. The encyclical clarified these aspects. The mystical body concept was harmonized with the institutional reality of the Church. It was clearly stated that the Catholic Church is the mystical body of Christ. The encyclical pointed to the Pope and bishops as “joints and ligaments of the body” and asserted, “those who exercise sacred power in the Body are its first and chief members”. The lay people were considered helpers to ecclesiastical hierarchy in spreading the Kingdom of the Redeemer.

 

Much of the theology of the Church found in Mystici Corporis has been changed by LG. First of all it does not say that Mystical Body of Christ is coterminus with the Catholic Church. Secondly, although LG shows the distinction between Church as the hierarchical society and as body of Christ, the two are very closely related to each other, in a way comparable to the divine and human natures of Christ. The structure of the Church is seen as serving the Spirit who through his active presence builds up the body of Christ.

 

The people of God theme and the body of Christ theme can be seen as complementary themes in ecclesiology. In fact most of the modern theologians ask for a combination of the two themes. Schmaus, Philips, Ratzinger, Congar and Kueng agree in this regard. The people of God theme very well expresses the human elements that go into the making of the Church. But under what form does the people of God exist? To answer this question the body of Christ will show the way.

 

The specific character of the Christian Church is brought out by the name “Body of Christ”. It establishes strong links between the Church and Christ. It is appreciated by Schnackenburg saying  that in the theology of the Body of Christ what is new, specific and unique in the Christian idea of the Church clearly emerges.14[ R.Schnackenburg, The Church in the New Testament p.176] The name “people of God is a common denominator to both OT and NT community of salvation. The NT community is the people of God that forms the body of Christ and exists as the temple of the Holy Spirit.” Some critics of the theme, body of Christ, see it as showing a static image of the Church. But it actually is used in Pauline epistles to point out the active role of every one in the Church. The criticism that it looks looks unreal and vague seems to be also unfounded. It is true that in history one finds sometimes overemphasis of differences in the body of Christ.

 

The body of Christ ecclesiology has many practical in­sights. It unequivocably asserts that the identity of the Church, of the Christian, is the identity of Christ. The idea of discipleship and ministry of each Christian comes in here. Realization of the fact that the members of the Church are organs of the body of Christ can inspire people to lend their service to the cause of Christ. The moving lines by Annie Johnson Flint tell us such an inspiration:

 

Christ has no hands but our hands

To do his work today;

He has no feet but our feet

To lead men his way;

He has no tongue but our tongues

To tell men how he died;

He has no help but our help

To lead men to his side.

We are the only Bible

The careless world will read;

We are the sinner’s gospel,

We are the scoffer’s creed;

We are the Lord’s last message

Given in deed and word—

What if the line is crooked?

What if the type is blurred?

What if our hands are busy

With other work than his?

What if our feet are walking

Where sin’s allurement is?

What if our tongues are speaking

Of things his lips would spurn?

How can we hope to help him

Unless from him we learn?

 

  1. 5.         The Church as Communion

In the post-conci!iar era together with “the people of God” model, communion (koinonia) model stands as another imposing model for a theology of the Church. According to some theologians, if people of God is the basic ecclesiological idea of the Council, according to some others, “communion” forms the basic ecclesiological idea. Since Vatican II has juxtaposed many models, it is difficult to say which one is more important than the other.15 It is significant that the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops in 1985, although not over­looking the idea of the people of God, showed its preference for the communion model. The reason was not because the idea of “people of God” was wrong but its reception was not in the way that was expected. It seemed to present a one-sided sociological description of the Church undermining the inner reality. The shift from “people of God” to “communio” was intended to effect a return to an integral understanding. For this purpose, “mystery” seemed to be too spiritualistic. Hence it was not used.

 

What is the meaning of communion as applied to the Church? The Church is basically a gathering of the people who participate in the life of God who is trinitarian. The participation effects a relationship between participants, and this is expressed as communion.16 All relationships and all activities among persons imply Communion. In the Trinity the missions of the Son and the Spirit are expressions of communion. LG, when speaking the Church points to “union with God and unity of the entire human family”. The idea here is communion. Communion ecclesiology is strongly rooted in the Bible and tradition of the Church. Keeping the limits of our enquiry, it is not possible to go into its Biblical sources. The idea of communion is closely related to the Eucharist where the salvific event is represented and re­membered in celebration. Ekklesia is most real in Eucharistic fellowship. It is from the Eucharistic fellowship that the Church began to draw the basic elements of its ecclesiology. Each Eucharistic community formed a full-fledged Church according to the NT. We read in Acts about Church in Jerusalem, Church in Antioch and later Churches in Judea, Samaria, spoken of in the plural. Patristic tradition clearly gave expression to this when he said: “The Church consists of communio of the whole world”.17 This would imply that communion includes diversity. But there are common ele­ments that bind together the different Churches. They are: 1. Confession of the same apostolic faith, 2, Participation in the same sacraments; 3. Common Christian life-style, life in the service of the kingdom of God; 4. Mutual recog­nition of pastoral leadership.

 

The Synod of Bishops, taking up a communion model ecclesiology showed that salvation begins from Trinitarian unity and it goes on to create the same unity in human sphere through Baptism and Eucharist. There is unity and pluriformity in the Church as in the Trinity. The monarchical and pyramidal structure of the Church is not acceptable because the source of the Church which is the Trinity is “communion” or “fellowship”. Only an unqualified monism or strict monotheism can lend support for a monarchical structure, which does not allow freedom for individual churches. The Synod of Bishops affirmed that the unique catholic Church exists in and through the particular Churches.”

 

The principle of communion has different levels of appli­cation: at the parish level, at the diocesan level, at the regional level and on a global level. It also finds expression in the collegiality of the bishops, body of presbyterate and in the people of God as a whole.

 

Communion reaches out to most real situations of life. It is no mere spiritualistic idea. The responsibility of order­ing the economic and cultural life of the society is part of constructing stronger communion. To be a credible sacrament and true expression of communion there should be concern even for all the material aspects of human life. Serving the brethren who suffer from poverty, hunger, sickness or other reasons form indispensable aspects of full communion. The source of all communion, it should be pointed out is the Eucharist, which should not be understood narrowing down the concept to a liturgy alone. Vatican II cautioned such a danger when it said in SC: “The sacred liturgy does not exhaust the entire activity of the Church”. The Church is Eucharistic communion not only because it stands around the altar for liturgical celebration but also because it loves and serves, once it is dispersed. Eucharist is a privileged moment of communion. But the Church requires a communion under a third species also—that is, not merely in the transformed body and blood of Jesus but also in the species of those things that satisfy the physical and material needs of man.

 

The Episcopal Council of Latin America in 1979 already long before the Synod of Bishops, took up “communion” as a basic ecclesiological category and from Trinitarian and Eucharistic communion, they came down to concrete, socio-economic programme. Authentic communion should include the personal, social and institutional levels of human living, When Eucharistic communion does not reach up to these levels it falls short of its true dignity and worth. It should be also pointed out that communion expressed merely as interpersonal relationship of human beings and help to satisfy physical and material needs does not make true ecclesial communion. What is needed is integral communion.

 

“Pluriformity” is a new word found in the final report of Synod of Bishops held in  1985. The word is intended to con­vey the idea of legitimate differences among Christian com­munities. This notion has significant bearing in the Indian context. India is a land of diversity. Today and tomorrow, the Christian presence in this country has to be pluriform in nature. There are differences in customs and traditions of our various groups of people, various regions of our country and that will enter into the ecclesial identity also. In this context the plea for communion should find strong expression. The communion understood in all its aspects– Trinitarian, Christological, Pneumatological, Eucharistic, socio-cuJtural aspects– form a right model for ecclesiology. It can serve to highlight both the divine and human aspects of the Church. It shows that the Church is both in the level of its vertical relationship and in the level of horizontal rela­tionship It can bring out the meaning of tradition and tradi­tions, Church and Churches. Communion idea of the Church also can remain open to the world with the characteristic spirit of Vatican II, expressed in Gaudium et Spes.

 

  1. 6.        The Church as the Servant

Concern for the world was one of the important features of Vat. II. The reflection on the Church was to take place, according to John XXIII on two levels: First, as a reflection on the ”Church ad intra”. Secondly, as a reflection on the “Church ad extra”. If LG was the realization of the first, GS was the realization of the second. The ad extra reflection takes its origin from the openness of the Church to the world. For a long time in the history of the Church official attitude to the world was negative. This is very well pointed out with the example of syllabus of errors” issued by Pope Pius IX in 1864.

 

“The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World” conceives the role of the Church as service to the world. Here is a positive approach, which is not found very much in the history of the Church. The Pastoral Constitution says: “The Christians cannot yearn for anything more ardently than to serve the men of the modern world even more gener­ously and effectively” (GS 93). Concluding the theological part of GS, Vatican II spoke about the ways the Church renders service to the world, to person, to community, and to human activity. As Christ was the man for others the Church should exist as community for others. This is the spirituality of the servant model Church assumes her humble position as “servant”. As a sign of that the word Church even becomes written with a small “c”.

 

The present model carries particular application in the context of a Church living in the midst of poverty, misery and injustice. The statement of Bonhoeffer is worth consider­ing in this context: “The Church is the Church only when it exists for others. To make a start, it should give away all its property to those in need. The clergy must live solely on the free-will offerings of their congregations or possibly engage in some secular calling. The Church must share in the secular problems of ordinary human life, not dominating, but helping and serving”.19

 

The service   of the Church is fully conceived only if it takes into   consideration all the aspects of the Church’s mission which may be spelled out as: 1.    Ministry of the word, 2.    Ministry of worship, 3.    Ministry of leadership, 4.    Ministry of social apostolate, especially   to the  most   needy.    GS has pointed out assistance   to   people in their fundamental questions re­garding life, suffering, death, belief as pertaining to the role of the Church (GS 10).    Church is shown in GS: as related to   various    subjects   Church   and   Human   Rights, Church and Culture    Church and   Politics, Church and Liberation, Church and Socio-economic life.    In all these related areas, as   GS   has   pointed out, Church should render her service. Being in (a theology of the proposition “in”) the world me­ans   that   all   these   things   are   important   concerns of the Church.

 

The servant model   cannot   overlook   the   tension   that exists   between Church   and the world.    Therefore Congar would   say that the Church is in the world, but it is not of the world.    Involvement in the world does not take away the duty   of evangelization.    Church’s   service to the   world is ultimately a service to the Kingdom of God.   The Church is the   servant because it does not ecclesiastify the world, but rather lead the world to the Kingdom.    Being in the world the Church has to operate within the structures of the world. The Church in the world should not build up many parallel structures.    That   means   Church should not involve herself excessively in institution building. As Congar says   “Christo-finalizing” should happen the world through normal channels of life would be the ideal.20

 

The “Servant” idea is biblically based. The OT tradition sees Israel as servant of Yahweh. Jesus in the NT is one who serves. But servant idea is placed in the Bible both in the OT and NT in relation to God primarily. In the NT service to the brethren occupies an important place. But this has to be understood in the context of the kingdom of God, rather than taking it in its own category. The Kingdom idea has received strong emphasis in all modern ecclesiolo-gies.21 When the Church is understood as the servant of the Kingdom, the servant-model acquires fuller significance. The servant model of the Church carries with it a spirituality of involvement, which should be accompanied by Christian virtues of humility, simplicity and sacrifice. It would make radical demands on individual Christians as well as on the Church as a whole.

 

  1. 7.        The Church as the Herald

Earlier we considered the model of the Church as the sacrament. In the place of the “Sacrament” the “Word” occupies a central place of importance in the present-model. God’s Word gathers and forms Ekklesia. The Church is called to proclaim the Word which it has heard and lived. There­fore the herald model could be called the “Kerygmatic model” which arises from an evangelical perspective. McBrien has summarily featured this ecclesiology of proclamation: “This mission of the Church is one of proclamation of the word of God to the whole world. The Church cannot hold itself responsible for the failure of men to accept it as God’s word; it has only to proclaim it with integrity and persistence. All else is secondary. The Church is essentially a Kerygmatic community which holds aloft, through the preached Word, the wonderful deeds of God in past history, particularly his mighty acts in Jesus Christ. The community itself happens wherever the Spirit breathes, wherever the word is pro­claimed and accepted in faith. The Church is event, a point of encounter with God”.22

 

Historically, the herald model has come to be associated with Barth and Protestant tradition. Among all the modern theologians it is Barth who has given the greatest emphasis to the relation between Word and the Church. The Protestant Christianity has accused Catholic Christianity of giving undue insistence on the Church of glory. It makes a strong plea to see the Church under the sign of the cross in its present state, requiring, repentance and renewal. The Church cannot glory in herself because it still needs to listen to the word-The Church’s role is to proclaim as John the Baptist while acknowledging its own unworthiness.

 

The Church which is the “herald of the good news” is also understood here as one who is called by a herald. Therefore ekklesia here means both the process of congregating and the congregated community’ The herald model also places the Church on earth in clear distinction from the kingdom of God. Though nourished by the Word the Church is never a perfect Word-community. It is a community that is always in the process of becoming. It is faith, in response to the Word that makes this community. According to Barth the role of the Church is primarily religious He did not entertain an unqualified optimism regarding the world and man’s involvement in it. But Barth certainly moved to a positive and down-to-earth approach in his later years. He showed an evangelical spirit which made him say “No” to the “Nazis.2

 

The herald model of the Church carries a missionary thrust, which is to be appreciated. The model also fits into the prophetic tradition of OT and the missionary concern of the NT. This model can show very well the power of the Word as a corrective force to the Church. Not only that, if “Church as the herald” (of the good news) is understood in its broadest sense it can serve as a very practical concept. That means herald idea has to include in it not only announ­cing the good news, but also living the good news and fashioning a world of justice and peace in accordance with the demands of the Gospel. The social emphasis in the pro­clamation of the word is relatively new in the official teaching of the Church. Announcement of the Word of God is pointed out as the important duty in the documents of Vatican II. In fact the proclamation of the Word and listening to the Word certainly should become the most important aspect of ecclesial life. SC puts it very clearly: “Christ is present in His Word, since it is He Himself who speaks when the Holy Scriptures are read in the Church” (SC 7). DV speaks about “hearing the Word of God with reverence and proclaiming it confidently” (DV 1). This involves the fulfilment of a duty which will give birth to social order founded on truth built on Justice, and animated by love” (GS 26)

  1. 8.        Beyond Models

The models that we have brought above help us to explore the meaning of the Church. Certainly all models of the Church are not of equal value. Each of them enlightens us more on one or other aspect of the Church. The question that could be further asked is: “What is the basic model of the Church? Can there be basic model? In the post-conciliar theology two dominant models stand out: the people of God model and communion model. This is not to ignore the other models especially the Sacrament model or Body of Christ model, which are also of importance and are given in LG.

 

The people of God model has the power to inspire the Church to see its most important human constituents, namely, the people themselves. No one is insignificant in the light of this. Every one in the Church has his dignity and function in the Church. The role of the laity is easily brought to light in “the People of God”. Seen in the right perspective, the role of the hierarchy also is placed in clear understanding. Here hierarchy is seen as an organ of serving rather than domineering. “Hierarchy” exists for the people and not that “people exist for hierarchy”. It has been feared that “People of God” concept might cause the “Socialization” of the Church. If the second part of the appellation “People of God” is kept in sight, it can show that this people are a worshipping community, fundamentally related to God. Thus a proper understanding of people of God can forestall any “socialization” of the Church with the detriment to interiority.

 

The Church seen as “communion” also can serve to comprehend the values that are mentioned above in relation to the people of God.. Participation and fellowship of all the members form essential aspects of communion model. The communion model brings at once the “theological” and “anthroplogical” nature of the Ekklesia. Fellowship of human beings is rooted in the fellowship of the Trinity. The “communion model” has applicability to different levels of the Church. In that way it is also a very flexible and adaptable concept, which can bring diversity and pluriformity into one communion.

 

Models should come down to concrete pastoral situations. Otherwise they will be mere abstract models. Both the “People of God model” and ‘Communion” model call for changes and renewal in the organizational and structural aspects of the Church. The role of the parish yogam, parish councils, pastoral councils, etc. gains new meaning in the light of these models. Often pastors are not trained to work in the community, with the vision provided by the new models. Models once accepted should be made operative. Often on the ground that democracy is not the form of government in the Church, priests follow an authoritarian model which people know is not the right one, bypassing even the given structure which are there to guarantee an ecclesial style of life that gives participation to people. This way of acting alienates the members of the Church. Instead of playing their active in the Church people indifferent. Sometimes priests meet with violent reactions from parishio­ners because they have a very authoritarian behaviour or approach in their pastoral ministry. It is true that many conflicts today in parishes also arise from unecclesial values mainly coming from politics, The pastor has to guard the community from such dangerous influences which destroy communion and fellowship.

 

To conclude, models are important in ecclesiology. Once a basic model is chosen the contents and implications of other models should not be overlooked. A true pastoral approach should try to discover the insights and values given by each model, while at the same time holding on to a basic model which can serve as the guiding light to other models.

 

NOTES

1    See A. Dulles, Models of the Church (New York 1974); B. Mondin, Le Nuove ecclesiologie (Rome 1980); R. Kress, The Church: Communion Sacrament, Communication (New York 1985); Rikhof, The Concept of the Chwch; R. Michiels “The Self-Understanding of the Church after Vatican II” Louvain Studies 14 (1989), pp. 83-107.

2    K. McNamara, Vatican II: The Constitution on the Church, (London 1968), p. 76.

3    De Controversiis, 2, lib, 3. cap, 3, vol. 2, (Naples 1857), p. 75.

4    Y. Congar, Lay People in the Church (Westminster 1964), p. 45.

5    A. Grillmeier, “The Mystery of the Church Commentary on the Documents on Vatican II ed by H. Vorgrimler (London 1967), p. 138.

6   H. Rikhof considers it difficult to define the Church because of this particular nature of the Church. See H. Rikhof, The Concept of the Church (London 1981), p. 206.

7. R. Michiels, “The Self-understanding of the Church after Vatican II” Lonvian Studies 14 (1989), p. 89.

8.Cf. Joel 2:28; Ezek 36:27; i Cor 3: 16-17; 1 Cor 12:2-4.

9    K.   E.   Untener,   The Church-World Relationship according to the Writings of Yves Congar  (Rome 1976), p 10.

10    A. Dulles, Models of the Church, p. 48.

11. K. Rahner S. J.,   / Remember.    An Autobiographical Inter­view with Meinold Kraus (New York 19S5), p. 96.

12.  J. Ratzinger Das Neues Volk Gottes (Diisseldorf 1970), p. 209.

13. Cf.  1Cor. 6:15-17; 10:17; 12:12-30, 31; Rom 12:4-8; Gal 3:26-28; Col. 1:18,24; 2:19; 3:15; Eph 1:22,23; 2:16; 4:12,16; 5:23; 5:30.

14.    R. Kress,  The Church: Communion,.., p. *9

15.   H. Rikhof, The Concept of the Church, see Chapt. 1.

16. K. Me Donnell, “Vatican II… Koinonia/ Communion as an Integral Ecclesiology” Journal of Ecumenical Studies 25:3 (1988) p. 401 ff. Cf. Ibid., p. 406. Cf. also for an evaluation of commu­nion ecclesiology of “Synod of Bishops 1985”, Concilium (Dec. 1986). Final Report of the Synod.

19    D. Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison (New York 1967), pp. 203-204.

20   K.   E.   Untener, The Church-World Relationship, pp. 18ff.

21    Cf. H. Kueng, “The Coming Reign of God”, in Church (New York 1976) pp. 69ff; also J. Moltmann, “Church of the Kingdom of God” (Part 4 of Church in the Power of the Spirit. (London 1977). also L. Boff, Church, Charism and Power (London 1982); A. Dulles, A Church to Believe in (New York 1985), pp. 8-10.

22   R. P. McBrien, The Continuing Quest (New York 1970), p. 11.

23    H. Kueng, The Church  p. 114

24   Cf. Roger L. Shinn, Man: the New Humanism, (New Directions in Theology Series VI), (London 1968), pp. 36-37.