Friday, March 6, 2009

de Lubac: History and Spirit

de Lubac, Henri. History and Spirit: The Understanding of Scripture according to Origen. Trans. Anne Englund Nash. San Francisco: Ignatius, 2007.

Origen has often been derided as the extreme example of the excesses of patristic allegorical interpretation of Sacred Scripture. In History and Spirit, Fr. de Lubac sets out to explain Origen's understanding of Scripture and defend him and his method against the criticisms and misunderstandings of subsequent ages--that, for instance, Origen denigrates or denies the literal sense of Scripture or platonizes Christianity.

De Lubac argues that Origen was a man of the Church, who understood himself to be simply handing on the understanding of Scripture given to him: the "rule of the Church", the spiritual interpretation that derives its examples from the exegesis of St. Paul and has its ultimate basis in Christ's claim that the whole of the Law and the Prophets point to him. The resulting method is certainly not without its faults, at times leading to arbitrary, artificial readings; but, taken as a whole, because he follows the same idea throughout--searching out Christ--it is not arbitrary. It is also this Christ-centeredness that puts Origen worlds apart from Platonism or the exegesis of Philo.

Going beyond mere defense, de Lubac attempts to draw out some of the subtleties of Origen's understanding of Sacred Scripture: its different senses, its relationship to the spiritual life of the believer, its inspiration and unity. Chapter VIII, on the Incorporations of the Logos is particularly interesting, illustrating the parallels Origen draws between the Incarnation and the dwelling of the Logos in the Scriptures, in the Holy Eucharist and in the Church.

The conclusion attempts to address what remains of this doctrine. After the developments of scholasticism, the controversies of the Reformation and the rise of rationalism, our faith can only rediscover with difficulty the kind of connaturality with Scripture found in patristic exegesis. We face an "anti-symbolism", a totalitarian "earth-boundedness" and humanism:
Our great temptation is to make God the symbol of man, his image objectified. Through this dreadful inversion, all biblical allegory, along with faith itself, would obviously be taken away with a single stroke.
De Lubac hopes for the revival of a "soundly spiritual exegesis on the basis of demonstrated science", but obviously such a thing faces profound challenges. The modern mind studying the Fathers in an attempt recapture that connaturality with Scripture struggles to move beyond history of interpretation.

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