Saturday, March 29, 2008

The Hermeneutical Impasse

Two impasses ensue for a hermeneutics of Scripture in fundamental theology: 1) The text bears only on itself, on the basis of itself. This is a simplistic or literal reading of a text. It negates the understanding of text as nuclear shadow. Rather, the text is conceived of as transparent to its referent. 2) Or, the text is unreadable, so one assigns another event to the text, an event still to come. The sign waits for its referent in an eschatological sense, and so cannot yet be read. Literature and Poetry deal with this impasse of hermeneutics in their own ways. Literature dispenses with the text, or discovers it in its readers. The meaning of a text is discovered in the readers of the text. Poetry causes an immanent, emotional referent in the reader. The referent of the text is the reader. Theology remains.

For theology, the text cannot open access to the Event, but only bears traces of the Event. The text employs a linguistic device that the Logos overturns to the benefit of another device. A theological device replaces the linguistic one. How is this conceived? For us, for believers, only words left, just as for the disciples going to Emmaus, only “rumors" of the Resurrection come to their ears. They have heard linguistic rumors of what happened. But says Marion, “We cannot lead the biblical text back as far as that at which it nevertheless aims, precisely because no hermeneutic could ever bring to light anything other than a meaning, whereas we desire the referent in its very advent.” Amazingly, the disciples’ correct interpretation still keeps the disciples’ “eyes from recognizing him.” A correct interpretation of Scripture is not enough for a recognition of Jesus. It is only in a new Event “that the referent in person redoubles.” A Christian does not want access to the "meaning" of a text. That in itself is not enough, even when it is Jesus who interprets. A Christian desires the advent of the Event itself, of the Referent Himself. But, “The text does not offer the original of faith, because it does not constitute its origin.”

Marion continues: “As long as the Word does not come in person to interpret to the disciples the texts of the prophets and even the chronicle of the things seen at Jerusalem, this double text remains unintelligible – strictly. No hermeneutic could open our eyes to see the exegete of the Father," even an absolute hermeneutic who is not recognized in Himself. "The absolute hermeneutic disappears to the benefit of the eucharistic moment. The Eucharist accomplishes the hermeneutic, since they only realize the burning of their hearts and understand the referent of the burning after the Eucharist. In the chiasm of Scripture and Scripture, it stands in the middle. Why? The Word interprets in person. The Eucharist alone completes the hermeneutic.” The eucharistic device overturns the linguistic device of interpretation.

Therefore: “The hermeneutic (hence fundamental theology) will take place, will have its place, only in the Eucharist.” There in the Eucharistic Event the Word speaks and blesses. The Word does not disappear so much as Christians disappear into him as individuals. They enter into the place of the Word. Then, like him, they go up to Jerusalem. Then they do the exegesis, the recounting, of what happened. Then, while they are saying these things, he himself stands among them. This is the critical cycle of theology. We, the disciples of Christ, recognize Him in the eucharistic mystery, becoming remade into him whom we receive and recognize. Then we too go up to Jerusalem to proclaim, just as Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Then we recount what we experience, just as Jesus recounts his Father. In the recounting, Jesus again stands among his disciples, and the cycle continues. In the great paradox, our eyes are opened, and He disappears from view. Our mouths are opened to proclaim and He reappears. Or rather, our eyes are opened and we disappear into the One who is Appearance itself. This is the eucharistic site of theology.

Markel, SJ


Longin, SJ said...

Awesome! This makes a lot of very important points, for theology, the study of Scripture, for prayer, for liturgy, for preaching. Thanks for the summary.

One little quibble: is the Eucharistic Event to be considered specifically the Eucharist as the acutal sacrament, or is it possible to have an encounter with the Word itself, through Scripture, outside of the Eucharist per se? I'd like to think so... but if we start to use the word "eucharistic" to refer to any encounter with the Word, even if it is outside the sacrament, there is the risk of confusing what is specific and unique about the sacrament of the Eucharist.

Markel & Mason said...

I understand Marion to be referring to the Eucharist as the Liturgy in which the community gathers around the Bishop. I think the final installment will help in this regard, but I think his main point is that the primary place for hearing the Word is in the Liturgy - which of course resonates well with Catholic theology. While Scripture is to be read individually of course and used in prayer, divorced from its central situation of proclamation in the Liturgy, it is open to all kinds of idolatry. For Marion, the only way to avoid the impasses of hermeneutics or the problem of reading the Bible as a mirror image of one's own face is to allow the Word to appear in the only place where it continues to reappear as actual Event, as true Presence, which is in that place where Christ said he would appear, i.e., in the Eucharist. This is never promised about Scripture, though it is of course to Scripture that the early Church went to discover and understand Christ. But this was done as we know in the situation of the Liturgy.

Markel, SJ

longin, SJ said...

Okay. I like it. Our true encounter with the Word is in the liturgy, which then enables us to continue that encounter outside the liturgy in prayer and the reading of Scripture.

It's just I'm amazed, out in the field, the number of Catholics who think they don't need to (and even shouldn't!) pick up a Bible outside of "Today's Missal." One young lady came to RCIA and was surprised that I told her to get a Bible because her Catholic boyfriend told her that "Catholics don't read the Bible."

Look forward to the final installment.