I managed to get some time today to read through Pope Bendedict’s (then Cardinal Ratzinger) 1988 Erasmus Lecture on ‘Biblical Interpretation in Crisis’. It makes for interesting reading and there are many aspects that I warm to. For example:
[I]nterpretation can never be just a simple reproduction of history’s
being, “as it was.” The word “interpretation” gives us a clue to the
question itself: every exegesis requires an “inter,” an entering in and
a being “inter” or between things; this is the involvement of the
interpreter himself. Pure objectivity is an absurd abstraction. It is
not the uninvolved who comes to knowledge; rather, interest itself is a
requirement for the possibility of coming to know.
Here, then, is the question: how does one come to be interested,
not so that the self drowns out the voice of the other, but in such a
way that one develops a kind of inner understanding for things of the
past, and ears to listen to the word they speak to us today?
Though I struggle to see how this reconciles with what he wants to say about feminist and liberation hermeneutics:
But today, certain forms of exegesis are appearing which can only be
explained as symptoms of the disintegration of interpretation and
hermeneutics. Materialist and feminist exegesis, whatever else may be
said about them, do not even claim to be an understanding of the text
itself in the manner in which it was originally intended. At best they
may be seen as an expression of the view that the Bible’s message is in
and of itself inexplicable, or else that it is meaningless for life in
today’s world. In this sense, they are no longer interested in
ascertaining the truth, but only in whatever will serve their own
With all due respect, this is a charicature based on the unwarranted assumption that feminist hermeneutics inevitably ‘drowns out the voice of the other’ (perhaps connected with the fact that the ‘exegete’ later on in this essay is explicitly constructed by Ratzinger as male).
Other quotations that struck me:
Thus the word should not be submitted to just any kind of enthusiasm.
Rather, preparation is required to open us up to the inner dynamism of
the word. This is possible only when there is a certain “sympathia” for
understanding, a readiness to learn something new, to allow oneself to
be taken along a new road. It is not the closed hand which is required,
but the opened eye. . . .
Certainly texts must first of all be traced back to their historical
origins and interpreted in their proper historical context. But then,
in a second exegetical operation, one must look at them also in light
of the total movement of history and in light of history’s central
event, Jesus Christ. Only the combination of both these methods will yield understanding of the Bible.