Monday, November 30, 2009

Pope Benedict On The De-Hellenization Of Christianity

“This process began in the Middle Ages and reached its full flower in the Reformation with Martin Luther’s efforts to remove the influences of Catholic philosophy and dogma and return to what he believed to be the original purity of Scripture alone. In different forms, the sola Scriptura principle became a key premise of the liberal theology of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In seeking the unadulterated message and person of Jesus, liberal theology treated the biblical Word as a historical record to be read without reference to philosophical and theological formulations made using Greek language and Greek philosophical tools. This meant returning to a kind of literalism uninformed by such products of philosophical reasoning as the doctrines concerning the Trinity and the divinity of Christ.

This new theological outlook was greatly influenced by the rise of the natural sciences and the achievements of technology, as well as by Kant’s philosophical ‘self limitation of reason’ to only those things that can be perceived by the senses. These influences, in turn, gave rise to the modern understanding that truth and certainty are a function of what can be observed and either verified or falsified through experimentation in the laboratory.

Human reason in the modern period has since come to be seen as limited strictly to seeking understandings that conform to these ‘scientific’ canons of truth and certainty. Because they cannot be answered according to these modern canons, questions about such things as the existence of God or the meaning of human existence are discarded as ‘unscientific or prescientific.’ Hence, religious faith in the modern age is no longer viewed as a source of true knowledge about humans and the world; rather, it is regarded as a feeling or sentiment and a matter of individual or subjective preference.

According to Benedict [XVI], these developments—the separation of faith and reason and the radical diminution of both these faculties of the human spirit—are the root cause of grave problems in the world today. The entire project of de-Hellenization, as he sees it, rests on a false premise, namely, that the Christian faith can or should be separated from human reason as it was understood in the Hellenistic world. This premise is false because, as Benedict argues, ‘the encounter between the biblical message and Greek thought did not happen by chance.’ He cites St. Paul’s vision of a Greek man calling Paul to ‘come over to Macedonia and help us’ (Acts 16:6-10). Benedict interprets this vision as indicating ‘the intrinsic necessity of a rapprochement between Biblical faith and Greek inquiry.’

He notes that the gospels themselves were written in the Greek language, using vocabulary and concepts drawn from the Hellenistic milieu. The same influences can be found in the Jewish people—who live for many decades under Hellenistic rule. Notwithstanding their oppression, they too ‘encountered the best of Greek though at a deep level.’ The fruits of that encounter can be seen within the Scriptures themselves in the so-called wisdom literature. An even more compelling testimony of Greek influence is the translation known as the Septuagint, which Benedict describes as ‘more than a simple (and in that sense really less than satisfactory) translation of the Hebrew text: it is an independent textual witness and a distinct and important step in the history of revelation, one which brought about this encounter in a way that was decisive for the birth and spread of Christainity.’

For Benedict, all this means that ‘the fundamental decisions made about the relationship between faith and the use of human reason are part of the faith itself; they are developments consonant with the nature of faith itself.’ Moreover, he says, there is no need for us to think of human reason in such restricted terms as limited to seeking to understand only phenomena that can be seen or experienced. The self-limitation of reason has given rise to ‘the dictatorship of appearances.’ It has become ‘a kind of a dogma’ that we cannot know anything more than what is apparent.”

-Scott Hahn, Covenant and Communion: The Biblical Theology of Pope Benedict XVI.

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