Saturday, March 27, 2010

Rahner On The Canon

“Now the Synagogue, unlike the Church, does not have the authority to testify infallibly to the inspiration of the Scriptures. Even prior to the death of Christ, there existed no authoritative teaching office in the Old Testament, in the sense of a permanent institution formally endowed with inerrancy. There were individual prophets, but no infallible Church, for the eschatological event, the final and irreversible salvation act of God, had not yet occurred. It was possible for the Synagogue to apostatize from God, to turn a ‘No’ to him and to his ‘Anointed’ into its own official ‘truth’, thus bringing about its own end as a divine institution. Not that the Old Testament period was altogether without knowledge of inspired and canonical sacred books. There were writings which were recognized as inspired, and, more decisively, these ideas about the meaning and extension of canonicity were recognized and ratified for themselves by Jesus, the apostles, and the Church. If, in the pre-Christian era, there appeared prophets commissioned by God to deliver his message and call men to faith, then there is no reason why there should not have existed a knowledge—ultimately grounded in the prophetic charism itself—of the inspiration of Holy Scripture and of its essential relation to the Jewish religious community (its canonicity). Such knowledge was in fact present. But it must be remembered that neither the extent nor the certainty of the Canon was, or even could be, definitively established in pre-Christian times. Sacred books were written after the time when prophets existed no longer: the sacred writer need not have been a prophet himself; certainly the writers of much of the late wisdom literature would hardly have claimed to a prophetic commission which bears witness to itself without needing any support or certification from the Synagogue or other external authority. Yet the Synagogue, as distinct from the prophets who appeared in it from time to time, was not, as a religious institution, empowered to give definitive testimony to the inspiration and canonicity of sacred books. If this is so, a final definition of the Canon was impossible before the time of the Church. An inchoative knowledge of inspiration and a start on the formation of a Canon was there possible, because (and to the extent that) prophetic charism was there to support it. But no more than that. It is not surprising, therefore, that the Church, even in the case of the Old Testament, herself completed the formation of the Canon and did not simply take over the Jewish canon as final and definitive…The rejection by Protestants of the inspiration and canonicity of the deutero-canonical books, on the grounds that they were not recognized by the Synagogue, contradicts the fact that all the writings of the Old Testament (even apart from the reasons we have just mentioned) are directed towards Christ and the New Testament, and are a part of salvation history only because of this direction, and can be recognized as such only by virtue of it. This is not to say that no Old Testament book could be recognized as canonical until after Christ; even earlier, to the extent that they were grasped as essentially prophetic, incomplete, and open to some future revelation, the Old Testament books were already recognized as ‘pre-Christian’—indeed this is the only sense in which they could have been understood as the work of God. If this reference to the future belongs to the essence of the Old Testament, we may ask whether this essence is preserved and respected if an historical gap is introduced between the canonical Old Testament history and Christ of such dimensions as to constitute a real hiatus between that history and its fulfillment in Christ. If such a break is inadmissible, then we must ask: after the ‘cessation’ of prophecy, where are we to locate the influence of God by which post-exilic history continued to be true salvation history ordered toward Christ? Against Marcionism and similar tendencies in the early Church, the Church has declared the Old Testament to be truly her own prehistory, and hence a part of her own as yet hidden life (the ‘Church since Adam and Abel,’ etc.); this prehistory cannot have come to a close long before the appearance of the Church, or have been reduced for a long interval to a merely human religious evolution.”

-Karl Rahner, Inspiration in the Bible

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