Monday, 30 June 2014

N.T. Wright, Ben Meyer, and Paul of Tarsus

N.T. Wright's admiration for Ben Meyer and Meyer's critical realism (which is itself of the Lonerganian variety) is well-documented. He mentions it throughout the series Christian Origins and the Question of God, of which the two volumes of Paul and the Faithfulness of God are collectively the fourth volume, and he also wrote the introduction to the 2002 reprint of Meyer's 1979 work, Aims of Jesus. Wright acknowledges a crucial debt to Meyer, from whom he derives the term "critical realism" to describe his own work. Thus I find it truly surprising that, despite Wright's familiarity with and appreciation for Meyer's work, despite adverting to Meyer as the source of the term by which he describes his entire approach to the New Testament, in Faithfulness of God Wright fails altogether to engage with Meyer's work on Paul.

Now, it is certainly the case that Meyer is better known for his contributions to historical Jesus studies than to Pauline studies. This, I think, is unfortunate. Yes, his best-known work, Aims of Jesus from 1979, is in my mind as well as Wright's one of the most important contributions ever made to historical Jesus scholarship, and in fact it was in reading that monograph that I began on the course of investigation that has led to my own interest in Lonergan and Lonerganian thought. Yet I think his later study, The Early Christians: Their World Mission and Self-Discovery from 1986, is in fact an even stronger work. In Aims Meyer at times seems to be yet struggling to to fully integrate his highly robust hermeneutical reflections with his equally robust exegetical work; seven years later, when he writes Early Christians, he seems to have resolved many of those struggles. That is to say, like any great thinkers, Meyer had a mind that was in progress and thus problems that baffled him at one point in time no longer do so at a later point.

The neglect of Meyer's thought on Paul probably has to do with the fact that Meyer never wrote a monograph specifically devoted to Paul. Due to a protracted illness, which from what I understand began around the time that he wrote Early Christians, this volume ended up being his last major empirically-oriented study. There would be other volumes, but these would be focused on hermeneutics and tended to retread ground that he had already covered in previous publications. As such, even if it had been his intent to write a monograph more specifically focused on Paul, in the end he lacked the time and energy to produce one. Among the great losses to contemporary New Testament studies are the works that Meyer never got to write.

Still, Early Christians contains not a little insight into Paul of Tarsus. What is interesting about Early Christians is that whereas recent scholarship is focused upon Paul's grounding in Judaism Meyer is more interested in considering how Paul contributed to the development of Christian identity and self-definition. Now, the focus upon Paul's Jewishness has constituted a necessary corrective to older narratives that identified him as a source of discontinuity between Judaism and Christianity. Yet in emphasizing Paul's Jewishness one must be careful not simply to identify a comparable discontinuity in the post-Pauline period. Otherwise one ends up either with Christianity being discontinuous with its Jewish antecedents, with the question merely being whether it was Paul who introduced this discontinuity. Meyer's perspective allows us to recognize that the movement from Second Temple Judaism and to what emerges eventually as orthodox Christianity was developmental, which is to say that it entailed a series of transformations lacking any discernible discontinuity.

Wright offers a decent if perhaps overly wordy (does it really have to weigh in at 1700 pages? I mean, really?) account of how Paul's work and thought represent developments within a Jewish milieu. What I would have liked to have seen, what Meyer began to give us in Early Christians, is a fuller treatment of how Paul's work and thought contributed to the development of Christianity. How Paul built upon his antecedents is an important part of the story, but so is how he helped prep the stage for subsequent developments. And when that story is told with careful attention to both its pre-Pauline and post-Pauline parts perhaps the "parting(s) of the ways" won't seem quite so mystifying to us.

Sunday, 29 June 2014

Catholicism and Ecumenism

I was going to spend the next three posts looking, respectively, at the functional specialties that Lonergan calls "interpretation," "history," and "dialectic." I still plan on getting around to that, but I wanted today to think about something different, namely Lonergan's Catholicism and what seems to me a much greater awareness of the demands of ecumenism in his later work.

Now, this growing awareness should probably be situated within the broader developments that took place within Catholicism during Lonergan's later life. Between Insight in 1957 and Method in Theology in 1971 there is this little thing called the Second Vatican Council. Lonergan was in fact teaching in Rome during most of the council, and was certainly cognizant that it represented in many ways a significant development in Catholic life and thought. I doubt it a coincidence that just as the Council Fathers are calling upon Catholics to enter into more serious and sincere engagement with the world's other religious traditions so does Lonergan begin to really focus upon developing what he will call a philosophy of religion.

Lonergan talks at length in Method about "conversion," identifying three major conversions that a person will ideally undertake in their journey toward authentic subjectivity (which subjectivity being the necessary ground for objectivity, but that is a discussion for another occasion): religious, moral, and intellectual. I think that his understanding of religious conversion is at the core of his ecumenism. It "is being grasped by ultimate concern" (Method, 240). Being thus grasped one is now ready for moral conversion, in which the subject comes to focus upon the question "What is right?" rather than the question "What is best for me?" Asking what "What is right?" the subject is now ready for intellectual conversion, in which the subject decides that it is very right to search diligently and honestly for truth. Having been grasped by ultimate concern we become concerned with value, and valuing we learn to value truth.

Now, Lonergan will describe what religious conversion means for Christians, talking about the Holy Spirit, the experience of grace, etc., but he leaves quite open the possibility that Christianity is not the only tradition via which one might come to be grasped by ultimate concern and thus open oneself to moral and intellectual conversion. The idea that I see developing in Lonergan's later work is that whilst truth is one and a commitment to truth normally follows from a commitment to value predicated upon an apprehension that there is more to this life then our workaday concerns one can come to these commitments and apprehensions from within a multitude of traditions. Thus the question is not "Which religion has the monopoly on truth?" but rather "What is there in any given religious tradition that could facilitate and even encourage the conversions necessary for the concerted pursuit of truth?"

Now, Lonergan was a Jesuit, and never abandons the commitments that that entails. As best I can tell he remains convinced that the concerted pursuit of truth will ordinarily lead to the judgment that orthodox Christianity offers the best answers when it comes to such matters as the nature of God, God's work in the world, etc., although he certainly thinks that these answers stand in urgent need of reformulation in light of the emergence of historical thinking in the 19th-century. He simply seems unwilling to shut the door on the idea that there can be intelligent and reasonable non-Christians as well as unintelligent and unreasonable Christians. What this means is that although Lonergan operates explicitly as a Catholic philosopher and theologian he is concerned to develop an account of knowing and of subjectivity that can enrich the thought of any human person, regardless of whether she or he is Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh, Jain, Confucian, Taoist, atheist, etc. All that is necessary is a desire to be a better person tomorrow than one is today. What Lonergan's thinking on this matter helps facilitate is more careful thought about exactly how these differences matter when it comes to scholarship within the particular discipline that is the object of this blog, namely New Testament studies.

Saturday, 28 June 2014

NT Research

In yesterday's post I outlined the eight functional specialties that Lonergan identifies as part of the theological enterprise. In this post I will elaborate upon the first of these--namely, research--with specific reference to New Testament studies. Note that everything that follows will be equally applicable to Hebrew Bible and I would bet also classical studies, but since I am a New Testament scholar I write specifically with that discipline in mind.

Research simply involves gathering and organizing the data relevant for answering one's question. When located within the broader work of theology it prepares the way for scholars working in the next functional specialty, interpretation, which is more or less identical to what New Testament scholars traditionally call "exegesis." When research is thus understood we can immediately grasp that it encompasses the New Testament sub-disciplines known as textual criticism, source criticism, form criticism, redaction criticism, and genre criticism.

That it encompasses textual criticism should require little defense, for the work of textual criticism is precisely to organize what constitutes the "raw" data of New Testament studies, namely the manuscripts in which the New Testament is written. After all, the term "Gospel of Mark," for instance, does not denote a single text but rather it serves as a covering term to reference a set of not-quite-identical yet still-quite-similar texts. Thus texts such as the Nestle-Aland 28 (or the BHS in Hebrew Bible studies) represent not the text of the New Testament but a particular scholarly organization of the relevant data. Such tools as critical apparatuses are designed to aid scholars in quickly identifying potentially relevant diversity in the manuscript tradition. The work of textual criticism also includes the quite important work of dating particular manuscripts, identifying patterns within the manuscript variants, etc. None of this work is interpretation or history proper, in that it neither tells us what the text means or reconstructs specific concrete events, but it all stands as necessary preparatory work without which neither interpretation nor history could proceed.

That source, form, redaction, and genre criticism are research perhaps requires some defense. These are certainly not interpretation in that they are disinterested in the substantial content of the texts (i.e. they are not interested in the question of meaning), but some might well argue that they are history in that they offer to identify the relationship between and the nature of various biblical material. In fact however, whilst the results of these criticisms might well have impact upon the work of history they are not yet history but rather descriptions of literary relationships and literary forms. The judgment that Matthew knew and used the Gospel of Mark and another text called Q does not constitute exegesis and only constitutes history in the most trivial of senses, for history is concerned not primarily with identifying what happened but with why what happened did happen and precisely on in the particular way that it happened. That Matthew used the Gospel of Mark does not tell us what Matthew why Matthew used the Gospel of Mark; only history, building upon the work of interpretation, can tell us that. Likewise, that the Gospel of Matthew represents a genre called Greco-Roman Βιος tells us only about the form of the text; it can have implications for how we interpret the text but it is not yet interpretation proper. So, again, we are at best dealing with the necessary preparatory work without which neither interpretation nor history could proceed.

Many of the great difficulties besetting our discipline stem from the fact that much of what passes for "interpretation" and "history" is in fact simply prep work for actual interpretation and history. Thus we treat the work of research as if it were an end on to itself, without recognizing that by its very nature the work of research represents just the very first steps in the broader work of New Testament studies. Thus we mistake literary relationships for historical relationships. This is never more obvious than we equivocate on the use of the words "Matthew," "Mark," "Luke," and "John," vacillating between using them as references to the respective texts or to the people who wrote the respective texts (what historically has been called the "writer," whether that "writer" denotes a single person or a collective). Sharper clarity on the distinction between literary and historical relationships could only serve to increase the quality of our scholarship.

Friday, 27 June 2014

Lonergan's Eight-fold Path

In Method in Theology Lonergan describes theology as a discipline with eight functional specialties, organized in two phases. The first phase: research, interpretation, history, and dialectic. The second phase: foundations, doctrines, systematics, and communications. Now, rather than simply define all eight I will offer an example, let's say of a theologian who specializes in communications and wants to communicate a Christian perspective on same-sex marriage. Let us for the sake of convenience use the pronoun "she" to describe this hypothetical theologican. The first task is research: she will want to gather the relevant data. This will include biblical texts that might speak to same-sex relations, relevant official church documents, etc. This will also include the work of establishing which text of the New Testament she will examine, i.e. the work of textual criticism. Next, she will want to interpret this material. What is Paul talking about when he talks about effeminacy, for instance? Next she will want to consider the history of the matter. She might ask, for instance, whether Christianity always been as hostile to same-sex unions as is often thought, by persons on both sides of the debate? When did the very idea of same-sex marriage emerge? Next she will think in a dialectical fashion about this history. What are the deeper psychological, cultural, social, factors involved in these conflicts? How have these unfolded over time? Then comes foundations, wherein she begins to situate herself within these conflicts. Then doctrines, wherein she begins to make affirmations on the various issues involved, and then systematics, wherein she thinks about how these affirmations work together to form a unified Christian perspective. Finally communications, wherein she considers the results of the previous seven functional specialties for the world beyond theology proper, such as, for instance, public policy.

Now, in a perfect world every theologian would have expertise in each of these eight specialties, but of course we do not live in that world and any given scholar can at best hope to master one specialty, maybe two, and have the capacity to interact with the findings and work of others. That is why they are specialties. Our hypothetical theologian need not become a textual critic in order to do her work, and in fact every minute she devotes to become one is one minute less she devotes to becoming an expert in communications. She need only know what experts in the field consider a reliable text. For her purposes it might be sufficient to ask her colleagues in biblical what translation they would think best to use. The point of functional specialties is to make tasks impossible for one person possible for a collective. That of course is the idea behind the university.

As a scholar who works most fully within the functional specialty of history yet works on material that historically has been of greatest interest to theologians this eight-fold division has the salutary advantage of answering some of the interminable questions about the relationship between history and theology. It does so by on the one hand locating the work of history within the work of theology, but also by saying that it is the historian's duty to operate as much as a historian as possible. This allows those historians who are interested in relating their work to the broader enterprise of theology to do so, whilst also permitting those without such an interest the room to completely ignore such matters. Meanwhile, whilst operating as historians, they can both operate in exactly the same fashion. This has the effect of completely obviating the interminable although often implicit turf wars between "believers" and "unbelievers" within biblical studies. The same can be said of those working in the functional specialties of research, interpretation, and dialectics. Putting an end to the banality of territorial struggles will free up a lot of energy for work on matters of actual substance, and I think that a good thing.

Thursday, 26 June 2014

An Account of Knowing

At its core Lonergan's critical realism is an account of human knowing. His magnum opus, Insight, is 720-page work devoted to describing what we are doing when we have insights and then working out the entailments of that description (his later major work, Method in Theology, is really just working out the implications of the matters explored in Insight for the specific discipline of theology). That is Lonergan's genius: he does not begin by asking "How should we go about having insights?" but rather "How do we go about having insights?" In Insight he identifies a recurrent structure present in every instance of human knowing: we attend to the data, we get an insight from the data, we judge whether that instance is true or false. The "proof" for this structure is that one cannot argue against it without employing it (try: you will have to attend to the data that is the text of Insight; you would have to have insight into what Lonergan is arguing; you would have to judge as true your insight into what Lonergan is arguing; then, still attending to the data, you would have to have insight into why Lonergan is mistaken; then you would have to judge that insight as true). Insight is 720 pages of hermeneutic-y goodness devoted to figuring out 1) the conditions that make it possible for one's judgments regarding truth and falsity to correspond with the world of being and thus themselves be true (i.e. I can judge an insight to be true when it is fact false, and vice versa, thus rendering my judgment false) and 2) what the very fact of knowing says about the world in which we live (i.e. he's working out a metaphysics from his basic epistemic observation) and also how it opens up the possibility of thinking responsibly about how to live in said world (i.e. the question of ethics).

The above accounts for why Lonergan (and New Testament scholar Ben Meyer after him) can describe his account of knowing as a "critical realism." On the one hand we construct our knowledge of the world--our reality--from judgments rendered upon insights into the data of the world; hence it is critical. On the other hand, when we carefully and diligently attend to the conditions necessary for rendering sound judgment the reality that we construct will correspond as close as conceptually possible to the world; hence it is a realism. Thus a critical realism.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Which "critical realism"?

"Critical realism" is a pernicious term. If one types it into that grand repository of all human knowledge--Wikipedia--one meets a disambiguation page offering you three possible alternatives: critical realism (philosophy of perception); critical realism (philosophy of the social sciences); theological critical realism. Of these, the third is the closest to that "critical realism" associated with Bernard Lonergan, Ben F. Meyer, and N.T. Wright, in fact mentioning all three. The other two critical realisms have no relationship whatsoever with Lonergan et. al.

Why this ambiguity? Part of the problem is that "critical realism" is in fact a relatively infrequent term in Lonergan, certainly nowhere near as frequent as it is in Meyer. In fact, it is sufficiently infrequent that if I were operating in a vacuum I would probably not employ the term to describe Lonerganian hermeneutics. However, due to Meyer and more subsequently Wright, "critical realism" has in New Testament studies become virtually synonymous with "Lonergan." So, I retain the term.

Lonergan's critical realism is distinct from the other aforementioned "critical realisms" in at least this one fundamental respect: he alone is working out of the Thomistic tradition. Lonergan wrote his dissertation on Aquinas, and his entire project is in many ways an attempt to open Thomistic thought up to the new sorts of questions and thinking necessitated by the emergence of historical thinking in the 19th century. He went on record more than once as saying that his project was to introduce historical thinking into Catholic thought. As such his critical realism is precisely a Thomistic critical realism. It is this dual interest in the broader Christian tradition (including the New Testament) on the one hand and the consequences of historical thinking on the other that makes Lonergan's hermeneutical work of potential value for the contemporary New Testament scholar.

I will have more to say on the above matters, and others besides, in posts to come.

What is the purpose of this blog?

This blog has one primary purpose: to promote awareness and understanding of Lonerganian hermeneutics among New Testament scholars. I will describe more exactly what I mean by "Lonerganian hermeneutics" in a subsequent post, but here let me merely say a bit more about what prompted me to start a blog with this purpose. First, most simply, I think that the hermeneutics developed in the mid-20th century by Jesuit philosopher Bernard Lonergan, introduced into New Testament studies by Ben F. Meyer, and more recently advocated by N.T. Wright can help us resolve some of the more pernicious conceptual problems that currently beset our discipline. Second, much of the work regarding Lonerganian hermeneutics and the New Testament has been exemplary it is the case that Meyer's volume, the latest dating to the early-90s, are beginning to show their age, both in terms of their engagement with New Testament scholarship but also Lonerganian scholarship, and that with his primarily exegetical concerns Dr. Wright devotes little time to examining these hermeneutics in their own right; there is, I think, an urgent need to update and deepen the discussion. Third, given the preceding, I am currently working on a monograph on Lonerganian hermeneutics in relation specifically to historical Jesus studies, and as I prepare this volume I would welcome any interaction with other scholars on these matters. Finally, I would  be guilty of a sin of omission if I did not admit fully a fourth motivation, namely to whet the appetites of potential readers for that forthcoming volume.

So, sit back, enjoy, perhaps learn, and hopefully teach me with your responses to my meanderings.