Sunday, August 21, 2005

Antiochene exegesis


I don't see Steve Hays's reponse to my objections to Evangelicalism to be an effective answer to the objections that I raise, so I don't feel compelled to say anything other than what I said before. However, he did raise one relevant point that I hadn't raised:

Actually, the GHM is a throwback to the Antiochean school of exegesis, which enjoyed a comeback with the Renaissance, and which, in turn, spurred on the Reformation. Calvin, for one, was a practioner of the GHM.

Of course, I am well aware of the Evangelical reliance on Antiochene exegesis, but far from this being persuasive, I think it is a solid argument for their lack of orthodoxy. To the extent that Antioch produced useful theology, it was the result of using a more moderate and individualized hermeneutic, and even that was by and large inferior to the Christological hermenutic of Ss. Athanasius and Cyril, which set the standard for later orthodoxy. Like the excessive allegorization of Origen (which was not effectively contained until St. Athanasius grounded hermeneutics in concrete Christology), the humanist tendencies of the Antiochene school were quite likely to end up in Nestorian heresy (which, as the fourth-century monk John Cassian rightly observed, is nothing but another version of Pelagianism). The tendency of Antiochene exegesis was likely to lead to the heretical conclusions of Diodore of Tarsus and Theodore of Mopsuestia, both later condemned by the Second Council of Constantinople along with Nestorius and some works of Theodore of Cyrus (although the two Theodores were the most orthodox of those four, owing to their own distinctive hermeneutical styles). John Romanides discusses in detail the difficulties in reconciling the Antiochene theological approach with orthodoxy Christology, problems which persist to the present day.

So far from providing an argument FOR Evangelical hermeneutics, I think the conscious reliance on this method is a fairly convincing argument AGAINST the theological soundness of this method. It is no coincidence that Calvin's sacramental understanding is condemned as Nestorian by his Lutheran opponents; it comes from the same misplaced theological method in his hermeneutics. Like Nestorius, he tries to reason from God's dealings with humans to the nature of God without metaphysical safeguards, and it simply results in a metaphysically untenable theology. I entirely agree that the Reformation represents Antiochene exegesis, and exactly the same tendencies of that method that were condemned at Ephesus, at Chalcedon, and at Constantinople.


He is “of course, well aware of the Evangelical reliance on Antiochene exegesis”? At what point did he “of course become well aware” of this? Remember his original objection?


Evidently, before conservative Evangelicalism decided to make a comeback into serious scholarship against the tide of nineteenth-century liberal Protestantism (which, BTW, was mere decades ago), this method simply didn't exist. I guess all that bit about God "accommodating" Himself to human limitations meant 20th century human limitations.


Now he has suddenly reversed himself without batting an eyelash, and immediately changes the subject.

He is, of course, at liberty to change the subject, but before doing so he should formally withdraw his original objection.

Yet this would be very awkward since so much of his case is prized on precedent.

2.His appeal to Constantinople II is, in many respects, a double-bladed sword.

i) If its condemnation of Theodore of Mopsuestia should to be treated as an implicit condemnation of Antiochene hermeneutics, then its condemnation of Origen should be treated as an implicit condemnation of Alexandrian hermeneutics.

ii) By parity of reasoning, its condemnation of Pope Vigilius ought to be treated as a condemnation of the Papacy.

Not only did Constantinople II condemn Nestorianism, it also condemned Apollinarianism.

It’s true that Lutherans accuse Calvinists of the Nestorian heresy. And the Calvinists return the favor by accusing the Lutherans of the monophysite heresy.

iii) Chrysotom was a leading exponent of Antiochene exegesis. Yet his orthodoxy was unimpeachable.

iv) Lutherans are also the heirs of Antiochene exegesis:


Only the literal sense of Scripture is valid for establishing doctrine and teaching in the church. This basic rule is directed against the use of the so-called mystical sense to establish doctrine and against the claim that all interpretation ultimately belongs to the Pope.

The literal sense of Scripture is the meaning, or tenor (proprietas), that the words directly and obviously convey…The literal sense, then, is the sense intended by the writer, whatever rope or genre is used.

The Lutheran insistence on determining the sensus literalis or Scripture is clearly opposed to the theory or Origen, which filtered down to the Schoolmen, that every Scripture passage admitted of a multiplex intelligentia and a fourfold sense must be sought. But what about analogical meaning (allegory, type), which is at times assigned an OT pericope by the NT? Strictly speaking, such a procedure is not interpretation but application. Such a practice in no way vitiates the historical and literal sense of the pericope or imposes a new meaning on the words; it is rather a case of drawing from the literal sense an analogy or application. In the case of type and antitype the historic literal sense of the passage remains unchanged; but from the words of the passage and the events the passage records, an analogy is drawn and a type is sought for purposes of illustration.

This one meaning [sensus literalis unus est] of individual words or passages in their given context is a constant and cannot be changed. Such a hermeneutical norm was directed against the medieval practice of allegorizing and attaching to Scripture a fourfold sense, a practice defended and followed by the Roman theologians of the 16C and 17C.

R. Preus, The Theology of Post-Reformation Lutheranism (Concordia 1970), 1:321,324-25.


In his classic monograph on The Lord’s Supper (Concordia 1979), Chemnitz spends a lot of time defending the real presence on what he takes to be the literal meaning of Scripture, pp20,62,65-67,71,75-76,85,91-92,96,100,105,111,124-25,135-36,145,148,193,199-200,209-11,215,222-24,230,233-34,241,249,265-66.

Likewise, Francis Pieper devotes well over 50 pages to defending the real presence on what he takes to be the literal meaning of Scripture. Cf. Christian Dogmatics 3:294-349.

v) The creeds are consensus documents. They do not codify every refinement of private theologians.

vi) They are also quite minimal in what they affirm and disaffirm. Chalcedon offers precious little regarding a positive statement of the hypostatic union. It affirms the respective relata, and disaffirms, by way of negative formulations, reductionistic models of the relation.

vii) As Frank Turk has pointed out, Prejean has yet to square his own position with the stated position of the CCC.

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