Scriptural hermeneutics refers to the art of science of scriptural study and interpretation. It is specifically necessary where a certain concept is not obviously clear. Therefore, there is a possibility of ambiguity in the interpretation as one seeks to understand its meaning.
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This case often arises when a several authors of biblical scriptures discuss a certain concept, but their explanation of it appears to conflict with that of other authors (Ricoeur 56). For instance, in the New Testament, the gospels’ account of Christ’s life and teachings can be contradictory, with Mark’s Gospel being the most nonconforming.
As a result, such matters and multiple interpretations to similar scriptures result, confusing many Christians in the process. Scriptural hermeneutics offers a solution to these paradoxical accounts, as it clarifies the inferred meaning through a general study of all scriptures that address a certain issue and by integrating the scriptural inferences that relate to the matter at hand to give it context.
Paul Ricoeur (1913-2005) specialized in philosophy and of relevance to this paper are his thoughts on the effect of the past on the present. He posits that society, or one’s surroundings and historical time largely influence human actions and discourse, or language. This means for instance that whatever the ancient authors of the bible wrote borrowed a lot from their day and age, as well as their relations with their respective environments.
Ricoeur also points out how one requires a comprehensive understanding of self, first to be in a position of making a correct interpretation of any records. Such an understanding prevents him / her from the text in light of what he/she believes in (Villaverde 481). Instead, he/she is able to interpret independently of inherent beliefs, attitudes and values, which is the correct interpretation required.
Modern readers face a multiplicity of resources that recount the past. It is thus challenging to harmonize the differences represented in these different accounts and glean the true position that their authors wished to portray (Doran 9). Hermeneutics and Ricoeur’s thought process provides a way of doing just that without the bias or prejudicial attitudes that are bound to influence readers. Examples of differing authors are Paul Lonergan and St. Thomas Aquinas whose works contradicted though similar in some aspects.
Both Lonergan and Aquinas speak of a natural desire within every rational human being to gain an understanding of matters or concepts that are only comprehensible when in the presence of God (Lonergan 56).
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However, whereas both theologians attempt to explain the nature of God’s understanding, Thomas Aquinas in, “Summa Theologia” approaches this issue with his starting principle as pure actuality, while Lonergan in trying to simplify this concept by incorporating the human way of understanding concepts uses ‘unrestricted infinity’ to explain divine understanding.
Lonergan expresses this concept is in his publication, “The Triune God”. Secondly, Lonergan believes that an analogical understanding of God’s nature as a man that is sufficiently comprehensive can develop into divine understanding. On the other hand, Aquinas introduces an intermediate tier between human and divine understanding, which is angelic understanding (Ricoeur 81).
According to Aquinas, angels, whom he represents as disembodied spirits, have a better understanding of divinity than men do. Consequently, for one to graduate to divine understanding per Aquinas, one needs to acquire an angelic understanding prior to achieving divine understanding.
Lonergan avoids the use of the faculty of psychology in his works, instead restricting himself to issues like experiencing, understanding and judging. He does this because he believes that taking a psychological viewpoint would stratify crucial aspects of human nature that need to be in harmony for a person to gain comprehensive knowledge. Aquinas, on the other hand, tends to lean towards psychological aspects.
Most of his thoughts are on intelligence and will and how these relate to other concepts. This outlook severs crucial aspects of a person’s complete state of mind thereby curtailing their full understanding of various notions. However, both authors believe in the infinity of God, and that He demonstrates this infinity in all his actions (Doran 45).
Therefore, to gain a full understanding of the cause of all things, which is a question that most of mankind is preoccupied with, man needs to start off by understanding God, who is the initial cause, or rather the starting principle of everything on earth as well as beyond. The two differ when it comes to the issue of how to go about the understanding of God.
Doran, Robert. The Truth of Theological Understanding in Divinarum personarum and De Deo Trino, Pars Systematica. Method: Journal of Lonergan Studies 20.1 (2002): 33-75.
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Lonergan, Bernard. Philosophical and Theological Papers 1965-1980. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2005.
Ricoeur, Paul. Philosophie de la Volonté. Finitude et culpabilité II. La symbolique du mal. Aubier: París, 1988.
Villaverde, Marcelino. Paul Ricoeur and Philosophy in the Twentieth Century. Santiago: Composite Papers Publishers, 2009.