River and Ocean
River and Ocean
This chapter looks at Scriptures, whose ambiguity is seen both as a difficulty to shake people out of exegetical complacency and as an inspired involution of multiple meanings on the page. These meanings are not only allegorical, mystical, or typological, but also literal, according to a widespread Catholic idea neglected by previous historians of biblical scholarship. The doctrine of multiple literal senses marked yet another battleground between the company of two armies, Protestant and Catholic—barring two or three defections—in the early seventeenth century. It encapsulated a profound distinction between two views of Scripture: the one a river to be cleansed and traced to the source, the other an ocean in which to swim, even to abandon oneself. Why, then, has this controversy been entirely ignored by scholarship? As modernity encroached, the doctrine became an embarrassment to Catholics, and in 1845 a professor of theology at Louvain, Jan-Theodor Beelen, wrote a treatise against it. But there are deeper reasons for the neglect. The history of biblical hermeneutics as written to date is more than usually Whiggish, seeking the precursors to Schleiermacher and Gadamer; the German and Lutheran backstory has therefore seemed inevitable, and from this perspective Catholic hermeneutics since Luther and Erasmus has been an irrelevance. Subsequently, the occlusion of the Catholic voice was attended by a narrowing of the possibilities of what biblical interpretation could be.
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