Saturday, November 14, 2009

"Sola Scriptura": Essence of fundamentalism?

While reading of late the 1995 interview with Cardinal Ratzinger by Peter Seewald, published under the English title, Salt of the Earth (Ignatius Press, 1997), I came across an interesting turn of phrase of our current Pope.

Peter Seewald had asked: "How does it stand with those tendencies within the Church that some label as reactionary, as Catholic fundamentalism?" (p. 135)

While Ratzinger's full answer extends beyond this one question, and is well worth reading in full, I was particularly struck by his analysis of the source of the fundamentalist phenomenon:

In view of everything that is happening and of the massive undertainties that are now rising to the surface to threaten man, who suddenly feels bereft of his spiritual homeland, his foundation, there is a reaction of self-defense against, and refusal of, modernity, which as such is conceived of as hostile to religion or, at any rate, hostile to belief. I would, however, add that the catchword "fundamentalism", as it is used today, covers very different realities, and this calls for a bit more precision. The term first arose in nineteenth-century American Protestantism. The historical-critical exegesis of the Bible that had developed in the wake of the Enlightenment took away the univocal meaning that the Bible had had until then and that had been the presupposition of the Protestant scriptural principle. The principle "Scripture alone" suddenly ceased to furnish clear foundations. In the absence of a Magisterium, this was a deadly threat to communion in faith. In addition, there was the theory of evolution, which not only called into question the creation account and belief in creation but rendered God superfluous. The "fundament" was gone. A strictly literal biblical exegesis was set in opposition to this. The literal sense is unshakably valid. This thesis is directed against both the historico-critical method and the Catholic Magisterium, which does not admit this kind of verbalism. This is "fundamentalism" in the original sense. The Protestant fundamentalist "sects" are scoring great missionary successes today in South America and in the Philippines. They give people the feeling of certain, simple faith. Among us, however, fundamentalism has become a household word, a catchword that covers every imaginable foe. (pp. 135-6, emphases added)
What does that phrase "univocal meaning" mean? It refers to what many Protestants mean by "literal meaning", but it has its roots in logic rather than linguistics.

In one dictionary at hand, "univocal" is defined as "having only one meaning; unambiguous". Blogger's "spell-checking dictionary" had no idea that the word existed, but had heard of its contrary "equivocal", which means "subject to two or more interpretations [and usually used to mislead or confuse]".

On the other hand, "literal" has a number of definitions: "(1) a : according with the letter of the scriptures b : adhering to fact or to the ordinary construction or primary meaning of a term or expression c : free from exaggeration or embellishment d : characterized by a concern mainly with facts (2) : of, relating to, or expressed in letters (3) : reproduced word for word : exact, verbatim.

No comments:

Post a Comment