Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Levada's defense of the Catechism

After the initial publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church then Archbishop William J. Levada published a defense of the new catechism: The New Catechism: An Overview . I say “defense,” because while Levada's presentation of the CCC is an overview, it is also and importantly a response to criticisms that had been leveled at it. That Levada should have presented this defense or overview is hardly surprising, since Levada had been a principal editor of the CCC. Indeed, It was commonly speculated that the reason Pope Benedict XVI appointed Levada as his own successor in the post of Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith may have included Levada's work on the CCC as well as the fact that the two of them had worked together at the CDF in the past (2000-2003). What I wish to draw attention to in Levada's defense of or presentation of the CCC is the strain of what can only be described as fideism which he displays, in common with his mentor, Joseph Ratzinger/B16. (We previously drew attention to that in our discussion of Ratzinger's lecture on Biblical interpretation: Biblical Interpretation in Crisis: The 1988 Erasmus Lecture). In addition to this fideistic strain, the two men also share another tendency of the Nouvelle Théologie—a conviction that a return to a greater emphasis on the Patristic authors, the “Fathers” of the Church, is a key to renewal in the modern Church. Included in that is a devotion to Patristic modes of scriptural interpretation and a skeptical (if not downright hostile) attitude toward modern historical-critical interpretation—this despite Benedict's repeated but grudging acknowledgments that the historical-critical approach must, in fact, take precedence.

Levada begins his presentation by quoting the words of John Paul II on the occasion of promulgating the new catechism. In those remarks, JP2 gave his views on the purpose of any catechism:
"A catechism should faithfully and systematically present the teaching of sacred Scripture, the living tradition of the church and the authentic magisterium as well as the spiritual heritage of the fathers and the church's saints, to allow for a better knowledge of the Christian mystery and for enlivening the faith of the people of God" (apostolic constitution Fidei Depositum).
And Levada agrees with this—more or less: “Here I would only observe that this summary description would more or less be applicable to any catechism in any time or place.” What that “more or less” could mean he doesn't explain, so it's anybody's guess. What's notable about this statement is the assertion that a catechism, any catechism, should present the “spiritual heritage of the fathers and the church's saints.” We have seen in our discussions of issues such as the question of original sin and of the response of theologians (including fathers, doctors and saints of the Church) that the worth of that heritage varies considerably. Parts of that heritage have proven highly destructive to the Church over the course of centuries. In fact, this description sounds more compendious than would ordinarily be understood by the term “catechism,” which is typically understood to be a summary of basic principles. It would appear, therefore, that the aims of the Church in promulgating the CCC were rather more ambitious than its public statements would indicate. And that itself is also notable since, as Levada quotes Cardinal Avery Dulles' summary of the post Vatican II attitude toward catechisms as distinctly dismissive:
"It was assumed [a decade ago] that in the brave new church then emerging there would no longer be any need for a universal 'Roman catechism.' . . . Today, however, the problems are seen to be more complex. . . . The tensions of our time have made it increasingly evident that for Catholicism to endure in the 'global village' visible structures of unity are essential. A vibrant sense of Catholic unity seems to require not only an inner union of spirit but a measure of common catechesis, common legislation, common customs, common symbols and common ministerial oversight" (The Reshaping of Catholicism, 1988, p. 205).
If we are to take Levada's embrace of Dulles' words at face value, then it appears that the Church hierarchy views the CCC as “essential” to the effort of Catholicism to “endure in the global village.” In other words, the CCC doesn't aim to be simply a traditional catechism—a summary of basic principles.  Rather, it aims to be a summary of both the truths and the spirit of the Catholic faith, in its preaching, its practice and its prayer and sacramental life. This is an ambitious goal, indeed, and presupposes a vision of the Church as an ideal. As we have already hinted, that ideal appears to share elements of the Nouvelle Théologie, importantly including the belief that a return to the “patristic” Catholicism of the Fathers is needed. This in turn implies a re-embrace of the Augustinian tradition and a denigration of the spirit and thought of Thomas Aquinas.

But let me qualify, or at least explain, what that means. I'm not suggesting that Aquinas will be demoted from his status as a Doctor of the Church or anything of that sort. Part of this spirit behind the CCC derives from simple intellectual confusion of the sort that is on full display in the thought of JP2. For example, Crossing the Threshold of Hope, JP2 reveals his naïve enthusiasm for post-Kantian, neo-Cartesian thought of the sort that was long ago definitively discredited by Gilson in his Thomist Reason and the Critique of Knowledge. In the notes to the book, JP2 naively dismisses the philosophy of being as a more or less pro forma exercise, to be followed quickly by what really interests him: the study of “Kantian personalism,” which he sees as the perfect expression of the Christian “evangelical counsel.” The hopelessness of constructing a hybrid system from two utterly incompatible “philosophies”--an undertaking which Gilson described as “an exercise in philosophical teratology”--points to a deep confusion. Nevertheless, here we see a poorly, if at all, understood Aquinas set in a corner, and Kantian thought placed at the center of Christian thinking. True, Aquinas is trotted out like a museum piece when push comes to shove, especially when the Church faces a determined moral challenge and there is nowhere else to turn for clarity, but the spirit of Thomism is far from the center of Catholic thought.

As we have previously seen, these are matters are also dear to Ratzinger/B16's heart. He has often expressed his emotional antipathy for what he chooses to term, somewhat anachronistically, “scholasticism.” Indeed, as a graduate student he gravitated toward the fideistic thought of Bonaventure, which we have already examined. Thus it comes as no surprise that Ratzinger should implicitly accept the validity of the Kantian critique of metaphysics (cf. Biblical Interpretation in Crisis: The 1988 Erasmus Lecture). The Platonic tendency of his thought is also clear from his championing of Augustine (and his refusal to acknowledge the reality of the Augustinian tradition in Western thought). Indeed, his determined misunderstanding of the Church's intellectual history was apparent in his famous address at the University of Regensburg (cf. Benedict at Regensburg), in which he identified the challenge to reason as a “dehellenization” of the West—thus placing Hellenic thought (Platonic, in essence) at the very heart of Christian faith! Tellingly, while B16 bemoaned the loss of reason and urged its recovery as essential to the identity of the West, he had nothing positive to offer in furtherance of that endeavor. In point of fact, the whole tendency of his thought has for decades been one almost of philosophical despair and a readiness to relapse into an open fideism. He acknowledges the authority of Aquinas and of historical study, but his heart is far from either in a true Christian sense. Rather, he prefers, and recommends, the “richness” of allegorical and typological uses of scripture.

As if to confirm this overall “back to the Fathers” context for the CCC, Levada next states that assures his listeners that the Church is seeking a “full and confident Christian adulthood” formed by the CCC:
Without an organic and comprehensive knowledge of the faith, our people will be "retarded" in comparison with the rest of their development. Without genuine conviction which they can articulate, they will necessarily be handicapped by uncertainty and timidity in responding to the call to be apostles...
What could be wrong with that? Levada even quotes, second hand, the famous words of J. H. Newman:
"I want a laity . . . who know their faith, who enter into It, who know just where they stand, who know what they hold and what they do not, who know their creed so well that they can give an account of it and who know enough of history to defend it. I want an intelligent well-instructed laity. . . . And one immediate effect of your being able to do all this will be your gaining that proper confidence in self that is so necessary for you (cited in E. D'Arcy, "The New Catechism and Cardinal Newman," Communio X) 43 Fall 1993, 49-7).
In fact, these are all admirable sentiments. It so happens, however, that they are expressed by the Scotist influenced Newman who for all his historical knowledge was a philosophical skeptic who embraced a form of fideism. Ratzinger, a long time admirer of Newman, has repeatedly expressed his skepticism regarding the historical-critical method and appears to accept the modernist critique of historical studies in general. We must therefore wonder whether these words are more than fine sentiments and will animate a true revival of a robust and realist Catholic intellectualism.

As we approach the heart of the presentation, at which point Levada will address the primary criticism of the CCC, the “back to the Fathers” drumbeat continues. That criticism is that the CCC indulges in uncritical “proof texting,” taking Biblical passages out of context to make theological points. Levada prefaces his addressing of that issue by once again appealing to “the fathers of the great patristic age”:
The unity of the Christian faith is also witnessed by the way in the which the catechism allows the fathers of the great patristic age, and the saints of all ages, to give testimony to the apostolic faith which the church has proclaimed from the beginning. For these writers the Scriptures were the primary source for knowing God and his revelation; they remain so for us today. Therefore the catechism's use of Scripture is of special importance. It was criticized by some at the time of the circulation of the draft for the consultation of the world's bishops, and the catechism committee paid careful attention to the criticisms, with the assistance of a team of biblical experts.
Is this a hint that Levada will be nailing a patristic flag to the CCC mast? The answer appears to be, Yes. Levada's response to the “proof texting” criticism appears to boil down to: if it was good enough for “the fathers of the great patristic age” it should be good enough for us. But let's examine what he says more closely.

Levada begins his defense by attempting to redefine the problem.
But the problem is not so much with the catechism's approach to the Scriptures, but with a proper understanding of the Catholic way of interpreting Scripture itself. Far from the suggestion of "proof texting" made by some, I see the catechism's use of Scripture entirely consistent with the use made of it by the church fathers and by its liturgy. The church uses Scripture as its own book, with a familiarity that lets her read it as God's word from start to finish. The whole dogmatic and spiritual tradition of the church, while paying careful attention to the data of biblical exegesis and enlightened by the insights of modern historical-critical methods, probes the Scriptures under the guidance of the Holy Spirit to discern the true meaning of the whole of God's revelation.
Now, this is troubling. Theologians object to the CCC's proof texting approach to Scripture, and Levada's reply is, in so many words: you guys just don't understand the Catholic way of interpreting Scripture; the Catholic way of interpreting Scripture is the way the Fathers interpreted Scripture. This view, which is Ratzinger's own, assumes that the Platonized theology of the Fathers is paradigmatic for Catholic theology, for all ages—Hellenism is (as Ratzinger's lament over “dehellenization” shows) considered to be essential to Christianity rather than the culturally conditioned development that it was. The problem with this tack, however, is that the typologically driven way the Fathers interpreted Scripture does not appear to be the way that Jesus himself interpreted Scripture. Further, it ignores the fact that there was significant theological thinking both before and after the Fathers. We have no wish to deny the fact of Plato's overwhelming influence in the West but, nevertheless, before, say, Origen, there was important theological thinking going on (not least among the writers of our New Testament books) which was not yet Platonized, and after the age of the Fathers, there were important figures such as Aquinas who did not fit that mold, either. Nor is Ratzinger's acknowledgement that, yes, the historical-critical method is the absolute basis of Scriptural studies, just as Aquinas said, etc., sufficient reassurance, for when we look at the overall emphasis in his writings there can be little doubt about the trend of his thought.

Moreover, Levada's comments also raise the question of an objective control over interpretation of Scripture. It sounds reassuringly pious to say that “the Church...probes the Scripture under the guidance of the Holy Spirit,” but that doesn't begin to solve all problems. Rather, this posture in fact raises important new problems in an acute form. Barring the odd infallible definition of doctrine—and Levada in a slightly different context is quick to point out that “much of the church's doctrinal tradition has never been formally defined as such”--how can one determine how much of the theologizing that has gone on through two millenia has indeed been Spirit-guided? Iindeed, just how much doctrinal definition has in fact followed the allegorizing and typologizing traditions of the Fathers? Original sin comes quickly to mind, but there is little if anything else that we can point to—perhaps one of the surest signs of divine guidance. And even in the case of original sin, it is ever more clear that the traditional Augustinian doctrine is simply no longer accepted in the West, precisely because it is now understood to lack a proper Scriptural basis. In short, the Church has as a matter of fact—a matter of prudence, as well—adhered closely to a literal approach to Scripture almost exclusively when it has come to defining doctrine. The allegorical and typological approach has, indeed, figured widely in the world of piety and devotion (to what effect we will not here ask), but to allow allegory to enter the arena of Scriptural interpretation or of dogma would quickly open Christian doctrinal development to charges of arbitrariness that would undermine the Church's teaching authority and be impossible to counter convincingly (cf.Anselm's Platonism and the Development of Doctrine).

In a sense we can see that Ratzinger's approach to Scriptural interpretation is similar to Wojtyla's approach to philosophical issues. Wojtyla's approach was to relegate the philosophy of being to an almost pro forma, marginalized introductory role before diving into the supposed depths of Kantian personalism. Similarly, Ratzinger appears to acknowledge the primacy of the historical-critical method (the literal approach) only to relegate it to the sidelines in favor of other non-historical methods, and especially that of the Fathers. Each approach appears to naively assume that incompatible positions can somehow be linked, but that is impossible: Kantian personalism cannot be based on a Thomist philosophy of being, and allegorical interpretation of Scripture can never be allowed to influence doctrine once the primacy of history is acknowledged. Indeed, this should be so obvious that one must suspect a degree of disingenuousness or of intellectual posturing.  Nevertheless, behind this is an intellectual conviction (certainly in Ratzinger's case) of doubt regarding the worth and power of human reason especially in the field of history.  Ratzinger's concern for reason, it turns out, is focused on the Platonic manipulation of ahistorical abstractions, as applied allegorically and typologically to Scripture.

We are not alone, it would seem, in harboring these doubts over the wisdom of Ratzinger's approach, and of his promotion of clerics such as Levada who are willing to second his views. N. T. Wright, in his review of Ratzinger's Jesus of Nazareth, The Pope’s Life of Jesus, expresses similar concerns. Note, in the following passage, that Wright cautiously states that Ratzinger “has not simply ignored history.” He appears puzzled at exactly what Ratzinger is about. He duly notes Ratzinger's denials that he is putting theology before the historical cart (which would be inadmissible in an historically based faith) and quotes Ratzinger's desire to combine a “faith-hermeneutic” with “a historical hermeneutic.” But having gone this far with Ratzinger, Wright then expresses his doubts: he clearly suspects Ratzinger is nevertheless attempting to somehow sidestep historical issues: “Many, though, will inevitably see it as a step backwards, to a pre-modern, pre-critical reading which simply pushes the problems to one side and allows the great ecclesial tradition to rumble on as if there had been, after all, no real cause for concern about the reliability of the New Testament in the first place.” Here is the full passage:
Yet he has not simply ignored history. He has read the great German exegetes of the past generation, Protestant as well as Catholic, and draws on them for particular points even though the format of his work does not make for detailed discussion. He denies the suggestion that he is producing a “Christology from above” (in which the orthodox theological cart is placed before the historical horse) by arguing that scholarly exegesis of the New Testament “must see itself once again as a theological discipline, without abandoning its historical character”, forswearing popular but shallow positivism and combining a “faith-hermeneutic” with “a historical hermeneutic” so as “to form a methodological whole”.

The Pope suggests that this is a step forwards. Many, though, will inevitably see it as a step backwards, to a pre-modern, pre-critical reading which simply pushes the problems to one side and allows the great ecclesial tradition to rumble on as if there had been, after all, no real cause for concern about the reliability of the New Testament in the first place. The parallels between this approach and the stance that the Church is perceived to take on some other issues will, naturally, raise eyebrows. The business of whether theology and history can actually meet without a serious explosion is of course a question which, in one form or another (whether through debates on science and religion, or on faith and politics), has stood behind a good deal of intellectual conflict in the West over the past two centuries. Many will take more convincing than is provided in Jesus of Nazareth before they will readily accept such a marriage.
The problem for Wright is that he appears to be unfamiliar with some of Ratzinger's earlier writings on method and interpretation. As a result, while Wright is clearly suspicious that something untoward and anti-historical is afoot, he is unable to put his finger on it. As we have previously discussed (Biblical Interpretation in Crisis: The 1988 Erasmus Lecture), Ratzinger in fact wishes to somehow incorporate faith into the method of Biblical Interpretation—this is what he means by a “faith hermeneutic.” His complaint against the historical-critical method is that “Faith itself is not a component of this method,” and he adopts a frankly deconstructionist stance against what he clearly regards as the pretensions of the historical-critical method (no matter how much he may protest to the contrary) by posing skeptical questions such as: “They want to take the Bible again in its literal purity, just as it stands and just as the average reader understands it to be. But when do I really take the Bible 'literally'?”

The end result of this is clear. Ratzinger's clear tendency is toward a fideism which has no philosophical underpinnings. Christians are part of a “faith tradition,” but unless one is within that “faith tradition” there is really no rational justification for it. Faith, one presumes, will arise as a matter of subjective need or desire. This, of course, is the classic Augustinian approach, which was also that of Newman. It has no warrant in authentic Catholic teaching, however, and ultimately cannot speak to anyone outside the faith. It is, ironically, a rejection of precisely that return to reason that Benedict has called for as the theme of his papacy.

Now, none of this is to deny that the CCC constitutes a valuable reference work or that there is much of worth in it. What it does mean, however, is that the reader must be aware of the agenda of its promulgators and must read it with a critical eye. An awareness of this agenda also suggests that those who adhere to it may be flawed when it comes to formulating a program for the Church's renewal.


  1. Good gravy that was a lot to take in. I'd like to pose some points and questions just so I'm clear on what you wrote.

    (1) I take it that you aren't wholly discounting the role of early Christian writers, such as the Church Fathers, in catechetics and the life of faith; you merely wish them to be presented with an acknowledgment of certain shortcomings and later insights which improved upon their work. Is this correct?

    (2) It is my understanding that NT writers often employed allegorical and typological interpretations of OT passages, for example, in the book of Hebrews and in many if not most citations of Messianic prophecies. You obviously have more scriptural knowledge than I, so please correct me if I'm wrong. If I'm right, then can you please clarify what sort of interpretations you're objecting to and what you meant by saying that Jesus didn't interpret scripture that way?

    (3) I've read the Pope's old book, Introduction to Christianity, and I agree with you that he sometimes leans toward...weirdness. What, then, is your proposed solution to his approach? In brief, what is your paradigm on how we should believe what we believe? I take it that it's a return to Thomistic thought, but how do you make it readily accessible to the average believer? How do you package it in a popular form?

  2. 1. I would also want to distinguish between the Apostolic Fathers who were not as heavily influenced by Platonism from the later Fathers who were. In earlier posts on the identity of God, based on Charles Norris Cochrane's work, I stress that the early Christian thinkers approached their faith from the identification of God as creator and that this was instrumental for development of the full identity of God as Trinity. These insights are enshrined in the Creed and I favor an approach to the faith that stresses the approach of pre-patristic thinkers.

    2. - 3. I would side with Paul in this regard. If Jesus didn't rise from the dead, then no amount of allegory or typology makes any difference. The Christian faith is an historical faith. Ratzinger/Benedict is clear that the historical approach to our faith, including through the early Christian writings, must take precedence--he simply is uncomfortable with that conclusion because he is influenced by post-Kantian thought, which he approaches through what I refer to as the Augustinian tradition. In most of his major writings he struggles with these issues.

    Your example of the letter to the Hebrews is well taken. You will not find anything remotely like that in those sayings that are presented as the direct words of Jesus. In fact, it is also possible to distinguish between those words of Jesus and the theologizing of the four evangelists. Generally speaking, typology appears to be the work of the evangelists rather than of Jesus. Jesus, I would contend, presents himself as sui generis. One example of that is the scene where Jesus challenges the Jewish leaders by asking, Whose son is the Messiah? They respond, David's, to which Jesus replies by showing that a typical "messianic" passage in that regard makes no real sense. Jesus is saying, in effect, that it doesn't matter whose son he is in human terms, and it doesn't matter what the Israelite scriptures say--his true identity has to do with his relationship with the father. His identity is not a question of fulfillment of Jewish writings, it is fact based. My remarks here are very abbreviated, but there is lots more to be said, and which I have tried to say.

    3. As you point out, Benedict is uncomfortable with history. Nevertheless, I believe he does recognize that our belief must be based on the historical reliability of what was handed down by the very earliest church. That includes, but is not limited to, the writings of the earliest church.

    In addition, I take an approach that is similar to that of Chesterton, who was a big fan of Butler's Analogy of Religion. Which is to say: Christian faith includes a philosophy which, as Mark Smith documents, arose as a development from what Eliade calls "archaic ontology" but which in Israelite thought--unlike in all other cultures--developed in the direction of belief in one creator god. Christianity, as revealed in the person of Jesus, refines that insight by showing (cf. Cochrane again) that an infinite creator cannot be "one" in the sense that we understand oneness: this is the philosophical significance of Trinity. Aquinas makes far and away the most adequate philosophical presentation of all this. And it is only in Christianity as revealed in the person of Jesus that we come to this true insight into the structure of reality.

    Benedict's problem is that he appears to accept the Kantian critique of all metaphysics--to include Thomism. This leaves him prey to skeptical tendencies. He knows what he should believe, but from a philosophical standpoint he is unable to see a way to justify a faith that is historical. I believe that the historical approach to the identity of God as I have outlined it in these posts will make the faith more accessible to the average believer.

    This is all highly abbreviated, but you might want to keep it in mind if you continue to work your way through some of these posts.

  3. I'll try to make it briefer.

    As with Paul, I maintain that no amount of allegory or typology can bring us to true Christian faith. True Christian faith is faith in the real person, Jesus, as the self revelation of God. That, for Christian faith, must be embraced as historical fact, not as allegory or typology. The fact that early Christian thinkers expressed their faith through typology doesn't alter the basic principle that Paul expounds.

    While I advocate a "return to Thomism," that isn't exactly what I'm saying. How we come to believe what we believe--the historical facticity of our faith--can only be arrived at through some form of the historical-critical method. Thomism provides the principles to defend this approach, whereas the various forms of Platonism that have formed the dominant Augustinian tradition of the West inevitably lead to skepticism--this is historical fact.

    Christian faith can also be seen as the culmination of man's search for meaning, a search that occurs in time, in history. Thomism provides the most adequate philosophical expression of the insights into the identity of God (and therefore of man, as well, as creature), but those insights gained basically final conclusory form in the early centuries following the revelation of Jesus.

    Thus, the Christian revelation is the culmination of the historical development of man's search for meaning that reached its highest, but still inadequate, form in the thought of Israelite religion. But it is the facticity of the Christian revelation that validates this historical development.

  4. You write: "As with Paul, I maintain that no amount of allegory or typology can bring us to true Christian faith. True Christian faith is faith in the real person, Jesus, as the self revelation of God. That, for Christian faith, must be embraced as historical fact, not as allegory or typology. The fact that early Christian thinkers expressed their faith through typology doesn't alter the basic principle that Paul expounds."

    We are in absolute, total agreement on this principle. However, in my understanding, Platonism is simply the belief that numbers and other abstract things are independent of the physical world and of whatever we use to represent them. How does this lead to historical skepticism, or are you talking about a different sort of Platonism? I ask because the Platonism I'm talking about is a default position for most mathematicians, and I'm no exception. It's natural to treat the concepts we deal with as real entities and I don't readily see how doing this engenders the sort of skepticism you're talking about.

    Returning to exegetical matters, I'd also like to question your assertion that: "Jesus is saying, in effect, that it doesn't matter whose son he is in human terms, and it doesn't matter what the Israelite scriptures say--his true identity has to do with his relationship with the father. His identity is not a question of fulfillment of Jewish writings, it is fact based."

    We are mostly in agreement here; we part ways on the statements, "it doesn't matter what the Israelite scriptures say" and "His identity is not a question of fulfillment of Jewish writings." Yes, Jesus' identity is fact-based, but it seems very important to him personally that he does in fact fulfill Israelite scriptures in the fact of his existence and mission. Jesus actually does use typology frequently, as when he refers to the Sign of Jonah, calls himself "Son of Man" in allusion to the mysterious figure in Daniel, asks the disciples to fetch a donkey for him to ride into Jerusalem on, has Moses and Elijah appear at the Transfiguration, hearkens back to OT events with many of his miracles, etc. If it doesn't matter what Jewish writings say about him, why is Jesus so intent on doing things like he did on the road to Emmaus, where he showed two disciples how the OT referred to him?

    Related to this, you also mention: "Jesus, I would contend, presents himself as sui generis. One example of that is the scene where Jesus challenges the Jewish leaders by asking, Whose son is the Messiah? They respond, David's, to which Jesus replies by showing that a typical "messianic" passage in that regard makes no real sense."

    I don't see this; in my opinion, a more natural reading is that Jesus is trying to show that ancient scripture hints, in a mystical sense, at the messiah's divine origin, which is why David calls his descendant "Lord."

    In my perspective, allegorical and typological interpretations are true insofar as they actually reveal commonalities and similarities between real, concrete, historical events. It's about seeing rhymes within the historical structure, like a poem, and this is a crucial interpretive technique of early Christians, including Jesus. Are you insisting that it conflicts with historical study, or am I misunderstanding you?

  5. A lot of the issues you raise are issues that I have examined at great length over the past 5 years. For example, the nature of Platonism--which is indeed related to the mathematical understanding--is dealt with regularly from 2007 on, especially with regard to Mircea Eliade's understanding of "archaic ontology." I must suggest that you read those earlier posts, rather than have me rewrite them in these comments. Very briefly, however, all forms of Platonism tend toward skepticism as a matter of historical fact, despite the hyper rationalist character of Platonism. The reason is because Platonism is a type of dualism and is unable to overcome the classical problem of the one and the many: it cannot explain how man derives eternally valid knowledge from constantly changing material things. Aquinas is almost uniquely non-Platonist in the history of thought. For more, I'm afraid you'll have to go back to earlier posts, simply adding that Gilson's studies in history confirm the historical record.

    Re exegesis, I would maintain that your examples aren't truly typological in the proper sense, but are more in the nature of metaphors. For example, the references to Jonah. To begin with, two different uses of this story are featured in the Gospels. One is the literal one regarding the relations between the "chosen people" and the gentiles, the other is a veiled reference to the resurrection. But Jesus does not in fact state that Jonah is a prediction of the resurrection--he uses it as a metaphor. Similar considerations apply to your other examples. I refer you to such earlier posts as:

    The One Who Is To Come
    Messy Revelation
    According to the Scriptures
    Israel and Revelation
    Jesus and the Israelite Scriptures

    You write:

    "In my perspective, allegorical and typological interpretations are true insofar as they actually reveal commonalities and similarities between real, concrete, historical events. It's about seeing rhymes within the historical structure, like a poem, and this is a crucial interpretive technique of early Christians, including Jesus. Are you insisting that it conflicts with historical study, or am I misunderstanding you?"

    No, you do not misunderstand me. For details, I refer you to the first two posts mentioned above, in particular. However, I must insist on the difference between metaphor and patristic typological exegesis as well as the difference between finding commonalities and reading commonalities in to recalcitrant historical realities. There is, however, no short way to deal with these issues, and since I've already taken a longer way, I must refer you to that.

  6. In addition to the posts listed above, I also highly recommend:

    Biblical Exegesis in Crisis
    Benedict at Regensburg
    Chesterton's Thomist View of Myth

    Two additional observations:

    1) The preference of Platonized theologians for typology and allegory is typical of the Platonic cast of thought. However, the fact is that God revealed himself definitively in Jesus, who lived a life, a story in the flesh. It is very much my contention that the Platonized theological tradition of the West has preferred to ignore historical issues in preference to seeking conceptual links. Almost as always, Aquinas is the exception. As Benedict has recognized, this traditional approach has reached a crisis stage. The question is, What to do about that?

    2) With regard to reembracing Thomism and its accessibility to the "average believer." The point is not to make the "average believer" into a trained Thomist. The point is to recognize, with Gilson, that Thomism is an explanation of convictions that long predate Aquinas. Primary among those convictions is the centrality of creation to any understanding of reality. Aquinas' central insights can and have been made accessible to average believers over many centuries by standard apologetic writings. In our own day the writings of Chesterton and Lewis are good examples. I would contrast that approach to the ultimately Platonic or even gnostic influenced models of thinkers such as Teilhard de Chardin. The choice is clear: an historical Jesus or a cosmic Christianity.