Monday, March 5, 2018

UPDATED: A Colloquy with Fr Hunwicke on Typology--And Much Else

Fr John Hunwicke, the erudite liturgical scholar, recently published a blog post in which he took up the cudgels in defense of the traditional typological form of exegesis: The Liturgy of the Hours, friday week 2; eviscerated! He even went so far as to maintain that typological exegesis is the only defense against problematic passages in the Psalms:

The reason why it is so questionabe to expurgate a psalm in the way that LH does is: expurgation still leaves words like "There is no crime or sin in me, O Lord", and leaves them decontextualised . If such things are said simplistically, they can only foster a very dangerous sense of of complacency and self-righteousness. ...
I am not one who believes that every psalm needs to be read in the Divine Office. History gives imperfect support for such an integralist approach to the Book of Psalms and their use in Christian worship. ...
Lastly, I draw your attention to the root of the problem: the loss in the Western Church of the Typological Method which was the heart of scriptural exegesis in both the Patristic and Medieval periods and in both East and West. When people discuss the authority and inerrancy of Scripture, dicussion often seems nowadays to be mired in reductionist considerations ... Of course vast swathes of Scripture provide enormous difficulties ... are in fact not so much unusable as potentially positively poisonous ... IF we do not trace out the richly complex patterns of intertextuality which formed the basis of their apprehension by Christians before the dark shadow of the 'Enlightenment' fell upon the study of Scripture. The Bible is, indeed, highly dangerous if we do not use it in the Tradition. Reducing Scriptural semiotics to the naked Historicism of the 'Enlightenment' is to hand the Bible over to the Devil.

I offered the following comment:

I"m unaware of Jesus ever tracing out "the richly complex patterns of intertextuality" when explaining Scripture or teaching. Some might say, how about when he "opened" the Scriptures to the disciples on the road to Emmaus? but unfortunately neither this nor any other example of Dominical "tracing out" was actually preserved by the disciples. What was preserved was examples of remarkably modern, if you will, exegesis. For example, when Jesus offered his teaching on divorce he stated that Moses--Moses, be it noted, not God in the revealed Word of God as we V2ers are wont to incessantly repeat--allowed divorce out of the hardness of their hearts. If we take that approach seriously, and of course we should, I suspect that Jesus didn't have much time for typology, any more than he had for the "traditions of men."
Typological exegesis is fundamentally subjective in nature, and basing it on the tradition of men doesn't alter that fact. I suggest that what the Church really needs is to free itself from the false either-or dichotomy of Typology v. Enlightenment style rationalism. To paraphrase Paul, if our faith is based on "richly complex patterns of intertextuality" then ...

To which Fr Hunwicke responded:

Well, Mr Wauck, even liberal commentators seem to be convinced that the Lord really did see himself as the antitype of the Temple. And if you are right in your conviction that he had little time for Typology, clearly SS Peter and Paul got things badly wrong. We seem to be back to the dreary old liberal Prod nonsense about how the Apostles completely misunderstiood etc. etc.. Not in my name!!

I offered a somewhat lengthier comment in response (available in full at Fr Hunwickes blog, linked above), which I've edited to avoid repetition of material that appears in the rest of the post, below:

The whole issue of the proper approach to scripture is, of course, too complex and important a topic to be dealt with readily in the comments section of a blog. ...
To the liberal commentators who "seem to be convinced" that Jesus saw himself in terms of typology--as regards the Temple, Torah, and other familiar Jewish "symbols"--I would reply as follows:
... [see below]
What we see here is that, of course Jesus is speaking with a consciousness of Jewish symbolism and institutions, but he goes well beyond typology to address what we might call his own unique existential reality that surpasses all types.

In the fuller response that follows, which will still be inadequate to the full scope of the issues raised, I'll write as if I were responding to Fr Hunwicke directly.

First of all I want to be clear that I welcomed some of your remarks--specifically concerning the problematic nature of many passages in the psalms for any Christian. Certainly, the faith of a Christian who doesn't find some of the psalms troublesome is in need of challenge. And the same goes for significant other portions of the OT. It's for reasons along these lines that I find B16's recommendation of "canonical exegesis" hopelessly simplistic. And I will add in that regard that both as head of CDF and as pope Ratzinger did feel constrained to confirm the absolutely fundamental nature of historical critical scholarship--despite his obvious reservations which I've documented amply elsewhere. What I'm suggesting, and for all my criticisms of Benedict I believe he would be on my side in this, is that the Church stands very much in need of--and get ready for this--a new paradigm for understanding revelation. That's a huge topic, susceptible to misunderstanding of the either/or type: either typology or Enlightenment rationalism (dreary old liberal Prod nonsense). It may then be useful to quickly address your rapid fire objections.

Did Jesus claim to be an "antitype" of the Temple? I suggest not: "I tell you, something greater than the Temple is here." Jesus is placing himself above the Temple. That's not typological language. To extend that thought, a major point in the Sermon on the Mount is that Jesus is placing himself above the Torah--not truly as a type of the Torah. And his listeners understood this dynamic: he teaches as one having authority (on his own authority), you're making yourself equal to God, etc. And so I repeat what I said earlier--Jesus' stance toward the Israelite/Jewish scriptures has a remarkable and decidedly modern--but not modernist--cast to it. His demolition of expectations of a Davidic messiah ("YHWH said to my lord ... then how can the Messiah be David's son?") comes immediately to mind, as does his deconstruction of the ideology of chosenness based on blood ("God can raise up children of Abraham from these stones"). I think this analysis can be applied throughout the Gospels when we're dealing with the words of Jesus, and can be clearly distinguished from editorial (not redactorial) comment. We need to seriously reflect on the fact that the Gospels are complex documents, both historical and theological in nature, both from the perspective of Jesus himself as well as that of the authors.

Did Peter and Paul get things badly wrong? Paul certainly thought Peter got things badly wrong in the episode at Antioch--actually accusing Peter of acting in a way that was "inconsistent with the truth of the Gospel." That's a pretty serious accusation. Does it mean, then, that Peter's own letters are to be regarded as letters of straw? No. But it does suggest that, just as the early Church--including its leaders--was still coming to terms with the reality of Jesus, so too we need to be careful about hastily and uncritically embracing everything we read either in the early Christian writings themselves or in the writings of the Fathers. Was Paul himself too accommodating regarding the practice of proxy baptism--his approach appears inconsistent with the principles he lays out in Romans and was rejected by the Church. Was he too rigorist in his strictures on women's head covering ("for the sake of the angels")? Perhaps--and those are among the easier examples that could be cited.

But how about Paul and his well known fondness for Midrashic exposition and typology (the rock is Christ, etc.)? Here I would make two suggestions. The first is that Paul faced different challenges than we do today. In his argumentation with Jews or Judaizers or those who were simply under the influence of Jewish style exegesis Paul turned their arguments against them. But our challenges are different, and Paul himself acted differently in two other circumstances, both of which are telling, and both of which are highly relevant to our current crisis--faced as we are with neo-gnostic attempts to reinterpret the "truth of the Gospel" in terms of modernist ideologies.

First--when push came to shove. When push came to shove, Paul rested his argument firmly on historical fact, not typology: If Christ be not risen ...

Secondly, when Paul sought to lay out the gospel that he proclaimed in a systematic way--in Romans, but especially in the critical first two chapters of that letter in which he sketches out the principles of what we could call his theology or even theory of Man in history--we find nothing in the way of typology. What we do find is a remarkably modern--but, again, not modernist--line of thought. A line of thought worthy of a disciple of Jesus.

So, very briefly, the approach to revelation that I suggest is based on Paul's theology of Man in history, according to which Jew and Gentile stand on a similar footing--but according to which Israel is God's vehicle to prepare for His self revelation in Jesus--and John's view of the purpose of revelation: to reveal the identity of the God who is creator and Father. I have illustrated this approach throughout this blog, and notably in analyzing the ideas of the Catholic scholar Mark S. Smith. This, I maintain, is the prism or paradigm through which to view the Israelite scriptures in their relationship to God's self revelation in Jesus--and thus to the New Testament writings. I don't say this is an easy path, but ease of passage was never part of the promise. I simply maintain that these principles are sound and allow us to 1) distinguish between the legitimate uses of critical scholarship in the social sciences (history, linguistics, etc.) and the false appeal to a deconstructive rationalism; and to 2) restrain appeals to typology to their proper use, avoiding the inherent tendency toward subjectivism in this approach when applied to exegesis. This latter point is of great importance for us at this juncture in history because in a modern context I believe a reliance on typology can too readily be deformed in a modernist direction. The great challenge facing the Church is to reconnect to Apostolic Tradition in its historical reality. A "traditionalism" that yields to the ideological temptation and seeks refuge in the "traditions of men"--even those of the Fathers--in the form of a typology that cuts itself off from the objective reality of Jesus cannot be faithful to the "truth of the Gospel," which is Jesus. To criticize this type of "traditionalism" need not mean to succumb to Enlightenment rationalism or its modernist offspring. That is a false dichotomy.

In closing, let me add as I have in the past: The fear of reason is not the beginning of wisdom. As Fr. Brown explained to Flambeau how he saw through Flambeau's masquerade as a priest in The Blue Cross: “You attacked reason,” said Father Brown. “It’s bad theology.” This is the great temptation to which so many in the Church have yielded, and which we must overcome. It is at the heart of the current debacle of Catholic morality and theology.

FURTHER UPDATE: As of March 25, 2018, I'm no longer commenting at Fr Hunwicke's blog. Fr Hunwicke wrote me an email objecting to the views I've expressed and intimating that he would no longer enable my comments if they expressed views that 1) question the orthodoxy or even the wisdom of Ratzinger/Benedict, or 2) question the absolutely fundamental nature of typology for Christian discourse. So I'll no longer be submitting comments to his blog as I don't wish to self-censor.


  1. That's too bad. ABS enjoyed your comments there.

    When he comments there ABS is always aware of who that priest seems to be- an intelligent and good man but one who is not too keen on Tradition and so ABS always moderates or truncates what he thinks.

    Besides, it is his blog and one has to be aware he is, so to speak, an invited guest in his house...

  2. Unfortunately, in the current state of the Church to allow the misguided and dishonest denial that Ratzinger has been a major part of the problem for his entire career to go unchallenged is simply irresponsible.