Saturday, August 20, 2005

Note on Antiochene exegesis

I don't see Steve Hays's response to my objections to Evangelicalism to be an effective answer to the objections that I raise, so I don't feel compelled to say anything other than what I said before. However, he did raise one relevant point that I hadn't raised:

Actually, the GHM is a throwback to the Antiochean school of exegesis, which enjoyed a comeback with the Renaissance, and which, in turn, spurred on the Reformation. Calvin, for one, was a practioner of the GHM.

Of course, I am well aware of the Evangelical reliance on Antiochene exegesis, but far from this being persuasive, I think it is a solid argument for their lack of orthodoxy. To the extent that Antioch produced useful theology, it was the result of using a more moderate and individualized hermeneutic, and even that was by and large inferior to the Christological hermenutic of Ss. Athanasius and Cyril, which set the standard for later orthodoxy. Like the excessive allegorization of Origen (which was not effectively contained until St. Athanasius grounded hermeneutics in concrete Christology), the humanist tendencies of the Antiochene school were quite likely to end up in Nestorian heresy (which, as the fourth-century monk John Cassian rightly observed, is nothing but another version of Pelagianism). The tendency of Antiochene exegesis was likely to lead to the heretical conclusions of Diodore of Tarsus and Theodore of Mopsuestia, both later condemned by the Second Council of Constantinople along with Nestorius and some works of Theodore of Cyrus (although the two Theodores were the most orthodox of those four, owing to their own distinctive hermeneutical styles). John Romanides discusses in detail the difficulties in reconciling the Antiochene theological approach with orthodoxy Christology, problems which persist to the present day.

So far from providing an argument FOR Evangelical hermeneutics, I think the conscious reliance on this method is a fairly convincing argument AGAINST the theological soundness of this method. It is no coincidence that Calvin's sacramental understanding is condemned as Nestorian by his Lutheran opponents; it comes from the same misplaced theological method in his hermeneutics. Like Nestorius, he tries to reason from God's dealings with humans to the nature of God without metaphysical safeguards, and it simply results in a metaphysically untenable theology. I entirely agree that the Reformation represents Antiochene exegesis, and exactly the same tendencies of that method that were condemned at Ephesus, at Chalcedon, and at Constantinople.

UPDATE -- Hays responded here. I anticipated these objections some time ago here (so much for the argument that it "just occurred to me" that Evangelical exegesis was Antiochene). The claim of continuity with the Antiochene method is well-known among Evangelicals and well-known to me personally; see, e.g., David S. Dockery, Biblical Interpretation Then and Now; Gerald L. Bray, Biblical Interpretation: Past and Present. But regardless, the overall philosophical-hermeneutical framework in which hermeneutical techniques are adjudged useful (viz., the method by which one determines what techniques to apply) appears to be primarily a creature of 20th-century German phenomenology (so much so that Bray considers knowledge of Heidegger's Being and Time and Gadamer's Truth and Method to be essential for understanding modern Evangelical hermeneutics), so I stand by my statement that the modern Evangelical method is of recent origin. The fact that the Evangelical method picked out old techniques doesn't demonstrate any continuity of reason for selecting those techniques (with Antioch or with the Reformers), but the fact that the particular techniques selected failed to pick out an orthodox Christology in the past surely does say something about the wisdom of using the Evangelical method to pick out techniques in the first place.

And not because it has anything to do with the subject but just because I nearly rolled off my chair laughing when I realized this, Hays claimed that Chalcedon "offers precious little regarding a positive statement of the hypostatic union" and that it "affirms the respective relata, and disaffirms, by way of negative formulations, reductionistic models of the relation." By miraculous coincidence, this turns out to be exactly what Hays considers the purpose of systematic theology: "to avoid reductionistic formulations that minimize the revealed truth of the respective relata--in making Christ less that human or divine, and in making the members of the Trinity less than personal or divine." What a remarkable coincidence! I suppose that's one alternative to Newman's old "to be deep in history" aphorism: swim to the shallowest interpretation! I guess historical methods for documents are always applicable, except when they aren't... ;-)

Anyway, I only bring this up as more evidence of what I mean by not getting substantive responses. Here, my arguments were entirely compatible with each other, but my interlocutor wasn't even willing to apply the epistemic charity required to assume that I wasn't directly contradicting myself. There's no way I can possibly make myself so clear that people determined to misunderstand can't do it, but that doesn't change the fact that responses based on such misinterpretations don't touch the substance of my objection.