Bodies and the Body

Posted on January 11, 2008

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Yesterday we managed to divert both Cyril O’Regan, Huisking Professor of Theology at Notre Dame, and Matthew Levering of Ave Maria University to St Andrews to give us papers. In the morning Prof O’Regan explored von Balthasar’s apocalyptic trinitarianism, which helped me to understand why Halden has thought McCormack’s ideas echo Balthasar. In the afternoon, Dr Levering gave us a paper soon to be published in Pro Ecclesia on the theological interpretation of Scripture, a topic we talk a lot about in St Andrews.

Levering explored proposals from O’Collins and from the Princeton Scripture Project before giving us his own account of what theological interpretation ought to look like. It was good stuff. One point got me thinking, however. He suggested that theological interpretation should be ’embodied’, which he glossed by saying that the lives of the Saints (and, perhaps, saints) should be read as privileged interpretations of Scripture.

I don’t disagree with the point (I’ve explored something similar in passing in chapter 2 of my Listening to the Past, indeed), but when elevated to the status of a normative principle for hermeneutics, it made me pause. My instinctive, Baptist/Congregationalist, reaction was to resist locating the normative performance of Scripture in individual lives, and instead to locate it in the lives of Christian communities. ‘Is not the visible church of the New Testament with all the ordinances thereof the chief and principal part of the Gospel?’ asked John Smyth as the Baptists began. I actually believe that the answer is yes.

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