A classic example of the "Hermeneutic of Rupture"

A new terminology has entered the Liberal/Conservative split among Catholics, that of the “hermeneutics of Rupture/Continuity”. As is well known, Papa Benny himself introduced this new paradigm almost 2 years ago in reference to the interpretation of Vatican II in his Christmas address to the Roman Curia. Thanks, your Holiness. Very neat. Very useful.

I hope I am not spoiling anyone’s fun when I point out that the Pope never used the expression “Hermeneutic of Continuity”. What he said was:

On the one hand, there is an interpretation that I would call “a hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture”; it has frequently availed itself of the sympathies of the mass media, and also one trend of modern theology. On the other, there is the “hermeneutic of reform”, of renewal in the continuity of the one subject-Church which the Lord has given to us. She is a subject which increases in time and develops, yet always remaining the same, the one subject of the journeying People of God.

So the fact that Benedict XVI repudiates the idea that Vatican II was not a “rupture” doesn’t mean that he thinks the Council mandated “more of the same”. Of course there was change. There was “reform”. But this “reform” was not a “revolution” (as Past Elder wants you to think). It was a “renewal in the continuity of the one subject-Church”. So, changes yes, but change of the subject, no.

A good example, if you really need one, of the “hermeneutic of rupture” is the latest diatribe by Professor Swindler on the Catholica website. According to Catholica Dr Swindler is “Professor of Catholic Thought and Interreligious Dialogue at Temple Univierty, Philadephia. He is also one of the founders of the Association for the Rights of Catholics in the Church (ARCC) and its current president.” That sounds like a nice group. Maybe we should start one called “The Duties of the Faithful in the Church” or something of that ilk…

Anyway, Dr Swindler claims that there were “five Copernican Revolutions” that came with Vatican II:

The Turn Toward Freedom,
The Turn Toward the Historic-Dynamic,
The Turn Toward This World,
The Turn Toward Inner Church Reform,
The Turn Toward Dialogue.

The funny thing is, as you read through his “analysis” which Catholica tells us is “packed with information and insight”, he barely quotes from the council documents themselves to support his thesis. In general, I do think that a case can be made to say the Council Fathers did think along these lines. But Swindler doesn’t make such a case, he just asserts it; and then he insists that these represent “Copernican Revolutions” (by which I take it means a complete change) from what went before.

I think if he really took the time to examine the Council documents he would find more evidence of continuity (albeit in line with reform) than of the rupture he suggests.

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10 Responses to A classic example of the "Hermeneutic of Rupture"

  1. Past Elder says:

    As Past Elder wants you to think?

    What Past Elder wants you to think is in Scripture, and correctly taught in the Book of Concord.

    Dr Swindler speaks of five Copernican Revolutions. Dr Maher speaks of The Revolution.

    You say you want a revolution, we-ell, you know … Guess what, everybody knew it was a revolution. The only question was, was it a good thing or a bad thing, and among those who thought it a good thing, how far.

    So read the Documents of Vatican II (unless of course you have something else to do, like earn a living or raise a family, something none of its authors do). See if it describes what went before essentially. See if it describes what you see around you now.

  2. Schütz says:

    Just a question, PE: Why is the Book of Concord such a trustworthy guide to true doctrine? How do you know that what it teaches is “correct”? Is it just your gut feeling? Is it (as they say in a famous film here in Oz) “the vibe” that convinces you?

  3. Christine says:

    David, I’d guess that you’ve probably run across Lutheran author Holsten Fagerberg’s A New Look at the Lutheran Confessions. The book deals with Reformation theology in terms of its historical context and its relevance to the late 20th-century theological scene.

    Carl Braaten, although he has remained in the ELCA up till now remains solidly Christocentric and catholic; he raises some of the same issues in his analysis of the BOC and in terms of theological development since the post-reformation period. The Book of Concord, the Westminster and Heidelberg Confessions — all of them speak to their time and place and are documents of their time and place.

    It’s not so much what they say — as what they don’t say — that lead me to investigate the ancient catholic roots of the Church and drew me back to the Catholic Church.

    Let Past Elder beat the same old drum. I’ll take the wisdom of an astute Lutheran theologian and Pastor such as Braaten.

  4. Past Elder says:

    Well gee, the Catholic Church, after Vatican II, taught me that Scripture itself spoke to its time and place and are documents of their time and place.

    Who’s got an old drum?

    No, I do not believe the Book of Concord is a correct exposition of Scripture on a gut feeling or the vibe.

    Now — you didn’t think I’d notice the conclusion you wanted me to fall into? — may I ask why the Catholic Church is such a trustworthy guide to doctrine, or, how do you know what it teaches is “correct” (let’s simply matters and just take that to refer to what the Catholic Church teaches now as opposed to the other Catholicisms it has taught over time).

  5. Schütz says:

    1 Tim 3:15 “The Church of the Living God is the pillar and bulwark of the truth”. That’s my reason, PE.

    But while you have told me that you do not accept that the Book of Concord is a trustworthy guide to true Christian doctrine on the basis of “a gut feeling or vibe”, you still haven’t told me what your basis is.

  6. Past Elder says:

    Here, it doesn’t matter what my basis is. Let’s just skip to the chase. No matter what basis is offered, it will be invalidated here as personal judgement unless rooted in the supposed authority of the Roman church, which clearly did not issue the Book of Concord.

    Which is why I asked the question of you instead of answering it. To me, your answer says it all, and makes any answer of mine or anyone else’s rejected a priori.

    What is at question is not what St Paul wrote to Timothy. We do not differ on that. Where we differ is identifying in “the church of the living God” with the Roman Catholic Church, which is neither proven nor asserted in the passage. And in the past, when I made that identification myself, we would differ in that I identified it with a church that other than superficially through historical antecedent is not at all the present entity called Roman Catholic Church, not even close, and no longer exists.

  7. Schütz says:

    You’re dodging still, old boy.

    I am prepared to accept that you trust the Book of Concord on some basis other than personal judgement. To be honest, I have, of course, used “personal judgement” to reach the opinion that the Catholic Church is “the Church of the living God” to which St Paul refers, on the basis of the logic of continuity. You judge me to be wrong on that. Fine. But I have given you a reason and a justification for why I put my trust in the Catholic Church.

    You haven’t given me any reason why you trust the Book of Concord to be a reliable source of true Christian doctrine.

    Go on. Convince me.

  8. Past Elder says:

    Jumping Judas Priest.

    I am not going to convince you of anything. Faith does not come by the working of Dr Maher. And, as I read on some blog somewhere recently, there are none so blind as those who will not see.

    A combox is not long enough to lay this out. Nonetheless, here are a few related point, though not an exhaustive exposition.

    When I was first taught Lutheranism in WELS, there was no reference to the Book of Concord at all. Rather, it was Adult Information Class, which used its own curriculum, at each point saying not to accept this because they said it, but to read the Bible for yourself and see if you agree that what is being taught is what is being taught in the Bible. I would not have been disposed to read the BOC at all except the pastor gave me a copy (Tappert) having observed the next point.

    I think religious blogdom hates theology by anecdote, but here it is. During class, I hauled out a book I had bought years before but never read, a collection of three treatises by Martin Luther, and began reading that. One of the essays is Babylonian Captivity, which shook me to the core, producing tears of both joy and sadness. From what I had seen and lived through, it could have been just written — up to and including things he calls unmentionable — and called forth tears of sadness that here in entirely different circumstances he saw what I saw, I saw what he saw, and it was there to be seen. But with that came tears of joy too, especially at his treatment of the Mass (remember, at this point I would not have called myself Christian, let alone Catholic or Lutheran) as he so beautifully laid out the nature of the Mass, saying cleanly and clearly what the church of my experience had hemmed and hawed to say, and when he concluded with “who would not faint for joy at the thought of such a Saviour” I about fainted myself. Here was no grumpy old German deciding for himself what is true and what is false but the most truly Catholic thing I had ever read!

    I spoke to the pastor about this, and he gave me Tappert. The Book of Concord, in sum, extended to Christianity as a whole what Babylonian Captivity had done with the sacraments, especially the mass. Rather than some crabby Germans setting up a church after their own desires, here was just what it said it was, not some new religion but the catholic faith, not some new church but the catholic church, at every point supporting its continuity, speaking of continuity, with Scripture and tradition that does not depart from Scripture, the books the church itself said you could trust above all others. To paraphrase my reaction to the Mass passage, here was what the church of my experience hemmed and hawed to say and to be, here was the catholic church indeed, and I was really not about to convert to anything but simply take my place in the same church I had always been in, the only church there is, in a parish walking with other parishes where the Gospel is rightly preached and the sacraments rightly administered.

    Personal judgement? Isn’t it all. Even he who believes because the authority of the Catholic church convinces him first makes a personal judgement that the Catholic church has that authority.

    Now, I actually don’t judge you to be wrong that the Catholic Church is the church of the living God to which St Paul refers. You can read Scripture and the teachings of the Lutheran church as I was invited to and come to your own conclusions (your mother in law too, who seems to have her head on right about this). A person could indeed come to the conclusion that the Catholic Church is the church of the living God to which St Paul refers. I did for years, though I would not now having experienced what I have experienced, which I take to be the gift of the Holy Ghost. Where I judge you to be wrong is in identifying the miserable farce at best and wretched lying foul barge of bilge and bile at worst that now claims under the same name to be that Catholic Church!

    Well, as the phrase goes, hope that helps!

  9. Schütz says:

    Yes, it does help. It helps a great deal. “The Babylonian Captivity” spoke to you, deeply. You’re not the first. It caused a storm when it was first printed.

    Interestingly, it was a storm that Luther himself retreated from somewhat. The years between 1521 and 1525 “shook him to the core”, to borrow your phrase. He saw that much of what he wrote was responsibile for the revolution (a REAL revolution) and chaos happening around him. The man who came thundering out of the Wartburg, and three years later who implored the princes to put down the Peasant’s Revolution, and four years later who refused to join with Zwingli because of his anti-sacramentalism, and later who wrote “The Great Confession on the Lords Supper”, was a very, very different and much much wiser Martin Luther than the naive monk who penned “The Babylonian Captivity”. Moreover, the only books of Luther’s that got into the Book of Concord were his Catechisms and his Schmalkald articles. Both are from the “later Luther”, not the headstrong monk. The central document of the Augsburg Confession was not penned in opposition to the Catholic Church but as an olive branch in the hope that the new evangelical doctrines would be accepted as orthodox (hence they are couched in the most orthodox possible terminology).

    Look, all of this is to say that the Book of Concord is, on the whole, a much more considered document than, say, the “Babylonian Captivity of the Church”. But how can you be so sure that its various authors, working under the pressure of various political crises, got it right?

  10. Past Elder says:

    When I was a Catholic, I knew of the Book of Concord but considered it not worth reading spiritually.

    First something of an expanded creed to state you belief, then an expansion on the expansion to say what it really said, then more stuff, then fifty years later a bunch of other guys saying what it all really says. Just what you’d expect when, however well intentioned, you depart from the teaching authority Christ gave his Church and go it yourself.

    I think it illustrates well, that the BofC is largely not the work of Luther, that “Lutheranism” is not about Luther, but about doctrine and practice. His own writings apart from the Catechisms are not confessional documents, which I think reflects a good thing, not a questionable one.

    And there is no question that the situation that ensued in Luther’s own time, or that obtains in ours, is not what Luther had in mind. I think it must have been agonising for him to see things unfold as they did, so different than his hopes. In addition to the ecclesiatical upheaval, was the earthly princes who got behind him not out of religious conviction but for their own gain. I think Luther wanted very little of what happened, and was surprised to put it mildly when it did.

    Related to which, yes, the confessions absolutely are not penned in opposition to the catholic church, but I would put the rest differently, not in hope that “the new evangelical doctrines would be accepted as orthodox” but in hope that the teaching therein be seen as not new at all but the true evangelical and orthodox teachings from which the church had varied.

    So yes the BofC is a more considered document that the essays of the younger Luther. And I would not say Babylonian Captivity is necessarily the place to start, end, or even mess with for one seeking to be convinced of Lutheranism. You know the phrase, cor ad cor loquitur? Maybe the writings of a hot headed young scandalised monk are simply where the Holy Spirit knew someone who had been a hot headed scandalised guy around the Abbey from ages 18-22 needed to start.

    Then too. brother, how can you be so sure that the various people who have spoken authoritatively for the Roman church, all of them working under the pressure of various crises political and otherwise, got it right?

    All about magisterium, isn’t it, and in back of that is there or is there not an authoritative structure conserved across time in the manner in which Rome considers the episcopacy?

    I would say, the answer to that is what would make or almost compel one to be Roman Catholic, however much one might agree with Luther or however much one might have reservations about the Roman church’s direction in the last few decades.

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