Sunday, June 9, 2013

Hermeneutic of Reform

In his inaugural address to the curia in Advent 2005, Pope Benedict spoke against reading the Second Vatican Council as though it had made a rupture with the past.

The historical reasons that contributed to a  sense of rupture--it was the sixties, after all--combined with internal reasons. One thinks of the dearth of documents issued before the last months of the Council, while the public was deluged with breathy news dispatches throughout the Council's course, suggesting revolution.

The Pope Emeritus did not, however, contrast the "hermeneutic of rupture" with a "hermeneutic of continuity," as is often suggested. Rather, his expression for the authentic interpretation was a "hermeneutic of reform," by which he meant "continuity and discontinuity on different levels."

I'm currently reading the first volume of Jesus of Nazareth, and I notice that the Pope Emeritus has used a similar hermeneutic in Biblical studies as well, to interpret the Law of the Old Testament. He writes of the perennial, divine Law, against which all norms must be measured, and the casuistic Law given for a time, to shape the social order. There is continuity and discontinuity, but on different levels, with different purposes.

What is this "reform" all about in the Church? Certainly it is not meant to be the divisive "reforms" that really are revolutionary, factions and schisms and the like.

Maybe reform is the following. Reading and hearing about the lives of the saints in the Liturgy of the Hours or at daily Mass, I've heard time and time again about the "reformers" in the Church. It's almost as though this is a category of saint, like "martyrs" or "apostles" or "virgins." They often had difficulties in their lives, these "reformers." They seemed to be always swimming against the tide. But perhaps what was truly going on was a "hermeneutic of reform," or "continuity and continuity on different levels." They were able to hold constantly to what truly is of perennial value, while interpreting ephemera for what they are.

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