Scott CARL, editor. Verbum Domini and the Complementarity of Exegesis and Theology. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2015. pp. 192. $25.00 pb. ISBN 978-0-8028-7148-0. Reviewed by JASON BERMENDER, Marquette University, Milwaukee, WI 53223.
This book is the first of the Catholic Theological Formation Series sponsored by The Center for Theological Formation at The Saint Paul Seminary School of Divinity, which has the aim “to develop the habits of mind required of a sound intellect, that spiritual aptitude for the truth of God’s living Word and His Church” (i). This inaugural volume is a collection of essays that responds to Pope Benedict XVI’s call for the study of sacred Scripture to be the soul of theological studies in his post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation Verbum Domini and is divided into two parts: 1) The Complementarity of Exegesis and Theology, and 2) The Word of God in the Formation of Seminarians. The first part addresses Catholic biblical hermeneutics and explores the relationship between scientific exegesis and theology. The second part is devoted to providing practical applications of the principles of Catholic biblical interpretation for professors in a seminary setting to help form future priests.
The essays within the first part generally take a strong stance against the exclusive use of the historical critical method and emphasize the neglected spiritual interpretation of scripture. Two essays which serve as an example of uniting exegesis and theology are “Overcoming the Hiatus between Exegesis and Theology: Guidance and Examples from Pope Benedict XVI” by Pablo Gadenz and “The Catholic Use of Scriptures in Ecumenical Dialogue” by Christian D. Washburn. Gadenz presents Cardinal Ratzinger’s view that dogma—as a solemn definition in the Catholic Church—is an interpretation of scripture and that the proper setting for understanding the scriptures is the People of God/Church (45-46). While Raymond Brown admits that dogma has a scriptural basis, he argues that dogmatic formulations—especially the Immaculate Conception and Assumption of Mary—go beyond the biblical text because he does not believe any New Testament text refers to these dogmas in the literal sense and his position serves as an example of the separation of exegesis and theology (52). Gadenz follows Ratzinger’s approach to argue that the Holy Spirit which inspired the biblical authors is the same Spirit who leads the Church in her interpretation of her scriptures so that later dogmatic formulations are not movements away from the literal sense of scripture but deeper insights into the scriptures written under divine inspiration (55). These insights can only be gleaned within the context of the Church and adding a theological component to exegesis. Washburn also presents criticisms of an over-reliance on the historical critical method which can hinder ecumenical dialogue and states that Catholic exegetes should have as their goal the uncovering of what God wants to communicate to us in human language (68). One of the great limitations of the historical critical method is that it does not consider the Bible as a unified work and only a theological reading with Christ as the unifying principle can help address the theological differences between Christian denominations. This would also allow for an acceptance of patristic readings of scripture to understand how early Christians interpreted the Bible—including figurative interpretations—and ecclesial readings which interpret passages in accordance with the Magisterium.
The second part of the book suggests how to implement Catholic biblical principles concretely in Catholic seminaries. Mary Healy’s article, “Verbum Domini and the Renewal of Biblical Preaching,” shows that there has been a de-emphasis on expounding the scripture in homilies over the past thirty years but Verbum Domini calls for homilies to explain the readings in a Christocentric way (115). She then reviews the four senses of scripture and provides a reading of Numbers 13-14 according to these senses that can help shape the content of a homily. The last article in this part, “Combining Synchronic and Diachronic Methodology in Teaching the Pentateuch,” by Michael Magee, suggests structuring a course based upon a synchronic reading of the Bible and interjecting diachronic issues within this framework. In his experience, this led to keeping seminarians interested in the content while making sure they were informed of important historical critical contributions.While this book appears to be limited to an audience of Catholic scripture professors at seminaries, it is actually very pertinent to all Catholic scripture exegetes on various levels. Teachers, preachers, catechists, and missionaries can all gain a solid understanding of Catholic biblical principles that ought to include several methodologies that have been neglected in recent times. Fr. Carl and his contributors have successfully put together a book that helps form Catholics interested in the study of the Bible or teaching it so that Catholics may be better equipped for the ministry of the Word.