A long-standing complaint of mine is the divorce that occurred between Scripture and Theology in the 19th century (they had been separated for a while before that, but the divorce became final in the 1800′s). The study of the Bible became the sole province of “Scripture scholars” and theologians were no longer allowed to write commentaries or interpret the Bible directly.
This is the opposite of the situation in the early Church, when being a theologian meant that you were a Scripture scholar. Most of the theological works of the Church Fathers are not systematic theology tracts, but instead commentaries on the Word of God. In modern times such a combination became unthinkable, as discussions of the Bible now centered around source and form criticism, not the Trinity or Redemption.
R.R. Reno, editor of the wonderful Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible, has an article decrying this divorce on the First Things website. The Brazos Commentary, an ecumenical endeavor including Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox theologians, is striking in that it attempts to return to the marriage between Scripture and Theology. I have read two of the volumes – the one on Matthew and the one on Acts – and found them to be quite insightful and full of Biblical scholarship in the classical sense of the term.
But what struck me about Reno’s article was the following paragraph:
[In] a popular nineteenth-century Catholic theological textbook for seminarians…doctrine is described as “materially complete,” “formally perfect,” and capable of universal application. In contrast, the historical nature of the biblical material means that its truths are “expressed in the metaphorical language of the East.” This makes Scripture “unfit for the general use of people.” Better, then, to base theology on succinct and authoritative Church doctrine.
From this, it appears that the divorce did not just occur in liberal Protestant circles, but also existed in orthodox Catholic ones as well. However, the contention that the language of tradition is superior to the language of Scripture is a false one. The Pontifical Biblical Commission in 1984 wrote:
The “auxiliary” languages employed in the Church in the course of centuries do not enjoy the same authority, as far as faith is concerned, as the “referential language” of the inspired authors, especially (that) of the New Testament with its mode of expression rooted in the Prior (Testament).
Instruction on Scripture and Christology
This is a profound statement. What it means is that Scripture, not Tradition or the Magisterium, is the primary language of theology. Concepts like grace/nature, faith/reason, theotokos or homoosis, while important and necessary, are ultimately subordinate to the language of Scripture. Any true Catholic theology must be anchored in an interpretation of the Bible, not the other way around.