"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

History: Instructive but not Normative?

As I have often commented on here (see here, here, and here, inter alia), the problems of how we use and abuse history remain a serious concern and ongoing question to me. This is far from being an exclusively "Eastern" problem, either, as debates among Catholics over such issues as liturgical changes and papal authority easily reveal. In the coming days, I hope to have an interview with the Orthodox historian and priest D. Oliver Herbel about his new book that touches on some of these questions. But in the meantime, a recent collection of essays explores some of these questions, particularly the question of how theology relates to history and vice-versa: T. Merrigan et al, Tradition and the Normativity of History (Peeters, 2013), x+215pp.

About this book we are told:
This collection of essays by some of the world’s leading theological voices aims at unfolding and reflecting upon the complex relationship between theology and history, with a special focus on the development of tradition. The articles gathered here make it clear that the role of historical consciousness within theology and the contribution of historical studies to the theological disciplines, are of paramount importance, and fundamentally alter the shape of the theological enterprise. Rather than destroying theology, tradition and theological truth claims, historical consciousness contributes to the deconstruction of all facile appeals to history in order to support theological claims, and works to prevent us from proposing simplistic readings of tradition in terms of continuity or discontinuity. Moreover, it offers new opportunities to theology to engage in the process of recontextualization in the contemporary context, taking into account its sensibility to historicity, contingency and particularity. It allows us, for example, to think resurrection anew, and to constructively criticize our forgetfulness of dangerous memories. It is not by overcoming these features of the contemporary age that theology will succeed in its striving after theological truth, but by discerning how such truth is revealed precisely within, and thanks to, particular and contingent histories, and not in spite of historicity, contingency and particularity. When this is done, the dialogue between theology and history/historical studies contributes to a contemporary reconsideration of the radical dialogical character of revelation, that is, of the way in which God reveals Godself in history. It is the hope of this collective volume that it will further deepen the understanding of revelation that was developed in Vatican II’s constitution on divine revelation, Dei verbum.

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