Wednesday, 2 March 2022

A scientific approach - grammatico-historico critical under-structure

 O what a pile of loaded words. Approach - science - grammar - history - critical - under-structure. (The phrase is in Keil and Delitzsch, Commentary on the Psalms p 48.)

What framework (under-structure - infra-structure) do we possess - to get into the life, heart, and mind of another whose work we know through their writing, our view of their culture and history, our understanding of their language and our critical faculties applied to the hints of their experience?

Is the created order capable of self-understanding? Will anyone see clearly? Does grammar help?

Escher - reducing infinity to a circle
Enough of the rhetorical questions. Another book I am delighting in is The End of Everything, Astrophysically Speaking. Our brains have driven us to the precision of mathematics for the description of physical theory. But we struggle to escape our fundamental assumptions. When they are violated by observation, the theories change. We strive for completeness and discover uncertainty and probability at every stage.

As I reread @Astrokatie I am struck by the limits we have to place on ourselves from the cosmological principle to labeling things as dark (matter / energy) to our having to reduce our visualizations to 2 dimensions - with some very clever results. With the speed of light being constant, I feel very alone in my observational universe where everything I see is already past by at least a few nanoseconds. Why should I have confidence in grammar?

Because it's fun to try things. And if we are to love as we are loved - in the presence - then we must try to understand with precision. And also with imprecision, the imprecise tools we have to hand: natural language, music, and the immeasurables of our lives.

Let's hope that we have a modicum of success in our fun and are not destroyed by criticism that calls our interpretation "superficial, and capriciously allegorical and forced" as Dr. D names Eusebius in his ignorance. But he has kinder words for Athanasius: His book: πρὸς Μαρκελλῖνον εἰς τὴν ἑρμηνείαν τῶν ψαλμῶν ([to Marcellinus on the interpretation of the Psalms] in the same vol. of the Benedictine edition) is a very beautiful essay. He has good words for several others, notably

Hilarius Pictaviensis, in the Western church, wrote his allegorizing (after Origen's example) Tractatus in librum Psalmorum with an extensive prologue, which strongly reminds one of Hippolytus. We still have his exposition of Ps. i. ii. ix. xiii. xiv. li. lii. liii-lxix. xci. cxviii-cl (according to the numbering of the LXX); according to Jerome (Ep. ad Augustin. cxii) it is transferred from Origen and Eusebius. It is throughout ingenious and pithy, but more useful to the dogmatic theologian than to the exegete.

 His knowledge of the ancients is clearly extensive - 

He [Hilary] and Ambrose have pronounced the highest eulogiums on the Psalter. The latter says: Psalmus enim benedictio populi est, Dei laus, plebis laudatio, plausus omnium, sermo universorum, vox Ecclesice, fidei canora confessio, auctoritatis plena devotio, libertatis Icetitia, clamor jucunditatis, Icetitia? resultatio. Ab iracundia mitigat, a sollicitudine abdicat, a moerore allevat. Nocturna arma, diurna magisterial scutum in timore, festum in sanctitate, imago tranquilliiatis, pignus pads atque concordice, citharce modo ex diversis et disparibus vocibus unam exprimens cantilenam. Diei ortus psalmum resultat, psalmum resonat occasus. 

Via Google here is a translation:

For the psalm is the blessing of the people, the praise of God, the praise of the people, the applause of all, the speech of all, the voice of the Church, a melodious confession of faith, full of authority, devotion, freedom, craving, crying of joy, craving! a result. He calms them from anger, disowns them from anxiety, lifts them up from grief. Nocturnal weapons, a newspaper magisterial shield against fear, a feast in sanctity, an image of tranquility, a pledge of pads and a harmonious harp that expresses one song from different and different voices. The rising of the day echoes the psalm, the setting echoes the psalm. 

We can go on with Delitzsch and read his brief views of Chrysostom, Theodore, Augustine, and many others - this chapter is now corrected (in haste) and available for reading including his sweeping criticism.

The defects to be found in the ancient exposition of the Psalms are in general the same in the Greek and in the Western expositors. To their want of acquaintance with the text of the original  was  added their unmethodical, irregular mode of procedure, their arbitrary straining of the prophetic character of the Psalms (as e. g. Tertullian, De spectaculis, takes the whole of Ps. i as a prophecy concerning Joseph of Arimathea), their unhistorical perception, before which all differences between the two Testaments vanish, and their misleading predilection for the allegorical method. In all this, the meaning of the Psalms, as understood by the apostles, remains unused; they appropriate it without rightly apprehending it, and do not place the Psalms in the light of the New Testament fulfilment of them, but at once turn them into New Testament language and thoughts.

 But there must be a contrast:

Wherever you turn, writes Jerome to the widow of Marcellus from the Holy Land, the plowman holding the corn plow sings Hallelujah, the sweaty reaper calls himself psalms, and, pruning down the curve with a coarse scythe, the vinedresser sings something of David. These are the songs in this province, these (as it is commonly said) amorous songs, here the whistle of the shepherds, these the weapons of culture. The delights of country life he commends to Marcella in the following among other words: In truth the field is painted with flowers, and among the plain birds the Psalms will be sung sweeter. In Sidonius Apollinaris we find even psalm-singing in the mouth of the men who tow the boats, and the poet takes from this a beautiful admonition for Christians in their voyage and journey through this life:

The winding dance of the helciarum
Hallelujah to the banks
He raises his friend to Christ with a shout.
Sing thus, thus, sailor, traveler!

He has little good to say of the Middle Ages - 

The mediaeval church exposition did not make any essential advance upon the patristic... If you know one of these expositors, you know them all. The most that they have to offer us is an echo of the earlier writers. By their dependence on the letter of the Vulgate, and consequently indirectly of the LXX, they only too frequently light upon a false track and miss the meaning. The literalis sensus is completely buried in mysticae intelligentiae. Without observing the distinction between the two economies, the conversion of the Psalms into New Testament language and thought, regardless of the intermediate steps of development, is here continued. 

but this makes me think that in the 19th century, if you were a real scholar with good access to libraries and both Christian and Jewish tradition, you might have been able still to read almost everything that had been written about the Psalms. I get the impression from Dr. D that he has. 

He moves from this survey of Christian tradition to the Hebrew tradition: 

The interpretations of passages from the Psalms scattered up in the Talmud are mostly unsound, arbitrary, and strange. And the Midrash on the Ps., ...contain far more that is limitlessly digressive than what is to the point and usable.

He is much more positive about developments after 900 beginning with Saadia Gaon. He mentions the Karaites - a group I must find out more about - and then he notes the work of

Rashi (d. 1105)... he has not only treasured up with pithy brevity the traditional interpretations scattered about in the Talmud and Midrash, but also (especially in the Psalms) made use of every existing grammatico-lexical help. 

Aben-Ezra of Toledo (d. 1167) and David Kimchi of Narbonne (d. about 1250) are less dependent upon tradition, which for the most part expended itself upon strange interpretations. The former is the more independent and genial, but seldom happy in his characteristic fancies; the latter is less original, but gifted with a keener appreciation of that which is simple and natural, and of all the Jewish expositors he is the preeminently grammatico-historical interpreter. 

Of these and others in the Jewish traditions, he notes that 

Their knowledge of the Hebrew gives all these expositors a marked advantage over their Christian cotemporaries, but the veil of Moses over their eyes is thicker in proportion to their conscious opposition to Christianity.

He moves his survey to the reformation

Now, however, when a new light dawned upon the church through the Reformation — the Light of a grammatical and deeply spiritual understanding of Scripture, represented in Germany by Reuchlin and in  France by Vatablus — then the rose-garden of the Psalter began to breathe forth its perfumes as with the renewed freshness of day;  and born again from the Psalter, German resounded from the shores of the Baltic to the foot of the Alps with all the fervour of a newly quickened first-love. "It is marvellous"—says the Spanish Carmelite Thomas a Jesu,— "how greatly the hymns of Luther helped forward the Lutheran cause. Not only the churches and schools echo with them, but even the private houses, the workshops, the markets, streets, and fields." 

Calvin introduced the Psalms in Marot's version as early as 1542 into the service of the Geneva church, and the Psalms have since continued to be the favorite hymns of the Reformed church. Goudimel, the martyr of St. Bartholemew's night and teacher of Palestrina, composed the melodies and chorales. The English Established church adopted the Psalms direct as they are, as a portion of its liturgy, the Congregational church followed the example of the sister-churches of the Continent. 

The survey goes on to the post-reformation through Romish expositors (1550-1650), its decline into scholasticism, the protestant decline c 1745, becoming "torpid", and even losing "revealed religion", degenerating into a "merely literary, or at most poetical, interest." Then he is right up to his colleagues that were published in his present day. 

It has been the honour of Herder that he has freed psalm-exposition from this want of taste, and the merit of Hengstenberg (first of all in his Lectures), that he has brought it back out of this want of spirituality to the believing consciousness of the church.... De Wette's commentary on the Psalms (first published in 1811, 5th edition by Gustav Baur, 1856) was far more independent and forms an epoch in exegesis. 

He has both praise and criticism for his peers

We stand neither on the side of this scepticism, which everywhere negatives tradition, nor on the side of that self confidence, which mostly negatives it and places in opposition to it its own positive counter-assumptions; but we do not on this account fail to recognise the great merit which Olshausen, Hupfeld and Hitzig have acquired by their expositions of the Psalms. In Olshausen we prize his prominent talent for critical conjectures; in Hupfeld grammatical thoroughness, and solid study so far as it is carried; in Hitzig the stimulating originality everywhere manifest, his happy perspicacity in tracing out the connection of the thoughts, and the marvellous amount of reading which is displayed in support of the usage of language and of that which is admissible according to syntax. ...None of these expositors are in truly spiritual with the spirit of the psalmists.

He longs for some rivalry with the Romish and the Greek church.

Would that the zealous industry of Bade and Reinke, the noble endeavours of Schegg and König, might set an example to many in the Romish church! Would that also the Greek church on the basis of the criticism of the LXX defended by Pharmakides against Oikonomos, far surpassing the works on the Ps. of Nicodimos and Anthimos, which are drawn from the Fathers, might continue in that rival connection with German scholarship...

Non plus ultra is the watchword of the church with regard to the word of God, and plus ultra is its watchword with regard to the understanding of that word. Common work upon the Scriptures is the finest union of the severed churches and the surest harbinger of their future unity. The exposition of Scripture will rear the Church of the Future.

 Dr. D has laid out an extensive framework: Approach - science - grammar - history - critical - under-structure. Those are his words. I will continue with the last section of his introduction on a preliminary theology. I should have studied this teacher years ago - but we all have our own paths to tread. [And I know I am going to take his strict conservative approach to the text with a grain of salt.]

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