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Critical of Criticism

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Written by Basil on 07/18/2006 9:50 PM. Filed under:


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Journeyman James on higher criticism and the St. Stephen’s Course (a correspondence course administered by the Antiochian Archdiocese primarily for late vocations):

Apparently we’ve had folks in the parish want to quit the course altogether because whoever is running St. Stephen’s insists on focussing on that laborious, unsalvific, heterodox nonsense.

I met a certain person at the St. Tikhon’s Pilgrimage, who asked me what seminary I was thinking of attending. Replying that I was looking at probably attending St. Vladimir’s, he replied, “Oh, that’s fine, if you like higher criticism and heresy in the classroom.” So I suppose James is not alone in his distrust of criticism and those in the Church who participate in it.

Higher criticism is simply a tool for better understanding a text — any text. God-inspired Scripture is still a collection of texts written by men — and possibly women — and liable of the same analysis as any other text. Many people make at least four mistakes — especially those coming from an evangelical background:

  1. Critical analysis of a text determines its meaning. In fact: It only assists us in properly understanding the literal meaning of a text. However, the Church believes in at least three other senses of meaning besides the literal: the anagogical, the allegorical, and the moral. These derive from the literal, but we learn them primarily through the writings of the fathers.
  2. Criticism deprives the text of its God-inspired character. In fact: Learning how a text was written and understood in its original context has no effect whatsoever on whether or not it was inspired of God. Learning that Saint So-and-so didn’t actually write the Epistle of So-and-so to the Such-and-suchians does not mean it is suddenly no longer God-inspired. The Holy Spirit through the living Tradition of the Church still determines the meaning of the text.
  3. All critical theories and hypotheses stand on equal footing. In fact: This is definitely not the case. Some critical theories have withstood the test of time, such as that there was a stable, possibly written, source that both Matthew and Luke used for the material that is not included in Mark. Others will fade like the wind.
  4. The Jesus Seminar is a bunch of crap. In fact: OK. That’s not a mistake; they really are all nut-cases. Especially the supposedly conservative ones. They’re fools. But the Jesus Seminar is a serious abuse of the tool of higher criticism. The point here is that tools can be abused in ways which do not invalidate the tool. Crowbars can be used for murder or opening man-hole covers.

Now if only I can figure out whether this person meant some other “heresy” besides criticism in the classroom.

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4 Responses to “Critical of Criticism”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    Hey, that comment wasn’t for publication! :)

    In any event, I’m only passing on what I’ve heard from St. V’s seminarians. My own distaste for “higher” criticism (which is not the same as critical theory in general) is for those who would seek to “get behind” the Bible or to deconstruct it (presumably showing it to be meaningless). I have no problem with what I’d think of as simply studying the nuts and bolts of Scripture.

  2. Nathaniel McCallum Says:

    Nice thoughts… I responded on my blog. How are things out east?

  3. Jim N. Says:

    I’m glad you posted that list, Basil. Interestingly, and I didn’t put this on my own site, my SF mentioned that ‘in a sense, it almost doesn’t matter to the Church who wrote the book, because it’s part of our larger life’. Obviously, lots of salt should be taken with that, but I thought it was interesting to contract that with the apparent over emphasis on textual criticism in some circles. Or so I hear. :)

  4. fdr Says:

    Thank you! Good thoughts!