True, but it represents one of the primary methods by which nearly all modern historians and many historical theologians approach ancient texts, including the Bible and the Church Fathers. The Pontifical Biblical Commission, serving at the behest of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in a 1993 report containing a preface written by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger as head of the CDF, and making this statement:
*“The historical-critical method is the indispensable method for the scientific study of the meaning of ancient texts. Holy Scripture, inasmuch as it is the “word of God in human language,” has been composed by human authors in all its various parts and in all the sources that lie behind them. Because of this, its proper understanding not only admits the use of this method but actually requires it.”
Having gone through the Theology course at a (supposedly) Catholic university it is quite obvious that since Bismark, the historical critical method has been abused by politics.
That’s entirely true, but it’s not only abuse. Protestant scholars of the “First Quest for the Historical Jesus” from up to Schwietzer and through Bultmann were, in my opinion, making a totally reasonable attempt at understanding scripture. Many mainline Protestant denominations felt outgunned and collapsed into a wishy-washy approach to Jesus, based in the existentialist theology of Bultmann, who claimed we could know nothing of the historical Jesus and that faith was all that mattered.
But the way science and history work is not to say “these studies using this method came up with conclusions that we don’t like because they seem to undermine orthodoxy.” It’s to say “these studies using this method had these assumptions and these contradictions, and when we account for new information we think this is a better explanation.”
The politics today have changed but the abuse continues.
There have always been politics. All humans are fallen. And the abuse isn’t just among those with an anti-religious agenda. There have been plenty of scrupulously orthodox Catholics who also abuse the interpretation of scripture by refusing to read it in any way other than canonically. They anachronistically insert high Christology into every piece of scripture. They use statements in from author to rebut an interpretation of another author’s book. They sternly shake their fingers at anyone who asks about what seem to be contradictions in scripture. In general, they imply that the purpose of Bible study is to conform one’s will and intellect to the Church’s understanding of scripture from no later than the Council of Trent.
Having also a science degree, my personal view is that those in ‘the new revisionist’ Theology are abusing the historical critical method and pretending to follow a method, akin to the scientific method.
I’m a scientist too. What is the proper response to a study that has conclusions with which you disagree? To denounce the method and authors of that study, and walk away? No. In science, you publish another study using methods that are as least as good as those employed in the study with which you disagree.
I am extremely scathing of such a pseudo-scientific method which is just anti-Christian politics wrapped in the veneer of respectable process.
That’s fine. Using shoddy science to push an anti-religious agenda is reprehensible, I agree.
But don’t be scathing against all people who are trying to use objective, scientifically-informed methods to investigate scripture. I myself don’t have a great deal of regard for people who recoil from scientific or historical studies that seem to raise questions about their beliefs. That’s idolatry.
If you’d rather not wade into the morass of Biblical history, that’s fine. The center of the faith is our relationship with Jesus, not knowlege and human reasoning. As St. Paul says in last week’s 2nd reading:
“I came to you in weakness and fear and much trembling, and my message and my proclamation were not with persuasive words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of Spirit and power, so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.”
But if you’re going to talk about Biblical history, intellectual honesty is absolutely vital.
If we are going to discuss things such as the authorship and order of the gospels then we should be referring to what we can reasonably know using evidence. Not to a century or more of anti-Christian politics being peddled through our universities.
I think before we go down that path, we need to understand the kinds of evidence that you would find acceptable for reaching conclusions about Biblical authorship and history. Is redaction-criticism OK? What about looking at textual variants? Perhaps a review of ancient Jewish attitudes toward crucifixion? Or Aristotelian views of human reproduction?
It is no reasonably position to say ‘these other people reckon this…’ so therefore it is true.
“Nullius in verba,” right? What about the Magisterium? When the Pontifical Biblical Commission (which, granted, is not a dogmatic body) calls the historical-critical method “indispensable” is that really just a wink and a nod to make it appear that the Catholic Church is being objective?
Real historical research is never easy. But my faith tells me that the Catholic Church has a definitive answer to every historical question, not from theology overriding objective history, but from a history that reflects God’s unfolding purpose for his creation. The fulcrum of all history is the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and no matter how many rabbit holes I go down, that faith has never led me wrong.