Keep an objective reading of Holy Scriptures, priest says

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Fr. Francis J. Moloney

MANILA, July 8, 2013—An esteemed theologian on Saturday urged seminarians and members of the clergy to keep an objective reading of the Holy Scriptures to avoid the emergence of subjective interpretations that pose serious threats to the life and mission of the Catholic Church.

Fr. Francis James Moloney, professor of scripture and former Dean of Theology at the Catholic University of America, said that with the sudden shift of focus from the Holy Text to its reader, countless interpretations on the Word of God arise, erasing the original dogmatic context of the scriptures.

“We are in the period of the search for objectivity and the attempt to be more appreciative of the flow of the text itself. Now, we have turned away from objectivity and into a biblical interpretative protest that is dominated by subjectivity,” he said in his talk during the theological symposium on the document Theology Today: Perspective, Principles and Criteria held at the San Carlos Seminary.

Moloney noted that the shift of focus from the text of the scriptures to its reader creates problems that are mainly caused by the varying worlds, individuals, cultures, faith communities, and interpretative provisions that collide in shaping the meaning of the Word of God in the modern times.

“Contemporary biblical scholars focused more and more on the world in front of the text—letting go of what was behind the text that produced it and what the text independently means…Much more emphasis is stressed on the reader,” he said.

“More attention was given to the multiplicity of readers and their cultures and to an increasingly sophisticated critique of the literary biblical text, but unfortunately this movement has become a threat to the recognition of the Word as Divine Revelation,” he added.

According to him, the multiplicity of interpretation, which primarily roots from one’s stance in understanding the discourse presented in the text, has become a serious obstacle that hinders efforts to bridge the interpretation of the Word with the theological task of the church.

Moloney further noted that the prevalence of subjectivity in interpreting the text leads to subversive reading, wherein the reader and his own context are the only factors in determining the essential meaning of the text.

“All of the possible worlds—behind, within, and before the text—and all of the multiplicity of possible interpretations to a highly fragmented world must be brought together within the tradition of the Catholic Church,” he said.

Text shapes the reader

The predominance of subjective interpretation must be reversed to allow the text shape the reader and to give primacy to what it objectively says under its fitting context.

“In the Catholic study of the sacred pages, primacy must be given to the text and its literary, historical, and theological context, not to the socio-cultural context of the contemporary reader, however important that may be,” Moloney said.

He said that if primacy is to be placed to the reader, there would be no need to subject to analysis the cultural, historical, and religiously frozen moment of the past to generate a normative canon on the ideals of Catholicism.

“Those working for the Catholic tradition must respond to displace the primacy of the biblical text in the act of interpretation,” the theologian said, adding that to replace the focus of the text with the cultural context of the reader would be a tragic loss.

“Christians would be faced with the giddy possibility of spiraling to a whirlwind of interpretative possibilities that are accepted today, but will be discarded tomorrow,” Moloney said.

“This interpretative stance has no place in the exegetical task of the believing biblical scholar,” he added.

Need for limited context 

The theologian stressed the importance of understanding the Holy Scripture in its proper meaning, noting that “text without context is mere pretense.”

“If you could not place a text to its main context, you are just pretending to interpret it,” Moloney said.

Adopting a limited comprehension on the sacred text based on what fits the reader’s identity enables one to acquire a proper understanding of the Word of God in its proper context.

“The limited comprehension generated by being in context and suffering from its limitation only becomes a problem when you begin think that you are free from it,” he said.

“Unless you are prepared to say that you are limited in approaching the text, unless you are prepared to be limited by your context and bring that limited mentality to the text, that limits your interpretation because you (begin to recognize) that you could not be anything else,” Moloney added. (Jennifer M. Orillaza)

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