The Ruinous Rhetoric of ‘Synodal Interpretation’

Brad Miner | March 6, 2023

Long, long ago, on a planet far, far away, I organized a conference on religion and the public square in a city on the Potomac that I increasingly find hard to recognize. There were sessions on Catholicism, Protestantism, and Judaism. During the last, a rabbi who was also a lawyer working at the White House was challenged by a trio of Jewish feminists. The exchange was civil enough (almost unbelievably so by current standards). But my Jewish friend deftly handled the usual questions about gays, abortion, and women’s roles; “Show me where it’s in the [Jewish] Law and we can talk.”

A good and clarifying principle for Catholics as well. Jesus Himself often referred questioners to the Law and the Prophets.

Of course, it also has to be a sincere effort to understand and be fully faithful to God’s revelation. In The Divine Project: Reflections on Creation and the Church, a series of lectures from 1985, lost but rediscovered and recently published by Ignatius Press, Joseph Ratzinger’s very first sentences read:

Our first concern in this opening lecture is to work out the standards that we will be using to interpret Scripture: How, indeed, can we properly understand a biblical text – not coming up with ideas of our own, but remaining honest with ourselves as interpreters of history – and yet, without doing violence to the text, inquire into its relevance for the present?

This strikes the ancient Catholic note, the desire to know what God has communicated, carefully distinguishing what we might like to be the case, for whatever reasons, from what is the case, and the further effort – beyond intellectualism – to discern how it should shape our lives.

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