Posted on: August 4th, 2009 Ancient Interpretation: Reno on Origen’s “Inconclusiveness’

Rusty Reno, in Christian Theologies of Scripture, gives an overview of Origen’s “doctrine of Scripture,” that is to say, Origen’s spiritual interpretation of Scripture (trained as he was at Alexandria).

Reno argues that biblical interpretation, for Origen, is preparatory. Its goal is to enable us to “see Christ” in new ways. (As I have written about here, this language of “seeing” is really talking about a kind of intellectual apprehension, the intellectus fidei, which is essential to the beatific vision, the traditional goal of the Christian life.) Interpretation “cannot bring us to the destination in the same way that a syllogism can bring us to a conclusion.” (28)

This is why Origen’s interpretation, later developed into the reading practice of lectio divina,  never offers the same kind of fixed conclusions as modern interpretaton does, and this is also why Origen can seem to modern readers to be inconclusive and open-ended. (My inner fundamentalist often objects that this kind of “open-endedness” is soft headed and “liberal.” Yet, one cannot possibly argue that Origen was “liberal.” That category simply does not apply.)

To quote Reno,

Because Origen’s understanding of biblical exegesis entails a movement toward contemplation of the divine intention which has so disposed all things, his approach – and indeed all of the patristic tradition – will always strike us as ‘out of control.’ Modern biblical interpretation is not based on the hypothesis that all things are fulfilled in Christ. We do not believe that believe that God disposes all things in a single divine economy. Instead, we want to build a structure of written characters which can receive the truth of our preferred worldly economies: the economy of ancient Isrealite religion, the economy of ‘what really happened,’ the economy of concepts that float around in the minds of ancient authors or redactors, or, if we are of a postmodern bent, of the minds of the readers of Scripture. In all these ways, we tend to fasten down scriptural texts. We plot the Scriptures onto something more stable, more manageable than the world  of signs, and the last thing we want to do is to step away from solid ground. This is the hermeneutical strategy of putting scriptural texts into their historical contexts. Or we contextualize Scripture by translating it into an idiom of systematic theology. Either way, we move out of the semantic flux of scriptural words and into a limited economy in which conclusions might be drawn and our minds might come to rest. (29)

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2 Responses to “Ancient Interpretation: Reno on Origen’s “Inconclusiveness’”

  1. David Says:
    August 8th, 2009 at 6:33 am

    Dr Christine Frost offers a unique way of approaching the text that unites the Antiochian and Alexandrian approaches: Scripture is iconic: a window allowing the material to point beyond itself to the divine. The historical-grammatical is the material that ‘controls’ (or perhaps supplies would be better) the vision of the beyond.
    Its very incarnational of course and, I think, bears exploring.

  2. matt Says:
    August 8th, 2009 at 4:32 pm

    Thanks, David. I want to know more about her view.

    It is quite interesting that the _sensus litteralis_ does map quite nicely onto what moderns sometimes call “the grammatical-historical” meaning.

    Gives me slightly more appreciation for Dallas Theo. Seminary.

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