The Fisher Lectures 2011

Tuesday, Wednesday & Thursday
1st, 2nd & 3rd March 2011
At 5.30pm

Professor Lewis Ayres
Bede Chair of Catholic Theology
University of Durham

Staring at the Firmament: Christian Doctrine and the reading of Scripture

Fisher House, GuildHall Street, Cambridge CB2 3NH

One of the consistent preoccupations of Joseph Ratzinger / Benedict XVI, since his work as a peritus at Vatican II, has been the search to integrate the activity theology (guided by Tradition) and the reading of Scripture, even as the insights of modern historical-critical approaches are integrated into Catholic thinking. His approach to this question mirrors that of many broadly in theressourcement movement, not only in its promise, but also in the tensions and problems that beset it.

These lectures will offer a proposal for moving this discussion forward, beginning in the first lecture with a reappraisal of the links between Christian doctrine and the “literal” reading of Scripture in the Patristic period. I suggest our first task is to understand the particular style of “literal” reading of Scripture that was shaped by the anti-“Gnostic” disputes of the second/third century, and which became intrinsic to the shaping and very expression of Christian belief and worship. Once this is established then it becomes clear that the main question which we face is not about what Catholic exegesis in the singular should look like, but about how we can negotiate the relationship between this Patristic style and the range of modern styles.

Building on some of the young Ratzinger’s work on Tradition and Scripture at Vatican II, the second lecture will suggest ways in which we can see Scripture itself as beginning and calling for its own “ecclesial reading”. The Patristic style I outline in the first lecture is and remains intrinsic to this ecclesial reading, even as modern styles allow us to gain a new sense of the historical development of that reading, as well as expanding our sense of possible interpretations. The discussion here thus must be considered within the broader story of Catholic thinkers appropriating some forms of modern historicism as an aid to understanding the development of Christian belief.

The third lecture will turn first to the “theology of Scripture” suggested by and perhaps called for by Dei Verbum, arguing for the importance of our giving an account of Scripture’s place in the economy of redemption. A significant question here will concern the mediation of knowledge; what interpretive practices best reflect and encourage our being baptized into the rule of Tradition and yet open to the ways in which the Spirit continues to guide the Body of Christ? The lecture will end by considering how we might think about the interrelationship of the disciplines and tasks within the activity of theology.

Professor Lewis Ayres