Fascination with wickedness obscures what is good, and roving desire perverts the innocent mind.
Wisdom of Solomon 4:12

Friday, March 25, 2011

A Liturgical Hermeneutic

Thus far in this series on bible interpretation called “hermeneutics’, I have addressed the need for our western culture to relearn “humility” in bible interpretation, as well the need to focus on “obedience” as a means of better interpretation. The last point that I would make in this short series is that we also need to rediscover “liturgical interpretation.” I have found that the best summation of this approach comes from the pen of Bishop Kallistos Ware.

He writes:

“As an example of what it means to interpret scripture in a liturgical way, guided by the use of it at church feasts, let us look at the Old Testament lessons appointed for vespers on the Feast of the Annunciation, March 25th. They are three in number… All are to be understood as prophesies of the incarnation from the virgin. Mary is Jacob’s ladder (Gen 28:10-17), supplying the flesh that God incarnate takes when entering into the world. Mary is the closed gate who alone among women bore a child while inviolate (Eze 43: 1-4). Mary is the house which Christ the wisdom of God takes as His dwelling (Pro 8: 22-30). Exploring this manner of choice of lesson for the various feasts, we discover layers of biblical interpretation that by no means obvious at first reading.”

While it should never be said that the plain meaning of words: phrases, clauses, and the like are of no consequence, it should also be said that the plain meaning is simply the first layer of meaning to be explored. The reformation was not incorrect in calling for a restoration of the plain meaning of the text; that was truly necessary in its day because for the most part it had been lost to the inventions of medieval preachers. However, the sad outcome was that as the liturgies were tossed out, so were the second layers of understanding exposed in the liturgies.

The liturgical cycle of the first millennium are not a mere option, they are a real necessity because they contain within them the deepest levels of biblical understanding.

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