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Enlightenment Epistemology According to Colin Gunton modern man finds himself in a state of alienation from his world.

The world is not as accessible to him as it was in times past. In previous centuries he could rely on his senses, having an assurance that they were presenting to him the world as it was. Yet now he finds that his senses are to be doubted, they are to be considered an unreliable means for attaining the truth about the world. How has this situation come to pass? Those most responsible for bringing about modern man's sense of alienation from his world are the philosophers of the Enlightenment, thinkers such as Descartes, Locke, Hume, and Kant. Though the length of this paper will not allow for a detailed description of the thought of these philosophers, we can discuss the ancient philosopher that their thought is most indebted to, Plato. Plato, like many early Greek philosophers, was very aware of the transitory nature of the world he perceived. It was the impermanence he observed in the world that led him to doubt that reliable knowledge could be gained from it. He believed that it was "because the objects of sense change that they cannot be known, and so we cannot expect reliable truth from that source." (1) Reason, on the other hand, was believed to be immune from these limitations. It was superior to sense perception in that it could make accurate judgments about the truth or fal-sity of things. Unlike the senses it was not confined to particular occurrences or objects, but was focused on what was general and universal, performing an "abstracting and evaluating role." (2) It was in light of this that reason was viewed as the more active of the two mental functions, sense perception being the more passive. For the senses are being acted upon from without, passively taking in the impressions the world presents to it. Reason, in contrast, is more active and independent. It is an interior activity not bound and determined, like the senses, by objects outside of itself. In light of these considerations Plato would come to the conclusion that the

knowledge derived from the senses was inferior to the knowledge derived from reason. This dualism, this separation of sensate from rational knowledge, coupled with an overconfidence in the ability of reason, comprises Plato's chief legacy to the Enlightenment. These Platonic ideas would be taken up and developed by the philosophers of the Enlightenment. The epistemologies they developed have had a profound effect upon modern thought. In fact, these epistemologies are the foundation for the modern rationalistic outlook we are familiar with, an outlook which exalts reason as the only viable means to knowledge and truth. The pervasive influence of Enlightenment rationalism can be detected in almost all areas of contemporary thought. This includes the area we are chiefly concerned with in this paper, religious thought. The Enlightenment's emphasis on reason as the only viable source of knowledge would result in the marginalization of that element so essential to religious thought, faith. The exclusion of faith as a viable means to knowledge and truth would, in turn, have a direct effect upon religious disciplines such as theological reflection and exegesis, disciplines which are based upon and draw their sustenance from faith. Impact on Theological Reflection One way in which Enlightenment epistemology has effected theological reflection is by introducing into the discipline a hermeneutic of doubt. In the past the theologian could look upon what God had revealed, whether in nature or in Scripture, with the confidence that what was being presented to him was both intelligible and understandable. This assurance allowed him to be attentive to all that God had revealed, so that he might not leave anything out when attempting his theological synthesis. The Enlightenment's emphasis on accepting as true only that which can be scientifically justified has, of necessity, effected this theological practice. It has not only introduced doubt into the theologian's discipline but has also led to a restriction of

his field of vision. Ratzinger, drawing from Gregory of Nyssa, would classify this narrowly rationalistic approach to the world as part the science of nature, or physiologein, whereas the approach proper to theology is Theologein. Unlike physiologein, which is narrow in focus, Theologein attempts a broader more inclusive view, even allowing for that mystery which is essential to theology. (3). Having reduced theological reflection to physiologein, the modern theologian is constrained to look upon the world in a more skeptical mode, exercising a stricter judgment concerning what can be accepted as true. Whereas the theologian of the past could approach the world in faith, humbling himself before it as a pupil, the modern theologian looks upon the world as a discriminating judge. With Kant he approaches the world not "in the character of a pupil who listens to everything that the teacher chooses to say, but of an appointed judge." (4) A second way in which Enlightenment epistemology effects theological reflection is in its promotion of subjectivism. Once the theologian has assumed a position as judge toward what God has revealed theology becomes a very subjective enterprise. The human mind becomes the norm of reality, the norm for what can be accepted as true or not. This usurps the traditional part revelation had played in relation to theology. Up to this point it was believed that it was through revelation that God established who he was, and this on his own terms. As such revelation was the norm against which theology measured its efforts. With the Enlightenment the normative place once reserved for revelation now passes to the human intellect. Human reason would no longer have to strive to conform itself to revelation, it was revelation that would now have to conform itself to the exigencies of human reason. This "massive assertion" of man's intellectual abilities to an area that demands a more comprehensive approach has disastrous results for theology. Because its vision is narrowly focused upon what can be proven by the scientific

method, it can never provide more than a partial view. Whereas man once had the ability to discern the big picture, Enlightenment epistemology frustrates this, making the discernment of the big picture impossible. As Gunton has summarized, "in our desire to impose form on the world and our lives we have lost the capacity to see the form that is there; and in that lies not liberation but alienation, the cutting of ourselves off from things as they really are." (5)

Impact on Exegesis Enlightenment thought has not only effected the theology of revelation but, by extension, it has effected the very methods by which revelation in interpreted. The familiar rationalist criteria, by which we are allowed to accept as reliable only that which can be scientifically justified, is transferred to the discipline of biblical interpretation in the form of the historicocritical method. The historico-critical method seeks to ascertain the historical meaning of a text, i.e. the meaning it had when it was originally written. It also seeks to discern, through scientific criteria, the various stages in the history of the production of the text. (6) Though the historicocritical method is an important and necessary part of biblical interpretation, abuses have, in many instances, accompanied its use. This is especially the case when practiced by exegetes overly influenced by the Enlightenment's hermeneutic of doubt. These exegetes approach the Scriptures in an overly skeptical mode, viewing the texts with a suspicion that is only relaxed when it can be critically justified. Only after the text has been subjected to the various forms of criticism included in the method (e.g. source, form, and redaction criticism) can the exegete distinguish between what is reliable and what is not within the biblical tradition. With these results in hand, which are usually relatively meager, the exegete

can attempt a hypothetical reconstruction of what "really" happened, which, in many cases, is contrary to the received tradition of the faith. Though these exegetes are striving to achieve the same level of consensus in their results that the scientific method has been able to obtain in the hard sciences, this has proven to be an almost impossible task. Not only do many practitioners of the method disagree on what can be established as historically reliable material, but even when there is general agreement on reliable material there is wide disagreement among the hypothetical reconstructions that are subsequently built upon it. In short, the historico-critical method has produced about as many hypothetical reconstructions of the "real history" present in Scripture as there are practitioners of the method. Ratzinger has noted that "[n]o one can really be surprised that this procedure leads to the sprouting of ever more numerous hypotheses until finally they turn into a jungle of contradictions." (7) Yet the really tragic effect of the misuse of the historico-critical method is that it has distanced the ordinary believer from the living voice of the text that had once addressed him. As Ratzinger has asked "[o]nce the methodology has picked history to death by it dissection, who can reawaken it so that it can live and speak to me?" (8)

Proposed Remedies As we have discussed, the Enlightenment's emphasis on human reason as the ultimate standard of truth has led to the exaltation of the subject's place in the pursuit of knowledge. The Enlightenment philosophers based this view upon their belief in the human mind's ability to operate on a level of complete objectivity. What modern philosophers like Gadamer and Polanyi have shown us, however, is that this so-called "objectivity" was more claimed than attained. Gunton has noted that the Enlightenment "produced a view of the human mind that falsified its

relation to the world, especially in suggesting that there could be attained an absolute objectivity and impartiality." (9) The Enlightenment overestimated man's ability to empty his mind of its cultural formation, in order that he might look upon the world with virgin eyes as if for the first time. It is with this insight that the communal aspect of human knowledge comes to light. It is here that we see the important part tradition plays in human understanding. According to Gadamer "[t]o claim too much for one's own detachment and objectivity is ... to cut oneself from tradition, without whose help we cannot understand." (10) Tradition is not the enemy of understanding. It serves a positive function as a transmitter of knowledge, as a repository of knowledge, and as a necessary basis for our understanding. This positive assessment of tradition's part in the process of understanding can be profitably applied to the area of theological reflection. The theologian need not feel that he is sacrificing scientific objectivity when drawing from tradition in his theological work. The Catholic theologian, like scholars in other fields, brings his own set of pre-understandings to his task. (11) This pre-understanding which he brings to his work, i.e. the formation he has received within the Catholic Tradition through the study and practice of it, has hermeneutical importance and should not be neglected. We should not let the Enlightenment's hermeneutic of doubt extinguish the genuine sense wonder toward the world that faith encourages. For the wonder that arises from our contemplation of the world is essential to theology, it is what characterizes theology as a speculative project. We must recover the value of faith as a legitimate approach to reality, an approach that can not only compliment but enrich reason. Faith and reason, which had been separated by the Enlightenment philosophers, must be brought back together and reunited. Pope John Paul II encourages a return to that "profound unity" that existed between faith and reason in Patristic and Medieval times before it was superseded by a purely rationalistic approach. This unity had been

able to produce a "knowledge capable of reaching the highest forms of speculation," before it was, unfortunately, "destroyed by systems which espoused the cause of rational knowledge sundered from faith and meant to take the place of faith." (12) Only when faith and reason are united can an adequate and fruitful approach to reality be made. Concerning the historico-critical method, the first thing we need to recognize is that this method need not be practiced in the overly skeptical manner in which we see it being used by those influenced by the Enlightenment. The rationalist presuppositions held by the first practitioners of the method are not intrinsic to it, they can be legitimately separated from it. According to Fitzmyer these rationalist presuppositions had been unduly "linked to an otherwise neutral method, ... what was at fault was the rationalist presupposition with which the method was used, not the method itself." (13) Once separated from these presuppositions the historico-critical method not only becomes a useful tool, but a necessary one in the exegetical project. Pope John Paul II himself has encouraged Catholics to begin the process of interpretation "starting with the historico-critical basis freed from its philosophical presuppositions or those contrary to the truth of our faith...". (14) The most damaging presupposition that has tainted the historico-critical method has been the Enlightenment's insistence that faith has no place alongside reason in the process of biblical interpretation. This opposition to faith is a rationalist prejudice not essential to the method and, as such, can be discarded. In reality, faith presuppositions are not only appropriate in the interpretive process but are beneficial, especially in light of the fact that the documents being studied have not only arisen from faith but have been written with an intent to promote it. Fitzmyer has stated that "[b]ecause the historical-critical method is per se neutral, it can be used with ... faith presuppositions. Indeed, by reason of them it becomes a properly-oriented method

of biblical interpretation...". (15) Only when faith is brought into the process, alongside reason, does biblical interpretation possess its proper orientation. Since the Catholic exegete approaches the text from a religious perspective, his aim ultimately is to arrive at the religious meaning of the text. Historical considerations, though important and necessary, are merely part of a larger task: the theological understanding of the Scriptures. Williamson sums this up nicely, reminding us that "in the last analysis, Christian exegesis is a theological rather than a historical discipline, whose ultimate foundation is revelation and faith rather than historical reasoning." (16) Remembering that the interpretation of Scripture is a theological discipline pursued in the light of faith is a tremendous aide to the Catholic exegete of today. The focus that faith provides can give him an assurance that he will not get bogged down and overwhelmed by the sea competing claims and perspectives he encounters in the world of historical criticism. But even more important than helping him not miss the forest for the trees, faith will help him to hear behind the many voices in Scripture the singular voice of a God who is addressing him.