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Going Deeper Into the Old Testament: An Interview with Aidan Nichols, O.P., author of
Lovely Like Jerusalem |
Carl E. Olson
Father Aidan Nichols, O.P., a Dominican priest, is currently the John Paul II Memorial Visiting Lecturer, University of Oxford;
has served as the Robert Randall Distinguished Professor in Christian Culture, Providence College; and is a Fellow of
Greyfriars, Oxford. He has also served as the Prior of the Dominicans at St. Michael's Priory, Cambridge. Father
Nichols is the author of numerous books including Looking at the Liturgy,
Holy Eucharist, Hopkins: Theologian's Poet,
and The Thought of Benedict XVI.
His study of the Old Testament,
Lovely Like Jerusalem: The Fulfillment of the Old Testament in
Christ and the Church, was recently published by Ignatius Press (read an excerpt).
Carl E. Olson, editor of IgnatiusInsight.com, interviewed Father Nichols this week about the book, its themes, and related topics.
IgnatiusInsight.com: You've published some thirty books, but if I'm not mistaken, this is your first work
of biblical theology. What inspired you to write Lovely Like Jerusalem?
Nichols: I used to love the world of the Old Testament when I was a student for
the priesthood, and suddenly realised I had moved almost completely out of
it, except insofar as it appeared in the Liturgy, and even then I didn't
make much use of it in homilies. I thought it was time to go back and go
IgnatiusInsight.com: The book draws deeply upon the work of several non-Catholic theologians. Did you
intend it to be an ecumenical work of sorts? Who are some of the non-Catholic biblical scholars you think
Catholics should be more aware of?
Nichols: It was an unintended consequence of Pius XII's opening out of biblical
studies to contemporary historical-critical scholarship that by the end of
the twentieth century Catholic exegesis became indistinguishable from
Protestant. Until this situation has changed (and in the United States
Timothy Luke Johnson has argued strongly for it to do so) the best course
of action is to select biblical commentators of whatever denomination whose
work seems to accord best with the Catholic understanding of Scripture as
found in Tradition.
IgnatiusInsight.com: Many Christians, it seems safe to say, have a poor or even non-existent
understanding of the Bible, especially the Old Testament. How important is it--not just intellectually,
but in every way--that Christians better understand and appreciate the Old Testament?
Nichols: A grasp of the great lines of Scripture, both Old and New Testament, is
vital to a Christian culture for the many, a well-stocked Christian mind
for the individual person. Catechetics, drawing on the Liturgy and art as
well as the Bible itself, should aim to provide this.
IgnatiusInsight.com: You write, in the chapter on the Torah, that the "historical minimalism in fashion today
in many departments of Old Testament studies is not an adequate basis on which to read Genesis as Scripture..." In what way
is Genesis (and other books of the Old Testament) "history" in the modern sense of the term, and in what ways
is it history in a different--ancient and Semitic--manner?
Nichols: Of course no book of Scripture is history in the sense of a Ph. D.
thesis on an historical subject in a modern University. That does not mean
it cannot give a reliable account of past events, especially when those
events were religiously crucial to the minds of the people whose lives they
affected. Even in our own society, which through the ready availability of
print is far more dependent on literacy, people can still recount family or
neighbourhood histories that are taken seriously by 'oral historians'.
Naturally, the opening chapters of Genesis, which deal with meta-history,
and set the conditions for all future history, are in a different mode
IgnatiusInsight.com: A strong theme throughout is that of covenant. How does the reality of covenant shape the
Pentateuch and inform the whole of the Old Testament?
Nichols: I think 'covenant' is indeed an absolutely central category for the Old
Testament when the latter is taken as a whole. It expresses the reciprocity
of God and (especially) Israelite humanity, with a continuous accent on the
divine initiative in establishing this reciprocity, but a question mark
over the manner in which the variety of covenant initiatives will come
to fulfilment. Only the New Testament answers the latter question.
IgnatiusInsight.com: You make very pointed criticisms of what you term "neo-Marcionism," and locate its presence
in the very influential skeptical approaches that came about in the 1700s and 1800s. What is neo-Marcionism
and how has it affected the perspectives of both scholars and ordinary Christians over the past century or so?
Nichols: Neo-Marcionism is bypassing, relegating or even rubbishing the Old
Testament on the ground of the novelty of the New Testament revelation.
Unfortunately, it denatures the original Gospel of Jesus Christ which like
its bearer and most important content (Christ) is the same yesterday, today
and for ever. The bewildering confusion of Jesus-images in modern
literature derive from this basic refusal to see Jesus Christ in the Church
as the total fulfilment of the hopes of Israel or what I call the messianic
hope broadly conceived, and in that way the key to all divine initiative in
IgnatiusInsight.com: A tension is outlined throughout much of the book, between the knowledge and insight
granted Israel "into the truth of God" and Israel's inability to "hold onto it". What is the
significance of that fact? And how does it relate to a Catholic understanding of divine pedagogy?
Nichols: The ambivalence of Israel's response to the truth of God shows the need
for a divine Word that is fully incarnate in man: namely, for Christ as the
Conciliar Christology of the ecumenical Councils shows him to be: two
natures in one person, i.e. divine intiative and human response fully
integrated for ever.
IgnatiusInsight.com: Typology has often been either ignored or scoffed at by many in the academic world
in recent decades, yet a typological reading of Scripture is, as you point out, an essential part of the Catholic
tradition. Do you sense a growing re-appreciation of typology? What role did the Ressourcement theologians,
such as Jean Danielou
and Henri de Lubac, have in re-appropriating typology?
Nichols: The ressourcement theologians remain vitally necessary for their
recovery of typology which alone enables a unitary reading of the Bible,
Old and New Testament alike, and a reading, moreover, which chimes with
that found in the Church's liturgical feasts and texts. It need not exclude
concern with the exact investigation of particular historical contexts, as
Danielou in particular shows. But when we have the detail we still need to
stand back and take in the whole picture.
IgnatiusInsight.com: You've written many articles and books--such as Looking at the Liturgy. A Critical
View of its Contemporary Form--on the liturgy and the Mass. What is your reaction to the motu proprio document,
Summorum Pontificum? How do you think it might affect the lives of ordinary Catholics in the West?
Nichols: To my mind the liturgical importance of Summorum Pontificum is that it
is a crucial first step towards a true reform of the Western Liturgy which
will be, on my gazing into the crystal ball, an enhanced integration of the
virtues of both forms of the Roman Mass. More widely, it is a striking and
much-needed statement of the fact that after 1965 we do not have a 'new'
IgnatiusInsight.com: Have you read Benedict XVI's book, Jesus of Nazareth? If so, what was your impression of it?
Nichols: I have read it, and I give my first reaction to it in a postword to the
second edition of The Thought of Benedict XVI which was published earlier
this month [by Continuum].
Related IgnatiusInsight.com Articles and Excerpts:
The Pattern of Revelation: A Contentious Issue |
From Lovely Like Jerusalem | Aidan Nichols, O.P.
Origen and Allegory | Introduction to History and Spirit:
The Understanding of Scripture According to Origen | Henri de Lubac
How To Read The Bible | Peter Kreeft
to The Meaning of Tradition | Yves Congar, O.P.
The Bible Gap: Spanning the Distance Between Scripture and Theology
| Fr. Benedict Ashley, O.P.
The Divine Authority of Scripture vs. the "Hermeneutic of
Suspicion" | James Hitchcock
Enter Modernism | Philip Trower
Singing the Song of Songs | Blaise Armnijon, S.J.
Exploring the Catholic Faith! | An Interview with
What in Fact Is Theology? | Joseph Cardinal
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