Sunday, June 17, 2012

An example of true exegesis

An example of true exegesis

One criticism of scriptural exegesis is that one will often have some preconceived doctrine and then will try to find this in Scripture, using just a few words and extending their meaning far beyond what the author could possibly have intended.

I've heard st Thomas criticized if this, both in his sed contras and in his commentaries of Scripture, but I recently found a passage in the Summa that show St. Thomas was aware of this problem and took care to avoid it.

The passages I have in mind are the bodies of I-II.84.1 and 2. Here he is considering how it can be said the avarice is the root of all sin and pride is beginning of all sin. In each of these he lays out three meaning if the vice in question and the last meaning is always the most agreeable to the thesis of the article. Yet after he shows this agreeable meaning, he goes on to say "although this is all true, it is not what the author had in mind." What an exegete! Instead of imposing meaning and truth on the words, he looks to the context to find the author's intended lesson. Instead of taking pride and avarice in their more general senses, he take them as special vices (as the sacred authors seem to intend) and then is able to teach us a great deal more about our turning away from God.

I was especially intrigued by his understanding of how avarice as love of wealth is fittingly called the root of all sin. He says that all temporal goods can be obtained by wealth, whereas the only unchanging good cannot. In this way he shows why money is so greatly desired by the wicked (it can attain anything they want) and exactly what it can't obtain. Reading this article is almost like receiving an exhortation to poverty, at least for those who desire the unchanging good.
I came upon these articles while trying better to understand sin. Someone had asked me why Catholics pray for the dead, and I was able to give some answer, but I was I unsatisfied with my understanding of these things. This has led to a lot of jumping around the Summa.

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