Thursday, February 16, 2012

Bullinger and Irenaeus?

Recently, I came across this interesting excerpt from the pen of R.R. Reno of Creighton University:

“Irenaeus of Lyon provides us with the key categories for describing the patristic consensus about the meaning and role of scripture. Like the Christian readers who taught him, Irenaeus presumed that the Old Testament, however diverse in style and content, was a single text with a unified point or message. Following the standard terminology of the ancient rhetorical tradition, Irenaeus called the unified message of scripture its "hypothesis." At one level, Irenaeus saw this hypothesis as literary. The bible hangs together on its own terms, and readers sensitive to the hints and clues in the text will gravitate toward a unified reading. But more importantly, according to Irenaeus, the hypothesis of scripture reflects the fact that the entire world is governed by a single divine plan, or "economy." This economy is a multi-layered sequence of created realities, historical events, divine ordinations and laws. In other words, for the church fathers, the entire world-process is a meaningful system shaped by God's intention. Finally, following Ephesians 1:10, Irenaeus argued that all the complex facets of the divine economy, including the vast system of signs that make up the Old Testament, are recapitulated in Jesus Christ. Recapitulation (anakephalaiosis in Greek) is another standard term in the ancient rhetorical tradition. Even in contemporary English we speaking of ending a speech with a "recap," the conclusion when the speaker drives home the main point or hypothesis with a restatement of the main arguments in pithy, vivid summary.4 Christ is the basis and end point. He is the reason or purpose and the culminating summation of the great divine speech that we call reality.
For Irenaeus and the patristic tradition as a whole, scripture is the semiotic medium in which God encodes the pattern of the divine economy. How scripture is so encoded remains obscure. There was no settled patristic consensus about a so-called doctrine of inspiration that would specify the way in which scripture embodies the divine economy within itself. But there was a consensus that the undeniable literal heterogeneity of scripture depicts a single divine economy. "Anyone who reads the scriptures with attention," writes Irenaeus, "will find in them a discourse about Christ, and a prefiguration of the new calling [of the Gentiles]. For Christ is 'the treasure hidden in the field' [Matt 13:44], that is, in this world (for 'the field is the world' [Matt 13:38]), but he is also hidden is the scriptures, since he was signified by types and parables which could not be understood, humanly speaking, before the consummation of those things which were prophesied as coming, that is, the advent of Christ."5 The unity of scripture grows out of the singularity of divine purpose in and for all things, and this divine economy is directed toward fulfillment in Christ. Thus, the goal of spiritual exegesis is to bring Christ the treasure hidden in the field of scripture into view, and in so doing to bring the mind of the reader to desire to live more fully in his truth.”

It’s quite suggestive to see parallels in the way Bullinger handles Scripture. What do you think?

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