A Slightly Philosophical Preamble on Hermeneutics and Praxis

December 14, 2012 § Leave a comment

Every theory starts with premises embedded in a Weltanschauung. This holds true for the theory undergirding this paper’s thesis. The Christian faith, however varied in its manifestations across cultures and times, holds that God, as supreme Being and Creator, exists and out of his free will enters into a relationship with human beings. His ultimate act of involvement with humanity is through his self-revelation in Jesus Christ, the God-Man, the Mediator, who gave up his life for the sake of humanity: her healing and her destiny. It is believed that this God walks with human beings and communities of human beings, inviting them to be transformed and renewed on their journey toward an ultimate goal that finds its expression and orientation in the person of Jesus. This orientation toward God is not merely a possibility given with humanity. Rather our very nature has an openness toward God as a basic anthropological fact. This too is a premise of the Christian faith. Anthropologically we are not primarily meant to know; we are meant to act, act rightly, that is, and in our acting to know in relationship. All of reality is, because of its being derived from and embedded in the Creator, inherently moral and as a result human beings find themselves as acting subjects in an environment that invites them to act justly. They are, as created in God’s image, moral beings at heart.
Thus our interaction with the world around us has clear parameters. There are undeniable epistemological limitations to the scope, precision and universality of our knowing. Were absolute knowledge to be our goal, we’d be hopelessly inadequately equipped. That is why human beings are to know in order to act. The question How do I know? is subservient to the question What ought I to do? Humans need to know sufficiently in order to be moral beings. In spite of their epistemological limitations, human beings possess a teleological openness to the future in order to facilitate the moral orientation. This future does not merely indicate a random set of possible configurations of reality but a well-defined point of unity between God and human beings, a point after which the openness of all eternity and immortality beckons. In order to bridge the notion of reality as moral framework with humanity’s teleological orientation, we can speak of an imperative to behave morally. Teleologically human beings are oriented toward both self-realization (as a moral dimension) and the Infinite (i.e. the beatific vision). The bridge between the present and our teleological goal is bridged by eschatological expectation (i.e. hope). This hope needs to be realized in praxis, through which a spiraling process leads us from embodied meaning to embodied meaning in an ever increasing reflection of the character of the One who is infinite. The encounter with God is then met and coincides with the self-realization of the human being.
Much if not all that we know about this journeying of God with people in the past has come to us by means of texts, collected by communities of faith that existed around the awareness of this God, as they trusted Yahweh or became followers of Jesus of Nazareth. These texts, if anything, attempt to impart in us that same awareness, transformation, and orientation toward the divine goal that those who experienced the narrated events underwent. It is upon us, receptors of the Biblical texts, then, to try to understand this process of transformation and being oriented toward this eschatological goal and to enter it. This, however, is not simply a process that moves from understanding the text to praxis, but also one from praxis to understanding. In fact, the only way to really understand the meaning of the Biblical text is to practice, indwell, and embody what it says. The understanding is in the praxis. In this sense there is a dialectic of behavior and knowledge, or, as Clodovis Boff notes, a dialectic of (theological) theory and praxis. While he (of course) means political praxis his observation that”…that the exigencies of reflective thought on the part of Christians living out their faith in practice imposes upon theology a change in the norms of its internal practice, a restructuration of its own field of operation” holds true as well in the realm of hermeneutics.[1] This is not merely understanding in the sense of epistemological enrichment, cognitive acknowledgement, that is, analytic thought, but an understanding that requires a thorough engagement with the existential realities pointed to in the text, resulting in a deep spiritual transformation with a different focus on self, reality, and God. This is because our knowing is always both embodied and social.

[1] Boff, Clodovis. Theology and Praxis : Epistemological Foundations. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1987, 156.


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