Truth and Method (review)

This is one of those great moments where a great student follows his master (Heidegger) yet gives us a new product and not simply a repetition of his master. In short, for Gadamer language is the horizon of being. As Kant was wrong to seek a thing-in-itself, so we also should beware of a “meaning-in-itself.”

Gadamer begins and ends his work on a strange note: the aesthetics and interpretation of art. It’s not that art determines how we interpret text, but art allows Gadamer to illustrate (no pun intended) the tension given that great works of art are considered “timeless,” yet they were produced in historical, finite circumstances. This tension points to the horizon, a key Gadamerian term.

Every experience has implicit horizons of before and after and finally fuses with the continuum of experiences present in the before and after to form a unified flow of experience (246). Df. horizon = not a rigid boundary but something that moves with and invites one to advance further. Everything that is given as existent is given in terms of a world and hence brings the world horizon with it. As a horizon phenomenon “world” is essentially related to subjectivity, and this relation means also that it exists in transciency.”

Hermeneutical circle: possesses an ontological positive significance. We have already fore-projected before we even approach the text. This creates an openness which situates our meaning with other meanings. Understanding is a participation in the event of tradition and not so much a subjective act (302).

Horizons are temporally-conditioned. Time is not a gulf to be crossed by a supportive ground in which the present is rooted. We cannot stand outside of our situation. “All self-knowledge arises from what is historically pre-given, what Hegel calls “substance’” (313). Horizon: every finite present has its limitations. Every situation represents a standpoint that limits the possibility of vision. Horizons move with us. When we understand something, we fuse the horizons between text and interpreter. Fusion of horizons: We regain concepts of a historical past in such a way that it also includes our own comprehension of them (382).

This will go down as one of those truly great books. Ground-breaking works. It’s not super-hard to read simply because it is well-written. However, he does presuppose a good bit of Hegel and Heidegger, so keep that in mind.

Notes on Gadamer, 2

Chapter 2: The Ontology of the Work of Art

Play: the mode of the being of the work of art itself (106). (Note: When a continental philosopher uses the term “play” he doesn’t mean it in the sense of the South Park does in the Jeffersons)

  1. The work of art is not an object that stands over against a subject for itself; it has true being in the fact that it becomes an experience for the knowing subject.
    1. Play reaches presentation through the players
    2. The mode of being of play is mediation.
    3. The structure of play absorbs the player into itself (similar to the liturgy).
  2. Play takes place in the Heideggerian realm of the “in-between.”
  3. “Play” is consummated in the transformation into structure.
    1. This transformation produces what is otherwise hidden.
    2. Structure: the raising up of untransformed reality.
    3. Thesis:the being of art cannot be defined as an object of aesthetic consciousness…it is part of the event of being that occurs in presentation (120).
      1. Performance brings into existence.
      2. It acquires its proper being into being mediated.
      3. Total mediation means that the medium as such is superseded (aufhebt).
  4. Repetition does not mean a literal repeating.
    1. Festivals repeat, but the point is not another copy of an original.
    2. A festival exists only in being celebrated.
  5. Tragedy: the unity of a tragic course of events that is experienced as such.
    1. Commiseration and apprehension are modes of ek-stasis.
    2. This being overcome with involves a division of oneself.
    3. The final effect of tragedy is to dissolve this disjunction and to liberate the heart (132).
  6. The Ontology of Picture
    1. How is presentation (Darstellung) related to “picture?”
    2. By being presented, it experiences an increase in being.
    3. A picture is not a copy of a copied being, but is in ontological communion with what is copied (143).  It is coming-to-presentation.

Notes on Gadamer, 1

From Truth and Method.  Notes on Section 1.

Bildung:  the properly human way of developing one’s capacities; culture. reveals a new tacit dimension of man’s existence.

Erlebnis: an experience you have; connected with a subject’s knowing

Erfahrung: experience as an ongoing investigative project.

Vermittlung: total mediation.  In re-presenting the artwork performs a total mediation


One: Transcending the Aesthetic Dimension

  1. The Significance of the human tradition for the human sciences
    1. The Problem of Method:
    2. The Guiding concepts of Humanism
      1. Bildung (Culture)
        1. Herder: rising up to humanity through culture.
        2. Kant: cultivating a capacity of natural talent.
        3. Latin equivalent: formatio
      2. Hegel and Bildung: the condition of its existence; correlation between Geist and Bildung.
        1. Taking the universal in oneself; in acting out a skill, the man “finds himself.”
        2. Recognizes oneself in other being;
        3. To recognize one’s own in the alien.  This is why Hegel was fond of classical antiquity: it was sufficiently removed so that we can more easily see ourselves in the Other (Gadamer 13).
      3. Sensus Communis: not just Reid’s “common sense,” but the sense which founds community (19ff).
        1. A sense of right and good that is acquired from living in community (Vico).
        2. The sense of community mediates its own positive knowledge (21).
      4. Judgment

History and Spirit (de Lubac)

“The Law is spiritual.” This one sentence allows Origen to seek “mystical” meanings beyond that of the literal text–and in de Lubac’s hands he does a fairly impressive job. In many ways this work can be seen as a case study of de Lubac’s Medieval Exegsis (3 vols). Henri de Lubac’s argument is that the spiritual sense justifies the literal sense (de Lubac 121). Furthermore, “allegory” (whatever that word means) always has metaphysical and epistemological overtones. What you say about allegory will reflect what you believe about the soul and how you know that. As de Lubac will conclude, allegory is a “symbolic transposition” (437). All thought is mediated and “positioned” by figures. Allegory, although often abused, is simply a logical outworking of this truth.


De Lubac’s Origen begins by noting correspondences between a trichotomous view of man and the 3-fold sense of Scripture. Man is body, soul, and spirit; not surprisingly, so Origen reads, so is Scripture. Up to a point, anyway. Scripture is unfolded as shadow, image, and truth (250). But we run into a small difficulty. The “three senses of Scripture” aren’t always locked in stone. Sometimes they can be “two senses.” When the mediating term is omitted, Scripture is elevated to the heavenly places. I think Origen paints himself into a corner here but we shouldn’t lose sight of his key epistemological insight: “Truth never appears to us completely free from figures” (253). If Scripture is mediated by figures, then there is nothing inherently wrong with allegory.

All of that is quite wonderful, but if the “mediating term” in Scripture is removed, does that mean the correspondence between Origen’s trichotomism (which I accept) and Scripture’s trichotomism breaks down? I think so. De Lubac leads to that conclusion but he refuses to draw it.

Origen doesn’t use the New Testament in exactly the same way as the Old Testament. There is a principle of New Testament operation: Christ’s actions are symbols of his spiritual operations (253). But “spiritual” doesn’t mean “not really real.” For Origen and Paul, “spiritual” mean eschatological newness (309). Jesus doesn’t explain the Old Testament; he transforms it (316).

De Lubac’s most fascinating chapter is on the relation between History and Spirit and the multiple modes of the Logos. In fact, that’s what the whole book should have been about. Origen’s Logos isn’t the same thing as Philo’s. De Lubac notes, “Philo’s Logos penetrates” into the multiplicity of matter, but Origen’s Logos speaks. He is “as much word as reason” (391).

And it is in this chapter where de Lubac most skillfully weaves together the logos of the soul with the Logos of Scripture. There is a “connaturality between Scripture and the soul” (397). The soul and Scripture “symbolize each other.” Origen applies this reasoning beyond the soul to the whole universe. Reality is an ordered hierarchy.


As wonderful as this book is, there are some negative points. It is about 100 pages too long (a problem with some of de Lubac’s writings). Further, de Lubac hasn’t fully escaped the prison cell of historical criticism, as he somewhat admits.

Van Til and a “thrown” world

Van Tillians love to say there are no “uninterpreted facts.”  All facts are already “pre-interpreted by God.”

Now, when you get them to explain just what a “pre-interpreted fact” looks like, that ends much of the discussion.  But I think we can take it a step further.

{1}  There is no such thing as a blank world.  Van Tillians have always been good on this point.

{2} Any such world we find ourselves in already has meaning from a host of relationships.

{3} These relationships constitute a finitude of sorts. We can never rise above our tacit assumptions.

{4} This finitude is embodiment.  We are not simply isolated intellects, but situated intellects–situated and embodied.  We are always embodied individuals and we experience the world as being-in-the-world (per Heidegger).  

{5} Worldview talk usually focuses on the intellectual.  And that’s necessary.  But w-v thinkers rarely focus on institutions and cultural practices.   Social structures and our bodily being-in-the-world also function in a “pre-theoretical” (per Dooyeweerd) manner.


As Jamie Smith says, ““Affect and emotion are part of the ‘background’ I bring with me that constitutes the situation as a certain kind of situation” (35)” Antepredicative knowing–the affective register upon which narrative operates–is processed by the body below the cognitive level (Merleau-Ponty).

{6}  Pre-cognitive perception breaks down the traditional epistemology of subjects and objects.  “The world is not what I think, but what I live through” (Merleau-Ponty).  Our being-in-the-world is between instinct and intellect (43).  We aren’t just thinking-things.  “We don’t have being-in-the-world; we are being-in-the-world” (44).  

{7}  Horizon:  background presuppositions and habits.  Horizons operate without our thinking.  I do not consciously invoke my horizons in order to understand the world.  They are social and shared but not a priori or universal.

Recommended Reading.

Martin Heidegger, Being and Time.

Hans-George Gadamer, Truth and Method.

James K. A. Smith, Imagining the Kingdom.

Medieval Exegesis Vol. 1

Argument: Medieval exegesis isn’t simply allegory, for it goes far beyond the method of ancient pagan sources. Rather, it seeks the “spirit” of Scripture.

Medieval Exegesis. Volume 1: The Four Senses of Scripture. By Henri de Lubac. Translated by Mark Sebanc. Foreword by Robert L. Wilken. Ressourcement: Retrieval and Renewal in Catholic Thought. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans


Henri de Lubac is a master writer and theologian, but this book presents a challenge to the reader on a number of levels. De Lubac opens the door to a wide forest of patristic and medieval thinking–and he provides no map to navigate this forest. (Later volumes in the series do provide the map). That’s not to say de Lubac fails to offer a model for medieval exegesis. He does. You just have to read for a while to find it. In what follows I will try to provide a model of medieval exegesis–or rather, foundational presuppositions.

P1: The letter teaches what happened, allegory what we should believe, moral what we should do, anagogical what we should hope for.

(P2) “For the doctrine of the two senses of Scripture and the doctrine of the relationship between the two testaments are in essence one and the same thing” (De Lubac 8).

In order to show that the “spiritual sense” of Scripture is not completely arbitrary, de Lubac notes that it is always tied to “discipline,” which implies a rule or manner (23ff). Scripture is sacrament and symbol, spirit and rationality (76). The implication is the letter of Scripture always points beyond itself. Scripture, like the world, is like a garment of the godhead.

Early Christian symbolism was liturgical symbolism.  De Lubac writes, “It is well know that medieval symbolism readily encompasses not only Scripture and the visible universe, but that other universe, that other living, sacred book which is divine worship. The fathers transposed the ancient doctrine that saw the universe at once as a temple and as a body and each temple as being at once the human body and the universe.  By virtue of this transposition, the cosmic and liturgical mirrors, while corresponding with each other, also correspond to the mirrors of history and the Bible” (103).

The Cross as Cosmic Universe:

“This Christian, who undertakes a new kind of De natura rerum, has achieved a profound realization of the cosmic dimensions of his faith.  He wants to show forth a universe that has been entirely taken up by Christ and recreated in the same Christ…He plants the Cross of Christ at the center of everything, just as Virgil placed Orpheus in the middle of the cosmic cup.  Time and Space, Heaven and Earth, angels and men, the Old Testament and the New, the physical universe and the moral universe, nature and grace: everything is encompassed, bound together, formed, “structured,” and unified by this Cross, even as everything is dominated by it” (111).

But there is a problem in the sources. Most of us are familiar with the so-called “fourfold method” (history, allegory, tropology, anagogy). But medieval and patristic writers didn’t always follow this model. Sometimes it was threefold, or maybe the terms were inverted. Is there a threefold distinction of Scripture, or a fourfold one? Sometimes authors collapsed anagogia into allegory.

Beginning with the fathers we note:

Body = history
Soul = tropology
Spirit = anagogy

The problem before the house: tropology was seen as an intermediary principle between body and spirit (140). There was a danger of introducing the “psuche” Scripture before its “pneuma.” This fails to respond to the intentions of the spirit. De Lubac highlights the problem: there “cannot be found in it an explicit allusion to the Mystery that is at once historical and spiritual, interior and social, a Mystery which is recapitulated in the other formula by “allegoria” (140-141). So which method is correct and when did the fourfold start? De Lubac doesn’t really tell us.

Unity and Harmony

Thesis: Christian tradition understands that Scripture has two meanings: literal and spiritual (pneumatic) and these two meanings have the same relationship to each other as do the Old and New Testaments to each other (225). The spiritual meaning discerns internal causes. The spirit is contained and hidden in the letter. History as a key to understanding the present is more and more transformed into allegory of the future (230).

Typology is not enough. It needs allegory, allegory understood as the pneumatic sense (259). Typology simply tells that A prefigures A’. It says nothing of the opposition or unity between the two testaments.

Conclusion and evaluation.

“High hopes and empty pockets” may be the best way to summarize this book. This is one of those instances where de Lubac’s brilliant reputation actually worked to his disadvantage. Given the rich spirituality of the patristics and medievals and de Lubac’s own brilliant handling of Augustinian Supernaturalism, one rightly expected this book to be a stunning tour de force. It wasn’t.

Given what I’ve read of de Lubac on the social dimension of Christianity and his take on the Surnaturel, I expected this book to outline the failure of liberal and fundmentalist hermeneutics (including, obviously, the failure of modernity), a brief section outlining the medievals’ take on Scripture, the structure of allegory, and how to do allegory in today’s church.

As tedious as this book was at times, it is a necessary read if one is interested in reading de Lubac’s corpus. Fortunately, volume two appears to be more smooth, compact, and focused on the main issues. It was that de Lubac seemed to merely compile quotations of people who agree with him. While I suppose that makes his point, he is always bordering on overkill (I tried to pull this stunt on graduate level essays. The profs were not amused!). Still, at the end of the day when reading de Lubac, one knows one is in the presence of a master.