Conversing with the Saints as they Converse with Scripture: In conversation with Brian Brock’s “Singing the Ethos of God”

Bernd Wannenwetsch

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Responding to the second part of Singing the Ethos of God, this paper analyses several aspects of the concept of a 'theological tradition'. In a tradition agreement is more exciting and fundamental than disagreement, is something that we can become part of, and can introduce others into. The concept of the sanctorum communio recovers the ethical reach of Christian exegesis. This is to be distinguished from the 'turn to community' that has become popular in the scripture and ethics debate since the mid-1980s. It suggests an understanding of the church as creatura verbi, a creature of the Word. Scriptural authority is defined in terms of its power to author and bring to life, an active definition resting on a developed pneumatology. The authority of Scripture is described as a phenomenon in between Scripture and its readers. When the community re-cognises the power of the biblical books which they read as Scripture, they acknowledge it as having the power to give shape to their own lives in the very way it is portrayed in the texts. Drawing together this pneumatologically organised account of scriptural authority and the role of the communion of saints within it generates a sharp critique of popular conceptions of history as a sequence of epochs distancing contemporary believers from the saints who have gone before. It also calls forth a willingness to 'meditate' on Scripture, to give it time. This raises the question of whether the real reason for the modern quest for objective exegetical methods, for safe and stable procedures of interpretation, rests on a worry that we do not have time for patient exposure to Scripture. These moves are intended to preserve the strangeness of Scripture, to thwart human tendencies to escape the strangeness of the Word. Without the challenge and possible correction by Christians through the generations, contemporary exegetes remain prisoners of the schemata of their age, in their interpretative habits as much as in any other intellectual or practical activity. Contemporary Christian exegetes must not only read the exegesis of the saints, but in order to invite divine transformation, must learn to hear their distinctive voices as contemporaries and guides in reading Scripture. If there is any guiding idea for such reading, it is: never attempt a moral judgement, mount an argument, or use the Bible for the purpose of the former, in a way that does not leave space for the Holy Spirit. The paper suggests that a methodologically decisive move sustains these emphases. Brock begins with the Psalms, yet does so not by offering his own interpretative take but rather studies them, as it were, 'in operation': watching the way in which the fathers prayerfully read them as an opportunity to watch the Psalms in operation, as they shaped the intellectual, emotional and volitional horizon of those who became adept in singing the ethos of God.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)125-135
Number of pages11
JournalEuropean Journal of Theology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2009


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