Catholicism vs. Criticism

Mark Pattison: Joseph Scaliger

“But, after allowing for I these influences, we must look within rather than without, for the momentum which Scaliger’s religious convictions obeyed. The creed of a scholar or a man of science is often a matter of small interest to him; he wears the religion of his country as he does its garb. With Scaliger it was not so. He could not have been a Catholic. For his knowledge was not a professional skill, a linguistic, a verbal art, or a literary taste. His criticism was to him an instrument of truth. Philology was not an amusement for the ingenious, but the mode of ascertaining the true sense of ancient records. And the controversy as it came to stand at the end of the century between Catholic and Protestant was much more one of interpretation than it has since become. We now think Scaliger’s dictum, ‘All controversies in religion arise from ignorance of criticism ‘ (Non aliunde dissidia in religione pendent quam ab ignoratione grammaticae) somewhat overdrawn. But it was almost literally true at that time. Not only had the Catholic theologians rested their case on all sorts of false renderings and expositions of the Scripture and fathers, on supposititious documents, on historical frauds, on exploded hypotheses, but their principle of interpretation was a rotten one — the principle, namely, that that is the true sense of a text which is conformable to the received doctrine of the Church. A clear scientific insight into the laws of interpretation inevitably forces the mind which arrives at it to rebel against such a maxim. The spell is broken, and it becomes aware that that may be the true sense of Scripture which the Church may have ruled to be heresy. It was, therefore, impossible in the sixteenth century for a consummate critic to be other than a Protestant.”

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