In our previous article we examined how the Patristic tradition helps us to understand how a personal ‘hearing’ of Christ through the Scriptures may be theologically explained and legitimated. The Holy Spirit who indwells the sacred text, the Church, and the reader-interpreter is active in mediating the living voice of Christ in the Scriptures. The occasion of hearing Christ’s voice is an action of grace that is deeply personal, yet never private, since the Spirit works likewise in and through the entire community of faith, mediating the Paschal mystery throughout the whole life of the Church. Yet experience has taught us that a fundamentalist tendency may creep in that attempts to privatize this meaning to the exclusion of other authentic voices emanating from the Church. The Pontifical Biblical Commission has stated this view well:
‘The Spirit is, assuredly, also given to individual Christians, [emphasis theirs] so that their hearts can ‘burn within them’ (Luke 24:32), as they pray and prayerfully study the Scripture within the context of their own personal lives. This is why the Second Vatican Council insisted that access to Scripture be facilitated in every possible way (Dei Verbum, 22; 25). This kind of reading, it should be noted, is never completely private, for the believer always reads and interprets Scripture within the faith of the Church and then brings back to the community the fruit of that reading, for the enrichment of the common faith.’[i]
But how is this authentic experience of grace appropriated without the negative side effect of disaffection from communion with the Roman Catholic Church and casting one’s hermeneutical loyalty in the arena of biblical fundamentalism? The answer is to be found in the early Patristic practice of uniting the spiritual sense, a highly personalized appropriation of the biblical message, with the living tradition of the community of faith.[ii] We shall begin by first noting some of the features of fundamentalism, both biblical fundamentalism and a peculiar manifestation of fundamentalism among Catholics.