Review of La Sociedad de la Comunicación y el Modelo Hermenéutico by Ricardo Etchegaray

  1. Nombre y apellido del alumno Bert Amsing
  2. Fecha June 15, 2016
  3. Título del texto leído Ricardo Etchegaray

La Sociedad de la Comunicación y el Modelo Hermenéutico

  1. ¿De qué trata el artículo o capítulo leído?

Ricardo Etchegaray, in his chapter “La sociedad de la comunicación y el Modelo Hermenéutico,” gives us an overview of the New Hermeneutic as part of his book called Introducción a los modelos de pensamiento.  The New Hermeneutic, then, is a model of thinking within society defined as a community of dialogue.  As Etchegaray says at one point, “el lenguaje se identifica con la realidad (p. 143).”  Language is key to understanding and thinking.

  1. ¿Cuál es la idea central del autor?

Etchegaray´s chapter is not so much persuasive as it is descriptive.  He begins by reviewing the problem from a historical point of view.  The foundations of thought are crumbling and the New Hermeneutic has taken its place.  Not only is truth itself and the criterion and verification of truth (los fundamentos) in question but also “la conciencia y el sujeto.”  From there he goes on to explore what the term “hermeneutics” means historically and philosophically.  After discussing “comprehension” from an existential point of view, he gets to the core of his chapter which is about the hermeneutic circle and how it answers the problems cited earlier.  Finally, he discusses the consequences of this new hermeneutic in terms of linguistic analysis.

  1. ¿De qué nos quiere convencer?

Etchegaray is not trying to convince but rather describe (although it is evident that he believes that this approach is valid).  He provides useful summaries of the problem and the solution that the new hermeneutic offers.

  1. ¿Cuáles son los puntos fuertes y los puntos débiles del texto?

Etchegaray´s thinking and writing is refreshingly clear and concise, perhaps because he has taken a thematic approach to the history of philosophy rather than a chronological or genealogical one.  At the same time, a lot of things are assumed to be true that, in the opinion of this author, still remains to be evaluated and modified further.  There is a general problem with the entire approach of modern philosophy that just doesn’t ring true to the way things are.  It is understandable, perhaps, that there is a desire to rid all of modern thinking from any remnants of “supernaturalism,” whether in terms of religion or metaphysics but to take that to the extreme of cutting mankind completely off from an objective world outside himself is simply counter-intuitive.  Perhaps that is the problem.  The very fact of making rational certainty the criteria for truth is, in itself, the problem.  It leaves great areas of human existence and experience in the realm of obscurity.
These are, of necessity, general remarks in reflection on the first section of Etchegaray’s chapter explaining why the foundations of truth have crumbled in modern times.  It is difficult to get past this analysis without some grave misgivings that “something is not right in Denmark.”  At this point only general statements can be made to describe those “misgivings” and perhaps suggest a direction for future thought.  Furthermore, when it is recognized that philosophy is, by nature, rationalistic with a pre-disposition against the supernatural, it is understandable where they end up.  And there is some value in their position, especially with regards to the benefits of linguistic analysis.  But the question is whether or not there is a place within their thought for the distinctiveness of revelation and the scriptural text as having characteristics that are “supernatural” which affect the hermeneutical circle and the method for coming to a “spiritual” interpretation.  The truth is that the hermeneutic method, as described by Etchegaray, especially when discussing culture and its interpretation is remarkably similar to the process of biblical interpretation.  Still, there is a marked difference between someone who is immersed in the biblical worldview, is committed to it in words and actions and who does not have a pre-disposition against the supernatural and those biblical exegetes who are.  That distinction needs to be clarified further in order to provide a stronger rationale for the distinctiveness of a hermeneutic that is guided by a “supernatural” force within a specific worldview commitment in the trajectory of a specific tradition that has always affirmed that it is in “the process of reforming itself.”
Without going into detail on the specifics of these issues at this time, let it suffice some brief thoughts about Etchegaray’s use of St. Augustine as an example of the hermeneutic circle.  In his discussion of the term “hermeneutics” in the philosophical tradition, he mentions Plato, Aristotle and then, St. Augustine who addresses the question of hermeneutics.  Etchegaray says “San Agustin retoma la tradicion de Platon y Plotino desde una posicion Cristiana (p. 118).”    His own words betray his confusion.  The influence of the Greek philosophers (and others) on St. Augustine was eclipsed by his later conversion to Christianity.  So Etchegaray is right when he says that he subjected the Greek philosophers under the revelation of the Word of God.  He evaluated them “desde una posicion Cristiana.”  That is the whole point of the quote which Etchegaray goes on to discuss as the basis of using St. Augustine as an example of the hermeneutic circle.  He says “incluso una de sus frases más celebres:  “creo para entender y entiendo para creer,”  (p. 118).”  The full quote is actually, “Understanding is the reward of faith.  Therefore, seek not to understand that you may believe, but believe that you might understand.”  Admittedly, a very different concept than what Etchegaray intends when he says that it “puede ser vista como un ejemplo fundamental del “circulo hermenéutico,” un circulo que manifiesta la imposibilidad de fijar un principio absoluto o un final definitivo del sentido (p. 118).”  That is not at all what St. Augustine is saying in this famous quote.  In fact, quite the opposite.  He is saying that “faith” is the foundation of meaning.  It starts with faith which seeks to understand (see Anselmo) itself.  Reason within the bounds of faith.
In addition, even if Etchegaray was correct in his understanding of St. Augustine, using him as an example of the hermeneutical circle is farfetched.  How can you compare the relationship between faith and reason, as two poles/horizons in the comprehension/interpretation process, with history/tradition and reflection?  The entire exercise is problematic at best.
Later, Etchegaray brings up St. Augustine again when he discusses the Hermeneutic Circle and how it answers the problem of foundationalism.  His goal is to provide examples of the use of the Hermeneutic Circle and starts with St. Augustine.  He repeats his quote of St. Augustine (again misunderstanding its meaning by taking it out of context and thereby violating his own Hermeneutical principles of text/context).  From that point on, Etchegaray comes to some strange conclusions.  He says, “de este principio se sigue que la fe supone cierta comprensión previa que posibilita y prepara el acto de fe, pero la fe sola no basta sino que requiere de la comprensión y el entendimiento (p. 123).”  On the face of it, it seems harmless enough, and true.  Faith needs “comprehension and understanding” in order to function.  Of course.  Faith has content and that content needs to be understood.  No doubt.  But comprehension and understanding is not “reason” as it is defined historically and philosophically as over and against “faith.”  Faith comprehends and understands even what “reason” (interpreted as logic) cannot.  In the words of Pascal, “the heart has reasons that reason knows not of.”  At the very least, some clarification is needed here.
But to go on, Etchegaray continues his argument by saying, “a su vez, la comprensión supone una fe previa sin la cual no es posible (p. 123).  Again, true but incomplete and confusing.  Why is faith needed as a prelude to understanding?  Are we talking here about understanding tradition, other minds, texts in general, cultures in general, or are we talking specifically here about the biblical text/worldview/culture?  In other words, is Etchegaray suggesting that faith is a prerequisite to “comprehension and understanding” everything and anything (which is highly doubtful) or just the biblical text?  If just the biblical text, then is he allowing the Hermeneutic Circle to be used legitimately in the realm of the “supernatural” (again highly doubtful)?”
He goes on to say, “pero la comprensión tampoco es suficiente si no posibilita y prepara la fe (p. 123).”  This gets closer to what St. Augustine actually wanted to say, that “comprehension and understanding” makes faith stronger but only when it is done within the context of faith (both in terms of content/tradition and attitude/commitment).  Remember that his original comment was that “understanding is the reward of faith,” meaning that only with faith can the Christian faith-content truly be understood.
Should that be generalized to refer to all understanding of nature and life (as Etchegaray seems to imply)?  St. Augustine would probably say yes since he believed in the doctrine of the inner illumination of God which makes all knowledge possible.  The Reformation doctrine of common grace and special grace would agree in general while still maintaining a special place for the inner illumination of the Spirit in the hermeneutical circle of interpreting God’s interpretation of us.  Even St. Augustine’s doctrine of analogy which allows us to dialogue with and understand each other (other minds) would be a useful counterpart to the modern obsession with subjectivism.
Etchegaray would, no doubt, not agree and that is understandable given his “secular” approach to epistemology.  After all, without God as the creator and ground of our being, the revealer and referent for our cognition, the provider and ultimate cause of all effects, primary and secondary and the relational source of all analogy, language and dialogue, what else is there but a debilitating subjectivism which is out of sync with the reality of our lives (even in our rebellion outside the bounds of faith).  This is clearly seen in Etchegaray’s last statement where he says that, “la relación entre fe y razón es circular: se puede comenzar por cualquiera de los términos a condición de suponer el otro (p. 123).”  Starting with the comment that “la relación entre fe y razón es circular,” it needs to be pointed out that Etchegaray has equated “reason” with “comprehension and understanding.”  There is no distinction between “reason as a faculty” and “reason as a worldview.”  Reason as a faculty has no need to be separate from faith but reason as a worldview, a starting point, an independent-from-faith, secular way of looking at the world has every reason to be separate from faith.  That very separation, from the point of view of faith, is an act of rebellion and sin and results in all manner of evil and death.  If the faith-content of our faith is correct, that there is a God who is there and who demands allegiance and commitment, then reason without faith is an act of rebellion.  But the rebellion exists.  Philosophers have for centuries maintained the legitimacy of the oxymoron (from the point of view of faith) “secular reason.”
Therefore, in an attempt to maintain an open dialogue, faith and reason must be discussed as if they are two options.  In that case, the fact that faith and reason provide a hermeneutic circle may be correct to a degree so long as reason is defined in terms of a faculty and not as a worldview.  It would be better to say that faith uses reason to better understand itself and, therefore, reason, rooted in faith, is a useful and necessary part of the process.
But Etchegaray continues to betray his bias against faith when he “jumps to the conclusion,” based on his faulty premises, that “se puede comenzar por cualquiera de los terminos a condicion de suponer el otro (p. 123).”  St. Augustine’s entire point was that you must start from faith and not reason alone.  There is no such thing, for a person of faith, as reason alone.  It simply isn’t an option.  But perhaps we can save Etchegaray somewhat by trying to interpret what he means by “a condición de suponer el otro.”  If faith must presuppose the use of reason, there is no problem if reason is understood as a faculty for comprehension and understanding.  If reason must presuppose faith, there is also no problem if faith is understood as faith-content and faith-attitude toward that content which is objective and true in a distinctive fashion to all other truth since it is the revelation of God to mankind using language and human culture and history as the medium for communication.  Of course, Etchegaray would not agree with these definitions.  He has a weak view of faith and a strong, independent view of reason and therefore his hermeneutic circle is found wanting when he tries to use the biblical text and Christianity as his example.
In a footnote near the end of his chapter, he puts the issue before us in a clear and concise manner.  In describing the difference between the classic approach and the modern approach to truth, he says, “es esa la diferencia que separa la voluntad de verdad de la voluntad de autosuperación (p. 139 footnote No. 61).”  Exactly.  In the name of the righteous search for truth defined by superlatives such as “certainty,” and “total,” and “absolute,” which can no longer be found by those in rebellion towards the ground of all truth, the modern philosopher hides within the cave of their own subjectivism and claim a superior methodology and approach to truth which has cut them off from the very reality they claim to want to understand.  Once again, creation and the nature of reality forces mankind to face the impoverishment of their own thinking which cannot even accept the objective reality of the world and other minds, much less understand them.  Future generations of philosophers will interpret this generation in much the same way that we now understand Nietzsche: as the logical conclusion to an understanding of the world that has nothing to offer except “nothingness.”  Modern subjectivism has that same virtue of providing an “honest” approach to philosophy that ultimately embarrasses itself with its own nakedness.
Finally, it must be said that much of the linguistic analysis movement is useful in a general sense but it needs to be stripped of its reliance on “secular reason” and oriented firmly within the context of the faith.  When that task is done, and the foundations of truth as a correspondence with reality is reaffirmed, then there may be much fruit to be gained in a deeper use of this methodology.
Still, because of the nature of the rebellion we find in our world against the revelation of God, we must maintain a “dialectical” approach that maintains the priority of faith as the context for the use of reason on the one hand, and recognizes the necessity and (sometimes) usefulness of the priority of “secular reason” on the other side so that the dialogue can continue.
The danger is that Evangelical scholars, theologians and philosophers will not clearly delineate the line between “reason within the bounds of faith,” and a weak, useless “faith within the bounds of secular reason” which so plagues the modern church and has rendered it impotent in dealing with the sin and evil of the world.

  1. ¿Qué aspectos no entendí?

There is a fascinating discussion on the Hermeneutic Method as applied to the social sciences near the end of his chapter that is worth looking into further.  There is a correlation here between this method and its conclusions (and humility) that our process of interpreting the biblical text.  With that same humility before the text of scripture, and understanding its distinctive nature as the revealed word of God, one could come to the conclusion that Scripture should interpret Scripture but not just as a cultural expression but as a conversation between God and man in history.  Etchegaray puts it this way.  He says, “Asi, “la función de la teoría es suministrar un vocabulario en el cual pueda expresarse lo que la acción simbólica tiene que decir sobre si misma, es decir, sobre el papel de la cultura en la vida humana (p. 142).”  If we substitute “culture” for the “biblical text,” and if we understand “la acción simbólica” as God’s actions and words in history as revealed and interpreted to us by God himself through human means of communication in all their historicity and culture, then this becomes very interesting.  Especially, the humility of allowing it to express itself as it is in itself, and thereby have something to say about human life.  That humility before God and his revelation, even in all of its human historical/cultural and linguistic context, might reveal more about human existence than we are prepared to accept (e.g. the nature of evil, the problem of sin, the solution in Christ, the role of the world and the church in terms of the future etc.).
But most importantly, this methodology comes perilously close to what the Reformers claim is essential to biblical hermeneutics which is that (given the authority and inspiration of Scripture), we must allow Scripture to interpret itself just as we allow a culture, or a different point of view of the world, interpret itself.  In that way, we can be humble in our dialogue with other cultures and points of view on the one hand, and maintain the distinctiveness of the divine culture and point of view on the other.  As we dialogue with other minds in humility and acceptance, we can also invite them to consider a divine point of view which can transform as well as protect the beauty of their history and culture.  Even as we recognize that religion and culture are intertwined and a new worldview will have a profound effect on their traditions, new hope and vitality will also be infused into their traditions and culture as they recognize their religion as a seeking after God.  Finding God in Christ will change them but it will be a welcome change that will transform their lives, give them identity, purpose, significance and meaning while at the same time destroying the darkness of the past.  That is the only basis for a worldwide society that God will entertain.  All the rest is Babel.

  1. ¿Cómo se puede aplicar el contenido a la tarea hermenéutica?

There is a lot of detail here in Etchegaray’s chapter that is worthy of further study.  His synthesis and summaries are excellent.  The role of linguistic analysis in the hermeneutical task is important but, as indicated earlier, first of all, the entire discussion must be firmly placed within the realm of the faith-content of Christianity rather than “secular reason” so that a clear role can be maintained for the distinctiveness of biblical hermeneutics.
Bert Amsing
Master’s Program – FIET