Susan E. Schreiner, Where Shall Wisdom be Found? : Calvin’s Exegesis of Job from Medieval and Modern Perspectives, (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press), 1994, 274 pp, EISBN: 978-0226740430. Not available in Kindle or Logos formats; $57.00
In the beginning, I was disappointed in this work. When Schreiner identified Job as a myth and a legend, I knew this would be a liberal take on the Book of Job. Schreiner identified three target audiences: 1) Calvin scholars, 2) history of exegesis scholars, and 3) the audience with questions about suffering and perception in modernity. She went on to say that Calvin wrote for the laypersons of his church (pg. 6), in the context of the upheaval of his times, as a window into the changes of his times.
However, Schreiner never examined the changes Calvin faced (refugees, personal illness, controversy), and which he helped to bring about in his church, in the church catholic, and in society in general. She used the bulk of the 190 pages of her book’s text (258 with Notes) to examine anything but Calvin’s response to the societal changes of his time, or his part in bringing those changes about. Since the Sermons on Job were published near the end of Calvin’s life, this was not because of a lack of materials. She wrote: “this book is a study in intellectual history” (pg. 8). But on the next page she wrote “The critical point is that the present study is not concerned with questions of influence” (pg. 9; her emphasis).
She did recognize that Calvin saw the book of Job as a historical work, i.e. Calvin thought of Job as existing in space and time at some period of the past, the events were historical. “Calvin expounded the literal sense of the text and believed that ‘literally’ the Book of Job is about the doctrine of providence” (pg. 9; her scare quote). Interestingly, she did not take the same position on Gregory, Maimonides, or Aquinas.
Schreiner used a post-modern hermeneutic throughout her work:
In recent years the relationship between reader and text has been dissected and found to be enormously ambiguous. The discussion had usually focused in the act of interpretation that takes place when a commentator studies a text. In the history of exegesis this relationship is doubly problematic because in this field we confront two hermeneutical levels: I am interpreting texts that are themselves interpretations of the Book of Job. We are, then, imbedded in the question of interpretation, and the hermeneutical turn in the human sciences has important implications for the reading of past commentaries.
Novik has shown that the impact of literary criticism on the field of history has been to undermine any remaining allegiance to the ideal of objectivity. The attempt to find fixed or determinative meanings in texts has been eroded by the hermeneutical or linguistic critique of the text, the author, and the reader. In all three instances, the result has been the abandonment of the search for authorial intention (pg. 10).
Schreiner thus announced her hermeneutic position of post-modern nihilism with no intention of trying to understand what Calvin, or any of her other sources, meant when they wrote on the Book of Job. The abandonment of authorial intention was not fully realized until the last page of her text. In the mean time, she was forced, as all deconstructionist readers are, to find meaning in the writing of the authors in order to have anything to say about their writings. The irony of deconstructionism is that writers in that genre do not believe their own doctrine, calling on their readers to believe the meaning of the words they write explain how we cannot know what other (historical) writers meant and intended. Nor are they able to personally live within that doctrine. For example, tell tenured professors that their tenure is worthless because meaning cannot be found in that term, or that the amount in their bank account cannot be determined because the text of the account eclipses both parties and the digits make their own meaning in the mind of the reader. Deconstruction is a self defeating argument, leading inevitably to a nihilist position. Rather than this being a Gordian knot to be cut with a sword, it is a vacuous position which should be bypassed and ignored to learn from Dr. Schreiner. Nihilism is a zero sum game, and Schreiner has nothing to offer her readers by adopting it in both her Introduction and her concluding paragraph. See also Carl F. H. Henry, God, Revelation and Authority, Vol. 1, Supplementary Note: Science and the Invisible, Crossway Books, Wheaton, IL, 1999, pp. 17-18.
Schreiner is a nihilist who is unable to find an answer to her own question “Where Shall Wisdom Be Found?” Her view of Job as a legend and myth (pg. 1) so limits her ability to see the Book of Job as the word of God that she sees only that God is hidden, and in Him is no light to guide the faithful or the searcher, and “Vision points nowhere” (pg. 190). There is only darkness and fear in the presence of her God, which she projected into Calvin’s sermons on Job. She frequently used the phrase “read closely” to indicate eisegesis of her subjects’ texts. She also made frequent use of scare quotes to deny something with which she disagreed. Curiously, Schreiner made a sensus plenior appeal to fill her work with meaning by appealing to David Steinmetz: “A good literary text creates a field of meaning and associations not explicitly contained in the text itself. In the interaction of reader and text, those implicit meanings are discerned and brought to expression” (quoting Steinmetz, pg. 18). To read and interpret Calvin or Job through the eyes of writers who do not believe their own words (chapter five) is a leap; we must read Calvin and Job from within the regula fidei to have understanding and to find wisdom.
Schreiner set the tone of her work in the final paragraph of her introduction, saying:
We will follow a trajectory in which the possibility of revelation is gradually eclipsed. In the chapters dealing with Gregory, Maimonides, Aquinas, and Calvin, we will see the attempt to justify God’s actions and to ascend to a higher understanding of God and history. In chapter 5 we will make a jump that presupposes the Enlightenment and observe a concentration on the human existential situation as it is cut off from the deity. God becomes silent, and human perception or insight becomes increasingly narrow. This is a trajectory in Western culture that we cannot escape: In the end we will stand at the collapse of what Hans Jonas once called the “nobility of sight.” We are left with the suspicion by Foucault and others regarding the problematic, suspicious, sinister, or “dark side” of ocularcentrism (sic), (pg. 21).
In other words, Schreiner has adopted the Jedi religion: an undefined deity where the dark side is the real power and actual essence of the Force. What she described at the end of her Introduction was a deaf-mute God and a blind humanity, attributing it to Foucault and Jonas.
Commenting on Gregory’s Moralia, Schreiner said that for him “(t)he most dangerous evil in life is not suffering but tranquility; peace and prosperity are conditions that must be overcome” (pg. 30-31). Gregory’s is a twisted theodicy formed without a systematic theology, arising from his monastic background. With a Pope that practiced monastic asceticism, and preached penance rather than repentance, suffering as a curative for sin should not be surprising. While we must all take up our crosses and follow Jesus, Peter’s cross was not the same as John’s cross; Moses was God’s friend and lead Israel out of Egypt, while Joshua was God’s servant and lead Israel into the Promised Land, their work differed according to God’s plan. God has appointed apostles, prophets, teachers, and so forth (1 Cor. 12:28-29) and not all are appointed to peace and tranquility, while others suffer apparently inexplicably to our minds. If not all are teachers and prophets, neither are all called to be martyrs (John 21:21-24).
Schreiner spoke approvingly of Gregory’s allegorical interpretations of Job (pg. 31), but I am reminded that someone famously said that allegory is not worth so much dirt. Her interpretation of Gregory’s reading of Job was that the main characters in the book “expressed different aspects of the truth depending on the perceptions afforded them by their respective abilities to perceive the inner truth of reality” (pg. 31). She failed to see that Job’s friends were unjust to him and to God; in the end, Job was justified, God was proven just, and the friends were reconciled to God by Job’s prayers and sacrifice. Job did not long for eternity, but for the justification he ultimately received. His laments about himself are the words of someone who is suffering intensively and longing for answers. He cursed the day of his birth, but those are the words of someone suffering, just as his friends were stunned to silence at first.
Schreiner poses the question about undeserved suffering (pg. 32) in the same way an atheist might refute the existence of God: if there is a good and all powerful God, then why do good people suffer? Since suffering does exist, then God is either malevolent or impotent. Either way, for the atheist there is no god as the Christian understands God. This makes several assumptions about people, life, and God. This assumes that people are good (we are not), that there exists a direct correspondence between suffering and moral evil (there is not), and that God is explicable in terms which the unbeliever will approve (He is not). Talking about Gregory, Schreiner said that non-retributive suffering reveals the power of God and increases the merit of suffering (pg. 33), without appeal to theology but to allegory. Gregory’s meritorious suffering implied the merit accrues to the sufferer and not to Christ and His body the church (Colossians 1:24). It is not as though she did not allow the New Testament to influence her thinking, citing John 9:2-3 on the reason for the man being born blind as the greater glory of God (pg. 34).
On page 33, Schreiner wrote “Because of the contest between God and Satan the power of divine deliverance can be said to form the proscenium of Gregory’s interpretation.” Does she believe in a Ying-Yang dualism as a stage for Satan and God to act out the play of life? She is not clear whether she believes in dualism or meritorious suffering, or if she is reporting that Gregory believed suffering was meritorious (pg. 34).
Gregory was wrong about Job not being a sinner (pg. 34) because he “never went out from the desert.” Why did Gregory not understand Job’s being a sinner with Psalm 51:5 in view? Gregory saw Job’s suffering as producing detachment, however, Job does not seem detached in his responses toward the suffering itself, toward his friends, or toward God (Job 7:16). Instead he railed against them all until rebuked and challenged by God in the whirlwind Theophany. In addition, detachment is not a Christian virtue; it is Hindu/Buddhist. In Eastern religions the path out of pain is detachment from material things and people: have no possessions that may draw your affections; have no relationships which form affections; empty the self of desire and you will have no pain, and enlightenment will occur. Why does Schreiner speak of detachment approvingly? She did understand when she said Gregory “turn’s Job’s speeches upside down.”
Schreiner’s reader-hermeneutic came into play again when she blamed the “reader of little experience” (pg. 35) as the reason “that Job’s statements ‘sound harshly.’” So, only the experienced reader, a post-modern, deconstructionist, nihilist reader will do? I was surprised to find the author was critical of her own readers. Does she not seek to enlighten her readers with wisdom of her own? She did have something to offer her readers by way of intellectual exercise.
Schreiner brings out Gregory’s monastic view (pg. 38) of property and possessions in his sweeping generalized statement that “The wicked really do live a life of ease.” This simply is not so, the wicked suffer in this life as do the righteous, there are wealthy righteous and wealthy wicked, one’s station in life is nether decisive in righteousness nor does it determine wickedness, the wicked will be judged in the next life as will the righteous, and there is none righteous, no not one (Romans 3:10). A monastic like Gregory would value poverty over wealth, and see possessions as a trap and as snare. Rather than a prosperity gospel, this is a poverty gospel where God’s love is earned by meritorious suffering, contra John 10:10.
Gregory’s call for “retreating inward” (pg. 39) would preclude obedience to the Great Commandment and the Great Commission. It would also have prevented John of the Cross from reaching out to help reform the Discalced Carmelite order, and many others from forming and ordering their groups like the Jesuits and Dominicans.
Schreiner called for a “patient reading” of Gregory’s allegorical level of the text, again calling for a tolerant reading that “ascends above history,” unifying all levels of the text. This must be what she meant by an “experienced reader” who is lifted “to a higher perceptual level that allows them to bestow value on a portion of the historical realm” (pg. 39). What does that mean? I find it to be post-modern nonsense.
She went on (pg. 40) to accept in Gregory’s allegorical exegesis “a coherent interpretation of the Book of Job” as valid and true because he accepted Job as a prophet of Christ. A prophet dispels the limits of time thus exposing the hidden things of the past and future (pg. 41). Gregory strained hard to find meaning for Job in his suffering before the Theophonic appearance of God in the whirlwind, i.e. meaning without God. Schreiner’s Gregory has an unsustainable view of Job as an allegorical prophet, finding in Job both the church and Christ, the defeat of the Antichrist and many other exegetically questionable positions, positions such as his straight up Roman Catholic position on meritorious suffering imposed by God.
This extends into Gregory’s views on justification and sanctification, conflating the two things due to an inadequate view of justification. For Gregory, justification was not complete at Calvary, but requires meritorious suffering on the part of the believer to recompense for sin insisting that all suffering is the result of sin (pg. 44-45). “Gregory often defends the medicinal function of chastisement, a function always expressed in the perceptual terms of self-knowledge,” (pg. 45). Granted that we are all fallen sinners, still there are sufferings that defy explanation, either retributive or meritorious (2 Corinthians 12:7), there is no merit in us and all our good works are as polluted garments (Isaiah 64:6).
In addition to Gregory’s Catholicity, Papacy, and monastic roots, it is important to keep in mind the current events of his time. The church had recently split east/west while he was Rome’s ambassador to Constantinople. Rome was in decline as a city and as a nation. Wars raged, black plague swept back and forth across Europe, including Italy. Gregory’s parents and two aunts had recently died, and another abandoned her Holy Orders to marry. Gregory turned his ancestral home into a monastery. Gregory was impatient and unforgiving; when one of his Cardinals confessed on his dead-bed to the theft of three gold coins, Gregory condemned him to Hell without granting absolution for his confession, and refused him Christian burial by ordering his body cast into the city dump. To this we must add the decline of the church in power, morals, and influence. Small marvel that Gregory wanted to interpret Job allegorically. One wonders why our author did not mention these things about Gregory. Surely an experienced reader could rise above these things to “relegate temporality to the lowest level of Being” (pg. 54).
I see that I have expended most of my quota of pages on Schreiner’s Gregory. Therefore, brief comments must suffice for Maimonides. Because Maimonides wrote in an Islamic Spain, he could not write openly. Thus his statements are veiled. Still, Maimonides did not see apples of gold in leaves of silver, but literal statements of events. I find his assertion that God is far removed and incomprehensible, but represented by a series of Intelligences until the Lunar sphere, where things happen in this sphere. And yet Maimonides is able to do what God cannot: penetrate the spheres of Intelligence to know what is going on.
Schreiner repeatedly brought up the hiddenness of God. I will take that idea up in my final paper for the class. It seems connected to the Dark Night of the Soul in some other texts.
In the end, I was disappointed in this work: “Job’s world is now a world without justice, without revelation, without hope, and without understanding” (pg. 190). For Schreiner, exegesis and interpretation have come full circle to her nihilist core. Her reading of the best, Calvin, is still impoverished. Her repeated “careful readings” are her device for eisegesis of the authors. Her exclusion of any conservative scholar is telling of her own opinion. She has not produced answers for any of her three audiences (pp. 2-3), and the answer to her own question of “Where shall wisdom be found?” is “Nowhere” (pg. 190).