Sacred and Secular Scriptures
A Catholic Approach to Literature
Erasmus Institute Books
Published by: University of Notre Dame Press
312 pages, 152.00 x 229.00 mm
- ISBN: 9780268021801
- Published: April 2004
Nicholas Boyle’s latest work begins with an observation—from theologian and medievalist Father Marie-Dominique Chenu, O.P.—that the Bible should be seen as a divinely ordained mediation between human culture and divine truth. But how far can we say that the Bible is ‘literature’? Chenu is surely right that God is revealed in Scripture not through a system of ideas, but through a vivid historical narrative of people and places. But the Bible is also a sacred book. Expanding on this central dilemma, Boyle demonstrates that biblical scholarship and literary criticism must work together in the largely neglected task of integrating theology and modern secular culture.
Boyle explores two lines of thought. In the first series of essays, he discusses a range of writers, primarily philosophers and theologians, who have treated the Bible as literature as a means of reconciling the sacred and the secular. In the second series, Boyle moves to the theme of literature as Bible, seeking a Catholic way of reading secular literature.
These sophisticated and learned essays—drawn from the Erasmus Lectures Boyle delivered at the University of Notre Dame in 2003—cover a remarkable range of philosophers, theologians, and writers, including Herder, Schleiermacher, Hegel, Lévinas, Goethe, Austen, Melville, and Tolkien. This volume will reward its reader with penetrating, and often brilliant, insights.
"Written with lucidity, vigor, and authority, Nicholas Boyle's 'Catholic Approach' is genuinely and generously catholic in spirit. Taking literature to be the site of theology where sacred and secular meet, Boyle examines influential readings on the Bible as literature—notably Herder, Schleiermacher, Hegel and Levinas—and then applies to literary writings—from Pascal, Goethe, Melville, and Austen to Tolkien—critical principles derived from theology. Boyle's reassessments of these major works challenge Catholics and non-Catholics alike to rethink their assumptions about the Bible and literature." —Theodore Ziolkowski, Princeton University
"I have read Nicholas Boyle's book with immense satisfaction and, I hope, much profit as a reader and teacher of literature. The first part of it is a conspectus of the relevant field, a survey —responsive, responsible, and critical—of the major figures. The issue is the reading of the Bible and the reading of secular literature in the shadow (or under the auspices) of the Bible. The major figures are Herder, Schliermacher, Hegel, Hans Frei, Paul Ricoeur, Hans-Georg Gadamer, and Emmanuel Levinas. Boyle's commentaries are judicious: he holds his own without brow-beating his subjects. In the second part of the book he offers readings of Pascal's Pensees, Goethe's Faust. Melville's Moby-Dick and The Encantadas, Jane Austen's Mansfield Park, Rupert Brooke's "The Soldier," Ian McEwan's Atonement, and J.R.R.Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. The readings are conducted under the beliefs that 'Jesus is what the Law means' and that literature is language freed of purpose and need. Boyle is an acute reader, persuasive but not insistent. The only question he leaves urbanely open is: to read as sensitively as this, does one need to be a Roman Catholic? Or is it enough to be, as Boyle is, remarkably intelligent and just? Boyle wants to keep the discussion going: he never bangs the door or tells agnostics to stay out." —Denis Donoghue, New York University
"Nicholas Boyle, professor of German literary and intellectual history at Cambridge University, has written a remarkable book. . . Boyle's distinctive proposal is that the site of theology. . . is occupied by both sacred and secular scriptures. Thus his book explores, in a creative and stimulating way, both the distinction and overlap between these scriptures. In doing so he elaborates a Catholic hermeneutical approach to literature. . . fine study. . . ." —Worship
"This is a slow read but worth the effort, full of insights." —Mennonite
". . . this work. . . demonstrate[s] the finer things that literary criticism can achieve when it seeks something of the divine in a body of writing. . . ." —First Things
"This book is a welcome contribution. . . ." —Choice
"Nicholas Boyle, a professor of German language and literature at Cambridge University, may not be a familiar name in North American intellectual circles, but he should be. Sacred and Secular Scriptures is a hugely ambitious work, but it never comes across as strained or overreaching. [T]he rewards of reading the book as a whole are plentiful, and Boyle's exquisite prose style and habit of pausing occasionally to summarize make even the most clotted stretches of Germanic thought clear. As a storyteller he never lets the reader forget how much has been at stake, theologically and culturally, in the struggle to understand the meaning and authority of Scripture. . . . his own synthesis is masterful." —Commonweal