Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Thomas Williams, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Cass Fisher, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Michael DeJonge, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Joshua Rayman, Ph.D.


Bible, history, theology, doctrine, dogma


Catholic exegesis of scriptural and dogmatic statements has become rigid in the period following the Enlightenment. Gadamer’s account of philosophical hermeneutics, when applied to the Catholic situation, elaborates how Catholic exegesis might return to its premodern, freer form. Following Gadamer, I hold that to understand is to fuse the horizon of the old with today’s horizon using the preunderstandings that have been provided by the tradition while at the same time bringing the questions of today into dialogue with the text.

Examples of how Romans 1 and 2 have been interpreted historically serve to support this thesis. Origen reads Romans 1 and 2 using the traditional understandings afforded him by the ancient Catholic tradition. At the same time, he seeks in the text answers to the questions raised by the heresies of his own day. The early Augustine reads in Romans an answer to the questions posed by the Manicheans. Later he places that same text into dialogue with the Pelagians and, though still using the preunderstandings provided by the tradition, finds new meaning. Aquinas robustly exemplifies this conception of exegesis. He places Romans into dialogue with Aristotle and comes away with a creative fusion of the two.

After considering the examples above, I turn to two instances of hermeneutics that fail to be acceptable models of Catholic exegesis. Though the young Luther’s commentary on Romans is a Catholic fusion of traditionary preunderstandings and late medieval thinking, the older Luther ceases to dialogue with the tradition and thereby fails to give an acceptable Catholic interpretation. Barth, on the other hand, provides a paradigmatic example of Gadamerian hermeneutic principles. His exegesis is insufficient not because of his method but because of the Sache, the subject matter, he wrongly reads into the text of Romans.

This historical consideration of Catholic philosophical hermeneutics reinforces my proposition that Gadamerian philosophical hermeneutics adequately accounts for the Catholic hermeneutic tradition and provides a manner of approaching how that hermeneutic tradition might be appropriated today. Hermeneutics must not be a mere repetition of scriptural and dogmatic utterances but a placing of dogmatic statements into conversation with the situation today. This productive fusion can provide new, surprising meanings that cannot be predicted simply by reference to how statements have been understood in the past.