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Sacred and Secular Scriptures

Sacred and Secular Scriptures

A Catholic Approach to Literature

Nicholas Boyle

“There is a need to develop a concept of literature that is capable of accommodating both the Bible and what we have normally understood by literature without forcing either into a costume in which they look constrained or ridiculous: Malvolio in cross-garters or Huck Finn in a suit.” —From Lecture I

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.

ISBN: 978-0-268-02178-8
312 pages
Publication Year: 2005

Nicholas Boyle is a Fellow of Magdalene College and Professor of German Literary and Intellectual History at the University of Cambridge.

“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. . . . [A] fine study. . . .” — Worship

“. . . 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 . . . 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. . . . [H]is own synthesis is masterful.” — Commonweal

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Sacred and Secular Scriptures

A Catholic Approach to Literature

Nicholas Boyle

 Sacred and Secular Scriptures: A Catholic Approach to Literature
Cloth Edition
Paper Edition

“There is a need to develop a concept of literature that is capable of accommodating both the Bible and what we have normally understood by literature without forcing either into a costume in which they look constrained or ridiculous: Malvolio in cross-garters or Huck Finn in a suit.” —From Lecture I

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.

ISBN: 978-0-268-02178-8

312 pages

“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. . . . [A] fine study. . . .” — Worship

“. . . 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 . . . 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. . . . [H]is own synthesis is masterful.” — Commonweal

Erasmus Institute Books