Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Courtesy of Ignorance

As I was driving home from the first session of Diaconal Studies Seminar 102 'From Text to Sermon: An Introduction to Biblical Exegesis', I listened to an interview with the American author, Wendell Berry, on CBC One's programme 'Ideas'. I was struck by his phrase, 'the courtesy of ignorance'. When one acknowledges ignorance, one exercises a form of humility, a key dimension of courtesy.

During tonight's session we explored briefly the topic of textual criticism, the effort to discover, as best as one is able, the 'best' text of a given scriptural passage. Berry's remarks put the evening's exercise in perspective. When one engages the search for the 'best' text, a 'courtesy of ignorance' is a desirable characteristic to be found in the one who seeks.

Because we are seeking to understand the divine mystery, humility is a primary quality. We will not 'know'; we will only approach the mystery. This humility does not mean we should remain silent, but it does mean we should hold the provisionality of our understanding.

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