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Beyond the Conflict Between ‘Reason’ and ‘Revelation’

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How Grotius uses Biblical and Traditional Resources to Loosen the Authority of the Biblical Text

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In De veritate, sacrifice is appealed to as a universal rite and the ultimate guarantee of immutable truth, beyond reasonable deduction or natural instinct (Book 1, Chapter 7; cf. De satisfactione Christi). But sacrifice also stands as the ultimate example of the abrogation and alteration of law (Book 5, chs. 6–8). As an example of the abrogation of law, sacrifice signifies in both directions. The case of Abraham (Genesis 22) demonstrates God’s sovereign power of dispensatio. Divine right to radical revision is demonstrated in the command to sacrifice. But more generally it is the suspension of the command to sacrifice that stands as the ultimate sign of sovereign right not just to annotate but to radically rewrite the law. In this paper I explore how sacrifice operates as a guarantee of immutability and mutability: the intractability of scripture, and its equally necessary revision and alteration. Sacrifice reaches across all time and space, and stands as a sign of the parochialisation of biblical time and space. This tension relates to the principle of accommodation which, I argue, is already in operation in the Bible. By extrapolating this fundamentally biblical operation, Grotius produces a paradox that will help to sustain the Bible in modernity. The Bible (as emblematised in sacrifice) is localised and parochialised but also persists as a ‘universal’ foundation.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Religious Studies, University of Kent,


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