As a Jesuit priest whose ministry includes the teaching of constitutional law, I regularly struggle with the task of interpreting two foundational normative texts: the Bible and the U.S. Constitution. The Bible plays a central normative role in the life of the Church, while the Constitution provides a normative framework for American law and politics. These texts ground the ongoing lives of both the Church and the American political community. Both of these textually constituted communities face the challenge of appropriating for contemporary experience a normative text produced in a significantly different historical context. But can American constitutional lawyers learn anything from the ways in which the Bible has been interpreted within the life of the Church?
Jaroslav Pelikan, eminent historian of the Church's doctrinal tradition and Sterling Professor of History Emeritus at Yale, believes that those engaged in the enterprise of constitutional interpretation can indeed learn something from the history of biblical interpretation. Drawing on a life-long “study of the twenty centuries of interpreting Christian Scriptures,” Pelikan offers his new book, Interpreting the Bible and the Constitution, in the hope that it “may be of some help and illumination … to those who stand in the tradition of the two centuries of interpreting American Scripture.” (37)