Scholastic intentionalism was a complicated and hardly consistent affair. Theologians sought security of meaning in the principle that a biblical author's intention could be found in the literal sense of his text. But the ultimate author of scripture, God, could have inscribed truths that transcended the intentions of inspired but merely human authors. Perhaps a text's intention was not curtailed by the temporal and historical circumstances of its composition? Further, scholastic debate rested on the assumption that truth emerges through vigorous confrontation. In practice, quotations were plucked from the full contexts that secured their meaning and conveyed authorial intention; those isolated excerpts were themselves treated as having sufficient authority to advance arguments. This history is related to present-day controversy about how the American Constitution (that modern authoritative text par excellence) should be implemented. There are striking parallels and intersections between scholastic literary theory and the “originalist” theory of constitutional interpretation; they share a common language of intentionalism, along with difficulties of interpretation.

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