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Thursday, June 09, 2011

In case anybody cares, I read 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus the other day, and Hebrews and James yesterday. It reads differently now; I tried to be mindful of verses that a Protestant would see as definitive for those traditional notions of justification. The best I found within Hebrews was 10:14: "For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified." [There's your distinction between justification and sanctification right there.--ed.] Simmer down; let's think through this. Remembering what this book is for--convincing Jewish Christians not to abandon their faith in the face of pressure--what do we see? Well, we see sacrificial language all over it; there is much talk of priests and mediation. We are not surprised to see high Christology in chapter 1, as the identity and qualifications of Jesus are precisely at issue if he exercises a permanent priesthood superior to Aaron. We have to add in another good Protestant verse before we go on; look at verse 22: "let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water." [Aha! "full assurance"!--ed.] Yeah, you should have assurance, participating in the sacraments of the Church! Go to Christ! [You're missing my point.--ed.] I don't think I am. Do you see the obvious reference to baptism? At any one point in time, we can make some kind of distinction in the way we interact with Christ, whether personally in prayer, or in the sacraments. Just as we could distinguish his saving work from his abiding with us now, we could talk about the Church and Christ in different ways. But this is the key: In Catholic faith, essentially, the Church and Christ are the same. [There's Catholicism for you: No idea what a metaphor is.--ed.] I thought we were guilty of promiscuous typology. Which is it? Sacramental theology and ecclesiology are inextricably linked; we must be able to say what we mean by 'Church.' That way, her sacraments are her own, given by Christ, not someone else's. If we do not, even if we could maintain the conceit that someone somewhere were speaking with infalliable divine authority (in the Protestant view) we'd be unable to say who or where that is.
The reality of Christian disunity is not, despite what too many Catholic apologists claim, direct evidence for the Catholic claims. What it does, however, is weaken the epistemic confidence one person can have in the particular claims of one community. It puts the lie to the, "We're united in the essentials" BS, because we are in fact not. Plenty of people have admitted that such a real unity in faith must produce a visible unity; they simply question the form that visible unity takes, and some part of the faith upon which it would be based. So let's talk about that.
You know, it'd be easier to entertain the argument that I had made some mistake in becoming Catholic if: 1. the church fathers weren't so obviously non-Protestant; 2. I knew where dogmatic authority came from in Protestant thought, and the proliferation of our communities claiming the same authority with different results having been adequately explained, and/or 3. Someone had a plan, a process, or a way of knowing when Christian unity in a visible sense should take place. How does one know when he is wrong? To whom does he actually submit, and why? This is where the difference between an Arian and a Baptist is utterly destroyed, epistemically. They're using the same process. The result is this: You can either allow the things held in common to help you re-examine the historical evidence--humbly submitting to whatever you find, ahem--or you can tumble into the Abyss of Relativism just past the ledge of Subjectivism.
I guarantee you, you won't be able to convince a man he is wrong who's following Turretin's advice. How could you? Ecclesial relativism breeds doctrinal and moral relativism.

7 comments:

Timothy R. Butler said...

If ecclesial relativism breeds doctrinal relativism, why is it that -- to go back to my well worn statement -- the best Catholics seem to have come from the Reformed camp? Why is it decidedly so that the strongest voices against relativism, I'd wager, are Reformed? Luther, for that matter, seemed to have a much more fixed moral compass than those who sought to kill him...

The biggest problem I see with your argument is it isn't tied to the fruit we actually see. I see moral and doctrinal relativism in Protestants and Catholics...

Jason said...

Tim,

The fact that the best Catholics were ex-Reformed (if true) is not germane; it does mean we learned solid principles of hermeneutics, maybe. The point is that when liberalism does come, what is going to beat it back? There is no "Mere Christianity" because the same spirit which says "councils may err" is the same one that says, "You're wrong, and you can't tell me what to do." What constitutes "Christianity" itself is now up for debate. "Orthodoxy" and "heresy" is as relative as the borders of the 'Church.'

Timothy R. Butler said...

Or is it? Is the truth we are discussing subjective and tied to a community or is it objective and timeless? If God and truth are inseparable, the lack of authority is not equivalent to the absence of objective truth.

Consider: if what you say is true, then there is no way to convince me (or anyone else) that what you claim is truth is actually true. The fact that you can claim to have found truth leading you to a given community while outside of that community is a case in my point.

The view you are taking follows the thinking espoused by Stanley Hauerwas, who argues that the Christian story is only objective within the community. However, that view necessarily leads to a greater level of relativism and makes it impossible to offer judgment. Hauerwas is a key figure in the neo-liberal movement in the Church.

Jason said...

Tim,

I'm not agreeing with Hauerwas; it is both objective, AND tied to a community. That truth is tied to a community does not make it objective in itself. What did I miss? (Though I like Hauerwas on tons of things.)

Jason said...

Furthermore, Tim, Lumen Gentium explains this all pretty well; you seem to be confusedly saying that since I found Christian truth outside the Catholic Church that it can't be the Church, but I don't see how this follows.

Timothy R. Butler said...

Jason,
No, I'm not saying it can't be the Church because of this. What I mean is that if the lack of unity leads necessarily to relativism, then when one is part of that disunity, how could one come to an objective conclusion? And, if one *can* come to an objective viewpoint and join the Catholic Church as a result, is it not true that it is possible to be objective outside of that community's authority and therefore disunity does not lead to relativism necessarily?

I.e. you came to what you feel is an objective choice. Since the authority of the Catholic Church was not assumed at the beginning of your search (as you've said), then you must have some how come to make an objective choice outside of the community.

(I'm pretty sure Hauerwas does not think this is possible.)

Jason said...

Tim,

I'm not in the relativistic soup, as it were, if I surrender my confessional position, and the presumptive ground upon which it is based. There is no objective means to discover the Church within a particular confessional stance, where the hermeneutical process and tools are similar if not identical. THAT reality, not a doubt about the accesibility of truth, caused a reconsideration of the premise(s) of perpiscuity and Sola Scriptura. If they can be reasonably held, one should be able to discern a "Mere Christianity" in all of it that is not provisional like ecclesiastical authority is in the Protestant view.
Still, I've said nothing about Catholicism. That was a simple matter. I was friendly enough to the Reformers to believe what they had always said: that their contentions more faithfully recapitulated the early Church than the 16th century Catholic Church; as it happened, I saw a radical discontinuity there. Faced with the claims of the Catholic Church, I asked, "Is it reasonable to believe that the early Church's faith and practice, extended out over many centuries, could produce what the Catholic Church believes and teaches today? Further, is the claim reasonable (to be the Church) if the answer is 'yes'?" The first question got an affirmative answer; the second involved applying the Catholic Church's claimed means of discerning truth to the data. Did the Fathers use the same method? And could it produce what we see today? Yes.
It is not a subjectivity problem per se that drove this; it is a subjectivity feedback loop inherent in the Protestant hermeneutical process and ecclesiology which made it unreasonable to believe doctrines contrary to the data and Catholic claims (which appeared to match). I needed, as it turned out, very strong evidence to reject what I saw both doctrinally and ecclesiologically to be an organic whole. It wasn't there. Because a few of the creeds, as you know, are the basis of the limited unity we have in evidence today, I inquired as to the nature of that authority, again finding it consistent in context, and acting accordingly. ONCE I HAD DONE ALL THAT, I submitted to Rome's authority as a consequence of those discoveries. Wow, that was long. And I've no idea if you asked me any of that. Sorry!