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Wednesday, March 27, 2013

You Don't Slice Up The Body Of Christ On A "Maybe"

It has been asserted that I have an inappropriate, unnecessary need for epistemic certainty, and it has been offered by the Catholic Church, [Sidebar: It is indeed the Catholic Church, not the Roman Catholic Church, unless we are referring to its principle of unity, or to the liturgical rite used by most of the West. There is a proper way to say we are united to the Bishop of Rome, and so it can be that way. However, most of us feel "Roman Catholic Church" is a little misleading, owing to the fact that, what, 22 separate particular Churches are united to the Successor of Peter, many with a unique liturgical tradition going back...a really long time. I digress.] and so, I took it. Some friends of mine covered this. And at this point, I have to call shenanigans. Or BS. Or something. Because visible communities have reasons for not being united with each other. Despite whatever lies they tell each other with the Borg Cube of Mother Church bearing down on them, I take them at their word that a Lutheran is not a Baptist, and that's an important distinction. If it were not, there isn't any reason to remain distinct. It would be mutually agreed that whatever it is belongs to adiaphora. But it isn't, and that's the point: One needs to believe some things de fide, non-negotiable, in order to be whatever you are. I invite you to tell the Presbytery that you pray to St. Optatus and see what they say, Reformed Guy, if you're so sure they're as comfortable with uncertainty as you are. I just call BS again.

The act of ecclesiological separation is a big deal. I'm going to assume that most of them are in good faith, actually, and not about carpets. That's charitable, and it's also true. And I'm comfortable saying that Calvin did not believe the faith he taught was a pious opinion; it was the gospel. Period. Do you need proof of that? So let's stop with the nonsense that you really are fully united with your Lutheran brethren, et cetera/et al, because it's easily disproven.

This whole thing is about authority, and indirectly about epistemology. You can't say, "The Catholic authorities twisted the gospel, and we have the answer" and also say, "I don't need certainty". The very same level of certainty underlies them both. If you honestly don't know, you cannot reasonably hold x and not y. The only way you could is if some authority set the boundary between de fide and theological opinion, and the distinction was known and agreed upon in advance. Let's face the plain reality that Protestants are divided precisely because they disagree upon where to draw the distinction. Even if we completely disregard the uncomfortable reality that the true interpretive authority under Sola Scriptura is the individual, it's still a massive problem. It doesn't change, even if you chide the Catholic for locating his interpretive authority in an authority you don't respect or agree with. If you don't know the truth, you can't insist upon it; you can't do it. You have no grounds for believing that the Catholic Church has wrongly anathematized you if you can't know with certainty. Bonus Side Point: If the Catholic Church is an illegitimate authority, who cares what they say? This guy is more than a little confused. He knows we Catholics are wrong, but he apparently thinks everyone else's attempts at drawing a principled distinction are in bad faith, or at least incorrect. That's fine if he wants to join his Universal Church of Me, but why should I join it? By what charism did he obtain the jurisdiction to define "catholic"?

In the end, that's what this is about: When a Catholic apologist uses the word "authority," it's shorthand for, "I want to know what God says, and I'm sure you aren't that guy." There are only two epistemic choices really, for that which is de fide: 1. God speaks to me; or 2. God speaks to me through x. The whole point of the hermeneutics of continuity with respect to history (apostolic succession, Petrine primacy) from the Church is to challenge your community's authority and charism to do (2). Since you've gone to great pains to deny (1) as individualistic and probably impossible, you are subject to the challenge of the second. If you say your community has no such infallible charism, then your submission to them serves no useful epistemic purpose, and its doctrinal distinctions aren't worth the paper they are printed on. Because I should only stand on what God says. You don't slice up the Body of Christ on a "maybe."

1 comment:

Timothy R. Butler said...

I think you make several assumptions I can't really agree with. I am separated from my LCMS brethren to some sense, but as I sit and chat with them, neither they nor I are thinking "the other is not a brother." We disagree enough that we aren't able to have a single central church. But, neither do we feel the Bible makes it imperative that we have a single organizational body. The bigger deal is that we love one another, as Christ commanded.

The second is that you assume everyone operates in a rational way. "If they agree that some things are adiaphora, they'd just unite." But, people don't act in such reasonable ways and often there are a lot of non-ideological issues that divide people. So, divisions in themselves do not necessarily constitute a claim that "we are the true Catholic church" and "they are not." It means something -- maybe ideological, but maybe way too pragmatic -- has kept the organizations apart.

Or maybe something in between. There is a lot of gray. Even if you think it is all wrong, that doesn't make it any less complex.

From a perspective of one looking toward "Luther 500," I can't say it is in any way the default position for me to become Catholic. The default position is going by God's Word, because that is what I accept is authoritative. Second, by history, which doesn't lead me to the Catholic church. It may lead you there, but that's where the ambiguity seeps back in. History isn't so clear -- especially if you focus on non-apologetic books. Historical theologians is messy and historians rarely like to nail things down. I plead "I resemble that remark."