Translate

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Just Sayin.' Again.

One interesting objection to this chart has been to say that one gets stuck in a "loop" that doesn't resolve. This is a thinly-veiled way of putting forward the argument that we don't need absolute certainty in religious dogma. But Fred Noltie already dealt with this in the comments on another post. And to the specific objector, no less. I'll be blunt: The only principled thing to do is put down your Bible, resign your pulpit, and lead tours in Europe. Because a man must be able to distinguish dogma from human opinion, and this epistemology doesn't allow us to do that. One of dogma's distinguishing characteristics is infallibility; another is certainty. Without this, essential characteristics of God Himself are put into question. If we say that the most important Person any person could know is God, and the content of that knowledge (doctrine) is the means by which we know Him, it must be certain. This Reformed argument that certainty is a dangerous or unnecessary illusion is a blind alley, and one whose end is atheism. This is entirely separate from the disputed means by which we know revelation, but it's much more important.

14 comments:

Timothy R. Butler said...

Nah, I just don't think these are simple yes and no questions. I'd argue for a more nuanced view. And, I don't think Fred solved any of my objections...

aquinasetc said...

Heh. Big shock: difference of opinions persist on the Internet despite brilliant, irrefutable argumentation from all participants. :-)

So may I ask: why are you a Christian rather than something else? What persuaded you and keeps you persuaded? I am not trying to be snarky. Honest. I am trying to understand your position. Maybe I am just dumb or uneducated, but I am completely blind to the appeal of a viewpoint which (as I understand it, anyway) guarantees the impossibility of certainty about any revealed truth. Like I wrote, when I realized that is what Protestantism does, I stopped being Protestant immediately. So I am confused or ignorant or misunderstanding something about your position, because you aren’t dumb and you are not evil.

Peace,

Fred

Jason said...

Hi, Fred,

This is JK. I, The Moronic Comment Mediator Guy, accidentally deleted Tin's comment. Note To Self: Don't do this on your phone anymore. Anyway, I was able to retrieve a copy, and I reproduce it here: "Hi, Fred,
Thanks for your kind words. I would certainly echo them to you. My basic assumption is that all communication contains uncertainty -- I'm not a Derridean, but I acknowledge the critique. However, while there is a slippage of meaning between your intention and my reception of your comment, I make a pragmatic, necessary assumption that I can understand a good deal of what you intended and I'm not merely responding to a game my mind plays with the symbols you typed.

From that basis, it doesn't surprise me when people in good faith disagree on parts of the Scripture (that's true, of course, even within Catholicism). But, with Calvin, I would assume the Spirit enables us to cut through that to the extent we can receive the Gospel. Given my understanding of communication listed above, the Catholic Church can move the point of uncertainty, but it cannot eliminate it.

Again, I would distinguish between technical uncertainty and pragmatic operation. Just as I don't try to figure out how relativity impacts my perception of time in relation to being on time for a 2:00 p.m. appointment, so too, I don't constantly fixate on interpretive uncertainty, such as it exists. Most Scriptural language is clear enough. And the divides in the church aren't so deep out of the ivory tower, as it were. I work everyday with an archdiocesan campus minister, a Catholic priest, Lutheran pastors, Baptist pastors, etc. and we find common cause from what Christ commands us. We acknowledge our differences, but they don't paralyze us.

Hopefully that helps explain my basic assumptions.

Blessings,
Tim"

You kids have fun!

aquinasetc said...

Hello Tim,

Thanks to both you and Jason (for recovering your comment), which was helpful to me.

You wrote: “But, with Calvin, I would assume the Spirit enables us to cut through that to the extent we can receive the Gospel.”

Okay. And that’s one of the options covered by the so-called Noltie Conundrum, although I think it is worth mentioning that you stand entirely apart from Calvin in your charitable estimate of Catholics. As a Presbyterian I got quite a few giant belly laughs from the vitriol he spewed at Rome, though of course now from this side of the Tiber the humor is less … obvious. :-)

And the reason he spewed that vitriol is precisely because he (and Luther, and their heirs) believed that the Catholic Church had vitiated the Gospel. But if you are correct that the Spirit enables us to cut through the uncertainty far enough to receive the Gospel, then either the Spirit helped and helps the Catholic Church to cut through to it or He doesn’t. If He did and does, then Calvin and Luther were wrong to to say otherwise, and consequently wrong to suppose that the Catholic Church is no longer Christ’s Church (if it ever was), and consequently they were wrong in founding Protestantism. If, on the other hand, the Spirit abandoned the Catholic Church (or was never assisting it at all to cut through to the Gospel), then there is another problem: how do we distinguish those whom the Spirit is helping cut through from those He is not helping?

There are, after all, some rather glaring contradictions between what Calvin or Luther said on some very important points and what the Church said/says. At any rate, Calvin, Luther, and the Council of Trent thought so. :-)

So … which of them was right? And why should we think so?

My point being this: what is the Gospel that you say the Spirit helps us cut through to, and how do we know that’s it?

Peace,

Fred

Timothy R. Butler said...

Thanks, comrade, for recovering my comment, and thanks, Fred, for your reply.

I'd agree that Calvin could be rather harsh in his estimation of Catholicism. Nonetheless, as a historian, I can easily look at that as primarily a matter of situation. The situation made polemics far more necessary than it is today. Keep in mind, I'm a Bucerian, so I'm a bit more irenic and conciliatory than Calvin or Luther.

Let me begin to answer your question by asking a question. Would you agree with Dominus Iesus that "ecclesial communities" that are not in communion with Rome contain Christians via the work of Christ's Spirit even in those, as it cites Unitatis redintegratio from Vatican II (cf. para. 17 of Dominus)? If so, what makes those of us in those "ecclesial communities" Christians?

Timothy R. Butler said...

By the way, Comrade Jason, don't "redistribute" my comment to the trash again or I may start to get a complex. ;-)

aquinasetc said...

Hi Tim,

First, a digression to rant about Google’s refusal to allow the block quote tag in Blogger comments. It is just plain ludicrous.

Okay, got that off my chest. :-)

You wrote: “If so, what makes those of us in those ‘ecclesial communities’ Christians?”

Yes. What makes anyone (Catholic or not) a Christian is valid baptism. This is certainly available among most Protestant communities. I was baptized Lutheran, my wife a Methodist, and my son Presbyterian, and none of us needed to be baptized when we converted. In some cases there is uncertainty whether a given person’s baptism was performed validly, and in such cases a so-called “conditional Baptism” is performed. I have never seen this done in nine years of watching people enter the Church, so anecdotally it would be unusual for a Protestant baptism to be considered invalid. I strongly suspect that folks baptized by the Oneness Pentecostals might not be validly baptized according to the Church’s understanding, since they deny the Trinity (or so I have heard).

Peace,

Fred

Timothy R. Butler said...

Hi, Fred,
I agree about the block quote tag -- I'm glad you got that off your chest.

OK, so as I read Dominus Iesus, I also read that someone is not only baptized a Christian, but God is actively working in the lives of those Christians that are living within these ecclesial communities, correct?

(I'm going somewhere with this -- really.)

Blessings,
Tim

aquinasetc said...

Hi Tim,

What DI says in §17 is that members of ecclesial communities as defined are in an “imperfect communion” with the Church. As for the phrase “actively working”, I do not find it in DI. Can you point me to it? If that is your own phrase (which is perfectly acceptable), can you tell me what you mean by it, or what part(s) of DI you intend it to summarize?

Peace,

Fred

Timothy R. Butler said...

Hi, Fred,
I was referring to a few references to the spirit -- paraphrasing, as you note -- include the quote "For the spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them as means of salvation which derive their efficacy from the very fullness of grace and truth entrusted to the Catholic Church," which comes from Unitatis redintegratio, and in §19. Finally, back in §17, I think it seems notable that it refers to the "lack of unity among Christians," presumably acknowledging that "members of ecclesiastical communities [...in...] 'imperfect communion'" are nonetheless Christians. Fair enough?

Blessings,
Tim

aquinasetc said...

Tim,

Sorry for the delay here. Yes, that seems fair. Proceed. :-)

Fred

Timothy R. Butler said...

Hi, Fred,
Thanks for bearing with me on that long journey. OK, so if those in both "perfect" and "imperfect" communion are Christians who have "the spirit of Christ" acting in them, then I would say the Gospel is that which makes those people Christians, enables them to have the spirit of Christ working in them, etc. Like many words, I think there are large and short definitions for the word, but I would argue at the core it is that we are unable to achieve God 's favor on our own, yet God in his grace bestows the mercy of Christ upon us. Thus enabling what we could not achieve on our own.

Both semi-Augustians and Augustinians would agree with that much, I'm fairly certain. Obviously, we might disagree on a good amount, but we also recognize at core the work of Christ in affecting our justification; or, if you prefer, providing satisfaction, ala St. Anselm.

Sound fair enough?

Here's a way to look at it in the context of Luther, Calvin, etc. Luther never, as far as I can tell, doubted that the Vicar General of the Augustinians, Staupitz, had received the Gospel, even though Staupitz did not join Luther on the Protestant side. Neither, for that matter, did Staupitz assume the same about Luther. "My guy," Bucer, likewise, spent much time talking with moderate Catholics whom he approached as brothers in Christ with whom he wanted to seek unity, not those outside the Gospel who needed to be evangelized.

Blessings,
Tim

aquinasetc said...

Hi Tim,

No worries about promptness since I am not prompt either and of course the real world actually does take precedence. That isn’t my preference all the time, but no one asked for my opinion.

You wrote:

“OK, so if those in both “perfect” and “imperfect” communion are Christians who have “the spirit of Christ” acting in them, then I would say the Gospel is that which makes those people Christians, enables them to have the spirit of Christ working in them, etc.”

And this, of course, is precisely at the heart of the Prot/RC divide, isn’t it? Because the question is: what makes people Christians? Let us stipulate that we are saved by Christ alone and by grace alone, since (setting aside some definitional issues for the moment) we would both agree to those two things. Fair enough?

If so, it seems that the question is: how does God apply these saving acts to us? Now, you Reformed would say one thing, and the Catholic Church would say something rather different, and the differences are non-trivial. So the question is, who is right? And how do we know the answer to that question? Well, since the Reformed (and all Protestants, really) insist that everyone makes mistakes, it seems to me that it is completely impossible for the Protestants to know the answer to that question, because both sides could be wrong, and both sides could be wrong in thinking that the other is wrong.

This is not just a stalemate, it seems to me. It is more like a demolition of our ability to know what the truth of the Gospel is. If God has not preserved anyone from error in interpreting the Bible, then it is flatly impossible for us to know what truths the Bible teaches. Consensus is hardly sufficient, and academicians are not exactly commonly mentioned in Scripture as authorities :-) (besides, they too could and do err).

Ofttimes Presbyterians and others will appeal to the perspicuity of the Bible as a means of escape, but that reduces to special pleading: if everyone can and does err in interpreting the Bible, there is no reason to suppose that the doctrine of its perspicuity is true. You could all be wrong about that. Once again: not a stalemate, but a demolition (or so it seems to me).

(cont'd)

aquinasetc said...

You also wrote:

“I would argue at the core it is that we are unable to achieve God 's favor on our own, yet God in his grace bestows the mercy of Christ upon us. Thus enabling what we could not achieve on our own.”

No Catholic who knows what the Church teaches would dispute this. :-) But this still leaves the barn door open: how does God apply Christ’s saving work to us? And since you think we could both be in error, why should it matter that no Catholic would dispute your view? We could both be wrong. The Buddhists or Hindus could be right. The Muslims could be right. If you disagree, why?

“Here's a way to look at it in the context of Luther, Calvin, etc. Luther never, as far as I can tell, doubted that the Vicar General of the Augustinians, Staupitz, had received the Gospel, even though Staupitz did not join Luther on the Protestant side. Neither, for that matter, did Staupitz assume the same about Luther. “My guy,” Bucer, likewise, spent much time talking with moderate Catholics whom he approached as brothers in Christ with whom he wanted to seek unity, not those outside the Gospel who needed to be evangelized.”

The charity of some Lutherans and some Presbyterians is something I very much appreciate (one of my best friends is an LCMS pastor), but we both know that there are plenty of both who hate Catholics and/or everything the Catholic stands for. Calvin is a prime example. Luther’s revolting woodcuts are another. Paul McCain is a modern LCMS leader, and he thinks Catholics are going to hell (but then again he does not seem to hold out much hope for Presbyterians, either. McCain is just a peach of a guy) :-)

And of course there are and have been people (like the Feeneyites) whom the Catholic Church has had to discipline because they insisted one must be a formal member of the Catholic Church in order to be saved. The Church has never taught this, but noxious folks never seem to just vanish.

I guess my longwinded last point is: what grounds for unity do you propose? Dominus Iesus spells out the Catholic position. What is yours?

Peace,

Fred