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Sunday, August 16, 2015

Rootedness Hits A Wall

Most Christians you meet are not arrogant enough to think all they need is themselves, the Holy Spirit, and the Bible; they are going to make an argument from history and the creeds at some point. This is why Mathison's attempted distinction between Sola Scriptura and "Solo Scriptura" is so popular, when faced with the Catholic challenge. It has a surface plausibility; the Reformation has persisted for almost 500 years; everyone you know would think 500 years is a long time. If you appeal to an idea or a doctrine that is at least 500 years old, give or take, most people would credit you with the rootedness and historical awareness that you desire to project.

The problem is with biting the bullet, and saying that the Reformation commitments were there from the very beginning. The result of that bold commitment is to essentially consign great luminaries like Augustine and Aquinas to a purgatory (metaphorical, of course) for questionable ecclesiology and soteriology. Which is fine, if you're willing to believe that Christ left His Church, against his promise on this very point. You cannot both appeal to them for a proof of continuity, and hold them in suspicion.

This makes sense, upon reflection. The claim of continuity is open to refutation, based on criteria established prior to the Reformation. Here's the delicious part: Every single well-formed Reformed-turned-Catholic is in this place because he or she took the Reformers' claim of continuity with the early Church seriously, and tested it.

Most people who are deeply-invested in the theology of the Reformation, that is, who believe it to be correct, are capable of reading the Fathers; they can see there is a discontinuity between them, and the Reformers, with respect to ecclesiology and soteriology. It has always been accepted; indeed, Calvinism has a ready-made explanation for any severe discontinuities: the elect are the "faithful remnant" who persevere amidst the rotting visible church structures of history.

The claim of continuity is an opportunity for conversion. A firm belief in the idea that the history is not a rotting husk eventually comes into direct conflict with the hermeneutic of rupture that the Reformation assumes. It's not a schism, if the Catholic Church is not the Church that Christ founded.

If the Reformation in substance were in fact a moral protest against the abuses of the Church of the time, there would be no need for a new methodology of receiving the faith once-delivered, and new dogmas which arose from its use. This is why Luther was asked if ecumenical councils could err. It was for the Catholic defenders to be able to say, "You're not Catholic, and you never were."

Reform from within is the desire of saints; reform from without is a contradiction.

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