Saturday, August 07, 2010

I found myself reading Thomas Aquinas and John Henry Newman (please permit me to 'Protestantize' them by leaving off their honorifics) where they lamented and denounced the loss in some quarters of a so-called "dogmatic principle." I'm not going to find it and quote it here, but we can see with a little effort that in matters of religion, we have two basic choices in how we approach the issue: either the process/effort earnestly pursued becomes paramount--in which case specific truth claims are superfluous or even harmful--or truth and error in religion is possible, error has consequences, and is, to say the least, undesirable. When this journey of mine began--I have to say--it was provoked by a sudden realization that I saw the abyss of relativism right before me, that much of what we Protestants had rejected had unwittingly left us prey to an abiding uncertainty that persisted even as we did our best to be faithful Christians who heeded what was revealed to us. It isn't enough to lament the visible disunity of Christians, to pray that God would heal them. Even if we should work tirelessly for as much union as is possible (and that is indeed noble) it isn't enough. Why? Because the very fact of that disunity leaves the gospel of Christ in doubt. I have a great many friends all across Christendom, if such a thing can be spoken of, and I'm very proud of that, in a sense. There is something about the love of Christ that unites the hearts of his people in such a way that they feel compelled by their calling to pour themselves out in seeking after unity. I have two basic ideas that, in themselves, are fueling my sympathy for Catholicism. 1. I frankly doubt the perpiscuity of Scripture; it produces no actual unity between the non-Catholic communities, though in hermeneutics they share a common heritage. And limiting the applicability of perspicuity to matters of "salvation" (meaning soteriology) is fruitless, because there is no aspect of union with Christ that is minor or irrelevent. As such, unity is assumed where it does not exist. 2. I cannot hang the core tenets of my faith ultimately on my private judgment. If all appeals to Scripture are appeals to interpretations of Scripture, and our final arbiter is the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture, it becomes imperative that we establish objectively what it says. I recognize that the hermeneutical process is a good faith effort that God is pleased to reward oftimes. But that is pretty weak ground to build a theology upon. Subjectivism is the obvious result. And how does the Christian submit himself to the Word, when he is the arbiter of what it commands? The Roman dogmas do not prove themselves, but it is worth commendation that Rome speaks precisely on these points. Outside of a visible, infalliable Church entrusted to define the deposit of faith when challenged, how many interpreters does it take before a "me and my Bible" subjectivism becomes reasonable exegesis? Ironically, it is the weight of ecclesiastical authority in Protestant churches that prevents theology from proceeding outward from liturgical and devotional practice to systematic theology. (See "Federal Vision Controversy.") OK, that's enough.


Timothy R. Butler said...

I'm not touching FV with a ten foot pole, comrade. Moving onward, you wander back into the same problem I've raised before. Ultimately, you are seeking something that cannot be had via human communication and reason. If I set Rome as the arbiter of Scripture, how then do I know I am interpreting Rome correctly? And what judgment is it that I can trust that tells me I can trust Rome to begin with? How do I know this or that bishop is interpreting Rome correctly and not days away from heresy charges (or would be if anyone charged him)? Even in matters such as predestination, you'll find vast variation between the Catholicism as a faith-in-practice and Catholicism as laid out by the Angelic Doctor (I'm more Protestant and yet I am using honorifics, what can I say?).

I think what you are hitting on ultimately is post-Babel society. As my anthropology professor always would tell us, "There is no unified form of the [insert name] faith." Just as Protestants vary significantly, Catholicism in America is hardly the same beast as Catholicism in Africa or China.

Principium Unitatis said...


As for your question "If I set Rome ...." I addressed that objection in the paragraph that begins "The problem with this dilemma ...." in our article titled "Solo Scriptura, Sola Scriptura, and the Question of Interpretive Authority." Here's the link:

As for your question, "And what judgment is it ...." I addressed that in my article titled "The Tu Quoque". Here's the link:

As for your question "How do I know this or that bishop ..." here's a quick and easy way to know: if he affirms the Catechism, he is orthodox; if he denies the Catechism, he is heretical.

Regarding predestination, I addressed that in this comment:

The fact that the Church has not closed off certain theological options viz-a-viz predestination means that variation is allowed here. So pointing to the plurality of allowed positions on predestination is not an objection to the Catholic Church. It is merely an observation of a fact about the Church's position.

Regarding your last line, the Catholic Church is the same Church throughout the world, with the same faith (i.e. the very same Catechism), the same sacraments, and the same magisterium. I've been to mass in Africa, and it was the very same mass, celebrated by a priest in full communion with the successor of St. Peter!

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Jason said...


Aside from blatant popery, you also illustrate the pointlessness of doctrinal standards themselves, if you will contine to hold your outlined position. You admit that you cannot be certain of anything. If we cannot firmly hold a position contrary to Rome re: justification in a principled fashion, we may have only one choice. Our communities were never meant to be self-perpetuating.

Timothy R. Butler said...

Bryan, I'll check out your posts at an earlier hour, thanks!

Jason, I wouldn't say they are pointless, I would just say attempting to nail down interpretation entirely is simply not humanly possible. I don't limit this to the realm of theology, but communication in general. My viewpoint on this is probably influenced more by my background in literary criticism than in theology, but I think it is appropriate to apply it to theology.

To be sure, though, we do have trouble with doctrinal standards. Consider the FV controversy I said I wasn't going to touch. At least many folks on both sides of the debate would say they are being faithful to the WCF, yet are they all?

Well, I'd say more, but I will give Bryan's posts a read first...