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Monday, March 19, 2012

The reality of where the creedal orthodoxy minimally held in common by Catholics and Protestants comes from--from the Catholic Church--follows from applying a sound hermeneutical strategy to history itself. Let me put it out there, and then I'll come up with an example. If the ecumenical councils are presumed true (say, Nicea) and we want to know what the nature of that truth is, and what its implications are. As we would naturally do with Scripture, the real-world context is a part of the truth that the author or authors are trying to communicate. How did the council fathers see what they were doing? What was the nature of the decision they would make? If it was definitive, on what basis was it? To be frank about it, the council fathers did not believe they could err. The reason they formed a council in the first place is to definitively settle--and with divine sanction--whatever question was before them. The hermeneutic of suspicion with regard to the councils--most people miss this--can be applied consistently to any determination throughout history. That is, it may not be correct in its conclusions, but it is principled. There are certainly less destructive and more destructive conclusions within any "provisionally authoritative" scheme, but what I must do is ask whether I agree in conclusion and basis with those who formulated the truth we share. If I do, then the basis or ground of that agreement remains, to be used in the future. If I do not, I owe it to the council fathers not to say, "Here is the Creed which bespeaks our unity" when it is not so. For all I know, the church fathers as a whole would have many sympathies with aspects of Protestant doctrine. But what did Jerome do when the authority of the Church conflicted with his own opinion? What did Cyprian do? One bishop was himself an anti-pope, but reconciled himself with his head and the Church as they both gave their lives! The buck has to stop somewhere. Sola Scriptura, whose hidden principle is the absolute primacy of the individual, never allows the buck to stop. If the ecclesiastical authority to which I submit only enjoys that submission provisionally, then its conclusions are thus provisional. The caveat is of course me. Even if I'm not consciously trying to be a Christian of the cafeteria variety, that is exactly what is taking place. In fact, insofar as my definition of "Church" goes beyond the physical boundaries of the ecclesiastical communion I inhabit, to that extent are the assertions of the community relativized. In this way, the invisible mental picture of "Church" is far stronger than whatever the poo-bahs decide. That is to say, this is all the more reason to find the divinely-sanctioned and protected poo-bahs, and submit to them.

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