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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

It's my second-least favorite holiday ever. No, not Halloween. Halloween is awesome. [Halloween Awesomeness Rant Omitted] Reformation Day. Especially since "holiday" means "holy day." Pshhh. The only thing holy about it are the holes in the theology, and the historical narrative that we're supposed to believe.

Frankly, I can't believe it still passes muster among intellectuals anymore. Not to mention the whole, "Yay! We're celebrating the heroes who shattered Western Christendom into a million pieces!" Even if one is frankly dumb enough to believe a particular conclusion in contradistinction to the Catholic Church is the right one, the whole hermeneutical process ends in a cul-de-sac. Let me know when you figure that one out.

But it's inevitable, really; the vital link between ecclesiastical authority and dogma has been eviscerated by the elevation of the primacy of individual interpretation. This is what all the fights in Protestant circles become about: the conflict between external ecclesiastical authority and final interpretive authority that rests in the individual. Once again, the fundies are in a much better place; they don't hide their rejection of external ecclesiastical authority.

"Derivative authority" is a fig-leaf, a phantasm. If you inquire as to the basis of that creedal orthodoxy most of us share, you reach this inevitable conclusion: the divinely authorized and Spirit-guided determinations of the Catholic Church are the basis of that orthodoxy. Everyone needs to recognize that this awkward middle position cannot hold. It's an arbitrary selection to elevate Nicea and Chalcedon to the gold standard absent a principle applicable for all time. Namely, why (er, these) is this ecumenical council correct, while the others are not? To sharpen the point, why should we treat your rejection of the Council of Trent with any less disapproval than our forefathers treated the Arians?

On some level, I would love to believe the conceit that the Frankenstein monster known as "medieval Catholicism" provoked and justified the Reformation. But that's a lie. St. Thomas Aquinas is medieval Catholicism, and there is no necessary connection between his theology and the corruption of the time. Indeed, one could easily and persuasively argue that the problems in the Catholic Church were due to an insufficient attention to, and understanding of, St. Thomas, not a slavish devotion to him.

The reality is that Luther wasn't as smart as he thought. He did not understand the theological and intellectual riches of even the atrophied Church of his birth. Rather than admit he was out of his theological depth, (for one thing) he proudly charged ahead, changing the very nature of how a Christian receives and knows divine truth. What exactly this has to do with a very human leadership who fails to live out that truth, I still can only guess. The others did the same. To Calvin's credit, he at least applied Luther's fatalism with a modicum of consistency and systemic rigor. And the benefit of that cannot be underestimated. Calvinism asks you to accept that you're a puppet on strings, and then invites you to celebrate those strings.

Quite aside from the historical investigations, I had to face a philosophical and theological conundrum that was simple, in the end. I'll state it multiple ways, so you can see where I went:

1. Man is a sinner;
2. God owes him nothing;
3. He would be totally justified in leaving Man in his sorry state; (all true, so far)
4. Therefore, God can redeem a few of the undeserving if He wants, and leave the rest.

Did I miss anything? But let me destroy this with a syllogism of my own:

1. Man is a sinner;
2. God owes him nothing;
3. He would be totally justified in leaving Man in his sorry state;
4. BUT, He has announced his redemptive intentions toward Man in Jesus Christ;
5. Men will be held responsible for failing to accept this call;
6. Therefore, Man has the ability to accept or reject the call of Christ;
7. Ergo, Calvinism sucks.

Or, stated more simply:

If the judgment is real, the choice upon which it hangs must be real.

In Catholicism, one can even posit that God gives wildly disproportionate amounts of grace to each person. True. But He always gives enough to each person. Romans 9:22 might be a whole lot more troubling if St. Paul hadn't used the exact same metaphor to make the apparently opposite point in 2 Tim. 2:20-21. Hilarious. I love the Bible. I digress.

What exactly are you celebrating, again?

5 comments:

Timothy R. Butler said...

I posted a response to this on OFB, without realizing I was posting a response. But, retroactively, I'll call it such. I don't think accusing those who disagree with the Catholic church of being "dumb" is a very good tact, btw.

A few of the big issues:

1.) I think the fact that Aquinas was not well used during Luther's time is precisely to the point of why a Reformation was needed. I'd wager that he never would have gotten to the place he is now (or it would have been much later) had the Reformation and subsequent counter-Reformation not occurred. Why was Biel being taught?

2.) You know enough Reformed theology to know that a puppet-on-strings fatalism isn't a good representation of Calvinism. That's the caricature made by its critics. C'mon, you can do better than to fall into the straw man trap.

3.) I think it would serve the Catholic Church's purpose better to explain and apologize for the abuses that started the centuries long process that led up to the Reformation, instead of pointing fingers. Luther was not a weirdo out of nowhere. He was simply the reformer that actually started a big enough reform movement for it to be dubbed "the Reformation." Moreover, many previous Reformed movements were also quite pointed during the Late Middle Ages, and they didn't end up leading to the excommunication of their leader -- had Luther not been excommunicated for what were (admittedly) strong, but relevant critiques, what might have happened?

Jason said...

1. If something is dumb, I call it dumb. A hermeneutical process that is as ad hoc as a game of craps deserves to be mocked, repeatedly.
2. If Biel does not represent Catholic teaching, why did Luther trust his read of the "scholastics"? The question remains: Are ecumenical councils authoritative as such, or not? That's the only question that matters, here.
3. The abuses have been apologized for a million times. They have utterly no relevance to the apprehension of dogmatic truth.
4. 'Ought' implies 'can.' Reformed theology denies this, making God the author of sin (despite protestations to the contrary).

Timothy R. Butler said...

2.) I didn't say Biel represented Catholic teaching, but I don't think he represented Thomism. Why did Luther take him to be authoritative? Because the ecclesiastically run schools he learned in taught Biel. Who was Luther to question their authority, after all? And, if part of the assumption is that we don't challenge the authority of the church, then why should he have doubted it?

3.) That's like accusing the wife for leaving the husband because he's apologized for beating her "a million times." Oh, and he's the one that initially filed for divorce.

4.) Not sure what this is in reference to.

Jason said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jason said...

To say that a Protestant hermeneutic is wrong and disregards Sacred Tradition, is NOT the equivalent of beating someone. You're charging every Catholic apologist with every sin in Catholic history simply because you don't have a good answer. When you have a reasoned answer, feel free. If Luther felt so outraged about his excommunication, why'd he celebrate? Even if the Church was governed by the saintliest people we had, Luther would still be wrong, or if you like, at least at variance with received revelation. You have to account for this, not distract with moral boasting. It's simply not Catholic to hold the Councils to be fallible. Never has been.

If a man ought to do something, this presupposes that he has the ability to carry out what was commanded. Since Calvinism in any form denies that a man apart from regeneration (or ultimately, election) is able to accept the gospel, God is unjust for damning those He has chosen not to redeem, because He would be ultimately responsible for their sins.