Thursday, March 28, 2013

I Just Met You, And This Is Crazy, But You're Not Catholic, So Come Home, Maybe

I'm sorry. I had to do it. What a great song, anyway. Even if Carly Rae Jepsen spurns the Boy Scouts for morally dubious reasons. All I can say is this, and that Jesus Christ is the Lord of history. The Incarnation and the Paschal Mystery are the pivot-points of all history. Contact with Him isn't some weird existential encounter--at least not fundamentally--but acceptance of the apostolic testimony that God has come to redeem man in Jesus Christ. History may be messy [Just like hermeneutics. Ahem.--ed.] but Truth isn't. Good luck evangelizing the world from a place of epistemic skepticism. That's why "Proper Confidence" has only a limited usefulness. You may gain an audience with a few impressed by your "openness," but it's that same non-realism that prevents them from moving from, "That's interesting" to, "God said that--who is Truth Himself--and I need to do something about it."

Now, let's clarify a few things. Protestants and Catholics disagree as to the points of access and the content of divine revelation. That isn't news. Or maybe it is. Mother Church is both the access point and the guardian of the deposit of revelation, for the Catholic. Always has been, always will be, on this side. Sorry, Uncle Marty. If you don't accept this, you're not a good catholic or Catholic at all and you never were. This is why we don't ask historians what dogma should be. God knows that history is messy, and that's why He came in the flesh. If we want to know what God said, we ask the Church. That's where and in whom the Spirit of Christ dwells. He said, "He will take from what is mine and declare it to you" and, "he whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven," and its opposite. It was an apostolic power, given shortly before He said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore..." Let me save the sacraments for another time. But His working in them is assured, and why the Church teaches that they extend the humanity of Christ.

You may have noticed that Catholics "beat up" on Sola Scriptura a lot. [Or a straw-man of it.--ed.] Fine. I'll use any definition you want. I doubt you'll surprise me. But the Noltie Conundrum has salience precisely because it causes epistemic doubt as to the testimony of the Holy Spirit, by forcing people to equivocate on the meaning of "Church." The proto-Docetism St. John fought against surely was insidious, but he was surely talking about schism when he said, "They went out from us, but they were not of us, for if they were of us, they would have remained with us." Heresy and schism often go together, but they are not the same. If the Church is invisible though, heresy could, and indeed must become acceptable theological variation, and schism becomes a useless word. The Church then is not the visible manifestation of God's love in the world, it's a phantasm, an ideal into which I pour my eschatological hopes and dreams. It's one thing to notice a falling short in my life from God's ideal, or the lives of people around me. It's quite another to realize that there is no obvious, organic, tangible connection between my local church, all the others, and the concept in my head. That's why I'm Catholic. If I don't know what to believe and what to do right where I live, I cannot be Christian. The Church therefore must be visible, and it must be infallible. It cannot be the pillar and foundation of the truth if it cannot be seen, and the truth cannot be known. There is no "outside" of an invisible thing. So save your epistemic doubt for the Kennedy assassination or the chicken-egg conundrum. We have a world to save.


Timothy R. Butler said...

I can't really respond since I don't read CtC and the Noltie Conundrum seems to be CtCspeak.

However, here's how we can boil this down to the heart of the matter: you could not eliminate epistemological uncertainty entirely for me, even if I had a Romecoming and became the pope someday. This has nothing to do with dogma and everything to do with reason and perception post Fall.

Of course, the real problem goes back to what I said before: your critique a Protestantism that doesn't exist. I don't need black-and-white certainty on every dogma to preach Christ Jesus and Him Crucified with absolute certainty. If I did, I'd be in a real bind. But, normal people take lots of probable things and are able to take those probable things and create functional certainty with them. Add in the Holy Spirit and it gets so much better. Case in point: I know it is probable that I am not going to fall through my bedroom floor while I type this. I can't prove it to you, because I can't even begin to imagine all the mathematical formulas I'd need to do so, but I can functionally operate on the understanding that I am not going to fall through a solid wood floor.

I have great example for you, but I need to share it by e-mail rather than publicly. However, I hardly need to mention that not only is history messy, so is life today. So all our theoretical musings here get a lot more complicated when real people get involved.

As to dogma and historians, I guess the question I would ask is which better follows the motto "Seek truth knowing there can be no separation between God and truth"? I tend to think if I do my job as a historian, dogmatics will either agree or I will realize I've fallen short in my dogmatics. Not that God has fallen short, mind you, but that I have in my understanding of what God has revealed. I'd rather do that than have some dogmatic point I insist on and then argue that history that disputes it is false a priori.

Jason said...


Share away. I think I know the story, though. In any case, spiritual abuse is always possible, of course. But it's harder than it looks to get away with in the Catholic Church. Jurisdiction is everything in the Catholic Church. A leader who exceeds his legitimate jurisdiction forfeits validity in all his actions, and must make restitution, depending on the severity of the damage.

As for dogmas, the dogmas are more certain than 2+2=4, so I don't see any epistemic uncertainty there. :)