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Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Heretical And Anti-Christian? A Few Thoughts


Someone said to me, "I did not say there was no grace in Catholicism, but even an iota of weight placed on one's own merit and deeds is what is heretical and anti-Christian." This Facebook comment really got me thinking. It didn't make me upset, and in fact it never does, but I confess that it pushes me to articulate why we need to answer the real question behind the question: by what authority (or rather, whose authority) does anyone decide or declare the doctrine of God? That is of course the ultimate question, but as we can see, one could ask two equally important sub-questions that are relevant: "What is 'heresy'?"and "What is 'anti-Christian'?" Let's use the definition of heresy provided by the Catechism of the Catholic Church. You'll find it in paragraph 2089. It reads, "Heresy is the obstinate post-baptismal denial of some truth which must be believed with divine and catholic faith, or it is likewise an obstinate doubt concerning the same." I would say that's a pretty solid definition, even if we do not agree that the Catholic Church is the church who should be doing the defining. I draw from the context of my friend the objector that "anti-Christian" means, "opposed to Christ and his message of good news". Let's leave aside the unstated premise in the objection that any participation in his own salvation leaves a man opposing the free grace of God. I can say in brief that no one who says they believe this actually follows it in practice. If they did, they are not the sorts of people that you want to practice your biblical Christianity alongside.

In any case, I would like to ask this person how he came to be entrusted with the fullness of truth in such a way that he knew I was in heresy. Even if we set aside the obvious point that the community from whence he came has yet to show--and in fact cannot demonstrate--that it is the Church of Christ, able to bind the consciences of all Christians, there still remains a yet more troubling point. Even if we ignored this one community and its presumed authority to declare the doctrine of God at least to those who bind themselves to it, this man has not demonstrated that he possesses the authority or the ability to arbitrate that question. If I may take a moment to boast for the sake of the argument, I doubt he has as much education in the hermeneutical sciences as I do. But even if he did,--and this is the sheer force of what we call the Noltie Conundrum--we could not settle the question, in all likelihood. It seems to me that the ever dwindling space of what we call "conservative Protestantism" is barely subsisting on a gentleman's agreement not to argue about that which we would consider dogmatic and non-negotiable points of doctrine. The primacy of the idea that the church is fundamentally invisible supersedes even that of a dogmatic principle within those communities. The thing that goes hand-in-hand with this concept of an invisible church is the individualism that is at the very heart of the principle of Sola Scriptura. It is that individualism that creates an irreconcilable tension between this the fundamental principle, and the visible community of whatever stripe, who on some level is attempting to act in the name of Christ with real authority. Unless the people doing the defining of doctrine are the Church, outside of which there is no possibility of salvation, it frankly doesn't matter what conclusions they come to. It is unlikely that any person reading the Scriptures and trying to do the will of God realizes that practically, "Scripture" means, "Scripture according to me," but we're going to have to face up to that problem, whether we want to or not. Most of the people who read this blog are not fundamentalists or positivists in hermeneutics; they do not believe that in consulting Scripture to do the will of God that God has uniquely infallibly spoken to them. It is in that very act of humility of asking someone else to help them interpret the Scriptures that the question of history--or we might say, continuity and authority--becomes acute and must be answered. If "creedal Christianity" is the real remedy to not only the arrogance of individual interpretation but the real error that follows from it, we must eventually concede that creedal Christianity is Catholic Christianity. I accepted her authority because no amount of education in the science of hermeneutics or in the content of the Bible itself produces that which we call "classic Christian orthodoxy" in the Protestant sense. That orthodoxy is Catholic, and the ad hoc reliance upon it to maintain some semblance of order is either out of ignorance or fear. In any case, the implications of this individualism will no doubt destroy the vestiges of whatever gives this "historic Protestantism" a surface plausibility.

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