Thursday, July 18, 2013

"Mommy, Where Does Dogma Come From?"

If God is our Father, and the Church (however conceived) is our mother, then she ought to be able to tell us exactly what God said. That's why an invisible Church is so stupid: You only have yourself to ask, (points 5 and 4) and your ecclesial conversation partners (your tradition) can't tell you what God said, and they don't want to. They can see the Tyranny of the Plausible as well as I can; I can appreciate the desire to link Christians as well as we can, but if we push it too far (like with a false concept of the invisible Church) we put the very concept of revelation and its knowable content in serious doubt. When I saw the reality of that doubt as the logical outcome of the concept, and its operative principle, Sola Scriptura, I officially had a problem. Say it with me now: "If God didn't say it, it doesn't really matter." Which is to say that even as a Protestant, I did not believe that the Sacred Scriptures had more than one meaning, with respect to truth that we needed to know. But the very concept of "Church" I had demanded that I affirm this. To say, "There is a real spiritual presence in the Supper, but not a physical one" or "Christ is physically present in, with, and under the elements" are not mere decorations to the doctrine of God; they are real claims about what God has done, and who He is. Brethren, if this really is the stuff of adiaphora, why insist on one or the other? The Reformed and the Lutheran, respectively, do not believe this, however. Many more examples abound. So, we must make a difficult choice: Either we relativize the subject-matter in dispute, or we tell the disputants to show their cards, as it were.

But what I myself saw was two things: The real basis for this misguided impulse to unity were things decided before the separation(s); that is, we may call each other brothers because the tie that binds did not originate in the Reformation. And that we cannot settle, under the Protestant paradigm, that which separates us. Given those things, it does not make sense to cling to doctrines and principles that are not part of that common heritage.

The wise course is to inquisit the basis of that common heritage, to take into ourselves anything that helps to discern it. If you read my post on resources, and the resources, you'll see that it comes back to The Three Things.

I have to once again reject the notion that we cannot know what God needs us to know. It has been offered as some kind of defense for the fact of Christian disunity. Yet even an ill-formed reflection would show that I ought not hold any one particular thing as it pertains to the doctrine of God without knowing that God said it. I can't simply throw up my hands and say, "Well, God said some-such in Jesus pretty close to what I believe." If you preach the gospel to me, I don't want to hear the watered-down version of what God said, with a few man-made speculations thrown in. If God didn't say it, it doesn't really matter. Who sent you? That's what matters first. Ultimately, that's why I'm Catholic.


Timothy R. Butler said...

Well, personally, I would consider the Lutheran/Reformed split to be adiaphora, and I know a lot of Reformed and Lutherans who would agree with me. Sheesh, I spent a lot of time with the Lutherans and they don't look down their doctrinal noses and say, "Ah, he's not really a Christian, he doesn't agree with Luther's view of the Supper." (And that's true, even if dealing with one of them who doesn't realize Luther and Calvin all but agreed on the subject.) You, of course, know my figure of study is Bucer and that's why he could (reasonably) spend so much time trying to avoid disunity. Splits often occur not because of material differences, but because of linguistic differences. (Hello, Babel!)

Perhaps the more pertinent question to ask to your general point, though, is how did you know the Catholic Church was right before you accepted her authority? Because, you wouldn't accept her authority until you had some reason to do so...

Jason said...

The evidence for Petrine primacy, apostolic succession, and the Eucharist was exceptionally strong, and given that the modern Catholic Church was making claims based on the same things, the only reasonable conclusion was that the nascent Church and the Catholic Church were synonymous. On that basis, I accepted her authority.

Timothy R. Butler said...

So, how is that not depending on your personal authority to determine the authenticity of the claims? That is, you weighed the evidence and then decided it was reasonable. How does this not point back to your interpretive framework?

Jason said...

Because using reason to identify an authority is distinct from fashioning one. In this case, I can either accept the authority of the visible Church, or I cannot. In the other, I use my own reason to arbitrate "what really matters."

Jason said...


The substance of both your objection and various responses can be found here: I find this persuasive because one does not want to be in the position of arguing against the use of reason in contesting claims, which this objection (apparently) does.

Timothy R. Butler said...

I didn't reread the tu quoque post just now -- prior to my boycott of the Site That Shall Not Be Named -- but I've read it before and didn't find it terribly helpful, I must confess.

My point isn't an objection to reason. Quite the opposite. To say one believes based on using reason to interpret a written authority is neither the elimination of an external authority, nor the elimination of reason. To say one can only believe based on what an authority says, as oppose to using reason, is much more of a rejection of reason. To say one cannot apply the same argument against the Catholic Church that you are applying to the Protestants, then, is special pleading that only makes sense within the context of already accepting Catholic authority. In programming, we call this "eating your own dogfood." If you can't eat your own dogfood, you probably have a problem. I won't make an argument I'm unwilling to use against my own beliefs.

It is true, if the Catholic Church is the only legitimate part of the Church, then it need not answer questions. It can simply smack them down and say "believe." But, that's an internal discussion, not an apologetic one.

I think that's my biggest quibble -- it isn't that the point isn't valid, it just needs to be understood for what it is: a point based on a presupposition. Van Til would roll in his grave with my next move, but it is this: Barth got that. He didn't reject reason in sich, but rather he rejected reason outside of an existing foundation of faith. What I think must be acknowledged is that you need a foundation of faith that the Catholic Church is authoritative before these arguments work. Then they are perfectly reasonable. They help confirm the internally consistent reasonableness of what one believes. But, to a Protestant that isn't already begging for a reason to convert, they don't sound convincing at all.

We both acknowledge we need an authority. To me it is for a simple reason both Calvin and Barth acknowledge: God is not the God of the Philosophers, but rather the One Who Reveals Himself. It is only once He guides us that we realize we need reason (yes!) but also God's guiding to avoid the tyranny of our fallen mind's inclinations. Then, it only becomes a question of *what* is an acceptable authority by which to understand this One Who Reveals Himself. But, that's another question I won't get into, lest we get on a rabbit trail. The question of determining a need for an authority is enough. ;-) If we agree up to this point, I end my catechism.