Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Outcome Of My Investigation vs. The End Of All Striving

In my post on dogma, I was attempting to articulate how the primacy of the individual as represented by Sola Scriptura would impact the knowledge and the use of dogma within ecclesial communities. To say once again that Mathison has failed to distinguish between solo and sola is actually to say that the visible community has ceased to function as an organ for the communication of divine truth, at least in terms of the individual as one who submits unequivocally to its dictates.


That is, my so-called Tyranny of the Plausible becomes a tyranny only insofar as each competing theology is derived from the same hermeneutical process, using the same tools, with the same starting assumptions. It is a restatement of Fred's problem, from a slightly more global ecclesiological viewpoint. The Noltie Conundrum, as we have termed it, asks about the truth value of a particular set of theological assertions, given the reality of theological pluralism. As I continue to reflect in a hopefully fruitful way upon this problem, my contribution is to assume the good faith horn of that dilemma, and then take stock of where we are. The other horn of the dilemma leaves in play the notion that the individual could arbitrate the theological problems. My own experience is of having a faith that was received, or better said, a faith that was taught. In such a case, the authority of the presumptive teachers is precisely at issue.


But the reason the tu quoque is inapt as an objection to the Catholic Church is that investigating the claims of the Catholic Church using reason is quite distinct from submitting to the Catholic Church and doing theology as a son of the Catholic Church. The best possible outcome of an investigation of the claims of the Catholic Church is to say that such claims are reasonable. It is not inherently irrational to conclude that the Catholic Church is the church that Christ founded. In fact, it may be irrational to conclude otherwise. Yet this is not synonymous with, "I prefer the  Catholic Church" or, "the Catholic Church agrees with me". A person who talks this way may be Catholic by name, but has not fully understood and accepted what it means to be Catholic. Such a person is also vulnerable to some discovery that would cause him to withdraw his affirmation of any or all Catholic doctrines of which he is aware. That is not faith, and that is not the basis for anything the Catholic Church claims for itself or those who claim to be its members. When I became Catholic, I used the fact that the Catholic Church's claims were reasonable (and that other claims were not consistent with the evidence, or were hideously implausible) to decide to become a member of the Catholic Church. After having decided, my relationship to that evidence is very different. I may use my reason to bring order to it, to explain how the data coheres, but I do not subject it to a rationalistic scrutiny, as though its truth were in doubt. Rather, the truths of Catholic faith, given the authority of the Church which handed them on, are the irrevocable starting-points for future reflection and possible development in theology. It always seems a little odd when people ask me which parts of Catholic faith I deny, because the question makes no sense in true Catholic ears. I cannot deny that which is my only hope in this life or the next. For the Catholic, the Church is itself an object of faith in a secondary sense; we cling to her as the mother Christ gave her to be.
That which is common to all Christians stands outside competing paradigms as a monument to the faithfulness of the incarnate Word. It remained for me to discern where exactly that commonality originated, and to forthrightly ask if I stood in the proper relation to that origin-point, which is in fact the Church, by the mercy of Christ. The Church is not an idealized concept into which I pour my spiritual hopes and dreams; it is in fact the visible, hierarchical supernatural society intended by Christ. The corporate reality of sin is no less real than the personal, yet our mistake was to assume that the indefectible truth could not be communicated through humanity. Divine and human are not opposites, as Our Lord demonstrates, though an almost infinite chasm exists between them. I say "almost" because God wills them to be united in Christ and in the Church. This is why I asked myself if the Council of Trent could be true, despite any number of failures to embody Truth. That goes for all ecumenical councils, before and after. There is nothing wrong with what God said; there is something rather wrong with us.

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