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Saturday, September 14, 2013

The Reformation Is The Matrix

I hope you've seen the movie. Our protagonist, "Neo," realizes that he's living in what his friend and rescuer calls "a dream world." He leads the humans in triumph against the machines who had enslaved the entire human race. He's a Christ-figure, most definitely. And purposefully. I'd recommend it if you have kids only if you can get an edited version; the language is very strong, and there is violence throughout.

In any case, Protestantism's "prison for your mind" is the principle of Sola Scriptura. Therein lies the thing that destroys any chance of humble reception of the truths of supernatural revelation, because the individual is the arbiter of "what Scripture says."

People have spent the entirety of the 500 years or so building elaborate schemes since then to hide the fact that there's no principled difference between "me and my Bible" and a "historic Protestant." In each case, the person determines what the Bible says. In the latter case, the person has a fairly complicated storyline involving historical events, detailing where and when "the Church" got it right and when they got it wrong. The fundie is Johnny Exegete, who thinks that the "plain meaning" of the text is so obviously clear to everyone of pure heart. If you don't agree with him, he assumes there is something lacking in your relationship with God. The latter are a bunch of ecclesial kidnappers; they comb through history looking for support for whatever they already believe. In this case, Johnny Exegete got a bigger bookshelf and a history degree, and writes for First Things. Fred asked a good question: If I believe x about doctrine y, and my community believes z, who's right? And if I submit to my community insofar as it agrees with Scripture, that "insofar" is me and my arbitration of the questions at hand. It's all the same.

But ecclesial infallibility changes the whole game. The reason the Catholic or the enquirer is not guilty of the same charge is because he is not determining the truth or falsehood of any doctrine in particular; he is looking for the organs of that infallibility that he knows must be there, by virtue of the nature of God, who can neither deceive, nor be deceived. He is looking for the Church of which Jesus had spoken. If he finds it, that Church will provide the guidance to understand that which it proposes for belief. The Catholic knows he is wrong, if he disagrees with the Church. This is why Catholic dissenters get so much sympathy from Protestants: they both remake the "Church" to fit their beliefs.

Remember the main problem with the invisible Church concept: it does not allow one to make a principled distinction between a branch and a schism. You can reason your way to the need for a visible Church, and to some infallible organ of her. The question with respect to the Catholic Church (whether Roman Rite or dozens of others) is this: Is it reasonable to assume that this Catholic Church is synonymous with the ancient Church to which history amply bears witness?

4 comments:

Timothy R. Butler said...

When I read Hamlet, does the meaning of the text rest in me or the semantic range of the text restricted by authorial intent?

Jason said...

If you forced me to choose between these hideous options, the latter is better. But frankly, I don't have the tools to really discern the authorial intent. It's only a guess. There is nothing in the tools themselves to tell me whether I am closer or further away. There is of course an ad hoc reliance on an objective standard, more than likely.

Timothy R. Butler said...

So what option would you prefer -- instead of my two options -- for interpreting Hamlet?

Jason said...

Either Shakespeare himself, or someone sent by him who knows EXACTLY what he meant, such that it might as well be him.