Monday, February 17, 2014

The Holy Spirit Is God (And Some Implications)

If that is the case, then the Holy Spirit cannot lie. He would not, and He cannot; he's bound by his nature. Thus, when the interpretive problem caused by Sola Scriptura hits, it is raised to a crisis only insofar as the problem is theological in the strict sense--that is, of or pertaining to God--and the two or more disputants have clear consciences, that is, a charge of dishonesty or manipulation from one to the other would be an act of bad faith, lacking any credible justification. The so-called Noltie Conundrum is a good faith problem. And if in fact one resorts to some notion of "total depravity" in order to explain it, some general idea of human sinfulness to avoid getting one's hands dirty with a particular accusation, then it bites back hard: one's own interpretive judgments can and ought to be similarly accused, having failed to even attain the right to be preferred over another view. Therefore, the multiplicity of opinions under the Protestant interpretive paradigm isn't some ecclesial guilt-trip or point-scoring; there is legitimate doubt about what what God has in fact said. Under this paradigm, it is both inevitable, and insoluable.

Some people retreat to ecclesial politics, or simply to using the words a lot ("ecclesial," "church", etc.) to avoid the central problem, which the community does not avoid: This visible "church" is only useful if it can provide more certainty than the man himself has a right to expect. But without a special charism (which the Protestant IP does not allow) it cannot. The communities proliferated precisely because individuals believed their judgments concerning the meaning of the Scriptures were better than the previous community of which they were a part. But, only the most blinkered of souls lives alone, so men created new communities, even though the seeds of its eventual destruction were already in the hands of each man. That's the point of Sola Scriptura: every institution is held in suspicion; only the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scriptures matters. And the arbiter of that is always the individual. Any pretended middle positions are rightly called ad hoc.

This is why ecclesiology is collapsing in the Protestant world: there is no principled basis for any church to pretend authority over the man, given the Protestant assumptions. All it takes is one Peter Leithart. Stellman had no chance to convict, and he knows it. The court knew it, too. Somewhere down deep. It's much like in the second film in The Matrix trilogy, when Neo meets The Architect: They'd done this before, and they'll do it again, ad infinitum.

Newman's remark about history is true, for one reason, and one reason only: The fact of the Incarnation makes history itself the outworking of His dominion. The very men He breathed on, and the men who touched others with anointed hands, this is the basis for the claims of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.


Anonymous said...

All I have to say is that great minds think alike. :-)

Timothy R. Butler said...

This assumes, of course, that we see the chief end of the visible church is to impose an authoritative interpretive framework on the text, which Protestants never claimed to begin with. But even there the epistemological basis is shaky, since the conveyance of a framework is unstable. You can't apply a radically skeptical hermeneutic to Scripture and not to the interpretation of Scripture.

This feels very much like a "preaching to the choir" argument. It seems like a game from the outside, even while I know it seems dead serious from the Tiber drenched inside.

Jason said...

That's exactly what a community does do. Otherwise, it has no purpose, but to preserve and inculcate an interpretation, in contradistinction to another community.

Anonymous said...


You are not the first to say that, and I can understand how one might get that idea. But the fact is, I wrote this (what Jason calls the Noltie Conundrum) to describe how I recognized this problem while I was still adamantly Protestant. I had absolutely no interest in the Catholic Church at the time.

The point I am trying to make is that the Noltie Conundrum is an internal critique of Protestantism, not a preaching-to-the-choir exercise. You have to (so to speak: I can’t make you do anything) come to terms with this question: why would God preserve an individual from error with respect to some non-trivial article of faith, but not preserve the Church (however you want to define “church”)? This is exactly what Luther and Calvin and their heirs have done in saying councils and popes may err and have done so, but we haven’t.



Timothy R. Butler said...

I think your last sentence is key. Neither Calvin nor Luther claimed to not err. Later Confessional documents explicitly state all councils can err. On the contrary, they insisted that they too could err. Instead, they simply were willing to live with the less than black-and-white world that comes with recognizing only God and his Word are inerrant.

It is interesting that you "recognized the problem" while still Protestant. I (admittedly) don't see it as a problem, but that has to do with my whole hermeneutical and epistemological schema, which is rather postmodern.


Anonymous said...

Hello Tim,

You wrote:

"I think your last sentence is key. Neither Calvin nor Luther claimed to not err. Later Confessional documents explicitly state all councils can err. On the contrary, they insisted that they too could err. Instead, they simply were willing to live with the less than black-and-white world that comes with recognizing only God and his Word are inerrant."

This is not entirely accurate with respect to Luther. According to Roland Bainton Luther considered the Augsburg Confession to be inerrant and Spirit-inspired, so that to disagree with it is to lack the Spirit.

The more significant problems, though, are the consequences of denying our need for an infallible interpreter of the Bible. If literally everyone does err in understanding it (somewhere, somehow), no principled means exists for differentiating Christianity’s truth claims from those of Hindus, Buddhists,animists, or even the Jedi religion in the UK. :-) Similarly it also requires that God left us in a condition of ecclesial deism. I do not think you have mentioned this, but I will add that the appeal to perspicuity does not work for at least two reasons: first, we could all be in error about the doctrine of perspicuity; second, those who affirm it will almost never tell us what exactly that list of perspicuous doctrines contains.One anti-Catholic I know flatly refused to offer me such a list, and another gentleman could not stop adding to his list (which contained some differences from beliefs held by some of his Protestant brethren).

In short, perspicuity does not solve the problem of knowing what exactly the Bible teaches, and consequently cannot serve as a foundation for belief in any particular thing—including the resurrection.

I understand that none of this may be a problem for you, given what you say about your epistemology. :-) But given that epistemology I honestly do not see how any uniqueness can be claimed for any religion, including Christianity.