Friday, September 18, 2015

I'm Like Ed Sheeran, Just Thinking Out Loud

I had a friend who posted something about Eucharistic Adoration. This is by far the weirdest (Western) Catholic thing. Because the consecrated Host is the body, blood, soul, and divinity of the Father's dearly beloved Son, we worship Him. The whole matter is a yes/no question: it's either the most salutary thing you can do, other than perhaps Mass, or it is idolatry. There is no middle ground.

The unique challenge of being confronted with the Catholic Church's claim to be the Church Christ founded, the one to which we are bound as children to their mother, is that you actually have to consider whether it's true. The dice are loaded, in the sense that to challenge the claim with some prior hermeneutic, which by the Church's own admission it would and could never satisfy, is begging the question. If a man is convinced by Scripture and by reason that the claim cannot be true, he has not actually considered it, if it be a prior decision. In a certain sense, intellectual honesty requires uncertainty, in order to investigate.

It could be true, he says. In such a case, everything the Church teaches as revealed is true by definition, for God revealed it, and appointed the Church to promulgate it, and to engage itself in loving contemplation of that revelation. It also stands to reason that, given the foundational place of the Church (however conceived) in the Sacred Scriptures, to refrain from joining that Church which Christ established and protects by his divine power, is most unwise, to say the least.

It could be false, he says, in which case the pretense to universal jurisdiction is the most odious error, and anything which emerges as a development from the presumption of that false authority must be rejected, and firmly. To merely be doubtful of the truth of a claim does not make it false. To be hopeful that a certain claim is true likewise does not make it true. This breaks no ground, I trust.

One reason I was willing to set aside a particular hermeneutic or set of doctrines as the rule of faith by which I judged Catholicism false is that my set of convictions at the time--Reformed Presbyterianism, typified in the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms--could no more prove itself true than could any other. It is what I was taught by men and women I loved and trusted, and they loved God and me (God-willing, anyway) in the same way. I had no reason to believe that system of doctrine was mostly false, but if I am honest, I had no basis to believe it was entirely true, either. Anyone who has ever said, "Let God be true, and every man a liar," or, "Our confession is not the Bible" is actually conceding the point: We don't have the full truth, and we can't. In that case, it seems rather foolish to hold up the system as some high-water mark in theology, when practically and systemically, one cannot say it is infallible. If numerous formulations of doctrines in all their iterations are presumed fallible by the very fact that they are created, manipulated, and promulgated by people, whose stain of sin cannot be doubted, how might one of those systems--no matter how exalted and pure--be in its particularity the canon by which Roman theology is shown false? I'm not persuaded by the fact of commonality between Protestants in the nature of their objections against Rome, because those groups could all be wrong in a similar fashion, as easily as it could and has been argued they are correct. Each group and system cannot be right in the same way at the same time, with respect to Catholicism. One may believe he alone, or with any number of fellows, is correct, but this is very hard to maintain, given that numerous other systems retain a plausibility that disallows that kind of exclusivism. I'm not saying that the mere existence of other systems and men to profess them means mine is false. Rather, I am saying that there is nothing unique to one like my own that rules it out, or rules in its favor.

Each community is similar, practically and methodologically, which makes the existence of mutually exclusive doctrines nearly unexplainable. The fact that people rush to insist that these variances are "non-essentials" seems arbitrary, and could just as well be a method of coping with the fact of disunity, and the reality of an unwinnable argument. After all, a non-essential doctrine is a pretty bad candidate for a "distinctive," in the parlance of dogmatists. We call them "distinctives" because we think they are important.

If the Scriptures are perspicuous, why can't people using them, with the same basic hermeneutical assumptions, agree on what they say? It will not do to suppose that, having mutually decided not to condemn each other, one has in fact proven that the variances are non-essential! I would argue that the existence of the separate communities, which contain some people at least who would not welcome a pan-Protestant merger, amply demonstrates that agreement on what is essential has not been achieved.

And if in fact the reality of the Fall means that I'll never in this life attain to the authorial intent of any one passage, or the Bible as a whole, why would I presume to turn its words on the Catholic Church in righteous fury? What good is a perspicuity to which I have no access? It seems to me that humility and dogmatic uncertainty are not the same, and a myriad of deceptions flows from supposing that they are.

One final thing: Suppose the Catholic Church is not the Church Christ founded. Suppose for the moment the question, "Which one is the Church Christ founded?" is the wrong question, because there isn't one, at least not visibly. This would mean that the communities themselves existed for no reason, at least as guardians of truth. We'd be arguing about distinctives we'd have no means to assess. Moreover, if there were some common truth, it would exist outside every single visible community.

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