Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Teflon Catholicism

Patrick said:
<< Roman Catholics are supposed to defer to the PBC in the same way any reasonable person should defer to any body of experts. >>

i) Is it really as simple as that? Doesn’t every Catholic seminary or Catholic college with a school of theology have its own body of experts? Are they all on a par with the PBC? Or is the function of the PBC to set the guidelines for other experts in this field?

ii) Every Evangelical denomination has its own body of experts. And we are a liberty to quote from each other’s body of experts as well.

But one of the main things which is supposed to set Catholicism off from all the other denominations is not expertise, but authority. Due to a divine teaching office, you have a review process and accountability system which is supposed to confer on your church an epistemic advantage over us benighted Evangelicals who have no magisterium.

iii) I’d also reiterate that this is not just about the PBC. For when I and others pull rank and quote the Pope or the Prefect, we get exactly the same line. So it matters not how high up the chain-of-command we go. We are treated to the very same disclaimer. Whether I cite magisterial or non-magisterial statements, whether I cite ordinary or extraordinary magisterial statements, the response is always the same—the same wiggle room, the same “that was then, this is now,” even now, it’s not for us to say. So the bottom-line is that there is no bottom-line. I keep digging, I keep peeling away layers of the onion, but no example I ever cite from your own official sources ever sticks. This is Teflon Catholicism.

<< IOW the kinds of things that are important to scripture scholars qua scripture scholars simply are not important for lay Catholics, or Protestants, qua believers seeking to know and love their God. >>

<< As long as they believe that (and all that it entails), abstruse worries like what human being penned the Petrine epistles are hardly of interest. (Always provided, of course, that the primary authorship of the Holy Spirit is affirmed.) >>

i) Well, you’re free to speak as a Catholic layman, but speaking for myself, this is not an abstruse issue. If a NT letter is said, in the letter itself, to be written by Peter or Paul, then is this statement true or false?

Does the Holy Spirit inspire falsehoods? Does the Holy Spirit inspire forgeries?

And if this statement is false, what other falsehoods are made in the course of the letter?

ii) Why do we believe that such a letter is inspired at all? Although you don’t have to be an Apostle to be inspired, you have to be inspired to be an Apostle. Their apostolicity is the traditional reason that Petrine and Pauline letters are believed to be inspired in the first place.

<< It's quite acceptable for the apologist to say, of a non-magisterial documents, that there's a mistake. >>

Maybe so, but in that event, what is his frame of reference? Since it was the magisterium which put the PBC in place, and is responsible for appointing its members, he is not judging the PBC by a higher standard. Since the magisterium set the review process in place (nihil obstat, imprimatur, imprimi potest), he is not judging these publications by a higher standard. So, as a practical matter, the divine teaching office is moot. This is not where he is looking for his source of guidance.

<< Steve, you simply drain all nuance from the things you talk about. There is room for a great deal of freedom within the Church. >>

Yes, there’s a lot of freedom in the RCC. A lot of nuance. But that is not what is supposed to set you apart from us anathematical schismatics. You are supposed to have something extra, something better. What sets you apart is not liberty, but authority—not nuance, but certainly.

<< I do wonder if you're prepared to concede the other points I made about your grasp of Catholicism--specifically, your failure to understand Molinism and your utter failure to understand St. Francis. >>

i) I’m happy to concede a good argument. If and when you are prepared to make an argument for Molinism, and apply it to Chaput’s hypothetical, I’ll give it a fair hearing. But all you did, the last time I checked, was to make assertions, not arguments. If you don’t give reasons, there is nothing for me to concede.

ii) As to St. Francis, this is something Randy Gritter brought up. He thinks it’s relevant, I don’t. I only responded because he brought it up.

Randy acts as though the RCC has a monopoly on holiness. He also acts as though the post-Tridentine, post-modernist Church of Rome has an exclusive contract with any Latin Christian who lived before the Reformation. Now, this may make perfect sense for a Roman Catholic with a Catholic view of church history, but to urge it on a Calvinist (or any other Evangelical) as a disproof of Calvinism in particular or Evangelicalism in general simply begs the question.

I would also note that although my take on St. Francis has come under fire, no one has taken issue with my factual characterization.

And, frankly, there’s something not a little hypocritical about having Catholics who wallow in a modern-American standard of living urging the example of St. Francis on me or any other Protestant. Do you personally emulate the lifestyle of St. Francis? For you and Randy and others to keep harping on this issue is self-incriminating.

St. Francis was a godly man. But he had a simplistic grasp of the Sermon on the Mount.

Now, either your agree with his interpretation or you don’t. If you think he was right, then why aren’t you doing the same thing? And if you think he was wrong, what’s your beef with me? Why should he be an example to me when he is no example to you?

I’d add that if every Catholic were to follow in his footsteps, the Vatican would be broke and childless. Poverty and chastity do not fill churches or pay the light bills.


  1. I'm going to try to keep this brief, since the original Janus has become a Hydra, and if I tried to address every point at all adequately, I wouldn't get anything else done today.

    First, I've never referred to Evangelicals as benighted. Why would you suggest that I think that?

    Second, yes, there are lots of experts. The PBC are the experts to the experts--they help guide the scholars that you'd find at the seminaries, colleges and universities. The PBC, even in its days as a quasi-magisterial organization, had purely disciplinary authority. It could set parameters that had to be observed; these guidelines would be similar to canon law, I suppose, rather than to a doctrinal decree. (This is a very imperfect analogy.) Matters like this, as I said before, have absolutely nothing to do with our religious certainty.

    Third, there's nothing "teflonish" about making important distinctions. You cite a document from the PBC that has now been (so to speak) overturned, and I point out that it was never something that was meant to be accepted with religious certainty in the first place. That's not slippery. It's just the simple truth. If you cite, however, a dogmatice document from Vatican I, and then argue that it conflicts with a dogmatic document from Vatican II, I don't have the luxury of saying that the claims of Vatican I were never meant to provide certainty. For example, the most authoritative decree of Vatican I involves the definition of papal infallibility. That's not something anyone can back down from, and nobody would try to. Then there are conciliar and papal decrees that appear to be contradicted by later conciliar or papal decrees. You try to cite some of these as examples. In cases like this, it is incumbent upon Catholic apologists, I suppose, to explain why the prima facie conflict is not an ultima facie conflict. I'm not a Catholic apologist, and I have no time to engage in that kind of detailed work. I would suggest you seek out the website of Shawn McElhinney if you'd like to see careful discussions of why Vatican II teachings are indeed compatible with earlier teachings, in cases like the ones you are citing. I would, however, insist that your easy acceptance that the prima facie conflict just equals ultima facie conflict violates the principle of charity that should guide any honest exegetical effort. You must realize that the Fathers who wrote the documents of Vatican II were far more familiar with the teaching of the Church than you are. You must also realize, then, that they would recognize that in some cases there is a prima facie conflict between what they've written, and what was written before. So it is a mere matter of accepting their basic honesty to grant that they would have an answer--perhaps even a compelling answer--to your claim that there really is a contradiction between the two documents. The answer may remain a mystery to you at the moment, but I would think a little bit of intellectual humility would lead you to recognize the failure might just be yours. Again, I'm not able to do the exegetical work for you, but it's all been done before, and if you'll look for it, you'll find it.

    Fourth, your questions about the authorship of the Biblical text presuppose that ancient standards for authorship claims are the same as present standards--a dubious presupposition.

    Fifth, I'm afraid I don't see why I need to make any "arguments" about what Archbishop Chaput meant. It's part and parcel of both Molinism and Thomism that people who actually do X (where X is a free act) could have done differently. So when Chaput says "Mary (who actually said "yes") could have said 'no,'" there's really no mystery about what he meant. The notion you seem to have that he was endorsing openism is just absurd.

    Last, I think your completely unnuanced understanding of Catholicism is prominently on display here: "St. Francis was a godly man. But he had a simplistic grasp of the Sermon on the Mount.
    Now, either your agree with his interpretation or you don’t. If you think he was right, then why aren’t you doing the same thing?"

    The idea that everyone ought to follow Jesus in precisely the same way is simply an uncatholic idea. There are various vocations. Some people are called to the priesthood, some to religious life, some to life in (but not of)the world. I'm a father and husband. I have a profession. My obligations are different from Francis's. My calling is different from Francis's. If I tried to live as St. Francis did, I'd be failing to follow Jesus as I've been called to.

    There's much more to say, but I don't have time to say it.

  2. Actually, I should add what I consider an important point. Your interpretation of Chaput's comment is a wonderful illustration of your overall approach to Church documents. You take the worst possible reading, and assume it is the only sensible one. That is, that one sentence of Chaput's is indeed compatible with Openism. So you read it that way, and attack Catholic teaching for being openist. But in so doing, you completely fail to recognize that that one sentence is also compatible with either Thomism or Molinism, and, furthermore, that basic considerations of exegetical method would make it imperative to interpret Chaput in the latter sense.

    I think your approach to Church documents--in what I've seen--always works this way. You're so eager to find error or contradiction in Church documents that when you see something that *can* be interpreted that way, you *do* interpret it that way, without ever pausing to wonder if there is a different plausible reading. This is the point I was making when I talked about the fact that the Council Fathers who wrote the documents of Vatican II know the teaching of the Church better than you do, and presumably considered their documents compatible with that tradition. You ought to try to understand the document as they intended it to be understood. That's just what exegesis is about, after all.

  3. Sorry to keep coming back. I'm writing on the fly, and I keep thinking of things I should have said. So one last post, and then I promise, I'll quit (at least, unless you reply).

    You wrote: "Why do we believe that such a letter is inspired at all? Although you don’t have to be an Apostle to be inspired, you have to be inspired to be an Apostle. Their apostolicity is the traditional reason that Petrine and Pauline letters are believed to be inspired in the first place."

    I trust you don't mean that the inspiration of Scripture has to do with the action of the Apostles, rather than with the action of the Holy Spirit. I trust that what you mean is merely what you repeat in the third sentence--namely, that apostolicity is a *criterion* by which we recognize inspiration. (Or something to that effect.)

    Now, my claim would be that denying that the Holy Spirit is the primary author of these 27 books of the New Testament, is simply heretical. Period. But as to how we know precisely which books are the inspired books of the New Testament, I would reply that apostolicity is not at all the criterion. In fact, the actual criterion for determining the canon of the New Testament (and this holds for the determination that the Church's Old Testament is the Septuagint, as well, but that's off the immediate topic) is that these 27 books were used "always and everywhere" in the liturgy. That is, the Church determined which books were the canonical books by examing which books she had deemed fit to read in her worship in the times since the Apostolic age. It may be that the Church also believed the 27 books were all written by apostles, but that wasn't the criterion by which she canonized them.

    In fact, proof that apostolicity isn't sufficient for canonicity is not hard to find. St. Paul himself refers to a letter he wrote to the Corinthians that we no longer have. That was an apostolic writing. It is not canonical. (We know the latter because it isn't part of the canon--that's as straightforward as it gets.) And if it's not canonical, it wasn't inspired. So this third letter to the Corinthians is apostolic but not inspired. Thus, apostolicity is not sufficient.

    That leaves open the question of whether apostolicity is necessary for canonization. I think it depends on what you mean by apostolicity. Certainly, the letter has to reflect apostolic teaching. Of course. But the letter obviously doesn't have to have been penned by an apostle himself. St. Paul did not write (all of?) his letters by his own hand. So the apostolicity can be mediated by a secretary. Mark probably followed the Apostolic teaching of St. Peter when he wrote his Gospel, and Luke probably followed the Apostolic teaching of Paul: but were these Gospels dictated to the evangelists by the apostles? I don't think so--indeed, I think Luke himself implies that this is certainly not the case when he explains his reasoning for writing his Gospel. IOW, non-apostles can faithfully transmit the Apostolic teaching in their own words. And so I don't see any difficulty with saying that, say, a disciple of St. Paul wrote a "Pauline" epistle in the years after St. Paul died. I don't see how this differs in principle from Luke writing the Gospel while St. Paul was alive. (At least, I believe the Gospel was written during St. Paul's life.)

    So Apostolicity, in my view, is not at all threatened by a late dating of certain epistles, nor are claims of authorship called into question, provided what was meant by an attribution of authorship to an deceased apostle was simply the assertion of the apostolicity (in the sense discussed above) of the teaching therein.

    At any rate, this is supposed to explain why I reject your suggestion, quoted above, that apostolicity is the reason we believe the texts are inspired. The reason we believe they are inspired is that the Church tells us they are, and the Church knows that because she has always treated them as inspired by reading them to the faithful during the liturgy.

  4. Patrick, there is no difference between you and an O.J. lawyer (except that maybe they're possibly less wet). Your commitment to truth and valuation for truth is exactly the same. Your client though is not O.J. Simpson, it's the RC church.

    If you ever become serious about the Word of God and about the Faith you then will realize (will see) that it is the Word of God that is your only Rock and Standard and Authority, and that it is only Jesus Christ that is your Mediator with God and is your only salvation.

    Currently you are not serious. You're playing games defending an institution that is as indefensible as the theory of evolution or communism (two other vehicles of the devil on this planet). And you sound exactly like the defenders of those two other systems and institutions of darkness.

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