Thursday, June 30, 2005

Crimson redux

Prejean ( has offered a reply to my rejoinder, or is it a rejoinder to my reply?

There’s not a lot here that I need to respond to. Since Prejean seems less concerned with the end-game than with the opening moves. So I will focus on the more substantive remarks:

<< I don't think the idea that Regensburg was a relatively typical example of Catholic theology on justification is all that controversial, or at least, it's not the sort of claim that one would be unreasonable to accept as a default absent evidence to the contrary. If it is, then one wouldn't even expect to find evidence or clarifications on that subject in deliberations, because it would have simply been taken for granted. In the end, these are all judgments of probability, so the notion that one doesn't have an airtight demonstration of a conclusion doesn't particularly bother me. I'm content to let the reader decide. >>

How does one probilify in the absence of evidence? And, sure, something could simply be taken for granted, but that is one of those claims which is, in the nature of the case, nothing more than a groundless assumption.

By contrast, we do have the text of Trent. That is what we know. The burden of proof is on those who wish to interpret the known by the unknown.

<< Regarding the condemnations of Trent being directed to Protestant theology, keep in mind a few things. First, Protestant theology wasn't anything like a monolith at the time. There were Protestant groups ranging all the way to flaming antinomianism (condemned by the Magisterial Reformers, of course), and Trent was aimed at all of them. >>

Fair point.

<< Second, Trent also condemned probable (or even possible) misinterpretations of Protestant theology in several instances. Third, infallibility only applies to what the council actually condemned, not how well it identified the group it was trying to condemn or even how well that condemnation accomplished its intent. Like badly drafted laws, what ends up written may convey the intent poorly or not at all (in fact, the action of the Holy Spirit could have been to thwart the council from condemning something that it oughtn't have), so while intent and circumstances are relevant, they aren't entirely dispositive. >>

This option is, indeed, available to Prejean, but it comes at a cost. Infallibility is secured at the price of wholesale skepticism. We’re abandoned to the useless tautology that Church is infallible whenever she’s infallible, although we never know when she’s infallible.

In that respect, how does the Catholic rule of faith improve over what Catholicism finds fault with in the Protestant rule of faith?

<< From the Catholic perspective, there isn't a logical conflict entailed between the work of salvation being wholly of grace and truly free, so we don't bother with the question, although there has been speculation about the exact causal mechanism (Thomism, Molinism, Augustinianism, etc.). >>

How do you know that there’s no logical conflict if you can’t show that there’s no logical conflict? What is the basis of your confidence?

<< It always secures God's intent for the moving. It may be that God moves the will toward assent, knowing that there will be resistance and it will not succeed, hence condemning the person by the person's own will. In other words, the operation of free will never thwarts God's sovereignty. >>

Here Prejean redefines divine sovereignty by restricting the scope of divine sovereignty. Sovereignty only attaches to intent, not effect.

Yet, on this view, either God is able to secure intent, but unwilling to do so—or else is willing to secure assent, but unable to do so.

In what sense does he intend an unsuccessful outcome? Does he intend to fail?

<< Sounds like St. Maximus's Christology >>

What does Christology have to do with the will of a sinner in relation to the will of God?

<< Which is, incidentally, why I thought it extremely odd that you saw free will as a response to fatalism, rather than fatalism as invention of Greek philosophy. >>

Because fatalism isn’t an invention of Greek philosophy. There are various sources of fatalism, such as astrology.

<< I don't believe that there was ever a general statement about the election of pagans who did not actively reject Christianity. The possibility of God's grace as late in life as one's deathbed has always been cherished in the Christian faith, and it is a long-standing part of the tradition that the exercise of natural virtue and reception of truth helps to dispose one toward receiving grace even if it is not capable in and of itself of guaranteeing salvation. In other words, it's always been the case that what we would ordinarily consider "good people" were capable of being saved by Christ outside of the ordinary course. BTW, the non-elect wouldn't necessarily lack prevenient grace in an absolute sense; they might fall away through their sin later in the process of their own justification. Remember that for a Catholic, grace is a more or less constant state; it's not something that's given at one time. >>

This misses the point of my query, but perhaps I was unclear. The very categories of election and predestination imply that the elect, and only the elect, will be saved, while all the non-elect will be damned.

The question is how this can be squared with the Rahnerian view of universal grace ratified in Vatican II and post-Vatican II theology. Is everyone elect? Is salvation a live possibility for the non-elect? What does election do?

<< If the question is whether the grace of God is efficacious, then there is no question that it is; the dispute is simply over the mechanism by which it is efficacious. The notion that a person could somehow surprise God by resisting what He intended to be efficacious grace is absurd; if grace is resisted, it follows inexorably that God never intended for it to succeed. If that's the problem, then I don't see a cognizable difference in the positions. >>

How can grace be both efficacious and unsuccessful? Prejean seems to be distinguishing between a type of grace which is efficacious because God intends it to be efficacious, and another type of grace which is resistible because God does not intend it to succeed.

If so, then it will hardly do for Prejean to say there’s no question that God’s grace is efficacious, simpliciter. He himself has set up a disjunction between efficacious and inefficacious grace, resistible and irresistible grace, with divine intent as the differential factor.

<< But realistically, Hays hasn't provided sufficient evidence that his position ought to be the default either. >>

My position isn’t a default position. My position is based on the actual text of Trent. Trent, of itself, represents the selection-criteria of the Church as applied to pre-Tridentine tradition. I’m choosing to begin and end where the Tridentine Fathers chose to begin and end. I’m taking my cue from them. The text supplies its own context in terms of what parts of prior tradition they chose to formalize.

Now, if we had the “minutes of Trent,” that would be directly relevant to original intent. But apparently we don’t. Otherwise, Prejean could simply quote from the deliberations of the Tridentine Fathers and settle the interpretation then and there.

<< What is not often added is "as those formal definitions are interpreted in the context of tradition." That's why it's de facto useless to attempt to demonstrate a contradiction between later and earlier interpretations of magisterial documents; unless the later interpretation is simply so insane that it cannot even possibly be supported by the wording of the original (and what are the odds of that?), then there's no contradiction. >>

This begs the question of what supplies the “context of tradition.” You can only measure something by reference to a fixed frame of reference. That’s what makes a standard a standard. It doesn’t change. Hence, it can be used to measure change. If the standard changes, then you’re left with sheer skepticism.

According to Trent, and reaffirmed at Vatican I, the “context of tradition” is the unanimous consent of the Fathers. And this has a chronological cut-off. The earlier is not interpreted by the later; rather, the later is interpreted by the earlier.

I’d add that if the true interpretation of earlier tradition can only be ascertained by reference to later tradition, then no Roman Catholic can have access to the true meaning of tradition since his own historical position will always be past relative to some future tradition.

One also wonders what would ever amount to a principle of falsification in Prejean’s religious epistemology. He has drawn the rules of evidence so loosely that magisterial teaching can be harmonized with any pattern of evidence or counterevidence, convergent or divergent.

And, in that event, there is no evidence for Catholicism, since it’s consistent with anything. If nothing can ever count against it, then nothing can count in its favor.

<< Infallibility is a rule of preservation for tradition, not a guideline for epistemic certainty. >>

If that case, how do you know when to apply infallibility to tradition? How do you know to which traditions the rule is applicable? What traditions should be preserved, and what traditions should not be preserved? Not everything that has survived would count as Sacred Tradition. Again, how is this any improvement over the Protestant rule of faith?

<< If the Catholic analogy is sound, then God making an objectively false declaration would make him a flawed judge (like a human). I think that God as the "just judge" has ample Scriptural warrant, so if we have rightly defined what a perfectly just judge is, then the contradiction is shown.

This argument proves too much. If taken to an extreme, it wouldn't let one take one's experience about what a term like "judge" means into account, which would render translation impossible. Hays provided the example of the "legal fiction" of someone being declared "innocent;" I replied that if we resort to our actual experience of the courtroom for interpreting the courtroom analogy, then the judge resorting to a "legal fiction" if he were omniscient and the facts did not match the declaration would be considered a travesty of justice. This is exactly the Catholic argument: that if we let our ordinary legal understanding inform the legal terminology of Scripture, God declaring something falsely would be unjust. The question of how much we allow out ordinary experience to inform interpretation is a valid one, but it's hardly begging the question to make an assertion from experience that one could reasonably think bears on a Scriptural image. >>

This goes to a basic dividing line in theological method. In classic Protestant theological method (e.g., Reformed & Lutheran), theology is based on revelation.

Yes, the proposition that God is a just judge has ample Scriptural warrant. But if divine revelation is only allowed to supply us with the “that-clause” (“that” God is a just judge), while extra-revelatory experience actually defines the concrete content of “what” constitutes a just judge, then revelation is reduced to a cipher whose empty outline is penciled in by experience.

On this view, revelation is not the arbiter of experience. It doesn’t adjudicate between licit and illicit experience. It is not allowed to correct experience, but only submit to experience.

Now, for a Calvinist, if Scripture teaches imputation (and I’ve documented that fact in my book review, “Reinventing Paul”), then it is simply illicit to negate that teaching by appeal to our preconception of justice.

I’d add, for reasons already given, that imputation does not involve a false declaration.

<< What I was saying above is that the vicariousness of the satisfaction is irrelevant; free is free from the legal perspective regardless of who pays the tab. The person is no longer guilty; his debt to justice is paid. >>

No the vicarious dimension is directly relevant. Imputation and vicarious atonement are correlative. The subject is acquitted or freed, not because he is actually innocent, but because a second party, who is righteous in his own person, has assumed his (the first party’s) debt and transferred his (the second party’s) line of credit to the account of the guilty party.

<< As a general Western council with papal approval (a plenary council), it might as well be ecumenical from my perspective. The only reason it isn't technically an ecumenical council is that the East and West were still in union at a time, but it isn't any less binding on me than the post-schism Western councils. >>

Is there no difference between pre-Photian local councils and pre-Photian general councils?

No comments:

Post a Comment