Thursday, June 30, 2005

Crimsoned Catholicism

Prejean has offered yet another intelligent response to my last reply:

<< My point is that based on purely exegetical reasons, there is no reason to think that the word "merit" in and of itself refers to strict justice. The text is ambiguous given the reasonable semantic range of the term, which is why you would consider external factors. It's not a question of clear text being overridden by outside considerations; it's a question of ordinary exegetical investigation into what a word means, at least as I would understand exegesis. So I would simply say that the text itself doesn't render either interpretation substantially more likely; both are possible, and we have to look at the totality of the evidence (including external factors) in making a judgment. >>

i) This is all eminently reasonable at a general level. The problem lies with the detailed application.

One way of ascertaining what the Tridentine Fathers support is by examining what they oppose. They opposed Protestant theology.

Now, Prejean rightly points out that, at the time of Trent, Protestantism didn’t present a united from. True.

However, it was united in its wholesale rejection of the principle of human merit of any kind in our justification before God. When Trent goes out of its way to reaffirm what the Protestant Reformers went out of their way to repudiate, it is, to that extent, accepting the Protestant interpretation of that portion of Catholic tradition regarding the role of merit in our justification, but standing its ground in the face of Protestant reproval.

At issue is not whether the interpretation of the governing concept (merit) is true, but whether the concept itself is true.

ii) Another problem is that if the usage is ambiguous on so central a concept in Catholic theology as merit, such that the true meaning is uncertain, then the exegesis of a magisterial text is subject to at least the same vicisitudes as the exegesis of a Biblical text, in which case the Catholic rule of faith enjoys no epistemic advantage over the Protestant rule of faith. Indeed, it simply intercalates yet another layer to be peeled back and duly examined.

<< I'd respond in like fashion to your suggestion that Scripture should inform experience rather than vice versa. I don't think that a coherent line can possibly be drawn between the two; there's always judgment involved in where you set the limits, so that a statement like that typically begs an interpretive question. >>

The problem with this statement is not that it’s false, but that it flies at too high a level of abstraction. Sure, experience can “inform” Scripture.

But the question at issue is whether experience can negate the teaching of Scripture or substitute an entirely extrinsic precondition.

<< It isn't, or at least, I've never argued that it is. As I said before, infallibility is a conclusion, not an assertion of epistemic certainty; I think that it is illogical to view infallibility any other way. One isn't any more certain of your conclusions about infallibility than you are certain about anything else, so this notion that we are vying over who has the most epistemically certain method strikes me as fanciful, not that this has prevented the argument from being beaten to death by both Protestants and Catholics. If that kind of a standard is required to avoid skepticism (i.e., a requirement for epistemic certainty), then we're all stranded either in hopeless circularity (essentially asserting our own individual infallibility) or in nihilism. Neither strikes me as very appealing, and I think it puts far too much faith in human ability than can be reasonably warranted. >>

The problem here is that Vatican I (Session 3) does assert the epistemic superiority of a magisterium over the right of private judgment.

Prejean’s sensible caveats simply surrender that principle. For this he is to be commended. Now why doesn’t he come over to our side? :-)

<< Instead, I would view infallibility as a statement of one's judgment about the divine content of a concrete object, viz., that it is an actual thing that God intends the people of God to retain and integrate into the collective Christian life. To me, then, the real empirical question is how this process actually worked, and that is what appears to be meant by "unanimous consent of the Fathers." They all had an agreement on a process of communion and accountability grounded in actual persons by which concrete things were recognized to be part of the tradition, through the process of theological speculation and pious reflection on what is previously preserved. >>

There is more to the consent of the Fathers than to a common process. There is a common faith. That, at least, is the original claim. Their doctrinal unity supplies a benchmark against which to measure the truth or falsity of future developments.

<< I have yet to be convinced by any rebuttal to the notion that Perry Robinson, Daniel Jones, and I have variously presented regarding the essentiality of free will to any orthodox presentation of Triadology and soteriology, including your own observations here, here, and here. Frankly, unless you can show be a good reason why I should believe that free decisions are deterministically caused, I don't see where the problem is in supposing that they are not deterministically caused or that the existence of such voluntary causes poses the least bit of difficulty to God's sovereignty. >>

Yes…well…the problem with that abortive exchange is that Daniel wanted to make the entire case for or against Calvinism turn on the case for or against a highly Scholastic version of divine simplicity.

In so doing he is making two mistakes: he is trying to hold Calvinism to a doctrine that has attained no confessional status in Calvinism; and he is trying to hold Calvinism to a standard that Calvinism rejects. Even if there were some historical relation between Calvinism and the doctrine of divine simplicity, the direct argument for Reformed distinctives is exegetical, as befits our rule of faith.

There are two reasons why we should reject libertarian freewill. First, it is incompatible with several revealed truths regarding sin and grace, predestination and providence, as disclosed and described in Scripture.

Second, indeterminism is logically and philosophically inconsistent with divine sovereignty. There is, of course, a vast literature on this subject.

<< I agree that fatalism may not have been exclusively an element of Greek philosophy, but it is most assuredly a pagan invention as far as I can tell, and it strikes me as fundamentally irreconcilable with the Christian account of God. >>

I agree as well, but if you’re are treating Calvinism and fatalism as synonymous, then you need to explain your equation and interact with arguments to the contrary in the Reformed literature.

<< Election is God's unilateral decision to provide grace at a time that it will or won't be resisted (condemning people by their own evil) along with God's decision to allow the person sufficient freedom to exercise that resistance. >>

This is one of those points at which there is no common ground between Catholic and Calvinist. We, on the Reformed side of the ledger, try to define Scriptural categories in Scriptural terms. How is election described in Scripture, and to what is it opposed? In Scripture, election is a unilateral decision to actually save a group of people, to the exclusion of others--not a provision of resistible grace.

What you have done is to substitute an entirely extraneous theological construct that doesn’t begin to correspond with the revelatory data. It’s like a brain transplant. Looks just the same on the outside, but something totally alien behind the eyes.

And, with all due respect, this is exactly what happens when sola Scriptura is denied. For, in that event, painstaking exegesis is a waste of time.

Catholicism has produced some fine Bible scholars. For example, I own four commentaries by Fitzmyer (on Luke, Acts, Romans, and Philemon). Yes, he’s liberal. Yet he knows his way around the primary sources and lets the text speak for itself.

But to what purpose? At the end of the day he might as well be Hal Lindsey or Tim Lahaye for all the difference it makes to Catholic dogma.

<< What I meant by "innocent" was not that the person had not done the wrong, but that he had paid the penalty in the eyes of the law so that he was no longer obligated to pay the penalty. That doesn't strike me as imputation; that strikes me as actual satisfaction. Imputation would be if he were treated as if someone paid the fine even when the fine had not been paid, at least as I understand it. In other words, the person is treated as if the crime had never taken place; he is never judged guilty. >>

Imputation does involve actual satisfaction, but on behalf of and in the stead of the guilty party. Imputation is not where he is treated as if someone paid the fine even when the fine had not been paid. Rather, imputation is where he is treated as innocent even when he’s guilty because someone else paid the fine for him.

Again, the operative word here is “treated.” To merely be better treated than you deserve does not imply that you deserve to be so treated. There is no fiction here. No deception. You are not said to be (or declared to be) something that you are not. Rather, you are treated better than you deserve on account of a surrogate. Put another way, you are not regarded as something other than you are, but rather, are well-regarded for the sake of another--and a better.

It’s been a pleasure to interact with such a rational interlocutor. Prejean is several notches above some of his Catholic counterparts in the field of lay apologetics. Alas, the same cannot be said for me in relation to my own counterparts!

1 comment:

  1. I've enjoyed Fitzmyer as well. His book 101 Responses to Questions on the Dead Sea Scrolls is a model of non-sensationalist popularizing.