Thursday, August 25, 2005

Prejean's customized Catholicism

Another reply from Prejean:

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I'm supposedly required by a PBC document to accept the GHM. Apart from the non-binding status of the PBC (a matter on which several Catholics have corrected Hays),

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Several problems.

i) If he remembers that I’ve been “corrected” several times on this matter, then he also remembers that I’ve responded several times to this very charge. So while he mentions the “correction,” he omits the response. The only good reason for this omission is that he doesn’t know how to handle the response.

ii) Yes, I’m well aware of the casuistic evasion. As I’ve said before, the word for this is plausible deniability. It is employed by organizations—ordinarily organized crime—in order to have a fall-guy to pin the blame on.

iii) No, Prejean isn’t “bound” by the PBC document. But I guess he’s hoping and praying that the reader won’t compare what he says with what I said. This is my original statement:

***QUOTE***

Back in 1993, the PCB issued The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church. You can find this document posted at the Vatican’s own website, along with approving remarks by the late JP2 and the now Benedict XVI.

***END-QUOTE***

So, at the very least, when Jason and I are arguing with a devout Catholic, we do not need to mount a separate argument to justify the GHM if the GHM meets with the approval of the Pope and the Prefect. That may not be good enough for Prejean, but if it’s good enough for the number one man and the number two man at the Vatican, then it is certainly good enough to discharge our burden of proof when debating with a Catholic over the propriety of the method.

Back to Prejean:

***QUOTE***

there's a real simple matter of the quoted language:

Hence the absolute necessity of a hermeneutical theory which allows for the incorporation of the methods of literary and historical criticism within a broader model of interpretation.

I'll capitalize that bolded phrase so no one misses it: WITHIN A BROADER MODEL OF INTERPRETATION

To avoid, then, purely subjective readings, an interpretation valid for contemporary times will be founded on the study of the text, and such an interpretation will constantly submit its presuppositions to verification by the text.

Guess which model is used to submit interpretations for verification by the text. Hmmm, perhaps the BROADER MODEL OF INTERPRETATION. This is not rocket science. Catholicism is not picky about how you choose to reconcile the GHM with your overall theological model of revelation, so long as you don't dispute the magisterial teaching authority in the apostolic succession. There is room for Raymond Brown and Karl Rahner and Joe Fitzmyer and me, all of whom have different broad models of interpretation that include the GHM in different ways. The point is not submission to a common interpretive method, but submission to a common set of actual human beings as authoritative and communion with those human beings as a requirement established by God.

Nor is allegorical exegesis an alternative method to the GHM; rather, it is a supplemental method, and moreover, an accurate method in its proper context. Nothing in any part of the quote statement criticizes "allegorical exegesis as a well-meaning, but obsolete convention," as Hays asserts. Rather, it simply stresses the additional methods we have today. Dei Verbum and Divino Afflante Spiritu are right here; try to find anything that contradicts me.

***END-QUOTE***

Nice try, but notice, once again, that Prejean is omitting the key supporting material which I quoted verbatim. To repeat myself:

***QUOTE***

Ancient exegesis, which obviously could not take into account modern scientific requirements, attributed to every text of Scripture several levels of meaning. The most prevalent distinction was that between the literal sense and the spiritual sense. Medieval exegesis distinguished within the spiritual sense three different aspects…

It is not only legitimate, it is also absolutely necessary to seek to define the precise meaning of texts as produced by their authors—what is called the "literal" meaning. St. Thomas Aquinas had already affirmed the fundamental importance of this sense (S. Th. I, q. 1,a. 10, ad 1).

The literal sense of Scripture is that which has been expressed directly by the inspired human authors. Since it is the fruit of inspiration, this sense is also intended by God, as principal author. One arrives at this sense by means of a careful analysis of the text, within its literary and historical context. The principal task of exegesis is to carry out this analysis, making use of all the resources of literary and historical research, with a view to defining the literal sense of the biblical texts with the greatest possible accuracy (cf "Divino Afflante Spiritu: Ench. Bibl.," 550). To this end, the study of ancient literary genres is particularly necessary (ibid. 560).

Modern attempts at actualization should keep in mind both changes in ways of thinking and the progress made in interpretative method.

Actualization presupposes a correct exegesis of the text, part of which is the determining of its Persons engaged in the work of actualization who do not themselves have training in exegetical procedures should have recourse to good introductions to Scripture, this will ensure that their interpretation proceeds in the right direction.

***END-QUOTE***

Guess which model ISN’T used to submit interpretations for verification by the text? Hmmm, Guess what is NOT the BROADER MODEL OF INTERPRETATION?

You’re right, Jonathan. This isn’t rocket science. Get with the program! Read the fine print. The GHM is in, the allegorical method is out.

One of Prejean's problems is that, in deference to Robinson, he's trying to finesse a via media between Rome and Constantinople. The Eastern church never had a Vatican II, so patristic methods remain the norm.

Again, Jonathan, if you want to run away from the Pope and the Prefect, that’s your choice. But it certainly suffices for purposes of interfaith dialogue that the Evangelical dialogue partner is playing by the same rules as the Pope in the Prefect. If you want to be the odd man out, then be our guest.

***QUOTE***

No. I operate within that standard where I think that standard is applicable.

***END-QUOTE***

Yep, that’s exactly how he operates, all right—where he happens to think it’s applicable, not anyone else, including his ecclesiastic superiors.

But let us note the final irony. Although Prejean is not a patrologist in his own right, he is constantly straining to pull rank of Engwer by alluding to some patrologist or another.

Yet when it comes to a commission headed by the Prefect, issuing a document which was requested by the Pope, was submitted to the Pope for his approval, and was rewarded with the public blessing of Pope and Prefect alike, Prejean suddenly goes cowboy on us.

So, yes, Prejean is free to pick and choose. But what he is not at liberty to do is to pick and choose for himself while insisting that Engwer or I defer to his cherry-picking, or that we present a separate argument for the GHM when, in fact, that method has already been sanctioned by the Pope and the Prefect. You don’t get to pull rank and go AWOL all at the same time.

***QUOTE***

I agree with the use of the GHM on uninspired, fallible, non-authoritative statements from one human being to another. I see no reason that the GHM should apply as an exclusive criterion for binding theological meaning with respect to inspired or authoritative statements.

***END-QUOTE***

This is a complete non-sequitur. The method is not what makes the meaning binding or nonbinding. That’s not a question of method, but genre. If you exegete an inspired or authoritative text, then what makes the meaning normative is not the method, but the genre of the text so exegeted—assuming, of course, that the method you employ is, in fact, extracting the sense of the text, and not foisting some surplus sense on the text.

***QUOTE***

Did you or did you not just accuse me of tacitly operating with the very standard I deny? If that's done knowingly, it's the definition of hypocrisy. So do you think that I am an idiot or a hypocrite? I can see no third option.

***END-QUOTE***

In his desperation, Prejean is now resorting to the same tragedy queen histrionics as Armstrong. Whether he’s consciously or unconsciously inconsistent is not for me to decide, and is wholly irrelevant to any demonstrable evidence of inconsistency.

You were the one who used the word “hypocrisy,” not me—and not to mention other abusive language you used over at Crowhill, so stop acting like a big sissy, and just stick to the argument.

***QUOTE***

Note Hays's tactic here. He identifies the revealed meaning with the original meaning, which is exactly what I reject, and then says that messages that don't agree with the "revealed meaning" are "non-revelatory." Of course, I reject the idea that the revealed meaning is limited to the original meaning, so in appealing to later developments, I am not appealing to a "non-revelatory message" except by Hays's own disputed standards for what revealed meaning is. Sheer circularity.

***END-QUOTE***

Note Prejean’s tactic here, in omitting his own usage, which I was bouncing off of. This is what he originally said, which I quoted and responded to:

***QUOTE***

They [an Egyptologist or Assyriologist] may have an advantage on what it means in the original context…

***END-QUOTE***

But, hey, I don’t have to play semantic games with Prejean. Once again, this is what the PBC document says:

***QUOTE***

It is not only legitimate, it is also absolutely necessary to seek to define the precise meaning of texts as produced by their authors—what is called the "literal" meaning. St. Thomas Aquinas had already affirmed the fundamental importance of this sense (S. Th. I, q. 1,a. 10, ad 1).

The literal sense of Scripture is that which has been expressed directly by the inspired human authors. Since it is the fruit of inspiration, this sense is also intended by God, as principal author. One arrives at this sense by means of a careful analysis of the text, within its literary and historical context. The principal task of exegesis is to carry out this analysis, making use of all the resources of literary and historical research, with a view to defining the literal sense of the biblical texts with the greatest possible accuracy (cf "Divino Afflante Spiritu: Ench. Bibl.," 550). To this end, the study of ancient literary genres is particularly necessary (ibid. 560).

***END-QUOTE***

The identification which I am making between original and revealed meaning is exactly the same equation made by the PBC, which issued its report at the request of the Pope, under the supervision of the Prefect, and which received the Pope’s public commendation. Notice, too, that the PBC is also citing other Catholic authorities, viz., Aquinas, Pius XII.

So these are hardly my standards alone. I’m taking my cue from Prejean’s ecclesiastical superiors. And my aces trump his deuces.

***QUOTE***

Where the assumptions of the method indicate it will apply! How hard is this? Yes, there are two different standards for mundane documents and dogmatically binding documents. I don't consider the GHM sufficient as an exclusive method to arrive at inspired meaning. That's a reasonable decision; it's not unverifiable by any commonly accepted meaning of the term. Unless you can come up with some actual argument for why it is inconsistent of me to apply different methods for ontologically different documents, then why are you even talking to me

***END-QUOTE***

Not, it’s not reasonable, because it fails to distinguish between method and genre. That argument has been given on several occasions now. How hard is this for Prejean to grasp?

“it's not unverifiable by any commonly accepted meaning of the term”? And how does he determine the commonly accepted meaning?

For purposes of our interfaith dialogue, I’ve defined the commonly accepted meaning by reference to the Pope, the Prefect, and the PBC.

Far from “commonly accepted,” Prejean is the one operating as a maverick.

***QUOTE***

I hadn't lost my patience before now, but this is just exasperating.

***END-QUOTE***

People lose patience when they’re losing the argument.

***QUOTE***

The entire argument is that the only way we can know the original meaning of documents with any reasonable certainty is the GHM, that this is the "ordinary hermeneutical principle" as it were, and that this is the only "publicly verifiable" criterion, and yet now, suddenly, we are supposed to presume that Hays isn't arguing that God provides us with sufficient epistemic certainty to be assured of our faith?

***END-QUOTE***

This is wrong on several counts:

i) Once again, Prejean is confounding the probability of a hermeneutical method with the probability of an apologetical method. This distinction has been repeatedly explained to him. I went into extra detail in my very last post on the subject. Truth and meaning are two different things, with methods adapted to each.

Now, Jason has also said that, hypothetically speaking, someone could be the recipient private revelation, but Catholicism formally denies continuous revelation, so what we’re all stuck with is a public historical revelation, the meaning of which is ascertainable, if at all, by public historical exegesis (the GHM).

Related to this, but distinct from this, is the further question of why we should believe the exegetical results so derived. Why should we believe in the revelatory status of Scripture? And Jason appeals to historical evidence for that as well, although he does not limit himself to historical evidence alone when it comes to apologetic verification, in distinction to exegesis. That, at least, is what I take him to mean. And I agree.

Finally, Jason applies the same hermeneutical criteria and apologetical criteria to other historical truth-claims, such as apostolic succession, or the Assumption of Mary.

However, Jason and I are not clones, even if Prejean treats us as a Borgian collective. So there may be variants between his position and mine.

ii) We have not predicated the GHM on a predetermined level of certitude. Rather, we have argued that the GHM is the only wheel in town. There is no other way of ascertaining the meaning of Scripture—short of private revelation

Some interpretations of some verses enjoy a higher probability than others. But the warrant for the GHM doesn’t depend on its being more probable than the alternatives. Rather, its warrant depends on the absence of any genuine alternatives. The contrast is not between probability and certainty, but probability and impossibility.

iii) Now, as a matter of fact, we also believe that the GHM does suffice to tell us what we need to know. And one reason for this is that we are merely emulating the practice of Christ, the Apostles and prophets.

And, and the risk of repeating myself, that is a conclusion which is shared in common with the PBC—as I’ve already documented.

Prejean goes on to challenge some of my other statements to like effect, but since it’s been established that Engwer and I are on the same page as the Pope, the Prefect, and the PBC, his argument is not with us, but with his ecclesiastical superiors.

If that’s not binding on him, so be it. But it that event, he’s in no position to impose on us a burden of proof which has already been discharged by the Magisterium (Pope and Prefect). Even if it’s not mandatory, it is certainly acceptable—indeed, the mainstream methodology.

***QUOTE***

An argument would give specific and concrete content to a vague term like "widely attested," which I don't concede in the least.

***END-QUOTE***

If he’s looking for an argument, a logical place to start would be for him to go to the Vatican’s official website, find the PBC document, (or an English version), then scroll down to passages like this:

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The most sure and promising method for arriving at a successful actualization is the interpretation of Scripture by Scripture, especially in the case of the texts of the Old Testament which have been reread in the Old Testament itself…

***END-QUOTE***

Moving along:

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I presumed you must, since you're arguing that Chalcedon is not Cyrillene, and it canonized "unscriptural refinements."

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For a man who butters his bread reading the fine print, this is very odd. I never said that Chalcedon canonized unscriptural refinements. To the contrary, what I said was that Chalcedon doesn’t canonize all of the specialized refinements of a voluminous writer like Cyril, and that we should avoid the temptation to be more precise than Scripture in our dogmatic formulations. I have no problem with the creed Chalcedon. Not that I’m aware of.

***QUOTE***

There's that purely subjective term "ascertain" again, the way that Evangelicals attempt to get around cognitive limitations by trusting in God to give them what they need. Note also that "theological document" is a subjective judgment about intent, "authoritative" is a subjective determination as well, and the fact that it will "ascertain normative theological conclusions" is assumed without any empirical demonstration. In a word, this is an attempt to foist Hays's peculiar subjective preferences as necessities.

***END-QUOTE***

I’ve already offered an argument regarding our cognitive limitations:

i) The providence of God.

ii) The providence of God as multiply-attested in Scripture, so that it does not depend on the interpretative certainty of any one verse.

iii) The impossibility of grounding knowledge apart from providence.

iv) The fact that Catholicism is in the same boat, whether it’s a Scriptural text or patristic text or Magisterial text.

v) The fact that Catholicism also subscribes to the providence of God.

Even unbelievers grant that Scripture is a theological document. Indeed, that’s one reason they’re unbelievers. They don’t believe in God, so they don’t believe in theological documents. Hence, this identification is the common coin of believer and unbeliever alike.

Whether Scripture is deemed to be authoritative is, indeed, personal-variable. But I’m debating a devout Catholic, not an atheist, right? Or is Prejean a closet infidel?

I’ve already argued against his empirical criterion, which confuses hermeneutics with apologetics.

4 comments:

  1. Steve, I am learning a great deal from your discussions of Catholicism here. I have a thought and a question for you.

    My thought is that for Prejean, the whole issue is summed up with this statement: “The point is not submission to a common interpretive method, but submission to a common set of actual human beings as authoritative and communion with those human beings as a requirement established by God.” Now, the word “submission” here does not necessarily imply an alignment of any particular intellectual position, rather, it’s a simple admission that “you’re the boss – wink/nod – and I just have to follow a few rules, but I can believe whatever I want, and disagree with you where it suits me, and I can still congratulate myself on being a good Catholic.” It is a devilish system, permitting one to congratulate oneself for the good work of being “a good Catholic”, while actually denying the need for any actual Christ-like attitudes such as humility (Phil 2).

    Catholicism today is such a slippery, wax-nosed system, that someone with Protestant sensibilities like Matatics, which are comfortable with the desire for “firm ground” under one’s feet, will easily become disgusted with it (as he has shown. Too bad that he has ended up with the Traditionalists – they are heretics, too, now, out of communion with the current squishy wax-nosed “actual human beings” who are in charge. Maybe he will come back around.) I think this statement: “The Eastern church never had a Vatican II, so patristic methods remain the norm” – is hugely telling.

    And my question is, you seem to be equating the Historical Critical method, affirmed by Pope Ratzinger in the PBC document, with the Gramatical Historical hermeneutic. Can I gather by this, that, except for some presuppositional differences (naturalism vs supernaturalism) that the methods are very similar? I’ll turn my radio down and wait for your reply.

    ReplyDelete
  2. John,

    What the PBC document talks about is the historical-critical method. This is inclusive of the grammatico-historical method, but goes a step beyond it. It’s shorthand for the grammatico-historical method plus higher criticism.

    The GHM simply interprets a document according to original intent, in the original language, consistent with its historical horizon. So it takes the text as it stands.

    Bible/higher criticism generally tries to get behind the text to some postulated process of composition.

    Higher criticism is an ever-growing family of theories and techniques. It can be taken in a more liberal or conservative direction.

    It posits a prehistory to the text. Oftentimes it will relocate the time, place, and authorship from its stated circumstances to a very different venue.

    And it will do that, in turn, based on skeptical assumptions such as the impossibility of miracles, uninspired character of the Bible, uniformitarianism, and methodological doubt.

    On the other hand, higher criticism isn’t necessarily a liberal weapon of choice. There’s nothing wrong with interpreting a book of the Bible with a view to such programmatic questions as who wrote it? When did he write it? Why did he write it? In fact, that’s a good place to begin as long as you accept the answers that are given in a book of the Bible.

    You can have a conservative like Blomberg who uses redaction criticism to defend the inerrancy of Scripture. The new literary criticism can also be used to that effect.

    The PBC document is a consensual compromise which tries to paper over opposing principles. It wants to be progressive, but not too liberal--conservative, but not too retro. It wants to respect original intent, but it also tries to make some elbowroom for the theory of development. And so it blurs the line between intent and application.

    It clearly takes a conventionally liberal line on the composition of the Bible. It thinks it can get away with this due to the safety-net of the Magisterium itself.

    But there are tears in its safety-net, because anyone who applies higher criticism to the canonical process can apply higher criticism to the magisterial process as well. Skepticism is insatiable. After it chews up the Bible it will chew up the councils and encyclicals.

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